Friday, June 18, 2010

Barack Obama, the Jamarcus Russell of Presidents

Have you seen the Russell kid from LSU? He can throw the ball 80 yards effortlessly! He threw the ball 70 yards across his body! He threw the ball through the uprights from a seated position from the opposite 40 yard line! This guy has a cannon - no, a missile launcher for an arm! I mean, just look at this!

Such was the ethereal praise for LSU quarterback JaMarcus Russell previous to the 2007 NFL draft. The vaunted Mel Kiper of ESPN proclaimed Russell to be "Elway-like." Kiper's crown prince, Todd McShay, described himself as "in awe" of Russell's workouts. However, largely absent from this vast chorus of praise was any discussion of several traits pertinent to successful quarterbacking in the NFL- leadership, knowledge of the game, understanding of defenses, coachability, work ethic, making sound decisions, and throwing accuracy. Bowled over by the singular power of JaMarcus Russell's arm, the Oakland Raiders drafted him number one.

Russell was not impressed with the initial contract offers by the Raiders, so he began missing essential training activities for the team, an absolute disaster for quarterbacks who need to learn the offense and develop a rapport with receivers. The Raiders rewarded him with a $68 million dollar contract, $31.5M of which was guaranteed (a record at the time for rookies). Russell's reluctance did not end there. He consistently slacked off in practice, even when he was named starter in his third season, only to be benched in favor of journeyman Bruce Gradkowski. Despite absolutely no signs of leadership, work ethic, or ability whatsoever to play professional football, commentators still held out hope, still in awe of his powerful arm. By this offseason, previous to what would have been his fourth pro season, JaMarcus had become (in the words of NBC Sports) "incredibly overweight" and was cut by the Raiders, making him the shortest-tenured player taken #1 overall. All of his alleged talent notwithstanding, he finished his time with the Raiders as the statistically worst QB of the decade, fat, universally ridiculed, and thus far, unable to find a job.

Our current President should be so lucky.

The unmitigated praise from countless media outlets began with Newsweek's gushing cover story of Barack Obama subsequent to his famous speech at the 2004 Democratic Convention. He transcends right and left! He's post-racial! Even after he secured the Democratic nomination, the praise did not moderate. He'll end politics as usual! He'll turn our enemies into allies! MSNBC host Chris Matthews infamously admitted that when Obama speaks he gets "a tingle up [his] leg." Perhaps the greatest praise came from Obama himself in his victory speech on election night, declaring, "We will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless; this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal; this was the moment when we ended a war and secured our nation and restored our image as the last, best hope on Earth."

Absent from the tsunami of plaudits was any sort of track record, any proffering of evidence that he possessed these transcendent traits or had any significant impact in achieving these lofty goals. For all of the attention his remarks about the non-existence of red or blue states, he was ranked the most liberal senator in his cameo appearance in that chamber, and voted with his party 97% of the time. We were to trust his "judgment," but we were only offered his opposition to the war in Iraq, previous to his being in the Senate, as an example. As the campaign unfolded, we saw more of his judgment in the company of his controversial associates and mentors, including Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Bill Ayers, Van Jones, etc. He had no executive experience, unless one counts his leadership of the Harvard Law Review, or as his staff likes to point out, his smooth and successful presidential campaign. Those viewing with clear eyes saw a candidate who was exciting and compelling, but ultimately lacking in what it takes to be a successful president: leadership, skill to gain concessions from opponents, a sense of what the country needs and wants, and the ability to reassure the nation in troubled times.

Fast-forward a year and a half with most recovering from the initial Kool-aid dosing, we have more than ample evidence of the total failure of Obama and his policies. His first major legislative victory, the so-called stimulus package, succeeded only to prop up public sector and trade unions, part of the Democrat base. The administration repeatedly told us that the package would keep unemployment under 8%; it is now at 10%, with the long-term unemployed comprising half that number. Stimulus payments have been rife with fraud and waste, going to non-existent legislative districts and projects that already had funding. Obama's healthcare overhaul has frightened businesses from hiring to avoid huge future health costs. Despite Democrat allegations of reducing health costs while greatly expanding coverage, insurance premiums have skyrocketed and companies are already planning to either pay the fine for not providing coverage or keeping employees under 30 hours a week to render them ineligible.

On the foreign policy front, where the American president has the most direct power, Obama has weakened relationships with allies, ingratiated to questionable foreign leaders, and emboldened enemies. He snubbed then-PM Gordon Brown of the UK, wanting only a photo op with the Queen, who he gave an iPod filled with speeches he gave. Notwithstanding his attempts to woo western hemisphere dictators Raul Castro and Hugo Chavez, they now mock him after some small initial praise. In perhaps this administration's gravest foreign policy error, Obama sided with President Manuel Zelaya, who had been legally removed for attempting to exceed term limits imposed by the constitution of Honduras. And while the President caused much hyperventilation within the American press with his famed Cairo speech, we have not gained any ground in Middle East diplomatic efforts, best exemplified by our continued failure to even partially impede Iran's nuclear ambitions. As Iranians rallied by the tens of thousands in the street protesting rigged elections last year, the Commander-in-Chief expressed his "deep disappointment" with the Iranian government but did nothing of substance to promote democratic reform.

In the final analysis, Barack Obama really has one true skill: the ability to give a great speech.

It's a skill that continues to turn the heads of the media, sycophantic Democrat loyalists, and people who just aren't paying any attention. Aided by his ubiquitous teleprompter, Barack Obama's speeches how the power to stir up a frenzy and dazzle the sympathetic with his intellect - they made voters believe that he could not only remedy the damage inflicted by the preceding administration, but elevate America to Where We Should Truly Be. His speaking is like JaMarcus Russell's ability to throw the football really, really far: it blinds onlookers to the fact that neither of them has the judgment, skills, ability, aptitude, work ethic, or experience to do their jobs well. If America is fortunate, Obama's duration in the Oval Office will exceed Russell's with the Raiders by just a year.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

On Unicorns and Mammograms

On spending, politicians tend to be like shopaholic wives coming home from the mall: the rationale for absurd and damaging expenditures is couched in the language of fiscal discipline. On the retail level, it comes out as, "Yes, these jeans cost $250, but they're normally $400!" On the national level, it's "Sure it cost a trillion dollars but it will save or create 4 million jobs" and "Well, it costs at least a trillion dollars, but insurance premiums will go down an average of $2500!" A rose by any other name would still smell as sweet; a flaming bag of dog dung by any other name will still stink.

The recently-passed health regulation bill is of the same comedic but painful logic. We are led to believe that we must spend money to save money, a line of thinking we should be so lucky to try out on our own creditors. Leaving aside the countless damaging provisions enumerated in the bill, including putting more of our well-being in the hands of the people who run Amtrak and the post office, one question needs to be asked: is the bill cynical enough to work?

The plans for "funding" the bill are what should draw the most raised eyebrows. First are the raising of various taxes on "the rich" and people with lavish insurance plans. Second are the cuts to Medicare, meaning "the elimination of $100B of waste and fraud" and slashing reimbursements to doctors. Third is the coercion of individuals and companies to purchase government-approved insurance policies.

To analyze each of these means of funding which will allegedly reduce our national deficit/expand coverage/reduce private insurance premiums, let's use a test called "What's More Likely?" originally used by Scott Adams in The Dilbert Principle.

What's more likely...that the unions and the better-off will humbly accept being taxed, grateful to contribute to the health care of others? Or that they will pressure members of Congress to create carve-outs for them and find new ways to hide their money?

What's more likely...that the government too stupid to avoid being swindled for trillions over the years will suddenly become a competent, well-audited machine? Or will the new watershed of cash enrich the people behind "Viagra for dead chicks" so much that they will name their yachts after Barney Frank?

What's more likely...that the Congress which every year lacks the courage to reduce Medicare reimbursement rates will do so dramatically in an election year? Or that Senators will begin to pretend to not speak English when pressed about the issue?

What's more likely...that companies and individuals will continue to shell out tens of thousands on insurance policies that they don't have to have? Or will they pay the relatively small fine and spend the rest of the money on flat screens and Snuggies?

Where the most cynicism is needed in this bill is the assumption that people and companies will obey the mandate over paying the fine. President Obama promises a reduction in premiums due to increased number of customers paying in. But how would rates not go up taking on riskier patients? The CBO, which has proven to be cheerily optimistic in its calculations over the decades, have stated that even with ObamaCare that family premiums will go up 13% by 2016, which obviously isn't the same as being reduced by $2500 annually. Clearly, this bill isn't sufficiently cynical to account for the realities of the market and individuals responding to the new conditions it creates.

Or is the opposite true - that the bill is ultra-cynical and counting on these issues to severely damage the insurance industry, sending premiums through the roof? We'll call this the Limbaugh Corollary; Rush Limbaugh asserts that ObamaCare is one of many mechanisms used by the Democrat Party to destroy the economy and American way of life so they can implement socialism. While the Limbaugh Corollary is pure conjecture, the consistent actions of the president and congressional leadership skew very much in favor of government intervention and control. The theory is unreasonable, but we don't have much evidence that leading Democrats are at all reasonable.

The health regulation bill is a disappointment to liberals who want single-payer or at least a public option, an outrage to conservatives, and an abomination to a majority of Americans. Simple, common sense analysis of this intrusive and excessive volume of legislation reveals it to be destructive, freedom-limiting, invasive, ineffective, wildly expensive, and a discredit to all who support it.

For a great critical analysis of the bill, check out this article from Jon Kraushar of Fox News:

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

2009 Didn't Entirely Suck, I Guess

2009, as you may recall, sucked. The economy sucked, we had our 21st consecutive year of having a total moron in the White House (who beat out another moron), the Beatles were even more prevalent with the release of their edition of Rock Band, the Lakers and Yankees both won championships, and it's still legal to show Nancy Pelosi and John McCain on television. It also marked the first year of my working life where I actually made less money than the year before, even before I got laid off. Other stuff that sucked: I had to work at that job for ten months out of the year, Kris Allen won American Idol, and Facebook invented 70,000 more inane games to fill my news feed.

But I'm not going to dwell on that stuff. I had two awesome highlights last year, and I want to share them with you.

Getting Laid Off

In September 2003 I moved to Seattle metro from Austin, leaving behind tons of friends, nearby family, and an easy job to go live in the basement of a clown. To support myself while I went to school, I applied to approximately 70,000 jobs. Not CEO positions, but stupid jobs, and couldn't get a call back, not even from Blockbuster (though they do need a store manager now at a location near me...) In December I finally got my one and only interview with a floral distributor. A middle aged woman named Barbara hired me because I apparently fit her agenda of filling her office with cute college guys. I should have known that this whole scenario was doomed when the GM nearly choked when I asked for a whole dollar an hour more than he wanted to pay. Or maybe I should have just left when the owner wanted to fire me because I was "getting in the way." But because of a combination of apathy, loyalty, laziness, my bad resume, and depression, I stuck around for six years.

Among the many highlights of my tenure there:
1) Hearing very high-decibel and very personal shouting matches between the GM and owner, who were later married, in the office next door
2) Being called "the help" by our owner
3) Taking the owner's fetid dog to its salon appointments
4) Providing tech support to coworkers who don't realize that the computer doesn't work when it is off
5) Having accounting debates with customers whose accounting consists of throwing all of their receipts in a drawer
6) Realizing that my position in the company is actually despised by management
7) Being promised bonuses that never materialized
8) Having the Christmas bonus canceled, the company Christmas party canceled, then the pot luck to replace the party which would have cost the company nothing canceled, only to discover the company spent thousands of dollars on a dinner for select employees (five years of quality work apparently not qualifying for that honor)
9) Constantly being told by my supervisor that everyone not in sales costs the company money and is a burden, even though I was in charge of collections and did a good job at it
10) Hearing our loony owner ask a fellow childless female employee if her pets gave her Mother's Day cards
11) Being instructed by our GM to order 4 pirate costumes for his mother-in-law's memorial service
12) Earning half the salary of a tubby, pointy-haired woman with no discernible job description
13) Hearing the phrase "floral emergency" dozens of times
14) Having to wake up every day before bars closed
15) Dropping off a vehicle for a couple of managers on a dangerous stretch of highway (their tire had blown out), waiting for the tow truck that nobody had called, and being disregarded later

So for those of you who think, "Maybe getting laid off was a blessing in disguise," you're wrong. It's a blessing naked and doing jumping jacks in front of me.

The Mogwai

After two years of aborted sleep, entire wardrobes being covered in baby barf, feces covering an entire room, voluminous bodily fluids covering your home, and the joys of taking a child out in public, as well as a guaranteed 8 months of unrelenting spousal unpleasantness, we just had to have another kid, right? But you can live through all of that stuff when you get to have this:

Jason was born on June 27th in his grandparents' bathtub. Thus far, he's the best-behaved baby I've ever encountered in my life, a sweet kid who tries to engage the people around him. He's my favorite person on the earth right now. Getting drooled and spit up on is a small price to pay to have that much love in your life.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

My Stupid Kids Ruined Everything

A few months ago our family endured an experience that will forever live in infamy, now an inextricable part of Hall family lore that Aimee and I will tell until we die, and maybe even after that. My daughter Jillian, then two and a half, spread diaper content all over the room while she refused to nap. This was all accomplished while she remained in the crib. And you needn't underestimate the phrase all over the room; when I came into the room she was literally painting the walls with it. This diaper content was on the walls, on the crib, on the crib mattress, on the mouse pad that was on the desk across the room, on the nearby rocking chair, all over the carpet, and defying the laws of physics, under the crib. I was rendered speechless as I gazed upon the scene, not comprehending how to process the moment or what to do about it. I had never encountered such a disgusting scene in my entire life, so I needed a moment to step out and gather myself to decide how to go about restoring order. I rinsed Jillian off as thoroughly as is legal, trying to keep her filthy hands out of her mouth. Being somewhat of a neat freak, I had to completely subdue my repulsion at the incident and accept that I was going to be disgusting after this too.

After her thorough scrubbing I left Jilly in the bath for approximately three hours while I went to work (don't worry about her - she'd move into the bath if she could). For a moment, I fantasized about the few blissful months of my life when I lived by myself, a period of uninterrupted tidiness and quiescence. (Other men fantasize about beautiful women and a life of luxury; I fantasize about cleanliness and time to myself.) Having cleaned up every inch of the room and disinfected myself, I reflected on the previous several hours of what should have been abject misery. I found that I hadn't worked in that cesspool grudgingly, with no self-pity, and even the disgust had mostly disappeared. This episode helped me realize that I'm thoroughly a father now, that all of the lessons and examples of what it means to be a real man and a good dad had embedded themselves in my character.

In my view, there are two basic options to responding to how you're raised: adopting those principles or rejecting them. My home was a big family in a small house; none of my parents or siblings are particularly demure or unopinionated, the TV and music devices constantly played, and something was always going on. Many people growing up in those circumstances seek that out the rest of their lives, but I developed a longing for quiet and solitude. From my teens onward, I dreamed of becoming a translator of ancient documents, scouring dusty texts in a locked basement somewhere. My other dreams situations were a permutation of this scenario, where I could be around other people at my leisure and of my choosing. Time and again God has shown me that is not what He intends for me; I have something to offer others and those same people have something to offer me.

More recently I had another moment of duress which eventually resulted in my edification. I was experiencing a high degree of stress in virtually every component of my life - at work, domestically, with my church duties, with my health, and trying to decide upon future endeavors - and found myself with precious little patience or anything else left to give. One afternoon after yet another soul-sucking day at work, I came home to a messy house with a lot on my mind. Not long after, my toddler and my baby began shrieking in unison (a condition I refer to as the Lynnwood Children's Chorus). Neither of the two could be consoled by conventional means despite our best efforts. I wanted to scream, if nothing else to show my kids how annoying they were. I was on my last nerve and Jillian and Jason were relentless in their attempts to deafen us. I walked into my room to collect my feelings and strategize what the next step would be; it was in this moment that I decided to take charge and at minimum spare Aimee some of the agony. I grabbed both of the kids and made them come into my room where we all laid down. While they continued to scream, I calmly read to them and held them closely.
Instead of being annoyed and frustrated with them, I wanted to soothe them and bring them some peace. I pulled them even closer and continued to read and sing to my kids until one of the rarest of domestic miracles occurred: they both fell asleep at the same time.

Only in the aftermath did it dawn on me what had occurred. In the moment, my feelings were set aside and I just gave what I had to my family. My children were granted a little bit of peace as was my wife. As a Christian I strive to be more Christlike, to apply the principles of scripture and do my part to become worthy of the Lord's blessings. That day, Jillian and Jason gave me an opportunity to serve and realize that I have at least in part become the person I have always hoped to be.

My family has always inspired me and given me reason to do and be better. One word that isn't used often to describe Aimee is heroic, but it should be. She once told me that she didn't have those mood swings like most pregnant women which is accurate; it's more of a constant state of nastiness and displeasure. Aimee on the whole is an excellent person, admirable in countless ways. But I've never been more impressed with another human being as I was each time she gave birth to our children. When she bore Jilly (it minimizes Aimee's role to say "when Jilly was born," like it just sort of happened during a commercial break), Aimee kept her wits about her all throughout labor. Deprived of food, drink, and sleep by the illogical rules of the hospital, Aimee remained polite, considerate, and focused only on her baby. When she gave birth to Jason, this time outside the hospital and without the aid of medication, she showed a toughness and determination I had not seen in her before. Both times I was moved by the tremendous character of my wife, reminding me how much God has blessed me in letting me be a part of this family. I felt it keenly a month ago when Jason first really began smiling and I wanted to know how to make him smile. He isn't quite ticklish, he doesn't like being whooshed around, so then I stuck my tongue out at him. He smiled! I kept doing it and he kept enjoying it. It was one of the happiest moments of my life, seeing my baby smile and knowing that I was responsible for it.
Getting married and having kids changes everything. Free time evaporates, cash flow shrinks, quiet disappears, and stress abounds. My family is messy, in a housekeeping sense and otherwise. My peaceful, predictable life is over, but I couldn't be happier about it. Aimee, Jason, and Jillian have given me a far better life.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

ACLU: CIA Interrogators Use of "Pretty Please" Insincere, Insulting

The post-Bushian national security paradigm still has yet to please the American Civil Liberties Union. "In our evaluation of the interrogation of terror suspects under this administration has been discourteous, even downright rude," said spokesman Hugh Giass. "In many cases, these interrogators don't seem to mean it when they politely request information."

Among other reported abuses of individuals accused of mercenary actions are sarcasm, lack of personal trainers, and unfluffed pillows.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Why Political "Sex Scandals" Are Relevant

In the era of the Roman Empire, seekers of office would wear the whitest clothing they could find. White has always been a symbol of purity, in this case the purity of truth. Candor was the premium selling point of the day, hence the origin of the word "candidate." Promises and intentions are all any political candidate really has in running, so the forthrightness and dedication in pursuing those promises become the capital of the candidate who is elected to office.

Knowing someone is a promise-keeper is important for obvious reasons: you can only trust someone you know will get the job done. Faith in God is based in knowing that obedience is blessed and sin is punished without variability. Faith in a politician is based on his or her ability to deliver on promises made to the voting public. One easy way to know a politician is not a truthful person is to learn of their marital infidelity.

Who cares what goes on between two consenting adults? Why is someone's personal sex life relevant? It's not that what goes on behind closed doors that's the business of the people, it is the dishonesty and gigantic moral failing of adultery that is meaningful for voters. Whatever David Archuleta's dad did in the back of the massage parlor is meaningless to us; what Senator Ensign of Nevada did proves that he is a liar, unable to keep a central promise in his life. If Sen. Ensign broke the covenant with his wife, whom he presumably loves, what other promises at stake can be tossed away? For all the politicians like Ensign, Larry Craig, Bill Clinton, Gary Hart, Mark Foley and the rest, the questions remains: if they can screw over the people in their life they are supposed to hold most dear, what's to stop them from screwing you?

Politicians are free to have private lives and do more or less what they wish when they get home with whomever. But when the public is availed of knowledge of the core dishonesty of one its supposed servants via adultery, all of the promises and intentions of that individual may be called into question.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Superman Suck

Am I really writing a review about a movie I only watched half of on a sleepy Saturday on cable? Oh yeah, baby. Superman Returns stinks like a crowded Croatian bus in the summer. Where to begin? Somehow, a $200 million movie looked cheap. Brandon Routh, who will be appearing in an upcoming production called Life is Hot in Cracktown, managed to render DC Comics' most boring hero even more mind-numbing. The movie is dark, perhaps to reflect the mood of viewers who had to pay money to watch this, when Superman represents American exceptionalism and a bright future. I can't tell if Kate Bosworth (as Lois Lane) can't act her way out of a wet paper bag or if her character is just that poorly written. Here's a movie twist that would actually be interesting: have the illegitimate kid of questionable parentage not be the child of the hero. Not that I'm saying the kid is Superman's...wouldn't want to spoil that mystery solvable only by Gil Grissom and team. As for the very talented if overrated Kevin Spacey, his performance is cartoonish, which wouldn't be a problem except the rest of the movie isn't cartoonish, but is brooding and emo. Members of Good Charlotte think this movie needs to man up a bit.

The worst aspect of the movie? It's boring. When the special effects aren't hard to see because it's so dark, they're stupid and fake looking. The big action sequences are not the least bit tense, dramatic, or exciting. You don't care about anybody in the movie; I held out some sympathy for Superman's kid...I mean the kid of mysterious parentage, 'cause it's hard to guess...but I turned against him because of his annoying floppy hair. It's not the kid's fault. Tons of parents today think their sons should look like the mop-topped whiner in Liar Liar.

Superman Returns is a mopey, boring mess. All that's missing is some guyliner for Superman and a Saves the Day soundtrack.