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Aug. 9th, 2010

Jersey Shore: Day Two of Captivity

12pm: The waking hour. The cast of Jersey Shore begins to stir from their beds, or in the case of Snooki, from a pile of warm laundry in the middle of the living room. The next seven hours are devoted to tanning, foraging and mutual grooming.

7pm: "Family dinner." After the nightly hot-tub make-out session, the family dinner is the most important ritual in the Jersey Shore house. Every night at 7pm, they gather around the table with their metal trays of take-out lasagna and breadsticks. The whole house smells of tomato sauce and hair gel.

8pm: Shockingly, the dinner conversation turns philosophical. Paully D and Ronnie begin arguing over the problem of free will. Ronnie feels that there is no room for free will in a deterministic universe where the actions of even the most obscure subatomic particles are governed by physics. Paully D responds by arguing that even the illusion of free will should be accepted at face value because physics itself is ultimately no more than an illusory by-product of human perception. The matter is settled by a push-up contest.

10pm: I know something is about to happen because The Situation, Paully D and Vinnie are all wearing their best tank tops. Snooki has just re-oranged and Jwoww is wearing clean underwear. These developments align to suggest a chance for escape. It turns out the cast and the camera crew are getting ready to depart for a night of dancing at the Camel Toe. I will bide my time and choose my opportunity wisely.

11pm: I make a break for it. I hide out in Sammi's tanning bed to fool the remaining security guards into thinking that I have gone to the Camel Toe with the rest of the cast. When they step outside for a smoke break, I slip out the back door and run. I got about ten blocks away when the metallic shoes locked onto my feet activate. In the event of an escape attempt, the shoes are programmed to march me back to one of three designated Jersey Shore rally points: Mas Cerveza, the Sunglasses Hut or Wing Ding's Boneless Chicken. The shoes take me to Wing Ding's and then go into lockdown mode until Jersey Shore security picks me up an returns me to the house.

I Have Been Forced to Join the Cast of Jersey Shore Against My Will

I came to in a room surrounded by posters of Ferraris and framed Jose Cuervo ads, laying in a cot with strange metallic shoes locked onto my feet. I had been brought against my will to the beachside cabana that housed the cast of a TV show called "Jersey Shore."

I was quickly attended to by two doctors who told me that I was needed to act as their on site anthropologist. "We couldn't find any actual anthropologists willing to take on this assignment," one explained, "and yet, I can't stress enough how important this work is."

Before leaving, the other doctor turned to me and said, "Oh, and if you have a thing about diseases, you might want to get out of Snooki's cot."

"What's a snooki?" I asked.

"You'll find out," he replied ominously.

It wasn't long before the rest of the cast returned. Even though I was sitting on the main couch in the living room, nobody acknowledged me or even noticed that I was there. A brief skirmish erupted between Paully D and The Situation, which culminated in Paully D dry-humping a table chair, a comic gesture designed to ameliorate the mood an appease The Situation, who is clearly the alpha male of this pack.

And I finally did discover what a "Snooki" is. Apparently, Snooki is the last surviving member of a race of orange people, no doubt a dying offshoot of homo sapiens or one of our earlier ancestors. Curiously, the specimen known as Snooki seems to be entirely preoccupied with the procurement of burritos and dancing in place by herself, in a manner reminiscent of a Thai stripper.

It's only my first day on the job and perhaps it is too early to come to conclusions, but to be honest, I'm not entirely impressed by this group. Their conversation seems somewhat banal. In fact, if I'm being honest, I haven't heard them talk about a single thing might not also come out of the mouth of a lamprey, if it could talk.

Their limited brainpower seems entirely devoted to fucking and eating, or undermining each other so they have easier access to fucking and eating. Although, to give them credit, they do occasionally engage in simple pranks, usually involving hiding a sandwich in somebody's room. This is the only evidence I have seen so far to suggest that they may have evolved from the higher primates like the rest of us.

Jul. 7th, 2010

My Commentary on Thorstein Veblen's Theory of the Leisure Class


It must have seemed odd to Thorstein Veblen, or really any thoughtful economist of the early 20th century, that while human economies value labor, investment and trade, human society itself seems to value conquest, destruction and leisure, activities that are wholly inimical to economics' presumed goal of prosperity. 

Thinking purely in terms of economics, you would think the people who would be the most admired in human society are those who build the most, work the hardest and prosper through active trade and investment. Instead, as Veblen noted, the people who command the highest echelons of respect in society are those who destroy the most (military leaders and war heroes), work the least (the genteel nobility) and rule by fiat and conquest (royalty, emperors and dictators). 

As a result of this paradox, Veblen came to a rather daring conclusion for an economist: that wealth is not the ultimate goal of human activity. Instead, what people really aspire to is to be a part of "The Leisure Class." Wealth might be a tool by which they can gain entry to the Leisure Class, but it's still ultimately the donkey and not the tavern. It's important to note that, as Veblen defines it, the term Leisure Class does not necessarily apply to the rich, or the lazy, but rather to those whose livelihood is as far removed from mundane labor as possible. 

By Veblen's standard, a British foreign officer who only gets paid as much as a decent barista, but who happens to be in command of a small chunk of India is a member of the Leisure Class, whereas a millionaire who spends all day answering phone calls and checking in on his chain of carpet stores is not. As such, the millionaire will decorate his office with swords and cheetah pelts, whereas it never occurs to the British officer to decorate his office with ledgers and executive toys. 

According to Veblen, the best the working rich could hope to do is to emulate royalty, nobility and other members of the Leisure Class by spending their wealth on unnecessary, but highly visual, tokens of respect in hopes of being mistaken as a member of the Leisure Class. Perhaps the most widely known and resilient of Veblen's concepts, this is what Veblen was talking about when he coined the term "conspicuous consumption." 

The key, as Veblen points out, is that for people of the Leisure Class, the essence of their livelihood is tied not to work, but to exploit. A general gets invited to the society ball, whereas the far wealthier owner of a dog food factory does not. Why? Because he does not work every day, but merely goes to war from time to time. According to Veblen, this tendency to regard exploit as socially superior to work goes back to our early history as hunter-gatherers and is probably descended from the original division of labor that occurred between men and women. 

The men went out and hunted while the women stayed home and worked. Despite the fact that the gathering, gleaning and other work done by women ultimately provided far more sustenance to the community than the occasional caribou or mastodon brought home by the men, it was the hunt that was celebrated in cave paintings and which was valued by the tribe. As such, men were the world's first Leisure Class. It was also the hunt that formed the basis of our oldest political hierarchies. The best hunter was the most respected member of his tribe and usually became its leader. 

Veblen theorized that as humanity abandoned the "Primitive Stage" of the tribe for the "Predatory Stage" of the kingdom, and civilization arose because of the advent of agriculture and cities, the Leisure Class merely followed along. It was no longer the best hunter, but the best warrior, or the strongest landholder who became the local warlord or king. But the essential fact remained: it was the exploit that ultimately determined who would claim the top rungs of society for themselves and their descendants. The lower rungs would be reserved, as they always were, for those whom life had relegated to mere work. 

I'm not sure how relevant Veblen's theories on the Leisure Class are to 21st century America. There is no royalty, beyond a few arcane museum pieces who are there to do little more than wave at tourists. Hardly anybody can name a war hero, and practically nobody frets about whether they're good enough to warrant an invitation to the big society ball. 

On the other hand, perhaps his theory has proven prescient in ways he couldn't have foreseen. Despite the lack of royalty, nobility, or a warrior class, when you look at the most revered people in American society, they're still not the hordes of hard-working suckers, nor even our eye-poppingly rich masters of industry like Bill Gates or Warren Buffet. They're our celebrities and sports heroes. People don't wait out in the rain for three hours in order to catch a glimpse of Ted Turner. They wait out there to see Lady Gaga, Lebron James or Brad Pitt. 

Celebrities are our new Leisure Class. Fourteen year old boys don't want to dress like Steve Jobs, they want to dress like Kanye West. They don't emulate Richard Bransom's 70's swinger vibe by wearing his trademark turtle neck and sportscoat combo. They wear Kobe Bryant jerseys. The thing that separates celebrities from everyone else whose corpses we'd gladly step over to get to them? In the end, it's exploit.

Modern people aren't all that different than their prehistoric forebears. The only difference is that it's no longer the best hunter, or the strongest warrior whom we look up to as our natural masters, but the guy with the best three-point shot. The girl who can sing and act and plays Hannah Montana on TV. Moreso than those who are merely rich or powerful, they're people whom we've recognized as having some godlike ability that, for some reason, removes them from the tedium of work, and in doing so, sets them above the rest of us. 

Oct. 2nd, 2009

Some Asshole on a Cellphone Now Officially Most Abundant Element on Earth

Ending nitrogen's long reign at the top spot, scientists have recently confirmed that the Earth's most abundant element is now Some Asshole on a Cell Phone.

Since the industrial revolution, the Earth's atmosphere has been gradually inundated by Some Asshole on a Cell Phone, emissions of which now dangerously choke the world's cities, commuter trains and sports bars.

The news isn't all bad, however. MIT scientists have proposed that we may soon be able to harness Some Asshole on a Cell Phone as am alternative energy source to traditional fossil fuels. Some even speculate that it may someday become an important piece of the world's energy puzzle. "The amount of negative energy released in one sarcastic break-up call is positively astounding," says Dr. Henry Bateman of MIT's Center of Research for Asshole Technology, "and the encouraging thing is just how little fuel Some Asshole on a Cellphone itself requires. One frappuccino or some sliders is enough to power dozens, possibly hundreds of cell phone conversations on everything from BMWs to San Francisco to your daughter's wedding."

Whether Some Asshole on a Cellphone can ever be made to be useful to humanity remains to be seen. But one thing seems to be certain: Some Asshole on a Cellphone is here in incredible quantities and will be for the foreseeable future.

Sep. 8th, 2009

Obama Is Trying to Brainwash Our Children! For Reals!


Below is the text of the original version of the speech Obama was going to give to our nation's schoolchildren. Write your Congressman! Inform your prayer groups! Alert your chain e-mailers, especially that nice Nigerian man who's trying to give you ten million dollars! They all need to know the truth about Barrack Hussein Obama!

"Dear students of America,

As you begin another year of school, I would like you to take a moment to consider your future. Some of you will go on to do great things. One of you will likely be President one day. Others will be doctors, lawyers, or astronauts. Some of you may aspire to someday serve on my death panels, doing the important work of deciding which of your elders will receive life-saving surgical procedures and and which of them shall be fed to wolverines. Regardless of which of these careers you choose, there's one thing that they all have in common: your willingness to play ball with the liberal education establishment. That's right, we control the schools. That's how come we can get away with teaching nonsense like the world is more than six thousand years old, that man evolved from apes and that disease is caused by crazy invisible animals called germs, and not by tiny demons who live inside your digestive tract. 

And it's not just the schools, either. We've quietly, cleverly and conveniently taken over every institution that deals with facts. At this very moment, our nation's scientists are busy making up all kinds of pernicious folderol about global warming and environmental pollution, just so we can make you feel bad about driving cars. Our hope is that you will all take the bus, which will someday make it a lot easier for us to ferry you back and forth to our gay acceptance reeducation camps. Our courts are filled with liberal judges who use mumbo jumbo like "habeas corpus" and "unreasonable search and seizure" to keep America weak. The truth is that these legal concepts don't even exist. We made them up. I think we got them out of a Harry Potter book or something. And it won't do you any good to accuse our teachers, scientists or judges of belonging to some monolithic, liberal conspiracy to destroy America, either. If you do, they will simply look at you as if you're crazy. So you really have no choice but to play along.

I remember my own eagerness to learn as a boy. I was born a poor, illiterate Kenyan child, but I worked hard and by the age of six I was able to write well enough to fake an American birth certificate. All the years of hard work and studying eventually paid off when I was awarded a Future Terrorist of America Scholarship to attend Harvard University. It was there that I fell in love with Hitler and his system of universal health care. Granted, it wasn't actually Hitler who came up with the German health care system at all, but rather Bismarck, but Bismarck just sounds too much like... I don't know... a donut or something. It sounds way more cool to say it was Hitler's health care system. There's just something about that name. Hitler. Hitler. I don't know, it's magical. Invoking that name makes you feel like you've won a debate regardless of how pathetic or uninformed your argument is. Anyway, I digress.

In conclusion, stay in school. Study hard, show initiative and give every assignment 100%. And who knows, someday you too may overcome great odds to become the focal point of the paranoia, rage and batshit conspiracy theories of millions of Americans. 

Thank you and good luck with the algebra."

Sep. 1st, 2009

True Bromance


I'm glad that it's once again okay for a couple red-blooded American dudes to hang out and show their appreciation for each other. Like me and Brody. Sometimes my girlfriend Shelly would catch us wrestling in the living room, wearing matching t-shirts or looking intensely into each others' eyes while discussing the shortcomings of the Eagles' offensive line. She'd roll her eyes and say, "You two are definitely having a 'bromance.'" She said it mockingly, and to be honest the term used to bother me, but now my feeling is, "Fuckin' A right we're having a bromance! So what? Obviously we're not the only ones doing it. After all, they came up with a word for it!

Life has been so much better since we started celebrating our bromance out in the open. We go out browling on Friday nights. We lift weights and get together with other bros to play a little flag football on the weekends. We go out for manwiches. Let me tell you, it's great having a bro. For my birthday, Brody took me out for a brotisserie chicken at our favorite bro pub. How cool is that? Of course, things did get a little awkward afterwards when he expected me to give him a bro job. Usually, that's where I draw the line. But then I thought, what the hell, it's not like we're gay or anything, we're bros! It wasn't long before we were giving each other little brouquets of flowers, staging secret afternoon rendezvous at brotels and working the brory hole down at the Outback Steakhouse. Oh, man. We had the most amazing brogasms.

Of course, all good things must come to an end. One day, Shelly walked in on us down in the rumpus room. Needless to say, she totally overreacted. She was swatting Brody with a rolled up Discover magazine and yelling at me as if I was cheating on her or something. I tried to explain to her that we were just broning, but she wouldn't have it. Oh well. Now that I'm single again I have so much more time for ultimate frisbee and brodeo. Women may come and go, but all a guy really needs is his bros. Am I right, guys?

Jun. 3rd, 2009

Is America Finished as a Superpower?

As Americans, we've grown used to lording it over other nations. Whether we see ourselves as the silverback gorilla whom nature has seen fit to endow with power over the crummier, weaker apes in our care, or more charitably, as the first nation among equals, American exceptionalism has been our birthright for generations. It has woven itself into our psyche to such an extent that to lose this exceptionalism would imply in our minds that something had gone horribly wrong in the world. We've come to think of ourselves as the center of the Universe, as a sort of modern version of the Roman Empire.

We protect the free world under what we've termed the "Pax Americana." We, like Rome, reserve for ourselves the right to preemptively march into nations we perceive as threats. It is a right we'd never acknowledge any other nation as possessing. Perhaps as a hopeful prediction for our nation's future role in the world, our forebears have ceaselessly emulated ancient Rome in crafting our civic architecture, our political institutions, and our national symbolism. Even our money is peppered with a crazy mix of emblems borrowed from Imperial Rome. And for the last sixty years, perhaps we've been justified in thinking of ourselves as the unquestionable superpower of our world, just as Rome was to theirs. But is that reign coming to an end?

To me, it seems that there are three ways in which one can identify a superpower: the military threat that nation can bring to bear against its enemies, it's prestige in the eyes of other nations and its economic power. By all three standards, American influence seems to be heavily on the wane, and with it our prospects for retaining our status as world superpower.

In terms of our military power, the United States is still far and away the strongest nation in the world. We have a nuclear arsenal capable of killing the world several times over (whoopee!), a large, well-equipped standing army and the world's strongest navy and air force. But what does all this power mean, in practical terms?

We can't very well exercise our nuclear superiority and expect to be around to enjoy it. While it may still have some practical use as a deterrent, the biggest threat to our national security no longer comes from an invasion, nuclear strike or any other attack from another sovereign nation, but rather that from an international and loosely organized terrorist group, a threat for which our nuclear arsenal poses no deterrent, as we can no more launch an effective nuclear attack against Al Qaeda than we could against the Jonas Brothers fan club.

Of course, should we suffer another terrorist attack like we did on 9/11, we could always send in the army to knock over another nation or two, but where? In the aftermath of the 9/11 attack, there was only one nation in the world which actively harbored our attackers, Afghanistan, and we've already played there. Just for good measure, we also invaded Iraq, but even for that meager result it took six years of fractious occupation and $675 billion (not to mention 30,000 American casualties) just to bring down a second rate, long-bankrupted nation comprised mostly of sand and falafel. Contrast that with the way we sliced through several of the world's most powerful industrialized nations during World War II.

While our military is still by far the strongest in the world, that doesn't mean a whole lot if the threat of invasion is no longer palpable. And it's not. Given the cost to our nation to invade and occupy a smaller, weakened state of 13 million people like Iraq (an act which, it should be noted, not only resulted in regime change in Iraq, but here in the US as well) the threat of invasion against much larger, stronger nations of 60+ million like Iran or Pakistan, the two nations that would pose the most natural targets in the event of another terrorist attack on our soil, seems less than credible. Even if we ignore the fact that Pakistan has a nuclear arsenal and Iran is quickly closing in on one, given our experience in Iraq, the notion that we'd be able and willing to sustain long, protracted invasions and occupations of either of these nations seems remote at best. So even though we have the strongest military in the world and likely will for the foreseeable future, what good does that do us if it doesn't carry with it any realistic threat of regime change? It's like having a ten inch dick but being alone on a desert island. As such, our military strength going into the 21st century does little more to earn us the status of superpower than Sweden's earns them.

Of course, a lot of what being a superpower earns one comes not from the overt exercise of that power, but rather stems largely from the perception of leadership or the prestige that others grant you. Unfortunately, while unassailable just ten short years ago, the hallmarks of this prestige and international regard have begun to elude us. Much of what international prestige gets you, in practical terms, is deference. When building up for the invasion of Iraq, even the nations that weren't necessarily on board with the invasion itself bought into the claim that Saddam Hussein was hoarding weapons of mass destruction without proof, largely as a result of their belief in the quality and trustworthiness of American intelligence. In the wake of Iraq, and the utter absence of anything even remotely resembling the stockpiles of horor we claimed were there, I think it's safe to say that this congenial deference has subsequently been squandered and that in future our accusations against other nations, no matter how correct, will be viewed with skepticism and distrust. This loss of prestige is only compounded by the almost universal (I think the Albanians are still cool with us) revulsion felt towards our hijinks at Abu Ghraib and the legal gymnastics we employed in order to violate our own Constitution in holding people indefinitely and without charge at Guantanamo Bay and other prisons.

Prior to the precipitous loss of our prestige in the global community, we probably could have coasted for a few decades as a superpower, even after we had no military and economic right to think of ourselves that way, based simply on the historic acquiescence of other nations in letting us set the agenda as the acknowledged leader of the free world. We could have even gotten many of them to help with the heavy lifting, as we did in Afghanistan and Iraq. But that well of trust appears to have run dry. As a result, the moment the practical basis for thinking of the United States as a superpower is extinguished, so will people's respect for us as such. We will be the unpopular kid whose birthday party is abandoned the moment it runs out of cake.

The third, and most important basis for our position as global superpower is our economic strength. It is the most central of the pillars of our superpower status because it is upon this which, to a great extent, the other two rely. And our nation's long term economic forecast does not look good. This is a reality which predates the current economic crisis and it is one which will outlast it. After World War II, the United States enjoyed thirty years as the unparalleled industrial king of the world. Of the other major industrialized nations, the Soviet Union removed itself from the international marketplace, while the industrial infrastructure of western Europe and Japan were utterly destroyed by the war. For decades, American industry was the only game in town. Whatever our corporations made sold like gangbusters, simply by virtue of there being no alternative. The global marketplace was our playground. This all began to change in the 1970's, however, when our shitty cars, overpriced goods and oversized appliances began steadily losing their share of the global market to their leaner, hungrier competitors from Germany, Japan, Korea, Italy etc.

As a result, the real wages of the American worker began to decline for the first time in generations. And, except for three anomalous periods economic growth, our economy has mostly sucked balls since the early 70's. The economic boom of the Reagan era was paid for with unsustainable deficits, the bull market of the late 90's was a result of the dot com bubble, and the growth between 2002-2007, as we now know all too well, was paid for by wildly overpriced real estate... and unsustainable deficit spending. Other than these three periods of robust economic growth fueled by little more than magical thinking and marketplace sleight of hand, the tale of the American economy over the last forty years has been one of inflation, stagnation and decline.

The sad thing is, we've yet to come to terms with these facts. We're borrowing just to pay the rent. Our national debt is growing at such a rate that former GAO Director David Walker went on record saying that if we continue to borrowing at this rate, our nation will be insolvent by 2050. But the government's not the only one running up the credit card. Private citizens are also borrowing at an unprecedented rate just to maintain their established expectations for their standard of living. For the first time since the Great Depression, Americans collectively have a negative savings rate. The average American carries more than $10,000 in consumer debt, and of course, millions of people have been using the equity of their homes like their personal ATM machine, borrowing against its never-ending higher value. This was about the only thing keeping the consumer economy afloat over the past five years and now, with the real estate crash, it is a practice which, for millions of Americans, now must abruptly come to an end.

This is not to say that in ten years we'll all be sporting mohawks and fighting miniature wars over gasoline and cans of dog food. However, it does mean that sooner or later we're going to have to wake up to our new economic realities and make some very hard decisions about how badly we want to continue to try to keep up appearances as the most powerful, richest nation in the world, all of which is very expensive. Like it or not, the 21st century is likely going to be one of a multipolar world, with the European Union, Russia, India and China all becoming far more important players and the United States just being one in a pack of powerful nations, rather than the world's lone exceptional superpower.

A funny thing about the Roman Empire. The fall of the western Roman Empire is seen today as a major, epic, historic event. And yet, for the Romans, it was almost forty years before anyone actually realized it was gone. Sure, their emperor Romulus Augustulus had been deposed by barbarians. But by that time, Roman emperors were being changed like office furniture. An emperor would be killed by disgruntled barbarians, sure, but they were always replaced by new ones. The Romans had gotten so used to ignoring the signs of trouble that it was decades before people finally woke up and made the strange realization that Romulus Augustus wasn't ever going to be replaced. The Roman Empire was over.

I can't help but wonder if some day, thirty years from now, people might not look back and suddenly realize that it was our age of unilateralism, squandered world opinion, and economic exhaustion in which the American Empire similarly came to an end.

May. 28th, 2009

The Adventure Capitalist

The following is the first page of a piece I've recently started working on. I'm hoping to have it done in time to go in the new Penny Dreadful. It's a follow-up piece to "Make Your Love an Adventure," which was published in Roses Are Red, a collection of works by Portland writers.

It follows one side of a correspondence between "Henry," an investment banker who bends the rules of his profession (to put it mildly) and his colleague "Parks." I recently stumbled across the original work and thought that it was actually far more relevant now during the aftershocks of the global financial crisis than it was when I wrote it three or four years ago. So I decided to embark on a sequel:

The Adventure Capitalist, Letter One


When it came out in the annual report that I'd been selling investment securities backed by racing dogs, you were the only one who didn't question me. I've always meant to thank you for that. True, you were in the Bahamas at the time, but still. A lot of people in this firm give me grief to this day, but not you. You are a colleague and a gentleman.

Of course, most of the whiners backed off when my dogs started hitting their numbers. You know Jake? That jerkwad who runs money management? He was giving me more trouble than anyone. But guess what? His subprime mortgage-backed securities lost so much money they had to move his department to the other side of the building. Apparently they were afraid that disgruntled investors would come in and go suicide bomber on his ass. That used to be the biggest department in sales, Parks. Now all he's in charge of is two interns and the break room refrigerator. He's like a eunuch now. I went by there to rub it in when I happened upon him sitting alone at his desk eating a sandwich. The sandwich didn't even have anything in it, it was just mustard between two slices of bread. That's right. He was eating a mustard sandwich. I couldn't say anything to him after that, it was just too sad. I don't feel too bad for him, though. I'm pretty sure Jake's the one who called the SEC on me.

Meanwhile, my dog-based securities went off like a bag of cheetah dicks. When some people invest, they look for names like IBM, Microsoft and General Electric. When I invest, I look for names like Gentleman Dingo, Crafty Sailor and Roaring Meat. You want a diversified portfolio? Here's your diversified portfolio: Roaring Meat bursts out of the gate like balled lightning. Gentleman Dingo paces himself, waiting like Napoleon for the perfect moment to make his move and Crafty Sailor eats up the last hundred meters like it were a bowl of Texas chili. It doesn't matter what kind of race you want to run, Parks, I've got a winner for you. I'll take a pack of champions like that any day over the likes of Bill Gates, Ted Turner or Warren Buffett.

Maybe that's where the art of investment banking lost its way, Parks. We've gotten away from the fact that being an investment banker is essentially a betting enterprise. People like to pretend we're not. They like to crenelate themselves against the idea by inventing algorithms and different hedge fund strategies, they distance themselves from the actual danger of investing by using money managers and consultants, but they're still gambling. The only difference is that they're betting on the betters rather than picking their own dogs. Well, I'm a man who picks his own dogs. You can quote me on that. All those people who thought they were playing it safe are eating mustard sandwiches while I'm drinking champagne out of salesman of the year trophies.

Peter the Great had a lot of different hobbies, Parks. One of them was autopsy. He liked to dissect corpses. Don't ask me why. To each their own, I always say. Anyway, one day after a nice dinner he took his dinner guests down to the cellar to show off his dissection techniques on a rebel who'd been executed earlier that day. These polite and sheltered aristocrats were so appalled by what they saw that they averted their eyes or covered their faces with handkerchiefs. Some of them even passed out at the sight of the beheaded man. Several of the guests tried unsuccessfully to sneak away. So do you know what Peter the Great did? He rounded up all these refined noblemen and their wives and he made each and every one of them take a bite out of the corpse.

Sometimes I think that's what investment bankers need. Every now and then, when people start getting squeamish or begin kidding themselves about what it is we do here, they need to take a bite out of the corpse. That's exactly what the success of my dog-racing investment strategy made them do and that's why they didn't like it. All except for you, Parks.

You are and shall always remain my Tango and I your Cash.


Jan. 7th, 2009

Top 10 Names for Imaginary Heavy Metal Bands

1. Evil Pyramid

2. Dungeon Troll

3. Feast of Bees

4. Tough Bus

5. Never Wrestle in Anger

6. Martha Stewart

7. Midgets of Laughter

8. Bustin' Meat

9. Coupon Whore

10. Hitler's Gravy

Dec. 10th, 2008

Larry Craig's Comeback Speech

Yesterday a Minnesota Appeals Court Judge ruled that disgraced Idaho Republican Senator Larry Craig could not withdraw his guilty plea on charges stemming from an incident in which he tried to pick up an undercover police officer in an airport men's room, casting a pall over his future political career. In spite of his often homophobic political stands, no one seems to buy into his denials that he was trying to pick up some anonymous dude in a men's room. A fact which probably won't play well in his conservative home state. But not all is lost. Even with the conviction, he's still got his Senate seat, and with the right handlers, I think he can even win re-election. He just needs to approach the voters with the right tone in mind. I've written a brief draft of what I think could very well be the winning speech that puts Larry Craig over the top and seals his political comeback:

Ladies & Gentlemen:

In these difficult times, we need to send someone to Washington whom we can trust to fight for Idaho. Someone who will look out for everyday Americans and fight for the little guy: the ranchers, the gas station owners and the bank tellers. The farmers, traveling salesmen and fudge-packers of our state. Someone who isn't afraid to confront the bondage of taxation. Someone who can reach around partisan politics and beat off lobbyists and special interests. As the financial markets are bending over under the weight of uncertainty, we need someone who can insert them over and over again with market based solutions, penetrating deep into the core of the American economy. When this Democratic Congress submits its spendthrift budgets, I will pound its pages day and night until they cry out for submission.

We also need to elect someone who can fight to restore the prestige of America. As many of you already know, I was a tight end in college, and the coach used to come up to me in the showers and pointing over at the kicker, he'd say, "you see that supple little Argentinian guy in the corner? Some people say that he just came to America to kick field goals, but I know the truth. The truth is that he only kicks field goals so that he could come to America." That was the America I grew up in folks. A place where one could pick up a small but athletic Latin guy off the street corner, hand him fifty bucks and say, "there's more where that came from. This is the land of opportunity." Today, it seems like there is a void where people once looked to America for leadership, a hole in which once stood America's former glory and promise. Ladies and gentlemen, if you see fit to send me back to the Senate, I promise to fill that glory hole like it's never been filled before!

Thank you all for listening. God bless America.


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August 2010



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