January 09, 2006

I Used to Like George Takei

I mean, how can you not like Mr. Sulu, or the actor who portrays him.

But them I read this:

Howard Stern began his new satellite radio show on Monday by putting to rest rumors that he got married to his longtime girlfriend, model Beth Ostrosky… …Stern also introduced George Takei as his new on-air personality. Takei, who played Captain Sulu on the popular television show “Star Trek” and who last year publicly said he is gay, will serve as announcer. After the first week, he will record segments for the show but will not be in the studio.

I guess the man’s got bills to pay, but going on Howard Stern’s disgusting, hateful show seems a lot like selling one’s soul.

For my part, I simply don’t understand how otherwise intelligent and decent people can enjoy the filth that Stern spews out on a daily basis. And now I can’t ever look at Mr. Sulu the same way again. That’s very sad.

Posted by James DiBenedetto at 10:18 AM in General | Comments (0)

Horrendousness From Congress

Congress has passed, and the President signed, a law outlawing “annoying” behavior over the internet:

Annoying someone via the Internet is now a federal crime. It’s no joke. Last Thursday, President Bush signed into law a prohibition on posting annoying Web messages or sending annoying e-mail messages without disclosing your true identity. In other words, it’s OK to flame someone on a mailing list or in a blog as long as you do it under your real name. Thank Congress for small favors, I guess.
The actual text in question:
“Whoever…utilizes any device or software that can be used to originate telecommunications or other types of communications that are transmitted, in whole or in part, by the Internet… without disclosing his identity and with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten, or harass any person…who receives the communications…shall be fined under title 18 or imprisoned not more than two years, or both.”

This didn’t just pass on its own, of course:

This ridiculous prohibition, which would likely imperil much of Usenet, is buried in the so-called Violence Against Women and Department of Justice Reauthorization Act. Criminal penalties include stiff fines and two years in prison.

Obviously it’s disgraceful that the President signed off on this. It’s equally disgraceful that the Senate passed it unanimously, and the House passed it 415-4, and that the offending language was sponsored by not just useless busybody Arlen Spector, but by the awful Pat Leahy, Ted Kennedy and Joe Biden. So it’s a totally bipartisan disgrace.


Posted by James DiBenedetto at 10:10 AM in Law | Comments (0)

October 26, 2005

A Great Man Has Passed

Wellington Mara, owner of the New York Giants, passed away yesterday at the age of 89.

He was a great man, but, much more importantly - and more rarely, I think - he was a good man.

You can read tributes to him from people who knew him here, and a loving article about him from sportswriter Mike Lupica here.

Mr. Mara will be sorely missed. There are few enough people in this world who are great, and far fewer who are both great and good.

Posted by James DiBenedetto at 07:51 AM in General | Comments (0)

October 17, 2005

And We Wonder Why People Hate Lawyers

Check this out: a lawyer who makes a profit by suing companies who don’t charge him sales tax on internet purchases:

Like many shoppers, attorney Stephen Diamond buys lots of stuff online. But unlike other consumers, he sues retailers that don’t charge him state and local sales taxes — and is making a profit doing it. Using a state whistle-blower law, Mr. Diamond since 2002 has filed about 95 suits in Cook County court here against retailers that failed to charge him taxes on Internet sales, alleging that they broke the law. In cases where the state of Illinois joins the suits and prevails, he is entitled to up to 25% of the financial damages, with the rest going to state coffers. Mr. Diamond’s first eight suits were filed against such retailers as Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Office Depot Inc. and KB Toys Inc. He has netted about a half-million dollars already, from some retailers. Because of settlement agreements between the retailers and the attorney general’s office, the state’s judges have agreed to keep the names of most of the retailers and the settlement amounts confidential. More than 80 suits are pending in Illinois, and Mr. Diamond has made forays into other states as well. “This is a no-brainer,” says Mr. Diamond, a veteran class-action attorney who has a scenic view of Lake Michigan from his downtown office. “I started going on the Internet and discovered to my astonishment that companies like Target Corp. and Wal-Mart were not collecting taxes on their Internet sales. I was like, “Wow!”

Wow indeed; half a million dollars made by harassing companies and costing consumers money. Isn’t that grand?

About the only bright spot in this article is this:

In 2003, in Tennessee’s Davidson County Chancery Court, Mr. Diamond filed about 30 suits alleging noncollection of sales taxes on online purchases by Wal-Mart, Target, Amazon.com Inc., PetsMart Inc., and Bass Pro Shops, among other companies. But he didn’t reckon on the reaction of Loren Chumley, Tennessee’s commissioner of revenue, who wasn’t happy that a private citizen was using the whistle-blower law to enrich himself. Viewing Mr. Diamond as an opportunist exploiting a legal loophole, Ms. Chumley immediately set out to change state law. She succeeded, and the cases were dismissed. Ms. Chumley says that Mr. Diamond was misusing the law. Mr. Diamond counters that Tennessee wasn’t being aggressive enough in collecting taxes.

Good for Ms. Chumley. It isn’t for this bottom-feeding vermin from Chicago to judge whether other states’ governments aren’t being “aggressive enough” in collecting taxes.

Oh, there is one other bright spot: the state of Illinois doesn’t want to pay the aforementioned bottom-feeding vermin what he believe he’s entitled to:

In Illinois, meanwhile, Mr. Diamond is fighting with the state over his share of the proceeds in cases involving some big retailers he sued. Last year, the attorney general’s office negotiated a $2.4 million settlement with Wal-Mart, Target and Office Depot about uncollected sales taxes dating back to 1999. Mr. Diamond says that since he did all the legwork, he is entitled to the full 25% share plus any costs he incurred, which is allowable under the law. But the attorney general’s office wants to pay him less than 25%, and nothing for his costs.


Posted by James DiBenedetto at 01:35 PM in Law | Comments (2)

October 13, 2005

Are They Actively Trying to Wreck the Economy?

It’s hard to explain this any other way:

Owning a home may become less tax-friendly than it has been, if suggestions from the president’s tax-reform panel are considered seriously by Congress in the next year or so.

What do they want to do?

The panel hasn’t made any firm decisions about what it will propose in its final report, due Nov. 1. But it is considering a number of options. Among them: Reducing from $1 million the size of a mortgage on which interest may be deducted. If such a proposal were made, it’s possible that the mortgage size would vary by region depending on local home prices. Replacing the mortgage-interest deduction with a tax credit, allowing all homeowners with a mortgage to get a tax break — not just those who itemize. Reducing the tax rate at which mortgage interest may be deducted. Likely a proposed rate would be a middle-income tax rate, such as 15 percent or 25 percent. That would preserve the benefits of homeownership for middle-income taxpayers, Poterba said.

Screwing with the mortgate-interest deduction seems like a really good way to damage, if not outright ruin, the housing marke, especially in combination with rising interest rates and the growing popularity of interest-only mortgages (which, according to statistics I’ve read, about 1/3 of all new mortgages are).

Why is this troubling?

Since you’ll be qualified based on the interest-only payment and will likely refinance before the interest-only term expires anyway, it could be a way to effectively lease your dream home now and invest the principal portion of your payment elsewhere while realizing the tax advantages and appreciation that accompany homeownership. The concept is not a new one; back in the Roaring Twenties, interest-only mortgages were commonplace. At the end of the term, homeowners typically refinanced. The system worked great unless your home lost value or you lost your job. Which is exactly what happened when the Great Depression hit. Foreclosures skyrocketed and lenders abruptly stopped writing interest-only loans. (The practice has continued elsewhere, however, notably in Great Britain.)

(emphasis mine)

Hmm…homes losing value. I wonder if rising interest rates, potentially major and costly-to-homeowner tax changes, gasoline prices double (or more) what they were a year ago, home heating prices that are likely to skyrocket this winter, a series of unprecedentedly-costly natural disasters, consumer uneasiness, and the possible disappearance of employee pensions throughout entire industries (like, say, the airlines, or auto manufacturers)…might lead to some reluctance on the part of consumers to purchase new homes, leading to the end of seemingly-ever-increasing home values?

So what will happen to all the people who bought homes using mortgages that can only be maintained if the value of their home keeps rising indefinitely?

What will happen to the banks that loaned them the money?

I believe the answer was mentioned above, in bold type. It’s not like it hasn’t happened in this country before, after all. It would just be nice if our leaders weren’t making policies that seem designed to encourage a new Great Depression.

Posted by James DiBenedetto at 02:46 PM in General | Comments (1)

October 06, 2005

Wisdom for the Day

So while talking with a co-worker, I thought of an old saying I remembered, which illustrated the point I was trying to make. As I sometimes do, I mangled the original saying a bit, but, honestly, I think my version works better:

“Don’t try to teach a pig to dance. You’ll only get dirty, and you’ll annoy the pig.”

Which leads, of course, to the shorthand phrase, which I think is probably applicable in many, if not most, areas of life:

“Pigs don’t dance.”

For purposes of historical accuracy, the actual saying is:

“You can’t teach a pig to sing. It’s a waste of time and it annoys the pig.”

As I said, I like my version better. Whenever you’re thinking of doing something that’s pointless and impossible to succeed at, just remember, pigs don’t dance…

Posted by James DiBenedetto at 09:19 AM in General | Comments (1)

October 05, 2005

Most Pointless and Uninformative Headline of All Time

From today’s Washington Post. The big banner headline:

“Bush Defends Supreme Court Pick.”

Well, duh.

Is that in any way news, that a President would defend the person he selected for the Supreme Court? Is it in the slightest way unexpected or surprising?

Was there really nothing else even remotely newsworthy yesterday?

Posted by James DiBenedetto at 09:52 AM in Media Criticism | Comments (0)
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Recent Entries
I Used to Like George Takei
Horrendousness From Congress
A Great Man Has Passed
And We Wonder Why People Hate Lawyers
Are They Actively Trying to Wreck the Economy?
Wisdom for the Day
Most Pointless and Uninformative Headline of All Time
Yes, We're Still Here
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