Sunday, August 11, 2013


Divorce is a specialized area of the law and it's not one I ever learned much about. However, there is one piece of advice I offer guys heading into a split. The advice is always ignored, usually to the regret of the poor suckers I offer it to. I tell them to get a lawyer immediately and do everything the lawyer says.

Unless the reason for the break-up of the marriage is that the woman has suddenly become a meth addict or has had affairs with a dozen of the husband's closest friends, the guy in a divorce is going to feel guilty. He's going to feel the divorce is his fault. He will feel that way if he has a new girlfriend, of course, but he will also feel guilty if he has simply grown sick of his wife for shrewish behavior, eternal complaining, uncontrolled spending habits or a doubling in her avoirdupois. Most guys will blame themselves for a divorce unless the wife actually has outstanding fugitive warrants against her from three states, recent children fathered by other men, and multiple STDs. That's how guys are. It's how they think.

Because of these feelings of guilt and failure, guys often do stupid things if allowed to negotiate their own divorces. They will often give up far more of their joint financial assets than they need to, for example. Every state has rules about property settlements and they are not all that complicated. Child support can add a level of complexity to the equation, but again, there are standard rules to be applied, and divorce lawyers are accustomed to dealing with them.

We all know guys, however, who will say, “Let her have it all---I just want to get it over with.” I think a man will take this attitude in the belief it will ease his conscience and will avert emotional unpleasantness with the soon-to-be ex-wife, though neither of these things ever happens. If he feels like a jerk for ruining his marriage, he will still feel like a jerk, and if the soon-to-be ex-wife hates him, she will still hate him, EVEN IF HE GIVES HER THE SAILBOAT. It is likely, in fact, that she will hate him MORE if he gives her the sailboat because she will understand he is doing it purely out of guilt, and she will conclude he has more to be guilty about than she had previously assumed.

It's all about emotion.

Men are aware that “emotions” happen during divorce proceedings. They know it from TV and movies. Unfortunately, most men don't know what an “emotion” actually is, and they certainly have no idea how women deal with them. In any divorce, in other words, men understand there is a minefield to be crossed, but it is a rare guy who has any of the tools he needs to cross it. This is because, at the most elementary level, guys don't know what emotions are. The vast majority of perfectly normal men would classify an urgent desire to urinate as an “emotion,” for example. And if you ask a man for a list of emotions, he would almost certainly include the following:

a) the adrenalin rush of beating a point-spread with a last-minute field goal,

b) the feeling he gets when he sees the newly-hired 22-year-old receptionist swinging her ass down the hallway,

c) the pride he feels in getting 36 mpg in his new Honda.

Women don't make these mistakes. They don't get confused about emotions because they begin studying them in the cradle. Women are never ever going to confuse the fact that a guy is a jerk with the fact he is offering them a sailboat, no matter how much they may want the sailboat. They will take the sailboat, of course, BUT THEY WILL NEVER FORGET YOU SCREWED THE BABYSITTER, AND THEY WILL NEVER FORGIVE YOU FOR IT.

My point is that there is no reason to give a woman a dime more than she is entitled to under applicable law. It won't buy you anything. Do what the law says and then be done with it. Do not go to some mediation program where you sit in a room with your soon-to-be ex-wife and a sociologist and discuss what your needs are. Do not, under any circumstances, engage in yoga. The divorce means at least as much to you as it does to your wife, but for a guy, trying to “care” in acceptable female ways only costs money.

Give some of that money to a lawyer instead. A good one. When getting a divorce, do not try to economize on legal costs and do not wait. Hire a lawyer. Immediately.


I like Bruce Springstein. I have never put him at the very top of the rock & roll pantheon, but I have listened to his music, and enjoyed it, for years.

But maybe I'm done. After forty years, the character he plays is worn out. I mean, the guy is a billionaire and he's never had what you would call a real job his whole life. Instead, he's had money for nothing and his chicks for free, and the working-class hero persona has become just so frayed and dreary that it's hard to listen to him anymore. It may be too late for him to invent a new schtick, but if he can't, he should just hang them up.

At this point, he has way more in common with Dick Cheney than he does with the young rocker just breaking into clubs that he pretends to be. Not that there's anything wrong with Dick Cheney, you understand. I just have no desire to hear him sing “Rosalita.”


I recently watched “Jiro Dreams of Sushi,” a documentary about a man who has been obsessed with preparing perfect sushi from the time he was 9 years old. He is now 86. He's a charming eccentric, an oddball, a loonie---but his 10-seat restaurant has three stars from Michelin. We all know having three stars means it's a good restaurant, but it actually has a more specific meaning, according to the Michelin folks. Three stars reflects their judgment that it is worth traveling to Japan for the sole purpose of eating in Jiro's restaurant.

Americans used to look to the British, with their bird-watchers and train-spotters and other assorted nuts, for the eccentric. Now, that country seems largely a nation of drunks, and the ones who are not puking in the gutter march in lockstep with the nanny-state fascist zeitgeist. There just don't seem to be many original ideas coming out of the UK these days. In terms of intellectual life, it appears to be just another piece of Europe, where all forms of creativity seem to have disappeared with the emergence of ABBA in 1974.

All our eccentrics are now Japanese.

For many years, the only Japanese people I knew were rather straight-laced corporate types from Sony and Toyota and other outposts of Japan Inc. Then, a few years ago, through my son, I became acquainted with a young woman named Naoko and the various members of her posse. Getting to know them has made me realize there is a silliness of unfathomable depth at the heart of Japanese culture, a silliness so profound that foreigners like me can be amused by it but can never fully understand it. And this has always been true, apparently. Even in the past, in more traditional Japan, though there was a great deal of pressure to conform, there was also an acceptance of, and even love for, the oddball.


Media F/X, Inc., our family corporation, just got a notice from the city of Philadelphia about a change in the rate for the Wage Tax, which is deducted from the pay of all employees who either live in Philly or work in Philly. For wages paid after June 30, 2013, the rate has been slashed from 3.928 % to 3.924%. For every $1000 our corporation pays Sandy, I used to send the city $39.28, but now I need send them only $39.24. In other words, we save four cents on every thousand bucks. By the time we get around to paying her $100,000 (and it will take a while), we will be saving $4.00.

I may be exaggerating slightly, but it seems to me that every tax collected by Philadelphia goes up every year. The real estate taxes certainly do, and there are twenty other levies---on sales, on parking, on business profits, on business income, on drinks sold in bars, on real estate transfers, hotel rooms, valet parking, amusements, billboards and car rentals---which, if they are not jacked up in a particular year, certainly never go down. Except for the wage tax. Every year it is cut by a few thousandths of a percentage point. This happens so that every mayor can claim he cut taxes, claim he's “business-friendly,” claim he's doing everything he possibly can to attract new jobs to our unemployed town.

In a general way, everybody likes tax cuts, but this is silly. Any change in tax rates or tax rules carries “compliance costs,” meaning that somebody has to spend time calculating the taxes, paying them, changing the software that cranks out the paychecks, paying the fines, dealing with the enforcement actions that happen when you pay the wrong amount, and so on. Lowering the Philadelphia wage tax by 4 cents per thousand dollars of wages costs the citizens of this fair city far more than Philly businesses and employees can ever save from the rate reduction. It is a testament to the dysfunctional governance in our city that even a tax cut winds up costing us money.


For years, I thought the misuse of the word “refute” was confined to a single headline-writer at the Philadelphia Daily News because headlines in the Daily News were the only place I witnessed this particular outrage. I would read “Clinton Refutes Claim of Affair with Lewinski,” or “Bonds Refutes Steroid Use,” or “NJ Troopers Refute Racial Profiling of Drivers,” but then the articles themselves would correctly inform me that Clinton and Bonds and the troopers had simply “denied” the charges against them.

Refute” has an entirely different meaning. To refute a proposition is to prove it false with evidence, logic, mathematics, or whatever else is required. The statement “2 + 2 = 5” can be refuted. The claim that Bill Clinton had an affair with Monica Lewinski could theoretically be refuted, but it would require mountains of documentary and other proof they had never been in the same room together or spoken on the phone to each other. Also, in the process of refuting the claim, Bill's denial would have no evidentiary value at all. “Refute” and “deny” have two entirely different meanings.

Anyway, I assumed the DN headline-writer was just one more indication that America's journalism schools are now simply academies designed to implant leftist beliefs and no longer teach any of the tools a kid needs to commit actual journalism. But it seemed to be a local outbreak of idiocy and was not, apparently, contagious.

Then I started seeing it in other places. I now see it regularly in newspapers, internet articles and blogs. Today, I saw it in a piece entitled “GAO opens investigation into Planned Parenthood's use of taxpayer money.” The organization had been accused of fraud in billing a state health program. The article then continued:

“However, when finalizing the settlement, which included state and federal recovery money, Planned Parenthood strongly refuted claims it has frequently over-billed the system.” (Emphasis added.)

Obviously, PP didn't refute the claims, they merely denied them. If they had refuted them, the article would not have been written. “Strongly refuted” is a particularly annoying misuse, so much so that I suspect did it on purpose just to drive me crazy. “Refute” is an absolute. Something is either refuted or it ain't. The verb will not take a comparative like “strongly.”

So goodbye, refute. You were a good word. Now I guess I'm stuck with “disprove” since “refute” can be taken for a mere denial. Still, it won't be the same. “Refute” is something we first encounter in high school geometry, but it goes much deeper than that. The idea of refutation is as old as logical thinking. “Refute” is something Aristotle did. ”Refute” is something that happens in the Talmud after a few thousand rabbis natter at each other for five hundred years. When you've refuted something you can shout “Aha!” and slam your scabbard on the banquet table. Sometimes women swoon. “Disprove” just doesn't capture it.


We have all heard of the “six flags over Texas,” if only because of the amusement park. It's a trivia question: what are the six flags that have flown over Texas? (These are all flags of sovereign governments; the current state flag of Texas doesn't count.) While looking up something else, I recently learned that Laredo, Texas had one more. There have been seven flags over Laredo.

In 1840, when Santa Anna was busy enforcing his dictatorial rule over what had formerly been the Republic of Mexico, a secessionist movement arose among Mexican patriots calling themselves the Republic of the Rio Grande. It lasted for about ten months, but it lasted long enough to design a flag, which flew over Laredo, its capital city.