Friday, March 27, 2009

Governor Doyle Sets A Price Point That Breaks The Camel's Back

I'll admit it: I'm addicted to smoking. And, not only am I an addict, I actually enjoy it. I know it's harmful to my health, but so is jumping out of a plane, and people will do that with no second thoughts.

In terms of vices, there are some that are waaay more expensive. And, believe it or not, it's actually not that hard of a habit to break, if you put your mind to it. I myself have quit before, once for a number of years. But I've always started back up, because it's a relatively cheap way to get a decent legal buzz. With me, smoking has always been a case of "how much is too much," what's that magic number that would make me quit smoking.

Turns's eight bucks.

On April 1, Wisconsin is raising the cigarette tax by a dollar, a year after previously raising it a dollar. The previous tax rate put Wisconsin right in the middle of the pack; the new tax of $2.50 a pack brings us up to third, right behind New York and New Jersey. Tack that on top on the fact that all of the cigarette manufacturers recently upped their prices, and the fact that our new President would like to raise the federal tax by a dollar, and the pleasure of smoking 20 cigarettes is going to cost you about eight bucks.

Now, I'm not dumb. I understand the concept of the "sin tax": taxing products that people can get addicted to as a deterrent. The high price is supposed to make you want to stop. And that's all fine and good. But have you ever known the government to do anything that was purely honorable, something from which they wouldn't benefit at all except for a good feeling. It's basically a clever, good-intentioned way for the state government to shore up any budget shortfalls on the backs of the state's smokers. I somehow suspect that if everyone in the state were to quit smoking, the governor wouldn't say, "Well, mission accomplished. We're now smoke-free!" I suspect he'd be saying something like, "Where the fuck did that $700 million we were robbing from smokers go?"

If that doesn't seem like a reasonable scenario, take the case of New Jersey. When they raised their tax to $2.58 a pack, people actually quit smoking and many small retailers stopped selling cigarettes altogether. Government officials were astounded by the fact that there was suddenly a $22 million hole in the budget. I'm sure they were shocked that their "cessation by taxation" program actually worked.

But here's the funny thing about state budgets: once they hit an amount, they never go lower than that. If your budget is $6 billion one year, it's not going to drop down to $4 billion the next. It's going to be at least $6 billion, probably more, because all the money in the budget is earmarked for something from the year before, and anything additional is tacked on to that. So where do they get that revenue that suddenly dries up when people stop smoking? Why, right out of the pockets of non-smokers. They find some other tax or fee to raise to make up the difference. John Q. Non-Smoker gets penalized for the state having tentpoled the budget on smokers.

So, all that being said, I think I'm going to quit, maybe permanently. I'm tired of making up all of the state's budget shortfalls. Let someone else do it for once.

Oh, wait: I'M that someone else. Oops.

Monday, March 23, 2009

I'd Be Yelling Too

Lazar Hayward, making a mistake that not even a freshman would make, ends up costing Marquette its season.

And this is the guy who's going to carry the team next year?


Monday, March 16, 2009

Would The Real Ron Silver Please Rest In Peace?

I really have nothing to say here about the passing of actor Ron Silver at age 62, other than to say that he regularly guested on one of my favorite TV shows, The West Wing, and starred in my favorite Jean-Claude Van Damme movie, Timecop, as well as my favorite Jeremy Irons movie, Reversal of Fortune.

Based on the numbers, I guess that would make him my favorite actor.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Marquette Gave It The Old College Try

So, Marquette has been knocked out of the Big East tournament in a heartbreaking loss to Villanova, a game they should have won.

But that's how things have gone for Marquette recently, having lost five of their last six games. And the only reason they didn't have five straight losses is because of a token win against St. John's, which...well, everyone beats St. John's.

It was to be expected, though. As soon as Dominic James went down early in the Connecticut game and the team never recovered, I claimed Marquette would never win another game. I was wrong, but...well, everyone beats St. John's.

Now begins the rebuilding process. Marquette loses four starters to graduation, including star players James (whose NBA career may now be in jeopardy), Jarel McNeal, and Wesley Matthews. They still have Jimmy Butler and Lazar Hayward, but that's a lot of weight for two guys to carry. I don't know, maybe they'll surprise us, but I suspect we're looking at something akin to the Packers in the '80s. Buzz Williams has his work cut out for him.

Hopefully, Sunday will bring good news, and, not only will we get a good seed in the tournament, we'll have an easy bracket.

I doubt it, but a man's got to have something to hold onto.

Monday, March 09, 2009

They Actually Pulled It Off

Almost a year ago to the day, I lamented the fact that a Watchmen movie appeared to be in production. (In fact, I've been lamenting the fact for years.) It's a movie that's been in some form of development for 20 years. Nearly every studio has put it into turnaround at least once. It's actually gone into production three times, only to fall apart twice. In fact, just two months ago, the movie was blocked from release due to a rights dispute between Warner Bros. and 20th Century Fox. But, finally, one of the most anticipated comic book properties in history has finally come out in movie form.

And, turns out, it's really good.

In deference to my review of The Dark Knight, I'm not going to say any more about the movie, other than it's a very well-made and faithful adaptation of Alan Moore's book of the same name (and I'll bet he might be kicking himself a little for signing over the rights).

One thing I will say, since I brought it up, is that if you're a huge fan of The Dark Knight, you will hate this movie (and are obviously a sufferer of mental illness). Conversely, if you hated The Dark Knight, you will tend to enjoy this movie. It's just how it seems to work out, and seems to be true with anyone I've spoke to about it.

Still, it's a great movie that should be seen be everyone; waaaaaaaay better than that Batman movie.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

The '80s In The New Millennium

Last week, in the "Last Five Movies" post, I made mention of the fact that Gary Swanson wore a Members Only jacket while protecting and serving in Vice Squad. Because I do stupid things like this, out of curiosity, I googled "Members Only," and found that this awful fashion statement is still in existence.

No shit; check it out.

I'm absolutely astounded that this horrible '80s eyesore has made a return. This is something that was so bad, that it seemed bad even in the '80s (even though I will admit to owning one, because, hey, that was the fashion). This is something that needed to die when the '80s died; it's so linked to the '80s that it needs to go into history right along with that decade.

And it's not like other '80s fashion staples, like Puma and Lacoste, that have made a resurgence. They existed long before the '80s (both companies are close to 100 years old) and much of their fashions (particularly Lacoste's) have remained unchanged. Even Swatch, a product of the '80s, has transcended its kitschy origins to become the largest watch company in the world.

But Members Only is not a company that has evolved with the times or has continued on with a classic style. Members Only was a product of the '80s that died in the '80s, and is now back with the same terrible styles that would get you laughed at had you worn them, say, well, right now.

But, I can't really blame people for thinking this is hip again, because we as a society are currently in some crazy infatuation with the '80s. Which astounds me, as the '80s are the only decade I've personally lived through that actually seemed terrible while I was living in it. Oh sure, there are decades which, in retrospect, seem pretty corny (like the '90s, for example). But the '80s were generally awful in real time.

And there were only a handful of worthwhile things to come out of the '80s. Like Randy Rhoads. And Blade Runner. And De La Soul's Three Feet High and Rising. And...well, that's about all, really. Most the rest was just garbage. Except for the heavy metal at the beginning of the decade and the hip-hop at the end, all the music was atrocious; disco, only worse. The movie studios, tired of the excesses of the primadonna directors of the '70s, who made some of the best movies in history, put out low-quality movies that would appeal to the lowest common denominator and make money. (In fact, one of my favorite genres, the Crappy Horror Movie, always a money-maker, became so oversaturated during the '80s that they stopped making them for about a decade.) And the great TV shows of the '80s were mostly carry-overs from the '70s.

And the fashion? Embarrassing. Yet people seem willing to embrace it like it didn't already suck once in their lifetimes. Just like all the other junk from the '80s.

I guess there could be worse things to wear than Members Only. I mean, they could start making women's jeans for men.

That would be pretty ridiculous, right?

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Nice Timing, Guys

Joyous news came earlier in the weak for exasperated gamers when Microsoft announced that it may have remedied the "Red Ring of Death," a critical Xbox 360 hardware failure that has caused Microsoft to issue millions of dollars worth of free repairs. A permanent solution to this problem, that is suspected to effect one in six consoles, would eliminate the thousands of repairs that Microsoft has had to issue under the warranty they extended just to cover this problem.

Well, that's great, guys, but couldn't you have figured out this problem before you sold millions of these things? Before I had to send in my own console to have this problem fixed?

Just an idea.