Friday Night Fright

BuzzFeed offers up 8 Mind-Boggling Pieces of Illusionary Makeup Body Art. They are all amazing, but the one below is the best. This is just my little attempt to spice up your Friday Night:

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Of course, I could have just offered up Dali at the Age of Six When He Thought He Was a Girl Lifting the Skin of the Water to See the Dog Sleeping in the Shade of the Sea:

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Uh? No! Fiscal Cliff Doesn’t Work Like That!

Peter George PetersonJonathan Chait has noticed something important: the finance fucktards do not understand what the fiscal cliff is—or claim not to anyway. You, dear reader, may be forgiven if you are a little vague on it. So let me explain.

Because of the Republican “debt ceiling” debacle, unless something is done, at the end of the year, $100 billion each will be cut from military and social programs. Also, if nothing is done, there will be a huge tax increase caused by the ending of the “temporary” Bush tax cuts. If this all happens, the country will again be plunged into a recession. This is surprising, because according to conservatives, government doesn’t create jobs. Oh, that’s right: conservatives are either stupid or evil, so we shouldn’t listen to their claims about the economy—or pretty much anything else. So yes, the fiscal cliff will throw the economy into recession.

Because of this, President Obama is in an excellent situation to make a good deal with Republicans. (At least, he is if he wins reelection.) But as Chait points out, people like Jamie Dimon[1] and Lloyd Blankfein are confused about the fiscal cliff. He quotes a letter they wrote that says, “Interest rates could spike significantly if policymakers do not agree to stop the series of automatic tax hikes and spending cuts and replace them with a long-term plan to tame the federal debt.” Chait is blunt: Uh? No!

Economics is hard, but this is easy. All you have to do is remember the history of the last 4 years. Under most circumstances, when the economy is weak, interest rates are low. The fact that these guys don’t understand this very basic bit of economics shows what I often say: the rich are not that smart or knowledgeable.

The big news is not about these two guys, though. The big news is Peter George Peterson. This is the guy who for years has been making so much noise about “entitlement reform.” He claims that if we don’t do something, there will have to be entitlement cuts in the future. His big idea: entitlement cuts now. He is probably the best example of someone who wants to cut Social Security rather than raise (or eliminate) the cap. I suspect the reason that he never talks about this extremely reasonable plan is that it would cost him money, whereas raising the retirement age to 75 would not. (Peterson is 86.)

Peterson hates the idea of the fiscal cliff. But not because it will be bad for the economy. He hates it because it will pretty much balance the federal budget. And if that happens, he will have no reason to call for cutting entitlement programs. I’m not joking!

The real issue with all of these guys is that they want to do what is in their own financial interests. Anything that they say is just a smokescreen for this. What they want to do—what they always want to do—is cut their taxes, raise yours, and cut your benefits. (You also won’t see them calling for an end to corporate welfare—especially Too Big To Fail insurance!)

[1] Dimon is a Democrat. But as we all know, that doesn’t mean much. All it probably means is that he has a brain that functions at a higher level than a troglodyte. The head of JPMorgan Chase is not on the side of the little guy.

Stop Me If You’ve Heard This

Stop Me If You've Heard ThisI just read a fun little book, Stop Me If You’ve Heard This by Jim Holt. It is subtitled “A history and philosophy of jokes” but I don’t know how accurate that is. It does have some history and philosophy, but it is more like a personal essay about jokes. It is really good: you can ask my friends who had to put up with me texting them jokes all day yesterday.

Stop me if you’ve heard this: What does a snail say when riding on the back of a turtle? “Whee!” (This joke is listed in the index under, “Snails, relative excitability of.”)

That’s probably the sweetest joke I’ve ever heard. I went to lunch with my brother yesterday and I was looking through the book for jokes. That was about the only one I could find that wasn’t offensive in one way or another. Holt says that the majority of all jokes are sexual or scatalogical. Thankfully, he sticks mostly to the sexual.

Here is an example of a joke that dates back to the 1890s, was popularly told about Clinton, but is here about Richard Nixon:

Nixon’s taking a walk around the White House grounds one winter day when he comes across the words, “I hate Tricky Dick” written in urine in the snow. He tells the Secret Service to investigate. A week later, they come back to him and say, “Well, My. President, we’ve analyzed the urine, and it turns out to be Secretary Kissinger’s. But we’ve also analyzed the handwriting, and it’s the First Lady’s.”

Actually, I had to think about that for moment. And this isn’t that surprising. Consider a time last week when I met some friends at a bar.

I told them that during the VP debate, what I really wanted to see was a street fight. One of my friends said, “My dad always said that in a street fight with a black guy, you should kick ’em in the shins because their skulls are so think.” Understandably, this statement made me uncomfortable. So as is my nature, I tried to relieve the tension. And I said, “Yeah, kick ’em in the shin, ’cause that’s where their dicks are.” They burst out laughing. I immediately figured out that I had not made the joke I had thought—I made a much stronger joke. All I meant to say was that his father’s advice was stupid; kicking someone in the balls in a better idea. Thus, I was making a simple sarcastic statement. And in doing so, I was taking the heat off the racial aspect of the statement. The joke that was heard, of course, just perpetuated yet another racial stereotype. It did work to move the conversation on.

The most interesting thing about the history of jokes is how they come and go. It seems that the ancient Greeks perfected the joke, but during the Dark Ages, the art was lost. It was mostly reinvented (if that’s the word) by the Italian humanist Paggio Bracciolini, in the mid-15th century. But he hardly perfected it. Check out the following joke for an example of beating an idea to death:

The abbot of Septimo, an extremely corpulent man, was traveling toward Florence one evening. On the road he asked a peasant, “Do you think I’ll be able to make it through the city gate?” He was talking about whether he would be able to make it to the city before the gates were closed. The peasant, jesting on the abbot’s fatness, said, “Why, if a cart of hay can make it through, you can, too!”

This is kind of like, “Take my wife, as in ‘consider my wife’… Please! In the different sense of ‘take’ you see. I was implying that you should consider my wife but I was really just saying that you should take her off my hands! This is because I don’t like my wife very much.” That Henny Youngman really could have taken some lessons from Bracciolini.

There is much more in Stop Me If You’ve Heard This. And it is a quick read—an hour or two. ($15.95 for 20,000 words!) It is a good starting point to learning more about the subject.

By the way, here’s my favorite joke (which is not in the book): How many surrealists does it take to screw in a lightbulb? Fish!