Thursday, May 26, 2011

A Beautiful Mind

One of Saint Sarah's less-than-gruntled former toadies has scrawled a "tell-all", adding to the publishing industry's largest segment, which is books no one in their right mind would read.

Naturally, the attention Frank Bailey has garnered so far, focuses around Sharia Plan's rather Leona Helmsley-like demeanor with people who can't directly help her political career, and her well-documented vindictive streak. But for me this little quote tells you everything you need to know about Palin's utter lack of even marginal intellect:

In his fervor, Bailey at first didn’t care that Palin lacked expertise — she had common sense. As she once e-mailed him, “Remember: amateurs built the ark. Professionals built the Titanic.” But Bailey came to doubt his devotion, particularly after the presidential election defeat when Palin seemed to care little for governing Alaska and far more about cashing in on her celebrity.

[emphasis mine]
Set aside for moment that Frank Bailey is a fucking chucklehead who got taken for a ride, and now is trying to cash in on his time in the belly of the beast. Let's deconstruct Saint Sarah's attempt at profundity, not just for the complete lack of evidence and plausibility in the first part, not just because the Titanic sank not because it was poorly built, but because it hit a fucking iceberg.

Those nine words neatly encapsulate the mentality of Sarah Palin, and her addled flock. The smirking disdain -- delusional in its scope -- completely derides the notion of competence, of becoming better at what you do by learning as much as you can about it.

This was what I always despised about George W. Bush -- he exhibited the smugness of someone who seriously believes that he has long known everything he needs to know, that there is nothing more to learn. Palin is obviously cut from the same ragged cloth, no shock there. And no shock that she prefers the simple affirmations of fairy tales over empirical data.

But at some point, it needs to register with a critical mass of people -- voters and the skeevy corporate media monkeys they rely on for their daily dose of bullshit -- that beyond the breathless infotainment coverage of cock-teasing idiots like Palin or Trump, people who add to their fortunes by dangling months of guessing games to legions of dumbfounded dipshits, someone needs to be an adult.

A big reason America is in a period of epic fail right now, aside from its willingness to let Lloyd Blankfein and Jamie Dimon continue to skull-fuck the country with absolute impunity, is its inability to recognize unserious and marginal people for what they are. A serious, intellectually honest person does not let cartoon characters like Palin and Trump waste their time with this nonsense, and a nation serious about getting its shit together most certainly doesn't let these bozos jerk them off for months on end.

Their ability to stay in the conversation long past their sell-by dates feels to me like the sign of a nation that's given up on itself, has lost the capacity to identify entities that should never have been in the discussion in the first place, and are indeed simply using the process and its concomitant permanent campaign industry to enrich themselves. Maybe it's the natural by-product of a decade of hyper-cultural immersion in the mindless excesses of reality teevee, with it's deliberate vapidity and meanness. Maybe we were always mean and stupid, and are just not bothering to conceal it anymore. I don't know.

What I do know is that we are heading into a period that, for starters, will be characterized by more and more scarce energy supplies, and we are barely making token efforts to do anything about it, apparently assuming that some great Energy Fairy will providentially come along and fix it all. Shit, 'murkins cannot even be bothered to use environmentally friendly packaging for its snacking products, such is the affront to their dignity.

So it makes pathetic sense that a society that has lost its collective mind, preferring the comforts of magickal thinking, would put up with the notion of putting Sarah Palin or Donald Trump in charge of anything. Americans have had their heads lodged up their asses for so long, they have given up trying to extricate themselves.

Enjoy the view. It's only going to get worse.

News You Can Lose

Give us this day our daily cognitive dissonance: MSNBC host calls Laura Ingraham a "slut" and gets his fat ass suspended for a week, because MSNBC (unlike Fox) never stands behind their people when they say something "controversial".

To the extent that there's actually some controversy -- I mean, we are talking about the Laura Ingraham who has made a career out of using snark, insults, and calumny on her ideological opponents. All in the service of the 1% who already own pretty much everything worth owning, and won't be happy until they get the rest and take it all with them. Being their rented spokesperson -- basically the function of the entire damned punditocracy, a self-selecting crowd of poltroons, none of whom you would trust to clean your gutters, but are apparently supposed to trust in analyzing policies and events that affect your life -- seems to fit the basic definition for "slut", minus (praise Jeebus) the sex.

Say what you will about conservatards, but when one of theirs says or does something offensively stupid, they don't apologize, they bloody well double down on it. A lunatic goes on a spree at a supermarket, slaughtering old ladies and little girls and attempting to assassinate a US Representative who had already been on the receiving end of death threats, vandalism, and harassment, and Sarah Palin squeals "blood libel". Ofay teabaggers send each other photos portraying Obama as a monkey or a spearchucker, they don't apologize, they just shrug their shoulders and tell you to go fuck youself if you don't like it. Ted Nugent invites Obama and Hillary to suck on his AR-15 at his concerts, and not only will never apologize for it, but continues to be a Fox regular.

Ed Schulz trash-talking Laura Ingraham does not merit coverage or commentary, but what does is how quickly MSNBC pusses out with such predictability. Nobody at Fox looks over their shoulder at the lies and bluster that emanate from multiple pieholes on a daily, if not hourly, basis.

To the extent that "liberalism" can actually distinguish itself from "conservatism" in any meaningful, operational sense, as opposed to the usual ratchet-pawl two-sides-of-the-same-plug-nickel guff, it must at some point display a real willingness to take and throw punches. I mean, I'm just kind of embarrassed for them when they do shit like this. Fucking grow a pair already.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

....And I Feel Fine

You know, I'm as glad as the next schmuck that the buffoonish radio dickhead predicting world apocamalypse was proven wrong yet again, as thus far they have always been. These jokers are a dime a score, always have been and always will be.

But what rings weird to me is how much press this particular joker got, both in the run-up to the magick date, and now the aftermath, everyone having a big grin that this old cheese-smelling cuss had a very public senior moment.

Don't get me wrong -- we've had our share of the billboards up this neck o' the woods, and the stupid doesn't just burn, it emanates. I guess I'm just glad that though my daughter is young enough to wonder about the provenance of this nonsense, she is at least astute enough to be skeptical about them. Not everyone, I'm wagering, is as lucky, and shame on Harold Camping for scaring the shit out of kids for no damned reason.

The adults, on the other hand, deserve precisely what they get. As we've always acknowledged, it really is morally wrong to allow suckers to keep their money.

But I'm curious as to what to ascribe this wave of coverage to, for a "story" that would in earlier times been relegated to the one-and-done bin of most marginal players. It seems that there is no such thing anymore as a marginal player -- a supreme assclown like Donald Trump can get slavish coverage for two full months to pimp his piece-of-shit teevee show in the guise of political aspiration, and pull out with the assurance that he could win this if he rilly wanted ta, and they just fucking stenograph it, like it ain't no thing. Sarah Palin has choked up the media cloaca for a full two years and counting now. Every network stentorously announced the withdrawal of Serious Player Mitch Daniels, without remembering to mention that he was Dubya's budget director for a few years, and thus had at least a thumb in how things ran for some time. And so forth.

So it goes with Harold Camping, and his happy if woefully misguided campers. The question is not "why is this a story" -- of course a nutjob radio preacher predicting global cataclysm is "a story" -- the question is "how did this story persist for a couple weeks". It's gone on and on like this for quite some time, seemingly more and more so as time goes on. Each news cycle seems more nonsensical, more relentlessly stupid than the last.

With this "story", one could play devil's advocate for a second, if one were so inclined. Consider not only the scope, scale, and frequency of natural disasters just his year so far, but the intractability of man-made catastrophes the world over. The destruction of the American economy and way of life continues apace, with no foreseeable respite. Your elected officials have been bought and paid for by the very people they need to prosecute, and who continue to drive the entire economy -- and thus, your way of life and that of your neighbors -- into the dirt. And the rest of the world, so much of it post-colonial, has suffered far worse for far longer, much of it at our hands.

Maybe the people who die in these natural disasters, or who take themselves and their families out as a response to creatively engineered desitution from afar, are actually being raptured. I hold it as no serious philosophical construct, nor do I want to disrespect the memories of those unfortunate souls. But if one believes in such outlandish ideas, one just never knows for sure.


So I finished my final MBA class this past Saturday. I still have to complete the directed internship, but the project is already mostly done, I just have to compile some survey results and make the pitch.

It's been an interesting two years, to say the least. I went in with two and only two goals for attaining the degree:
  1. Open more professional doors. As I will turn 44 in a few days, it occurs to me that my career path needs to be more, shall we say, solidified, lest I meet the standard American working class dog's fate of working till the day I drop, leaving the cubicle farm feet first, a life by definition less than fulfilled. In other words, time to shit or get off the pot, professionally speaking. Until I start pulling down at least high-five/low-six figures, jury's still out on that one.
  2. Gain more knowledge, of how and why things work, of specialized areas, of where to refer when in need. Really, to put it in somewhat Rumsfeldian terms, to learn more about the unknown unknowns, the things about which I didn't even know I didn't know. This goal was attained much more closely than the first one, because of the trade secret of the MBA -- you don't have to memorize everything from every class you take, every factoid that's pumped into your head, you just have to recall where to look it up for reference.

Of course, there were other valuable lessons, most of which I already knew but were reinforced with various degrees of vigor. The textbook industry is a goddamned racket, from author to printer; your instructors, while chock-full of the bien pensant sentiments one would expect sinecured academics to be flush with, are still susceptible to the same strains of peer pressure and business expectations as any of us in the real world are; you are handed rote ethical nostrums to dutifully recite, as if they were the bidnessman's Hippocratic Oath, without the rich context the ongoing shenanigans in the financial sector so abundantly provide; you need to memorize and regurgitate, and speak extemporaneously on the matter -- whatever it may be, balanced scorecards, Porter's five forces, why EVA is infinitely more important and useful than EBITDA -- as if your very life depends on it.

Most of all, what is reinforced is a rather unique arrangement, where you are both student and consumer, a role somehow both inherently subordinate yet festooned with Important Surveys on how well you enjoyed your extraordinarily high-priced product. It is a very strange business model, perhaps unique -- just as the insurance industry is the only major business model that is predicated on the company not providing the service for which it has already been paid, so the post-secondary edumacation system is the only model that caters to you even as it pushes you around.

It's been an enoyable experience, the way I assume a triathlon is for its participants -- it's an accomplishment just to complete it, really. But from the start, despite my goals and high-handed sentiments about the process and quest for knowledge and value -- something I still believe, for myself at least -- I have always thought about the subtext of the first goal enumerated above.

This is perhaps the biggest racket of all in the university system, this idea that a piece of paper is so incredibly valuable that it trumps all else, and thus is worth paying a couple years' wages (if it gets you the job it's supposed to, a tenuous proposition at best these days) for. And the truth is, it is and it isn't -- there is value attached to that piece of paper, so long as its holder realizes that there are people with nothing more than high school diplomas doing the same job just as well.

And really, now that I know where to look, and what to read, and with all the free resources on Teh Intartubez, I can tell you right now that the knowledge is available for free, or for less than $200 worth of books anyway, so you really are paying the big bucks for the credential.

I knew this from day one, to have it confirmed is alternately frustrating (because I still have to pay for the privilege) and comforting (because even with my worst assumptions about people and things, I love being proven right, which I always am).

All that said, it's been a fun ride. I love the library, I love the campus and the energy of it. I can see why some people never want to leave. But in the end, I do think that once the health-care battle has been more adequately addressed, it may occur to folks that granting more accessibility to higher education will lead to better macro outcomes in a rapidly crumbling society. You can't keep gouging kids at every turn, and expect them to just want to keep "getting ahead", especially when more and more that just means for them a decade or so of student loan repayments.

Your Awful Media, Part 15,864,573

Few things in this blessed life are more puling and obnoxious than the clubby back-patting of skeevy assholes:

This time, there was no "gotcha" moment, no kill-the-messenger pushback. Asked for comment about a child born out of wedlock, Arnold Schwarzenegger's camp simply gave up the goods.

It was quick, clean, surgical.

Schwarzenegger wasn't given a way out, the reporter who broke the story tells Howard Kurtz on Sunday's "Reliable Sources" on CNN. There was nothing to confirm or deny.

"It was true," says Los Angeles Times political reporter Mark Barabak. "They knew it was true, we knew it was true; they knew that we knew it was true. So it was pretty straightforward at that point."

Barabak does not say precisely how the paper got the story. He credits old-fashioned "shoe leather" for chasing the lead down.

Hmmm, yes, good ol' intrepid mediabots, with their shoe leather and Slap Maxwell hats and moxie and gumption and what-not. Praise be the shade of Edward Fucking Murrow, eh? I mean, the kid's only fourteen years old, ferchrissake. I guess they deserve some credit for getting to the bottom of this pressing mystery before the kid grew up, left home, started a family of his own. Nicely done, way to be on that proverbial ball.

I wonder what it would be like if more members of this particular "profession" devoted this degree of time and effort to, say, getting to the bottom of how Wall Street continues to rob this nation blind and stupid. Nah, it's much easier to sniff up Arnold Schwarzenegger's ass, harass the homely cow he porked and knocked up, as well as her hapless family. Let Matt Taibbi do all the Wall Street stuff himself. Jesus Tapdancing Christ.

Usually I would just have the smug "we get the media we deserve" riposte to this sort of shit, but the easy jape fails me at this point. These are just bad, lazy human beings. It's bad enough that they peddle non-stories for a self-selecting audience of mouth-breathers; it's much worse that they're actually proud of it. Keep on livin' that dream.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Brand Newt Day

So Pravda's Dan Balz musta drew the short straw on reportage of the Republigoon clown car revving up for next fall. Instead of the tee-ball shots of crazymilfs Snowbilly Spice (Palin) or Mary Tyler Moron (Bachmann), Balz gets stuck with pimping eight-chinned pseudo-intemellectual Newt Gingrich. And pimp that shit he does, like it's a sixteen-going-on-thirty-year-old runaway:

Through intellect and ambition, Gingrich has kept himself in the middle of public policy debates on health care, education, energy and foreign affairs. “Newt’s been the Republican Party’s main idea man for close to a generation,” said Terry Holt, a Republican strategist who closely observed Gin­grich as speaker. “This is a guy who brings unlimited energy and creative thinking to a race that needs new ideas.”

Gosh, it's as if we could just take a Republican strategist's word (and the title of Balz' write-up) and just assume for the sake of argument that Newt Gingrich is a "man of ideas". So much is Balz convinced of this that aside from a quote of Gingrich's asserting a standard wish list and a token nod to the usual states' rights guff, nowhere in the several hundreds of words does Balz remember to include an actual, workable idea enumerated by Gingrich.

Fortunately he does link to the propitiously-named American Solutions site, which graciously includes links to several of Newt's stabs at profundity. Here's a magickal slice of the "ideas" and "intellect" being sold, like a case of spiked cough syrup out of the back of some greaseball's '92 Camaro in an alley:

Let me say that Louie Gohmert that he is a terrific national asset. He has a remarkable range of innovative ideas.

It goes on, lauding Gohmert's "brilliant insight" and "courage" in protesting something Obama wanted to do. Let me say that Louie Gohmert is the drawling hump who apologized to British Petroleum, after their fucked-up equipment had killed eleven workers and polluted the entire Gulf of Mexico, for having to endure Obama's shameless shakedown of their bullshit mud-drilling operation. Let me say that Louie Gohmert needs to be reincarnated at least a dozen times as one or another hapless creature encrusted by industrial pollution, and then reincarnated as a fisherman who has to make his suicide look like an accident so his insurance company will pay off his shrimp trawler and not leave his survivors completely destitute.

Seriously, if you had to make a "fuck 'em right in the neck" list of mouthbreathing assholes in Congress, Louie Gohmert is almost guaranteed to make your top three or five. Every public appearance of Gohmert convinces me more that he is a product of careful genetic engineering, of warped scientists valiantly attempting to find a sweet spot, that perfect cross of willfully ignorant and obnoxiously mean. Not in the childish "those guys are meeeeaan!" sense, but in the real "this guy barely gives a fuck about his family, and certainly not about anybody else" sense.

But in all seriousness, all intellectual honesty, can you read that entire speech and find a coherent workable idea, and even a sketch of how it can be implemented? There's plenty of rhetoric, sure, but it wears about as thin as the usual liberal "let's be the best America we can be/it takes a village" counterpart.

The big ideas seem to be, in no particular order: Gut the tax and regulatory systems, because our crumbling infrastructure can repair itself, and nobody gives a fuck about coal miners until 50 of them suffocate under a mountain of unsafe rock that the MSHA was too defunded or defanged to catch before it collapsed. Indoctrinate the populace with the heroic epic of American Exceptionalism, because you just don't see that at every fucking turn right now, seriously. Talk about God a lot, because if he hasn't struck Newt down by now, he must be pretty forgiving. And so forth.

(Even Gingrich's newfound god-bothering is off a touch; he claims that God has forgiven Gingrich's numerous transgressions, yet apparently does not hold out for the possibility that He might forgive the transgressions of Gingrich's political opponents as well. Of course, Gingrich is too busy effeminizing them and casting them as job-killers to notice this intellectual inconsistency. But then, that would presuppose that he has ever been intellectually honest in the first place. I'm not sure even Dan Balz really believes that.)

I get why Newt Gingrich thinks those things count as ideas; what I don't get is why Dan Balz thinks they count as ideas. See, an idea has to be more than "cut taxes" or "cut spending" -- you then have to explain the expected consequences and outcomes of these actions. If I say "cut spending", I should have to say what I want to cut, by how much, and how that will tangibly help the budget deficit. Every one of these goddamn "cut spending" clowns has the same schtick -- find some bullshit drop-in-the-bucket program that's politically unpopular but fiscally meaningless, and uphold it as the ne plus ultra of government irresponsibility and hedonism.

Crucial to this tactic is avoiding all mention of the Big Three spending programs -- Social Security, Medicare, and the military. Oh sure, once in a while one of the dumber and meaner ones will actually have the cojones to talk about privatizing Social Security, before catching themselves in a sudden rush of memory of how no one's really all that hot anymore to hand their paychecks over to the geniuses who monkeyfucked the world economy. And paid themselves nice fat bonuses for doing so, just because they could. Other than that, those things don't get brought up a whole lot.

It's like driving down a road that has three lane-wide, impossible-to-miss, car-swallowing potholes, and making a big show about the bug splattered on your windshield, acting like the potholes aren't there. Of course, this is constitutent-driven for the most part; the baby boomers are more than happy to ensure they get theirs and fuck over my generation completely and utterly, just like they always have.

And raging militarism is crucial to perpetuating important nationalist control myths, so the only cuts to the military will be in things that directly affect service personnel, such as post-trauma care, post-military job assistance, housing assistance for families while troops are deployed, etc. That's how that one works out. There'll always be enough money in the budget to bankroll another flying contraption the Air Force doesn't want, or to run formation exercises at the Raiders game. When your main concern is maintaining the budget for symbolism, the big cuts always come out of substantial stuff first. So guaranteed, any military cuts will come out of troops' backs.

Anyhoo, so again, Mr. Idea Man. I've reread the speech a couple times, just not seeing anything besides Mitch Albom-level stories and American Legion boilerplate. (And seriously, whoever transcribed this speech must have used cheap voice-recognition software. Fucking proofread once in a while, m'kay? Looks like a slow third-grader scooped this shit out. "Baton" Death March, seriously? Fugging chumps.)

Near as I can tell, Newt Gingrich has had exactly three big ideas in his entire political career -- mastering a precise vocabulary of loaded words guaranteed to antagonize and conceal rather than elucidate; cluttering up school boards and city councils with red-meat window-lickers who, while largely unelectable at higher levels, are useful for local rabble-rousing and policy shenanigans; and portraying himself as some sort of intellectual emeritus of the wingnut brigade. That last one is simple; when you're competing against marginal oafs like Palin and Bachmann, you pretty much win if you can get through a speech without drooling on yourself.

Ironically though, no matter how much he preaches his bullshit gospel about Christ's forgiveness, it's the issue of morality that will be Newt's undoing (assuming, in fact, that he's running because he genuinely wants to win and thinks he can win, as opposed to Fred Thompson's cute little take-the-money-and-run grift he pulled on the short-bus crowd a couple years back). The morality issue, in his case, is bad even for a politician.

Put it this way -- as a stereotypical godless, hedonistic sybarite, while I don't personally approve of fucking around on one's spouse or significant other, I don't make it a criterion for the people I elect to implement public policy. So, yeah, I found it distasteful and unsurprisingly tacky, even a minor source of irritation that Bill Clinton got his pole smoked by a chunky intern whilst discussing troop deployments in the Balkans. And I was weirded out by Clinton's bizarre compartmentalism, that he seriously felt that jerking off in a sink, instead of ejaculating in said intern's mouth, somehow absolved him of cheating on his wife, or having sex with a sub-sub-subordinate. And his smirking parsimony over the meanings of simple words was just obnoxious. But like most folks, I was far more irritated at the hypocrites who were all too happy to basically shut down the entire government to mess with him over it.

Chief among these scumbags was Gingrich. Maybe I am just a little bit square on the subject, because I simply cannot get my brain around a person who persecutes a colleague for doing the exact same thing he himself is doing at the same time. One expects at least some small measure of honor among thieves, but Gingrich time and again has shown himself to be a man utterly without honor, devoid of character. Expecting character and honor of one's openly purchased politicos is a fool's errand in the first place, but it's one Gingrich's party runs to every chance they get. Maybe for once we should take them up on that.

Update: Anonymous in comments reminds me that it was, in fact, Joe Barton who apologized to BP, not Louie Gohmert, proving conclusively that I cannot tell these inbred goobers apart. Amazingly, Gohmert is an even bigger shithead than Barton, so he'll probably serve at least another ten terms.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Tardocalypse Now

Jesus H. Tapdancing Christ, this country desperately needs an enema. Take your pick at what's more morally repugnant -- the shameless racism, the mind-boggling illiteracy, or the complete inability to compose anything remotely resembling a coherent fucking thought. Truly, the best part of every single one of these halfwits ran down the cracks of their mommas' asses and ended up as a brown stain on a dirt road.

Some days you just figure that maybe Darwin was wrong after all.

[Via Gin and Tacos.]

Freedom of Screech

Looks like someone just got a lesson about speaking his mind during our week-long Two Minutes of Woofing.

"Nothing I said was meant to stir up controversy. It was my way to generate conversation. In looking at my timeline in its entirety, everything that I've said is with the intent of expressing a wide array of ideas and generating open and honest discussions, something I believe we as American citizens should be able to do. Most opinions will not be fully agreed upon and are not meant to be. However, I believe every opinion should be respected or at least given some thought. I apologize for the timing as such a sensitive matter, but it was not meant to do harm. I apologize to anyone I unintentionally harmed with anything that I said, or any hurtful interpretation that was made and put in my name."

Well, son, I'll see your reasoned attempt at civil discourse and intellectual honesty, and raise you a "USA! USA!" I mean, c'mon kid, whaddaya expe -- Dee-fense! Unh! Unh! Dee-fense! Unh! Unh! -- expect here? You work for a professional sports league, one of the most die-hard bastions of mundane jingoism in American daily life. Every game starts off with the national anthem; NFL games frequently feature flag or color guard ceremonies, flying in formation over the stadium, etc. Nobody ever bothers to ask what any of these rituals has to do with watching extremely large and fast men beat the hell out of each other for an afternoon, it's just accepted as given. As a form of mass conditioning, it's about as unsubtle as it gets.

I'm actually impressed with how well Mendenhall expresses himself, and how sincere he comes off. But he shows a very profound misunderstanding of his station and his audience if he really thinks -- or even just hopes -- any of his fans want to engage in a debate (or even mild thought) about this stuff. These are people who will literally beat each other into a fucking coma for rooting for the wrong team, wearing the wrong jersey. Questioning the ritual is not within easy reach of most of 'em's intellectual toolbox. Not exactly a secret.

The questioning part for them only goes one way -- towards anyone not buying into what the angry mob is doing. It's like sitting down while the rest of the stadium does The Wave (remember that?) -- nobody appreciates your gesture to reason, they just give you the stinkeye for being a dick. Tribal signifiers, yo. This is pure lizard-brain stuff, and there's just no winning a debate with it. When Art Rooney has to step in on the CYA tip, you know you screwed the proverbial pooch. That's life in the gladiator class. Good luck with it.

A Star Is Bored

Howie Kurtz helpfully transcribes what may turn out to be the very truest thing ever said about oh-so-brief-but-transcendentally-brilliant phenomenumbskull, La Palin:

“Her real constituency is the media,” says former John McCain adviser Mike Murphy, who views Palin as a “niche candidate” incapable of winning the nomination. “The media have always overestimated her appeal. They’re drunk with interest in covering her. It’s a partnership—they’re in business together.”

Indeed. The downside of all this wondrous technology at our fingertips is that it's enabled this slovenly, grotesque infoporn market to crop up amidst us, influence the order of things inside-out and upside-down by sheer muscle and gall. The 24-hour news cycle, which is really the same half-hour of sound bites on a repeat loop, 48 times per day times a bazillion channels, has metastasized into the perpetual campaign industry machine. From the very second an election ends, discussion of the next one commences, two years or four down the road.

Remember a mere half-decade ago, when a preponderance of the country -- indeed, the world at large -- were certain that American hubris, id, and willful stupidity had reached its blessed apotheosis with the Bush/Cheney junta? You want to go back in time and warn those naive, beaten souls of the depths to come, made possible in very large part by people whose sole purpose is to sell pharmaceuticals and big trucks, with dressed-up factoids and famous nobodies paraded in between, a constant barrage of mediocrity at best, dangerous buffoonery most of the time.

But golly gosh, I sure do hope it all works out for Saint Sarah. She's just given so darn much in the service of pure fabulism, calumny, and chronic butthurt over the meekest response to her constant smartassery. It takes an empty industry to reward an empty personage, white noise for white noise, for the esteemed pundits to parse.

The clown car is crowded for the Republitards these dark days, made darker still by the fact that enough 'murkins are just stupid enough to vote 'em back in anyway. What would we do without Sarah's free-verse burbling, her snowbilly glossolalia, runway-circling syntax displaying a truly accomplished lack of knowledge on an impressive array of subjects? Friends 'n' neighbors, it really is hard goddamned work to go nearly fifty years in life without being able to converse competently on at least something, even trickier to gull millions of gomers into admiring you for it.

If this politics thing doesn't work out for her, there's still time for her to get into journamalism.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

A Small Victory

A crackling portrait, the fondling of trophies
The null of losing, can you afford that luxury?
A sore winner, but I'll just keep my mouth shut
It shouldn't bother me....but it does
-- Faith No More

Heading into this past weekend, after two solid months of Charlie Sheen/Donald Trump/royal wedding guff from the rancid husk that passes for our corporate media, I had plotted out the usual pained jeremiad lamenting that which has at this point already been long lost. Sometimes it feels good to sing a familiar song, vent spleen into pixillated void, edit it into something passable.

Process, as they say, is important.

Needless to say, the events of the past 48 hours have cast my would-be picayune musings into rather sharp relief. Ever undeterred and still endlessly annoyed by the (seemingly paradoxical) abdication of a vacant institution, I have to lob at least a couple of scuds on the aforementioned inanities. The continued boosting of said inanities only feeds into the lame meme of the lamestream media, yet damned if it is not becoming more and more true.

Useta be that the meringue stories fell into a certain time of year when folks' attentions were presumed to be only incidentally tuned to the teevee. Moving summer-of-the-shark type crap into heavy rotation during March and April only makes one wonder what fresh hell awaits the unsuspecting person who might actually expect something, anything, newsworthy to float through their electronic transom during the summer.

Instead we get a vapid, overblown nobody with a crappy show traveling the country and making a complete jackass of himself; an inbred Hanoverian dynasty desperately trying to sling the tinsel of relevance on its archaic, completely useless offices and ceremonies -- and of course, Charlie Sheen.

Sheen's case is reprehensible for its simplicity, for starters -- a man is self-destructing, seemingly at a mile a minute, in front of America, and fucking with his bosses the entire time, while keeping up a level of whoring and drug intake that would have brought down most people. Everybody loves a train wreck, but not when it's drawn out so far past its shelf like, and not when it culminates in the likes of Matt Lauer pumping some weedy teevee therapist about What Charlie Should Do. Well, Matt, maybe Charlie should do his next bump off yer wife's ass, champ. How ya like them apples? It's just cheap, tawdry voyeurism at its worst.

Trump and the Windsors were just exhausting in the Jesus-Christ-who-in-their-right-mind-fucking-cares sense. The idea that anyone, besides shut-ins and morbidly obese people with broken remote controls, would watch royal wedding crap for three blessed weeks straight is utterly perplexing. It quite literally makes zero sense, except as the most abject, desperate attempt at marketing -- I dunno, tourism, wedding dresses, something along that line.

Considering that family of theirs, the princes seem like more or less normal decent people, who just happen to be able to get pretty much anyone and anything they want. One of 'em got married. Seriously, I mean, big fucking deal, are they going to follow the new couple to Mustique and film them having sex? It's difficult to escape the impression that this is not really a demand-driven market, but rather something that is pimped and pumped until certain segments just give in.

That's also the only sensible explanation for why anyone would watch more than five seconds of Trump's estimable contribution to the body cultural. Yes, F-list has-beens and never-weres threatening each other and pulling out each others' weaves. Why not just beat your own skull in with a large rock and have done with it?

Trump's bizarre attempts at political jabber make his weekly NBC abortion look like fine craft. Perhaps this is all performance art, just another distraction aimed at the already overly-distracted. Nevertheless, the fuck-China, take-their-fuckin-oil, whaddaya-gonna-do-bout-it-fuckface attitude capture perfectly a deeply ingrained, reflexively ignorant posture in the 'murkin body politic. He's the perfect preznit for people who confuse endlessly promoted scenes of Meat Loaf and Gary Busey screaming at each other with reality, much less with entertainment.

For a few years in the late '90s, I had a pirate rig on my satellite teevee system, basically an ancient PC with (iirc) a 386 processor, whose sole function was to simulate code for the satellite card reader. Periodically DirecTV would catch on, disable the code, and you'd wait a couple hours for a new code to pop up online and load (via floppy disk, mind you) over to the system. It was pretty sweet, since we got everything -- all the sports packages, all the movies, all the porn, yada yada.

There were also all the local network packages for something like two dozen markets around the country, New York, LA, Chicago, Jacksonville, what have you. It was cool to check out other local news teams, get some local weather, see what the weather bunny looked like, the usual. You could watch Live at Five at 2:00 Pacific time, Letterman at 8:30.

One thing that became a guilty pleasure -- perhaps because of its total spontaneity, perhaps simply because I'm originally from Los Angeles -- was when the 5:00 LA news would air a police chase, completely live, no delay, nothin'. Sometimes I'd recognize neighborhoods I had lived in or near, sometimes these things would go on for much longer than you thought they could. Some of these would-be getaway drivers (and they always get caught, of course) are pretty inventive, dumb as they are for thinking that they actually have a shot at getting away from the LAPD.

So one fine afternoon an epic chase comes on, goes on for at least fifteen minutes, not in the heart of the city, but the sprawling, interchangeable communities bordering it, your Norwalk, your Bellflower, your Cerritos, etc. Through alleys, around corners, backtracking around blocks, knocking garbage cans, sideswiping and cutting people short, narrow misses every few seconds. Crazy shit. This putz was endangering people, but you almost had to have a grudging respect for his sheer animal will, his utter belief that he would not be caught. The helicopter, the all-seeing eye, captures every move, every dodge, every squealing, frantic turn.

Finally he comes up on an overpass, hemmed in because, well, it's LA and it's fucking rush hour, and you ain't getting near any freeway in a hurry. Sits there parked on the overpass for a minute. Helicopter starts zooming in its focus, so's you could see the profile of the guy through the driver-side window, actually see his face fairly well. Naturally, there is periodic commentary throughout from the meat puppets at the anchor desk, peppered with the usual bons mots from the one in the copter, and by now, they're in the "well, what's he gonna do now?" mode.

Welp, here's what he does, friends 'n' neighbors -- while the copter has its nice tight shot on this gentleman sitting in his ancient, now-beaten Monte Carlo, no doubt pondering the sequences and patterns of decision-making and impulse control, both throughout his life and on that particular day, which led him to this particular fork in the proverbial road, he blows his fucking brains out. If anyone had any doubts about whether these chases were completely live, no delays, they were certainly dispelled that tragic instant. Suddenly it's no longer fun and games. Needless to say, the station was shocked at such an outcome, and made some changes.

There's yer reality teevee, folks. All these circle jerk shows, with their barely-vicarious nonsense, manipulative scripting and editing, and intensely manufactured and programmatic setups, taking weeks to "tell" a "story" that should really take a couple hours (and isn't interesting to begin with), featuring idiots that you wouldn't let clean your gutters, are nothing, just filler between endless ads for overpriced vodka and completely unnecessary pharmaceuticals.

Used to be that if you didn't like a show, you could avoid it by changing the channel. But with endless cross-promotion cluttering up blocks of time formerly devoted at least to somewhat newsworthy subjects, that is less and less the case. This has been amplified by the onslaught of Trump, posturing dickhead bloviating to anything and everything that looks like a microphone, blustery nonsense guaranteed to aggravate our creditors and give credence to the notion around the rest of the world that Americans will fall for damned near any ricockulous notion.

Even, as it turns out, the fuckwitted idea that a casino owner -- you know, the business model where people come in, drop off money, and leave -- who has managed to go bankrupt four times, might be a good or even competent businessman. But again, this seems much more media-driven than truly demand-driven (not to mention, for NBC, a pretty cheap and obvious conflict of interest, for which they really deserve a nice boycott). But it is also an inescapably ugly instance of the innate, lame voyeurism that pervades the popular culture at large. People feel compelled to gawk, even when there's nothing at all to see.

Maybe is the true palpable cultural residue of "reality" teevee -- people no longer have the urge -- perhaps not even the capacity -- to discern what has value and utility, and ignore or reject the toxic emissions of this ocean of dross. At some point, one would think, people might get sick of Trump's obnoxious preening and increasingly dismal choices for contestants. But then, the Survivor thing still seems to be on, weirdly, inexplicably. I still think dropping a crate of weapons on the next site would liven things up.

So. Bin Laden, eh? Good riddance and all that, but it's strange, this woofing, chest-thumping dynamic. The surprise Moe Greene-ing of bin Laden seems to have awakened our inner Homer Simpson, never too far below the surface in the first place.

9/11, you'll recall, itself brought out some baser, more opprtunistic impulses -- suddenly every inbred dipshit who had always trashed NYC as a multiculti librul enclave knew how best to avenge the city's honor, even though the majority of New Yorkers themselves, once the initial shock was over and cleanup had commenced, seemed determined to get up, brush off, and move on. The people with the least direct investment seemed the most bloodthirsty, especially in their eagerness to turn everything ending in -stan into a parking lot. The bloodlust was completely undiffused by important questions, such as who and how, and what the most rational course with the best outcome might be. People just wanted to go fuck up the first guy that looked cross-eyed at them. So we did.

This time, the bloodlust is undiffused by any rational thought about the results of killing bin Laden. It is not going to bring one (1) soldier home from a war zone a day earlier; it is not going to save a dollar or a dime from the military budget. It is still going to be standard procedure to molest travelers and confiscate toothpaste at airports; we will still detain people without charge or recourse, without defense or representation.

But one expects woofing from five-digit crowds at sporting events; that is, after all, the original, time-tested purpose of mobs gathered in stadia, drunk on $8 trash beer, deep-fried organ meats, and an unstoppable sense of self-regard. More offputting was an exchange I happened across yesterday on the public Nice Polite Republicans station, home of the soothing, dulcet-toned panderers of reasonable discourse. One of these indistinguishable gits was counseling a caller who had lost a loved one in the Towers, was still grieving of course, and had possibly achieved closure with this latest news. Good for him; after unspeakable tragedy, everyone needs to find whatever works for them to screw up the courage to soldier on and make the most of it.

But it struck me during the counseling session, not how routine these genuflections to public grief have become, but how invisible the grief of innocents who had our rage inflicted on them has always been. I recall stories of mothers literally digging through gardens of limbs, walled slaughterhouses of parts, looking for some sign of a lost child. I recall Fallujah getting white phosphorus, cheerfully referred to as "Willy Pete", which melts your skin off, being indiscriminately spewed into large cities under siege, to subdue them, force capitulation. I recall Abu Ghraib, prisoners humiliated and raped for the amusement of their pervert captors, and beaten and killed at times. There is never, and will never be, so much as a thought or a care for any of these lost souls, all of them preventable, none of them necessary, a great many of them genuinely innocent of any misdeed whatsoever, aside from being in the way.

Don't get me wrong -- the world is better off without the likes of bin Laden, and "moral equivalence" attempts to square the grief of 9/11 with the grief of the Iraq war will always ring false, as moral equivalence tends to. The SEAL team that went in and accomplished this mission did amazing precision work, truly a surgical strike. There will be foreign-policy implications, but there always are, no matter what we do, right or wrong. There is something here to celebrate and be proud of.

It's the public grief-plumbing that puts me off. It's just the stark, grotesque disparity of it all, one endlessly fetishized and the other long dropped down the memory hole. Most unbecoming of such a Christian nation, since perhaps the most durable tenet of that particular religion may be the principle of empathy.

Although I constantly claim to be "perplexed" by the manifest oddities of the world around us, and its cantankerous, misbegotten denizens, the reality is that the capacity for genuine surprise seems long gone.