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Thursday, October 30, 2014

Evolution

Rather, the (Father's) kingdom is within you and it is outside you. -- Gospel According to Thomas, verse 3

It's rare that I'll bother with the subject of religion, but here we go with the second religion post in the same day. For regular readers here, this may seem somewhat counter-intuitive, but I'm temperamentally inclined to side with Douthat here on principle -- either you believe the teachings of your church are divinely inspired and passed down to human ears and hearts from The Big Guy Himself, or not.

If you do believe that, then you believe in preserving those teachings verbatim, no matter how outmoded or ancient they may sound to modern ears. Anything else (in that mindset, bear with me) would be presumptuous, akin to saying (and thus somehow just knowing) that God has changed His mind about [fill in the blank -- gays, remarriage, birth control, etc.].

What the Douthats of the world are saying, sticks-in-the-mud that they may be, is that the institution is a structure of permanence, divinely endowed, and not to be altered to accommodate the lifestyle choices of the day. And again, as a devout non-believer, I can get behind that line of thinking.

The idea of a religious system, unlike an empirically observable, scientifically testable and adaptable system, is that things are what they are, not what its adherents would like them to be, and so the followers conform their lives to the belief system, not the other way around. This is what annoys me about cafeteria believers, who profess to a certain, clearly ascribed system, and then chip away at its fundamental premises with their personal preferences. Why not just become a Presbyterian or Baptist or whichever system does encompass those preferences then? Why not just have a harmless half-secular / half-syncretic  personal belief system that involves no church at all, but pays things forward by, say, volunteering at the animal shelter or donating a sack of groceries to homeless families once in a while? Why insist on staying in a club whose rules you don't want to abide by?

Again, the key here to this (or any religious) belief system is that it is dictated by and from an unimpeachable, unchallengeable celestial force, by which one may only commune with in deep, meditative ritual. (And even then, not be entirely sure with whom one is communing.) If you've decided to ignore the rules you don't like, then why play that particular game? This half-assed approach to spirituality does no one any good. What Douthat is saying, to borrow from the Homer Simpson lexicon, is to use your whole ass.

So, on a principled level, I can dig where Douthat is coming from, though he does seem obsessed with original intent, as if an ancient synod of monks attempting to squelch the various heretical creeds cropping up around them didn't have any ulterior motive to federalize, if you will (and you might) a system around which their earthly vested power might begin to accrete.

A practical person would see all that Council of Nicaea stuff as the original Electoral College, smoothing out as close a compromise as possible. But a literalist, by definition takes it as verbum dei, no debate, no modernization. What is eternal does not change, by definition. Insisting that it should change is a different thing.

But as a practical matter, the church is heading toward a potential schism, as Douthat obviously knows, between literalists like himself and modernists like the current pope. Douthat is an exception to the demographic for each, as he is young, college educated, and lives in an industrialized country, all factors that trend toward modernism. The literalists tend to be either old or in the usual impoverished shitholes whose only answer to overpopulation is to keep breeding.

Any organized religion, in the end, is about two main things, if they want to remain sustainable -- numbers and money. You can see where the split is, as far as that goes; the modernists have the money but the literalists have the sheer numbers. Where a schism would occur nowadays, rather than wars or violent conflict, would simply be a drop-off in one or the other, or both.

This sort of stuff reminds a great deal of the "strict constructionist" burblings of Constitutional literalists, preservationist ideas that make sense until you start thinking about them, and realize that, for example, there is no way the Founding Fathers could have remotely conceived of machine guns that can fire dozens of rounds per second. Even more similarly, strict constructionists tend to be the type that insist that the US founding documents were divinely ordained, as if George Washington had been summoned to a burning bush on the swamp of the Potomac and given another set of sacred tablets to bring to the plebes.

The warning and the lesson here is the same, both politically and religiously. On the one hand, you don't want to change your defining documents and premises too easily or regularly, precisely because those things immediately become fair game in the deal-making process. But on the other hand, as always, one eventually encounters a premise that simply needs to be revisited, possibly revised, because the world has passed it by.

In either case, the majority of participants will continue to go about doing what they do, living their lives and flaws, If a schism -- religious or political -- takes place, one thing you can take as gospel is that there's money involved.

Mad Bum Wiki

Here is a snip of World Series MVP Madison Bumgarner's Wikipedia page, until they change it back:


Too funny.

[Update 5:35 PDT -- They've already fixed it. That was fast.]

What's in a Name

Not to stereotype or over-generalize (yeah, right), but one way to tell that someone might be something of a douchebag or a dipshit is when he's a grown-ass man who goes by "Jimbo."

This Must Be the Transparency They Spoke Of

No administration ever turns out to be as responsive and transparent as they promise to be. It's practically impossible, especially for a commander-in-chief with zero military knowledge or experience. It makes sense that Obama will always defer to the Joint Chiefs of Staff on these matters.

There is almost no chance that the ISAF (and jeebus knows my dick gets granite-hard at the limitless ocean of sometimes recursive acronyms that the modern military is truly all about) will be more than minimally "successful," by whatever no-doubt-shifting criteria they choose to measure that. There's probably a variety of reasons, some of them measurable within the overall expenditure in question.

Maybe some of the Afghan Forces trainees are Taliban saboteurs. Maybe some of the money gets siphoned off here and there to grease the palms of local warlords, or Karzai and his family. Maybe all of the above. One thing Afghanistan -- like any other collection of human beings, but two generations of war has amplified it there -- has no shortage of is pelf and power and venomous shitheads who would fuck their own country over for a fistful of dollars.

So let's say that you, Tonstant Weader, are the preznit of these here Yewnighted States, and have a fine degree from Harvard Law but zero military experience. And Stan McChrystal or Peaches Petraeus tells you that the most efficient way to kill American enemies without endangering American soldiers is to deploy a fleet of killbots high above the Hindu Kush, controlled by some guy with a joystick in a trailer in Tampa.

Sure, there's always the chance that the hellfire you rain will kill some people who already want to kill you. But you won't have to send in more troops. That's the choice being presented to you, the president, by people who have a lifetime of experience with this shit. You can't tell them no without a better plan, one that you can take to the press and try to convince millions of people who hate you on a deeply personal level.

Or they tell you that these special military programs operating halfway around the world in an extraordinarily problematic part of the world, likely run by their handpicked protégés, need to remain classified because too much information would undo all the good work they've done, and intend to do. Knowledge is power, and in this case would empower the bad guys.

So what are you gonna do, smart guy? Tick-tock, you have to make a call, and soon, because as the song says, choosing not to decide still counts as a choice.

I'm not in any respect sticking up for Obama or his chickenshit acquiescence to many of these policies, which have only increased in scale and degree, and will only continue to do so. We'll know we're at the saturation point when drones are used to attack (don't worry, it'll be spun in the media as "defending" against thuggery) the next Ferguson riot. But in the meantime, it's not that difficult to see how these wrong-headed decisions get made.

A Bird In Hand

You know, if George P. Bush switched parties and changed his last name, I might almost consider voting for him, if he's really as moderate and reasonable as he presents himself. What young "P" presents -- aside from his own presumed destiny to the dynasty -- is an opportunity to call out the increasingly lunatic element of his party, one that is no longer the fringe but the mainstream of that party.

Instead, since P is running for Texas Land Commissioner, a quietly powerful but nationally inconsequential post, but a useful stepping stone nonetheless, he has resolved not to piss anyone off. In a state that is rapidly browning and bluing, despite its current proclivity for unrepentant mouthbreathers like Louie Gohmert, Dan Patrick, and Greg Abbott, Bush recognizes the need of his party to be at least somewhat inclusive, yet refuses to antagonize the troglodyte base.

It's even more of an opportunity in Texas, because aside from the issue of immigration, Republicans might be surprised to find that Mexican-Americans, not unlike Cuban-Americans, tend to be culturally (small "c") conservative. There is a common and unfortunate assumption on "both" "sides" that minorities will always vote Democratic. But like any other demographic, the more money they make, and the more comfortable and suburban they become, the more likely they are to vote to protect their measly stake in the game.

It's been often said that, given the current tenor of the Republicans, that Richard Nixon and even Saint Reagan, were they to seek office today, would have to run as Democrats. That party, becoming more distinct by rhetoric and sentiment at least, as the Republicans become more driven by id and inchoate anger (even with the establishment bankroll), has its own bench of younger talent to develop. Even in Texas in particular, with the Castro brothers, there is not a need for yet another young charismatic Latino politician.

And yet, should some enterprising Dem convince P to "defect", perhaps with the promise of unseating Greg Abbott in a few years (if, again, they haven't already promised that to Julian or Joaquin Castro), it would be a rather large get, one that the chattering classes, dependent as they are on some contrivance or other, would milk for months or years. In an industry based primarily on connivance and distraction, getting a Bush to switch parties would be huge, not that it would ever happen.

Nothing to Kill or Die For

This rapey-bible pamphlet that a Florida atheist group plans to pass around is amusing enough, as far as that goes. Couple of points, though:

  1. While it's good and important that, over the last decade or so, atheists have organized and disseminated their thoughts enough to get out of the margins and into the mainstream radar, some of your more professional atheists -- Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Bill Maher -- might need to pause and ask themselves what their goal is. If it's simply to ridicule the idea of faith, as opposed to pure reason, or to poke fun at people of faith, that's fine. They're doing a pretty good job of all that, and in fact, many of their bolder assertions needed to be said. Hell, I've certainly done that here over the years, countless times.

    However, simply reiterating how religion poisons the mind or the debate or whatever doesn't convince or persuade very many people, and in fact probably angers more people than it convinces. That doesn't necessarily mean that the approach must be softened or diluted, but perhaps that the argument might be broadened, and different strategies might be applied.

    For example, one spurious argument floated by people of faith is the idea that atheists, unmoored to any codified value system, cannot by definition be as ethical as even the most louche person of faith must be, simply by dint of their professed belief. Now, you know and I know that that's a heroin-pure line of horseshit if there ever was, but perhaps putting some effort into debunking that canard would pay dividends. Can't hurt to try. The odds have to be better than repeatedly insulting people.

    Sometimes they need and deserve insulting, no doubt. But if we want to convince any of them -- and when you're as overwhelmingly outnumbered as atheists are, by religious people along the spectrum of belief -- you need more than one predictable punch in your arsenal.
  2.  
  3. Like any good American atheist, I find the endless prayers and benedictions, at everything from sports events to school board meetings, to be pointless, tedious, even counter-productive on some levels. However, it's important to keep in mind that aside from Europe and China and maybe some urbanized parts of South America, the rest of the world, whatever their religion, is waaay more publicly pious and insistent than Americans. Here your various professional Christian lobbying outfits will get butt-hurt over the rapey-bible pamphlet, and maybe even take them to court, seek an injunction, tie things up until the atheist group decides to fight a different fight, whatever.

    But what do you think would happen if the atheist group decided to go after the Qu'ran instead of the Bible, decided that it would be good fun to put out pamphlets luridly pointing out that the 53-year-old prophet of Islam consummated his marriage with a ten-year-old? I think we all know what would happen in that instance, and it would not involve paralegals and indignant denunciations from talking heads on the nightly news. There would be violent riots and death threats, and the very real threat of violence.

Religion has always made people do and say strange things, and react violently to words and deeds that other people would just ignore and walk around. The promise of the last half-century of freer thought and more permissive, secularized culture, was couched in the idea (at least in part) that powerful technologies and newer ways of governing the masses would liberate them in a sense. In other words, a government that was no longer overly concerned with getting people to church, combined with the advent and democratization of technology, would allow individuals to truly self-actualize, to find their own path, one of many putatively parallel (more or less) paths to being engaged, well-rounded citizens.

Heh. Silly idealism, right? What no one counted on, in our post-scarcity technocratic paradise, was the greedheads pulling every damn thing to themselves, leaving the masses to fight over their crumbs, temporarily sated by their selfies and smartphone games, but mostly scrambling to pay $160/month phone bills and other routinely escalated prices of "normal" existence. No one counted on the median wage stagnating for forty goddamned years and counting, while the one-percenters raked in more than ever. It doesn't matter if the pie gets bigger, if the same few simply take more of it.

While there are certainly religious wealthy people, it seems incontrovertible that radicalized religious beliefs are mainly the province of the poor and marginalized, who have nothing left to lose, and nothing left to believe in or hope for. People who were promised an opportunity to be stakeholders in a great society, and instead given Honey Boo Boo and Bejeweled and a bullshit McJob that can be packed off to Shenzhen or Bangalore at a moment's notice.

G.K. Chesterton (supposedly) famously said something to the effect than if you don't believe in something, you'll believe anything. I would suggest a corollary -- that when your earthly masters have given you nothing to believe in but empty promises and self-serving bullshit, that many people may choose to grab onto ideas that, by their very nature, cannot be empirically disproven, and thus provide solace -- however temporary or false -- that what is around them refuses to.

If we want people to think for themselves, we first need to give them the luxuries of time (and by association, discretionary income) to actually do so. But the fact of the matter is that, religious or not, the people who own this country and own all the systems want compliant wage slaves to take what they're given, pray to whatever suits them, and go on about their way. They know that most people like their useless warm-pink-blanky rituals and benedictions, are conditioned to expect them, and so they give them freely as routine placation.

But the masters are terrified at the prospect of an informed, engaged populace, just a the peons are every bit as terrified of losing their comfort mechanisms, without which they would have to face the fact that they are well and truly fucked. That's a much more compelling dilemma than simply trying to provoke people by flicking them shit for their beliefs.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Cash Cow

Maybe it's wishful thinking to suppose that the garbage of reality teevee, particularly the more exploitative "hillbilly" schtick of Duck Dynasty and Honey Boo Boo, have finally jumped the proverbial shark -- even if, in this case, the hapless selachimorph is in a vat of mayonnaise, with some drooling inbred gibbering and tapping on the side at it.

Slathering the contrived misadventures of these random backwoods halfwits in a greasy film of "family" life doesn't make it any better, doesn't change the fact that (to insert and compare current "conservative culcha" tropes) Phil Robertson was more of a thug than crackers assume Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown were (or that he's simply a blithering idiot with way more of a platform than his nonsense deserves), that June Shannon could shame any welfare queen Those People might have.

It's passing strange that, in a 24-hour media system that scrutinizes and ruminates over the most ridiculous, peripheral ideas imaginable, that those inconvenient truths don't get brought up more often, or much at all. Not being part of the audience, I really have no idea who what the demographic for this sort of shit is in the first place, presumably shut-ins lacking any semblance of taste or critical thought. Having made the mistake of sitting through one episode of Duck Dynasty just to see what the fuss was about, and seen enough excerpts of Honey Boo Boo on The Soup to get the idea, I can at least safely posit that these things are not being watched "ironically," that the core audience is genuinely interested in the (again, contrived) comings and goings of these dullards.

Yes, ordinarily these are just the usual chacun à son gout deals, where the smart set can safely curl their collective lip, roll their eyes, mutter something uncharitable about the complete lack of sophistication of the fan base in question, and be on about their way. Might as well gripe about the success of Miley Cyrus or Justin Bieber.

But when, in the above examples, you have one "star" using his "fame" to promote his mossback religious and political agenda anywhere and everywhere he can, and the other is a disgusting idiot who has been impregnated by multiple felons, and has partnered with at least two convicted child molesters, it's a little more than just a matter of taste.

Maybe it's time to start boycotting the sponsors of fucktard basic cable outlets such as A&E and TLC -- which, let's recall, used to stand for Arts & Entertainment and The Learning Channel, respectively -- until they can vet their maroons a little better. Not saying we all need to watch Mawsterpiece Theatre and practice our Downton Abbey etiquette protocols, not remotely. But this incessant promotion of idiots and assholes -- isn't that what we have politics for?

Snowblind

I don't suppose you've heard that there's an election in the next couple weeks. "Both" "sides" proclaim it as the most important evah, just like all the other ones which Changed Everything. If 'murka has a more enduring, precious fiction than the one that claims that the one-percenters who own and run this popsicle stand are suddenly going to cede control because The Peepul Has Spoken, I have yet to hear it.

The fact of the matter is that, unless there is a supermajority in the Senate -- and maybe not even then -- nothing at all will change. It does not matter whether there are 55 Republican Senators or 59 Democratic Senators. It should be clear at this point that the defining characteristic of this particular gubmental body is stasis and gridlock.

From the perspective of the peons, and the media monkeys who pretend to be On Their Side, that is a flaw; from the perspective of the Owners, once again, it is a feature. But up to that supermajority point, both parties have dedicated themselves to the notion of using the mighty threat of a filibuster to cow the other side.

(Of course, the Republicans probably can and will take the simple majority in the Senate, so pay close attention to whether minority Dems employ the same tactics that the Goopers have used for six years straight, or if they fold back into their usual "go along to get along" master strategy of capitulation. That will remove all doubt as to who's "on your side," Monsieur et Madame Six-Pack.)

Enter performance artist and connoisseur of Peruvian flake Larry Kudlow, whose screeds only seem to get screedier.
The Republicans are going to recapture the Senate, picking up more seats than most any forecaster expects. And the House GOP is going to add to its majority. But then comes the big story: The beginning of a new conservative revolution.

....

Obama's head will spin with all the new paperwork on his desk. He may even have to cut back on his golf game. 
Of course, because of his left-wing ideology, Obama may veto everything. But if he does, he's setting up a new Republican agenda for the 2016 presidential race. Either Hillary Clinton completely jumps the Obama ship, or she's pulled way left by the Democratic party's Bill de Blasio/Elizabeth Warren/Sandinista wing. Either way, she's in trouble.
 
And maybe some Senate Democrats vote to override Obama's vetoes, with some even converting to Republicanism. An Angus King or a Joe Manchin may cross the aisle after the likely midterm GOP landslide.
[emphasis mine]

Only a complete moron would still call Barack Obama, with his killbots and surveillance and coddling of Wall Street predators "left-wing." In an era when Richard Nixon and probably Saint Reagan would run as Democrats, Obama is a reliably center-to-center-right hack. Whatever Obama's lofty rhetoric has been on this or that issue, his actions have been predictably centrist, dickless and conciliatory.

Not knowing or caring the difference between confidence and chutzpah, Kudlow blindly trucks on through with his bold assertions and predictions, never minding that the general, reasonably non-partisan consensus predicts about a 52-48 R-D split. Which again, should clarify whether or not there actually is a dime's worth of difference between these assholes and those assholes.

If "taker" states want to proclaim their rugged individualism by continuing to vote against their rational self-interest by voting in the usual Republican clock-cleaning grifters, then fuck 'em. They get exactly what they deserve. You think I feel a bit of sympathy for Kansas? Fuck no. Let 'em choke on it, if that's what they want. They'll figure out the hard way when they've had enough voodoo econ, and then they can fucking well bootstrap themselves out of it. Anything else would be sociamalism.

Every one of those teabagger rubes falls for this "I'mma cut me some pork!" horseshit -- except, of course, the "pork" that turns out to be jobs and aid and gubmint subsidies for their district. Then all that principled rugged individualism shit goes straight out the window. Just try touching fucking ethanol subsidies in Iowa, guaranteed you'll draw back a bloody stump. So, you know, Iowa deserves a burbling fool like Joni Ernst. Maybe Steve Braley should fuck a pig at the county fair, just to convince the locals he's the man for the job.

Back to Kudlow. The balls on people like this clown, privileged shitheads who've never had to answer for anything, who were allowed to fail upward where others would find themselves destitute; who were allowed to go to rehab when others went to prison. Kudlow is the standard-issue limo-lib who converted from SDS to supply-side evangelist when he saw where the money was going.

These people have no principles -- and more importantly, no empathy. They couldn't give less of a shit about the very real consequences of the globalization of capital and labor, of the decimation of the American manufacturing base, of the rampant wealth inequality that continues to undermine what could and should be a very smooth running economy that really would lift all the boats, instead of just the yachts.

But they don't want that, they want it all, every last scrap. The metaphor of the one guy taking 11 of the 12 donuts, leaving everyone else in the office to divvy up the last donut in the dozen, only goes so far. What we forget is that, rather than simply skulking off with their ill-gotten gain and being grateful that the rest of the office doesn't beat the shit out of him, the greedy bastard spends all his time trying to figure out how to get the last donut as well.

And he uses guys like Larry Kudlow to make his arguments for him, because Kudlow has literally no idea what a working-class American does or deals with on a daily basis -- and more importantly, like his owners, Kudlow doesn't care. At all.

This country is finished, and the idea that its agonizing downhill trajectory will alter appreciably if, say, Alison Grimes displaces Mitch McConnell, or Mark Begich keeps his seat, is as fine an example of magical thinking as you might find in the viewers and donors of any given glossolalic teevee evange-huckster.

Friday, October 10, 2014

4 Years a Slave

Because the overpaid assholes who run the NCAA don't have enough to do, and they're just not raking quite enough money in with their innovative "you do all the work and take all the hits, we'll keep the money and give you a college degree that isn't worth jack shit" philosophy, star Georgia running back Todd Gurley becomes their latest victim.

Gurley has incurred the mighty wrath of the NCAA by -- hold on to your hats, folks, 'cause this will blow your fucking minds, see -- selling his autograph. I know, right? An athalete selling his autograph. What is this world coming to?

"Well," you might be saying to yourself, "this Gurley man [ed. - see what I did there?] must have made enough money to cause some sort of stir and get the attention of such a busy organization as the NCAA." Nope. Reader, I shit you not -- Gurley stands accused of making a whopping $400. There are no zeroes or commas missing there. Four hundred dollars.

Now, it's true, the NCAA did generously cave in to modern notions of basic decency, and allow athletes access to unlimited food and snacks, after basketball guard Shabazz Napier of the NCAA champeen UConn Huskies inconveniently mentioned that he frequently went to bed hungry because he couldn't afford food. Since UConn basketball jerseys apparently retail for between $50-90 a pop, you know that someone's eating well with this racket.

It's bad enough that some of these poor kids have to worry about getting buttfucked by their closet-case teammates just to play in a solid high school program, and get into a decent college program from there. But then the NCAA just picks up from where the cornhole crew leaves off, helping the schools make truckloads of cash from swag and ticket sales on these kids' backs, with the unlikely glimmer of promise of a pro career. I hope the players continue to unionize, and take these thieving assholes to the cleaners.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Outrage Du Jour

So let's see if we have this straight -- this weekend commenced a massive bombing run in yet another fragmented, despotic Middle Eastern nation that we know nothing about, to kill people we know nothing about, to render consequences we (via the transitive properties of the first two points) cannot foresee. Again.

And yet what's got people's panties in a huge fucking wad is whether a meaningless public gesture was properly made. Friends 'n' neighbors, I'll tell you something -- there are a lot of reasons to be unhappy with Obama. An off-handed, half-assed salute is about #50 on the list.

I've said it before and I'll continue to say it to my final day:  a country so chock-full of whinging boobs and ninnies deserves exactly the corrupt, inept, grasping, scheming gubmint it gets, from the Moooslim in Chief on down to goat-fucking reprobates like Louie Gohmert.

Let me be more specific on this subject. Since for some inexplicable reason I like to keep "informed," and don't have enough disposable income to, you know, take a vacation and have a life, I am all too aware of dopey "cultural barometer" non-issues such as this. I prefer to look at current events, and their concomitant media coverage and reactions from the rabble, in terms of nutritional content, on a pound-for-pound basis.

In other words, while I might disagree with someone's opinion on, say, the war in Afghanistan or what to do about Wall Street, at least those issues have some real heft and effect. Even if I radically disagree -- even if I am diametrically opposed, like Chaotic Good to Lawful Evil, yo -- at least the worthy opponents have registered their jabber on an issue that actually means something. At least it's an issue that can be chewed over. There's some steak there, some protein in the mix.

What I have come to think of as "Facebook" issues, such as the (socialist, atheist) pledge of allegiance, this "latte salute" arglebargle, or just how awesome the movie God Isn't DeadGod's Not Dead is, where people will work themselves into a nice frothy lather (much like that in Obammy's coffee cup, oh snap!), it's nothing. It's marshmallow crème. It's a 50 lb. gunny sack of Cheetos. It's a steaming bucket of shit. It's a fucking bowl of Cool Hwhip. It is not only completely devoid of any nutrition whatsoever, it is bad for you.

And I'm sorry, but even children can tell the difference; adults certainly should be able to as well. Cheap symbolism is just that, nothing more. On the one hand, there are and have been symbols that bind peoples, nations, groups of like-minded people. But, uh, guess what? We now communicate instantaneously, we are not constrained by temporal boundaries of distant, unreliable service of mail and news.

The idea that the empty comfort of a crisp salute, from a man who otherwise is preoccupied with starting more wars to slow the decline of his political party, and stroking the pelf-grubbing thieves who own everything, means anything, beyond what gaggles of choice idiots think they need it to mean, is preposterous. If he salutes to their approval -- and you can be sure that, for the most part in six years so far, he has, or the quaking dipshits at Faux News would have hit you upside the head long ago -- those other things are still taking place.

All these staunch defenders of "our troops" and the utterly meaningless rituals that surround their activities. Here's a thought -- if you're so gung-ho about supporting military personnel, howzabout you devote your energy and cheap, empty rage to getting them a decent pay scale?

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Keeping Score

What Driftglass said. Only the political punditocracy has such non-existent accountability measures. The blogosphere is infinitely more self-regulating; chumps like Bobo Brooks and Billy Kristol would be run out of town on a virtual hot rail for their infuriating consistency at being wrong. But there they are, everywhere you turn, cluttering up various media portals, in print or in person.

It's bad enough that such people continue to cash fat checks in spite of their reliable wrongness. More pernicious is how it leads to institutional forgetfulness, the slate wiped clean with each appearance, so long as no one says anything politically incorrect.

Which, as it turns out, is entirely the point and purpose of that industry -- to legitimize what is profoundly illegitimate, to lend unearned credence and gravitas to analysis and opinions that, if they didn't affect so many lives in so many deep and painful ways, would be comical in their level of error and shoddy craftsmanship. They want to take your money and freedom, sure, but they need for you to grant them your permission, to thank them for it afterward.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Arrested Development

Definitely enjoyed deBoer's review of A.O. Scott's cultural critique, but I feel the urge to add another layer of meta to the proceedings. Scott's assessment of changing male TV and movie archetypes ring true enough, but his observations on music are maybe thinner than one would like:
And while Queen Bey may be the biggest, most self-contradicting, most multitude-containing force in popular music at the moment, she is hardly alone. Taylor Swift recently described how, under the influence of her friend Lena Dunham, she realized that “I’ve been taking a feminist stance without saying so,” which only confirmed what anyone who had been listening to her smart-girl power ballads already knew. And while there will continue to be hand-wringing about the ways female singers are sexualized — cue the pro and con think pieces about Nicki Minaj, Katy Perry, Miley Cyrus, Iggy Azalea, Lady Gaga, Kesha and, of course, Madonna, the mother of them all — it is hard to argue with their assertions of power and independence. Take note of the extent and diversity of that list and feel free to add names to it. The dominant voices in pop music now, with the possible exception of rock, which is dad music anyway, belong to women. The conversations rippling under the surfaces of their songs are as often as not with other women — friends, fans, rivals and influences.
[emphasis mine]

Couple things here. First is the "rock....is dad music anyway" dismissal. In some ways it is, sure; the traditional triumvirate of vocals-drums-guitars that tethered rock music for a half-century now are, in its various incarnations intact, even static in its hipster retro iterations. But there are plenty of newer and younger fans for that kind of music. The dichotomy of rock and metal fandom, versus the AutoTuned, over-processed pap that passes for pop these days, is less age-based and more gender-based.

Just a few days ago, I chastised at great length the emptiness of Gene Simmons' contention that rock is dead, and elaborated on what a piss-poor idea it is to go into "music" as some sort of lucrative career option, like being a lawyer or plumber or criminal financier. But the flipside of that question deserves to be asked as well -- is there a way one can increase their chances of being a successful musical entrepreneur?

Reader, there is, I assure you. The best and most efficient path to huge mega-music-mogul-successmanship is simply to go down to the mall, find the Hot Topic store or the food court or anywhere 15-year-old girls are congregating, and listen to what they're listening to. Try to get about 4-6 weeks ahead of that sound if you can. Get the hang of Pro Tools, AutoTune, drum machines, beat programmers, and any other tools that the hep cats are using to make their crunk swang, yo.

And not to be sexist, I swear, but Scott's entire list of empowered pop chicks falls well into that rough categorization. It is useful to critique the products of these ladies on Scott's own terms -- both as "music," however subjectively you want to define that, and as evidentiary exhibits of cultural sea change, and then decide whether either of those things qualify as a step forward. The fact of the matter is that most of Scott's list is mallrat music.

And that's the second thing -- especially when we're younger and our musical consumption ritual is more communal, less personal, guys are more likely to throw on whatever they think the nearest nubile young women will want to hear. What we listen to at a party is obviously much different than what we'll listen to at home alone, with the headphones on. The personal versus communal experiences define how each of us, male or female, old or young, interact with our various media artifacts. Because of the brevity of the typical song, nowhere is this more true than with music.

I submit that a grown woman listening to Nicki Minaj or Iggy Azalea is precisely the same thing that Scott decries when he sees a 35-year-old woman reading a Hunger Games book. All that means is that, contra Scott's assumptions re Sandler and Apatow, both genders can be culturally infantilized with relative ease.

But what I really want to get into is deBoer's theme of cultural stultification as a barometer of demographic lassitude. That pop culture pieces become routinely more infantilized is simply a reflection of the society itself, which is as it should be.

It makes sense that comic-book franchises dominate the big screen in a society where people will sit and watch literally just about anything; where conventions of plot and narrative become less and less necessary; where people will convey idiotic opinions to random strangers about events that have zero effect on their lives, but can't be bothered to vote; where gun fetishists treat their totems both as toys and as bulwarks of self-defense against rampant crime and the jackbooted state, even though the violent crime rate continues to decline, and these are the selfsame people who, when a cop shoots an unarmed minority or kid, will reflexively jump to the defense of that same jackboot they profess to defend themselves from.

In a nation of 320 million inhabitants, one expects various niches of culture, politics, taste, etc. But these episodes of cognitive dissonance frequently come from the same niches. DeBoer's plaint about the self-appointed pop-culture aesthetes, "the aggressive nerds who police our artistic discourse like prison camp screws" (wonderful turn of phrase, that), rings true, as so much pop criticism comes pre-soaked in post-ironic "we know it's bad but it's so bad it's good" meta-commentary.

So you have a pop-culture mega-industry that produces trilogies of overlong movies based on comic-book franchises, and then remakes all three movies within a decade, a clear signal that technological advances, rather than peripheral elements such as acting and writing and such like, drive the bus. You have an industry that, so far, has made four movies totaling some eight or ten hours or so about sentient robots that turn back-and-forth into cars, planes, kitchen appliances perhaps.

I could be a smug, pretentious asshole and declaim this sort of thing as mere childishness, but the Transformers did not make sense to me when I was a child. I can't believe that that's because I had no imagination or whimsy as a child; I was steeped in sci-fi and fantasy books, and watched just about every '70s cartoon imaginable. But when people become immersed in this hacky, dopey stuff, they get used to it -- and when that's the majority of what's offered anymore, there is no longer any objective context, nothing to compare it to as a reference point. All you can do with the rebooted Spider-Man [rolls eyes] movie is compare it to its earlier rendition from a few years ago.

One of deBoer's commenters asserts glibly that "[w]e ought to be suspicious when you say you like foie gras but you are bored by birthday cake," which sounds true enough on its face, but when the majority of the menu is now birthday cake, one ought to be even more suspicious. No one in their right mind expects that the proles will suddenly set down their celebrojourno ass-sniffing periodicals in favor of Cahiers du Cinema or the Utne Reader.

But there's no balance, no real countervailing force to shitty, machine-made music promoted by manufactured personalities, or trite Hero's Journey narratives cobbled together one more blessed time, but with fresher graphics. Disposable pre-fab things that have already been manufactured before, and better. I honestly believe we are approaching a point where entire movies can and will be made without seeing a live human on the screen, they'll just create a generic, agreeable persona and hire some random ape to mo-cap the action and dub the dialogue.

There should be more salient criteria to getting a movie made than "shiny thing go boom" or "fat guy married to Salma Hayek." In a larger sense, it is an accurate reflection of a society that has given up, and is content with its CGI gruel. If the only goal of experiencing any new music or movie or teevee show is to kill an afternoon or evening, to just mark time and run down life's clock one by one until the eventual end, then what is the point?

Friday, September 12, 2014

Anger Management

Vigilante doughboy George Zimmerman, who once shot a kid in Florida just to watch him die, is having trouble controlling his temper yet again.

If Zimmerman were black -- or a little girl with a cell phone -- he'd already have been beat down or shot by the cops, on video, with random idiots rushing to copsplain that the video doesn't tell the whole story.

#copsplain

Wife of the Party

The Palins plan their dine-and-dash from The Golden Snoot.
The Wasilla Hillbillies just cain't help theirselfs, kin they? Showing up at someone else's birthday shindig in a stretch Hummer limo (because a dented Airstream would have been just too fucking spot-on), the ClampettsPalins promptly set about making it all about them, as usual:

....multiple accounts say that it started when Track confronted Willow’s former boyfriend, Conner Cleary, who was there with his father Steve and his mother Melissa. Thompson didn’t see this part, but other witnesses, who didn’t want to be named, say that Conner and Track fought on the front yard. Steve tried to break it up. Todd jumped into the mix and began to choke Steve. 
After that ended, Conner, Steve, and Melissa Cleary huddled together close to Thompson, who spotted Bristol and Willow from a distance, walking straight towards them with purpose.

“They were on a b-line, coming straight at Melissa,” Thompson said.

The owner of the house, Klingenmeyer, was trying to head them off at the pass. He approached them and told them to leave. Bristol, according to Thompson and other witnesses, planted her feet, “stood straight up, brought her arm back and cold-cocked him right in the face,” Thompson said.

And then she did it again, about six more times, before he pushed her away, and she fell, and Todd appeared.

....

Another melee. This time Sarah got involved and began to scream profanities at everyone. One source, who didn’t want to be named, said that she was “nearly crawling on top of people,” trying to get into the scrum.

As these things go, that also broke up, and the Palins were asked again to leave. They piled into the Hummer, but not until Track stood out in front of the house, inexplicably with his shirt off, his middle finger raised at those who were also leaving.
On the one hand, it's so cool that the most important woman in the universe has time to crash other people's parties and siphon cash from rube subscribers; on the other, her slugging percentage with successful parenting is sad enough that a normal person with that, um, track record would shy away from offering family and parenting advice.

A few more "doncha know who I am?" tirades from Miss Thang and her insufferably over-entitled drunken brood, and they may find themselves sent out on an ice floe by fed-up Alaskans. As always, one can hope.

Oh and, uh, fuck you, John McCain. This is all your fault.