Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Making It On A Congressman's Salary

According to Talking Points Memo (TPM), Republican Congressman Sean Duffy of Wisconsin says he's still struggling to meet his bills despite a $174,000 salary. Yet he still says he'll take a pay cut. Newser is reporting it too, for those of you who wouldn't be caught dead reading some "lib-rul" blog, as is KMSP in the Twin Cities.

As TPM quoted him:
I can guarantee you, or most of you, I guarantee that I have more debt than all of you. With 6 kids, I still pay off my student loans. I still pay my mortgage. I drive a used minivan. If you think I'm living high on the hog, I've got one paycheck. So I struggle to meet my bills right now. Would it be easier for me if I get more paychecks? Maybe, but at this point I'm not living high on the hog.
I'm going to sidestep the controversy over a video clip that appeared in the TPM article and instead focus on Duffy's cash-flow analysis. First, TPM doesn't point out that your congresspeople have to maintain two homes: the one in their district and the place in Washington where they're bedding down while Congress is in session. That also comes with travel expenses and incidentals associated with the back and forth. I gather those student loans include law school, which is never a bargain. This is before we even get around to the expenses of a family of six. If you're wondering about staff expenses, your lawmakers get an allowance for those. Rep. Duffy's wife works as a teacher, bringing in a little bit more, but she stands to take a pay cut in as Wisconsin's new budget goes through.

I can only delve so deep into Duffy's books without breaking a few privacy laws, but let's suppose Duffy's household income is closer to $200,000. That's still at least double what a lot of us make. I can only hope he's paying down his mortgage and education expenses as quickly as possible and not putting himself deeper into hock on credit like his employer.

But what troubles me is that many people don't know the difference between the cost of living and the cost of living it up. Bravo to Duffy for driving a used vehicle. The depreciation on a new car has me vowing never to buy a new ride ever again. A lot of people confuse a want with a need. They have to have those clothes, that house, that car, that furniture, that iPad. All right, I admit I just splurged for an iPad 2, but I'd been saving up for that out of overtime pay.

Maybe instead of giving Rep. Duffy flack about his stated money struggles, we should be encouraging him to budget better. I've become a big fan of Dave Ramsey's cash-only financial system. I know single-income families who make 25 percent of Duffy's pay who live comfortably and happily. These folks clip coupons. They shop at the second-hand stores. And they tithe. Yes, 10 percent off the top is going to GOD, and GOD is blessing their lives.

Duffy agreed to cut his pay. Granted, he hedged a bit, but he still agreed to do it. Would he agree to one of Dave Ramsey's money makeovers?

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Blue And Gray, Presented In Sepia

For those of you wondering what happened to Pvt. Francis of the 1st Virginia Volunteer Infantry, he sent us these daguerreotypes from We Make History's Civil War Ball, in remembrance of that great conflict that began 150 years ago... and reassurance that all was not dark during our nation's darkest times.

Daguerreotypes provided by M. Cynecki

The young Confederate private has a peculiar longing for the days of his Colonial Virginia ancestors, when the minuet was in fashion.  The kepi may have replaced the tricorn, gray now replaces the red white and blue, but something beautiful remains.  And as always, Virginians love to dance.

Our host and hostess, the renowned Colonel and his lady, greeting the many belles.  Hoopskirts fill the floor, floating and twirling about.

As part of the procession, a certain stately air is required. One could set a book upon the private's head and it would remain in place.

Standing at attention, and ready to dance.  One must give the ladies their proper space to make room for those beautiful hoops.

Giving proper honors to the ladies.  Everyone has their methods, and some bow lower than others. No matter, as long the belles know you are thankful.

The young soldiers stand at attention, ready to honor a selection of young Virginia Belles...

And here they are, one from each county in the Old Dominion, the ladies we have the highest regards and hopes for, the ones we're praying for, the ones we praise for their devotion to GOD and to making an impact on the world.

The young Private considers himself honored to escort at least one of them.

By request, the method of choosing a partner for one dance falls to the floor.  More specifically, to the shoes on the floor deposited by the belles.  Find a shoe, and one finds his Cinderella....

...but you'll have to fight for it.  The young Confederate prefers the flanking maneuver to avoid casualties.  These ballroom warriors are not the only anxious ones.  Our commander must fret about losing some men before the Battle of 1st Manassas.  (That's Bull Run if you wear a blue coat.)

Fortunately, everyone survives without a scratch and is in top form to charge forward again and again.

And afterward, finally, gracefully, that Colonial-minded Confederate can at last share a minuet with his beloved dancing partner.

More from this beautiful evening here.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Reel It In!

Dearest Dancing Friends, no preview to the Civil War Ball would be complete without a tribute to a enduring favorite, the one dance people long for and remain long on the floor for -- the one, the only, Virginia Reel!

From the 2009 Olde South Ball:

And from the Greenfield Village Civil War Remembrance Weekend 2010:

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Home Is Where The Ball Is

Many great grand balls took place in spacious halls, and so shall it be at the Civil War Ball. But often all that was required was a spacious parlor, and so it was at the Second Annual Civil War Ball at the Smith Trahern Mansion in Clarksville, Tennessee.

The historic setting adds to the ambiance, just as the hoopskirts and uniforms do, even if there is a little less room to move.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

This Is Gettysburg, And This Is What We Do

Dearest Dancing Friends, I know many of you are probably curious about how the people at historic balls learn all the dances. Perhaps you've thought about coming to something like the Civil War Ball, but you're afraid you'll be outdanced, or worse, shunned because of an extra left foot.

Nonsense! We learn on the floor, and our dancing masters are more than happy to teach. That is how it is done with We Make History, and it is the standard procedure at a plethora of balls, like this one in Gettysburg.

Watch, listen, and learn a few moves...

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

When Those Happy Warriors Return To The Floor

As we continue our march towards the Civil War Ball, I present for you another popular dance of Civil War America: Soldier's Joy.

Here it is, performed by Victorian Dance Ensemble, accompanied by the Susquehanna Travellers Band. And I threw in "Money Musk Reel" and "Lancer's Quadrille" as a bonus.

Do I hear a call for an encore? You got it! Here's the "Spanish Waltz," "Tempest" and "German Waltz."

Monday, March 14, 2011

Patty Cake, Patty Cake

It's a ball week, Dancing Friends! This time, it's the annual Civil War Ball, the 150th Anniversary Edition as presented by We Make History.

The neat thing about this dances of this time is that they're very lively and quite easy to learn, unlike some of the old English Country Dances of your patriot ancestors. Still, you can see remnants of playful gestures from some of those old dances in this old dance, the "Patty Cake Polka."

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Winning? Not Quite...

In the epic struggle between money and professional conduct, professionalism just won. That's my take on the firing of Charlie Sheen from his hit sitcom. As I alluded to earlier, the unmentioned quandary for CBS and Warner Bros. TV (the studio that produces Sheen's Two And A Half Men) was whether they wanted to sacrifice a cash cow by offing its biggest star. Now we know.

Self-described rock star from Mars or not, Sheen's bosses could only take so much abuse. Further, with Sheen continuing to spiral deeper into instability and recklessness, his liabilities eclipsed his value. Profits heightened the studio's tolerance, but I can only wonder whether WB's insurance carrier for Men would continue to underwrite the show. Further, a letter from WB's lawyers to Sheen's attorney shows his client was making less than great television:
When Mr. Sheen returned from Christmas hiatus, he had lost a large amount of weight-more than 20 pounds, according to Show personnel. He appeared to be using drugs heavily.
You claim that Mr. Sheen was turning in "brilliant" performances during this time. Not true. As outtakes of the filming show, Mr. Sheen had difficulty remembering his lines and hitting his marks. His conduct and condition created substantial tensions on the set. Mr. Sheen conceded in one or more of his numerous recent interviews that he sometimes showed up to work after not having slept and needed to move his mark to accommodate his need to "lean" on something, for balance. These few examples all confirm Mr. Sheen's rapid physical and mental deterioration resulting in a failure to perform his essential duties.
The letter mentions WB and CBS have twice now worked with Sheen to clean him up, adjusting or canceling production on his show only to see him relapse in public and dramatic fashion.

No corporation should have to tolerate an employee that continuously spits in its eye, no matter how much he enhances the bottom line. Bringing Sheen back for another season would've let Hollywood bad boys know they can bully anybody whose pockets they line. That's not exactly "winning."

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Reel To Reel: The Adjustment Bureau

We control the horizontal, the vertical, and a lot more.

Going Rate: Worth full price for thinking people.
Starring: Matt Damon
Rated: PG-13
Red Flags: Mild language, one sex scene, some action violence

Proverbs 16:9 (NASV) tells us: "The mind of man plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps." Deism, that belief shared by many of our founding patriots, tells us GOD created the world and then stepped back. The Adjustment Bureau is somewhere between the two, but it's ultimately a hybrid of The Matrix, The Butterfly Effect, Men In Black and Inception with a Twilight Zone feel. It tells us the world is secretly run by a group of well-dressed men in fedoras who are monitoring and occasionally nudging our life decisions in accordance with "the plan" which is administered by "The Chairman." Does that mean GOD? Are the guys in the hats our guardian angels? It's a good dinner-table discussion.

Congressman David Norris (Damon) is a rising political star who's about to win a Senate seat when a tacky picture surfaces in the New York Post that scotches his election. In a moment of public disillusionment, he gives a concession speech excoriating the packaging and consulting that is modern-day politics. Were those moments chance? Keep your eyes on the guys in the hats. They are a shadowy, joyless, bureaucratic bunch, armed with "plan books" that plot out a person's future like a real-time subway system map lifted from Hogwarts. The guys skip around town using conventional doors in a way that bends the time-space continuum. Wings are so yesterday.

Norris finds out about the mystery men when one of the adjusters botches what sounds like a simple assignment: get Norris to spill his coffee before he gets on the bus, thus keeping him from reconnecting with love interest Elise (Emily Blunt). You wonder what could be so bad about a professional dancer with a British accent whose only sins we know are crashing a wedding and talking to Norris in the men's room on Election Night. Turns out Elise isn't in his "plan." Yet they meet again, and Norris is taken back behind the curtain of the universe -- or in this case, an abandoned warehouse -- and told to forget about the girl and the men who just abducted him. Otherwise they will erase his entire brain, an awfully excessive means of getting rid of a flame. Then again, selective deletion didn't work so well in Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind.

Matt Damon gets to run a lot in this movie, just like in the Jason Bourne flicks. So we've got action. We've got rebellion. We've got intrigue and sticking it to "The Man," even if he may be our Creator, as Norris figures out he may be able to rewrite his plan and confound the adjusters. Most of the action, however, is in our minds as we dwell on the larger questions.

"What happened to free will?" Norris asks. That was tried before, the adjusters tell him, and humanity messed things up. Well, duh. That should've been obvious after that little serpent incident in the Garden Of Eden. Instead, it seems the adjusters and their Chairman are in the cycle of stepping in and stepping back, thinking people have matured enough to let them plot their own destinies only to find they're not. Judged against history, it sounds reasonable, perhaps Biblical, but it's not. Romans 8:28 kills the theory that GOD steps back, as does that aforementioned passage in Proverbs. But I'll admit, I thought about Hebrews 13:2 (NIV) when I thought about one of the guys in the hats: "Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it."

The Adjustment Bureau is another fine product from the works of Philip K. Dick, the writer who gave us the stories behind Blade Runner, Minority Report and Total Recall, three other sci-fi classics. It's hard to believe he was so poor at one point, he resorted to eating dog food. Was that part of his plan, or just chance?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Rehab Failure

Normally, I would be content to let Charlie Sheen continue his slide into darkness without comment, if it weren't for a troublesome observation: did this guy really go through drug rehab? Or did the rehabilitation experts just switch his drug to ego?

As Reuters reports via Yahoo:
ABC News and celebrity website Radaronline had Sheen's blood and urine tested, and revealed no drugs in his system for the past 72 hours. "I am on a drug. It's called Charlie Sheen. It's not available because if you try it once, you will die," he said in the ABC interview.
Maybe it doesn't cause physical death, but it has been known to kill careers.

Watching this all play out on TV also troubles me. ABC, NBC and CNN are all feeding his unchecked megalomania by letting him rant even more against his show, his producers and his network. CBS is keeping its distance and staying silent, which is about the best it can do in the face of a sitcom star gone wild.

A commenter on suggested this:
There’s a reason why recovering addicts are secluded from the public when they are in a proper rehab facility. Addicts often act out in anti-social behavior and anger when they first transition to sobriety, mostly due to the changes their body chemistry is going through. Since Charlie is being pampered in an at-home “rehab light”, the whole world gets to see his withdrawal symptoms. If Sheen’s people had been smart enough to force him into a real rehab facility, only a therapist would be hearing these rants in private. This behavior will pass in a month or so if Charlie sticks with his sobriety.
Or it would have never happened at all had he been forced to do a 90-day program, in seclusion, in the first place. I serenely hope that's what CBS and Warner Bros. Television and the Two And A Half Men staff all wanted for Charlie. But I don't think he would've gone for that. I also hope some suit didn't suggest some way to get him in and out of rehab as quickly as possible to salvage what was left of the season and protect millions of dollars in advertising and syndication revenue.

Now as it stands, Sheen's show has only cranked out 16 episodes this season, eight less than its contract with CBS. I gather nobody even considered sliding work on those episodes back to late spring or early summer. That's a shame, but networks really don't want to be paying big bucks for shows -- even highly-rated ones -- that will end up airing during the summer when TV viewership drops. At least the show's crew is getting paid. The rest of us get to see a man go down the tubes thinking he's on top.