Don’t Mess With Texans More Than One at a Time

I mean, the crime is harrowing enough: two parents strangle and then decapitate their four children, either because they’re too poor to afford children, or because the children are possessed by the devil, or because Hollywood called for “Andrea Yates meets Selena.” Bad juju, no doubt.

But buried within the story, hidden in the plain sight of the second paragraph, we find this nugget:

A grand jury indicted Maria Angela Camacho and her common-law husband, John Allen Rubio, on three counts of capital murder, and a fourth count was filed against them Wednesday under a state law allowing an additional charge if two or more people are killed at the same time.

In Texas, it’s not only illegal to murder people, but it’s even more illegal to kill them more than one at a time.

I expect this is a well-formed law, too, with exact standards that describe the cooling off time period you must wait between homicides to not trigger the additional penalty, which I assume is something along the lines of desecrating the body as it’s unbuckled from the lethal injection table.

I can only assume this is not what legal experts call a Deceased Equidae Cudgel (DEC) law. The goal of these laws is twofold. First, to rationalize the need for a full-time legislature, or a nine-month-a-year-for-more-than-a-working-man’s-salary legislature, legislators need to pass laws. Factories are judged on their productivities, and bicameral representative bodies are, too. Publish or perish, legislate or languish, but show the People they’re getting something for the money. As a result, we get more laws upon laws covering the same basic acts.

Secondly, DEC laws give prosecutors a Old Country Buffet from which to choose which felonies go with their appetites when confronted with a given act and criminal. This end run around Double Jeopardy protections ensures that prosecutors have plenty of statutes with which to prosecute for the same misdeed, for a different “crime,” until they receive a conviction. Let’s see, killing three people with a handgun used illegally in the commission of a felony on a Sunday while washing your horse with a garden hose–a prosecutorial pentathalon. Commit three crimes, get the fourth charge free! Yankee ingenuity overcomes the obstacles of starchy old English common law traditions.

Of course, this law serves not so much a retributive value–Texas executes killers with satisfying regularity–but a deterrent value. Thoughtful and legally-savvy mass murderers will choose less mass-murder-friendly states, like Oklahoma, Louisiana, and New Mexico, when planning getaways to the American South by Southwest.

Here’s a motto for license plates in the Lone Star state (with apologies to Rachel Lucas): Ordnance AND Ordinance.

One Man, Alone, With A Compiler and A Dream

Oh, and lest I forget, UltraEdit rocks!

One guy has written this supreme text editor and has refined it over a number of years. And it works. No exception boxes, no blue screens, just text with formatting elements in a different color.

Thanks, Ian D. Mead. You’re an inspiration to us all, except you don’t own your own fighter jet or 20,000 square foot house on a Pacific bluff. Here’s my $35, though; buy yourself a case of Guinness Draught.

Airline Unions Vote for Lingering Death at Taxpayers’ Expense

It came right down to the wire today, but the Association of Professional Flight Attendants decided not to garrote itself. Its members decided they could concede some money and benefits to keep American Airlines out of bankruptcy this quarter. I am disappointed. Bankruptcy would save the United States taxpayers a lot of money.

However did air travel ever become the tax pit it has? Taxpayers fund the airports, they pay for the security, and they frequently apply an unsanitary gauze of several billion dollars to staunch a sucking chest wound. What are our billions buying? CEOs and their Aspen homes. God Bless America.

What is it about the romanticism of airplanes that makes the government pour money into the big carriers? Pork for the piglet constituents who work for the airlines? To protect a couple thousand jobs, the government shovels billions of dollars a year into these slot-machine companies, hoping for three cherries of some sort. Here’s a radical idea, gov: if you’re so damn worried about the little voters who push the drink trays, instead of keeping the dinosaurs that employ them, how about buying 100,000 airline employees an engineering degree at a state university? You could do 100,000 airline employees per pork barrel, or 100,000 a year. They could find better jobs in markets that make money.

I mean, the hub business model doesn’t work. In fields that don’t use bbbbbbbrrrrrmmm! airplanes, the Move Less Than A Full Container Between Arbitrary Hub Warehouses model didn’t work so well for Consolidated Freightways, but the government just let that company collapse. Maybe the terrorists have won now that we cannot ship Less Than Truckload (LTR) shipments nationwide. Or maybe smaller companies that can fill the niche using economically sound principles won. To Keynesians, entrepreneurs and terrorists look a lot alike.

So what happens if the government lets American, United, and their ilk go bankrupt? Air travel becomes more expensive, which is to say the companies have to cover their own costs. Smaller carriers with fewer routes make more money. A lot of cheap used planes come on the market, spurring expansion for these small companies. We the People have to ride AMTRAK, which might stop suckling on my paycheck, or drive. Corporate types who absolutely have to go coast to coast in hours still soak The Company for it, and the celebrities that pass over our Midwestern heads continue to do so just like the invisible celestial bodies they are.

And the United States Federal Government has a couple billion dollars a year to refund to we taxpayers or, more likely, to study the homeland security threat of poison dart frogs.

Ayn Rand Liked A Green Card…and Branden

Also in the Atlantic Monthly this month, but not online (go check), a cartoonist named Edward Sorel does a page and a half Little-Annie-Fanny rendition of Ayn Rand’s life. Great! She married Frank O’Connor, she bopped Nathaniel Branden, then she died.

Of course, this simple rendition doesn’t even have the depth and subtlety of Branden’s Judgment Day, for crying out loud. There’s something wrong with reducing a full and long life into nine panels. Oh, what the hell, let’s Fisk it:

  1. Panel 1, Russian emigre, changes name to Ayn Rand. Check.
  2. Panel 2, She marries Frank O’Connor for a green card? I’ve heard they were in love, but that’s a little complicated for one panel of a cartoon.
  3. Panel 3, The Fountainhead published and movie rights bought. That’s right, but what’s the idea jabbing at Jack Warner, head of the studio who bought the movie rights? Aren’t you slamming Ayn Rand here?
  4. Panel 4, Nathaniel and Barbara Branden wed. This accounts for 11% of Ayn Rand’s life and accomplishments? Wait a minute…here it comes….
  5. Panel 5, The Start of the Affair. Ayn and Nathan, rutting in a bed….
  6. Panel 6, The Affair Part II. Branden feels guilty, and Ayn is a shrew.
  7. Panel 7, Atlas Shrugged published, “A cult is born.”
  8. Panel 8, The End of the Affair. Branden has an affair with someone under 65, and Ayn excommunicates him.
  9. Panel 9, Ayn Dies. Alan Greenspan is there, and look how he’s effed everything up now.

So a full third of Ayn Rand’s contribution to literature and philosophy is that she bopped a second-rate self-esteem motivational speaker? I disbelieve and make a sign of warding here. It’s true, she erred, badly, with the whole Branden thing, but that’s hardly the sum of rational egoism or the messages within her novels and nonfiction.

Don’t get me wrong, I too have been cast from the reasoned land of capital-O Objectivism for thinking Ayn was less than perfect and that maybe Branden made some contributions to the objectivist cause, but to limit her life to nine panels, and her entire obra to an ill-advised affair and other cynical motives is to ignore the content of her work. Of course, maybe that’s the goal of modern criticism, or maybe modern critics just can’t make it through ~2000 pages of The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged.

But I have. Twice, each. Nyah nyah.

So go watch Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life for the story beyond the cartoon. Beyond, perhaps, the cartoonist’s comprehension.

Hitler Liked Dogs….and Books

Robert B. Parker’s fond of having his characters in his Spenser novels say, “Hitler liked dogs” as a way of illustrating how even the worst antagonist might have some refined or sympathetic characteristics. This month’s Atlantic Monthly also illustrates that Hitler liked books and was somewhat well-read.

As author Timothy Ryback recounts, Hitler gathered a large library beginning after World War I and collected books until his suicide. Ryback discovers a large amount of “dialoging with the text” wherein Hitler makes margin notes and underlines passages. This marginalia provides a sort of insight into his thought’s developments. The article’s a fascinating read.

Let this be a lesson to sophisticates, academics, and aesthetes who look down their noses at people with less formal education or less widely read in those contemporary “classics” that dictate the intellectually “in.” Being well-read differs from being good, or being right.

Techies Salaries Might Fall To Earth In Twenty Years

Doom, doom! they say. CNet News is reporting that United States technical workers are standing in line for the welfare cheese handouts at local churches and have begun selling their collections of new or leased exotic sports cars to keep in their eat-out-six-nights-a-week habits. No, wait. Actually, CNet is reporting that tech salaries are not rising as fast as they used to, they are, or maybe they’re really falling. Technical workers should be worried!

All right, first of all, I am not looking up at sour grapes here. Although I am not a real techie–a developer or admin of some sort–I am, even as a hanger-on to the IT industry, earning annually at 31 more than what my father earned at 45 after years of hard labor. So pardon me while I interject into the common IT thought a spot of perspective from here in the Midwest.

The median household income in these United States is $42,228 according to the U.S. Census Bureau. All of you techies out there, compare and contrast this figure with what you take home in a year, and remember that this is the household income. Many households have two people working, sometimes more than one job each, to come up with their household income.

Not many Americans buy houses in fashionable neighborhoods at 25 or spend time each morning deciding whether to drive the Porsche or the Miata to work on any given day. An unfortunate number cannot have a spouse stay home with the kids. For some, McDonalds is eating out.

Now, I don’t mean to harsh your mellow employment, and I don’t want to attack tech workers or the economists who service them. I would prefer a little less hysterics in the media coverage of the economic sector and employment therein. Don’t panic, enjoy the high income while it’s there, but understand the economics of the situation will even themselves out. The pay goes up when the workers are scarce, and then suddenly everyone wants to do that job, and the pay stabilizes or comes down. Take what the field offers, but don’t expect it’s entitled to you.

And thank your lucky stars that you don’t work a job where your arms can get ripped off by an unforgiving amalgamation of steel and someone else’s ingenuity if your attention wanders, or a job that will make you walk slowly and slightly stooped after thirty years of toting and bending and lifting. For $10 an hour. For the rest of your life.

Does This Cover Power Ballads, Which Are No Longer Popular?

Catholic leaders across the pond have finally banned pop songs from weddings, a step Lutherans seem to have taken already here stateside (at least in the church where I got married).

No word yet whether this includes power ballads, such as Motley Crue’s “Without You” or Firehouse’s “Love of a Lifetime”, music formerly used as filler material on hair rock albums until someone in 1986 discovered this pap would make radio music directors and audiences see a sensitive side to a band where one probably didn’t exist.

Also no word on whether this ban will be enforced at Milwaukee’s fabled Chapel of the Little Bells, home of the 20-minute-wedding-performed-by-a-guy-with-seventies-hair-flaps-over-the-ears-and-a-shiny-electric-blue-suit.

So I Was Listening to Montgomery Gentry

I bought Montgomery Gentry’s My Town this week because I liked the title track. As a matter of fact, after peeling of the cellaphane and stripping off the numerous security annoyances and inserting the CD into the player, I played the song several times in succession. It raises goosebumps upon me as Eddie and T-Roy celebrate their community. Vicariously, through the joy in their rendition of music and lyrics by Steele/Owens/Bates, I can enjoy a sense of belonging in a community group.

As a member of the current urban/suburban class, I moved around a bit when I was young. Although my splintering family didn’t adhrere to the rigorous Military Family Bivouacking Schedule (MFBS), I managed to spread my youth across six houses in two states by the time I was eighteen. I don’t have a small town from my past to idealize, with its close-knit (sometimes stifling, but sometimes comforting and supportive) social structure.

My current suburban municipality of Casinoport, Missouri, doesn’t qualify. Any town incorporated in the last twenty years to protect a tax base from other municipalities whose names were created by land developers automatically lack a cohesiveness into which new residents can fit. The designation of Casinoport as a town or city is a matter of convenience only. The local government exists to spend the loot from the casino taxes on a set of gestures and residential perks designed to show the world they are a Real Nice Place To Live. The residents go to bed here at night and go to work in Clayton, Creve Couer, or St. Louis during the day and go to Bridgeton, Chesterfield, or maybe even stay here in Casinoport. It doesn’t matter, because these communities are interchangeable, and you can’t really tell where one ends and another begins except for the big signs that say, Now Entering A Different Town That’s As Good As The Rest.

Some municipalities in the St. Louis Metroamalgamation, such as Webster Groves or Kirkwood, were real towns when the boundaries of St. Louis reached them. They have an identity for those who want to participate in the community. They have some institutions born before the Reagan presidency. Granted, even these communities suffer from the same centrigugal transience as the newer suburbs, but at least the homecoming fairs have some of the same faces from decade to decade.

I do tend to romanticize the city of my birth, but as a more abstract entity than a community. I appreciate it, when I am there, more platonically than a community member. Perhaps if I return someday, I can fully My-Town-Grok the community or the neighborhood in which I reside. Given my personal history and latent moods, I doubt it.

I realize I am one of the transients that’s a part of the problem. I’ll spend my requisite seven years in this home and will move onto a bigger home in a different community instead of helping build the traditions and institutions here that others might enjoy in future generations. I prefer to think I am hedging my bets by not wanting to invest in start-up communities, instead preferring to put my capital in something established.

So it’s vicariously that I enjoy the celebration of community in song. I respect, and appreciate, the sentiments even though I do not get to participate directly in them.

I Work Around

Here’s a little song for those who work with software out there. My apologies to the Beach Boys:

Round round work around
I work around
work around round round I work around
I work around
work around round round I work around
From job to job
work around round round I work around
It’s a real cool app
work around round round I work around
Please don’t make it snap

I’ve got little bugs runnin’ in and out of the code
Don’t type an int or it will implode

My buttons don’t click, the users all moan
Yeah, the GUIS are buggy but the issues are known

I work around
work around round round I work around
From town to town
work around round round I work around
It’s a real cool app
work around round round I work around
Please don’t make it snap
work around round round I work around
I work around
work around round round oooo
Wah wa ooo
Wah wa ooo
Wah wa ooo

We always make a patch cause the clients get mad
And we’ve never missed a deadline, so it isn’t so bad

None of the data gets checked cause it doesn’t work right
We can run a batch job in the middle of the night

I work around
work around round round I work around
From job to job
work around round round I work around
It’s a real cool app
work around round round I work around
Please don’t make it snap
work around round round I work around
I work around
Ah ah ah ah ah ah ah ah

Round round work around
I work around
work around round round I work around
work around round round I work around
Wah wa ooo
work around round round I work around
Oooo ooo ooo
work around round round I work around
Ahh ooo ooo
work around round round I work around
Ahh ooo ooo
work around round round I work around
Ahh ooo ooo

Magazines Take a Page From eBay Sellers

Okay, who came out of publishing school (or maybe flunked out of law school) and decided that magazines could start charging shipping and handling separately from the subscription price?

I discovered this trick first in Reader’s Digest, which I attributed to the last thrashings of a dying magazine. Let’s face it, readers who digest it are the same diminishing audiences who listen to Paul Harvey, and so long as damn punk kids like me resist federally funding their Viagra and Allegra and Nexium, they cannot keep splurging on reading material. So, I assumed, Reader’s Digest was looking to squeeze every last dime from its readers before their retirements ended.

But I just spotted the same kind of offer on a GQ reply card. It’s not as though GQ is suffering; their ad-to-content ratio is suitably annoying, with dozens of pages of beautiful people almost or mostly wearing Armani, Hugo Boss, Hilfiger, and Rolex. For only $12 a year plus $3 shipping and handling, I could spend a year reviewing the affluent coastal lifestyle.

The cost of mailing represents a normal cost of business for a magazine. They might as well stick us for a couple of dollars for printing and a couple of dollars for office rental, and pretty soon the subscription invoice looks like the phone bill. Instead of printing the real price, which means the real total in big numbers, the subscription departments play marketing games. This little game doesn’t get my ire up as much as an unsolicited subscription offer designed to look like an invoice so the unwary inadvertently pays for something that he or she did not order, but it’s close.

Magazines used to at least give lip service to wanting to inform and to have a thoughtful readership, but the new paradigm seems to be the more ignorant, the better. Look at the colorful ads and give us your money. Thank you, that is all.

Music Industry Says, “Is Not!”

Perhaps in response to my assertion, the music industry asserts that its trouble is all a result of piracy.
As evidence, the music industry does not cite the trouble the software industry has found itself in from d00dz cracking video games from the 1980s to the years beyond their biologically-sanctioned adolescence, nor on businesses exceeding their licenses with Microsoft Office.

Of course, the software industry offers more than Sticky Bear Teaches the Alphabet and Street Sports Baseball, but that is merely coincidence (or lack of foresight), music industry insiders might assert.

Music: Not For Grown-Ups Any More

So, I told Shawn, at least Avril is not half our age

I just turned thirty-one, and although I no longer smell post-college fresh, I am not a CBS viewer, either. So consider that throughout the rest of what follows: although I am an acolyte curmudgeon, I haven’t passed the physical yet, so this complaint is not the rambling of someone who chases the damn kids from his lawn. With that dash of pepper, I have some advice to Big Music: get those damn kids offa the charts.

“Doom, doom!” the music industry shrieks. CD sales in the year 2002 declined from the year before, which also declined from some idyllic moment when the music industry assumed its growth would continue, unfettered by reality, at ten percent a year. By 2102, CD sales would reach a dizzying 10,792,975,584,549 or so units, or 100 CDs a day for each person currently in the United States. However, Big Music’s plans have gone awry or amok, or maybe both, and the number of CDs sold has dropped.

Pop music, for one genre, is dying. Britney, Eminem, Christina, and Ludacris aren’t selling the albums they used to, and certainly not the number of albums their predecessors did. Rockers like Creed and Nickelback fell 8.7%. Alternative hype bands with soon-to-be-forgotten names didn’t ring the platinum bell enough times for Big Music’s taste. So Big Music keeps looking for the Next Big Thing, or more appropriately, the Next Young Thing. Therein lays its fallacy.

As I review the music news these days, I notice the artists keep getting younger, and not just relative to my advancing age. Avril Lavigne, the new Canadian big thing now that Alanis Morrisette has retired, is almost ready for college. Singers who hit the big time before drinking age were a novelty in previous decades–remember Tiffany and Debbie Gibson? In 1998, 1999, and 2000, Destiny’s Child, Brandy, Monica, Mya, Dru Hill, Tatyana Ali, Usher, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Jessica Simpson, 702, Samantha Mumba, Blaque, Aailyah, and Pink all charted hits at age 21 or younger.

As the average age of the top 40 singers has declined, so has their music’s content. Avril only worries about her sk8er boi and her high school consort’s preppy clothes. Destiny’s children want only satisfactory bed partners. Britney wants her baby to hit her with a big sloppy kiss one more time. Even Vitamin C is promising to be best friends forever after graduation, and she’s thirty years old, which is either a commentary on to whom you have to target your music to be heard or a commentary on public schooling.

I know pop music has always been weighted to the young, but contrast the current musical scene with the top 40 charts of the 1980s, when I was busy walking a mile to the school bus stop across the street. Huey Lewis and the News sang about working for a living. Bruce Springsteen feared for his job and his family. Dionne and her friends reveled in long-term friendships. Although the chart had its share of skirt chasing, the overall content tempered youthful exuberance with adult concerns.

Big Music should correct this oversight, this overhype of youth at the expense of providing music for those of us with mortgages but with disposable income. Without recognizing life after 25, Big Music will watch its pop and other CD sales decline as adults migrate to songs with adult content. One genre continues to address these concerns: country music’s sales increased 12% last year. I suspect Big Music doesn’t know why, but probably assumes a nineteen-year-old navel-baring singer could make next year the best yet.

Reinforcing Gender Stereotypes?

I am not a misogynist, but…. Of course, if I say that, immediately you think either the next words out of my keyboard will be, or that I am learning the proper obsequiescence of a Sensitive Nineties Man (SNM) too late for it to do any good for the nineties, but I am not a misogynist; I think women are one of the top two genders in the world. So with that waiver aside….

The Girl Scouts’ annual April Showers drive is this month. They left their little yellow bags hanging from our door knob last weekend, and they will return this Saturday to collect whatever HABA effluvia we care to cast off.

So while the Boy Scouts go scouting for food every year, blocking subdivision streets with their herds of minivanned mothers trailing so Junior doesn’t collapse from exhaustion walking down one too many driveways, the Girl Scouts collect shampoo, soap, lotion, and brushes? The male hunter gatherer refills the larder while the female of the species lies around the house, eating Thin Mints, and occasionally collecting hair care products for the impoverished.

I would not be against giving out a second helping of food in April, as the Christmas charity supply dwindles, so why don’t the Girl Scouts collect food, too? I mean, with the vast masses starving while the Republicans allegedly burn Baghdad for light to better read their violin scores, is there nothing more we can do than to make sure our hungry people smell better? Soap, shampoo, and lotions are the first corners whacked off to appease the budgetary gods of the hungry belly. Have we, the charitable Americans, so sated this hunger that we’re now onto putting free ribbons in their hair?

Oh, but no. Instead, we have the opportunity to give soap and feminine products. I’m not saying there won’t be a bag on the big red SG doors this weekend; we [the artist formerly known as hli and now Mrs. Brian J.] get enough bath baskets for Christmas that we can certainly provide some Jasmine Jetsam of some sort or another. I guess I’d rather see the opportunity for effortless giving of necessities, not self-esteem boosters. And certainly not posed as the main concern of the futre women of America.

Bad Hair Day Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Here in beautiful St. Louis, a woman is suing her hairdresser for unspecified damages after the hair treatments she received led her to feel unhappy. No kidding.

After the bad hair appointment, er, “treatment” (for her “aesthetical follicle arrangement system,” no doubt) on August 9, 2001, the plantiff became distraught at her appearance, took an early retirement from her job, and morphed into a despondent recluse who probably no longer travels abroad.

Because her hair was different in the autumn of 2001. By the second week of September, no doubt it was a total loss.

The Plucky Little Mother Who Could [Alter Copyrighted Works Without Permission]

The Ladies Home Journal, in their May 2003 issue, presents a story in their “Life Stories: Controversy” section called “Screen Saviours” that depicts the story of one Marlo Garrett, a plucky, inspirational woman not afraid to take on Big Hollywood.

You see, Ms. Garrett runs something called Clean Cut Cinemas. Clean Cut Cinemas is one of those houses that takes whole movies and cuts out the naughty bits, whether swearing or nudity or sexual situations, and then redistributes the bowdlerized work. Unlike the online stories covering the story of the lawsuits in Colorado filed by CleanFlicks to enable this gross violation of copyright, the Ladies Home Journal definitely favors the triumph of this family’s values over the property rights inherent in intellectual and creative works protected by copyright.

This is the other side’s story. A woman and mother wants to provide family-ready hit entertainment. Of course, the artists and big Hollywood are lining up against her, and copyright holders everywhere are cringing. Although her motives are purer than a thirst to be slaked by a quick buck, she and related companies and actions would reduce any author or moviemaker to the role of one of n monkeys with typewriters, eligible for revision by whatever gorilla comes along with a red pen.

Hopefully, the movie studios and directors will come to their senses and start seeing the opportunity for additional bonus features on DVDs that include a family-friendly release of popular movies, maybe even for five bucks more a disc. Undoubtedly this will bring Aggressive Agitator Parents (AAPs) to their lawmakers with lawn rakes and Citronella torches, protesting a “family tax” dictated by the market, but it would represent the market, and not the government, at work.

Our world would be a better place if these super parents, who have time on their hands to have a career AND run a successful Internet business, can turn the ample attention they spend while their children sit stupified before a Disney version of Reservoir Dogs to better things, such as revising James Joyce’s Ulysses so it’s readable and suitable for families. In that better world, I’ll broaden my mind with whatever paragraph is left of formerly great literature.