Sunday, April 15, 2007

'Fixing' the Fight Game

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The only sport I follow closely is boxing. I do watch the UFC and, on occasion, I will also check out some of the international martial arts competitions when available. Even though the skill level and pain tolerance of some of the fighters in other martial arts venues is nothing short of amazing, classic boxing still has my heart and soul. I truly enjoy watching the sport, analyzing the game and the fighters, and I train, when possible, as would a middleweight boxer. I had a few amateurish fights and have sparred many rounds, but that was long ago before getting older made recovery time a much longer process. Being hit hard by another fighter teaches you to respect the effort and skill of the game.

This is my short list things professional boxing can do to improve itself and widen its quickly eroding fan base. (No, it doesn’t include naked women.)

** Do away with the alphabet soup of belts and titles. A boxer’s ranking can be more easily determined by a universal numbering system that places them a single hierarchy based upon fight experience, opponent experience, and fight record. As it stands now, a promoter decides to create a fictitious boxing league and then anoints a ‘champion’ from among his own fighters. It’s just nonsense.

** Boxing should have set standards for glove and ring size that varies only with the size of the fighter. Heavyweights would all fight in the same size ring and wear gloves of the same weight, for example. The legal and managerial wrangling over such matters takes away from the sport. As it is now, many fights are won or lost for a fighter even before he steps into the ring. The fighter with the bigger ‘money draw’ basically decides what will happen.

** Make champions face better challengers and not fight a slew of lesser fighters in between just so they can cruise around taking easy paydays. In a numbered ranking system, a level one fighter must face at least a level two, a two at least the three, the three the four, and so on. This way the best will be fighting the best all the time and those at a slightly lower level will get the chance to move up. Allowing managers to pick and choose who their fighter will face makes for very boring boxing. It means that good fighters won’t be tested by better fighters and better fighters, although fearing the potential loss at the hands of a really good one, would have to take the challenges.

** Boxing is a business, but it is often a very crooked one. Fighters who have earned millions of dollars for their promoters and managers are often left with nothing but a tax bill at the end of the day. There is no regulatory commission or union looking out for the fighter’s best interests. Boxing needs a union to protect the fighters from those who claim to be their best friends. Boxers as a rule are not financially savvy characters.

** The payout for fights should be determined by the numerical ranking and not the backroom games of lawyers and casino owners. It would be easy enough to work out a system where we can do this. Say a level ten boxer fights a level twelve. Since he is higher in ranking, we automatically give him a certain percentage of the overall purse, as he is taking the bigger risk by possibly losing his ranking to the lesser fighter.

Implementing these few suggestions will not be easy, but they would, I believe, go a long way to improving the sport. That is, if we can ever get them past the promoters. Chances of that happening, however, are slim to none. The greedy don’t let go easily.

Look Alikes

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Peter the Great of Russia (1672-1725) King, Reformer, Military Genius, Engineer, Westernized the Russian Empire.

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Ron Jeremy (1953- ) Big Penis, Cheesy Porn Actor.

Drug Testing & Welfare

There remains a great deal of controversy over whether or not potential Welfare recipients should face mandatory drug testing before becoming eligible to receive benefits such as Medicaid, Food Stamps, or any other taxpayer subsidized social program. I happen to think such a policy makes good sense. It is not unreasonable to demand that a beneficiary of any social program be at least, from the start, in a state of mind that allows him or her to use the assistance responsibly. No one wants to see the system overburdened by bad decision making or have public funds end up going for things not intended by the good will of the people. Drug testing is therefore a good policy.

On the other hand, I also feel that mandatory drug testing is intrusive and it doesn't really tell you much about the person or the quality of their person or work. Different drugs have different effects on different metabolisms and, to lump all drug users, be they recreational marijuana smokers or hardcore meth-heads, together, is just plain stupid. I don't see why a guy who smoked a joint last weekend on his brother-in-law's houseboat should be denied employment or social benefits while the alcoholic who closed down the bar the night before, drunk off his ass, gets all he needs with no questions asked. Plenty of people use drugs occasionally and are quite responsible in all other ways. To single out drug use a prohibitive factor to collecting benefits or employment is misguided.

Now, in the private sector, if I know that company is drug screening employees, then I have two choices. I must either quit using drugs, or apply for a job elsewhere. At this point, and until drug testing becomes universally mandatory, I voluntarily make that choice. There may be an economic consequence, but it remains a trade-off that I would be willing to accept in most cases. The company that I work for does not drug test, and some of our long term employees remain for just that reason.

For Welfare, we still want to ensure that the money we give is used properly, but we also don't want to be too intrusive into their privacy. As an option, we set up a two or three-tiered system of benefits. The first level includes a voluntary drug test and, should the applicant pass this test, they receive the maximum allowable benefit. If they choose to test and then come up positive for drug use, they then would have the choice of rehabilitation, in which they could still collect a reduced benefit, and subsequently, should they demonstrate clean living at a later time, they then become eligible to receive the maximum. Should the recipient refuse to be drug tested altogether, he or she would still receive benefits, but they would be greatly reduced. Most importantly, we give the applicant the choice. At any time along the way, the applicant or beneficiary can improve or harm their status.

This system would allow the recipient to voluntarily take the drug test and also provide the welcome opportunity and financial incentives to kick drugs altogether. Of course, no system is perfect and each program has its obvious flaws, many of which do not surface until it is too late to change direction. Yet, in terms of how we administer social programs, we have enough experience now to make the right changes to ensure fiscal stability for both program and recipient. Let's start out facing reality and be able to adjust, from the onset, to the inevitable.

On Corporate Welfare

Re: do any of you rubes have any idea how so called corporate welfare works?

Yes. We do.

Corporate welfare is offered in various forms. Mostly it takes the form of subsidies, reduced fees, tax deferments, tax rebates, and tax amnesty. In some cases, it shows up as legislation designed to protect companies from liability due to financial malfeasance or injurious products. Corporate welfare also shows up in tariff and import laws, where certain products from favored nations or manufacturers receive a wider range of available international markets. Any and all government intervention that assists a private corporation to increase its profits is, de facto, corporate welfare.

For example, the current lobbying efforts of Exxon-Mobil and Halliburton to enact retroactive legislation which would allow them to evade criminal and civil liability, are excellent examples of corporate welfare, should they succeed in getting it passed. It would save them each billions of dollars in payout to victims and in legal fees. There are also fees that private companies, particularly those who deal in natural resources pay to the federal government for access to federal lands. These fees are often waved. Why?

Re: in your simple mind it's just a big check handed to a CEO.

Any tax that is not paid by the corporation increases it profit by decreasing its overhead. Now that increase in profit may not go to the CEO directly, rather to the corporation and thus to the shareholders who, by contract with the CEO, usually pay him a bonus according to his performance. So yes, some of it usually does wind up in the pockets of a CEO. I honestly don’t care where it goes. It is from where it is being taken that is the issue.

Re: money is used for research, development and implementation of ideas. without government funding many of today’s technological breakthroughs would not be possible.

Bullshit. If a private company wishes to do research to develop newer and better products, why should the taxpayer have to contribute to a private venture? If the corporation can’t profit from what it does without taxpayer help, then perhaps it should, following the laws of the free market, go the fuck out of business. Corporations can hire the best and brightest with all their money and, with all those MBAs and PhDs running around, one would expect them to have enough brain-power to succeed. If they need MY help to develop a new product, they don’t need to stay in business.

Edison, Bell, Fulton, Whitney, Ehrlich, Salk, Marconi, Ford, Wright Brothers, Winchester, Browning, Cooper, and thousands of other inventors and scientists were able to develop new, useful, lifesaving innovations WITHOUT any taxpayer help. Why can’t Verizon? Besides, many large corporations do not produce anything at all, i.e. Citicorp and WalMart, but are either just financial institutions or retailers of shitty Chinese products. Even if they did develop new products, I am still wondering why, in light of free market ethics, they should be taxpayer subsidized.

Re: funding provides jobs which in turn create tax paying employees

WRONG AGAIN. Name one corporation in the USA that hasn’t cut jobs, downsized, or outsourced to cheaper labor markets. Corporate welfare merely creates a means by which a corporation can increase its bottom line without having to do anything tangible in relation to sales, marketing, product development, or consumer protections. Citicorp just received a HUGE tax break from NYC and then promptly announced they were laying off 17,000 workers so they could show the same profit percentage as their competitors.

In fact, the corporations the receive the LARGEST benefits from ‘welfare for the rich’ have already moved their manufacturing bases overseas, where they rape the local labor force and taxpayers as they did when they were here. If what you were suggesting was even remotely truthful, I would readily admit to the upside. When it has happened, as in the bailout of Chrysler in the 1980s, it did enable 1000s of regular guys to keep their $20/hr jobs for a short time but, more importantly, it allowed the upper management of Chrysler to keep their $20 million a year salaries and bonus packages. Do you really think that the CEOs were worried about the guys and gals working on the line?

Your assertion is also, even if true, fundamentally unfair in principle. Why should the guy who does the actual work that enriches the corporation, pay a larger percentage of his income to shoulder the tax burden that the corporation has wriggled itself out of? So not only does Joe Worker pay income and sales taxes for himself, but he has to pay a higher tax to make up for what is either being directly given to or forgiven of the company he works for! In addition, since most workers do not work for these companies to begin with, what advantage does corporate welfare offer them? I, who do not work for a Fortune 500 company, will have to make up the difference they didn’t pay. Absurd!

Re: yes, there is corruption

I have to wonder what you define as ‘corruption’. Embezzlement, fraud, and insider trading are corrupt, no doubt, but they are criminal acts that still fall under established criminal and civil codes. So is shoplifting for that matter. We are not speaking here of individual or even institutional criminality, although they are part of the issue. The corruption is of the system that permits any corporation to be legally subsidized by taxpayer’s dollars or legislation.

The entire system of corporate welfare is from its core, a corrupt, albeit still legal, game of extortion and bribery. It is interesting that the many champions of the free market are so willing to advance the cause of taxpayer assisted corporate expansion, and thus ignore the basic rules of free market economics. If the government is helping one company over another, it is just plain unfair to all the others. If the government is helping anyone, then why should they be in business?

Corporations, WalMart in particular, know exactly how to approach a municipality and what line of bullshit to lay on them in order to gain a most-favored tax exempt status for a determined period of time. Let’s be real, the Walton family is one of the wealthiest in the world. I don’t wish them any evil, but c’mon already. Do you really think, at this point, being the largest retailer in the USA, that they should be receiving property tax rebates and deferments? Corporations that have their hands out for welfare is like Bill Gates sitting along the highway asking for spare change from passersby or asking the federal government to let him not pay his water bill. If WalMart needs taxpayer help, they should not be in business. Someone else was there before WalMart, operating without those enormous tax breaks, and someone new would easily fill in the gap when WalMart is no longer.

Corporate welfare also allows companies that should no longer be in business, either because of lousy products, strong competition, bad business planning, or criminal behavior to continue operating beyond what normal market forces would permit. Corporate welfare also means that they get to play with YOUR money and protect their own from risk. Corporations also have investment portfolios. I would love to have someone else’s cash to play the market risk-free. Corporate welfare SUBVERTS the normal business atmosphere.

Re: do a little research before you start yammering your jaws about a subject in which you obviously have no knowledge of.

Take your own advice, please.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Don Imus: Bye-Bye Asshole

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I’ll be honest here. I never really listened to Don Imus on the radio or watched his show. I tried once or twice (ok…three times) while under the influence of nothing better to do, but even at its best, getting a root canal without anesthetic by comparison seemed more pleasurable. His humor is the sort of cruel, degrading type that makes one wonder as to what dark and foreboding character traits lie at the depths of this man’s psyche. When Dom Imus tells a joke that berates someone else, it comes across as if he really means it. Anyone who can claim Dick Cheney as an ardent fan of his show must be one truly and profoundly impaired human being.

There has a lot of tumult and controversy over his latest comments regarding a female college basketball team and something about them being “nappy-headed hoes”. (I have no idea if I spelled any of that correctly.) My response? So what? We all know this guy is an asshole in the first degree and that his show is only popular among old conservative fuckers and tolerated by others who are addicted to any available noise the media provides to break the monotony of the work day. His fan base, I am told, is the provincial and pedestrian corporate or corporate friendly middle-aged to senior white guy who has nothing good to say about anything that he perceives will hurt his bottom line.

I don’t care any more that Don Imus is gone as I did when he was there. I could care less. His listeners were inconsequential and his groupies even less so. The important event here is the quick and decisive response on the part of corporate sponsors and the networks who, already under fire for their propagandist reporting style of the Bush regime, took no time in distancing themselves from Don Imus and his racist remarks. This means that the corporate media is listening to the people. It’s also possible that his ratings were so bad that the executives were just waiting for an excuse to fire him.

Either way, Imus is history, and I won’t miss him at all. Good riddance!

The Big Three (Idiots)

I was up late last night flipping channels and trying to either fall asleep or find something, anything, from among the 200 channels available that would pique my interest enough to make the awake time somewhat worthwhile. I don’t want to feel as if I wasted the entire night in just readjusting my derriere to the futon mattress or merely staring off toward the digital abyss into the haze of static noise and infomercials.

So, I come across a CNN business interview with one of those slick-talking, smarmy VPs from General Motors marketing division. Normally, I could care less what big business hirelings have to say about anything, as they are usually lying out their asses, but this time I was actually bored enough to take note, and I set down the remote to await the inevitable. Sure enough, it took only thirty seconds for this corporate douchebag to tell a giant fib. These assholes never disappoint.

The topic du jour was hybrid vehicles and compliance with federal mileage standards in comparison with European automobiles. I shit you not, this suit-and-tie son-of-a-bitch said, “General Motors has been at the cutting edge of hybrid technology, and our cars get as good if not better gas mileage than do cars in Europe.”

Anyone who knows anyone in Europe, or anything about Europe, knows that statement is about as patently false as any statement could possibly be. Ford, Opal, Volvo, etc., have been producing cars in Europe for the European market that gets 45 to 77 miles per gallon, and have been for decades. Some of these cars still have carburetors! I regularly chat with Europeans and have been to Europe myself a few times and it is painfully obvious that Europe is, much like in many ways, years ahead of America in terms of their engineering and ecological thinking.

These cars have never been made available here. I keep hearing the usual mantra of “There’s no market for them here.” What? The myth that Americans won’t drive smaller cars was dispelled in the 1970s when German and Japanese imports struck the America market in a huge way. There will always be those with large families, commercial needs, and small penises who require uber-large vehicles. They are NOT the entire auto market and, as we see by the success of Toyota and Nissan, by example, these buyers of large gas-guzzlers are not even in the majority. America has been clamoring for better choices and the Big Three have ignored us. They continue to roll out the same tired models with the same meaningless cosmetic adjustments. Blah.

One has to wonder what exactly this VP was thinking when he uttered those words. Now, you can pay a whore to say, “I love you”, but you know damned well that she doesn’t. This corporate whore just spews what he’s paid to say and hopes that enough people are stupid enough to buy it and the crappy product his job is dependant upon. Fact is that the smallest model sold by GM, the Aveo, only gets 26 miles per gallon in city driving, or at least that’s what the sticker at the dealership says. I was about to buy myself one of those until I read that. Twenty six? That’s it? And someone thinks this is good gas mileage?

It’s no wonder the Big Three will soon disappear. They think we are fucking idiots. It’s been twenty, maybe thirty years running and they still don’t want to get it. They aren’t ignorant of the facts. Everything is about profit margins, and smaller cars just don’t have the same profitability as do the big huge trucks and SUVs. Apparently, they were counting per unit rather than long-term overall sales. There is no profit if no one buys your product. That they have been losing money hand over fist is telling.

Kurt Vonnegut (1922-2007)

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There was a lovely Asian woman in a skin-tight pair of Guess jeans leaning up against a ill-maintained and weather-battered kiosk somewhere in the middle of the NYU campus. She was completely engrossed, mentally and physically it appeared, in Kurt Vonnegut’s Sirens of Titan. She looked up just long enough to notice this Chasidic Jew, the quintessential anomaly on campus, checking out her ‘reading material’. As a knee jerk defense to being caught red-handed (or red-eyed!), I casually inquired as to what exactly it was that captured her unwavering attention, although I had already, in spite of being focused on her physique, caught the title in passing.

I had no moral right to interrogate her on the choice of reading material but, in an effort to deflect attention from my obvious moral misstep, I did so anyhow. She responded politely and expressed, in no few words, her intense appreciation for Vonnegut’s style. The conversation ended with me heading directly for the nearest bookstore and she, a woman whose name I hadn’t even bothered to ask, was left in a bit of shock over her first and probably final close encounter with a Chasidic Jew. There was likely something she wanted to ask me, but didn't. Even though our kind are found swarming all over New York, we aren’t exactly the most sociable or accessible.

This seemingly short and abrupt interaction led to my baptism into the cult of Vonnegut. Modern American literature, most certainly not someone as controversial as Vonnegut, is not a 'staple' of the yeshivishe intellectual diet. The garbage that passes for literature (music and art as well) in the sanctimonious, unimaginative, and victim-guilt ridden religious Jewish world becomes unreadable once a thinking or feeling person is confronted with real art and meaning. To be fair, the Moslems and Christians do no better in this respect. At best, the purveyors of religious literature parody the worst parts of secular art and infuse their plagiarism with morality and historical revisionism.

I was immediately enamored with Vonnegut as I had, albeit clandestinely, with Melville, Hemingway, Steinbeck, and many, many other great literary greats. I don’t have much to say about the man that hasn’t been shared by many others in much more eloquent fashion, so I won’t say more. I suppose I enjoyed Vonnegut for his caustic wit and ability to put things plainly, without hyperbole or exaggeration. He was clearly a beloved leftist and perhaps somewhat of a Budhist as well. I can very much associate with his sentiments and his not-so-subtle critique of the over-romanticism that most apply to life or seek to wring from it. Vonnegut saw the best parts of life as simply ‘nice’ moments. I saw the reflection of Spinoza in Vonnegut’s straightforward and plain outlook on his own experience. Vonnegut saw the good in people, in spite of his sometimes darkened attitude. Some might say this association is misplaced. They could be right.

I will miss you Kurt. Be at Peace.

Here we are, trapped in the amber of the moment. There is no why.