Monday, February 27, 2012

Paying Tribute to Extremists

It's no surprise to the people who know me that my personal political preferences are often at odds with my understanding of how American politics actually function. For example, while I want to believe that my preferred candidate can win elections by throwing political meat out to us lefties and "turning out the base," it's still probably true that there are more gains to be made by tacking to the middle in a general election, i.e. median voter theorem. With that being said, I constantly find myself jealous of the way the Republicans cater to their most right-wing base in ways the left NEVER does. In fact, us lefties seem complicit in marginalizing our own views, systematically mocking and rejecting candidates like Dennis Kucinich, whose most "extreme" view seems to be that would shouldn't start wars for no reason - you know, views that 80% of liberals support. But, as someone who does understand the way our democracy elects politicians, I also understand that policy positions have very little to do with how we elect politicians. It's almost entirely a reflection on the economy (by all I mean roughly 85%). Just look at the lineup of crazy motherfuckers Americans elected in 2010. Americans (all voters really) have extraordinarily short memories. You can start unnecessary wars, explode the deficit, destroy local and global economies through deregulation and increases in income inequality, and you can be put back into power 24 months later. So when we see Rick Santorum say all these kinds of crazy things about religious freedom in ways that make him indecipherable from Sarah Palin, we say, well nobody is going to elect this guy, right? Maybe, maybe not. It really depends on the economy. If the economy is improving, Santorum/Romney will lose. If it's not, really any Republican can win. Even the crazy ones (OK, OK, they're all crazy). And either way, the Dems will probably lose the Senate and maintain an albeit reduced minority in the House. They way we vote and pay attention to politics, we really aren't smart enough to figure these things out. That's why I'm jealous of the Republican lurch rightwards. It would be nice if their renewed attacks on women's rights (and their continued attacks on Hispanics and "welfare queens"), relegated them to the dustbins of history but it simply won't be the case. Instead, this radicalism, win or lose, will set the new normal, the new center. Remember, a few years ago Santorum was a right wing radical with a Senate seat who lost his reelection bid in Pennsylvania by 18 points. Now he is amongst the two Republican presidential frontrunners and he polls decently against a President that is ending two unpopular American wars, is turning around the economy, who regulated the extremely unpopular financial industry, and who killed Osama bin Laden. Why is the polling so close? To use the most overused phrase in political history, it's the economy stupid. Knowing that Americans vote on sociotropic economic concerns, Republicans can pursue all sort of radical Republican cultural objectives and really pay a very small political price. In the meantime, extreme radicalism on the right redraws the political center on a longterm basis. Even if they lose the general election (which I'm betting they will). Look at the successful Goldwater movement. Yes that Goldwater. Goldwater got smoked in the presidential election, but the radicalism that rose to power during that time period is a continued triumph that ratchets upwards through political generations. Read Rick Perlstein epic history, Before The Storm for the evidence on that front (pun intended). As a liberal, I find this monumentally frustrating. Again, I understand why our candidates campaign as center-right politicians. But I don't have to like it.  And I can also understand that it does very real, and very long-term damage to the Democratic brand. And that is frustrating. When we constantly make Republican concessions on the debt, or on abortion, or on taxes in order to tack to the center and gain centrist voters, we do long-term damage to Democratic aims like reducing global warming, universal healthcare, reductions in income inequality, full employment, nuclear stock reductions, clean energy, improved education, and general increases in equality of political and economic opportunity. As usual, I don't have a solution to this dilemma. We truly cannot afford to let one of the madmen on the right to win election. The Bush years were catastrophic. So we hold our noses and vote for the Democrat who continues to prosecute whistleblowers, crack down on legal medical marijuana dispensaries, deport Hispanics at unprecedented rates, expand executive authority, caters to bankers, refuses to prosecute financial malfeasance, and has claimed the right to assassinate American citizens with or without due process. And remember, that's the "socialist" candidate. I guess my complaint is that if you're going to be painted as a socialist anyway, why not campaign as one. Or at least made positive nods in that direction. I mean, the election is coming down to the economy anyway. Might as well stick up for some Democratic priorities. You know, like the right does.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Acoustic Cover

Haven't done when of these in awhile. Let's show this older gentleman some love...

Personal Empathy - Very personal post. Please feel free to skip this one!

This is not a new personal insight or anything, but watching Tiny Furniture by Lena Dunham, it reminds me that I am riddled with a bizarre affliction whereby I have great depths of empathy for humanity and groups of people in general, but utterly lack it when it comes to individual human beings. My heart literally bleeds for the the poor, the disenfranchised, the ostracized, those struck by tragedy, minority groups, the enslaved, etc. This is why I vote Democrat. This is why I advocate for liberal causes. This is why I went back to graduate school - so I could learn the skills needed to implement policies designed to help these kinds of people. But there is a real disconnect between by liberal empathy and my daily life. Personally, I don't do anything to help individuals - I don't volunteer my time at soup kitchens, or old age homes, or rehab centers, or at Big Brother or any similar organization. I don't donate a substantial portion of my salary to charity. I'm emotionally cold and distant to many of my closest friends. I don't really know anyone who would rely on me in a time of need. I don't "do" affection. I don't "hug" people. There is a running joke amongst my friend and I about how we wouldn't last on Survivor because we wouldn't participate in any of the group hugs. (I should point out that exuberant high-fives are in my range of emotions). But I get more upset watching sappy movies (or non-sappy movies) than I do by more personal tragedies. I fear if I ever have a family, I'll grow into the classic caricature of the liberal father who spends all of his time "saving the world" and ignoring his own family. There has to be a name for this sort of thing right?
I bring this up because Tiny Furniture is the first movie in a long time I just couldn't make it through. I mean, the lead character falls into a subgenre of people I normally emphasize for - individuals (in this specific case female) riddled with self-doubt, self-loathing and body issues. And yet, perhaps because she does such a believable job of portraying these character defaults, I simply cannot empathize for her. She's just too pathetic. And I guess the movie is supposed to be "funny," but I'm just not getting the humor, though it's clearly aimed at pretentious indie art fans like me. Anyway, I don't have much more to say about the movie since I only made it 2/3 through. I can't imagine it gets any better and I'm sure her HBO series will suck in the same manner. Anyway, I just like to point out that amongst my myriad of personal faults, I am not unaware of many of them. In fact, I am aware of most of them! I'm just too bad (or lazy) of a person to do anything about them. Hence my need to find a job where I can make a real positive impacts on a lot of people's lives. Ultimately, it is important to me that I balance the ledger.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

On Grim Musings

I may be breaking this story a couple of hours ahead of the mass media (oh the scandal), but I know the information has officially been "released" so I'm breaking no taboos here by saying that skeletal remains have been found out in Manorville at around 6:30 p.m. yesterday. This is an important development because, as my Long Islander readers might be aware, the Suffolk County Police is attempting to identify the serial killer (or serial killers) who has been killing individuals and dumping their bodies in Manorville and Gilgo Beach over the last approximately 15 years. Here is a very brief timeline of the bodies discovered in this investigation for those unfamiliar with the case:
On May 1, 2010, a craigslist prostitute, Shannan Gilbert, goes missing after an appointment at a john’s house.

On December 11, 2010, a set of unidentified skeletal remains is found in the area near Gilgo Beach and Oak Island during a training exercise conducted in the area of Shannan Gilbert’s disappearance. Body later identified as Melissa Barthelemy.

On December 13, 2010, three additional sets of skeletal remains discovered in vicinity of remains discovered on December 11. Remains later identified as Amber Lynn Costello, Maureen Brainard-Barnes, and Megan Waterman. All four identified sets of remains have ties to the escort industry.

On March 29, 2011, an additional set of remains is discovered during a resumed search for Shannan Gilbert. The remains would later be identified as belonging to Jessica Taylor, another known escort, whose partial remains were previously discovered on July 26, 2003, in Manorville on the northwest corner of Halsey Manor Road and the LIE.

On April 4, 2011, three additional sets of remains are discovered in the ongoing search along Ocean Parkway. One set of remains, designated Jane Doe Six, is believed to be the partial remains of an unidentified female whose body was also originally discovered in Manorville on November 19, 2000 near Halsey Manor Road. Another set of remains, the body of a still unidentified female toddler, was discovered nearby. Further west along Ocean Parkway, a set of remains believed to belong to an unidentified Asian male were also discovered.

On April 11, 2011, two additional sets of remains are found in Nassau County. One set of remains is suspected to be related to the toddler found seven miles away in Suffolk, possibly mother and child. The other set is later linked by DNA to a set of remains found in Davis Park on Fire Island in Nassau County in 1996.

On December 13, 2011 a set of remains that appear to be Shannan Gilbert’s are found in the Oak Beach area. The ME soon confirms the body belongs to Shannan Gilbert.
The case is extraordinarily disturbing and bizarre and for brevity, I've left out many of the most confusing and confounding developments in the case (including the likelihood that the disappearance of Shannan Gilbert is NOT related to the bodies discovered in her search).

But, to introduce a moral quandary, I'd like to return to the recently discovered remains (which, for the record, have not yet been identified as human) in Manorville. Given the very sad reality that this most likely represents a dead human being, and there is no bringing back a person from the dead, is it morally reprehensible to hope that the remains are related to the Long Island serial killer(s)? By that, I mean, another victim in this case introduces a whole new line of evidentiary exploration, particular if we can ID the victim. There are new forensics and MOs to be evaluated. New lines of inquiry. If we can ID a new victim, we can explore his/her families, professional acquaintances, hangouts, email histories, hobbies, habits (good or bad), personal history, etc. Again, I want to make it clear that I am not rooting for new bodies to be found - now or ever. But now that a body HAS been found, and it has been found in the vicinity of previously discovered victims (see map below), is it morally OK to hope that the body is somehow related to the other murders, predicated on the belief that it makes the catching of the serial killer(s) more likely? Clearly the investigation has hit a brick wall at this point and it could use any additional information it can gather.

View Larger Map

As a reminder, anyone who believes they do have information relevant to this investigation should call Suffolk County Crime Stoppers at 1-800-220-TIPS.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Star Wars

I'm probably going to see all the Star Wars movies, including the prequels, in 3D because, well, I love Star Wars and I love 3D. I like the tack Timothy Sexton takes in this article here, though (and the comment threaders obviously don't get it), he's clearly concern-trolling here. I mean, this article doesn't make the Yahoo headlines if the title is different. The truth is, the Star Wars prequels do get the politics a LOT better than the originals, though obviously that does not make it a better story, nor does it come close to compensating for the wooden dialogue, terrible casting, and atrocious acting. That being said, I was probably one of nine people in the world who enjoyed all three prequels. Did they live up to my expectations? Err, no. But did they introduce an amazing new villain (Darth Maul) and the three best light saber duels of all time (Darth Maul v Obi Wan & Qui-Gon Jinn, Yoda v Dooku, and Obi Wan v Anakin)? Yes.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

On Unilateral Disarmament

Those who know me are aware that I've worked with non-ideological, good government non-profits like Common Cause to strip away the influence of money in politics. I truly believe that buying political influence is the most pernicious development in US Politics (well, that and the use of the filibuster in the Senate). I also believe that the Citizens United Supreme Court decision ranks right up there with Bush v Gore, Plessy v Ferguson, and the Dred Scott decision as the worst in American history. Unfortunately however, the cat is out of the bag and Super PACs are a reality in American campaign finance in 2012. Thus, as much as I hate the role of campaign donations in American elections (and particularly the influence of the finance, defense, energy, and healthcare industries), it is the height of absurdity to suggest that the Obama campaign should forego the use of SuperPacs as former Senator and campaign finance reformer Russ Feingold does here. I have never, and will never, be a proponent of unilateral disarmament. These are the rules of the game and we shall play by these rules, as dismaying as they may well be. I mean, if you're the manager of the Angels, and you hate the DH rule, you don't hit your pitcher as a matter of principle. It's absurd, it's idiotic, and it does long-term damage to your own long term aims. It is not hypocritical to work within the system at hand, even if you object to specific rules that govern the system. One can legitimately criticize Citizens United, criticize the use and existence of Super PACs, and still create and empower a Super PAC to campaign on your own behalf. You do not lose credibility if you do so. Hell, you can create a Super PAC to lobby against the Citizens United decision, up to and including the passage of an amendment to the United States Constitution banning Super PACs. (This is in fact the kind of behavior we are seeing with the Colbert Super PAC). Listen, I'm not making exceptions or engaging in partisan rationalization. I think Democrats should use the filibuster if (when) they lose the Senate even though I despise the filibuster and find it to be a fundamental threat to democratic governance in general and progressive legislation in particular. But I also think Republicans can brag about earmarks and pork barrel projects that they bring back home to their districts, even if they hate the process by which these appropriations are budgeted. It's the current rules of the game and its perfectly fair for Republicans to object to the practice but wield the benefits of the existing standards (However, it is important to note that this standard does not apply to Republican representatives who rail against government spending, claiming it hurts the local economy, but who then credit pork barrel spending for creating local jobs. That is a case in which representatives cannot, and should not, have it both ways. You can't claim stimulus spending hurts other Americans but helps employ, say, local Houstonians).
This does not mean we stop fighting to reform the campaign finance system. Hell, I don't know how we fix American governance without doing so. At least on the state level, I think the public financing of elections are our best way forward. However, I don't think public financing is feasible at the national level (as presidential candidates will begin to opt-out anyway - see Obama 2008). Even seems to be waving the white flag. But clearly something must be done to reduce the influence of billionaire bankers, oil conglomerates and media empires. Otherwise, we are going to see some shitty legislation continue to funnel down the turnpike (cough, cough SOPA). But Obama turning down Super PAC money doesn't get us any closer to that solution. Yes, his administration is made-up of some pretty terrible corporate lackeys with deep connections to the industries they are supposed to regulate. But the alternatives, who promise to strike down healthcare reform and the gutted down Dodd-Frank legislation on their first days of office, are much, MUCH, worse.

Really Jeremy Lin?

I really don't give a shit about the Knicks these days, and I'm a much bigger NCAA fan (go Johnnies and CU Buffs!), but at some point I'm going to have to post about Jeremy Lin. I mean, nobody has ever done, in any sport, what Lin is doing right now. OK, another Giants sports star comes close! But maybe the only other feel good sports story in the same league is J-Mac.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Birthers Won't Go Away

One of the reasons I avoid political discussions entirely and I prefer these one way posts where I'm essentially shouting into the wind, is because I'm familiar with much of the political psychology research on the brain's processing of new information as it interacts with ideology. Long story short, ideologues are guilty of internalizing information that coincides with their world view and rejecting all information that is inconsistent with that world view. Conservatives, unsurprisingly, are more guilty of this bias than liberals are, but that shouldn't shock anyone reading my blog. This is why conservatives en masse reject information that contradicts their ideological agenda - tax cuts do not increase government revenues, evolution and global warming is scientifically valid, George W. Bush actually increased the deficit and expanded government spending substantially more than Obama, torture is not an effective means to obtain information from suspected terrorists, etc. Instead, they discount these truths and facts as propaganda tools of the liberal media. Of course, in a world of Fox News, The Wall Street Journal and conglomerate ownership of all major media outlets, the existence of a liberal media cabal is pretty laughable. But conservatives cannot, and will not, entertain these alternate truths. Of course, the most vapid example of conservative dissonance is the idea that Barack Obama is not an American citizen. Of course, of the hundreds of thousands of Republicans who think Obama is some kind of Kenyan Muslim plant, none has put forward a compelling origin story that explains this vast conspiracy. Did a mixed-race couple during the very height of the civil rights movement really conceive a child while stationed somewhere abroad in 1961, yet had the foresight at that very moment in political history to plant a story in the both the Honolulu Advertiser and The Star Bulletin announcing the birth? That's pretty prescient. They also had the know-how and political connections, while abroad mind you, to be sure to forge Hawaiian birth certificates just in case their child decided to become America's first black president in 2008. That seems an unreasonably complicated method to go about the process since clearly a couple that was so convinced that their son was going to become President would have found a way for the American-born mother to conceive the child on American soil. It's not like they didn't know when pregnancies came to term in 1961. So why are conservatives so convinced Obama is a foreign national? Race tells part of the story, but not all of it. I mean, hated as they were by conservatives, I've never really seen it suggested that former Democratic presidential candidates Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton were not American citizens. They may not be considered "real Americans," but that is because that distinction is reserved for uneducated white people.
No, the additional factor that convinced conservatives that Barack Obama is not an American citizen, in addition to his race, is clearly his name. I know - pretty stupid right? But his blackness, in concert with his unique name, is enough to convince conservatives of his "otherness". They really don't need anything more than that. I don't think we would be having this discussion all the time if Barack Obama was named Michael Washington. And no amount of evidence will convince conservatives that Obama was born in the U.S. Liberals and rational sane independents may have believed the question of Obama's nationality was to put to rest when he finally released his "long-form birth certificate" - you know, whatever the fuck that is. Well, to some extant, this effort was successful. Before the release of the certificate, only 55% country believed that Obama was born in the United States. That's a pretty pathetic accounting of political knowledge in this country, but at least the number jumped to 67% after he released the document. "Yay for new information! Maybe voters can internalize this stuff!" Of course, that number is already down to 59%, meaning 41% of this country once again isn't sure if Obama was born in the U.S. Sigh. But here's the really crazy fucking number.  According to the same study conducted by Adam Berinsky, the number of Republicans who believe that Barack Obama was born in the U.S. is actually lower now than it was before the release of the birth certificate. 73% of Republicans are either unsure of or actively believe that Barack Obama was born outside of the United States where it was 70% previously. That's an absurd level of craziness, even for the hive-like mind that we call conservative thinking. I want to be clear that I am not being hyperbolic when I say that a democracy cannot function effectively in conditions such as these. People get all upset when 13-year-olds can't tell you who the country's Vice President is but this level of political ignorance is much more dangerous. When such a vast proportion of the American populace (and its elected officials) thinks the commander-in-chief is an illegitimate usurper, those individuals will do anything in their power to grind government to a halt and overthrow the "usurper". This an unsustainable climate for a functional democracy. Unfortunately, I have no idea how it is to be overcome.

America's Worst Fans

Apparently Boston was concerned that Philly was running away with the title "America's Worst Fans," and wanted a shot at the title. As read in Rick Reilly's column,
The Patriots should not renew Welker's contract, suggested Luke Hughes of Boston's "It's a hard sell to start with and an even harder one when you consider that [fourth-quarter] drop," he wrote.
Let me get this straight. You're going to get rid of the man who led the NFL in receiving this season, everybody's first-team All-Pro, because he couldn't haul in a ball that was high and over the wrong shoulder?
Apparently somebody agreed with Hughes. Eight thousand Butterfingers were dumped in Copley Square on Tuesday to mock Welker.
Forget about the one or two idiots who wrote in to say the Pats shouldn't renew Welker. Any team fan base has more than a handful of assholes and dipshits who believe such things. But a coordinated effort to humiliate the team's second best player? I mean, when you dump eight thousand Butterfingers in a town square, we are talking about a statistically significant size sample of your team's fans. I know the Giants have their share of terrible fans - hell, some of my friends number amongst them. But could you imagine Giants fans doing something like this to Amani Toomer, or Hakeem Nicks, or hell, Howard Cross? Absolutely not.

Wes Welker, you have a place on the Giants if you want to give those troglodytes in Boston the treatment they deserve. Hell, I'll do Patriot fans one better. You guys can sign Super Bowl "hero" Mario Manningham and we'll sign Super Bowl "goat" Wes Welker. Deal?

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Where are all of my ambitious politicians?

It's actually a bit curious to me why more people haven't take up the mantle of people like Eliot Spitzer since his resignation a few years back. No one has really gone after the financial companies with equal vigor since him. That's strange. I have high hopes for people like Eric Schneiderman (NY) and Martha Coakley (MA), who have taken up the cause, but the reality is that they lack the charisma and passion of a person like Spitzer. But let's think about Spitzer's meteoric rise. The man was an Attorney General in NY and yet he had national name-recognition! No one can even name their own state's Attorney General! If Spitzer didn't get caught banging so many prostitutes, he would probably be President in 2016. So how come more politicians aren't taking on the banks? It's pretty much a shortcut to the top of the political heap. People already bought their pitchforks and torches. Now we just need some to lead the way and light the fires. Clearly the banks conspired to take Spitzer down, but come on! Every single politician in this country can't be screwing hookers, can they?

BTW, it goes without saying that Elizabeth Warren is teh awesome. But she is running for the Senate. I want to know why more state Attorney Generals aren't suing the financial banks and criminally prosecuting their officers.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Some Deep Thoughts About Italy: Part I

So I concluded my Italian vacation the other day which included stops in Rome, Pompeii, Sorrento, Capri, and Naples. I am going to use this particular entry as a dump page for some thoughts, questions, and observations that occurred to me along the way. First off, the trip was incredible and I am very happy I went - I don't want any criticisms or caveats of this particular vacation to suggest otherwise. Anyway, here they are in no particular order. It won't be comprehensive initially, so I'll probable do this in parts.
  • Italy is definitely a Spring-Fall country. The advantages of visiting during the winter, as I have just done, are clearly cost (airfare-hotel), accessibility (lack of lines at major tourist attractions) and the cooler temperatures. In other words, when you are walking 10-12 miles a day, or stuffed on a subway/train, it's a major advantage that it's not 100 degrees out. However, that being said...
  • Italian eating, drinking, and socializing revolves around warm weather - to the point of dependency actually. As someone who wanted to do those things, I found they weren't very accessible to me. It is difficult to understate how important a hot climate is to an outdoor cafe' culture. Most eating establishments (and I call them "eating establishments", not restaurants) relied on outdoor street seating. But you don't want to sit outside when it's 45 degrees out. And if you do, its still socially awkward as you are the only one doing so. Your other option is to stand inside at the counter and eat. And I hate standing and eating - to the point where (and my friends can verify this), I will sit down alone during cocktail hours at weddings so I can do so. It once took my brother and I over an hour walking all over Naples to find a suitable restaurant to eat in. 
  • As someone who likes afternoon naps, I thought I would like siesta hours. Unfortunately, as an American, I found them infuriating. I honestly felt like I had a 23 minute window every day to find a place to eat/drink. Everything is closed before 1p. Then everything closes again at 3:30p. I have no idea when things open again - 9p? 
  • Pompeii is huge. Something like 2,000 people died when Vesuvius erupted so I assumed it was some small village. No - it's a legitimate city! We spent the whole day walking through Pompeii and we still didn't cover it all.
Pompeii Ruins
  •  Why are there so many stray dogs in Italy? Seriously. They are all over the place. If you walk around Pompeii, they will casually follow you back to your car. My brother and I were escorted by two different stray dogs on our walk out of ancient to Pompeii through modern Pompeii to our parked rental car. I had previously gone my entire life without seeing a stray dog  - dingoes in Australia don't count. In Italy they are all over the place. The walked right down the road. Bizarre really.
  • I would like to see video of a city being "excavated" because I don't believe in it. I think it's mythical like unicorns. Or "trickle down economics". Doesn't it take years to excavate something like a stegosaurus? How does one excavate an entire city that's buried in lava? What do you use? Shovels? Picks? How do you know what is molten lava and what is the beginning of a wall, an urn, a bath, a human being, a pot, a stone pathway? I think there is something massive I don't understand about a citywide excavation.
  • If it's winter, you can skip Capri entirely. The island shuts down during the winter. We went, and I'm sure its awesome if its hot and you can go swimming/snorkeling, but otherwise you can pass. Unfortunately the Blue Grotto was closed, so we couldn't see it, though you can walk right up to the face of it. I was tempted to swim through but it was expressly forbidden. Plus I was wasn't drunk enough to be the first idiot to freeze to death swimming naked through the Blue Grotto. Just didn't seem like a great idea at the time. I should note, discouragingly, that I emailed the Capri Tourism beforehand and they told me the Blue Grotto would be open, weather permitting. I can assure you, there was nothing about the weather or water conditions that should have prevented our entry on the day we went. So I felt a little misled there.
Immediately to the right is the entry to the Blue Grotto

  • One thing I respect about the Italians is their use of any available land as gardens/groves. It's amazing, any and all available space is gardened. Large open land and tiny 2x2 foot plots alike are plotted and planted. Olive trees, orange trees, lemon trees, grapes, peas, radicchio, arugula, artichokes, broccoli, etc. It there was an open space it was gardened. And I am talking within the cities here. I know these types of practices are being picked up slowly in American cities but I really think they can have an impressive impact on our urban energy conservation, carbon sequestration, beautification, and nutritional quality. We can learn a lot from the Italians there. I wish I took a good picture to encapsulate this Italian attitude.
An example of the orange trees that are found everywhere.

  • A rental car came with my vacation package, but I probably would have preferred travelling without it. It could be stressful, considering a) driving in Europe is a apparently lawless and b) I didn't have a map or GPS and my iPhone had no service so I felt like I was driving blind most of the time. Finding hotels could get tricky. Thank God I didn't have to do a lot of one lane travel - you know, those extremely mountainous roads that are essentially the width of two cars plus one inch and are beset by switchbacks and tourist buses. Those are real fun. Dodging lunatics on scooters is fun too. They definitely drive wherever they want, whenever they want, though it took me to the last day of my trip to see a scooter headed in the opposite direction of my car on the right hand side of my vehicle. Having a rental car could increase our freedom and latitude, but it came at the expense of my personal freedom and latitude since my brother can't drive stick (pathetic really!). If I drove us someplace, it took a lot of pre-planning and a lack of booze. My driving days always seemed like work days. Plus, petrol is very expensive to boot. I'm not sure we even saved much money versus public transportation. I'm super comfortable on mass transit in general, so I don't think I'd take a car again, even if it, once again, it was already included in the vacation cost.
  • Our hotels sucked. I mean, yeah, I know, you get what you paid for and all, but still. Off-season I suspect we could have done much better paying similar rates at other hotels. We stayed in three different hotels and they were all very inconveniently located. And this definitely affected our experience of the Italian nightlife. Maybe I'll go into more detail about this later...