Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Vox Populi: The Mall

Overheard at the Hallmark Store: A woman told her male companion " God, I can't pick out a graduation card after drinking."

Overheard by the down escalator: A skinny 14 year old girl yelling tearfully into her cell phone "He told me doesn't love me anymore! I mean what the fuck?"

Conversation with the women at the cologne counter at Dillards:

Me: A bottle of Herrera spray cologne please.

Young blonde type: I'll get that for you.

Gorgeous Middle Eastern Type: Herrera? That is old stuff. You need to buy the latest from Hooo Go Boss. It's been out 2 weeks.

Me: Women like Herrera.

GMET: Women Like Hoo Go Boss.

Me: It's been out two weeks! How the hell do you know that?

GMET: She leans forward suggestively. I like the new Hoo Go Boss. I am a woman, right? Hmmmmm?

Me: Really I like what I like.

She points to blonde who rings me up.

Blonde says under her breath: I really LIKE the old Hererra.

GMET puts a sample of the new HoooGo Boss in my bag. She points at my chest.

" Tulane Tennis. You come back to see me if you want to buy something new."

I guess that shit works with some people.

Overheard as I walked past the cosmetics counter at Dillards on my way out:

Girl who made her first commission: I just-like I overheard her saying -made my first commission!

Gay guy I went to high school with who evidently busted out of being the "artistic director" of a theme park in Hot Springs that went bankrupt: How much girl?

Girl: $31!!!

Gay guy I went to high school with: No lie..


I cannot possibly make this up.


This Sunday's editorial page in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette will feature a piece on "Worst Books of 2007." Various writers, bloggers and other assorted blowhards that happened to return Kane Webb's e-mails were thus selected to contribute including moi.

Check it out.

George Jones - Drunk, pissed and coked up

You know you have a problem when Waylon Jennings is alarmed about your drug and alcohol consumption.

Thanks to Singleaxis over at the Nervous Hospital for passing this along.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

I Love The Internet

I had dinner with an earnest young man named Nick the other night. He is considering a legal career and foolishly sought out my counsel after finding me through an alumni mentoring program that Hendrix College has not yet had the sense to kick me out of.

During the course of our meeting, he asked me what would be my advise as to what is the one thing all successful lawyers have in common. My response?

" They're not dicks. You can be aggressive and a hardass without being a dick about it. Don't be a dick and you can do well in the practice of law."

I got an e-mail from Nick this morning with a link to which is styled as a "wiki for dicks." Many dicks are listed therein from Mike Huckabee to R. Kelly.

Check it out. And don't be a dick yourself.

My Sunday Feeling

I got something in the mail the other day addressed to "To A Friend." It was from some outfit in Tulsa calling itself St. Matthew's Churches. It contained, along with the usual testimonials from untraceable if not fictitious people, an 8 x 10 inch paper "Church Prayer Rug" adorned with the likeness of a weeping Christ whose closed eyes appear to "open" to look at you-only you!-in a beseeching fashion as if to say "Wilt thou abandon me too?"


Religious hucksterism is as American as apple pie. From Joseph Smith to Pat Robertson Americans have been preached to, yelled at and been hit on, sometimes for money even, by semi-literate con artists who claim that God has called them to start their own "ministries." Regrettably, pollsters have confirmed that a not inconsiderable group of people who unfortunately have the right to vote and also reproduce themselves through human gestation subscribe to various of these evangelists. Accordingly, Republican candidates are required, as the night is required to followeth the day, to suck up to these clowns in order to pander to the votes of their imbecilic followers.

This can have fairly predictable and hilarious consequences. Take the picture above where we see Republican presidential candidate John McCain with the amazingly named Ohio evangelist Rev. Rod Parsley shown to Sen. McCain's right. It was a bad week for the McCain camp last week insofar as endorsements from religious cranks goes. McCain was earlier forced to disassociate himself from Texas Evangelist John Hagee after it was revealed that Hagee has said that Rome (read Roman Catholic Church) is the great whore depicted in Revelations and that Hitler was not only part of God's Plan but that his anti-Semitism was inculcated in him by his Catholic upbringing.

Later in the same week, McCain was forced to jettison the man he referred to with a straight face as "Pastor Parsley" after the press found out that Parsley has preached that Islam is a "violent religion" bent on world domination. Not only that, but Parsley has stated that America was founded to destroy Islam. I don't know what the fuss is all about. This chapter of American history was in all of the textbooks.

Look, McCain's first mistake in hooking up, however briefly ,with the likes of Pastor Parsley is that Parsley's home office in Ohio. If you are going to fool around with flaxen haired Bible-banging loudmouths, you need to make sure that they come from Texas, Oklahoma (which is technically part of Texas) or the Deep South. That's the Bermuda Triangle where all your surefire, time tested, semi-criminal preachers come from. You don't go to Tennessee to get crabcakes and you don't go to Ohio for preachers. A conspicuous exception to this basic rule was my favorite TV preacher, the late Gene Scott, who hailed from California and canoodled with young women and raised race horses. But Gene was, like I said, an exception to the rule. And just about any rule you care to name.

Secondly, while these guys pretty toil and spin under the radar of the national media for the most part, the all do have websites and they even write "books" wherein their nutbar pronouncements are out there for all the world to see. And have been for years. Didn't anybody on McCain's staff say "Who the fuck is Pastor Parsley? " and assign some young aide the task of getting online to check him out? I mean, knowing that my candidate was considering an endorsement from a guy whose name sounds like a character in a book by Dr. Suess would be enough to cause my red flags to go up. Suffice it to say the red flags went up way too late on the "Straight Talk Express."

I am supposed to turn my "Prayer Rug" back into God's home office in Tulsa, presumably with my prayer list and a donation. I am assured that I will get in return God's blessing and my own personal "beautiful, blessed, (gold painted) Prosperity Cross" that has been blessed by the church Elders.
On second thought, I'm going to forward this stuff over to the McCain campaign. They are a little light in preacher endorsements at this stage of the contest. I don't know much about the "ministry"that sought me out the other day but at least they are from Oklahoma (which is technically part of Texas) where they still know how to work the con.

Beats looking for your in-house evangelist in the Rust Belt.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

My Sunday Feeling

I have been doing a lot of work to my house lately. And I have a lot more to do. A buddy of mine is a country banker who suggested that I take out a home equity line of credit at his rural branch of one of the bigger national banks. It's low interest, no costs and you only draw down what you need and pay back a minimum 1.5% of the balance drawn every month. Sounds like a good deal for me.

Now I had heard tell that there is a financial crisis in the real estate world. I heard that lenders weren't making these kind of loans anymore. I asked him about this.
" No. A guy like you can still take advantage of this product. ( They used to be just "loans." Now they are "products.") Real estate values in your part of town are stable. You only want to take out 10 grand against an equity cushion of over 100,000 dollars depending on who you believe and you have a high credit score. Besides, if you default I will personally kill your ass. That's what makes this a good deal for us to do."

That's good to know. Because we had a bank get it's ass taken over here in Arkansas last week. And it wasn't in the Delta. We had a bank failure in Bentonville, Arkansas up in the Ozarks where all the money is now. The takeover of ANB Financial by the FDIC was not a pretty thing. You can read all about it here:

Basically it is the same story as what is going on elsewhere in the country. ANB made really aggressive- read "risky"- loans based on two assumptions. The first assumption was that real estate values would continue to rise. The second assumption was that somebody would buy the paper off of them so that if there were problems down the road it would somebody else's headache. And so, as the article states, anybody wearing a tool belt could hold himself out as a builder and developer and get a loan to build a strip mall.
Well, as we know the market tanked. Loans got upside down on real estate which ain't exactly supposed to happen. And ANB also got unlucky. They got into the "go-go" world of real estate financing just when Standard and Poors and the other bond raters started tightening up the ratings about 6 years too late. So ANB got stuck with its own paper. Which couldn't have been the game plan.

When I was young and had potential the State Bank Commissioner came to speak to the Economics Club or some shit at Hendrix College. The Commissioner at the time was a country banker named Mahlon Martin. Mr. Mahlon was an interesting speaker. He would sometimes show up for these type of civic talks in overalls. He was known to pop out his glass eye to emphasize a point. You had no way of knowing from the usual Mahlon Martin production that he had an MBA from Harvard. Which is just the way he liked it.

He said something at Hendrix that has stuck with me to this day. He said he had been in banking for years and that he had never seen a bank failure where somebody didn't wind up going to jail. He said that the way banks are regulated if you play by the rules, the bank will turn a profit. It may not be as big a profit as you would like and you may never get rich in the banking business. But the bank will not fail.

I have had a couple of experiences with banks that have run afoul of the FDIC. These are not people that you want to mess with. And that's the way it ought to be. When a bank gets in trouble, customers get jumpy. Which makes the Comptroller of the Currency equally jumpy. Takeovers and buyouts are messy as hell. Electronic transactions get frozen. People inevitably lose their jobs. Not just loan officers but secretaries and tellers. The local bank gets taken over by people nobody has heard of. And all because guys didn't follow the rules.

Or, as an attorney for the FDIC once told me about a bank in South Arkansas that they had in their sights, " We are just trying to figure out what caused a safe conservative country bank to lose its goddamn mind."

Up until recently a person could pay the kids' tuition, pay off credit cards and tax liens even with a loan secured by a second lien on real estate. It was not unheard of for lenders to make two loans to be closed at once. One to purchase the house, the second to pay off the credit cards. I know a woman who had $60,000 in credit card bills. She got a loan secured by a second lien on her house over the Internet.

Those days are over. The easy "home equity" loans secured by second liens on real estate to refinance the massive unsecured debts run up by credit card millionaires or folks down on their luck don't exist any more. Or they don't exist anymore except at interest rates that are as high as a cat's ass. That's because lots of lenders lost their "goddamn minds" on a collective basis and we are now in a recession. And there is a world of hurt out there because of it.

I am a bankruptcy person. I view these matters from a certain realistic (I like to think) perspective. Lenders and borrowers game the system with equal vigor. At the end of the day what it comes down to is: What is the worst case scenario? They pay what they can pay under the law and you get down the road. But we are at a point where people who have two adjustable rate mortgages at 14% on property that is worth less than what is owed against it make the eminently rational decision to walk away rather than throw more money down a rat hole.

My country banker friend told me to fax him a copy of my driver's license. That way I can just swing by the bank after my golf tournament up there and sign the papers. Everything else was done online. Just to be on the safe side, I sent him a copy of my DL, a library card, my golf club membership card and my thumbprint. I used to get this kind of ID from guys that were in the Militia. (Do those even exist anymore?)

He called Friday night to say that he knew he knew my fax had hit the bank(as they say in the world of commercial paper) when he heard his loan officer say "Day-um!"

"I explained to her that although you are undoubtedly insane and this is against my sounder judgment, amazingly enough, the numbers don't lie in your situation and so this foolish extension of credit to the likes of you will pass an audit. So come in Wednesday and sign your house away."

The loan to me maybe as shaky as hell. but at least my friend isn't betting on the come. His loan and the first lien are over-secured. Nobody ever got in trouble making that kind of deal. My friend is in a lot better shape than the "pie in the sky" types who ran ANB Financial into the dumper.

Because, like Mr. Martin said years ago, people in the banking game that don't follow the rules get indicted.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Go West Young Man!

Especially if you want to marry another guy because the California State Supreme Court overturned California's ban on gay marriage.

I am pretty agnostic about all of this. The biggest advantage I see to same-sex relationships is that they reduce one's chances about having to engage in tedious discussions about the appropriateness of certain sex acts.

Having said all that, this is probably not exactly what Horace Greeley had in mind.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Ask And Ye Shall Receive

Barry Bonds's lawyers filed a motion to dismiss the 2 0r 3 charges against him on the grounds that they were unconsitutionally vague. They argued that the prosecution had stacked a bunch of charges against him into one or two counts.

Fine. The Grand Jury came out with a superceding Indictment for 15 separate counts.

Great work. His potential exposure to criminal liability has now been multiplied a hundredfold.

Check it out on the jump:

Saturday, May 10, 2008

My Sunday Feeling

Last week I attended a funeral for a kid. Second year in a row that the child of a friend has died. Nicholas didn't have to go to school last Thursday so his folks let him sleep in. Chris came home for lunch and found his son dead in his bed. As I understand it, the autopsy was inconclusive although the blood work won't be available for a couple more weeks. So the poor parents have more questions than answers.

As do I. At times like these, it is hard to reconcile all the human suffering that exists on this planet with the concept of a benevolent God who loves us and protects us. The theological term for it is theodicy. Liebniz, who invented the term, believed that the world, with all of it's imperfections did not contradict the notion of a benevolent God and indeed was "the best of all possible worlds." According to Leibnitz, God being God could have created any type of world He wanted. Since He obviously created this world with all of its suffering, this must be the "best of all possible worlds."

This, of course, provided the great Voltaire with fodder for the character of Dr. Pangloss who reminds Candide through their many travails in the great novel by the same name not to give into despair as he is "in the best of all possible worlds." As I recall, the good Doctor repeats this advice as they are kidnapped by pirates, learn of an entire village destroyed by an earthquake and are about to be executed. Subtlety was never Voltaire's long suit.

The best of all possible worlds.

If this is the best of all possible worlds than I say to hell with it. There is genocide in the Darfur, chaos in the Middle East (some of which is of our own doing) and starvation and sickness in Burma in the wake of a hurricane. A friend of mine called me this morning to tell me that her father just got diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer. Naturally, he doesn't smoke. The daughter of a friend committed suicide last summer and last week Chris found his son dead.

You can undoubtedly add your own experiences to the list.

I have just begun the latest book by theologian Bart Ehrman which is entitled "God's Problem-How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question-Why We Suffer." In his forward, which is all I have read so far, Ehrman writes of his anger with the God as depicted in the Bible. If God parted the Red Sea to save the Israelites, where is he now? If God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, why doesn't he love it enough to end suffering? Ehrman states that he found the biblical explanations so lacking upon examination that he is no longer a Christian. Instead, he is an agnostic which he describes as being "an atheist with no guts."

My neighbor Art is an interesting guy. He is a retired diplomat with the State Department. He is also an ordained Methodist minister. He is currently pastoring a tiny rural Methodist church just inside the city limits. We talked about this issue the other day. Down hear in the South you hear suffering rationalized away by people saying that "God doesn't put anymore on a person than they can stand." Or when someone dies unexpectedly, you hear "I guess God needed him in Heaven more then we needed him here on Earth." And finally, you hear folks express gratitude for imagined divine intervention in everything from sparing a house during a tornado that destroys every other building on the block to catching a touchdown pass.

These pieties drive me and Art nuts. To us they are nothing more than nonsense. First of all, I would hope that if God intervenes in human history he would not be so frivolous as to fix sporting events. The corollary to that is, if God makes cameo appearances from time-to-time to alter elections, cause people to hit home runs or cause tornadoes to change course to spare rednecks, why would He stick around long enough to cure cancer, establish His peace and maybe turn Roger Clemens into a pillar of salt?

We don't know. And our traditional explanations for why we suffer don't much help.

As for Art he says, "I preach the love of God through Jesus Christ. I preach that nothing is greater than this love. Beyond that, I have no idea why bad things happen."

Fair enough.

But if this is the best of all possible worlds then I think we should shut down the space program rather than run the risk that we might find one even worse out there.

Friday, May 09, 2008


This is a live performance @ 1987 or so. I loved these guys.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Really Funny Stuff

From the Onion: An interview with Terrell Owens on the Cowboys acquiring the rights to Pac-Man Jones.

Also one of the headlines from the Onion Sports Page: Roger Clemens: "I injected myself into a country singers' buttocks."

Sunday, May 04, 2008

My Sunday Feeling

There are many things that I don't "get." I don't get NASCAR. I don't get American Idol and Dancing With The Stars. And I don't get horse racing. And I really don't get the Kentucky Derby.

I mean, I understand that it is fun to dress up and go out with a crowd to witness an event. I have been to Oaklawn, our local track, and I have always had a good time. It's fun to watch the horses. It is fun to catch some rays and drink a few beers. And the fact that you can bet on the races without talking to a bookie or getting on the Internet gives it an extra buzz.

But is there a more over-hyped event that is less relevant to modern sports than the Kentucky Derby? I could argue that tennis is more important than the "Sport of Kings" and tennis is in the dumper. Especially in this country.

Let's face it, horse racing, along with boxing, no longer command the attention of the modern sports consumer. Boxing is a farce, especially in the heavyweight division where rumor has it that George Foreman, a man in his sixties, is planning to get back in the ring. Don't you worry. Some state boxing authority will give him a license.

And horse racing, while not completely as completely dirty as boxing, certainly has the popular conception that it is a rigged game. On the other hand, casino gambling isn't fixed as such. It's just that the odds are way in favor of the house. Unless you play the so-called "games of skill" such as poker or 21, you really are just gambling. Which is why casinos have relatively inexpensive food and drink and offer shows. They want to keep you from leaving the house. Because once you leave the house they can't keep taking your money.

People who are big into the horse game, scoff at the notion that horse racing is fixed. Maybe they are right and I don't mean to suggest that the Derby is fixed. That would be too hard to do with all of the attention put on the event. But allow me to offer the following example that illustrates that it might not be all that hard to do.

The Previous Administration and I went to see "Seabiscuit" when we first started dating back when the bloom was still on the rose and hearts were gay. Along with everyone else we were stunned by the footage of the races. The camera seemed to be right on top of the horses. You could see them jockey for position (pardon the expression), lead, fall back and so forth. It was all very thrilling to see.

As we were driving home it occurred to me, if they could "choreograph" a race for a movie, couldn't they do it for an actual race if they wanted to?

I mean, couldn't they?

I remember when the Feds investigated Evangeline Downs outside of Lafayette just after I got out of law school. Evangeline Downs was widely considered by the racing cognoscenti down there at the time to be the 1919 World Series of racetracks. The FBI pretty much proved it. The most memorable bit of testimony about one race that was rigged came from a Special Agent who testified that the jockey who took a dive, was pulling so hard on the reins out of the chute that the horse and rider resembled the opening montage of "The Lone Ranger."

Oh well. What do I know?

I suppose there's nothing wrong with having an excuse to wear floppy hats and drink mint julips. And it is certainly pretty to look at just like Oaklawn is. But I don't think it really qualifies as a major sporting event any more than the Stanley Cup does. Times change.

People don't need horses to get them from point A to point B anymore. They need cars. That's why NASCAR is bigger than the horse game. Not as many people can relate to it.

But I don't get NASCAR either.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

True To Her Word

Deborah Jeane Palfrey, the so-called "D.C. Madam" was found dead at her mother's home today in Tarpon Springs, Florida. The police said she hung herself in a shed.
She had been convicted by a federal jury of racketeering and money laundering after the nationwide escort service she was running out of her home in California got popped by the Postal Inspectors. The case achieved more notoriety than it would have otherwise due to the fact that her phone records revealed telephone calls from United States Senator David Vitter of Louisiana.
She was looking at a sentence of about 5 to 8 eight years most likely. She said she would never go to prison. Not even for one day.
She was true to her word.
I confess to having mixed emotions about this news. On the one hand, the justice system didn't kill her. She screwed up and got caught running a criminal enterprise that made her lots of money upon which she paid no taxes. At the time of her arrest the Postal Service seized $500,000. That's a lot of loose change.
Further, it's not like she was unknown to the system. A boyfriend got a restraining order on her once and she had a couple of priors for prostitution in Nevada and California. That probably would factor in on how much time she would have to catch.
Still, no elderly woman should find her daughter with a rope around her neck.
The law is the law. I know this.
But still. It's not like she killed anybody.
It's sad.