Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Syria-sly, Folks

These geopolitical strategies and predictions are interesting enough, until considering all the possible ramifications and permutations give even the most astute observer a ginormous headache. But no matter, we are apparently going to pimp-slap Syria, even though it will definitely jack oil prices up on a precarious world economy, and has enormous chances for flaring into a serious regional conflict.

Everyone should be able to agree that Bashar Assad is a turd of a human being, following closely in the bloody footprints of his old man. The Alawite regime in Syria is overwhelmingly outnumbered by a Sunni population, and like Saddam Hussein, can only hold power by the most ruthless of means, since they don't actually represent any real constituency other than themselves.

But the trick here -- and this is where Obama and the would-be humanitarians need to pay close attention -- there are no good guys here. Americans hear "rebels" and they think of George Washington's ragtag bunch at Valley Forge, or valiant "freedom fighters" striving for Good in the cruel face of ineffable evil. Or they think of Star Wars.

But all indications of the Syrian rebels are of loose militias of jihadist animals -- one cell was busted in May in Turkey with a couple kilos of sarin gas. Whether or not Assad actually used sarin, it appears that the rebels would be more than happy to give it a spin as well, should the opportunity present itself.

(And not to play devil's advocate for horrible forms of weaponry, but why precisely is sarin so much worse than, say, cluster bombs? Either one seems like a pretty miserable way to go. The idea that the use of cluster bombs is somehow acceptable or moral because we "deeply regret" the civilians and children who come across unexploded bomblets is pretty monstrous in itself.)

So there are no good guys in this, and we have a consistent recent history of going into places we know nothing about, blundering through and fucking things up. If Obama thinks this might be his Kosovo, a quick in-and-out six weeks of air sorties followed by a peacekeeping camp of Burger Kings and workout gyms, he's almost definitely wrong, to the extent that you could bet serious money on it.

Remember when the Arab Spring was a thing? Good times. How's all that turning out now? The problem is that we know nothing about these countries, or how their people feel about us, or how the best move for us is to stay the hell out of their shit altogether for a while. Yes, Russia and China will step in and reap the rewards -- and the headaches. Let them, they'll learn soon enough.

In fact, this has all the makings of a serious clusterfuck -- Iran will almost definitely do something in response, probably send Hezbollah over the Lebanese or Syrian border to provoke Israel to jump in. Not to mention that Russia and China have registered their vehement disagreement, so a supporting UN resolution will be practically impossible.

Hegemonists will respond -- rightly to some extent -- that it shouldn't matter what asshole governments think if we're trying to do the right thing, the humanitarian thing. And no, we don't let Putin or anyone else dictate our foreign policy for us.

But we also don't (in theory, anyway) go rushing into military action if the risks outweigh the potential benefits. And here, as we finally wind down and limp away from two costly, ill-conceived wars, as the world economy is precipitously positioned, there is almost zero upside and massive potential downside with this.

So of course we'll do it. We can't help ourselves, and more importantly, we haven't yet internalized that the world is no longer unipolar like we'd prefer, but apolar, with no clear single sphere of influence, just large competing interests, all ultimately at the service of transnational merchant princes with no particular loyalties.

Cleo (1995-2013)

Four months ago, I had not one but two cats that were eighteen years of age. You may recall that we had to put Shadow down in May, but Cleo seemed like she'd hit 20 for sure (the pic at right was taken at the end March, just five months ago). And yet, mere weeks after Shadow was gone, Cleo began declining, first slowly, then all at once.

It would make for better copy to say that Shadow and Cleo were like some couple that had been married for 70 years or so, and one just couldn't live without each other. It happens to human couples, and probably to animal couples as well. But except for Shadow's final year, as she started wearing down, she and Cleo rarely interacted, and usually negatively when they did cross paths; both in fact were loners as far as other cats were concerned, although both were also very needy when it came to people.

More practically, if one needs a proximal cause other than the basic fact that Cleo was very old, we went out of town for a few days right after the 4th of July, and returned to a fairly nasty slab leak. While everything's fixable, we have to redo the kitchen and one of the bedrooms, just drywall and flooring, but disruptive enough to where the cats couldn't come into the house for a couple weeks while we were tearing out walls and floors and running dehydrators. (We have a covered, locked porch where they sleep at night regardless, so these are not outdoor cats.)

Anyhoo, spending the better part of a month straight out back, with strange machines running in the house, people coming and going, etc., might just have been disruptive enough to give poor Cleo a shove. I really don't know. I know that when we found her eighteen years ago almost to the day, she was a scrawny, starving kitten, days or maybe hours away from death. Chances are if we hadn't found her when we did, she would wandered back out to the field, to die of thirst or be grabbed by one of the hawks that cruise through regularly looking for unwary mice.

So you do what you can, and they get a pretty good run, our animal friends. But we miss them all the same.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Capitalism Y'all

I think most of us can agree one at least one thing -- when you attempt to underpin an essential economic principle with observations from the staged talk show of a woman who actively pimps her children for a living, you've lost, and hard. It's hard to imagine the sort of soulless fuck who attempts to intellectually square the nonsense of a creature like Kris Jenner with the philosophy of Adam Smith, but here you have it -- people who will reach for literally anything to justify their biases.

I have no wish, good or bad, regarding Kris Jenner or her skeevy, starfucking progeny, save that they get actual jobs producing something useful.

Tipping Point

Catching up a little further on the musings of the past week, Ed has an interesting post about the most likely pivot point of the current malaise. As most observers might surmise, there's no single proximal cause or event, rather a pattern of things that have pushed circumstances to their current state.

But if you had to pick a Number One, you could do worse than choosing the Rubinization of the economy that took place under the Clinton administration. (Be sure to keep that in mind when you're "choosing" Hillary! over Rand Paul in a few years.) Sure, NAFTA screwed the labor pooch sufficiently so as to generate that gentle sucking sound (per Ross Perot) you still hear almost a full generation later.

But the selling-out and ritual buttfucking of the working class was a multi-episode series, as they say in the entertainment parlance, and Bob Rubin's human centipede act with Citibank and the rest of the Wall Street rentiers was on a par with, say, the penultimate episode of the Sopranos, where major bodies drop but the main character still stands, bloodied but unbowed, and the viewer is still not 100% sure how things will resolve.

Stop and Frisk

Obviously there are grand racial implications to the whole "stop and frisk" deal, but stupidly, I persist in asking the (I believe) rather obvious question -- in what place and time precisely is it considered acceptable for police to randomly detain and manhandle passersby? Historians should ask and answer the question of when exactly we became a subservient cage of captive hamsters, each awaiting our eventual fate, but hoping that said fate befell every other hamster first?

And here we thought it was Giuliani that was the only "small man in search of a balcony."

Quit Parade

So Dave has dialed back to one-a-week, and now TBogg is apparently checking out, at least for the time being. Too bad, but ultimately it happens to everyone who decides to tie on the butcher's apron and set about the gruesome work of cleaving offal from meat. After some time, everything looks like roadkill, and there's only so many ways you can cook roadkill.

I don't know if it means anything or nothing, if it's a signal that "blogging," whatever that means, has (let's say) an attenuated utility at this point, in this vaunted era of twittardery and daily outrages and not thinking or talking through much of anything. For the record, I don't believe that that is the case; I think there remains a sizable audience for thoughtful commiseration, for whom 140 characters doesn't quite cut it.

So folks are welcome to come here or go there or whatever's clever. Reading the "please don't go" comments in anyone's GBCW missive is a lot like listening to someone bemoan the cancellation of their favorite teevee show, or the breakup of their favorite group. As if there aren't plenty more of each out there, of comparable or even greater talent and vitality. (In fact, since the past-due dismantlement of the networks and record companies, there's more great stuff than ever. There's also more shit than ever. As always, it's up to you, Tonstant Weader, to discern which from which.)

Asking people to stay on in any line of work -- especially the creative line -- is an invitation to eventual crushing disappointment. You know what the Beatles or Zeppelin would have been like if they'd pressed on? They'd have sucked; they'd have lamely cadged slivers of mediocrity on the remnants of past greatness. Perhaps nowhere else do the laws of diminishing returns (or expectations) have such impact.

Perhaps in some cases, walking away is also a tacit acknowledgement of the facts of the game -- that the writer, who presumably seeks at least some measure of legitimacy and/or efficacy, is basically the Ultimate Salmon, swimming against the impossible current of abject ignorance. For the political blogger, it's impossible to ignore that in the aggregate, politicians generally reflect their constituencies.

You can try to convince yourself that it's the fault of gerrymandering, a lazy or complicit media, money buying power, etc. And you'd be right. But at the end of the day, it comes down to dipshits being easily baited into voting against themselves. And no quantity of tilts against windmills will change that.

So you press on for the folks who do pay attention, who give a shit about something besides the tips of their noses. But they're fewer and farther between, and there are always more distractions. After all, there's probably another season of Duck Dynasty or some such gearing up right this here second.

(Not that I'm necessarily high-minded in my choice of entertainment -- the only reason I bother to watch The Newsroom is that I would absolutely wreck Olivia Munn.)

Anyway, hang in there, I have more to yap about in the near future, and should at least make the 10th anniversary of The Hammer come 1/1/15, which is closer than it might appear tonight. We have things to discuss, to disparage, to defame and decry, and as a famous cartoon character once said, I have not yet begun to fart. Or fight. Whatever. The Ultimate Salmon swims on, despite the odds.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Slave System

So let's see if we understand this correctly:  six months after Johnny Manziel supposedly got (depending on whether you believe the NCAA's story or not) either $7500 or a "five-figure flat fee" to sign a couple hundred helmets for an autograph broker who turned them around for larger dollars.

Scandalous, right? After all, this kid has a free scholarship to an elite post-secondary educational institution, and instead of playing for pure honor and fresh air and sunshine, per the NCAA's bylaws, he's got the stones to accept a handful of cash from some swag merchant. Meanwhile, the schools shovel in a metric fuckton of cashola on these kids' backs. Per the link, Texas A&M (Manziel's school) had about $92.5M in revenue in 2008, well before Manziel even got there.

NCAA's own revenue links from just last year shows the revenue breakdown. Not a goddamned dime goes to the players, and if Manziel or anyone else blows their knee out in their next game, you think the NCAA is going to help them out? Nope, they make plenty of money screwing these kids over for every little thing they do, to ensure that all the money goes to broadcasting and selling jerseys.

Put it this way:  who do you think makes more money from selling Johnny Manziel jerseys, the NCAA, Texas A&M, or Manziel himself? Which of those entities do you think should make the most money from selling those items? Do you think it's at all fair that Manziel makes somewhere between diddly and squat from the pimping of his own name, while others rake in millions? Well, if your answers were along the lines of "Manziel; Manziel; no," then you are at serious odds with the NCAA, sporto.

Someone should do a cost-benefit analysis of pushing a student-athlete through some bullshit communications degree, versus the revenue accrued from selling that kid's swag and pocketing every dime of profit. Every player is a crapshoot, but I promise you that in the aggregate, the schools and the NCAA make money, and the athlete, whether his body withstands the punishment or not, makes dick.

The Great Unwinding

The question of when the Fed stops handing money to rentier kajillionaires to prop up the smoke-and-mirrors casino economy (instead of to working people who would -- I shit you not, podna -- spend the money instead of hoarding it, buy things instead of making book) is less about the when and more about how hard it will hit the peons when it happens.

Since the Masters of the Universe assume that all unrich people are another, dumber form of life who were just too fucking stoopid to get out of their own way, the one thing they can agree upon with zero discussion is that their own bottom line should not be affected by so much as a tenth of a penny or a hundredth of a percentage point. After all, it's hard goddamn work to pick the right parents and diddle spreadsheets and knock off American companies, so get bent, dummies who work with your hands and backs!

In other words, they were more than happy to cause this mess on the backs of the proles, so it stands to reason that they'll be equally jake with letting us take the hit when the house of financial cards finally collapses (again). Because they know you won't do jack shit about it, you'll either sit home and grumble or Get Out And Vote like it actually means anything. And then go back to the weekly freak show of sex dungeons and sharknados and gropey mayors.

Which might be the most sensible response; again, aside from keeping an eye on higher ground for when the shit does come down, there's not much you can do. Get out of debt if you can, learn to grow your own food regardless, learn a new skill or refine an existing one, so at least you can barter for sex and gasoline. Other than that, they own your ass, you know it and they know it.

Sunday, August 04, 2013

The Idealistic Cynic (or The Cynical Idealist)

I've been going through a bit of a dry spell lately as far as posting, and there are plenty of reasons for that -- job; family; small to medium contingencies popping up; the usual life stuff. Another big reason is the conscious decision I made back in the spring to work on my music books (and possibly another political Hammer book at the end of this year, time and interest permitting).

But I think this post of Dave's (and btw, sorry to hear that Dave's checking out; he's one of the better ones out there) encapsulates why I've made that conscious decision as well as anything. People are what they are; bozo politicians are more often than not reflections of their constituencies (or enough of them to get into office). And while snarking on stupidity and its many practitioners is still fun and gratifying, at the end of the day it has the outcome of peanut-gallery guff, it changes little to nothing. It's cathartic for me, and hopefully entertaining for you. But that's about it.

Not that I'm stopping or anything; as we head into yet another round of midterm foolishness, no doubt moar and bettar morans will scuttle out from behind the faux-wood paneling in the GOP's crazy-aunt basement. And dickless Democrats will squawk and piddle about it, but in the end do fuck-all. The names and details change, but the results are generally the same, and there's not a damned thing any of us can do about any of it. But for me the energy these days is with the music and the music books, not because it's exactly a profitable venture for me as yet, but because it's entirely within my control.

In nearly nine years of steady blogging(!), preceded by about six years of forum activity and boisterous commentary and interaction, there are definitely days or weeks where I feel like I've said most or all of what I have the ability and capacity to say. It becomes a pattern of diminishing returns, attenuated only by my willingness and ability to bring in, absorb, and process more information, and regurgitate it usefully.

That was not too huge of a challenge when I read mostly non-fiction over the last decade; the process of reading-analysis-writing fortunately goes fairly quickly for me at this point. But most of my non-fiction reading recently is short form. I probably read 50-55 books last year, but at least 80% of those were fiction, especially crime fiction. I don't know why; as they say, it is what it is.

Political observation is and always will be fascinating to me on some level, because to me it represents a confluence of interesting disciplines -- history, culture, geopolitical strategy, sociology, and more. Approached honestly and diligently, it has endless possibilities to inform and even surprise on occasion.

But we are more of a Facebook/bumper sticker nation when it comes to political discussion anymore, and there's only so many gaggles of twittards one can read through and stomach. I see this in many of the other political bloggers I read regularly, so I get that it ain't just me. It can be very frustrating to take the time to inform oneself and analyze data, only to see decisions be ultimately be made by people who too ignorant and/or lazy to bother with all that, or by folks who are engaged enough to get informed, but not quite enough to take any meaningful action.

(Note:  Voting does not count as "meaningful action," it is in fact the bare minimum required of anyone who still thinks there might be a glimmer of a possibility that their voice in the wilderness might still count for something. But when the two parties, in practice if not in rhetoric, are much more alike than different, then it matters less and less.)

As America gets more and more fat, broke, crazy, and violent, and tries to deal with its compromised role on a groaning, cluttered planet that is only becoming more so, all we can do is hope to hang on, while looking out for higher ground.

Saturday, August 03, 2013

Happy Birthday, Tom Brady

Just a friendly reminder that the game that kicked off Brady's ascension into the NFL elite was decided by probably the single biggest bullshit call in the entire history of the league. If it had happened against any team other than the Raiders it would have been acknowledged long ago.

At least the Patsies might finally start to see a little karma this season, with the lack of a #1 receiver and their Hernandez / Gronkowski / Tebow trifecta of fail. Have a good one, champ.