Saturday, February 28, 2009

Broken Wings

Americans, more than most other people, need to be defended from each other at all times.
-- Dmitry Orlov, The Five Stages of Collapse

Ordinarily I find myself largely simpatico with the targets of Perrin's rage, but in this case his attempt to equate the morons profiled in Alexandra Pelosi's dorkumentary with some indeterminate quantity of Obamatons rings false.

Obviously Pelosi's subjects, given the brevity of the film in the first place and its overall lack of coherent narrative, are somewhat cherry-picked and decontextualized, as are the twee knuckle-children sporting their "Sarah Palin is a Cunt" tees in the photo heading Perrin's post.

I think many of us, present company included, find the precious insufferability of bien pensant limo libs and would-be cultists for any politician to be mentally and spiritually (not to mention politically) taxing, to say the least. They're the same folks who dilute the narrative with "Bushitler" posters and "Free Mumia" placards at the free-speech-zone be-ins, pointlessly (if not needlessly) antagonizing and distracting from the actual argument at hand. They are a pain in the ass, no doubt.


There are millions of Americans who have no idea what the fuck's going on. So what? Is that terribly surprising? A recent Gallup poll suggested that only 40 percent of Americans believe in evolution. Some people I know find that frightening. I'm amazed that nearly half the country buys into science at all. Let's take what we can get.

Taking what we can get is what got us into this mess, pretending that all beliefs, no matter how ridiculous, are equal, as if believing that 2+2=7 is just as valid. The fact that this proportion of people are that boneheaded and ignorant should definitely be a cause for concern, because those things carry over into most other facets of life and interaction. Forget the dreams of American exceptionalism and bootstrapping and good ol' moxie and gumption and all that for now. What we should be worried about is not some fantasy of returning to the greatness of hegemon, but merely returning to competence, and mental stability.

Yes, the world needs ditchdiggers too, and morons pay taxes like everyone else, and thus deserve representation, but that doesn't mean that this anti-intellectual boobery shouldn't be marginalized at every opportunity. After eight years of Bush, 46% of Americans still thought it'd be a good idea to vote for John McCain and Sarah Palin.

And whatever misgivings many of us might have about Obama and Biden, they are not remotely equivalent to what the other side offered qualitatively. It's dangerously foolish to think so. Yes, they are carrying on a fine JFK/Clinton tradition of mealy-mouthed rhetoric, gutless incrementalism, and covert destruction of powerless brown people. And since they belong to one of the two wings of the Corporate Party, they are bought and owned by the financial geniuses that screwed the proverbial pooch.

But it's no risky wager that a McCain administration would simply be far less circumspect and far more proactive in its force projection, its endorsement of bloodletting in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Palestine, or wherever it deemed necessary, or even fun. It is a difference of degrees, perhaps, and Obama and Biden still deserve to rebuked at every turn, but there is a difference nonetheless. They are not equal by any stretch. Nor are their respective supporters.

The system sucks, no doubt. I'm as tired of the evil-of-two-lessers syndrome as anyone. But as a citizen, either you take the time to figure out which set will be least damaging to the interests of you and your neighbors, or you disengage.

The people in Pelosi's film would be much less problematic if they just disengaged, instead of crowing their belligerent nonsense every goddamned time about why they continue to vote against themselves. However off-putting the "fuck Sarah Palin" claque may be, at least they understand who is more harmful to their interests.

Here's the thing: even though the guy's only been on the job for about six weeks, there are valid, substantial critiques to be made regarding Obama. But these people fail utterly to make a single one.

Numerous right wingers may be out of their minds, but many of those interviewed by Pelosi acknowledge their limitations, saying they don't care what the facts are or what others think. I appreciate their honesty. Numerous liberals maintain that they know the truth, are on the side of reason, and if you don't share their political views, there's something deeply wrong with you. [emphases in original]

He has a point here, and that's where liberal debaters frequently lose the people they're trying to convert, this slippery distinction between "truth" and "facts". Instead of distinguishing between "liberals" and "conservatives", since neither word still means what it used to, nor adequately describes its respective demographic, it is more helpful to consider the dichotomy of people for whom facts are important, and people for whom facts are unimportant. Each side has its "truth", its central narrative, but those truths may be somewhat orthogonal to the facts, and each side's acquaintance with them.

Approached from that angle, it begs the question why Democrats or "liberals", who despite their faults do tend to rely on facts to a greater degree, continue to bother with trying to muster a barrage of facts, in order to win over people who don't concern themselves with them -- hell, are proud of not knowing them. They are faith-based rather than fact-based, and are happy to tell you so. They would rather be bamboozled than condescended to. Well, alrighty then. Enjoy your free-market paradise, folks.

And it's a waste of time trying to engage people who are not only proudly ignorant of facts, but are unable even to apprehend their own terms of debate. They can't adequately describe "socialism" or "Hitler", nor do they even have a surface knowledge of foreign or domestic policy, or know anything about the places where their kids are being shot at or their jobs have moved. The only things that motivate them are spite and foolishness. It's hard to expect anyone who goes to the trouble of actually paying attention to shit to regard that mindset with anything other than contempt.

That doesn't absolve the aforementioned college kids from their screen-printed hostility, but it's not as if Palin didn't reap what she sowed. Since she had no actual policy value to bring to the table, Palin was forced to barnstorm and antagonize the worst impulses of her info-impaired fan club. The retributive value of obnoxious tee shirts is relatively mild in response to cheap demagoguery and nasty lies attempting to conflate one's opponent with ancient acts of domestic terrorism. The Republicans ran a cheap and shitty campaign, and they continue to do so, and one wonders what the upside might be in reaching out to them or the people who actually want to buy what they're selling.

There is no point in coddling thinly-veiled racism and hooting ignorance. Either they can articulate how Obama is actually a socialist, or how he has anything remotely in common with Hitler besides "compelling orator" (which would then include everyone from Churchill to Reagan), or they can piss off already. And instead of worrying about these cultural snipe hunts, approach it on the level of economic justice, which is the only thing that will resonate with them and possibly motivate them to inform themselves.

It's all a dance anyway, these bullshit battles; Tuesday night's Big Speech was a tedious exercise in establishment kabuki, replete with choreotelegraphed applause lines every other sentence, and an amazingly dim-witted attempt at rebuttal that even Bobby Jindal (speaking of condescending), if he's half as smart as the Republitards think he is, cannot himself believe. If Jindal stays on his high horse and turns down all the fed pelf pouring his way, then we'll be impressed.

But the people in the big room for the speech, Obama included, are at a cognitive disconnect somewhere along the line. This is not a "right" or "left" issue; again this is about what the facts are. And the facts indicate that we are finding excuses to give more money we don't have to people that we all know are either corrupt, incompetent, or both, in order to prop up a failed system of phantom assets and imaginary profit.

It's an elaborate pretense that the system still works for anyone besides its rentiers, which is almost as dumb and insane as refusing to believe in evolution despite all the evidence.

Cassels Made of Sand

The very second general manager Scott Pioli went to Kansas City, it was clear that he would find a way to take Matt Cassel with him. The Patsies would have had to franchise Cassel in order to keep him on the roster, and they are too thrifty to throw that kind of money at a career backup with one decent year under his belt as a starter. This may prove to be problematic for them, as they still don't know how well Tom Brady has rehabbed for next season, or if Brady figures that three Super Bowl rings, more money than he can spend, and Gisele Bundchen are enough for him. Not that he'd up and retire, but one could understand if his heart wasn't entirely in it next year.

Anyway, some of the commenters on the Boston site are of course beefing that Pioli stole Cassel cheap, for a mere second-round pick. This is where my systems-analysis antennae get perked. As much as I loathe Team Tuck Rule, I'll be the first to admit that Bill Belichick is one of the ultimate systems coaches in the game. He has been able to set up systems that maximize the players' strengths, yet work well no matter who you plug in there. They went 11-5 last season in one of the toughest divisions, without their starting quarterback, using five running backs in various states of disrepair, and with a positively ancient linebacking corps.

Part of the success of Belichick's system almost certainly revolves around the pattern of eschewing high draft picks, rarely trading up and frequently trading down for more advantageous picks. He's been a master at not biting on the "hot prospect" guff, preferring instead to develop picks that slipped past everyone else. (Brady, for example, was a sixth-round pick.) So another second-round pick is perfect for the Pats, high enough to get top-drawer talent still on the board, at a fraction of some overrated top-10 bust.

That said, I think the Pats' arc of success may be on the downside, with a rapidly aging roster and the poaching of their best assistants. At least I hope so. I mean, fuck Randy Moss in the neck, am I right?

As for the Chefs, they are still a team with a great many holes to fill, and next year will be a rebuilding year. And the jury's still out on whether Cassel is a QB that you can build a franchise around. Tyler Thigpen actually improved quite a bit in the second half of the season, without much of a running game. But Pioli has no doubt learned much from Belichick, and he (Pioli) is also the son-in-law of Bill Parcells. And the Chefs are in the miserable AFC West, which helps. (Though it obviously hasn't helped the Raiders, who've been the source of much of the division's misery.)

One of the things parity and the salary cap have brought the NFL is a greater degree of churn year-to-year in the playoff pool. Out of twelve playoff teams, usually five or six were not in the playoffs the previous season. If they can find some help in the running game through the draft or free agency and tighten up their D, KC might be one of those churn teams.

Friday, February 27, 2009

CPAC Mountain

Few annual events are as reliably ridiculous as the CPAC, whose roster of intellectual reprobates feature colorful variants of what they pass for idealized thought, all the way from unrepentant Bushtards to obtuse Paultards. This is a crowd sufficiently toxic so as to make you feel a brief pang of sympathy for Tucker Carlson, when they boo him for the high thought crime of assuming facts should underpin the movementarians' ideology and strategy.

Some of them are starting to get the picture that most non-kool-aid-immersed people realize that the GOP's mascot has long jumped the shark, trusty toilet snake in hand:

If you want to get a sense of how unserious and ungrounded most Americans think the Republican Party is, look no further than how conservatives elevate Joe[sic] the Plumber[sic] as a spokesman.

Obviously Wurzelbacher is just the comic cherry topping the very serious pile of shit the movementarians left on the world's doorstep after the last decade or so of their antics. If anything, Wurzelbacher is more of a boon to Democrats, because his mere presence distills the sheer incoherence and ridiculousness of the GOP more than a thousand talking points of light ever could. Then he opens his piehole, and it's just gravy.

What they've been reduced to is a flaccid group of chumps whose master strategy, after eight years of equating criticisms of Fredo as suborning treason, is to openly root for failure. You'd think the prior decade would have had enough failure to satisfy them.

We're always on the lookout for good entertainment, so we'd love nothing more than for Wurzelbacher and Sarah Palin to show up at every possible event they can, and speak extemporaneously at length and in depth on any and all substantive policy issues. There's a multitude of fellow-traveling cryptofascist bozos clogging the internets who could step up and promote and distribute such statements among their crowd, and they goddamned well know it. It's so much easier to blame their own incompetence on the snide machinations of the slick librul media. But they really should ask themselves, since we're all technologically superempowered as individuals: what's stopping them from stepping up and podcasting their folk heroes' unadulterated wisdom?

The Next Right guy seems to get it a little bit at least, that formerly reliable terms such as "Republican" and "conservative" no longer mean nearly what he had conditioned himself to believe he meant. They've marginalized themselves with a total lack of useful ideas, a delusion that they somehow stand for the common man, and an ever-rotating cast of cartoon characters to stammer out refrigerator-magnet clumps of aphasic code words. Though he's clearly reluctant to piss off the Plunger/Palin iconodules, since that's all that's left, and they leave bizarre, cryptic comments such as this:

Sorry Patrick, but the reason Joe the Plumber caught on was that he could articulate basic economic principles better than McCain, with his army of GOP consultants, could.

Such as what, that unlicensed tax deadbeats who think they want to buy out their bosses should be allowed to keep more of their money? Good luck with that one, chief.

And this comment was just priceless:

I'm a HUGE Joe the Plumber fan (to the degree that when I needed a Plumber two weeks ago, I called around until I found a guy named Joe) who was nontheless[sic] horrified by the degree to which John "Loser" McCain overplayed this winning hand.

This is fascinating to deconstruct, if this clown is being serious. You're such a "fan" of this cartoonish mascot who has said nothing useful in six months of overexposure, and doesn't seem to have two brain cells to rub together, and is neither named "Joe" nor is an actual licensed plumber, that when you need to dial up someone -- presumably a real plumber, but let's not assume too much -- to unclog your shitter, your criteria are exactly these things which everyone knows are largely fictitious, and mean nothing in regard to doing the job. Their entire political philosophy turns out to be merely a twee affectation. Who'da thunk?

It never fails -- just when the tiny sliver of my conscience attempts to find some justification to empathize with my fellow man, inevitably they find a new and creative way to reinforce my initial conviction that they deserve exactly what they're getting.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Children of the Porn

This being America, it was bound to happen: unnecessarily famous embryo-farmer Nadya Suleman has gotten the offer of a lifetime. You have to hand it to the porn industry, there is utterly zero pretense or irony about them. They are impossible to parody, they are impervious to caricature.

And it might be the first time Suleman earned an honest living.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009


Whom, exactly, is the target audience for Pravda pseudo-columnist and former Bush knob-buffer Michael Gerson? I mean, seriously, the have-mores who stuck through thick and thicker with Fredo because he made it worth their while have better things to do these days, while the culture vultures Gerson usually preens to are busy getting fleeced by work-at-home scams and listening to Paul Harvey.

So Gerson's job, as it turns out, is to be the RNC's dogsbody in a putatively respectable national newspaper. And you'd think a guy who carries so much water on a daily basis would have bigger arms, but there ya go. The current project for these rent-a-hacks is to convince the usual disgruntled rubes that Bobby Jindal is the answer to their problems, the voice for their imagined grievances, and good luck with it. Never mind that Jindal's big ol' principled stand involved screwing his own people on $98 million worth of unemployment insurance, so's he could stand there and act like he was standing up to The Man, taking the other $3.7 billion the feds are throwing at his inbred backwater.

Gerson proved long ago that it takes very little to impress him, which is also true of the Post's slop-ed page apparently. I look forward to the entertainment value of a Palin/Jindal (or vice-versa) ticket in '12, with a healthy dollop of Sam the Plunger thrown in for good measure. Gerson will no doubt be their biggest cheerleader, and the Post will be thrilled to print his burbling nonsense.

The Downward Spiral

The only thing we have to not burning enough of our money to make bettors feel sufficiently confident in the casino.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Faces of Death

There are times when sensible people may wish that they had been lifelong ascetics, monastic in temperament, not merely unwilling but constitutionally unable to experience the depths and disturbances of the outside world. This is certainly one of those times. I've seen some harsh things over the years, but damn. Technically it's safe for work, since it's been shown on the teevee, but beware -- it may very well induce peristalsis.

Copulation Nation

Here is the formula whose misuse by Wall Street spreadsheet-tards (aka "sheetards") ruined the world economy and millions of lives. We should give them another big burn-pile of our money; after all, they said they were sorry, didn't they?


Apparently our limey friends are more fearful (although the usual conflation of "fear" and "dislike" is duly noted) of cats than they are of crime and clowns, or even dentists and sunlight. This is what happens when all that warm beer and eel pie catches up with you, you start worrying about animals that can't hurt or kill you, or nut up and rip your face off.

My only true fear is Posh Spice, for which our Brit friends still have not apologised (see, conciliatory British spelling). That thing scares the hell out of me. They could have written her into Coraline without animation.

Monday, February 23, 2009


Per comment from The Vile Scribbler and now this, perhaps when the betting kiosk hits 6,000 and the unemployed are rioting in the streets, we may reconsider the economic (if not the practical) wisdom of our, um, "secret" efforts in VietnamPakistan.

This must be the "first as tragedy, then as farce" stage of declining hegemon.

Teh Gay Super Bowl

Had it on in the background after Big Love and Conchords, but still can't bring myself to care enough to pay attention. Unless Jessica Biel is giving out tech awards, or something cool like that, but after about thirty seconds of grinding my loins against the teevee screen my back gave out. And I went five for six in the main categories on my Hollywood Stock Exchange derivatives, with Penn fucking up my perfect pick-six over Rourke.

Haven't gotten around to seeing either of Penn or Rourke's movies yet, but both are solid actors with what appear to be great performances in very good movies. Which makes it a choice between people; i.e., a coin flip between insufferable and punch-drunk. I will say that I caught Pope of Greenwich Village a couple weeks ago and still think it's underrated, some of Rourke's (and Eric Roberts') best work, and HBO showed Dead Man Walking last night and I still think it's overrated, but with a very good performance from Penn.

More entertaining than the Oscar telecast itself is the usual commentary from the kulturkampfers, picking through the mess for peanuts and corn, crowing that at least they didn't step in it. (Although the visual of Harry Smith weeping is pretty funny. Fuckin' grow a pair, boyo. You're allowed to cry at the end of Old Yeller, and maybe The Man Who Would Be King.)

Good times. I'm surprised they didn't just watch Forrest Gump and CSI:NY reruns and be done with it. I mean, I like Gary Sinise and what work I've seen from him here and there, without really knowing or caring about his politics or whether I can have a beer with him or not. He does yeoman's work in one of too many indistinguishable procedural shows, good on him. But these wistful Sinise/Jindal mancrushes of theirs make Harry Smith look like Robert Mitchum.

If they're really serious about "changing the culture", they need to grow up and realize that it's never gonna happen in LA or NY, two towns that are unabashedly dedicated to instant gratification. They've got job security, however low-paying, as moralizing scolds; the people they are lecturing neither know nor care about their wretched existence.

But if their shining vision is to remake endless variations on The Ten Commandments or some such, why not just set up shop in Branson and get on with it? Run it up the flagpole and see who salutes. I have a feeling they know better, but in over-emphasizing the decadence of Big Bad Hollyweird and its mezzofanuc denizens, they neglect the set of debauched subcultures it caters to. This is the only area of commerce where these people think it's a bad thing to give people what they want, and plenty of it.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Land Wars In Asia

Here is the operational philosophy of the people who run the country, regardless of party, as it pertains to either "defending" or "furthering" "our interests". Of course 9/11 crystallized these precepts for the current decade, but they have always been there. It's just that this time around they've cost us dearly, and will continue to do so. It comes from thought patterns such as follows:

  • 2002 - We succeeded in routing the Taleban in Afghanistan after 9/11, therefore we should take the opportunity to ride into Baghdad and oust a noisome regime, for which the brutally oppressed populace will thank us and return to their suppressed democratic instincts. We must do it right away because our debauched intel shows that Saddam might have a couple remote-control planes that could technically buzz Tel Aviv or something.

  • 2004 - The Iraqis love our democracy-whiskey-sexy, they just don't know it yet. Inside every Iraqi is an American waiting to get out. Don't take their word for it, though.

  • 2006 - A sea of purple fingers and the hasty lynching of Saddam ensure that democracy is hustling in forthwith. Expect a Starbucks on every corner by July '07.

  • 2008 - The surge is working. The surge is working. You can tell by the way Iraqis have resumed normal lives and violence has ceased. The surge is working, dammit. We win.

  • 2009 - Now that we've won in Iraq, we can take the surge principles we learned -- which worked, mind you, and spectacularly at that -- and apply them directly to Afghanistan. Even though they are completely different places, with different people, customs, languages, and most importantly terrain and infrastructure, and even though, as you no doubt remember, we ousted the Taleban seven years ago, this can't possibly not work gloriously. Even though we really can't afford excursions like these anymore.

With deluded thinking like that perpetuating ad infinitum, even with the smart set acceding to the reins of power, the Afghan bailout has roughly the same chance of success as the American one. I suppose it depends on how one defines "success"; clearly, that word no longer means what I thought it meant.

Deep Thought

What if our awesome market economy had as much to do with actually producing tangible objects and selling them, as it does with wagering on those activities?

Chicken Politickin'

Awww, hells yeah, this oughta be the comedy sensation of the year, yo. Nothing says entertainment more than watching Colonel Sanders try to fool the chickens by pretending he's one of them. Expect MC Palin and her daughter's baby-daddy to show up at the local ribs joint with matching grills and bling, talkin' 'bout them wickety-wack Dummycrats.

All politics is minstrelsy to some extent, but rarely is it this overt.

Deep Thought

Isn't Ann Coulter's remaining demographic either too broke to pony up thirty bucks for the same book she "wrote" two and four and six years ago, or too dumb to read in the first place? Maybe she'll come to their foreclosed lean-tos and read it to them.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

I Got Your Stimulus Package Right Here

So after much haranguing and hand-wringing, we finally have our must-have stimulus package. Whither the good vibrations, the necessary validation from the Wall Street thieves? Since all that's left is whales, hustlers, and short-sellers, the market continues to take on water. Especially since everyone involved knows that it's just a cash-grab dressed up as actual help, like getting a post-Katrina reconstruction contract.

Obama's remarks on the mortgage crisis the other day probably mollified the restive crowd somewhat, but there is still a disconnect here that neither he nor his Clintonista finance buddies seem to get. Or maybe they get it perfectly well, but are still missing the long- (or even short-) term ramifications of the worsening crisis.

The plan I'm announcing focuses on rescuing families who've played by the rules and acted responsibly, by refinancing loans for millions of families in traditional mortgages who are underwater or close to it, by modifying loans for families stuck in sub-prime mortgages they can't afford as a result of skyrocketing interest rates or personal misfortune, and by taking broader steps to keep mortgage rates low so that families can secure loans with affordable monthly payments.

At the same time, this plan must be viewed in a larger context. A lost home often begins with a lost job. Many businesses have laid off workers for a lack of revenue and available capital. Credit has become scarce as markets have been overwhelmed by the collapse of security backed -- securities backed by failing mortgages. In the end, the home mortgage crisis, the financial crisis, and this broader economic crisis are all interconnected, and we can't successfully address any one of them without addressing them all.

The economic crisis begins with debt, of course, both actual debt incurred by actual people who had actual jobs, and the phantom debt created by spreadsheet monkeys armed with nothing but the secure knowledge that they'd recoup the cost of their fuck-ups on the backs of the now-jobless taxpayers. So sure, creating jobs is a major part of it, but the kinds of jobs created, and some commitment to correcting the banana-republic levels of income disparity are also critical. Repairing the highway system is a nice thought, but only helps those who can still afford to drive, whose happy new jobs aren't simply being shoveled into paying down their underwater mortgages.

The real root of the crisis began with overvaluation, and overbuilding, and bundling those doomed-to-fail figures into bad bets. Simply propping up that system and pretending to close a few of the worst loopholes, perp-walking a handful of the worst offenders, won't do shit. Did California get any of the money back that Kenny Boy Lay fleeced us out of at the dawn of this benighted decade/century/millennium? Fuck no. It's small consolation to suppose that Jeff Skilling might have to look over his shoulder in the prison shower, but it's more likely that he's playing tennis with a bunch of other disgraced suits, waiting for his next conjugal visit, planning his rehabilitative speaking tour. Ten bucks says Bernie Madoff flips on a half-dozen smaller fish, and doesn't do a day's hard time.

Anyway. So it's not quite enough to make happy promises about new jobs for anyone who wants one, we have to talk about what that income will be and where it's expected to go, and whether people will be willing to indenture themselves to overvalued McHouses that they'll never recoup. Housing value losses are almost certainly not coming back; this is a correction, not a trough in a returning cycle. We'll be lucky if values finally restabilize halfway between where they are now and where they were at the peak, and even then, it would likely be temporary, because all the old temptations are still there.

And while I'm not ready to write the guy off after a single month, Obama had two months to prepare for jumping into this mess, and so far seems either unwilling or unable to confront the core issues, which means a perpetuation of the disease. Letting the assholes who created the problem in the first place have another crack at it is not a solution, not even a viable plan. So far it's been an unmitigated fiasco.

And that's if all these super-cool money-burning plans work, and for whom, and how the interdependent communities and entities people rely on weather these things. For many people, it's not going to work -- it'll be too late, or not enough, or they're just in an area that's dead or dying and have no way to leave. In those instances, the prospects appear to be dire, to say the least. Having a choice between economic stasis and a full-on worldwide depression is going to leave a lot of people out, many with interesting skills that would be useful in an economy of systemic disempowerment and stagnation.

If we read these stories merely as accounts of the spread of a technology, IEDs, we read them too narrowly. American and other foreign troops in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan are learning more than how to make IEDs and how effective they can be. They are learning by direct observation how a place works when the state disappears.

To the large majority of American and European soldiers, this is a lesson in horror. They return home thankful they live in a place where the state endures. The last thing they want is to see their native country turn into another Iraq or Afghanistan.

But a minority will learn a different lesson. They will see statelessness as a field of opportunity where people who are clever and ruthless can rise fast and far. They look upon themselves as that kind of people. They will also have learned it is possible to fight the state, and how to do so. The effectiveness of IEDs is part of that lesson; so are the power and rewards that come to members of militias and gangs. In their own minds, and perhaps in reality, they will have found a new world in which they can hope to thrive.

If there's going to be another "tea party", it'll be to drag under-the-desk corporate pole-smokers like this clown to the guillotine erected in Times Square. I do not think the Masters of the Universe have thought this one through sufficiently, unless they all think they're going to milk the government for their own walking away money and buy their own island (other than Manhattan). Given how they've done their jobs, that must be exactly what they're thinking.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Lifeboat Ethicist

We're all beyond sick of hearing about Nadya Suleman and her "miracle" brood, but The Oil Drum has its own proprietary take on the issue, naturally revolving around resource constraints.

As atrocious as an unemployed 33 year old with 14 children on welfare appears, this could be a watershed moment in a nations acknowledgement of resource limits.

I think that's roughly 100% unlikely to happen, and one only has to take a look at the annual pimping of the Duggar clan to figure out why. The outcry surrounding Suleman has not, as far as I've heard, even mentioned estimated eventual resource usage by her and her kids. The problem is that, already saddled with six kids, three of whom were receiving state disability payments, having squandered a six-figure settlement from her last job, and mooching off her parents, Suleman thought it'd be a grand idea to hit the IVF pipe again.

That doesn't mean that resource awareness doesn't deserve a broader level of discussion here, seeing as how the US comprises about 5% of the world's population and consumes 25% of its dwindling resources. It just means that since Suleman is already synonymous in the public mind with "addled welfare queen", shifting gears to a comprehensive resource management policy is not going to happen from that jumping-off point. If anything, it just gives more rhetorical ammunition to those folks who assume that every poor person is a lazy grifter, turning into another "end welfare" argument, a non-starter given the amount of people who had perfectly good jobs this time last year. So it's a wash.

Media and social backlash against this story suggests the general citizenry knows something is wrong with this picture, even without making the explicit leap to resource limitations.

Every American politician instinctively knows, just as he knows to praise Jeebus at every opportunity, never to talk about resource problems in anything but the broadest rhetorical strokes, and always, always bookended with homilies about how unacceptable it would be to have any conditions whatsoever placed upon our entitlements. This has been consistent from Clinton to Bush to Obama. It is not a partisan issue; it is an issue of an economy that is mostly predicated on convincing people to spend money they don't have on shit they don't really want or need. That jig is pretty much up.

If we were adults, we would already have been having this conversation about sustainability initiatives and transitional/resilient communities and such, and there would have been proactive measures taken in those directions. Instead, those areas of study and activity are populated entirely by self-selecting people who have already figured it out for themselves. It's already in progress, and the people lagging behind are just going to have to accept what they already know, perhaps by checking their pocketbooks.

Though the media has not yet extrapolated these childrens future energy footprints, outrage seems ubiquitous that an unemployed woman and her doctor freely planned to create octuplets without regard to the implications for others.

And it's been the media's role to stoke the outrage, not to inform anybody of anything useful. I mean, we are talking about the same media that has spent a good chunk of the last two days replaying 911 tapes concerning a marauding chimp. Are they really the people we're expecting to "extrapolate future energy footprints"?

Don't get me wrong -- I'm in on being pissed at what Suleman has done. She's been unbelievably irresponsible, and seems to regard her own family and the rest of society as crutches to pony up and support whatever her underlying issues are. Supposedly her antics have cost upward of a million bucks by now, plus apparently blowing her settlement on magic beans and egg implantations. It's fucking bullshit.

But by all news accounts, she did not freely plan to have octuplets. No reputable fertility specialist (admittedly, a dubious category at best) would deliberately do something like that, which would seriously endanger the mother and children. The fertility doc, who sounds like the Dr. Nick Riviera of the test-tube baby biz, implanted her with six eggs, two of which then each split into twins. Six is still way too many, especially for someone who already has six kids she can't afford. But it's not "freely planning for octuplets" either. The guy should have his license revoked permanently, and maybe some regulatory legislation is in order for limiting the number of implanted eggs to two, maybe three.

I do think that people who plan on these super-sized families are idiots, and irresponsible, but I also think there are better ways than resorting to coercive personal measures to curtail over-reproduction. There are plenty of non-invasive incentives and disincentives to try first -- changing tax and entitlement benefits after a certain number, encouraging the financial empowerment of women, not leaving the commodification of life up to greedy quacks....there are a lot of possibilities there, merely the lack of political will, the instinctive cringing around religious fanatics who think they're building an ark or outbreeding Mooslims or something. Coupled with the empty ethics of the hardcore medical capitalist, driven merely to push the limits of technology and reap the rewards, you have a problem.

Rather than projecting statistically ludicrous estimates of each of Suleman's children having 14 children of their own, and each of them having 14 children, and every one of them living to 78 years of age, it would be more sensible to look at the numbers that are there, to remember that the problems of inequity and disparity directly contribute to high reproductive levels, and are still more a function of access and distribution than actual scarcity. The reason many of these arguments get ignored, if not outright rejected -- despite their bases in empirical reality -- is that too often the debaters get caught up in these Paul Ehrlich scaremongering hypotheses, when all people need to do is look at the facts.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Food for Thought

Here's an interesting little site. People eat gross shit all around the world, of course, but rarely this much of it, and all at once. There's something uniquely American about meat pizzas topped with mini tacos, potato skins, jalapeño poppers, and mozzarella sticks, or a hot dog wrapped in cheese, then hamburger meat, then bacon. Fun for competitive eatersgluttons of all ages.

Putting the "Fun" In Fundamentalism

Interesting pickle Johann Hari has found himself in, simply for speaking his mind, about things which incidentally happen to be demonstrably true.

It's worth going through the arguments put forward by the rioting fundamentalists, because they will keep recurring in the twenty-first century as secularism is assaulted again and again. They said I had upset "the harmony" of India, and it could only be restored by my arrest. But this is a lop-sided vision of "harmony". It would mean that religious fundamentalists are free to say whatever they want – and the rest of us have to shut up and agree.

The protestors said I deliberately set out to "offend" them, and I am supposed to say that, no, no offence was intended. But the honest truth is more complicated. Offending fundamentalists isn't my goal – but if it is an inevitable side-effect of defending human rights, so be it. If fanatics who believe Muslim women should be imprisoned in their homes and gay people should be killed are insulted by my arguments, I don't resile from it. Nothing worth saying is inoffensive to everyone.

You do not have a right to be ring-fenced from offence. Every day, I am offended – not least by ancient religious texts filled with hate-speech. But I am glad, because I know that the price of taking offence is that I can give it too, if that is where the facts lead me. But again, the protestors propose a lop-sided world. They do not propose to stop voicing their own heinously offensive views about women's rights or homosexuality, but we have to shut up and take it – or we are the ones being "insulting".

The common analogy is that singling out Muslim fanatics as representational of the faith is like making assumptions about Christianity based on what you know about the Ku Klux Klan. This is essentially correct in tone, but not in degree. The KKK does not influence entire countries, nor do they approach nuclear capability.

The problem is even simpler than trying to figure out who gets to decide what is "offensive". It's getting these lunatics to understand what the appropriate response is to being insulted, that not every slight is an excuse to go off the rails. You'd think that it would have lost some its piss even for them by now, seeing as how they outraged by mundane items such as editorial cartoons and opinion columns.

But that's what makes them fanatics -- they don't listen to reason in the first place. It is then the responsibility of rational people -- in this case, the craven act of a supposedly democratic government arresting the editor and publisher of a newspaper for the crime of free speech, but also extending to how the UN Human Rights Commission mollycoddles these freaks -- to not give in to this dangerous bullshit. It's not okay to encase women in portable tents, and bury them to the waist and stone them for the crime of being raped. It's unacceptable to treat half your population like chattel. Nor is it cause for war, but we are under no obligation to pretend that it's merely a matter of cultural differences.

The message that needs to get through to the fundamentalists is that they are every bit as vile as the people they routinely riot against, that the perfidious machinations of the West stand toe-to-toe with their own vicious repression, their insistence on adhering to Mesolithic tribal mores twisted through Quranic misinterpretations.

And if India hopes to continue to be taken seriously as a democratic superpower, it needs to get on the right side of this one.

Rightard America

Not sure if it was Alexandra Pelosi's goal in her most recent HBO doc to give camera time to every flaming dipshit she could find, but it might as well have been. Unlike her Ted Haggard doc that premiered last month, there is no one in Right America with anything resembling a redeeming value.

(Indeed, Haggard is hardly a sympathetic character in his portrayal, especially in the large-living habits of his family. He made decent money pastoring his own megachurch, and they gave him a severance package substantially more than a lot of hard-working people earn in a year -- or several. It's never exactly clear why they're so broke, living in hotels and scrounging for door-to-door insurance gigs. But the needy self-loathing and puling suckuppery he exhibits, his insatiable urge to sublimate his emotional demons and ingratiate himself back with those who kicked him to the curb, those things do elicit the small hope that Haggard can get his head out of his ass at some point.)

Pelosi has made a career of chronicling the travels of her ideological opponents, supposedly revealing other sides to these people we see in the media. All I got from Journeys with George is that the guy with his finger on the button was a presumably grown man who still enjoyed peebee-n-jays and carried a pillow with him everywhere for nappy time, yet there wasn't a book to be found within a hundred yards of him, nor an actual policy or opinion that didn't sound like it had passed through Karl Rove's capacious cloaca first.

And you get even less than that from Right America. The people Pelosi chooses to profile are, to put it very charitably, bugfuck insane, and stupid to boot. Their Pavlovian repetitions of "Hitler" and "socialism" in comparisons to Obama, while never being able to explain how any of those things are remotely comparable, juxtapose neatly with their rallies and conventions where they simply nod in affirmation of each other's stupidity and trade new buzzwords to misapprehend.

One highlight comes about halfway through, outside a convention hall, where some ofay punk poseur is about to enter the hall, wearing a shirt that says "Say No to Socilism[sic]", written in Sharpie with what must have been his foot. First Pelosi informs the tool that "socialism" is misspelled. The moron asks her if she has a pen so he can correct it, as if the missing "a" were the biggest problem here. Pelosi says no, then asks him to define this word he cannot even spell, at which the moron actually tries to pull up a dictionary app on his PDA so's he can look it up. Pressed for, you know, his own understanding of what this word means, the moron spins an incoherent word salad that would do Sarah Palin proud.

It gets worse, as Pelosi talks to NASCAR tailgaters, some weirdo god-botherer convention where one guy insists that he saw "666" on Obama's forehead, and a couple of Mississippi bruthas, one of whom is indignant at Pelosi for talking about Mississippi crackers, since there are plenty of people in New York and California who say "nigger" too. (Hint: the difference is that in NY and CA, most of the people who use that word are black.)

It's an anthropological expedition gone horribly awry, and perhaps that was Pelosi's ultimate point, which wouldn't quite jibe with her usual tack of insouciant, if respectful, disagreement. It's as if she ventured through a series of villages where everyone takes turns being the idiot. You halfway wonder if Pelosi's NASCAR excursion will end with her simmering in a cauldron, surrounded by Larry the Cable Guy lookalikes, chop-sleeved flannel shirts and mesh caps dipping and rising in peculiar cracker rhythm, addled by sacraments of cheap beer and bathtub crank, chanting "Socialism! Nigger! Jeebus!" as if they knew what any of those things actually meant.

I admit that in reading Tony Horwitz' Confederates in the Attic recently, I found some small measure of sympathy for some of these revanchist characters, surrounded by monuments and reminders of their fallen heroes and lost causes, stuck in low-wage hell, nothing to do, nowhere to turn. Ignorance on the hoof.

But Horwitz' journey was well over a decade ago, and with what's happened since then, there's no excuse for this shit, for these people. Whether or not it's Pelosi's intent, you come away from this thing thinking "fuck 'em", consoled only by the fact that their miserable lives will statistically catch up with them sooner than most. Just one person providing a single logical reason to vote for McCain would have changed that impression, but as even high-level lifelong Republicans defected en masse this time around, there weren't any available.

Hopefully Obama appoints Chuck D for Secretary of Commerce next, just to watch these assholes' heads explode.

California Dreamin'

Fella Californians, if you happen to be one of the 20,000 state employees whose jobs are on the chopping block because of the ongoing budget impasse, make sure you remember to thank Abel Maldonado, who is using this opportunity to stick it back to Schwarzenegger.

The plan's prospects all but died Sunday morning when Sen. Abel Maldonado, in an interview with the Mercury News, seemed to rule out voting for the measure while pointedly criticizing Schwarzenegger as well as the Republican Senate leader, Dave Cogdill, of Fresno. A moderate Republican whose district stretches from Silicon Valley to San Luis Obispo County, Maldonado was seen as the last best hope for the final GOP vote needed to get the deficit plan over the two-thirds hump.

"I've always been a person who's been open-minded and tried to bring both sides together," Maldonado said. "But on this one, where they're asking for almost $15 billion in tax increases, it just goes against what I believe in my heart and my values." Maldonado added, "There's nothing they can give me that would make me vote for this budget." The senator went on to question the leadership of Schwarzenegger and Cogdill.

Maldonado and Schwarzenegger have a tense relationship: In 2006, the senator publicly criticized the governor for not backing his unsuccessful campaign for state controller.

"Where was he when I needed him?" Maldonado said of Schwarzenegger on Sunday. As for Cogdill, who helped negotiate the budget plan, Maldonado said: "There's a difference between managing a caucus and leading a caucus."

It's funny. This whole thing is being held up by Schwarzenegger's own party; the Democrats are cooperating with him fully here. The GOP hasn't been much more than a running joke in this state since the days of Pete Wilson anyway, but they appear to have devolved even further as of late, to a running sore.

The budget definitely ain't pretty, and everyone will take a little somethin'-somethin' in the shorts. But it has to get done just to keep normal services, especially critical as the state is getting ready to release thousands of prisoners early. Insert a tax rollback contingent on return of revenues when property values start recouping, something along that line. To practically confess to stalling the process over a grudge, well, you just ended your own political career there, bub.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Double Feature

Valentine's Day had two rather counterintuitive movie choices, one new and one recent. Didn't plan it that way, just happened so.

The cineplex entry was Coraline, in 3-D, and it's an amazing technological feat that it even got made. The 3-D is used tastefully and judiciously, moving the story forward and adding to its wonderment. The last third of the movie might be a bit scary for kids under ten, but not too bad. Unlike your usual animated film, there's no real moral to the story -- not much of a conventional storyline, for that matter, more of a set of intricately designed and connected set pieces around a loose narrative. But there's plenty for kids and adults to ooh and aah over. Great stuff.

The Netflix choice was Oliver Stone's W., and was somewhat more problematic, yet basically what I expected. For the most part, Stone leaves his, erm, creative historical tendencies out of it. Most of the noticeable factual off-notes revolve around the placement of the more famous Bushisms, and some of the more notable events are compacted into scenes, presumably to conserve length.

Perhaps the most grating problem with the film is that Stone chose to portray Fredo in a predictably Oedipal context, which is understandable, yet incomplete. Certainly he has exhibited such traits in many of his actions and deeds throughout his life and political career (not to mention the various Poppy-driven "bidness" ventures), yet there has always been a darker side to Bush's temperament that the usual daddy issues do not sufficiently describe.

Bush was always a beta dog determined to act like an alpha, belittling contemporaries and subordinates with amusing (to him) nicknames, proclaiming his Decider role with a possessiveness that bespeaks insecurity, whenever he perceived anyone to be stepping on his toes. He surrounds himself with cynics and fawning acolytes, and here Rove is adeptly shown as a puling little sack of shit nursing his lifelong mancrush, while Condi is a nattering yes-woman with her own emotional stake in it.

Even Bush's nauseating habit of yammering at people with a load of food in his gob, something that should have been slapped out of his fool head by one or both of his WASP asshole parents by the time he was six, has the familiar whiff of one-upmanship that always characterized his personality. It's an important trait to note, this streak of his, because since he has no natural talents aside from an unusual memory for baseball statistics, it takes the place of what would be a competitive streak in a person who has an actual skill.

Of course this Oedipus-schmedipus complex culminates in poor ol' Poppy's eternal grief, tragically remaining loyal to his bumptious, misguided progeny whilst maintaining the quiet dignity of having his own legacy roundly undone by impetuous ignorance. That rang least true for me, in accordance with my personal stance on that particular issue. I hope he is haunted by it to his final moments, but cannot find sympathy even for his cinematic portrayal.

In the end, W. is a skillfully woven pastiche of scenes geared to that Oedipal vision, leaving out a whole lotta stuff, most notably Katrina. Until the hurricane hit and Bush's manifest incompetence was forever exposed, even the bungling up to that point in Iraq had been forgiven by many to some extent. But Katrina knocked him down to the thirties in job approval, and Bush spent the final three years mostly at or well below that dismal mark, trudging in his little bubble from scandal to scandal, not even pretending to give a fuck in his final year, as the economy unraveled and the rest of the world began to quietly plan how best to chip us away on the ice floe before we start noticing.

W. might have had more impact and heft if it had come out late this year or even next year, when people have more time and perspective to reflect on the reign of error that just came to a close. It would have stretched it another hour to incorporate Katrina, the economy, and the undermining of the Constitution with the unitary executive doctrine, but it would have been a more complete picture. And Bush's ascension and failure is, after all, the failure of the media to be on the ball, and the electorate to pay attention. Like Vietnam, we won't be over it until we own it and move past it.

Ultimately what's lacking in Stone's treatment is a worthy subject. Movies about historical figures are supposed to cast their topics as larger than life, and more than ever, George W. Bush comes out as he always was -- much smaller than life, five pounds of shit in a ten-pound bag, a man who would have been nothing without his last name, yet spent most of his life running from it.

Still, the movie abounds with strong performances, especially Josh Brolin, so I can't entirely dismiss it. You can certainly see the effort, I just don't know if there is a good movie to be made about a clown who floats through life, fails upward into power, and lawn-darts his country. The mini-doc in the DVD special features on the Bush dynasty comes closer on that count.

Snark Bites

A few weeks ago media critic David Denby released a wafer-thin jeremiad upon an unsuspecting world, decrying its nasty mores and louche conversational standards. The problems of Denby's perceptions are multiple, as they tend to be in these cases, but can be safely pared down to major bungled premises, which can each be further deconstructed:
  1. This tone of incivility that the kids have adopted is undermining our precious national conversation.

  2. The operational aesthetic of snark is too flighty and disingenuous to be taken as a reliable barometer of taste.

  3. Everybody was happier when we weren't so egregiously meeeeeaaan to one another.

As you might imagine, my answer to each of those is a resounding "bullshit". I can see why professional writers might be aghast at this tectonic democratization of the gathering and dispensation of information -- and worse yet, opinion. But it's ridiculous for any of them to be shocked at the prospect. People have always been to one another, frequently just for the sheer fun of it. There's more of it because more people are empowered to take part in it.

And it's just a waste of time anymore to try to synthesize a coherent aggregate of "taste" in this country, as far as art goes. There's no art anymore, for better or worse. There's stuff you like, and stuff you don't like. And you may freely bounce the providers of those commodities back and forth as needed; if a band you used to like "sells out" on you with their latest release, then you smack 'em around a bit, you feel better about them letting you down perhaps.

Either way, it's rarely as personal as Denby imagines in his overwrought subtitle. And again, niche marketing has so thoroughly portioned pop culture into vaguely overlapping slivers, there's no way to pin down a unifying cultural ground, making it useless to postulate cultural theories. If Americans have any common cultural traits aside from instant gratification and sensory overstimulation, I am blissfully unaware of them.

In fact, internets snark has spawned quite a cultural aesthetic all its own, which Denby might be able to stand back and admire to a certain extent (even if he can't agree with specific premises), if he weren't telling these kids to get off his virtual lawn. From lolcats to the use of leet-jargon to satirize the hand-wringing epistles that litter the internets, there are innovations in snark that have been useful in highlighting and marginalizing people who have proven themselves unskilled at concepts of tone or content or intellectually honest argument. Nowhere has this been used to greater effect than the sphere of political commentary.

And that lies at the heart of point number one, which appears to be Denby's central, and tragically flawed, thesis. Denby, like every other stuffed shirt given a perch of commentary privilege, fails to broaden his scope of "civility". To the established bastions of cultural and political acuity, "incivility" is a transgression of the highest order, and it consists of using nasty words and making personal comments about one's opponents. This is true even if those rhetorical devices are put to the service of describing or declaiming said opponents' actions and words, which our cultural arbiters never quite get around to worrying about.

Thus, the idea of (for instance) waterboarding and force-feeding and mock-executing and otherwise terrorizing people who have never been charged with a crime, yet have been whisked around the world to this or that secret prison, those things are never discussed in terms how "civil" they are. In fact, in this "conversation" that is whimsically imagined, the legality of those things is hardly discussed, certainly not in "polite" "conversation".

This raises a tricky question that Denby, like most of snark’s critics, never addresses: Where exactly did all this snark come from? Did we simply transform overnight into a nation of venal assholes? I’d argue that slackers adopted irony not as a pose of hipster cynicism but as a defense against inheriting a two-faced world. When no one—from politicians to pundits—says what he actually means, irony becomes a logical self-inoculation. Similarly, snark, irony’s brat, flourishes in an age of doublespeak and idiocy that’s too rarely called out elsewhere. Snark is not a honk of blasé detachment; it’s a clarion call of frustrated outrage.

Indeed. It's a weapon of disempowerment, of effective disenfranchisement. Really, it's the only weapon the common man has at his disposal anymore, lest his e-mail be data-mined and profiled for trip-wire words and phrases, lest his vote actually mean something. This "conversation" Denby imagines is a hoot -- it consists of overpaid talking heads and teevee-friendly "consultants" pretending to lob something back and forth on this or that defense-contractor-owned Sunday chat show, something which is supposed to be useful information but is usually neither of those things. Then apparently we all retreat to our local donut shops and cracker barrels and debate the finer points with our peers or something. In a civil tone, of course.

It's the intellectually-stunted pretense that because there are two corporate-owned and -operated political parties, that there are only two sides to any issue, and that both are equally valid, just different, and we should all convene in stand-up orgy of bipartisan comity. It fails to account for the possibility that one side might be unreasonable as a deliberate tactic, appealing primarily to spiteful goons and cultural revanchists, and that the other side is simply a clowder of dickless wonders, always trying to appease their bitterest enemies, no matter the popular mandate, no matter the electoral advantage.

I suppose that's bound to happen if you're immersed long enough in the cocktail-party aesthetic that defines "serious" and "civil" discourse. There is probably a mathematically definable equation, that the degree of snark is roughly proportional to how much one's life is directly affected by the malfeasance of those in charge. It's easier and more professionally aware to maintain the veneer of staid detachment when you know you'll bump into some of these cocksuckers at the next event.

The idea that referring to idiots and clowns and buffoons and liars in such terms is undermining some sacred common conversation is ludicrous even at first glance, and only gets more so once one attains even a passing familiarity both with the established "formal" culture everyone pretends to revere but not-so-secretly loathes, and the "underground" culture which is really what reg'lar people are talking about. What undermines the conversation is lies, and cynicism, and greed, incompetence, institutional calcification. Coincidentally, it's also most of what fuels the vitriolic nature of the criticism.

Anybody can pick on Maureen Dowd; it takes balls to step up and say that the people who run the country -- not the people who talk and write about them in uncharitable terms -- are the goddamned problem.

Down Time

I never plan on taking these little breaks, they seem to come and go very quickly. Anyway, this past week was taken up with preparing a ten-minute Power Point for a job interview, which took place on Thursday. Both the presentation and the interview went extremely well, I thought, and the job is a really good one, so hopefully this coming week brings some good news on that front. But I was surprised with how those things tended to suck the oxygen out of the rest of my week, leaving with very little energy or motivation to do much besides read.

As usual, I have a few things parked in draft mode, and it's funky and rainy here (finally we get some rain), so we'll see what the remainder of the weekend (though really, it's been all weekend for me for almost two months now) has in store.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Salary Crap

I have to give Obama some props for this salary cap condition for the bailout babies, though no doubt they'll find plenty of loopholes to slither through. The dumbest argument against this common-sense proposal is that the "talent" -- you know, the fucking bozos who lost the money in the first place -- would go elsewhere.

Right, because companies who have managed to avoid this monumental clusterfuck, through prudence and competence, that's exactly what they're looking for, some asshole who loses other people's money and expects eight figures for it. Nothing burnishes a résumé better than a bullet point relating how your inability to comprehend anything outside a risk-management spreadsheet put your brokerage house in the TARP soup line with the rest of the douchebags.

If the biggest argument against a bailout salary cap is that the John Thains of the industry might go John Galt on us, then it can't happen soon enough. A few more million jobs and homes lost and they may have to head for the hills anyway.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Change You Can Believe In

Everyone keeps talking about how Daschle's withdrawal is an embarrassment for Obama. Conspicuously absent from the discussion is how embarrassing his nomination should have been in the first place. Selecting a health-care lobbyist to reform the system, come on. It's the sort of cynical jockeying folks somehow thought they'd gotten blessedly rid of.

Of course, a President McCain would have gone the extra yard and picked someone like Bill Frist, or the CEO of an HMO or insurance company. No illusions there. Still, having a hack like Daschle for your first pick is like selecting a fox for henhouse reform.

Health care is yet another issue of resource constraints -- energy, economy, etc. -- that can be reasonably reframed as a national security issue. It's a commodity which is in many respects artificially, deliberately constrained for pure profit, to the direct detriment of a substantial portion of the population. Wellness initiatives are part of the problem, and sedentary lifestyles don't help, but how much in terms of raw productivity is lost just for lack of access, because people would literally have to go into hock to get the care they need?

If Obama is smart, and serious about this issue, he will start by recognizing that contrary to popular notion, the system is not broken -- it's fixed. It performs exactly the way it is intended, by the people who run it. If Nadya Suleman or one of her first six offspring had, say, broken a leg, she'd have been in deep shit without insurance. Her father would have had to put his house up for collateral to ensure payment for treatment rendered.

Instead, some asshole in a field that has fuck-all to do with actual health -- a field that should only exist on the margins, but has proven to be too profitable for that -- loads a mentally-unbalanced person up with IVF eggs, and fifty-two people are mobilized to see through the delivery. All of this, even if she does have insurance that is paying for all this nonsense, is being offset on the backs of people who cannot afford even simple treatments, forget turning a human into a brood mare. This is an industry in thrall to the fat profits of boner pills and fertility treatments and catastrophic care for comatose centenarians.

It's yet another example of how and why the health-care system in this country is an abject failure, and this is where, if Obama wishes to be taken seriously on his soaring rhetoric, he must begin. Daschle's withdrawal is less of an embarrassment than an opportunity. A careerist princeling like that was never going to reform anything from the inside out.

Big Bong Theory

What this guy said. If anyone's earned the right to burn one once in a while, it's Michael Phelps. I trust that none of the goofballs criticizing him for his recreational activities have ever tried Teh Pot (or any other illicit drug), driven after too many cocktails, gotten drunk and stupid at a public event, done anything that would not be a good example for The Children.

As for using Phelps as a motivational speaker, we're talking about an industry that deploys humps like Giuliani and Trump as paragons of human endeavor. They should be so lucky as to tap in to whatever compels Phelps to train eight hours a day, while he must eat a 10,000-calorie per day diet just to maintain his weight.

Of all the things this country really needs to grow up about -- sex, religion, money, food, intellectualism -- drugs is at or near the top, a profoundly hypocritical and moralizing posture that needlessly harms far more people than it can ever save from themselves.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Clogs of War

This is not a plunger. This is a future Republican senatorial candidate.

When the stanky chunks of your philosophy keep backing up the skunkworks, much like the bidness model of your online revolution, it makes sense to roll out your trusty mascot to explain your brilliant ideas.

Wurzelbacher, who became a household name during the presidential election, will be focusing his talk on the proposed stimulus package.

Awesome. I'm sure he's skimming Wealth of Nations right this very second. Hopefully at least one of the morons in the audience is enterprising enough to put the hilarity up on Teh YouTube. After which Sam the Plunger will charge them a grand or so, and everything will still be leaking shit.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Top Ten Arizona Cardinals Excuses

10. Eight-minute "human beat box" rendition of God Bless America lulled them into stupor.

9. Defensive coordinator scheduled meeting on covering Santonio Holmes for next Monday.

8. Everyone but Leinart disillusioned by Michael Phelps' bong photo.

7. Edgerrin James' incessant whistling of 10th Avenue Freeze Out in the huddle after halftime show disrupted second-half offense.

6. Troy Polamalu's habit of praying and crossing himself every fifteen seconds actually got the Big Guy's attention.

5. Thought appeal to feds for fourth-quarter bailout would go through without earmarks or personal-foul penalties.

4. Crazy octuplet woman had players cracking Travis Henry jokes.

3. Kurt Warner's manic giggling every time the announcer said "Breaston".

2. Larry Fitzgerald doesn't play defensive back. Then again, neither do Arizona's DBs.

1. Setting stage for triumphant return to big game in 2069.

Sunday, February 01, 2009


In his effort to hang the 400 pounds of gristle and adipose tissue that is Rush Limbaugh around the thin reed that is the Republican Party's neck, Carville attempts to impart a "history lesson". Take heed, future agitproppers:

Why surely it seems like just yesterday that Al Gore won the national popular vote in 2000 (and arguably won the popular vote in Florida too).

Limbaugh must have called for the incoming Bush administration to allocate ideas based on the proportion of election returns. I'm sure President Bush and the Republicans in Congress graciously accepted their 49.5 percent share of everything. (Note: We would be much better off right now had this actually happened.)

With 50 percent of the federal government during President Bush's term, Democrats might have reduced the deficit (a truly Clintonista idea). Wall Street might have been more heavily regulated and K Street's lobbyists might not have been running the Capitol. Democrats might have invested money into infrastructure improvements so that bridges didn't collapse or entire cities flood.

We wouldn't have spent $350 million per day in Iraq. Heck, had Democrats been able to control 50 percent of the government from 2000 to 2004, we wouldn't have even gone into Iraq in the first place. There might have been more spending on education and a fully funded No Child Left Behind Act.

Carville is absolutely correct, of course, that Limbaugh is a hypocrite's hypocrite for suddenly wishing, even vicariously, for electorally proportionate allocations, especially after two full terms of Li'l Lord 27% acting like his narrow victory over John Kerry was some sort of cloture-proof supermajority generally arrogated by third-world dictators. Limbaugh is full of shit. Count me in as being shocked.

However. One can trace much of the finance industry's ethical and mathematical collapse, its insistence on slamming the quick-fix needle of derivative scams into its beaten veins over and over again, knowing that we'd pay for the rehab, to the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, which repealed most of the meaningful protections of the Glass-Steagall Act, and which passed the Senate 90-8, at a time when the Republicans had fifty-three seats in that august body.

The idea that if only the Democrats had had even a simple majority with which to counter the inept machinations of the Cheney regime is undone even by the most recent Dem-majority edition, which consistently found itself unable to stand up to the likes of Joe Lieberman, much less actual Republicans.

A lot of Carville's "might have" list may indeed have come to pass at some point, had the Democrats not been so accustomed to punting on first down. I'd have more respect for Carville if he just laid it on the line and asked aloud why exactly Republican legislators feel the urge to genuflect to a serially divorced drug abuser, and probable sex tourist, who in addition to all the moral lapses in his personal life is a pathological liar. Instead we get the usual laundry list of bien pensant whimsies about What Might Have Been, as if even a cloture- and veto-proof majority would have kept them from indulging in their usual "bipartisan" palaver.

Look, Jimbo, you won and won big. Grow a pair and tell Limbaugh and the rest of these closet-case ankle-biters to fuck off and die already, and tell the minority party what you plan to do, and if they don't want in, just make sure everyone knows the difference. Even if you're serious about "changing the tone", you still have to continue marginalizing the assholes.

Change is Afoot

And adoor is ajar. Some long overdue format changes will be taking place here, most of them over the next week or so. I'm generally disinclined to complain about free services, but I've been wanting to revise my blogroll for some time, clean out some linkrot, add and regroup some links, etc., and have been unable to do so. So I'm in the process of doing it manually, and some of the categories and even alphabetization may be annoying or unusual for some time. The sidebar will be in flux for the near future.

Greatest Hits will be completely overhauled next, and some new template designs will probably be checked out as well. I'll try to preview as much of this stuff as possible beforehand, but there may be some abrupt back-and-forth, so be patient, and feel free to launch criticisms or suggestions, constructive or otherwise.

System Reboot

Like most people, I assume, a good chunk of what I've been reading, thinking, and writing about lately involves the economy, and what to do about it. Obviously it's just about impossible to be optimistic about any aspect of it all, but holy crap. And here I thought Kunstler was a pessimist.

The amount of debt that is currently held in public and private hands (corporate and consumers) is estimated to be 350% of GDP....Historically, it appears that sustainable debt levels are approximately 150% of GDP (there has been lots written that Greenspan's "Great Moderation" fundamentally changed that ratio, although I think those arguments are now deprecated)....A good assumption is that $20 + trillion in excess US debt (200% of GDP), mostly in private hands, must be wrung out of the system before it stabilizes.

Robb has been on a serious roll lately in general, carefully (and in a non-partisan, largely apolitical style) describing the various security issues confronting an increasingly interdependent world. From the dangerously hollowed-out state entities in Mexico and Pakistan, to the major SCO powers getting snakebit (China by the drop in US consumption; Russia by the drop in oil prices) by our economic situation, there are a lot of serious issues building -- indeed, already in progress -- that don't make the nightly news.

Each of those factors and situations tends to highlight the fact that "security" is more comprehensive than it has been conventionally defined. It's more than preventing another 9/11, and more than the severe moral transgressions committed in that effort. Other factors which were dismissed as soft or secondary -- energy, finance, infrastructure, institutional integrity -- these are all critical to the daily security we take for granted.

Significant parts of Mexico, for example, have become veritable free-fire zones run by drug cartels, frequently using highly trained former military and paramilitary personnel as muscle. The government does not have the means to successfully combat or even contain them; indeed, probably only a demand-side economic shift -- like what's happening -- would really put a dent in them. Even then, there's so much built-in profit that a price-point adjustment would be easily done. So, high levels of economic stratification and income disparity, an increasingly desperate civilian population caught in the middle with nowhere to turn, and a bankrupt state that cannot even keep its personnel from jumping over to where the money is.

Now go across the border to California, where we are in the process of racking up a $40bn budget deficit. Property values have plummeted, and with it revenues. So the state is having to pay its employees with IOUs, and is proposing to release criminals early and cut police levels. In a state where the nominal unemployment rate is pushing 10%, and the population is estimated at nearly 37 million, that's a security issue, albeit one that doesn't involve planes and skyscrapers. And the only thing being offered that might help alleviate the situation is if Obama dedicates a fat chunk of his public works proposal to California.

But that's a temporary gain, with limited benefits. Creating jobs by repairing an infrastructure, much of which is not sustainable long-term, ultimately in order to service the massive, arcane debt of the shadow finance system. It's a nice carrot to dangle to a state that has been getting financially hosed ever since Kenny Boy Lay slithered out of his hole, shook down the state and fucked up our political system for a few years. But it perpetuates a system that is operating past its shelf life as is, and anything that is not used for innovation will in some respect be simply going to re-inflate the bubble to sustain a broken and corrupt financial system.

What Robb and others have been proposing makes sense, especially in terms of beginning to disempower this gang of thieves and bookies who have burned our house down and demanded that we pay them to slap another one together. It's going to take some time, and it's going to be ugly in some respects, though it really needn't be. Fairly simple concepts: stop rewarding the thieves; innovate systems and processes; decentralize and disaggregate where possible; encourage and build localized systems. There's always been enough to go around, the problem is always with distribution, and who's in charge of it.

Unfortunately Bush and now Obama have already in part rewarded (or at least not sufficiently disincentivized, which is just as bad) them, as expected. (Not to beat on Obama just yet; after all, he's only had a couple weeks, and they've been decent. Still, so far this is an area where the notion of "change" should be regarded with some skepticism.)

The way out of this is not to pump up the bubble again, so the same clowns can give each other eight-figure retention bonuses and find new loopholes to exploit at our expense. Technology has superempowered individuals to an extent that if they have sufficient ideological or practical reasons, they can circumvent official channels, in small but potent organized groups. Obviously it's impossible to expect centralized power to undermine itself by supporting such groups, but what it can do is facilitate local functions and organizations, streamlining its own central functions in the process. The "resilient community" movement seems to be growing, and eventually should serve at least as an option for some people, complementing or even supplementing roles traditionally taken by government entities.