Thursday, February 23, 2017

Chris Rock is Baaaaaaack!

Someone tell F. Scott Fitzgerald to STFU because Chris Rock is having a second act better than his first, and I didn't think it was possible to top Never Scared (2004).  Last I heard, Rock was married, bored, and out of the limelight.  Turns out he's divorced after a costly custodial dispute and ready to roll--even on Tinder under his real name.

I doubled over in laughter so many times, I can't remember most of the jokes.  You might argue George Carlin also had a second act and got better, but his first act wasn't very funny.  To go from being one of the funniest and edgiest comedians in America to even funnier over a decade later is incredible.  Richard Pryor burned out.  Eddie Murphy started making really bad movies.  I don't know what happened to Carlos Mencia.  We don't know what Russell Peters will do ten years from now, but  it won't be edgy.  Here are a few of my takeaways from Rock's new tour, "Total Blackout."

1.  Rock has always had a realism and common sense to his material no one else could manage.  Some of it obviously comes from being a non-athletic African-American growing up among different races, including the ill-advised school busing programs meant to reduce segregation.  And yet, Rock, even in his 50s, manages to be edgy and real.

He laments America's apathy to mass shootings but owns a gun himself.  He chastises police shootings against African-Americans while explaining his own interest in the issue: "Yeah, I'm famous, but only from 3 feet away.  Until then..."

One of his best skits involves him imitating the mother of an affluent white child shot by police.  I'm not going to spoil it for you, but I, too, demand justice for Chad. #justiceforchad

One suggestion, if I may: to make the skit airtight, use the word, "unarmed," as in, "unarmed black kids."  Statistics show that unarmed black kids are far more likely to be shot by police than unarmed white kids, but without the qualifier, the data is more murky.

2.  I love Chris Rock's comedy so much because he hits the nail on the head on economic issues.  Growing up poor--at least for some kids--forces some understanding of economics. (Rock dropped out of school in the 10th grade and washed dishes for a while.)  His joke about buying bullets on layaway is still hilarious years later, and he once again tells an economic truth when he remarks, "Prices are the new racism."  He even makes the skit perfect by including white people towards the end.  Once again, I won't spoil the bit for you, but I hope he adds a line about college tuition.  My California-based law school--part of a Jesuit institution--now charges 55,000 USD a year in tuition.  I won't even bother looking up the enrollment stats when it comes to African-American enrollment except to say that I'm willing to bet Georgia and Texas--both conservative states--do a better job educating African-Americans than liberal California in 2017.

3.  Rock is actually pro-good-police if you're listening hard enough.  He did the famous skit, "How Not to Get your A** Kicked by the Police" and makes an interesting point when he says, "The average starting pay for police officers in America is too low--30,000 dollars a year... You get what you pay for."

I agree, and it's one reason I'm against government pensions with ROIs above Treasury rates or highly rated corporate bond rates.  When you set a guaranteed rate of return on pensions unrelated to any actual investment returns, you automatically back-end compensation. In other words, you shove to the future taxpayer money that could be used to pay higher entry salaries now.  Worse, you force government reliance on Wall Street and the Federal Reserve to meet specific and consistent investment benchmarks through investments that must be volatile and risky to meet the rate of return a political body can decree as "normal" only because of its power to raise taxes and borrow money. If you're an advanced reader, you can also figure out such a pension at a guaranteed ROI forces governments to become de facto insurance companies capable of predicting life expectancies of their own employees even after the employees are off the payroll.  More on this issue HERE, at the end of the post.

4.  Rihanna, why you gotta do my man Chris Rock like that?

5.  Rock, like fellow comedian Christopher Titus, was dragged through the American family court system and came out understanding it's not designed to do much except drain money from litigants.  American lawyers and judges are so out of touch with most people, the day will come when people actually do kill the lawyers--or just refuse to elect politicians who are lawyers.  I can see why Mao's revolution (aka Cultural Revolution) happened.  When the elites are this far out of touch, consequences are sure to happen at some point, unless bread, circuses, and propaganda get really, really good.

6.  Some of Rock's comedy seemed to go over the heads of the Canadian audience.  The "foreign" audience laughed the most at the in-law jokes but stayed oddly muted at his hilarious references to Keyser Soze and the Crips.  I just asked two Canadians sitting next to me if they knew what "Crips" meant. One person had no idea, and the other person--who'd visited the States--mentioned it could mean both a derogatory reference to the disabled ("crips") as well as a gang.  She's originally from South Africa.  Toronto is amazing when it comes to diversity.

I wish Rock the best life has to offer.  True American geniuses--especially the kind who can make your throat hoarse from laughing too much--are one of a kind these days.  

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Dan Gable's A Wrestling Life (2015)

I never thought of coaching this way because I had so many beginners; furthermore, even the best youth players had weaknesses they could improve upon. Looking back, if I had more time, it would make perfect sense to try to create techniques or exercises that would maximize a player's existing strengths.

I enjoyed Dan Gable's book.  It's a short, interesting read--I didn't know Gable was a high school swimming champion, or that a neighbor murdered his older sister in her family home.  At the same time, I wish he'd explained why he chosen to coach at the University of Iowa rather than his alma mater, Iowa State.  I also wish he'd given his thoughts on Cael Sanderson as well as Olympic coaching techniques and strategies.  He hints there will be more books, so perhaps Gable fans need only be patient.

Bonus: like me, Gable appreciates Asics' contributions to the sport.  Asics supported wrestling long before Nike or other apparel companies paid much attention to it.  When I was wrestling in high school, almost everyone had Asics gear--not just the shoes, but the kneepads, headgear, etc.  Today, Japan produces the best women's wrestling in the world.  Check out Risako Kawai and Kaori Icho.  As Hobbes from Calvin & Hobbes would say, "Hubba hubba."  

Monday, February 20, 2017

Adventures from America's Job Market: Factions, Factions Everywhere

I recently applied for a job and was asked if I was disabled or a military veteran. Such questions intend to comply with government data gathering and are required to grant access to certain gov projects. The idea is that the gov, through its massive spending power, can influence corporations for the better. For example, one reason air bags are now standard in cars is because the gov, for its own fleets, issued a RFP where it required them to be installed. And just like that, air bags are now standard for everyone without legislative fiat.

In the case of disabled applicants, the rationale is also straightforward--disabled adults can contribute but are prevented from doing so by various structural barriers, including discrimination. The gov is helping remove such barriers to give them equal access to job opportunities and to keep them off welfare rolls.

The case of giving military veterans preferences is less straightforward. The argument for discrimination doesn't apply in an age where the military and intelligence agencies spend hundreds of millions of dollars on marketing--not just on TV commercials, but on more subtle placements such as pre-sporting game and halftime ceremonies.  Mainstream movies now have fewer Full Metal Jackets and Born on the Fourth of Julys while continuing to make many pre-Vietnam war movies, reflecting not only an erasure of America's prior opposition to proxy wars but a sustained effort to link the current military with an era of defensive wars. (Perhaps I'm the only one who thinks it's odd to reach that far back in history but not introduce new movies about the Kent State student shot by the Ohio National Guard or Abraham Ribicoff.)

Additionally, if a military veteran attended college before joining the military, most likely he or she is already at a level equivalent to the average civilian applicant and doesn't need any barriers removed. If the veteran joined straight out of high school, then the government and taxpayers provided the person with vocational opportunities not generally available or trained the enlistee using taxpayer dollars.  In other words, not only has the civilian taxpayer paid upfront to train the military--many of whom would otherwise lack options or who are ineligible to enroll in a competitive college--but now must compete with ex-military personnel despite not being given similar options in the civilian sector (no GI Bill, no free vocational training, etc.).

You may argue such incentives are necessary in order to have a voluntary draft, but with the advent of drones, we need fewer enlistees, not more. You may argue the enlistee is under contract once signed and sacrifices measures of freedom, but "following orders" in an age of repeatedly unnecessary wars contains no honor--and certainly not a choice that should be encouraged through debt to foreign governments.  Indeed, the only reasons such a system is possible is because America directs 49% of its discretionary spending--about $500 billion annually--to act as the world's cop, a role at which it is clearly failing post-Iraq, post-Syria, post-Libya, post-ISIS, and post-Crimea. According to the U.N., a "total 65.3 million people were displaced at the end of 2015, compared to 59.5 million just 12 months earlier."

To summarize, America's military and civilian leaders have lost every war since Vietnam except for skirmishes in Panama and Grenada, and such wars have cost American taxpayers $14 trillion. It is time for voters and corporate leaders to say, "Enough. President Eisenhower was right about the military-industrial complex.  I shall do nothing to assist America in falling off the cliff it currently teeters upon."

Bonus: Military Times reported in November 2016 that veterans now comprise roughly one-third of the U.S. federal workforce—or more than 600,000 positions.  

Friday, February 17, 2017

Toronto in February

My first snowperson!
(I didn't make it--it was there already.) 
Local mosque: Madinah Masjid.  

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Toronto, Canada

Some candies I picked up at the dollar store--I like the Smarties, which are Canada's version of M&Ms
8am in Canada -- beautiful

I just arrived in Toronto, Canada.  My airport experience was smooth and pleasant in Canada, but not so in my own hometown of San Jose, California.  Funny how that works--the people to whom we pay taxes don't seem to care as much about us as the ones who treat us as guests.

Toronto is so diverse, I cannot tell where people are from, unless I see obvious clues, like being light-skinned, African, and wearing a headscarf (i.e., of Somali descent). In my own family, my male cousins are married to women from Guyana; Trinidad and Tobago; and Pakistan by way of Bahrain.  My female cousin, the youngest one, is dating a Filipino.  I once said, "If you want to be happy, marry a Filipino/Filipina."  I should probably expand my folk wisdom to anyone raised in Malay culture who has a strong work ethic.  In any case, my uncle and aunt--both born in Iran--love Canada.

They particularly like Canada's healthcare system.  With a federal income tax of about 40% and a 13% sales tax (5% is GST/HST and 8% provincial), they can go to the hospital and never receive a bill to pay.  In California, the upper income tax rates after combining federal and state are around 35%, and the sales taxes are around 9%; however, after numerous deductions, such as mortgage interest, very few people in the upper income brackets actually pay listed tax rates.  A single person making around 100,000 USD in California would probably pay around 28% to 32% federal and state income tax--not including property or sales taxes.  If the difference in income taxes is about 10%, one has to wonder why American healthcare is so inefficient.  In Canada, employees do not have any deductions from their paycheck for non-dental healthcare expenses.

Certainly, Canada's much smaller population and oil and timber wealth play major roles in being able to provide better social welfare benefits, but the key takeaway is that Canadians don't mind paying high taxes because they receive clear and tangible benefits.  Meanwhile, I just spent weeks attempting to resolve a hospital bill around 1,000 USD (reduced from around 2,000 USD because I had insurance).  Most of my bill was related to blood tests, and I received a separate bill from the doctor who saw me for about 10 minutes.  I also received another bill from the same doctor later--apparently, the original bill didn't include all the fees.  I managed to get it all resolved, but I'm a single person in between jobs who had the time to go in person to my health provider's customer care office multiple times.  (Oh, the "Pay Now" button on Covered California's website?  It's only a one-time use to get into the system--you can't use it to pay the premium once you've signed up, which must be paid through the third party health care provider's own website. And yes, it still says "Pay Now" even after you've signed up and can't use it anymore. Your credit card is charged 1 dollar and then deducted 1 dollar, and unless you're vigilant, you may think you've paid the monthly premium only to realize you haven't.  Good thing I visited the health care provider's office again to be sure, because what else would I be doing with my time that's more fun than resolving issues with a non-intuitive website?)

Before coming to Canada, I went through my own government's transportation check.  I always opt out of the futuristic-looking body scanner experience, which elicits apathy at best and scorn at worst.  While the American TSA located an agent to pat me down, my luggage was abandoned at the end of the conveyor belt for five minutes, and I was then groped in my groin area. (They point out it's the back part of their hands they're using before the inspection, though I'm not sure why the obvious-shaped bulge isn't a go-around area.)  As an American citizen, I get to pay taxes for inefficient healthcare, totally unnecessary risk of luggage theft, AND an R-rated pat-down?  Why in God's name would anyone want to move north? 

Monday, February 13, 2017

Freedom without Tolerance Leads to Cultural Fossilization

No society can call itself truly free unless it listens to unpopular viewpoints and allows such viewpoints without fear of retaliation. In other words, for freedom to mean something other than anarchy or majority control, tolerance is a necessary component. If unpopular speech is chilled through inaction or action, tolerance is impossible.

Worst of all, people with unpopular but correct views will be unable--in practical terms--to contribute them into the mainstream for examination, denying society the benefit of intellectual diversity and progress.

Bonus: "After all, a minority exists to convince the majority to its way of thinking and often identifies flaws in a proposal that a majority doesn't see in its rush to adopt.  This is the fruit of deliberation and the essence of deliberative assemblies." - - U.S. Representative Tom McClintock, on why debate is essential to the legislative process.

Bonus: Spoke to a law professor today who said that "sucking up" to people is required everywhere in the world to succeed. I don't know if she understands if people in power--whether in politics, academics, or corporations--use such a value in determining relationships and hiring practices, not only will the main result be an army of "yes men and women" rather than merit-based culture, but genuine interactions will be stifled in the name of alleged societal hierarchy.

She genuinely believes that all countries require "sucking up" to succeed, even when I told her I've been to about 30 countries, and that's just not true. I wanted to say she believes her statement because she's a professor in a law school charging 55,000 USD a year, so her experience with human interaction on a level playing field is limited, but I don't think I would have convinced her. Unfortunately, people in bubbles cannot typically be convinced by logic or experience not within the realm of their own personal knowledge. Perhaps one way to help Americans broaden their horizons is simple: increase travel outside North America early and often.

Dedicated to Kathleen Ridolfi... a great professor at SCU Law. 

Friday, February 10, 2017

The "Warrant Canary"

After September 11, 2001, Congress passed the Patriot Act with only a single dissenting vote in the Senate and only 66 Representatives out of 432 voting nay.  (The House is a strange creation--there can be up to 435 voting Representatives, but some entities have a seat but no voting power, such as Puerto Rico, so technically there are 441 Representatives.)  Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin was the only Senator voting against the Patriot Act on October 24, 2001.  When the Act was up for renewal in 2006, at a time when more level heads should have prevailed, 86 out of 100 Senators voted in favor.

Because of such sweeping consent by America's politicians, America in 2017 lacks privacy and is under more surveillance than East Germany at its peak.  The surveillance is so broad and so invasive, the law itself prevents companies from even disclosing cooperation with it. If an electronic communications company--and what technology company isn't involved in electronic communications these days?--receives a National Security Letter ("NSL") demanding records, the company cannot even disclose the governmental request under 18 U.S.C. 2709(c).

That whole "checks and balances" idea allowing America to claim it had more freedom and stability than repressive regimes?  It has not existed from 2001 to 2017, because law enforcement agencies like the FBI are able to send a form letter and demand reams of consumer and citizen data without needing to get judicial approval.

 In 2017, a few companies are trying to fight back through end-to-end encryption and now a "warrant canary."  Basically, companies that haven't yet received a National Security Letter publish something in their annual report indicating they've never received one, and if the statement is missing from future annual reports, the consumer can make an educated guess about what has changed.

While this type of protest is encouraging, it is still facile and futile in actually stopping governmental and law enforcement overreach. As such, someone caring about privacy is now better off moving to another country where taxes are spent more meticulously, preventing governments from expanding law enforcement resources at will.  A country that can issue whatever money it needs on the backs of future generations may not go bankrupt due to currently low interest rates, but the kind of society it can create is not necessarily a healthy or sustainable one.  Indeed, a government relying on debt to maintain the status quo has an interest in normalizing its use amongst its own citizens as it diverts taxpayer funds into increasingly questionable endeavors.  In today's topsy-turvy world, countries with less financial flexibility are more nimble psychologically and perhaps more financially sturdy because choices must be made.  When choices must be made with finite funds, at least a few people tend to think of the long term.  Not so in America, but at least it looks like a few are rebelling--11 and 16 years too late.

Trivia Fun: as of 2017, the six non-voting members are Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.