Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Loose Change

Perhaps it's just the way the light falls, but everything looks like a target to me....Come on, motherfucker, let's throw down. -- Clutch, Binge and Purge

One of the more tedious campaign conceits is the increasingly empty theme of "change". It has been mostly characterized (until the last month or so) by the skilled extemporizing of Barack Obama, and rightly so -- whether you buy into all of his rhetoric or not, he is an undeniably compelling speaker.

Indeed, were he not running against the former First Missus, Obama would be more aptly compared with Bill Clinton Himself in terms of oratory prowess, as BC's first blip on the political radar was the notorious stemwinder at the 1988 convention, perhaps (but likely not) upstaging to some degree the punctilious, monochromatic cadences of Michael Dukakis.

And "change", technically defined, is certainly in the offing, thanks to the constitutional firewall that prevents the current tumbleweed-chaser further access to the levers of power, access which we'd like to think had heretofore been granted to responsible adults. But genuine change should mean much more than merely the ceremonial dusting of the figurehead's chair, obviously. And that's where the promises for change (especially those that came from the Republican side of the fence, inbred fucktards to a person, none of whom planned to change anything more than perhaps the weapon with which the nation and the world are to be gutted and flayed) ring most hollow.

To know what must be changed is, to be completely pedantic about it, know something about how things work. And it is not news even to the duller quintiles that Americans are famously averse to knowledge in general, and useful knowledge in particular.

The hopeless paradox is that people who actually read and understand things are petrified at the situation of halfwits who literally cannot find any strategic Middle East country on a map or a globe pontificating about foreign policy verities, yet that is where we are at. We hope that Susan Jacoby's story about Upper East Side corporate vipers, presumably educated past the third grade, talking about the Vietnamese bombing Pearl Harbor, might be apocryphal, yet deep down we know better.

In part, she lays the blame on a failing educational system. “Although people are going to school more and more years, there’s no evidence that they know more,” she said.

The problem is that knowledge has been irretrievably commodified, repackaged, repurposed, directly through the educational system, especially the higher educational system. Colleges are every bit as happy, probably more, as public schools to simply process paying students through the system. The network of loan financing, grant writing, scholarships, and other forms of institutional blandishments make it in their direct interest to simply accept as many paying customers as possible and move them through the basics of the curriculum.

There's no shortage of such stories from disgruntled professors forced to deal with students who should never have graduated high school. Speaking for myself as a student, it was a refresher course of sorts in earning my degree recently, encountering more than a few people who were presumably studying and trying to better themselves, but had tremendous difficulty writing competent sentences, much less stringing them together into logical paragraphs and narratives.

This is not entirely their fault; higher education has transmogrified into a sort of boutique vocational school. People are not paying out to expose themselves to new ideas and such, they're trying to enhance their viability in the job market. Given the circumstances, that's understandable. If you can parlay a sixth-grade vocabulary into a BSBA, and thence to a cushy $60K middle-management job at some shithead HMO, more power to you. Beats slaving at the local Kwik-E-Mart. But large scale, it undermines and blurs important distinctions: between "knowledge" and "information", and in discerning the important from the trivial.

More often than not, even that last is a matter of having the patience to realize that useful knowledge is but a part of a framework, built piece by piece. In an era of instant gratification, that simply doesn't fly; if I don't need to know where the country of "Hungry" is now, or that Budapest is its capital, then I won't need to know it later, implicitly goes the reasoning. It is much easier for hungry, ascending powers like India and China to catch up and encircle us when so many of us have no fucking clue where they hell they even are on a map, much less actually know anything useful about those countries.

Ms. Jacoby also blames religious fundamentalism’s antipathy toward science, as she grieves over surveys that show that nearly two-thirds of Americans want creationism to be taught along with evolution.

Actually, anarcho-syndicalist misanthrope that I am, I almost welcome that educational devolution. It will allow my kid(s) that much more of an opportunity; what better job market to swim in than with a bunch of inbred closet cases who would rather belabor the lunacy that the Grand Canyon was created in a day, than just enjoy and experience it for what it actually is? My only hesitation is that, unlike them, I actually care enough about my country that it doesn't continue to devolve into a western Russia -- fat, bloated, drunk on insularity and internal aggression, continuously failing at any genuine innovation, unable to deal with its contemporaries in any but the crudest of terms.

The commodification and repurposing of information and knowledge has gone hand in hand with the same tasks performed on perception and reality itself. There is literally almost no discontinuity between the two phenomena, as Neil Postman observed twenty years ago, as technology since then has made them practically symbiotic.

I've seen dozens of examples of this phenomenon throughout my career: for every one television news anchor who truly understood the material that was going into his or her head and subsequently coming out of his or her mouth -- or took part in the assembly of that material for that matter -- there were five who didn't have a goddamned clue what was going on in the world, or in their own newsroom, that wasn't placed in their teleprompter by a 22-year-old, six-dollar-an-hour writer. Yet, when the queries and suggestions from the audience came, they came addressed to the face on the screen rather than the people who were actually responsible for the gathering and dissemination of the information in question.

Exactly. Perhaps it was Magritte who most adeptly envisioned this a century ago; indeed it was not a pipe, but a picture of a pipe. The imagistic qualities have become inextricably blended with the intrinsic qualities of practically any object or person who can be viewed on this or that interchangable channel. Thus the blur of images, be they Barack Obama or some QVC paste necklace peddled by someone who was on some show thirty years ago, become empty vessels for our dreams and desires, or what we think our dreams and desires are supposed to be. Those too have been commodified and repurposed.

The "serious" cultural niche has long labored under the pretense that their analyses and divinations have the most import, that unlike the bewildered herd, they are not addled by trivial blandishments, tethered to the various shiny buzzy electronic leashes we race to purchase for ourselves. Their institutionalized inbreeding and self-congratulation allows them the vanity of singing their own praises and crafting clever monuments to themselves.

But as it turns out, they are every bit as debauched as the unwashed they decry. Look, in what other line of "work" can a dipshit like Jonah Goldberg get a book contract? Where else can a tedious hack like Lee (A Flock of) Siegel get caught smoking his own pole and still get write-ups in major newspapers and appear on The Daily Show? Where else can someone spill a thousand-word handjob and get paid for it (really, anyone who needs an explanation as to what this blog thing is isn't interested or conscious in the first place, at this point) than in the "legitimate" publishing world?

And the media have proven all along that they are no better, and couldn't care less. How many news cycles of this Jeremiah Wright bullshit do we have to endure? People are going under; they're walking away from the homes they can no longer afford, commuting to jobs that barely got them by in the first place with fuel and food shooting up double-digit percentages in the last few months. Their government has been using military shills for its own agitprop, but who besides the Times has mentioned that in the ten days since that story broke? Yet they can't get themselves enough of that Jeremiah Wright. Talking about the Times story would just iterate their own complicity and/or dupery. The only news there would be the tacit admission.

Here's what the Wright "controversy" proves, so far as I can tell:
  • Black preachers are subject to different rules than white preachers, as any number of incendiary, spiteful public comments from televangelists and popes demonstrate.

  • Whitey likes moving the goalposts on uppity politicians and their associates. Obama could bust a cap in Wright's ass on live TV, and ofay motherfuckers from Sean Hannity to David Shuster would be wondering why he didn't do it ten years ago. They are never satisfied; there's no conflict to peddle in that.

  • Whitey also has no sense of humor about himself, and is in fact notoriously thin-skinned about anything that might impact his self-identification. Aforementioned ofay motherfuckers are secretly, constantly petrified that other people are judging them, their houses, their wives, their cars, and most importantly, their peckers. And Wright's right that most white people are hilarious when they try to clap. They always do it on the ones and threes. Twos and fours, you dipshits! It's called rhythm. Look into it. Hint: it involves knowing how to count.

  • Obama needs a Sistah Souljah moment alright, but not the one the media ankle-biters are telling him. Instead of kneecapping someone who has been a friend to him for most of his adult life, he needs to look at the people who are baiting him, people who don't know him, people who will move on to the next bullshit story in a week. Obama needs to learn how to tell them "fuck you", to challenge them on their complete lack of priorities, the absence of rigor and consistency, their lazy analysis and buffoonery, their total indifference to things that matter to anyone outside their little asshole clubhouse. Repudiating a close friend in the service of these screeching weasels doesn't earn their respect -- it perpetuates their antagonism. Now they know you'll capitulate, which is the bully's cue to attack.

As the NYRB blog article demonstrates, the calcified substrate of this legit pub hackiverse simply hasn't internalized how the immediacy of blogs has dispensed with an awful lot of chaff, from how (actual) knowledge is processed to the pretense of "civility". That last is especially important, because all forms of mainstream media, being commercial to the very core, are far more concerned with not pissing off the wrong group with the wrong buzzword, than they will ever be about things like facts, accuracy, observational integrity, intellectual honesty, genuine institutional legitimacy.

Put more simply: it is much easier for them to talk about Jane Fonda saying "cunt" than why Dick Cheney is a psychopath; it will always be more expedient for them to frown on vituperative, foul-mouthed bloggerses than to acknowledge their own corporate water-carrying in the run-up to a strategically catastrophic war.

Given all that, where would you like to start your Change, Mister 'n' Missus 'murka? Even amongst the self-selecting cognoscenti, the expectations they have of their legislative avatars are, shall we say, a tad unrealistic considering obvious exigencies. They marginalize one another for this or that heterodoxy, real or perceived, while remaining willfully ignorant of the larger picture.

And the conditions of unsustainability that led us into Iraq in the first place continue domestically, because the cultural underpinnings of consumerism continue unabated. Consumerism is derived from -- indeed, is dependent on -- violating the last two biblical commandments, the ones enjoining the sin of covetousness. The consumerist/service economy requires engendering the inchoate, continuous drive of desire, of feeling that you must have what you do not yet have, whether or not you need it. Need, after all, is merely a function driven by synapses compressed by the unavoidable penetrations of the all-encompassing public-relations industry.

And then there's torture. People do not think about
torture, insofar as it pertains to them, because their very perceptions about why torture is wrong are corrupted. It's as if they never heard of Voltaire precisely because they haven't. It's a nation of Kellie Picklers, blissfully unaware of anything and everything but their own peculiar reach for their brass ring, awash in objectively malignant solipsism.

Maybe we just need to get what we can, while we can. That seems to be the guiding philosophy, even though the problem -- whether with fuel, food, health care, education, or wealth -- has never been availability, but distribution. For now, anyway; availability is going to become a much greater problem if things keep going the way they are. If they do not change.

Look, people who genuinely want change understand that at best, even if Barack Obama is perfectly sincere in his most florid talking points, all he can be is a facilitator of change. Change occurs when people finally internalize that the cost of not changing is greater than the cost of changing, when they drive smaller, smarter, and less frequently, when they buy food from local producers, when they live within their means, and forgo treats and toys once in a while. We find individual ways to disengage from the system, starve the predator where possible. It can happen in simple, consistent steps, rather than abrupt revolution. But adaptation is no longer an option, simply an imperative, not by government fiat or bureaucratic imposition, but gravity.

A guy like Obama can probably initiate a lot of good things, if he is not dragged under by abject stupidity, but he can't smack the stupid out of stupid people. It's not him; it's not even the media. It's us, and people either mean what they say about desiring change, or they just like to be seen clamoring for it, meta-cheerleaders at a meta-rally for meta-change.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Oil's Well That Ends Well

I guess Fredo, a creature of instinct if ever there were one, just gets the urge to kick sand for no reason every now and then. It's almost impossible to overstate just how incomplete and malformed his logic is throughout, but when you figure that the entire purpose of this dutifully attended and transcribed circle-jerk is simply to whine about those awful dummycrats in Congress who don't let him have his way (once in a while, anyway), it makes more sense.

I've repeatedly submitted proposals to help address these problems. Yet time after time, Congress chose to block them. One of the main reasons for high gas prices is that global oil production is not keeping up with growing demand. Members of Congress have been vocal about foreign governments increasing their oil production; yet Congress has been just as vocal in opposition to efforts to expand our production here at home.

They repeatedly blocked environmentally safe exploration in ANWR. The Department of Energy estimates that ANWR could allow America to produce about a million additional barrels of oil every day, which translates to about 27 millions of gallons of gasoline and diesel every day. That would be about a 20-percent increase of oil -- crude oil production over U.S. levels, and it would likely mean lower gas prices. And yet such efforts to explore in ANWR have been consistently blocked.

Another reason for high gas prices is the lack of refining capacity. It's been more than 30 years since America built its last new refinery. Yet in this area, too, Congress has repeatedly blocked efforts to expand capacity and build more refineries.

This is, to put it mildly, the usual load of self-serving bullshit.

The Energy Information Administration, which is the Energy Department's independent analytical arm, estimated that if Congress had cleared Bush's ANWR drilling plan the oil would have been available to refiners in 2011, but only at a small volume of 40,000 barrels a day -- a drop in the bucket compared with the 20.6 million barrels the U.S. consumes daily.

At peak production, ANWR could have potentially added 780,000 barrels a day to U.S. crude oil output by 2020, according to the EIA.

The extra supplies would have cut dependence on foreign oil, but only slightly. With ANWR crude, imports would have met 60 percent of U.S. oil demand in 2020, down from 62 percent without the refuge's supplies.

All three leading presidential candidates, Democrats Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and Republican John McCain, are against oil drilling in the refuge.

The administration says if Congress had acted sooner, U.S. drivers would be getting relief at the pump from the extra oil supplies in the market.

"Opening up ANWR is not long term," Bush said Tuesday.

But both government and private energy experts say Bush is overly optimistic that ANWR oil would be flowing now if Congress had approved his drilling plan back in 2002, because of the years needed to find the crude and develop the fields.

"I would say under the best of circumstances it would take approximately 10 years" for any ANWR oil to make it into the market, said Philip Budzik, an EIA analyst.

"Even if oil was flowing, it would be too small amount to reduce the price" of crude or gasoline, said Daniel Weiss, energy expert at the Center for American Progress, a think tank in Washington.

"President Bush's claim ignores the primary causes behind record high oil prices: a cheap dollar, high demand from China and India, and speculators driving the price up. Drilling and sullying the Arctic would not address any of these causes of high oil prices," said Weiss.

So. He couldn't get the ANWR exploration bill passed even in a Republican congress; none of the three candidates support drilling there (though, as always, anything uttered by either Clinton or McCain is qualified at best, and should always be considered subject to change); and no reputable energy analyst, public or private, sees it affecting prices or import ratios more than marginally.

As for refinery capacity, there's more to that than Congress waving a magic wand. Yeah, I'm sure that if the taxpayers build it for them, the oil companies will be more than happy to have another refinery. But in a peak-oil paradigm, dumping a billion dollars into something with essentially imminent obsolescence, it doesn't make sense from their standpoint. Seriously, every self-proclaimed supercapitalist should get this by now -- what incentive does the oil industry have to affect the price structure in that direction at all? The price has gone up more than tenfold in less than a decade.

I know this may be a shock to Mister Embeay and his remaining claque of goobers, but oil companies don't care that working commuters are paying four bucks a gallon (far more if you account for all the price externalities -- defense budget, force deployment, infrastructure maintenance -- inherent in our "cheap" gasoline). Nor should they; in the predatory capitalist paradise that serious economic thinkers have envisioned and put into place, the only number that matters is what the market will bear, for gas, for housing, for pharmaceuticals, in a stagnant wage market. If you can be distracted from your worsening expense-to-income ratio by cheap high-performance electronic widgets, so much the better.

As Bush himself acknowledges later in the press conference, oil prices are a direct function of capacity margin, of demand meeting and threatening to exceed supply. (There is also risk premium involved, thanks not only to the whacking of the Persian Gulf hornet nest, but things such as domestic terrorism in Nigeria, where pipeline networks have been sabotaged routinely.) Refining capacity, again even if oil companies were willing to act against their own rational self-interest and dump tons of money into more refineries, only affects what can actually be pumped out of the ground and transported to the refinery in the first place.

Here's the thing, and I said this back in '02 at one of the chat fora I was in at the time: I would be all for drilling in ANWR, provided it came with a set of conditions. There is no reason photovoltaic technology cannot be invested in, improved, and utilized for permanent structure energy use, right now. How much oil would that alone free up? Next, all the ANWR oil would be required to remain domestic. No more bullshit about the fungibility of financial and commodity resources in a globalized market; if it's scarce, we're keeping it and using it domestically. I recall estimates from 2002 that a quarter to a third of whatever was found would probably end up in Korea or Japan. Third, reinvest in the railroads. The airline industry is dying on the vine. Put some money and effort into metro light rail systems and intra- and interstate passenger systems. $2 billion a week in Iraq for how many years? How much domestic energy and transportation infrastructural investment could that have accomplished, not to mention education and health care?

Finally and most importantly, at the point we're at, there is no rational energy policy anyone can come up with that does not address the issues of consumption and waste. Reinstate the CAFE standards, tomorrow. The American auto companies will bitch and moan, and cry that such impositions will put them out of business. They said the same thing about seat belts. Funny how Toyota and Honda and Nissan never squawk about having to build more efficient cars; indeed, they seem to take pride in the challenge.

Regardless, we have turned into a nation of fat people driving fat trucks for the most inane tasks, carrying nothing to nowhere. I think anything larger than, say, a Jeep Grand Cherokee should have a definable purpose greater than waddling to the grocery store or the post office. Reasonable people can sort out the sizes and numbers and all, but the fact is that no one even tries; no one, Republican or Democrat, makes much of a fuss. The assumption is that people cannot handle being told that, given the issues of scarcity, cost, and an assortment of externalities, perhaps they're not entitled to drive an RV to the Piggly Wiggly anymore, that in a nation of 300 million people, this shit adds up pretty quickly.

Look through the transcript of the press conference. Bush talks about ANWR, he talks about refineries, he talks about the shameless low-EROEI boondoggle of ethanol. It doesn't even occur to him (and sure as shit, some chump on the street was faithfully regurgitating the received wisdom on the local news tonight, without the benefit of an informed rebuttal) that maybe it's just stupid to pretend that we can keep going like this.

But again, the purpose was never to discuss the actual problems and solutions, it was to tell the rubes that they're always right and congressional dummycrats are always wrong. Does anyone with two stray brain cells left listen to this clown anymore? What if they gave a press conference and nobody came, what if the faithful scriveners decided to forgo a morning of lies and abuse, and just leave Mister Man at the podium?

Saturday, April 26, 2008

They Write Letters

An Alterman commenter pens (to use the archaism) thusly:

I have a sneaking suspicion that [Granny Glasses] Gibson has pushed the $200,000 to $250,000 area as a middle class income because he'd been informed of what John McCain's tax return would show as income. It smacks of GOP games in terms of showing what a nice, middle class guy John McCain is, unlike the wealthy author Barack Obama and the Clintons. Apparently Gibson and the GOP think we really are that dumb.

Has there been any indication that we aren't that dumb? Is there some reason they're not supposed to talk to us like we're idiots? Jesus Christ, this is a country that put George W. Bush in charge not once, but twice. (Yes, yes, he stole one if not both; the fact that he was even in the running proves my basic point.)

Gibson, in any case, is not talking to voters, nor even competently managing that pretense. He and Stuffinenvelopes (stole that one from SF Chronicle's Joe Garofoli) are talking to themselves, each other, their colleagues, the people they share appletinis and cocktail weenies with. It's pro wrestling for the Smart Set, and while we've always had the option to repudiate this nonsense and walk away from their game, somehow we never seem able to do so. Why shouldn't they assume we're that dumb?

Play the Game

To the extent it cropped up on my radar, I found the notion of Bush appearing on a "game" show to be more than a little odd, and Dennis Perrin summed it up nicely:

For all the talk about "elitism" in American politics, and the need for candidates to "connect" with the common herd, this single image shows that even a head of state with incredibly low poll numbers is treated as king. Professional journos and commentators stress that acquiescence before [Fredo] is a simple show of respect for the office. But that's what they're paid to do, to keep the discourse about and public behavior towards our rulers in check and well within acceptable lines. If Bush is as despised as liberals insist he is, then why is everyone so polite in that photo? Decorum? Respect? Fear? Apathy? Call me romantic, but in a free society governed by such a murderous, corrupt cabal as this fading administration, the audience should be allowed to pelt that screen with rocks and garbage, while Howie Mandel reverts to his old act, screeching and wailing his approval.

I would go one further even. Bush's appearance was to cheer on a contestant who also happened to be a veteran of Bush's big Mesopotamian adventure, on a network whose parent company is a defense contractor which owns its own news division, which is happily in the tank for Poor Ol' Straight Talk. Media cartographers are welcome to draw their own map, if need be.

The usual conspiracies of collusion are inoperative -- and unnecessary -- in these situations, because they're all the same people, talking to each other, doing each other favors, gathering to pretend that everything is hunky-dory, with a gibbering lemur emceeing the hijinks in this instance. There's no need to work anything out behind the scenes, since there's never any problem with doing it right in the open. I mean really, what are you gonna do about it, vote for Obama? Good luck with that.

The poor contestant, by the way, departed with a mere $26,000 rather than the million pimped by the show's incessant commercials. Couldn't someone have just pointed him to the million-dollar suitcase, or are we worried about the integrity of the process here? Perhaps the upcoming Star Wars-themed episode will help determine this. George Lucas is going to hell, not just for this one, though it certainly doesn't help his case.

Speaking of going to hell, an appropriate counterpart to the stupid Deal thing was the appearance of all three candidates recently on the WWE. Of the clips I saw, the one most unclear on the concept was (surprise) Obama. While he got off a nice pun on The Rock's old catchphrase, he also prefaced it with a smattering of policy wonkism. These are people who pay their hard-earned (but apparently not quite hard-earned enough) money to watch steroided goons beat each other with folding chairs and choreographed pseudo-karate moves. The notion that they give two shits about universal health care is charming in its sheer naivete.

Of course, any candidate with the good sense to just pass up all this nonsense would instantly be derided by the millionaire media as "elitist" and "out of touch", which only bolsters the eternal question of what sort of person would willingly put themselves through this gauntlet of stupid. And yet, perhaps pro wrestling is the ideal metaphor for what passes for a political process in this country.

It's Getting Drafty

Today's the latest holiday in the now year-round NFL calendar, and with the Raiders' measly five picks and epic dysfunction, I'm thinking this might be a good year to watch the Jaguars instead.

There is no greater indictment of a team than the stricken look that comes upon a player’s face when he realizes he must go to the Raiders, the NFL’s wasteland. Sure, plenty of players, such as safety Gibril Wilson, cornerback DeAngelo Hall, defensive tackle Tommy Kelly and running back Justin Fargas, lined up to take the money. That’s why when the Raiders pick at No. 4 overall on Saturday, some player will manage a smile for the cameras. And if he smiles, he should get an Oscar with his Raiders jersey.

Oakland has only 1 pick in the top 100, and that's at #4. Kiffin wants to trade down, which is sensible, but all indications are not only that Al Davis will stay put, but that he will use the pick on RB Darren McFadden, who is a fine athlete but not a need for a team full of holes at virtually every other position.

If McFadden is picked, chances are that Lamont Jordan will either be renegotiated or traded, and Dominic Rhodes may be as well. There's just no reason to have five starter-level running backs, especially with so many other compelling needs, especially on both sides of the line.

So here we go. Hopefully Kiffin gets his wish and the Raiders can deal down, pick up Sedrick Ellis and maybe a decent o-lineman.

[Update: Ten teams in, and the only real surprise so far is New Orleans, whose defensive secondary was a joke last year, trading up with the Patriots to get Sedrick Ellis, who will definitely make their line better, but still leaves their defensive backfield right where it was. This is likely an effect of the Giants winning their season with a ferocious pass rush, a trend that's sure to be repeated around the league -- except, of course, in Oakland, where they threw $50 mil at Tommy Kelly (a good player, but not that good) and drafted McFadden, as predicted. So now they have to try to shop Jordan and possibly Rhodes, preferably outside the division.

Raider legacy Chris Long was taken off the table at #2 by the Rams, the only team besides the Raiders that Long visited. (Howie Long is said to have had a falling-out with Al Davis over the way Davis has lawndarted the team in the past five years, and did not want his son to go to Oakland.)

Two other prospects that would have filled an immediate need for the Raiders, DT Glenn Dorsey (LSU) and DE Vernon Gholston (Ohio State), went at #5 and #6 to the Chefs and Jets respectively. It's going to be yet another long season in Oakland, even in a weakened division. Six wins tops, fewer if they can't find a decent left tackle to protect Jamarcus Russell, who is reportedly around 280 pounds. This is not even a football problem, so much as chronic mismanagement and failure of leadership.]


Oh goody, this asshole has crawled out of the woodwork:

The online weapons dealer who sold one of the guns used in the Virginia Tech shootings visited the campus Thursday, a decision the school's spokesman called "terribly offensive."

Dealer Eric Thompson spoke at the school Thursday night as part of a weeklong demonstration in favor of allowing people to carry concealed weapons at colleges.

"For people who want to arm themselves, there shouldn't be policies in place to stop them," Thompson told about 60 students who attended his talk. There were only a few anti-gun questions posed to Thompson, and none of the protests school officials had prepared for.

I've generally been pro-gun rights, but the more I encounter the boobs and creeps and paranoid goofs in that realm, the more I begin to doubt my assumptions. I can't imagine what sort of halfwit thinks it would be a good idea to have a college campus armed to the teeth with concealed weapons. I think these Walter Mitty types have become drunk on their own save-the-day fantasies, replaying in their mind "what they would have done" had they been packing when Cho went on his rampage.

And that's what is especially disingenuous about Thompson. The argument shouldn't even be about whether everyone should be packing in public, reprehensible as that argument is. The real issue -- and Thompson, now having sold to not one but two unbalanced people who went on killing sprees, is a textbook example -- is background checks and waiting periods, licensing requirements. It's ridiculous that deranged goons like Seung-Hui Cho and Stephen Kazmierczak could arm themselves without even rudimentary checks. Frankly, I'm surprised this doesn't happen more often.

If Thompson has a conscience, maybe he should find another line of work, perhaps start by volunteering in an urban hospital emergency room for a month, see how much of a hard-on he has for a gun-drunk society then. I'm genuinely surprised that someone didn't go up to him at VA Tech and just clock his ass out of common decency.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Perfect Storm

In which Poor Ol' Straight Talk commences extricating himself from Mister Man's alimentary canal:

Republican presidential candidate John McCain was sharply critical yesterday of what he called the Bush administration's disgraceful handling of Hurricane Katrina and vowed, "Never again."

McCain, putting some distance between himself and President Bush, said if he had been president during the 2005 catastrophe he would have immediately visited New Orleans after the killer storm.

While he said he was not being critical of Bush for not visiting New Orleans, "I'm just saying I would've landed my airplane at the nearest Air Force base and come over personally."

Two days after the hurricane made landfall in August 2005, when immediate recovery efforts were chaotic, Bush surveyed the damage during a fly-over in Air Force One while returning from a trip to the West Coast.

Well, isn't that special? That's the entire coverage of it there, by the way. Ordinarily you'd think it would be worthwhile to mention McCain's own small role in Bush's pre-Katrina itinerary. It's not vital but it seems at least relevant. That whole weekend was for Bush to make PR stops; first at McCain's birthday party in Arizona, then to San Diego to give the usual tendentious speech equating Iraq with WW2, and then back to the tumbleweed farm after the highly-anticipated storm had hit.

The fact is that Katrina interfered with Bush's vacation plans and politicking, and the lack of preparedness and initiative in dealing with the problem (until, of course, the camera crews were kicked out and the PMCs were brought in to clean things up) couldn't be ignored.

Here's some unsolicitied advice for what is nominally the "other side" (though I am certainly not a registered Democrat, and grow increasingly disenchanted not so much with the ridiculous infighting so much as the indiscipline, incoherence, and lack of backbone): Straight Talk's campaign shows the usual lack of imagination exhibited by most garden-variety Republicans. It's Reagan this, Reagan that, oh if only we could dig Reagan up and give him a third term, blah blah blah. Christ, it's pathetic, this abject idolatry, bordering on the gayest of man-crushes.

I think McCain, who occasionally stabs at notional idealism, might be better suited to position himself as more aligned with an earlier Republican president -- Eisenhower. Think about it: the military man, nearing the end of a storied career, able to say what he thinks at the end because there is nothing to lose. (Of course it's a show; it's easy to talk tough in front of cameras and shrug your shoulders backstage. They all do it at some point, some obviously more than others.) If Obama wins the Dem nomination, I would count on McCain giving such a strategy a shot, to poach slivers of grumbling codgers who may not remember what they had for breakfast, but still know that they liked Ike, and are probably not going to get behind Obama for whatever reason.

Sunday, April 20, 2008


Ben Stein is a personable enough sort, especially when passionately talking about directing more money and effort -- even the sacred taxpayer's dollar -- to saving abandoned pets. But the way he has aligned himself with ID charlatans and hucksters, making a bullshit documentary to flim-flam the rubes one more time, is contemptible.

Stein explains that he is speaking out because he has "lately noticed a dire trend" that threatens the state of our nation: the ascendance of godless, materialist, evolutionary science and an unwillingness among academics to consider more theistic alternatives. A montage of short clips then shows Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett and other scientists scorning religion or ID without context. "Freedom is the essence of America!" Stein insists, and he frets that scientists who like their empiricism with a dash of deus ex machina are oppressed. He and Expelled charge that scientists, in their rejection of religious explanations, have become as intolerant as Nazis. Or maybe Stalinists—the film clips were ambiguous on that point.

There are so many intellectually dishonest elements in that thesis that it's hard to know where to begin. The most fundamental one that occurs to me is the one conflating "godlessness" with "materialism"; there is never a shortage of god-botherers with more money and more stuff than they need, driving their gas-guzzlers to the megachurches and so forth. Really, one has so little to do with the other they can hardly be considered correlative, much less causative. Yet frequently they are lazily bundled together in rote theistic phrases, while perhaps the most spiritually deadened creature is the mindless dogmatist.

Then there's the implicit rejection of bedrock concepts such as scientific method and peer review. True empiricism is something that can be hypothesized, defined, described, tested, and then reviewed. Anything that does not conform to that process is not science, but a cheap, agenda-driven evasion. That's what "intelligent design" is, and that's what Expelled is.

I normally don't disparage a movie I haven't seen, for obvious (at least to me; plenty of online savants, primarily conservatives, fortify the ramparts any time Hollyweird farts out something that ruffles their feathers) reasons. But Expelled is obnoxious and offensive enough, in its corner-cutting and repulsive assertions, all of which are easily repudiated without ever having to sit through the awfulness, to merit swift rejection.

Meanwhile, aside from Stein's reckless and morally cretinous insinuations, there is no shortage of people who have actually faced threats to their careers and to their physical well-being, from religious nutjobs outraged that their pet superstitions weren't being imposed on everyone's children. Would it be an entirely awful thing for actual empiricists to band together and run these hucksters out of town on a rail already, tarred and feathered if need be? It would at least begin to square the actual debt of genuine persecution.

Here's the thing, and maybe I've never seen anyone mention it thusly because it's too self-evidently obvious, but I think it should be reiterated as often as possible: efforts such as ID, or Expelled, have nothing whatsoever to do with science or religion, despite their claims. They are inherently political, relying on the sleaziest of defamations to state their case. The notion that "Darwinism" led to eugenics, and thence to Nazism and Stalinism, some of the most beastly crimes man has ever perpetrated on fellow man, has to be one of the most revolting -- and most easily refuted -- charges to come down the pike in a while. But make no mistake about it, there's not even the pretense of anything other than attempting to isolate political opponents there.

And hell, it might even work. It's not as if there isn't an endless supply of retards, who have no idea about history, religion, science, ethics, or much of anything else, but are easily manipulated and bamboozled into regurgitating this slackjawed buffoonery. It's just a damned shame that Stein, like Dennis Miller, has chosen to prostrate himself before such an undeserving bunch, and for no good reason at all.

Philadelphia Freedom

I think this episode further reiterates every unpleasant assumption most of us have ever had about Hillary Clinton. Recall how MoveOn was founded, and what in fact the name of the organization refers to, and contrast with how easily she lies about them, how she doesn't even hesitate to use Karl Rove's lies.

We'll see how this turns out on Tuesday, but it'd be nice if Pennsylvanians step up and put an end to this nonsense once and for all. It's time to settle on someone to run against the temperamental coot whose grand economic plan is to encourage people to waste more gasoline during the summer. Obama is not a perfect candidate, but Clinton has irretrievably compromised herself by this point. She has done McCain's own work for him in her assertions about Obama, and done very little (if anything) to alleviate the hard fact that not only will she be unable to energize the Democratic base, but she will energize the Republican base as much or more than McCain himself will.

Frankly, while his desire is at least rhetorically encouraging, I have my doubts about Obama's ability to actually back up much of his "hope and change" schtick, because of the institutional machinery aligned against actual idealists, and because of us as well. But while he may not be the Bringer of Light that many of his fans wish to believe, he's still not a bad candidate with huge moral flaws. That alone puts him ahead of the other two.

The nominee may, Jebus forbid, end up being Clinton after all. But that would only happen after an ugly, protracted fight culminating in a vituperative, brokered convention, and thence a general campaign that promises to be nothing short of abusive to participants and observers alike. (Like it hasn't been already.)

Which may be the idea, when you think about it from the standpoint of the people who actually dictate policy. What better way to forestall genuine "hope" and "change" than to provide a nasty summer distraction that promises to have the nation at each others' throats?

Friday, April 18, 2008

The Platypus Defense

The Reiser case has been in the Bay Area media for some time, and is distinguishable from the usual domestic violence deaths primarily by the sheer weirdness of the defendant, his family, and now his own attorney. This may be the single most bizarre quote I've ever read from a court case, and I proofread court transcripts for five years.

Du Bois said Hans Reiser is the victim of "one of the great screw jobs," perpetrated by his wife. "It's easy to screw a platypus," he said.

The defense put a picture of a platypus on the screen in court. On Wednesday, Du Bois repeatedly held up a stuffed-animal platypus.

Despite the lack of a body, they seem to have Reiser dead to rights. He took the passenger seat out of his car and hosed out the interior right after his wife turned up missing. He seems surprised that investigators found that a bit suspicious.

Reiser's previous defense was that this is all a setup perpetrated by the Russian mafiya. If half of what I've read about the Russian mafiya is true, if they had a problem with Reiser, there would be pieces of him strewn from San Mateo to Concord; they don't seem to particularly keen on arcane frame-up jobs for dealing with schmucks.

Anyway, the platypus defense. And you thought "if it doesn't fit, you must acquit" was a bold gambit.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Master Debaters

Surely one of the greatest things about having a democratic process and a free press is knowing that at any time, a former Clinton hack could be entrusted with lobbing a Sean Hannity spitball in a debate, and pretend all this grab-ass nonsense is legitimate.

Look, if Snuffleupagus gets the opportunity and asks Poor Ol' Straight Talk about his wife swiping pills from her own charities, maybe we can call it even. But even then just barely, and regardless, it's bullshit that these debates have become more about the moderators than about the candidates and their actual policies.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Bitter Suite

Some questions for Rosen:

  • Will there be any haphazard sandbagging of the other two candidates, just to level the playing field? If so, when? If not, why not?

  • Do you feel any share in the responsibility for generating this nonsense, besides invoking the law of unintended consequences and laying it at Russert's gouty feet?

  • Implicit in the mission of the online mediapreneur is the sense that they are able to drive their own narrative without the help or hindrance of the corporate media. How does that square with this occurrence, in which Press the Meat was able to seize and skew that narrative on the basis of some poached quotes? What, if anything, do you or Fowler intend to do to either reclaim your own narrative, or generate a capable counter-narrative? Simply shrugging this off as one that got away from you is unacceptable beyond, say, the high-school newspaper level. You own this one, at least for needlessly enabling the Clinton campaign to start one more round of backstabbing before the PA primary.

Hell, it would be helpful for Rosen and/or Fowler to try to back their own inept exegesis on the "bitter" comment. Fowler herself manages some cheap, surface limo-lib-baiting, trying to waffle on divining what Obama "really meant".

I'm not sure this is what at least this lot of Californians needed to hear about Pennsylvanians. Such phrases can reinforce negative stereotypes among Californians, who are a people in a state already surfeited with a smug sense of superiority and, as an ironic consequence, a parochialism and insularity at odds with the innovation, prosperity and openness for which California is rightly known. (Of course, this is a generalization, and as such does not fit everyone; but as a state characteristic I stand by it.) Californians might be better served by hearing that Pennsylvanians have a strong sense of their place in American history, for here California is wanting. California needs to hear that other Americans have gone through hard times and survived, humor intact. Since Barack Obama sees himself as the candidate best able to unify the country, these are the messages he needs to carry and his frank words about Pennsylvania may not have translated very clearly.

Funny how coastal stereotypes are perfectly acceptable, but heaven forfend anybody look askance at flyover states, most of which take more federal tax dollars than they contribute. Unlike those smug Californians, with the 77¢ they get back for every dollar. You know, that state of douchebags where one in every nine Americans resides.

Why the hell are these dwindling road-to-nowhere states where everyone leaves so they can make more than $20k/year so inviolable and immune from even deserved criticism, but "San Francisco" is some sort of wink-and-a-nod code for, I dunno, "Barack Obama plans to let faggot schoolteachers buttfuck your chilluns in the hallway with impunity"? Perhaps most amazingly (or, you know, not) is the ease with which Clinton herself jumped on that "elitist San Francisco" bullshit. Whatever sympathy the Clintons may have generated in the course of two terms of smears and lies and calumniations must by now be completely gone. Indeed, they seem to have become precisely what they despise, which is the creeps and liars who made careers out of despising them.

How did we come to this, and why does the coastal elite media enable it so? I've said it a million times, but it bears repeating -- if Bobo Brooks and Tweety Matthews and the rest of these bozos like the heartland so much, then fucking move there. Don't hide your lights under the DC/Hamptons bushels, ladies, grab your overalls and get your farm on. Let us know how that works for y'all.

Another paragraph of Fowler's assessments of Obama's situation struck me as odd:

It's curious, then, that he often has such a hard time making a connection with many working class Americans. With plenty of time for people to get to know him, like in southern Illinois before his first state legislature race and in Iowa before the caucuses, Obama has forged that connection. People get comfortable with the way his mind works. Obama is the man with the big picture; he jumps quickly from the particular to the general and back again, for he makes sense of the world in a synchronic rather than a linear way. For all his soaring rhetoric, there is a dispassion about him. And yet he blends rationcinative intelligence with empathetic understanding. This is a rare combination, and for many people, this aspect of Obama takes some getting used to. His Puritanical streak, moreover, while amusing to the press can be off-putting to everybody else.

Let's get back to Ockham's Razor, folks; the simplest explanation is usually the correct one. So let's take "small-town white working class antipathy to Obama" as a given, though I think it's a dubious assertion at best. But let's say it's true -- what are the most likely causes of that? The reflex assumption seems to be racism, but I don't buy that. More likely, it's simply a lack of familiarity with him, and an instinctive mistrust of someone who has risen so far so fast. Those are things that can be alleviated over the summer.

But if the problem really is racism, or suspicion of intellect, or any of the usual infantilizing tropes used to veil off these areas and social classes, then Clinton's efforts to capitalize on Obama's contrived misstep are for naught, because such people also would have issues with uppity wimmins, and certainly have issues with Clintons. She can poach a few slivers of percentage points here and there and raise doubt among the superdelegates over his electability all she wants, because those are things that will mostly redound to McCain in the fall.

And if people are having some sort of trouble acquainting themselves with Obama's supposedly complicated thought processes, well, isn't that their problem? They can't even seem to settle on whether he's too condescending or not condescending enough. Apparently he has to spell it out in see-Dick-run terms while downing a shot, eating a greasy slab of mystery meat and bowling a 300 game.

It's as if the notion of running the country doesn't even come up, which it might not for the sort of idiot who festers in the boonies, their biggest worry in life that someone out there thinks they're better'n you. Well, you show 'em, motherfucker. Go ahead and vote for Po' Boy McCain, and get exactly what's comin' to ya. Otherwise, get off your cross already -- as always, the rest of us could use the wood.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Friends Like These

Speaking of ratfucking, how 'bout that Lieberman? He's supposedly the closest thing Obama has had to a mentor in the Senate, and was at least nominally a Democrat until less than two years ago. And now he's openly campaigning with a Republican nominee who promises more of the same, and thinks it's a "good question" to wonder whether Obama -- Lieberman's supposed friend -- is a Marxist or an "elitist", as if the Senate itself is not an elite body by design.

At least scumbags like Tom DeLay and Karl Rove never tried to fool anyone about what they were, and what they were up to. Put it this way -- if Obama wins and doesn't immediately exile Holy Joe to the Senate version of Siberia (say, the Committee to Tickle Huckleberry Graham's Prostate), then he doesn't belong in the game. Lieberman's the sort of treacherous, slimy shit for whom tarring and feathering was invented.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Niche Empires

Not to unfairly disparage the feel-good aspect of your typical Bart's People stories, but it's hard to escape the notion that maybe having to live daily with the unspeakable burden of having had Rush Limbaugh's drug-withered nub in one or more of her orifices compels a girl to rebuild her karma. And hey, vaya con dios with all that, really. Everybody could use a little good news sometimes.

But continuing with today's little theme of words and phrases not quite jibing with useful real-world definitions, this jumped out as passing strange:

"In the news business, you have to get picked," said Kagan, ex-girlfriend of another media emperor, Rush Limbaugh.

Another "media emperor"? Look, I hate to get all nitpicky yet again on semantics, but shit, none of those three words has any actual meaning. Starting a website is just that, a nice thing but still not terribly significant. The book and the TV docs add to the portfolio, yet this does not quite an empire make. Although considering how shabbily CNN disposed of her (which seems to be a habit of theirs), her ambition is at least respectable.

And Limbaugh is a drug-addled creep who makes a lot of money calumniating his political opponents and disinforming the rubes that still listen to him, but outside his radio show he's nothing. He's only done a few books, and not for a while at that, and as far as I've ever heard, he owns no other media properties, aside from the website for his own radio show. He's a pernicious stain on the American media landscape, and the hell with him and his empire of dirt. Empires expand and conquer; Limbaugh is merely King Shit of Turd Hill.

These people barely qualify as media entities, in an already hopelessly supersaturated multimedia tableau. And maybe that's for the best; maybe in our new and improved digital age, we can all be emperors of our own little fractal empires, selling this or that trendy pig in a poke to one another. It's good to be king.


Full disclosure: even though Heidi Klum gives me a boner that's, as Richard Pryor used to say, harder than Chinese arithmetic, it would never occur to me to watch something called Project Runway, which I assume is exactly what it sounds like, which proves that my instincts are correct.

But though the article is at its blank corporate heart a decent thumbnail sketch of content infighting between vertically integrated media entities (on, let's keep in mind, the people's airwaves, which are currently clogged with all manner of eighth-rate pseudo-celebs sorting their sock drawers), its premise is lame from the gate.

Not even a catwalk catfight could prove as riveting as the behind-the-scenes sideshow that enveloped "Project Runway" last week.

With NBC Universal contesting in court the move of the unscripted series from its Bravo home to rival Lifetime, the TV industry has a war on its hands worthy of its own reality show.

Oh, snap! And why not? Celebrity Sock Drawer is just the beginning, assuming someone can track down Corey Feldman and Erik Estrada in the first place. You have to have the "making of" CSD; the "behind the scenes" profiles of the once-slightly-recognizable CSD participants, their various substance abuse issues since their long-ago Love Boat appearance, and the inevitable redemption sequence; and of course the "results" show, where roughly forty-three seconds of declaring a "winner" or "loser" is stretched to an hour of stagey glares and farting house music.

Celebrity Sock Drawer. Only, let's say Bravo, or one of the Home Trinket nutworks. I think we could all use a nice capodimonte figurine of Corey Feldman trying to remember which sock he had his stash stuffed into.

Failing that, there's always MILF Island.

Oh, the Places You'll Go

Apropos of nothing, I find it a bit peculiar to stumble across the factoid that torture apologist John Yoo is a couple of weeks younger than I am. It's probably just me, but the process of relative aging can be condensed thusly: realizing you're older than the women you use for sexual objectification (Penthouse Pets; porn stars; etc.); realizing you're older than most of the sports figures (actors; musicians) you enjoy; realizing you're older than the people who get paid lots of money to tell you and everyone else how to live their lives.

That last has always seemed somehow to be an ever-distant stage, something our parents might have to contend with but we never would. Yet Barack Obama is only five or six years older than me, and I suppose that's disconcerting enough for whatever reason. Still, there is something about being so close in age (if, to tremendously understate the case, not life experience) to the primary formulator of excuses for official barbarity.

Think of it -- it took a thirty-something Korean immigrant to come up with the novel idea that if you simply called your captives "detainees", and coupled it with the heinous notion that anything the unitary executive chooses to do is by definition legal (but, of course, for him only), you could treat them like fucking farm animals and no one could ever say shit. People were executed during and after World War 2 for exactly the sort of deeds Yoo has found suitable to institutionally underwrite for this gang of thugs and creeps. Even better, we all get to pay his (and their) salary.

What a country!

Prose and Cons

One of the things I've always loved about the internets is how the varied content serves as such a great complement to more conventional sources of reading material. Of course, plenty of the old-school tribe look at the online breed as the unwashed scribbling for the even more unwashed, as if their own professions weren't driven in no small part by trendy, unreadable wankery and tedious fabulism, hardbound so as to grant it some unearned, defiant veneer of respectability.

But there are plenty of "non-professionals" who do damn fine bits of writing, contrasting with paid professionals who peddle junk under this or that corporate banner. An example of the former is Kissing Suzy Kolber's Big Daddy Drew, whose epistle on how sportswriters undermine themselves and shortchange their fans by getting too close to their subjects is both hilarious and spot-on.

Even better, it serves as a fine metaphor for how political journalists routinely betray their own mission with sloppy, lazy thinking and cheap hypocrisy. I mean, I don't how much a waterboy like David Shuster makes, but I know Tweety gets paid north of $4 mil a year, and for them to lob this fucking ofay bullshit back and forth like it means anything is unacceptable, yet par for the course.

That this sort of nonsense is SOP is incomprehensible, until you realize that they're not really talking to us, but to each other. All of them, the "experts", the "consultants", the sinecured douchebags for whom this sort of thing has become a family industry, the morons peddling unreadable books to illiterate ninnies. It's a cottage industry for their little clique, no more, no less. It's a distraction from the fact their defense-contractor employers have a vested interest in keeping us focused on stupid shit like whether or not Barack Obama can bowl a fuckin' strike.

Here's another excellent compare-and-contrast example, where the "amateur" is leagues ahead of his "professional" counterpart. Edward Champion delivers what I think is a devastating kill-shot to sprezzaturda's happy horseshit.

Only a person thoroughly removed from linguistic pleasures would quibble with the semantics of “assclown.” It was a surprise to me to see Siegel taking umbrage with the term. “Assclown is a really funny word, though,” grinned Nicholson Baker, who did his best to try and get through to the pigheaded Siegel. But it quickly became apparent that Siegel would not be moved and I watched with some sadness as the cheery, ruddy-faced Baker shifted to profound and silent empathy for this lost soul.

Exactly. "Assclown" is just one of those cool words, so intrinsically funny I would laugh at it being used directly at me (before, of course, instantly wracking my brain for a comeback). Siegel seems not only joyless but, if what I've read of his and seen of him in his preposterous Daily Show appearance, passionless as well.

Everyone should have something that motivates them to get out of bed and do whatever they do, something that instills them with passion. Music, beer, sex, volubly extemporized misanthropy (in my case, all of those things and much more) -- so many wondrous things to inspire one to punch a metaphorical hole in the wall. But Siegel comes off as so listless in his cynicism, you wonder if he's doing some elaborate Tony Clifton schtick. If so, bravissimo, sprezzatoola. But more likely than not, he's really (as I've called him before) just a preening butthole.

Who makes a lot of money writing, which is a task only marginally more difficult than fucking or taking a dump. Again, we have a sloppy thinker given to petulance and poor argumentation, who is published with presumably a straight face on the part of the people who pay him. Yet the unwashed intartubez heathens who chronicle his jerky words and deeds write circles around him. For free. Strange, that.

One last example of sloppy writing (or perhaps editing), and this only because it pokes one of (numerous, I admit) pet peeves. This article, one of many solemnly chronicling how economic hard times have hit reg'lar folks in the shorts, contained this little nugget o' wisdom:

"I think we're almost in a depression," said Rohnert Park resident Donna Shore, 72. "Like the man in the movie said, 'I'm mad as hell and I'm not taking it anymore.' "

Hunh? Even decontextualizing the over(mis)used, hackneyed Network line, what the hell is that supposed to mean? Seriously. You're pessimistic about the economy, and you're angry about it. Fair enough. But in what way are you not gonna take it anymore? Buying less and driving less are not moral stands or expressions of righteous anger, they are necessary adaptations to economic contingencies. This is a difference with a very substantial distinction, which apparently escaped everyone involved.

But get this: this meaningless utterance, which tells you really nothing about the actual subject of the article, was used as the pull quote for the print article. It's ridiculous; it would have made more sense for her to say, "This economy sucks, and I'm going under, and I think that most people are worse off now than they were four or eight years ago." At that point, miraculously, she would almost -- not quite, but almost -- recontextualized the shopworn movie quote.

And this is not the problem of Ms. Shore, who as a regular person being interviewed for a newspaper article should not be expected to be a professional orator. It's not even the problem of the writer, not entirely; the rest of the article actually makes a decent case and stays relatively coherent. But someone at the editorial level apparently thought, "Hey! A movie quote! Let's highlight that and use it as an attention-grabber!" Well, it worked, but in the wrong way. No attention was paid to whether the quote had relevance; it was just something they knew people would recognize.

I think a major factor in the devolution of corporate news media, and how people tend to regard these various media, is a growing incompetence with language, on all sides. At many institutional levels there is deliberation behind this; for example, it is Bush's striking, nearly autistic opacity with his use of language to describe his own reasoning which gives him leeway. By the time one manages to hack through the thicket of stubbed-toe oratory and fractured logic, he's moved on to the next one. It's difficult to keep up, and when the media are already accustomed and conditioned to draw their own boundaries with regard to challenging him on his premises, they end up doing much of his work for him just by sticking to their usual horserace tropes.

This incompetence filters down, inexorably, to a point where important stories get de-prioritized behind celebritard ass-sniffing, or fearful reverence of flawed and perfidious rationales, or an incapability to discern a meaningless quote from one that actually means something. Maybe all reporters -- and all readers, for that matter -- should be compelled to read Politics and the English Language at regular intervals, until those truths are internalized, at least to the point that they sufficiently displace the untruths and the empty assumptions that drive so much of our public narrative.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Going Postal

I know it's the silly season and all, as the paid poli-monkeys wait for the homestretch before the Pennsylvania primary so's they can dust off their crystal balls and make their foolish guesses, but check the coverage of Obama's "gaffe":

As his political opponents heap on scorn, Sen. Barack Obama acknowledged that he chose his words poorly when describing small-town Pennsylvanians at a fundraiser on Sunday. But he didn't back off the message he had sought to convey.

"I didn't say it as well as I should have," Obama conceded before a crowd in Muncie, Ind., this morning, as Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Republicans prepared to hammer him for a second day.

Since even the Post itself admits that Obama's corrective was only about the fineries of phrasing and not actual meaning, the headline ("Obama Concedes He Misspoke") is overstating the extent of things. Obama said what he meant, and reiterated as such. He did not "misspeak", nor did he "concede" anything, other than perhaps the obvious -- that both his opponents are craven hypocritical opportunists, and the people who are supposed to be professional enough to know better appear to be borderline retarded. (Then again, check out the commenters in Murray's column, many of whom appear to be actually retarded.)

Here's what Obama actually said in the first place:

"In a lot of these communities in big industrial states like Ohio and Pennsylvania, people have been beaten down so long," he told the donors. "The jobs have been gone now for 25 years, and nothing's replaced them. And they fell through the Clinton administration and the Bush administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are going to regenerate and they have not. And it's not surprising, then, they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations."

If anything, Obama is being too kind, too conciliatory on this point. There are a lot of great things about small-town life, to be sure, but there's no getting around the fact that they can also be seething reservoirs of ignorance and futility, of people who will enthusiastically vote against their own self-interest time after time because of some idea they have in their head about how things are supposed to be.

For example, in the county I live in, there was a referendum last summer on whether to allow the local tribe to build a casino. Personally, I don't gamble, nor do I have a burning need to see the latest incarnation of Bad Company between a couple hands of blackjack. But that's me; the fact is that these places also have hotels and golf courses and restaurant buffets and other things to do. And in a sparsely populated county with chronically high unemployment, where a substantial number of people (including myself) have to commute into the neighboring county (80 minutes a day round trip for me) just to get a living wage, the 400-500 jobs created in the county would have been significant.

So what happened? Well, one of the local strains of god-botherers got together and weighed in against the pervasive immorality, and the initiative lost by a handful of votes. So people still go to the nearby casino, which is literally a couple hundred yards across the county line, thus enhancing their tax base. And amazingly, people still gamble and drink and do enough crank to choke a horse, because there's nothing else to do, and now that gas is four bucks a gallon it costs too much to go anywhere else. Result: frustrated, broke, bored goobers left to their own devices. Way to preserve those small-town values, fuckheads.

And this is California we're talking about here. Imagine what life is like in rural Kansas or Oklahoma if you happen not to come from a land-owning family, in a town dominated by little more than a looming Wal-Mart and a sense of resentment, alleviated only by the occasional parade or football game. So really, if anything I think Obama understated his case. The fact is that the god/guns/guts crowd is always going to hump the same leg, it's just that when times get tougher and the frustration builds, the urge to use their imaginary friend as a comfort mechanism becomes even more pronounced.

And then they turn around and vote for a drooling moron simply because he told them that everything they think -- even on issues they know nothing about -- is absolutely correct.

Now, compare and contrast with the tender caresses of Poor Ol' Straight Talk's ridiculous efforts to differentiate himself from the current boobocracy:

Speaking before a global investment firm this afternoon, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) took pains to distance himself from President Bush even as he reiterated his support for Gen. David Petraeus's handling of the war in Iraq.

During a town hall meeting at Bridgewater Associates, McCain vowed to confer more with congressional leaders on matters of war and "be humble" in his dealings with foreign leaders. Asked whether he would reject Bush's "preemptive war" strategy, he declined to rule it out but said he would take a sharply different tack when weighing military action overseas.

Wow. So he's going to be, like, totally different, except where he's not. That clears things up. Aside from voicing his principled opposition to torture (except, you know, when push actually comes to shove and he votes with the fuckers anyway), everything else is a wafer-thin parsing of current policy, both foreign and domestic.

And it's on economic issues where McCain seems most out of his depth (which, considering his indistinguishable foreign policy notions, is considerable). Bush also talked a good game about cutting spending when he was out on the stump, when it's easy. But then you get there, and you need the vote of a raging fucktard like, say, Don Young, and he wants a bridge. And there are 534 more Don Youngs, each with an endless list of bridges they'd like to build with your money. Everybody swears they'll cut spending until they get there and realize that it's all sops to their corporate sponsors or make-work boondoggles for aggrieved constituencies who had their old jobs outsourced to Bangalore and Shanghai, so some asshole's stock could go up half a point.

"I think you need to consult more closely and carefully, not with every member of Congress, but with the leadership of Congress," he told the crowd of several hundred Bridgewater employees. "If they're not in on the takeoff, they're not going to be in on the landing.... In other words, consult with them a whole lot."

Fuck. Fuuuuuuuuck-argh. I don't know about you, but if I have to listen to another four years of mindless Chance the Gardener "in other words" locutions, my teeth will break from gritting them too much and too hard. There oughta be a law against this monkey-fuck of a rhetorical trope, simplistic and shallow and implicitly condescending. I have never once heard an "in other words" that added any value to the original point or explained it any further, and that is true a hundredfold of everything Bush has ever saddled with this lazy phrase.

And all the while, the grand designs and master plans of these clowns continue to disintegrate right out from under their bullshit. In other words, their own arguments are undermined by actual events with a rather disturbing consistency.

Fuck "in other words", assholes, just say what you came to say. Most of us can keep up, really, and the ones who can't were just festering in their ratholes anyway, waiting only for someone to stroke their prejudices just enough to motivate them to vote against themselves one more time. This is Obama's true failing, that he misplaces some of his trust in the sort of folks whose political decisions are permeated by Stockholm syndrome.

Sox Type Thing

When it comes to being superstititous, baseball fans are practically in a league of their own, compared to other sports:

A construction worker with a rooting interest in the Red Sox buried a Red Sox shirt in with the concrete foundation under what will become the visitors' clubhouse in the new $1.3 billion Yankee Stadium, two construction workers told the New York Post Wednesday.

And then he went home and once again violated the crusted orifices of his collection of George Steinbrenner and Alex Rodriguez blow-up dolls.

Sadly, this is only the second-dumbest sports story of the week, the first being the ongoing harassment of the Olympic torch. That's what passes for political protest these days -- pointless symbolic gestures against pointless symbolic gestures. It's a second-order wank, a meta circle jerk. You want to make the Chinese care what you think, then go through your house and throw out everything you own that says "Made in China", and replace accordingly. Otherwise, it means even less than the carrying of the torch itself, a tedious ritual in which the thing is paraded around the world as if it were royalty and not, you know, a fuckin' torch.

These are the kinds of stories that make soccer hooligans appear rational.

[Update: Saints be praised, a construction crew found and removed the offending garment, after spending five hours Saturday drilling and jackhammering through new construction. They're even considering pressing charges, though for what is, as you might guess, a bit unclear.

These people, as evidenced by their effort and indignation over an impossibly trivial prank, are too fucking stupid to competently draw breath, much less build a stadium. It would be a waste of time to tell them to grow the hell up.]

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Clintonism and Its Discontents

The revelation that the Clintons have finally gotten their cut from the public-service trough is less distressing than it should be, I suppose. Certainly it's not surprising; we are, after all, talking about a couple whose first home purchase was in Chappaqua at the end of Bill's time in office. It seems that everyone at that level uses their status to elevate themselves in some fashion -- toys, trinkets, junkets, trophy wives, sweet-ass real-estate deals, cash money in pocket.

So it's impossible to be shocked and difficult to actually be offended that they raked in $109 million, in a period of time where a gelatinous cube like Rush Limbaugh made twice as much to scarf down oxy and boner pills and head to the Dominican Republic for some young brown ass, or Alex Rodriguez making a quarter-billion to swat a ball and miss the playoffs every year.

And yet, in the midst of Hillary's hard-times pulpit-thumpers she belts to hapless crowds hither and yon, there are things like this:

Former President Bill Clinton has earned $15.4 million from billionaire Ron Burkle's Yucaipa Cos. investment firm since 2003, according to tax documents released by his wife, presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

The earnings represent 20 percent of the approximately $75 million Bill Clinton earned during the same period, according to the documents. That may raise new questions about what services he performed for Los Angeles-based Yucaipa, whose investors include the ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid al- Maktoum.


The tax returns indicate the couple paid all the U.S. federal taxes owed on the income from Yucaipa, which controls three funds located in the Cayman Islands. The Cayman Islands doesn't charge any individual or corporate income tax and has strict bank secrecy laws.

Bill Clinton's ties to Yucaipa have sparked controversy over the past year, including a September report in the Wall Street Journal that detailed how one of the former president's aides had helped arrange a partnership with Burkle that dissolved amid litigation over allegations of misused funds.

It's not exactly Chinese bagmen bringing sacks of laundered money, but it's probably not much better than what it sounds like.

Even better is this:

In all, the Clintons earned $109 million from 2000 through 2007 and paid $33.8 million in federal taxes, the returns and campaign documents show. They donated $10.3 million of their income over that time to charities.

The bulk of those charitable donations went to the family foundation. From 2002 through 2006, $5.9 million of the $6.4 million, or 93 percent, of the Clinton's charitable giving went directly to the Clinton Family Foundation, according to the tax returns and foundation records.

Because The Human Fund would have been too obvious.

The other entertaining Clinton nugget during the past week was this gem, which should have been seen coming up the road:

An angry Colombia said on Saturday it ended a contract with a lobbying firm headed by a top campaign aide to Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton after he apologized for meeting with Colombian officials to advocate a trade deal that she opposes.

Mark Penn, who in addition to working as Clinton's chief campaign strategist is a lobbyist in his capacity as chief executive officer of Burson-Marsteller Worldwide, said his meeting with Ambassador Carolina Barco Isakson "was an error in judgment that will not be repeated."

"The Colombian government considers this a lack of respect to Colombians, and finds this response unacceptable," the Colombian Embassy in Washington said in a statement.

Hammer of the Blogs is pleased to present an exclusive photo of Penn's negotiations with the angry Colombians:

Note the look of consternation in the Colombian's eyes, as well as the sweat pouring off his beak. I think we all learned what pissed-off Colombians are capable of from Scarface; if Penn actually possessed elbows and knees, and any of the Colombians happened to have a chainsaw handy, Penn would have been in really deep shit.

More seriously, I think this is an area where the Clintons (and let's not beat around the, erm, Bush here -- as with a decade and a half ago, we are again being offered two for the price of one, as if we were at the political Dollar Tree looking for a deal on toiletries) are vulnerable. Penn is an operative's operative, and one of his subordinates at Burston-Marsteller is John McCain's henchman, Charlie Black. So either way, B-M wins, which really means a lot to Mister and Missus Joe Six-Tooth.

Even diehard Clintonistas will have to acknowledge that Bill got a certain amount of mileage out of rhetorically feeling our pain, and it rang true, since he couldn't afford his own house either. He was one of us, skeevy big-hair glad-handing priapism and all.

But the schtick plays a bit more hollow nine figures later, well-entrenched in the same machine which spent eight years attacking both Clintons, hanging with the exact same people whose pastime was calumniating them, making money hand over fist, her supporters paying him six figures to "consult" and speak at their events. Lotta inbreeding going on there, which does not make them special, but rather mundane. It's a racket, and they've learned to play.

Maybe we can all play, and feel each other's pain, or something. But if we all could afford to live in the Hamptons, where would the swells go to feel superior, and whom would they have to look down upon?

Saturday, April 05, 2008

The Jokes Write Themselves

Okay, I've resisted the temptation all week to make jokes on variations of fucking oneself, but in all seriousness, just because you can do something doesn't mean you should:

A transgender man who is six months pregnant said in an interview aired by Oprah Winfrey on Thursday that he always wanted to have a child and considers it a miracle.

"It's not a male or female desire to have a child. It's a human desire," a thinly bearded Thomas Beatie said. "I have a very stable male identity," he added, saying that pregnancy neither defines him nor makes him feel feminine.

Beatie, 34, who lives in Oregon, was born a woman but decided to become a man 10 years ago. He began taking testosterone treatments and had breast surgery to remove glands and flatten his chest.

"I opted not to do anything with my reproductive organs because I wanted to have a child one day," he told the talk show host. Beatie's wife Nancy said she inseminated him with a syringe using sperm purchased from a bank.

Of course, the term "man" here is used verrry loosely, not the least reason which is that no man in his right mind would ever want to endure pregnancy, much less childbirth. I thought it was Rachel Maddow at first; I'm absolutely not convinced that this is a "man".

Perhaps my understanding of sex-change operations is outdated. Isn't psych testing part of the requirement just to undergo treatment? Aren't the hormone treatments administered and tracked by a physician? Isn't it supposed to be a little more complicated than just grabbing an applicator that looks like Jodie Foster's knuckle?

Yes, I'm sure all these testosterone treatments are good for the fetus. And I'm sure a presumably reputable doctor has a perfectly good rationale for letting a sex-change patient keep the original equipment with the express purpose of getting pregnant.

Well, as long as the kid doesn't come out looking like Manbearpig, vaya con dios, I suppose. But in an already overpopulated world, is it really necessary to craft new and innovative ways to have children? Do these Dr. Moreaus have nothing better to do? I had slightly more respect for them when they were turning a buck off of boner pills. Maybe this will turn out to be a hoax.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

A Man for All Squeezins

Just when you assume it's some standard-issue April Fool's Day column, you realize, "oh hell, it's Goldberg again", which suffices as explanation enough. It's hard even to find a salient excerpt, since it meanders in its lameness. But Goldberg starts off with the usual plaint that European politicians are too craven in the face of the rhetorical aggression as practiced by Islamic governments and fundamentalist clergy, here in the context of the outcry provoked by the short documentary Fitna, by Dutch director Geert Wilders.

Predictably, various Muslim governments have condemned the film. Half the Jordanian parliament voted to sever ties with the Netherlands. Egypt's grand imam threatened "severe" consequences if the Dutch government didn't ban the film.

This has been a particularly rich vein for the usual neoclown pundits to ply their trade and preach to their choir. It's easy pickins, and in their habitual sophistry they can double-dip with Muslim-baiting and lib-baiting. Apparently we are now required to issue pro forma declarations in every instance of official and semi-official Muslim radicalism, as if "liberals" (which, recalling Goldberg's creative redefinition of the term, are down with the fascism) have more patience with riots over cartoons than they do with the gibbering retards of Jesus Camp.

I do think that Islam is in danger of allowing itself to be defined by its most vocal and radical spokesmen, if moderate Muslims do not step up. But where are they supposed to step? Islam is too diffuse and too decentralized, and in its home countries it is too inextricably entwined with social culture and canonical law. Islam needs its own Reformation and Enlightenment, but that is much harder to accomplish without a centralized hierarchy. Even if an Islamic Martin Luther is waiting to be heard, where exactly does he nail his theses?

So I'm not sure exactly what Goldberg and his intemellectual peers wish to do about all that, but then neither are they. The European governments are treading lightly because they want the immigrants to assimilate, which is hard to do if an inflammatory issue is stoked. The Islamic governments are taking the opposite tack and making an issue out of the movie's propriety because religion is a mode of social control. This is not exactly a secret, but people like Goldberg make entire careers, secure contracts to write unreadable books with untenable premises, by regurgitating exactly such canards. People believe what they want to believe.

Which brings us to Goldberg's main point, after a useless diversion into a anecdote about drinking in Turkey that amazingly doesn't end in some lurid Midnight Express scenario.

Me? I keep thinking about Jesus fish.


In America, the easiest place to find this ancient symbol is on the back of cars. Recently, however, it seems as if Jesus fish have become outnumbered by Darwin fish. No doubt you've seen these too. The fish symbol is "updated" with little feet coming off the bottom, and "IXOYE" or "Jesus" is replaced with either "Darwin" or "Evolve."

I find Darwin fish offensive. First, there's the smugness. The undeniable message: Those Jesus fish people are less evolved, less sophisticated than we Darwin fishers.

Here's Goldberg's entire basis for taking offense -- it seems as if Jesus fish are outnumbered by Darwin fish. This is at least as rigorous an intellectual standard as can be found in anything else he's ever written, I suppose. It's practically a tic with him at this point, he's been doing it long enough.

But it takes a complete and utter moron to baldly assert that, in this particular dilemma, it's the people who profess not to guide their thoughts, actions, and emotions by superstition, who do not proselytize to hapless strangers, who are "smug", smug to the point where our boy actually takes offense.

Listen up, Lunchbox -- nearly all of human history has been written in blood drawn by smug motherfuckers who each thought they had a direct pipeline to the omniscient superdude in the sky. It is only in the past 150 years that the semblance of rational thought and reason-based deduction has begun to crawl out from under the holy thumb various breeds of god-botherers have kept everyone under for the previous millennia. Isn't that offensive?

I couldn't care less about the Jesus fish or the Darwin fish; I am indifferent to what people choose to broadcast on the bumpers, tailgates and windows of their rolling shitboxes. The Calvin praying window sticker means about as much to me as the Calvin-pissing-on-a-football-team-logo window sticker. Both are just cheap, pirated expressions of id and poor impulse control. But all that is another matter from the constant smug assertions from the religious that they are inherently more moral, that they would rather vote for a crook who talks a good Jesus game than an upstanding atheist. There are plenty more openly gay politicians than there are atheist ones, if one wishes to make thumbnail comparisons of stereotypically reviled minorities.

But he's all butt-hurt that a few people tweak these sacred cultural signifiers, cheap adhesive totems slapped on hickmobiles far and (especially) wide. Awwwww. Yeah, that's far more offensive than squads of goobers infesting the government at every level from the DoJ to red-state school boards with their anti-intellectual inbreeding, fools poisoning the well of science to tell people with a straight face that the Grand Canyon was created 6,000 years ago by the Noah's Ark flood. With priorities like that, it's no wonder we're falling behind.

As Christopher Caldwell once observed in the Weekly Standard, Darwin fish flout the agreed-on etiquette of identity politics. "Namely: It's acceptable to assert identity and abhorrent to attack it. A plaque with 'Shalom' written inside a Star of David would hardly attract notice; a plaque with 'Usury' written inside the same symbol would be an outrage."

But the most annoying aspect of the Darwin fish is the false bravado it represents. It's a courageous pose without consequence. Like so much other Christian-baiting in American popular culture, sporting your Darwin fish is a way to speak truth to power on the cheap.

Again with the false equivalencies, especially since Jews don't actively proselytize like that (not to mention the revolting idea that lobbing a "usurer" slur at a Jewish person is comparable to having the nerve to separate science from religious dogma). Goldberg presumes that the Jesus fish is nothing but a cultural signifier, a secret handshake to be experienced on the highways, or something. Fine, but spare us this incessant whinging every time the bubble gets poked just a little. It's expected that religion can intrude on a great many aspects of public life, but a cheap plastic sentiment making fun of another cheap plastic sentiment sends the squeamish into perpetually high dudgeon.

Religious people like to tell themselves, each other, anyone who'll listen that the godless secular heathens are picking on them, persecuting them for their belief. I hate to spoil the fun for them, but here's the secret -- we don't care enough to persecute you. Really, we don't give a shit. Go to your megachurch and clap to white-guy rhythm; festoon your car in Jesus fish and praying Calvins and Virgin Mary tire carrier covers. Knock yourselves out. Just leave the rest of us alone, and quit acting like the future of the universe depends on the Pledge of Allegiance having "under God" in it, or political speeches ending with "God bless America".

The same is true for Islamic fundamentalists -- when movies and cartoons get significant subsets of your culture violently upset, their conduct should be repudiatd. They need to grow the hell up. All the Abrahamic religions point to God as being the judge of these matters; it would be nice if they'd just leave it to Him, and get on about their lives.