Monday, December 22, 2008

The Perpetual Calendar

As you’ve probably already gathered from my previous postings, my brain doesn’t seem to function the same manner that most other people’s brains work. It tends to do things behind my back without telling me about what it’s up to. It is not unusual for me to wake up from a night’s tossing and turning to find out that I have something like all of the world capitals or the periodic table of the elements memorized. This is usually a total surprise to me since I typically can’t fall asleep unless I’m thinking about Russ Meyer films or Kung-Fu fights with intruders. Sometimes the information sticks with me, and sometimes it doesn’t. One item that I came about in a similar fashion has mostly stuck around, and since we will enter into a spanking new year on Thursday I think it is particularly pertinent. One morning a couple of years ago I woke up with the calendar memorized. I’m not saying I know what day Henry VIII was born on, but I did wake up with a way to determine what day every date falls on in a calendar year firmly planted in my skull. Don’t ask me how or why. I have no idea. Maybe since I stare at a calendar every day until I fall asleep at my desk my brain thought it was important. I don’t know. I’ll try to explain it below.

Let’s say we want to know what day July 4th, 2009 falls on without consulting a calendar. It’s pretty simple, actually. The idea is that you pick a single date each month that you can add to or subtract from in order to get to the date you want. It turns out there are some trends in the calendar that will help us out. The first thing to remember is that April 4 (4/4), June 6 (6/6), August 8 (8/8), October 10 (10/10), and December 12 (12/12) all fall on the same day of the week (and are all even). The months in between have related numbers as well. May 9 (5/9) and September 5 (9/5, think 9-to-5) are always on that day as well. Also July 7 (7/11, think seven-eleven) and November 7 (11/7) are the same. That gives us April through December already without much effort. The last day of February (the 28th or the 29th) is always this day. Since 28 is divisible by 7, that means that on most years (non-leap years) both the last day of January and March 7 fall on this day. On leap years the last day of January will be one day off, but all of the rest will be the same. O.K. So now we have a date that is tagged in each month: 1/31, 2/28 or 2/29, 3/7, 4/4, 5/9, 6/6, 7/11, 8/8, 9/5, 10/10, 11/7, and 12/12. In 2009 all of these days will fall on a Saturday.

Now all we have to do is add or subtract to get any day of the year. Let’s return to our July 4th example. We know that 7/11 is a Saturday so 11-4=7. That’s exactly one week so the 4th is on a Saturday as well. How about September 18th? Well, 9/5 is Saturday so 18-5=13. That’s one week and six days so the 18th is on Friday. April 2nd? 4/4 is a Saturday so 4-2=2. Two days before Saturday is Thursday. Not too confusing, right? The day that all of these dates fall on just makes one step up each year unless it’s a leap year. Last year (2008) it was Friday. Next year (2010) it will be Sunday. So conceivably, one could project these calculations any number of years ahead or back as long as you know which years are leap years. Let’s try it. I don’t know if this will work out so it could be interesting. What day was April 4th of 1973? 2009-1973=36. 36 divided by seven is five with one day left over. Every 4 years you need to skip a day…except on years divisible by 500. Aw, fuck it! It’s faster to look it up unless you are an idiot savant that spends your days rocking back and forth in front of your piano or you’re making the rounds on Oprah and Montel.

So next time you hear some jaggoff whipping days of dates off the top of his head don’t be so impressed. “Oh, January 10th is on Saturday, or May 11th falls on Monday.” Yeah, yeah, yeah. We all know, Smartguy. Ask him what day July 9th,1501 fell on. If he throws out a day then kick him square in the sack. The Gregorian calendar (our current calendar) wasn’t created until 1583.

Have a great new year, Everybody!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

12 Days of Shite Movies

Since this is the heart of the Holiday season, and we’re all just about sick to death of being bombarded with grotesque caricatures of holiday cheer, I thought I’d help out a bit and put together a quick list of holiday movies to avoid. These are the worst kind of holiday drivel…the sort of movies that would never have been made if anyone had read the script before they started filming. It may seem strange that a fan of bad movies such as myself could complain about horrible movies, but these movies are so kitschy that everyone involved in their production should be hauled off to a maximum security quarry in the middle of Appalachia where they can bust rocks until they have learned their lessons. So here is my list of 12 holiday films that are so bad that your time would be better spent counting your hair or building a bust of Abe Lincoln out of used toothpicks. Don’t say I didn’t warn you:

  1. Miracle on 34th Street – This is the 90’s remake. Why the people involved in this travesty decided to attempt to remake one of the best Christmas movies of all time is beyond be. And casting David Attenburough’s brother as Santy is just begging for it.
  1. Santa with Muscles – Who was the creative genius that came up with that title? Put a lot of thought into it, I see. About as much thought as the rest of the writing staff. Holy Baby Jesus is this one a stinker.
  1. How The Grinch Stole Christmas – The awful Jim Carey and Ron Howard remake. I must confess that I have never seen this movie. I simply refuse to watch any of the movies the are profiting from Dr. Seuss’ death. Makes me want to puke in my mouth a little bit.
  1. Jingle All the Way – Two words: Sinbad and Schwarzenegger. Enough said.
  1. Eight Crazy Nights – This is an animated disaster that you can see coming from the other side of the Menorah. You’d have to be a complete mashugana to sit through this one.
  1. Frosty the Snowman – The second one with John Goodman as the voice of Frosty. Why does there need to be a sequel? And why can’t they get it right? Good grief, this movie shouldn’t have even been made much less watched.
  1. Any movie starring Tim Allen. Who made The Tool Man the ambassador of all that is horrible in the Christmas season anyway? Well, I guess I shouldn’t complain too much. At least I know what movies to avoid in the future.
  1. A Very Brady Christmas – I think that speaks for itself.
  1. Jack Frost – The idiotic Michael Keaton movie where Batman gets turned into a snowman so he can go sledding with his son. If you happen across this one on TV accidentally, BE CAREFUL! You will be unable to look away from the gaping chasm of awfulness that will draw you into the depths of Christmas movie Hell. This is not to be confused with the commendable horror movie of the same name.
  1. Fred Claus – This one belongs in on the Island of Lost Toys with the Charlie-in-the-box. Oh my holy god is this movie lousy.
  1. The Home Alone Series…every one of them. I suppose I should give Macaulay Culkin some slack since his parents sold him to Michael Jackson for crack money, but I don’t have to like his movies. I’ll pass.
  1. How The Grinch Stole Christmas – again, the Jim Carey version. I hate the idea of this one so much that I put it on my list twice. If you don’t like it, then go scratch. It’s my list. Leave the good Dr. alone.

So there you have it, 12 horrible nights of holiday movie watching. Watch them at your own risk, and be sure there are no deadly weapons around or you are likely to go on a rampage from a overload of Christmas cheer. Speaking of Christmas rampages, I also put together a short list of the best holiday horror movie classics for the B-movie fans in the audience. These movies are true gems, must-sees for the aficionado (in no particular order): Two Front Teeth; Marcus; Silent Night, Deadly Night; Santa’s Slay; Santa Claws; Black Christmas; and Gremlins.

And let's not forget other genres of film. There are dozens of other cinematic Christmas-related gems that I haven't touched on yet, including: Here Cumz Santa; The Tits that Saved Christmas; A Christmas Orgy; Spreading Joy; Miracle on 69th Street; and (my personal favorite) All I Want for Christmas is a Gangbang. Talk about the Naughty List! Seriously, people...

And just so you don’t think I hate all holiday movies, here are some of my absolute favorite classic movies that no Christmas should be without: A Charlie Brown Christmas (brilliant non-commercial message); How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966 original); A Christmas Story; and A Christmas Carol (the Mr. Magoo version, of course).

So which movies make your naughty and nice lists?

Have a Great Holiday Season, Everybody!

Friday, December 12, 2008

The Bill

Tomorrow will be the 219th anniversary of the ratification of the Bill of Rights which is the first set of amendments to the United States Constitution. 219 years is a pretty good run considering that it was incredibly controversial at the time it was written. One major argument against the Bill was made by Alexander Hamilton who believed that listing certain rights in the constitution might imply that others that aren’t listed are not granted by law. It’s a valid point considering the huge legal battles that are fought daily in the courts regarding the few rights that are listed in the bill. This argument was the primary reason for the inclusion of the ninth amendment. The controversial nature of the Bill seems outdated, but I think it’s important to realize that not all states ratified it. Three of the original thirteen states - Connecticut, Georgia, and Massachusetts - didn’t ratify the Bill until 1939 citing Hamilton’s argument above. However, the majority of the first American government somehow knew that in the absence of such a bill future officials would claim the power to remove the rights that were not listed as law. The amount of foresight and wisdom of these men was absolutely amazing considering how government officials have attempted to erode those rights that are listed with fear-based legislation (Hatch Act, Smith Act, McCarran Act, and my favorite the Patriot Act). The intent of the Bill wasn’t just to enumerate some of the rights that were considered to be common law. The intent of the Bill was to protect the people from our own federal government. The Bill of Rights does not give anyone rights. We’ve always had those rights as American citizens (I would argue that any free person has these rights). It only protects the exercise of our rights.

The following is a transcript of the original version of the Bill of Rights as submitted to the people for ratification. Notice that the first two articles were not accepted by the states and were not ratified. The second article was in fact ratified two hundred years after it was proposed…that sounds like the government I know.

Begun and held at the City of New-York, on Wednesday, the Fourth of March, One Thousand Seven Hundred Eighty-nine.

The Conventions of a Number of the States having at the Time of their adopting the Constitution, expressed a Desire, in Order to prevent Misconstruction or Abuse of its Powers, that further declaratory and restrictive Clauses should be added: And as extending the Ground of public Confidence in the Government will best insure the beneficent Ends of its Institution, RESOLVED, by the Senate, and House of Representatives, of the United States of America, in Congress assembled, Two Thirds of both Houses concurring, That the following Articles be proposed to the Legislatures of the several States as Amendments to the Constitution of the United States: All, or any of, which Articles, when ratified by Three-Fourths of the said Legislatures, to be valid to all Intents and Purposes as Part of the said Constitution, viz.

ARTICLES in Addition to, and Amendment of, the Constitution of the United States of America, proposed by Congress, and ratified by the Legislatures of the several States, pursuant to the Fifth Article of the original Constitution.

Article the first [Not Ratified]
After the first enumeration required by the first article of the Constitution, there shall be one Representative for every thirty thousand, until the number shall amount to one hundred, after which the proportion shall be so regulated by Congress, that there shall be not less than one hundred Representatives, nor less than one Representative for every forty thousand persons, until the number of Representatives shall amount to two hundred; after which the proportion shall be so regulated by Congress, that there shall not be less than two hundred Representatives, nor more than one Representative for every fifty thousand persons.

Article the second [27th Amendment - Ratified 1992]
No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.

Article the third [1st Amendment]
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Article the fourth [2nd Amendment]
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

Article the fifth [3rd Amendment]
No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.

Article the sixth [4th Amendment]
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Article the seventh [5th Amendment]
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

Article the eighth [6th Amendment]
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense.

Article the ninth [7th Amendment]
In Suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.

Article the tenth [8th Amendment]
Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

Article the eleventh [9th Amendment]
The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

Article the twelfth [10th Amendment]
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

Speaker of the House of Representatives
Vice-President of the United States, and President of the Senate
Attest, John Beckley,
Clerk of the House of Representatives
Sam. A. Otis,
Secretary of the Senate

Friday, December 5, 2008

What Goes Up...

It’s no secret that we are in a dip in the economic cycle right now. Some people call it an economic downturn or a market correction or rolling readjustment or (the dreaded word) recession. What exactly does that mean? How did we get here? You might be surprised to find out that although we live in a multi-trillion-dollar worldwide economy the economics gurus with their decades of experience and computer modeling and high falutin’ degrees can’t agree on a simple definition. The common definition of recession that gets batted around the media is a decline in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for two or more consecutive quarters. Pretty straightforward, but you know it can’t be that easy. A slightly more precise definition follows: A recession is a significant decline in economic activity spread across the economy, lasting more than a few months, normally visible in real GDP, real income, employment, industrial production, and wholesale-retail sales. A recession begins just after the economy reaches a peak of activity and ends as the economy reaches its trough. Between trough and peak, the economy is in an expansion. Expansion is the normal state of the economy; most recessions are brief and they have been rare in recent decades.

Has anyone noticed that everybody cringes at calling the economic downturn a recession? I think it’s pretty obvious why the government doesn’t want to call it a recession – so they don’t get blamed. In the 19th century it was call an economic panic or a crisis. Well, these words were too inflammatory, so the government forbade them and came up with a new label – depression. That was all great until the 30’s came along and we had a Great Depression. After that everyone was a little shell-shocked (oops, sorry) everybody had post traumatic stress disorder so they didn’t like “depression” any more. What next? Recession. That sounds much better, doesn’t it? Kind of like my hairline or the tides. Seems like a natural occurrence. In fact in the 70’s the “Inflation Czar” of the Carter administration mentioned that we were running the risk of a deep economic depression. He was immediately reprimanded and told to never utter the “D” word again. So at the next press conference he mentioned that (and I am quoting here) “…we are at the risk of having the worst banana in 45 years…” Silly. But no more silly than changing words in order to attempt to prevent the inevitable. Words are not the cause of the problem.

Here’s a little simplification of how our economy works. When the economy is growing consumers feel confident in the future, so they buy more crap that they don’t need. In response to consumer demand, manufacturers hire more people and buy more raw materials. Increased employment means even more consumers can buy useless stuff. Investors believe the upward trend will continue, so the buy more stocks and the value of stocks increase. The stock market tends to rise upward and investments make money. Pretty simple, right? Well, it’s a little too simple. In fact it’s very fragile. When we reach a peak of the economy consumers get restless. They have some extra cash and they have bought all of the nonsense that they need to feel good, so they start to save. Then they start to worry about how long the economic good times will last, so they buy even less and start to pay down debt. People start to talk about bananas. In response to decreased demand, producers lay off people and decrease consumption of raw materials. Unemployed workers have less to spend, so demand decreases more. When a lot of people are unemployed and fight for the same jobs, companies don't have to pay as much to get someone to fill the position. People that have jobs fear they will loose their jobs, so they spend even less and save more. Investors fear the value in stocks will decrease, so they don’t invest in new companies. The stock market falls, and ba-da-bing – banana. Just take a look at the markets that are hardest hit in today’s recession. Manufacturing, construction and retail are all down in the last couple of months. They are all directly affected by consumer spending. Talk about recession and a recession you’ll get.

It is a natural cycle. You can see this trend pretty obviously if you look back at the past couple of decades. The National Bureau of Economic Research publishes data on economic trends. The high points of the economy in the recent past have occurred in 1980, 1981, 1990, and 2001. Guess when there have been recessions. Turn your monitor upside down and scroll to the bottom of the page for the answer. WAIT! Put that thing down, you’re making me dizzy. The recessions have followed immediately after in 1980, 1982, 1991, and 2001.

The worst recession in the last 60 years was from November 1973 to March 1975, where GDP fell by 4.9%. Right now unemployment is at about 6% and the GDP might drop by a couple of percent at most. For a reality check let’s look at how things were in the Great Depression. In the 30’s manufacturing declined by 47%, unemployment was at 25%, the GDP dropped by 30%, and around 6000 banks and loan companies ate shit. That won’t and can’t happen now. We live in a world economy that has an incredible number of buffers and safeguards. Look at it this way, in 1990 the market went down 9% (for the S&P 500) resulting in the recession in early ‘91, but those losses were followed by significant gains of more than 30% in the S&P 500 later in 1991. In 2002, stock market losses of 22% for the S&P 500 were followed by a 28% gain the next year. Keep your head up folks.

Why does it seem like everyone is freaking out this time? One word – Boomers. They are getting old…well, in fact they are old…old enough to start thinking about retirement. They are freaking out because the money they have squirreled into their 401k has gotten pissed away because their kids are paying off credit card debt instead of buying a singing Billy Bass to put above their mantle. I’ve lost ~30% of my 401k the last time I checked, but retirement is so far away to me that they might as well give me my statement with a picture of Alfred E. Newman on it. It’s an abstraction like “god” or “sex with a living human”. But the Boomers, the Boomers are sweating under their comb-overs because they are worried that they might have to work for an extra three years to make up losses.

So right now everyone is buzzing about how bad everything is, but the solution is simple. Buy more junk! That’s the beauty of a capitalist economy. If you buy more useless crap the economy will get better. Spend, spend, spend! Unfortunately it’s also the worst part of capitalism – mass consumption of nonsense. But I’ll leave that topic for another day when I don’t have to listen to some middle-aged whiner poo-pooing about the possibility that they might have to work for a living just a little bit longer.