Monday, April 30, 2007


"Deal or No Deal," NBC's hit game show is a diabolically clever piece of work.

It pretends to be about hopes and dreams and courage and guts and all kinds of other all-American delusions.

In fact, it is entirely about greed and vanity.
And, of course, Beautiful Babes.

Which means it plays on at least three of the oldest traits of man. The show is positively biblical.

Last night, a charming and amusing young man was the contestant. His name is Pyong Kong. He is a Korean American. He clogs and sings karaoke (quite well, actually) and his wife, his brother, his best friend and both his immigrant parents were in the studio cheering him on.

The host is Howie Mandel, who in other incarnations was a child-like manic stand-up, then a serious actor on a weekly TV hospital melodrama, then a TV talk show host. Mr. Mandel, a Canadian, is an enormously talented guy, who I am sure could do almost anything in the various worlds of performance. He is quick-witted and self-assured and charming. He also knows what cannot be taught. He knows how to use his voice and his body and the audience and the camera to his own and the show's best advantage. Where lesser players would shout, Howie will say something of great import quietly, almost - but not quite - off-handedly.

So, last night, Mr. Kong was beating the board. He had placed himself after 45 of the 60 minutes allotted to the show in the position of having the company (represented by a shadowy figure on high, who cellphones Howie with offers) offer him $289,000 if he would stop playing the game.

The young man had nothing when he came into the studio. He told us all that he needed money for their honeymoon and for the down payment on a house. He told us that his parents had come to America with $750. He clearly wanted to say, "No deal!" take the cash and get out of there.

But then...

And this exact same scenario happened again tonight with an arrogant, little tennis player who told us that she wanted to pay off her student loans and go to University to study pharmacy. She worked the game until the house offered her $299,000 to quit.

Anybody watching, anybody with a brain, anybody not caught up in the heat of the bright lights and the screaming Coliseum-like crowd, anybody not switched on by greed and ego would say at this point, "Hey! I just beat the house. They're offering me a small fortune. I'm outta here!"

But, this, of course, is exactly what did not happen two nights in a row.

In the end, both gambled, both lost and both went home with pretty good sums, but considerably less than they could have.

And until those barfacious moments, this is a gripping, silly entertainment.

In the end, it becomes a confirmation of our worst suspicions of human nature.

This is not Masterpiece Theatre.

That's both a good and a bad thing.

Everything is My Movie - Back Off!

"'scuse me, 'scuse me, 'scuse me."

Or, if you're trying to get off the vaparetto in Venice and pushing past the human walls in your way, "Permesso, permesso..."

But we have a starkly different sensibility here at home.

Today, nobody can tell me nuttin' cause the world is here entirely for my amusement.

Yesterday, I left my friend sitting on the patio of a cafe near English Bay while I went inside to visit the bathroom. Actually, it was more than a visit. I intended to pee. In fact, I did pee.

But to get to the bathroom, I had to say, ever so quietly and politely, "Excuse me, please," to a young couple who were standing on the narrow carpet, waiting to place their orders.

The man looked at me with pure, desalinated hate.

Yes, hate.

How dare I ask important Him and lovely Her to do anything unplanned that might not profit them or might even for a moment, yes, inconvenience them?

On my return, they saw my approach and moved a few inches back, but with such monumental put-out fussiness, you could have read it from the back row at Covent Garden.

Theft is Theft. When Will These Criminals Be Charged?

Not only has the war in Iraq been an unmitigated disaster from any point of view, it has also been a huge act of theft. Theft of public funds, that is.

Do yourself a favor and read this piece from yesterday's NY Times, which chronicles the billions of taxpayers' dollars spent on projects unfinished and abandoned.

To see Cheney and Bush continue to lie so blatantly to the world public is stomach turning.

Can Gordo Be far Behind?

Business Week writes about how private companies such as Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and Carlysle Group are buying up private infrastructure such as key roads, airports and bridges (Golden Gate for $3.4 billion and Brooklyn Bridge for $3.5 billion, for example. Cities supposedly think this is a great idea because they get money they can spend on other things.

I don't understand why this is even considered.
You don't put basic infrastructure like this in private hands, because it allows monopoly pricing. They will squeeze the most money out of it they can, and that will be the majority of the surplus value produced by the roads. Since they will set the cost to maximize profits, it will be above what a proportion of the population and a proportion of businesses can afford (check a supply/demand curve to see what I mean - you get a lot more use at price = 0, and you get a lot more money if you price a lot of people out of the market).
What this will mean is that a lot of businesses will go under (or never be created), a lot of people won't travel even short distances (which will strangle businesses that need those travellers, price certain people out of certain jobs) and will in general reduce economic activity.
However much money any government gets in the short term, it will lose more from reduced taxes due to reduced economic activity and reduced economic growth in the long term. (ie. it isn't just people who use the roads/airports/bridges who lose)

And odds are, you'll eventually have to either regulate these things to keep prices reasonable (at which point the companies will start shorting on maintainance) or you'll have to buy them back at a huge markup.
All of the foregoing comes from Crooks and Liars, which I have emailed to me each morning. I've added it to my Links list(on the right), and I use it here frequently.

I've posted this item today because it makes me wonder how long it will take for Mr. Campbell to try again to sell off various roads and other British Columbia infrastructures.