Mailbag: Charlie Sheen, 9/11 Truthers, Oil Prices

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Charlie Sheen

Monday again, back to work… want to thank Alison Kilkenny and Jamie Kilstein of Citizen Radio  for having me on last Friday night, that was a lot of fun. Highly recommend the musical act from the show, Regina Spektor and Jack Dishel of Only Son.

I also have a brief appearance coming up this Wednesday, when I’m going to be speaking briefly at an event in honor of Hunter Thompson at Symphony Space here in New York. Details here.

Anyway, on to the mail:

Matt,
The NFL lockout: bigger assholes, players or owners?
Jeff

Jeff,
Definitely the owners. I’m kind of amazed there’s even any controversy here.

Remember how we had replacement players in 1987? Here’s my question: how come we can’t have replacement owners? I realize it’s impossible, but I’d love to see every city do bond issues or IPOs and raise money to create temporary ownership structures… do a new draft, create new teams from every city, get lease deals for functioning local university stadiums, and then strike brand-new TV deals and just kiss the NFL goodbye in favor of a new league, only with all the same players. The thing is, pro football is such a draw, you could make a billion-dollar business overnight even if the games were only broadcast on the Food channel, or, hell, PBS. Again, I realize it’d never happen, but I’d love to see a situation where all the teams were publicly-owned and the players got 80% of all revenues, with the rest of the cash going to pay for road repairs, teachers’ salaries, and so on. Then I’d love to see Jerry Jones or Jerry Richardson and all those assholes strapped to chairs and forced to watch their former profits spent on new school gymnasiums and wheelchair ramps for courthouses and that sort of thing. I would be willing to go without football for a full year – no, make it two years – if at the end of it I could watch a weeping Dan Snyder taken on a tour of a new Public Football League-funded school for the blind.

Matt,
I finally broke down and did it:  I watched the interview of Charlie Sheen.  I'm not a big fan of American disaster/pop culture but I did enjoy the interview.  What struck me about the interview was how George Bush-esque it was: the bravado, the devil may care attitude about rules and etiquette and lives and grammar.  Why is this guy (Charlie) so hated?  Wasn't this just a 4 minutes slice of a GB interview?
A

Dear A,
I think that Sheen ultimately should be hated because, well, he repeatedly and violently abuses women. That story about threatening to cut off his wife’s head and then “put it in a box and send it to your mom” was kind of a deal-breaker for me. On another level though, he’s definitely a symbol of something, can’t really put my finger on what – he’s like what America’s soul looks like with its clothes off or something. They could easily update E Pluribus Unun by replacing it with Duh…Winning and it would fit modern America just right, I think.

Matt,
Even the blind can see that the American political system is a mess.  What I would like to know is which parts, if any, are succeeding right now?  Is anyone or anything above the Mendoza line?  Both parties are embarrassing, both the states and fed are in debt, we're mired in wars going nowhere, the House just stripped the EPA of the ability to regulate greenhouse gases, etc.  Is anyone hitting above .300?  With all the failures and corruption, I'm wondering who is not consistently fucking up.
Jason Millberg
Boston, MA
                       
Jason,
Having lived in a few countries where very few things worked at all, I think now we sometimes overestimate how screwed America is. It’s bad, but purely from an infrastructure standpoint, we’re still doing pretty well. The police mostly come when you call. Court cases genuinely go to juries. The lights come on, there’s hot water (in Moscow and Petersburg in the Nineties, we had a month out of every year without hot water), you don’t normally ingest deadly bactetria eating at restaurants, there are no food shortages, the stores are full of goods of all kinds, planes don’t crash every day, etc. None of those things are givens in third-world countries, which means we’re not all the way to third-world status yet. So to answer your question that to me means that a lot of people are still way above the Mendoza line. I mean, I lived in places where if a cop pulled you over for speeding, you could just hand him a bunch of money and keep driving. We’re a long way from being there.

Matt,
I have been collecting and reading your earlier books to catch up. I am near the end of The Great Derangement and left wondering if you ever "found peace" over the Truther Movement. My ex-sister-in-law, (a Masters in Microbiology from Tufts, mind you) calls me just plain stupid for believing that there were any planes that day. She sent me Loose Change and I couldn't stay with it and now don't remember what their excuse was for all that footage shown on all major networks. This last September the History Channel ran footage all day and night and I saw some I had never seen before; even without that, it remains for me the most violent act I have ever experienced. I have no problem with the grassy knoll of '63, but this stuff makes me crazy. Certainly found comfort in your frustration.
K.J. Bemies

K.J.,
I look back now and I’m actually a little embarrassed that Truthers used to get under my skin so much. Now I really just feel badly for them; the whole phenomenon is really sad. One of my friends has a really sweet dog that was a completely normal, healthy puppy until this past summer, at which point it suddenly started getting obsessed with its shadow – it sits there studying it and then every ten seconds or so it’ll jump on it with both paws. Then it backs up, waits another ten seconds, and tries again. This goes on for hours and hours. The dog is only a couple of years old, and this brain-freeze situation is only getting worse. Every time I see her, it makes me want to cry. That’s kind of how I feel about Truthers now. I used to get upset whenever they sent me those 14,000-word letters, but now I just wish someone would give them a hug or something.

Matt
First off, I totally agree with you on the subject of the "backpacks on subways." Similarly, we have the issue of the person talking loudly on his Bluetooth in a doctor/dental waiting room. That one might be worse, actually.
Blake

Blake,
And don’t forget the guy who talks on his Bluetooth on the Amtrak quiet car. When I become Interior Minister with unlimited power and my own death squad, I am going to create a special camp for people who talk on the quiet car. They are going to have to sleep in leg-irons, the way French convicts used to in the Bange de Guyane.

Hey Matt,
I always try and figure out what the root of all the evil in the Unites States is and I keep coming back to the money that finances elections in this country. In my mind, if no one could contribute to a candidate via either hard cash or soft money and all elections were federally funded, we would elect officials who have some sort of ideals rather then people who are shills for the groups that funded their campaigns. Virtually no one in office has the interests of the average Joe in mind and what is best for them. We need more people in office like Bernie Sanders and Anthony Wiener but I don't see more of this quality getting elected when the money that is out there funding elections would never let guys like this win across the rest of the country. So, 1) Am I right that the money involved in elections is the biggest problem in this country? and 2) if so, what are the chances of this ever changing? Otherwise we are fucked forever from what I see.
Tony Pignataro

Tony,
I definitely believe money in politics is a huge issue, and publicly-financed elections are at the top of my wish-list for potentially meaningful reforms – that’s one law that if passed might actually have a chance at changing things for a little while. However, that said, it’s not a cure-all; the problem is that no matter what kind of campaign finance law you want to pass, money is going to find its way to politicians. Obviously we have to do the best we can to put up obstacles to that dynamic, but not even Deion Sanders can stay very long between a politician and a fistful of money being waved at him.

Matt,
As a law student, and a reader of many actual Supreme Court cases, I have thoroughly enjoyed the Supreme Court of Assholery.  However, one of the recent rulings on lobbyists had me wishing there was a State of the Assholes Address, so I could chastise you like Obama did the majority after Citizens United.

Justice Whitmer said, "Lobbyists are heartless individuals (I didn’t say people for a reason) who push their companies' agenda knowing they are hurting people."

Justice Boylan said, "Lobbyist is a synonym for asshole. Little known fact: assholes are called assholes because originally there was a room in the Willard Hotel called the asshole room. This is where all the lobbyists hung out.  Hence the term. And also why people actually named Willard are usually assholes too."

These justices ignore the fact that lobbyists work for all kinds of organizations.  I'd guess that some of the organizations that these folks would stand behind are represented by lobbyists.  If I'm wrong, I apologize. But the ACLU has lobbyists who do a lot of good for a lot of people. I just went to a panel about lobbyists at my law school, and I was nothing but impressed with many of them because they fought for good causes. 

The only sense on the Court came from Sirota, who said, " Many of them might individually be assholes, but as a blanket rule, you can't say they are all automatically assholes simply because they work within the ubiquitous Assholeocracy."  I feel that this doesn't even go far enough.  

Does it not make a person an asshole when they make blanket judgments about a whole group of people?

Nate

Nate,
I think I voted with Sirota on that one. I don’t have a problem with lobbyists. I only have a problem with lobbyists who do things like imply that bin Laden is going to rape your daughter if congress doesn’t buy a $480 million contract for floating combination toasters/radar-detectors, to be deployed in every lake and swimming pool in the continental U.S. It’s like criminal defense law; a noble profession on the whole, until you get to Robert Shapiro’s O.J. Defense strategy.

Hey Matt,
The current narrative about the rise in gas prices seems to be the old canard of "turmoil in the Middle East" even though we import more of oil from Canada, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, and Venezuela than any country currently undergoing a revolution.  Are the banks just screwing with the commodities market again?
Thanks,
Matt

 

 

Dear Matt,
I’ve been getting a lot of letters on the commodities issue.

The short answer with regard to the role of speculation in the Middle East turmoil (and the spike in gas prices) is that speculation is obviously playing a large role. Everyone I’ve spoken to seems to think this is a virtual replay of 2008, only the larger spike here is in food commodity prices. Wheat and corn are both up more than 75% over the last 12 months; cotton is up over 125%; coffee up 85%. Meanwhile oil prices are soaring and there’s talk again of futures maybe hitting $200 a barrel – oil futures are trading at about three times what they were in February 2009. The blame for all of this is going to be laid at disruptions in the Middle East and other factors, but the inescapable fact is that commodity index speculation was up $80 billion last year, meaning that there was $80 billion of new money coming on the market betting on the rise of commodity prices. The total amount of commodity index speculation approached $400 billion last year, meaning the amount of speculative money on the market was roughly twenty times pre-2003 levels – and again, this is all “long-only” speculation, i.e. money betting on prices to go up. Obviously disasters and political unrest and other factors (a very weak harvest in Russia last year was a factor in the wheat price spike, for instance) play a part in all of this, but I think in the end what we’re going to find out is that index speculation was a huge factor in both the skyrocketing food prices that led to the Middle East crisis and this current oil-price situation.

Email your questions to asktaibbi@rollingstone.com, or leave them in the comments below.

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