Archive for June, 2008

What Inflation?

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As the Dowbrigade has been noting for some time now, it is clear that the Federal Office of Management and Budget has been cooking the nation’s books for years.

We noted almost four years ago that prices at the pumps, checkout counters, showrooms and e-Sites have been going up a lot faster than the officially recognized 3-4% per year. We wrote then,

Although we don’t have an advanced degree in economics, it is obvious to any fool with half a brain and less than a million dollars to spend that prices in the US are rising faster than the officially reported 1.1%. Gasoline is almost two dollars a gallon, the T just went up 25%, we spend more at the supermarket every week (when did milk get so expensive?) and the hidden surcharges and stealth fees in our bills are gutting our budget every month. (Dowbrigade, March 2004)

Now, although we still don’t have an advanced degree in economics, we DID take courses in the field as an undergrad AND as a grad student, as we have long been convinced that no one can really hope to understand what’s going on in the modern world without a sound understanding of basic economic principles.

Despite that fact, and the intuitive certainty that some statistical prestidigitation was taking place, we didn’t have a clue as to the actual mechanisms being employed until we read Kevin Phillips article Hard Numbers: The Economy is Worse than you Think, from the current issue of Harper’s Magazine. He explains, in language anyone with a sound understanding of basic economic principles can understand, the different statistical scams that successive administrations have instituted to downplay inflation and unemployment, both of which, according to a number of neutral economists, are actually hovering between 8 and 10%.

Ever since the 1960s, Washington has gulled its citizens and creditors by debasing official statistics, the vital instruments with which the vigor and muscle of the American economy are measured.

The effect has been to create a false sense of economic achievement and rectitude, allowing us to maintain artificially low interest rates, massive government borrowing, and a dangerous reliance on mortgage and financial debt even as real economic growth has been slower than claimed.

St Petersburg Times

The scams range from computing the value of homes by asking homeowners to estimate how much rent they could charge rather than taking real estate market rates (rents rose half as fast as house prices over the past decade) to leaving people who had “given up looking for work” from the unemployment statistics.

Meanwhile, the current elephant in the living room is credit card debt. As Americans absorb the increases at the gas station and in the supermarkets, they are not adjusting their spending accordingly – they are accumulating the resulting monthly deficits on their credit cards. The limits on these cards, lifted regularly during the boom times, will eventually be reached, and the resultant insolvencies will be a devastating one-two punch to ordinary citizens already reeling from depreciation and or loss of homes and investment portfolios.

Most of those affected are still in denial, or hoping that the empty bank accounts at the end of the months are temporary abberrations soon to disappear. But they have a nagging feeling bogging down their brains which is reflected in the historically low consumer confidence numbers being reported in the past few weeks. What happens when millions of cards start popping back out of ATM’s or being refused at Wal-Mart or Piggly Wiggly is anybody’s guess, but it isn’t going to be pretty.

Boston Rules and Resistance is Futile

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mvp2.pngYesterday the Dowbrigade and his son and cameraman Gabriel joined half a million other Boston sports fans to celebrate the latest World Championship by a local sports team. Yawn. Then we stopped for Brazilian Bar-B-Q on the way home. Ho hum.

How jaded we have become, here in the Hub! Somehow life seems empty if one of the local teams isn’t playing for a cup, or trophy, or title. What we have here is a unique and unprecedented confluence of statistical, psychic and socio-cultural factors, bringing championships to Boston by the bandwagon.

We have already taken credit for the Major Mojo behind this run of competitive success. However, it occurs to us that most people may not be aware of how deep and widespread this reign of triumph currently is.

For example, how many readers are aware that the Walpole, MA Little League team was declared the default 2007 Little League World Series winner, due to the retroactive age-related disqualifications of players from the Macon, Georgia and Osaka, Japan teams which finished ahead of them?

And how about the news that the Boston team at the National Conference of Mayors won the annual City Government Softball Tournament final 17-6 after cleanup hitter Tom Tom Menino pointed to the left field wall, mumbled something unintelligible and smashed the crap out of an 0-2 knuckleball from Michael Bloomberg.

While the “Big Three” of Celtics, Patriots and Red Sox grab all the headlines, true sports fans are aware that there are other champions in town. The New England Revolution have been to the MLS finals three years in a row, earning the unfortunate sobrioquet “Buffalo Bills of the MLS”.

But further down the food chain of professional sports, who knew that the Boston Tea Bags recently finished first in the Gay Para Olympics. Or that the Boston Bonsais of the Professional Flower Arranging League last year won the Bouquet Bowl?It is a shame only the Bay Windows weekly rag reported that the Boston Stylistics captured the American Stylists 2008 Coiff-Off held recently in Las Vegas. They Blow!

Among female competitors, local teams at the top of their respective sports include the Boston Ballbreakers of the Womens Amateur Rugby Association and the New England Nannies who recently triumphed in the World Child Care Olympics in Manchester, England.

And who could forget the Boston Blueballs, who traveled to Fugloysund, Norway for the Competitive Ice-Swimming Team Championship and won! Go Blueballs!

But Boston’s good fortune has not been limited to nominal grown-ups. Our many excellent college teams have also been bringing home titles at a rate that has the laurel leaves falling faster than foliage in the fall. Why, just during the past academic year, MIT took home both the US Collegiate Chess Championship and the NCAA Robot Rhythmic Gymnastics Cup. In between Harvard won the Super-Ego Bowl.

Speaking of bowls, BC triumphed in the 2008 GE College Bowl as well as the Champs Sports Bowl, and Northeastern staggered home with the 2008 Beer Pong title. Brandeis took the team title at the Maccabee Games and a Bentley won the Paris-Dakar Road Rally. In a major upset, BU won the Division 3 Football Championship, even though they haven’t had a football team for ten years.

Flipping through the cable lineup we also note that New Englanders have been on a competitive reality show tear, having recently won America’s Top Model, Celebrity Chef Cookoff, American Idle (a slacker spin-off), Dancing with the Stars, Big Brother, I Survived a Japanese Game Show, America Gladiator, The Great Race, Fear Factor, Top Design, America’s Got Talent, The Biggest Loser and The Apprentice.

The popularity of Boston has been noted and rewarded by a plethora of national publications and professional associations which have recently named our fair city, among other things, America’s Voted Most Livable City, Best Sports Bars, Top Singles Scene, Best Managed City, Most Scenic Urban Area, Best Educated City, Best Junk Food, Most Interesting Eccentrics, America’s Friendliest Citizens and, in an incredible coup, Best Weather in the Continental United States.

In addition to a continuing cavalcade of championships, we can look forward to an accelerating parade of world-class events. Boston has been recently selected to host the 2010 Miss Universe Pageant, the 2016 Summer Olympics and the 2020 World Cup. In 2012 both the Democrats and the Republicans plan to have their nominating conventions here.

So enjoy it while it lasts, boys and girls, but be ready to relocate for a while. When the party ends, there’ll be the devil to pay. Balancing the karmic books can be a bitch.

Watch the video we shot yesterday

Mercy Killing

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The call came in on Sunday morning, interrupting the time honored ritual of newspapers, coffee and pastries in bed. The unfamiliar female voice asked in halting, heavily accented English, “Is you Michol?” It turned out to be a friend of a distant cousin of Norma Yvonne, who claimed she knew us when we lived in Guayaquil, and who now, apparently, resided in Orlando.

I vaguely remembered her. Short, dark and sweet, a description that could apply to 90% of Ecuadorian women. Married to a guy called “el Chino”, ten years ago they ran the snack bar on the campus of the Holy Spirit University, where the Dowbrigade was head of the English Department and Norma Yvonne was the University Registrar. In Ecuador, anyone with slanty or squinty eyes is called “Chino”.

In the intervening decade, el Chino died and Mercy moved to Florida, where she met a Gringo, got married, and now is thinking of moving back to Ecuador. She ran on and on, in Spanish, telling me her life story.

We thought, “Why is she telling me all of this?”

We said, “Would you like to talk to Norma?”

Meanwhile, Norma, who was traipsing around the apartment in a devastating crepe sun dress, was vigorously shaking her head and wagging her finger in the international gesture for “I’m not here!”

“No, actually,” stammered Mercy, “I wanted to talk to you. Or rather, I want you to talk to my husband. Since he’s a Gringo, and you’re a Gringo, I thought maybe you could talk to him and tell him about Ecuador.” She sounded strangely desperate.

We thought, “She wants to take him back to Ecuador but he’s scared of the jungle diseases and savage tortoises. We should hang up.”

We said, “I’d be happy to speak to him. Put him on.”

Best to bite the bullet and get it over with a quickly as possible, we figured. Misanthropic in general, the Dowbrigade regards talking to people he doesn’t know on the phone at the behest of relatives he barely knows as one rung above taking cold calls from script-reading Mongolians at dinnertime.

But Mercilessly, Mercy went on. “He’s really a very nice person. Although everybody probably says that about their husbands.”

We thought, “Why is she apologizing for him already? I haven’t heard anything bad yet.”

We said, “I’m sure Eva Braun thought Hitler was a wonderful fellow.”
She said, “Excuse me?”

We thought, “What am I doing? She probably thinks I’m talking about people we know in Guayaquil. The last thing we want to be doing on a Sunday morning is discussing the personal life of Adolph Hitler with this woman!”

We said, “Never mind. Let me talk to your husband.”

When we finally got him on the line, we got right to the point. “Mercy tells us you are thinking of relocating to Ecuador. What can I tell you about?”

“I was mostly interested in the job possibilities down there, and the cost of living. Stuff like that.”

“Well, the job possibilities depend on the particular area in which you want to work. What field are you in?”

“Actually, I have experience in many different fields. As my Grandfather used to say, a jack of all trades and master of none, ha ha.”

We thought, “Loser.”

We said, “That’s really useful. Where are you working now, if you don’t mind my asking, and what kind of work do you plan to look for in Guayaquil?”

He said, “Law Enforcement”

We thought, “Security guard”

We said, “We can’t really recommend public law enforcement as a profession in South America. They don’t receive much in the way of salaries and subsist on bribes and extortion. A lot of them make a little extra on the side working nights with the death squads. There isn’t a lot of job security, though – a lot of them end up in jail, the ones that don’t get shot because the drug gangs are much better armed.”

He didn’t say anything, which we took as encouragement to continue on.

“Of course, there is always a market for private security and bodyguards. Especially right now, since the big kidnapping gangs from Colombia have started to branch out across the border into Ecuador. Those guys are really savage, they usually cut off the victims left hand and send it to the family to show they are serious. If you don’t pay, they cut off the head and send that. Just about everyone with money has a few bodyguards with them at all times these days. Most millionaires keep a few guards at home as well, since the big gangs sometimes attack their mansions with battering rams to smash the steel doors and heavy automatic weapons to discourage resistance. There are usually a lot of openings since turnover is high. Are you good with a gun?”

“Wow,” he sounded stunned, “I didn’t realize things were so out of control down there.”

“Yeah, well, there are a lot of guns and violence, but the people really like Americans, and the cost of living is quite reasonable. You can rent a house for $400 or $500, and you can’t spend $20 in a good restaurant, unless you drink.”

“Sounds like you’d need a drink, once in a while.”

“Too true, but you’ve got to be careful because the muggers can smell the booze a block off and congregate like piranhas smelling blood in the water.”

“Well, thanks for the info. I’ll put Mercy back on.”

“Not necessary. Tell her to call back some evening. We’re sure Norma would LOVE to hear from her.”

Hillary Down But Not Out

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Now that Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign has crashed and burned in tatters and ashes, it seems an appropriate time to chime in with one of our patented, wrong-in-so- many-ways political predictions: Don’t Count Her Out Yet.

This may be but a brilliant subterfuge on the part of the Clinton Brain Trust, designed to let her candidacy fly under the radar for a few months before rising like a Phoenix in Denver to save her party, her political ass (that’s Bill), her marriage (Bill again) as well as to save her nation from four more years of this macho madness.

Remember that the Super Delegates can change their minds at any time up to the actual moment they cast their votes; that’s what makes them Super. And if no candidate wins an absolute majority on the first vote, they will keep voting until someone does. This could take a while.

Although multiple roll call votes, and the back room bargaining they engender, have been largely banned from the media-managed modern political conventions, there is no reason they could not make a comeback – the rules and traditions are still in place. During the longest nominating process in history, in 1880, James Garfield won the Republican nomination with 399 votes to 306 for U.S. Grant on the 35th ballot and after four exhausting days. As a delegate admitted, “It was the escape of a tired convention.”

So what could get those declared Super Delegates to undeclare and change their minds? Any one of a number of revelations, unexpected developments, world events or just plain fate could intervene. Any guesses as to the specific nature of these possibilities would be pure speculation and irresponsible journalism, but then, what are bloggers for?

The following ten headlines should not be construed as predictive or prejudiced against any particular candidate, but are merely intended as food for thought. Like the Dowbrigade, they are not in any way related to reality.

1. Michelle Obama Mud Wrestling Tapes Surface
6-week stint at NJ Hooters Recorded by Rugby Team

2. Obama Law School “Lost Weekend” Found
Ended on Lynn MA park bench, booked for indecent exposure

3. Southside Bouncer Claims Barack Sold Bunko Blow
Candidate reportedly middled deal for fake flake

4. Senate Race Obama CV Lists 3 CIA Fronts as References
Damning info removed before Presidential bid

5. Aide Asserts Obama Hides Father’s Koran Inside Bible Binding
Plans to take oath of office on Islamic Tome

6. Obama Makes Anti-Semitic Comment at B’nai B’rith Fete
Off-mike comment caught on cell-phone: “Who needs the damn Hebes, anyway?”

7. Obama Abducted by UFO on Camping Trip
Recounted incident in 1988 NPR interview

8. Obama Rent Paid by Banned Islamic Charity
Overseas support during ‘lean years’ as Chicago organizer

9. Teen Barack Organized Black Panther Chapter at Punahou High School
Only chapter in Hawaii included all three blacks at school

10. Obama Bigamy Alleged
Indonesian woman has proof she was “child bride” in arranged marriage

If nothing like this crops up spontaneously, we hope Hillary’s hordes have venom and expertise enough to whip something up, and plant it so it can’t be traced back to the Clintons. After all, if she can’t win dirty, she isn’t the politician we thought she was, and doesn’t deserve the top job after all.

But if a miracle can be manufactured, watch out. Hill’s been taking names for a while now, and those on the list better hope she’s down for the count.

Ode to an Unsung Hero

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Boston sports fans have reason to be nervous – the incredible run of luck experienced by area sports teams is coming to an end.Now it can be revealed – the Dowbrigade has been personally responsible for the incredible run of championship seasons during the past 5 years, and we are getting tired. For the past 60 months we have been collecting charms and amulets from around the world, consulting with witch doctors, consorting with dark powers from beyond the veil, performing rare and almost forgotten rites and burning exotic herbs in abundance.

And you thought it was just fantastic coincidence that the Patriots, Red Sox and Celtics have all put in historic season after season and brought home more combined championships than any other city in such a short period? Or that it was somehow our superior sporting spirit, or some unknown urban virtue? Maybe the collective brilliance of our coaches, managers and athletes can be attributed to intellectual osmosis from the high I.Q. zip codes along the Charles? Or something in the water?

Fuggedabouddit. It is we, the Dowbrigade, working tirelessly 24/7, scouring the globe for tchoktches, medicine pouches, religious icons, fertility figures, lucky charms and power crystals. Our dedicated research staff is constantly unearthing sacred texts, arcane tomes and occult resources for good curses, jinxes and hexes to fire on our unlucky opponents.

We have spent months and most of our disposable income acquiring powders and potions, snake skins and beeswax, holy water, hallowed earth and sacred fire, ceremonial knives and rare incense. Not to mention the dozens of farm animals offering themselves up for ritual sacrifice. And the schlepping – you try to get a 2,000 pound ceremonial stone altar into a 3rd floor walk-up.

But no sacrifice was too great for our teams. It all started in 2002, when, recently returned from a vacation retreat with an Amazonian shaman who must remain nameless, we set up a small shrine in a corner of ourliving room and adapted a few simple rituals the Shaman had taught us into weekly enactments right before each Patriots game. Every week we tried to introduce something new to the ritual – a rabbits foot, a native American katchina doll, a pinch of hogwart. When the Pats up and won their first championship, we were hooked. We knew we had to keep going.

We knew that we were personally responsible for bring the trophy home to Boston, and that with great responsibility comes great power.

By 2004 we had become much more adept at the rites and spells, and had widened our horizons in the search for more powerful talismen and charms. We obtained a shipment of Rudraksh nuts, found only in remote regions of the Himalayas, and collected four-leaf clovers from outside of each of the stadiums on the Patriot’s schedule. When our efforts were rewarded with another championship we resolved to redouble them yet again.

The Patriots third championship in 2005 was largely the result of the actions of a series of demons and evil spirits we summoned from the Nevernever via a magic lantern obtained from a Vedantic mystic whose son was trying to get into Brandeis (he did). Summoning these spirits each week, and siccing them on the opponent de jour, was exhausting work, and we swore we would never do it again after a storm spirit went out of control after the Superbowl and absolutely destroyed a seaside trailer camp outside Jacksonville (they called it a “freak storm”). But you can’t argue with the results.

Later in 2004, we transferred our attention to baseball, which turned out to be a whole new level of challenge. For one thing, overcoming an 87-year-old curse is no day at the beach. We needed major mojo, which arrived in the form of a shroud from a 1,800 year old Mexican mummy, unearthed beneath an ullamaliztl (an Aztec ball game) court in the ancient capital of Tenochitlan. Legend has it he died scoring the final goal in a sudden-death regional final, saving his entire region from literal sudden death at the hands of division rivals.

In addition, the length of the season proved problematic. In order to provide a non-stop psychic assault on the Red Sox’s opponents we arranged visas and passage for a hardy band of near-naked tribesmen from New Zealand, a Maori Shaman and his five acolytes, who were adepts at the performance of the Ka Mate Haka, a sort of singing celebration of Life over Death which packs a hell of a whammy.

Performing the Haka before each of the 162 ballgames of the regular season and the 20 post-season encounters proved a real trial, and before the season was half over Norma Yvonne was really pissed at the presence of 6 Maori tribesmen in our guest room, constantly chanting “Kikiki kakaka kauana! Kei waniwania taku tara”, but it was all worthwhile when we burst the curse and won the series.

Nevertheless, our marriage took a hit for the cause, which is why, this season, we went with a trio of mystic Russian monks who have taken vows of silence, rather than inviting the Maori back.

We thought about helping out the Bruins, but Jeremy Jacobs has so much negative karma that counteracting it would require human sacrifice, and even the Dowbrigade draws the line somewhere.

This constant marshaling of occult forces in favor of the New England sports teams has taken a toll, financially, physically and psychically on the whole Dowbrigade franchise.

The stress is starting to show. At the climax of a six day fast this past February, in the throes of a drug-induced trance-dance, we had a mini-breakdown and lost our focus during the waning minutes of the Superbowl. The disastrous results are now a matter of public record.

Hell, if we want to take credit for all those championships, we ought to take the heat for the one we blew.

Now, we find ourselves in the heat of the NBA finals. In an effort to assure victory we’ve been consorting with the Faeries, and their penchant for truly evil mischief and trickery has our home in a shambles. But I guess we can put up with it for another couple of weeks, if it means bringing home the Larry O’Brien Trophy for the first time in 21 years. No sacrifice is too great for long suffering sports fans.

But, honest to God folks, we don’t know how much longer we can keep it up.

So enjoy it while it lasts, Boston Sports fans, and be prepared for some long lean years when we finally end our efforts. Even the strongest Mojo wears off, and magic offers only a temporary dispensation of the law of averages.