Friday, February 29, 2008

Conducting as Spectator Sport

I probably don't spend enough time poking fun at conductors. It's a rich subject area for exploring all the right ingredients for your basic chuckle-fest. As comic actors and cartoon characters throughout the ages have shown us, from the Three Stooges and Elmer Fudd, to Inspector Clouseau and Homer Simpson, the humor lies in this equation: self-importance plus incompetence equals funny. One of my favorite jokes goes something like this:

Q: What's the difference between an orchestra and a bull?
A: On a bull, the horns are in front and the a**hole is in back.

But you have to be careful, because there are just enough good conductors out there to keep you humble. Good conductors can be a wonderful thing. Whatever else they add to the art of making music, mainly they save time. There is never much time to rehearse, typically ten hours for a professional orchestra per concert series, so you can't afford to waste any of it. Furthermore, musical scores and parts are only somewhat specific about the composer's intentions. The notes and articulations are pretty much all there, but when it comes to the tempo (speed) and dynamic (loudness) markings, most composers don't bother to overspecify -- typically tagging each section with a few terse words of instruction. The conductor must make decisions about how far to carry them.

Why can't the individual musicians make their own decisions? By themselves, they are no more than a very talented rabble. Without a conductor, all of the decisions would tend be to made by the most persistent and opinionated players. In other words, chaos. You may not like the way the man with the stick is interpreting a symphony, but somebody has to be the authority. A good conductor can turn this talented rabble into a united instrument that makes music possible.

{Opinion mode ON} I do think music critics tend to make way too much of the variable known as "interpretation." Okay, fine, so Zubin Mehta performs the finale of Sibelius's Second Symphony faster than Carlo Maria Giulini did it thirty years ago. So what? There can be more than one "correct" interpretation. It's really the basics that matter the most. Is everyone playing together? Is it in tune? Does it sound good? Are the most dramatic moments well-showcased rather than dismissively glossed over? If a conductor can make these things happen, the performance will probably be a success -- and we'll just leave all that jibber jabber about a conductor's "faithfulness to the score" and "depth of interpretation" to the critics, who have to pretend something is there even if it is not.

What does it take to be a great conductor? Well, if I understood the answer to that question, I'd probably be a great conductor. But let's try anyway. When done correctly, there is probably no more demanding job on the planet. Being a conductor requires essential talent, thousands of hours of study, and first-rate musical instincts. He must possess an invincible sense of rhythm; nothing is worse than having to battle the conductor about where the beat is. He must have a reliable ear for hearing discrepancies in pitch. He must possess an in-depth knowledge of the musical score; conductors who manage to get lost tend to drag their musicians down with them. (And in the music reviews, guess who gets blamed?) He also needs the ability to communicate to the orchestra how he wants them to play. A good stick technique doesn't hurt, but a lot of the great ones never did anything more than wave their arms around as if they were standing at ground zero of a hornet attack. It doesn't matter how the communication happens, so long as it happens. Suffice to say, in a perfect world, the conductor would be the best musician on the stage -- even though he adds nothing directly to the sound.

However, the sad truth is that it is far easier to look like a great conductor than to be one. So for many who enter the profession, the question becomes, who do you have to fool? You certainly can't fool your players, but fortunately nobody cares what the musicians think. You really only need to make sure you're keeping the people who sign your paycheck happy, and most orchestra boards don't know how things are supposed to be. Furthermore, if they selected you, they're already on your side and will be reluctant to admit an error. That's a relief. And the real irony is that the better a musical ensemble is, the less pressing is the need for a competent conductor. An amateur orchestra needs a skilled, sensitive conductor if it ever hopes to pull off a Brahms or Mahler symphony, whereas the Chicago Symphony Orchestra could polish off Mahler's Ninth in its sleep even if Jerry Lewis were the one waving the baton. Hey lady, could you please follow the beat? Haahhhh!!!!!

This opens the door to charlatans.

And that probably sounds mean. Problem is, it is not me who gives the game away, but rather the good conductors themselves who set the standard.

For example, a couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to perform under the baton of Col. Arnald Gabriel, who conducted our group (the Virginia Wind Symphony) in what can only be called an inspired performance. Col. Gabriel was the commander of the United States Air Force Band for many years, and in terms of his conducting prowess, he is the real deal. One of his trademarks is his ability to memorize musical scores, and he performed our concert without using any of the scores. When Col. Gabriel memorizes a score, he memorizes every single note and marking, so that if you were to ask him what note the second horn should be playing at measure 119, he will think for a minute and then be able to tell you the correct note.

Well, (I heard this from one of my former Air Force band commanders) the USAF band was once auditioning Air Force field band conductors, and one of the auditionees performed, from memory, Verdi's Overture to "La Forza del Destino" (i.e., "The Forceps of Destiny", or something close). When he was done, Col. Gabriel stood up and said, "Very nice. I just have one question: in what key does the overture open up?" The auditioner's facial expression went from zero to outraged in about four seconds, and, livid with anger and embarrassment, glowered at Gabriel and spat, "You... Animal!!!!" He stormed off the stage, needless to say, to the great amusement of the players. Finally, Col. Gabriel announced, "If anyone needs me, I'll be in my cage." Hopefully the word was spread that Col. Gabriel expected prospective conductors to know the music, not just be able to beat time convincingly.

Ultimately, conducting shares a certain trait with other managerial endeavors, and that can be summed up by the phrase, "An ounce of image is worth a pound of performance." If you look good in a tailcoat and can strike a convincing pose with a baton, and especially if you're young and presentable, you'll at least have the local newspaper on your side, and that's half the battle. But there's more. It may take a great genius to master the art of conducting, but it certainly doesn't take a genius to cop an attitude. Arrogance is a tool of the trade. It can serve to disguise incompetence as well as to make others reluctant to question you.

Now, I certainly don't mean to imply that all conductors are arrogant. I remember how fond the Pittsburgh Symphony players were of Andre Previn, when he was their music director, and by all accounts Maestro Previn was not an arrogant man, but rather a helpful, pleasant man. But there has certainly been enough arrogance at that position. Arturo Toscanini was a screaming tyrant who once put out a musician's eye by throwing his baton at him in a rage. Fritz Reiner was quietly sadistic and enjoyed putting his players through the crucible. A notorious number of concert band conductors have fallen into that category as well; I once watched a college band conductor reduce an oboe player to tears because she did not have a good reed. Now, in none of the above examples was it a question of using arrogance to hide incompetence -- all were good conductors -- and in the case of college band conductors, their abusive tactics did not prevent many of their students from worshiping them. I have even heard such tactics defended as just another way to inspire students to perform better. Fine, if you enjoy playing for such conductors, then you play for them.

Incompetent conducting can manifest itself in a variety of ways, and even the best can display rare bouts of it. Or, as Connie Francis observed, "Everybody's somebody's fool." Usually, the more secure a conductor is, the less he will mind admitting a mistake. And vice versa. It can get painful, sometimes, when a conductor keeps making the same mistake at the same place in the music, and then pretends like he stopped on purpose because the oboe needed to bring out the melody more, or the brass were too loud. They think we're too dumb to notice. Dropping beats in a mixed-meter passage is always a great way to discover what else you were doing wrong that happened to coincide with the conductor's brain farting. Irregular beat patterns (e.g., 5/8, 7/8) reveal whether your conductor has a solid sense of rhythm. Other times, your conductor may have great skills but still lose the vision. There was a conductor back in college -- I swear, he really could hear the grass grow. Exceptional technique, fantastic musicality, what could possibly be wrong? Well, this fellow loved to spend an entire hour of rehearsal on one or two measures of music, beating the same players up over and over because they just could not produce what he wanted to hear. Groan. It was not unusual to get to the concert and never have played any of the pieces all the way through without stopping. Needless to say, the concerts were white-knuckle affairs.

But there's nothing like sticking it (so to speak) to the incompetent and arrogant. Just one example, heard this one from a professional trumpet player in a large midwest orchestra. A friend of his auditioned for another orchestra, and had to perform the offstage trumpet call in Beethoven's Leonore No. 3 Overture. The first time he played it, the Maestro asked him, "That was nice; do you think you could play it again, but this time, more sudden?"

More sudden?

"Yes, more sudden."

The trumpet player had no idea what the Maestro was trying to communicate, so he played it again, but this time a little louder. "That was louder," said the Maestro, "But I want it to be more sudden."

So the trumpet player thought for a minute. Then he put the horn up to his lips and took a deep breath... but did not play. He just held it there and made eye contact with the Maestro. Finally, the Maestro looked away quickly, and that's when they trumpet player pounced, playing louder even than before.

"That's it!" the Maestro beamed triumphantly.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

William F. Buckley, Jr. -- Rest in Peace

The death yesterday of William F. Buckley, Jr. was unwelcome news, indeed. It would be hard to overestimate the intellectual impact of his ideas on modern America, or to point to anyone else within the journalistic profession whose contributions have borne such significant fruit. It is no exaggeration to say that, without Buckley, the Reagan Presidency could have never happened.

In the years following World War II, we found that we had vanquished the threat of national socialism only to replace that threat with another, no less formidable threat in the form of Soviet communism. The narrative of communism -- its appeal to economic justice and its drumbeat of deterministic inevitability -- had won a lot of converts within American journalism, academia, and even within the government itself. As Soviet communism bore down on us from a strategic and military perspective, many of its fellow-traveling "progressive" ideals also infected America's public policy, dragging us inexorably toward socialism. Social security, laws to protect labor unions, minimum wage laws, and finally (since there is no logical stopping point for such thinking) welfare, housing, and millions of other policy directives all seemed to point to the inevitable arrival of the Nanny State.

Enter William Buckley, World War II vet, son of a wealthy oil man, educated in an English boarding school, and eventually at Yale University, where he ran head on into the liberalism which serves as the sieve through which all ideas in the academic world are strained . Where most of us might just try to grin and bear the liberal indoctrination for four years, Buckley's response was to grin and refuse to bear it, hitting back with his first book, God and Man at Yale , in 1951, a witty expose of the techniques and pervasiveness of liberal indoctrination within the hallowed halls of academia. Liberals reacted to the book with a heaping of shock and disgust, garnished with a soupcon of hysteria. E.g., the Saturday Review's reasoned, dispassionate reaction:

"The book is one which has the glow and appeal of a fiery cross on a hillside at night. There will undoubtedly be robed figures who gather to it, but the hoods will not be academic. They will cover the face."

(Nothing like a tolerant liberal, I always say.)

And ever since, Buckley has been the scourge of liberalism and liberal pretensions. In 1955, he assembled a distinguished cast of ex-communists and conservative academics looking for a venue for their ideas, and launched National Review magazine, whose job it was to "stand athwart history, yelling, 'Stop!'" In addition to being NR's editor-in-chief for over forty years, and writing a syndicated newspaper column, he was also the author of numerous books (inclusing several novels) and host of PBS's talk show The Firing Line for over thirty years. He engaged in many public debates on a variety of subjects, and somehow found time to be an avid amateur musician (piano and harpsichord) as well as an accomplished sailboat skipper (and wrote two or three books on that subject).

The rise of conservatism as a political force followed from Buckley's creation of an intellectual infrastructure, borrowing from traditionalists like Edmund Burke, libertarians like Albert Jay Nock, and the free-marker ideas of Adam Smith and Milton Friedman. Barry Goldwater was the first presidential candidate who put the sparkle in the eyes of National Review, and though his candidacy went down in flames, the ideas surrounding Goldwater's conservative platform did not. It took Ronald Reagan to bring these ideas forcefully into the presidential arena, and though conservatives can complain that the Reagan Revolution wasn't complete, there is no denying Reagan's contribution toward vanquishing the Soviet Union as well as re-establishing the respectability of free-market economics. Buckley and Ronald Reagan became close personal friends, and Reagan was always quick to point out the impact that National Review had on his political thinking.

As a practitioner of the polemical arts, Buckley was second to none. Yet, he always did his job with a playful flair, often disarming his opponents with his rapier wit -- or enraging them, take your pick. He avoided the bitterness and rancor rampant in today's political punditry, always keeping his wits and good cheer. And his rhetorical skills were widely acknowledged and feared. In one debate, Buckley led a team of conservatives against a team of liberals led by Gary Hart, the former U.S. Senator from Colorado who had (by this time) run a bid to become the Democratic presidential candidate -- a bid that was derailed by an extramarital affair he had been having with a young woman named Donna Rice. (It seems almost quaint that, in the days before the unhousebroken Clintons left their unique stain on the national conscience, we used to hold political candidates up to some level of moral standard higher than zero degrees Kelvin.) During one of the cross-examinations, Buckley asked Hart whether it embarrassed him that one of Hart's own team members had once disagreed with the viewpoint Hart was putting forth. Hart replied, "Not in the slightest." Then came the famous Buckley grin -- sly, almost leering -- and his understated retort: "Does anything embarrass you?" The audience exploded in mirth, and if looks could kill, Hart probably would have spent his remaining days on death row.

Though Buckley's books tend to be timely and topical -- and thus now dated -- anyone not familiar with the power and grace of his writing ought to consider picking out a few of them and treating himself to some of the best, most luminous prose the English language has to offer. Many of his books are collections of his syndicated columns, and what you find is a fifty-year historical refresher course, dealing with controversies which are today mostly forgotten. The Hiss-Chambers case. The rise and fall of Joe McCarthy. The Warren Court, and the Warren Report. The "Great Society." Vietnam. Affirmative Action. Watergate. Khomeini. The Reagan years. However, some of his books were conceived as books, such as McCarthy and His Enemies (co-written with Brent Bozell) and Up From Liberalism, both books about the McCarthy era; The Unmaking of a Mayor, about his spirited but doomed bid to become mayor of New York (his first act of office would be "to demand a re-count"); and numerous others.

Buckley lost his beloved wife, Pat, last year, and in a recent appearance on Charlie Rose's show, admitted he had no longer any desire to continue life -- these weren't the words of a bitter man, but of a man who knew his life's work had been accomplished and there was nothing pressing here to keep him from God's presence. A devout Catholic, he was asked during a Playboy interview if he thought all dogmas, secular and theological, must inevitably fade. The response was pure Buckley: "Some, but not all. I know that my Redeemer liveth." He is survived by their son, Christopher, humorist and author of Thank You For Smoking. Once in an interview, Christopher said that his father was "the nicest person I know." No doubt you'll be hearing a lot of that kind of talk, from all who knew him.

He raised the standard. He fought the good fight. I will miss him. Rest in peace, Mr. Buckley.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Say It Isn't So!

Well, color me shocked and amazed.

On Feb 10, I posted the following about Mr. McCain and his smoochy-smoochy relationship with the mainstream liberal news media:

...McCain's strategy has been to play to the mainstream news media, who reward his solicitousness by throwing flower petals in his path as he runs against other Republicans. (Expect this to change once he starts running against Democrats.)

That was written before McCain had the Republican nomination locked up. Once he did, it didn't take long for his media buddies to turn from lap dogs to wolves. On Feb 21, the New York Times did a hit piece on McCain that was described by one prominent newspaper editor as "pretty thin beer." Personally, I don't care about the particulars (if you do, check out the always entertaining James Taranto's take).

I don't claim a lot of credit for predicting this, simply because it was so predictable in the first place. Republican "maverick" plays to liberal news outlets; liberal news outlets (including the New York Times) endorse McCain over his Republican rivals; McCain secures nomination, leaving the Democrats as his primary opposition; the pantheon of liberal news media outlets comes out with a thinly veiled smear on McCain. Wow. I knew it was going to happen, I just didn't realize it was going to happen so quickly.

Look for more of the same. Much more of the same.

Republicans will never be the first choice of liberal news folks. McCain apparently wasn't bright enough to see the two-by-four coming at his head. Now that he's been hit by it, maybe it's not too much to hope that he will figure out where the blow came from.

McCain is eventually going to wish he had spent some time cultivating a few friends on the right.

The mainstream media has switched parades (from Hillary to Obama), but not its m.o. Expect them to continue throwing flower petals before the Democratic candidate, and plopping down flaming bags of dog poo in front of the Republican. I've watched them now for over forty years. It's what they do.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

The McCain Mutiny

Now that the nomination of John McCain as the Republican candidate for president is all but certain, his long history of riling conservatives must somehow be reconciled with his now pressing need for conservative support in the general election. From McCain's perspective, garnering that support must seem to be a simple matter of showing conservatives they have nowhere else to go. The conservative situation, on the other hand, is analogous to last call at the bar: eyeing the homely barfly so unceremoniously dismissed at 10 PM, but now trying desperately to find some comeliness in that craggy, bellicose exterior. Desire tends to trump reality.

In fact, to some types of conservatives, McCain might be a centerfold. As I pointed out in an earlier post, conservatism is not a monolith, but only a loose coalition of various anti-liberal sentiments that seems to be getting looser all the time. Conservatives who place national defense above all else might look at McCain's personal bio and Congressional record and see something exciting. There are also those conservatives who prefer McCain's open-borders immigration sentiments, particularly those among the country-club Republicans who make a lot of money from cheap labor.

Certainly, the prospects of a Democratic administration is galvanizing at least those conservatives McCain has not already irretrievably alienated. For example, the Wall Street Journal's Daniel Henninger is taking the line that conservatives need to grow up and get in line for McCain. (Another way to grow up, by the way, would be to quit patronizing unhappy conservatives by using adolescent insults, but those who write bylines for the Wall Street Journal might have to sacrifice some of their catchiest phrases.)

So, exactly what grievances do (many) conservatives have toward McCain? Here's a summary compiled by National Review's Mark Levin. For starters, there was McCain-Feingold, the famous bill for campaign finance "reform" (a liberal worship-word which implies that change is by definition always for the better), which many conservatives believe is a direct (and successful) attack on the First Amendment. Even McCain's highly-touted pro-life positions have been compromised in order to defend McCain-Feingold's clammy grasp: he filed an amicus brief on behalf of the prosecution against Wisconsin Right-to-Life when he didn't need to get involved at all. I mean, what's a child's life next to his pet legislative achievement?

Then there was McCain-Kennedy, the immigration bill designed to make legals out illegals. Then there was McCain-Lieberman, a ham-fisted response to the dubious science of global warmism. The general rule is that if a piece of legislation has McCain's name attached to it, it's probably a calculated thumb in the eye against conservatives. And I use the word "calculated" to stipulate that McCain's strategy has been to play to the mainstream news media, who reward his solicitousness by throwing flower petals in his path as he runs against other Republicans. (Expect this to change once he starts running against Democrats.)

I could go on, but the gist is clear: McCain deserves conservative accolades the same way Benedict Arnold deserves a Congressional Medal of Honor.

The argument that McCain deserves our support because he is still more conservative than either Obama or Clinton may have merit, but it's hardly as simple as that. Let's stipulate that McCain's record is basically conservative but getting less and less so (as measured by American Conservative Union, who keeps track of such things). Let's grant that he is more conservative than any Democrat likely to run against him. Problem is, that's only part of the story. What is the desired goal of an election, from a conservative point of view? If it were just to elect the more conservative candidate, then it's easy: vote for McCain, quick, while he's still more conservative than not.

But it isn't that easy. You have to keep your eye on the ball: the desired goal is to get conservative policies enacted and to consign liberal policies to the municipal treatment plant. If liberal policies are championed by a Republican president, will other Republicans oppose them? Or will they instead roll over and play dead? Recent history suggests the latter. Particularly on federal spending and the growth of big government, but on other issues as well, George W. Bush has betrayed conservative ideals over and over again, while his party has stood by largely mute and powerless to stop him. The issue, then, is whether conservative policies are more or less likely to be enacted under a President McCain, or whether Republicans will be more effectively conservative in opposition to a Democratic president.

Ultimately, it doesn't matter how conservative a president happens to be. What matters is his willingness to fight for conservative principles when the going gets tough. McCain is tough indeed, but at this point it's more reasonable to conclude that this toughness will be employed not against liberals, but against the conservatives whose support he needs today. McCain likes to play to the liberal media. He seems to enjoy it. What makes anyone think that being president will change this?

There's a bigger issue involved, as well. As I have pointed out, the Republican Party leadership is too often tempted to come to its own terms with Democrats on issue after issue, leaving the rest of the conservative coalition out in the rain. After all, they smugly ask, where will the conservatives go? That's a practical question, and deserves a practical answer. Conservatives have three weapons: their voices, their money, and their votes. If you want to motivate Republicans to act like conservatives, rewarding them when they act like liberals just might be the wrong approach. Let's try denying them our money and votes and see if that works.

Reasonable folks may differ. My good friend at Griffin Trek takes a different tack. Read what he has to say, and come to your own conclusion. As for me, McCain will not be getting my vote this fall; I will probably vote for the Constitutional Party's candidate. I think the Republican Party needs help this year, and the best way to provide it is a little tough love.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Ramblings of a Musical Nature

When you have been playing trombone in ensembles around the country as long as I have, you start noticing certain patterns. Let's put a few of them in print.

If an ensemble (orchestra or band) has 105 players and 101 music stands, the low brass players go without.

If there are four bad music stands, or chairs, in the entire rehearsal or performance hall, the low brass players will get them, week in, week out.

The instrumentalists who need the most room for their instruments get the least, and vice versa. It is not uncommon to see the two oboe players lounging in splendor in the center of the stage, their little shot glasses filled with water and bamboo arrayed around them, with more elbow room than a '36 Packard -- while the trombone players are carefully guiding their slides through the uprights (music stands, mike stands, trumpet player heads) while their tuning slides in the back are whacking the timpanist.

If the brass section is up on platforms, the two trumpet players get the big one, while the three trombone players get the small one, and the tuba player has to phone it in on his cell.

Stage hands think nothing of putting the timpani right next to the trombone player's ear.

Stage hands also think nothing of putting the low brass section, seated of course, behind the string bass section, standing of course, and give you a dumb look if you mention it. Maybe they don't believe you really want to see the conductor. Maybe I don't either, but that's beside the point.

Speaking of conductors... There are good conductors, bad conductors, nice conductors, mean conductors, and pretty much conductors of every other kind. Almost all conductors, however, like to talk more than conduct. They could show you what they want with their stick, but they would rather share their wisdom with you verbally. Very few believe you can pick it up from their stick. So they talk. The worst are the ones who do what in baseball they would call a balk. Up goes the stick, up goes the trombone, ready to blow, then he starts talking and down goes the stick. Just a little more wisdom to impart verbally. Relax. You must need it.

The best conductor I have ever played for is Robert Page, who was the head of the music department at Carnegie-Mellon University in the late 1970s. He conducted a performance there in 1977 of the Bartok opera, Bluebeard's Castle, which was one of the best concerts of my entire life. Today, he is still active in music as the conductor of the Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh -- the greatest choir I've ever heard. Not only is Mr. Page a consummate musician, but he is a gentleman who is extremely respectful of his players -- so much so that he absolutely refuses to waste a musician's time. Somehow, he manages to convey his advice to you while he's actually conducting. And he organizes his rehearsals in such a way that, if you play in only a couple of the movements, he will do those movements first and then let you go, all while he is still waving his arms, without stopping the music. I have played for hundreds of conductors, and Mr. Page is one of a kind. He doesn't tell you how considerate he is going to be, he just does it.

General rule of thumb: the ones who tell you how considerate they are, happen to be the least considerate.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Drumming Up Business

In the preceding post ("Taking Dictation"), I wrote:

Trust me on this: if the federal government starts bailing out bad real estate investments, at least three things will happen. One is, the rules governing the bailout will be written in such a way that most of the largesse will go to folks who are already better off than the typical taxpayer, turning it into a subsidy for the better-off by the worse-off....
That was a week ago. And as if on cue, we have the following, posted by Michelle Malkin, from a property attorney in Florida:

I’m a property attorney in Northwest Florida, the epicenter of the real estate “boom” and “bust” and from my ringside seat I can tell you predatory lending was not a factor. Buyers and Lenders were equally at fault for reasons you have already written about. But that’s not the why I am writing.

A large number of the foreclosures involve investment properties such as second home, beach condos, vacation cottages, raw land, residences for rent, etc. In the past year I have learned the details of some fifty or so foreclosures from prospective clients. Of these 50 or so foreclosures, only two involved a primary residence and one of those involves a genuine and unforseeable hardship…

From where I sit, most of the foreclosures are not the horrible tragedy portrayed in the press. People are not always losing their primary home. I admit that I live in the middle of a tourist destination so my local perspective may not match that of the rest of the nation. But my point is that many of the foreclosure statistics are significantly inflated by the large number of foreclosures on investment properties. 48 of those 50 or so foreclosures I mentioned are investment properties and they are counted in the state and national foreclosure statistics bandied about in the press.

I am only a small lawyer with a small practice. If this is what I see, imagine what is going on in the rest of Florida. Florida is a leading foreclosure state right now and many, if not most, of these foreclosures do not involve primary residences yet these foreclosures inflate the doom and gloom numbers used to justify a political solution to an artificial crisis.
Let's stipulate that the vast majority of folks who invest in second homes are better off than the typical taxpayer. Not everyone can afford a mortgage payment, let alone two of them. When we're bailing out real estate investors, it's about redistributing money from those who have less of it, to those who have more. Remember that it's your money that Congress is being generous with, and it means that you now have less money with which to meet your other obligations.

Liberals in the media and academia love to point at the "greed" that underlies free enterprise, implicitly portraying government programs as untainted by that very human condition. Last I heard, however, there is only one species of human, and all are fallen from grace, not just the ones who work for private industry. The truth is that, regardless whether they work for Wal*Mart or the U.S. Senate, people tend to make decisions that enhance their own lives. Politicians have every incentive to sell voters on the idea that government can solve their problems. This is marketing, pure and simple; GM does it when they show you their shiny Malibus with babes driving them; Hillary Clinton does it when she insists before a stacked audience that the government can do a better job of managing health care.

The reason big-government liberals are so scornful of free enterprise is the same reason that Miller is so scornful of Bud -- nobody likes competition. And like most sales campaigns, there is a certain amount of snake oil. Drink Miller and be surrounded by gorgeous babes. Chew Wrigley's gum and pretty girls will want to kiss you. Fund our new government program and we will save America from financial ruin. It's essentially the same thing as those annoying spam offers to act now if you want to enhance your male. The difference is just a matter of scale, not plausibility.