Saturday, September 21, 2013

Dearth of a Nation

Scenes from Weernumberoneistan:

  • Of the nearly 200 homeowners who lost their properties in recent years, one in three had liens of less than $1,000.
  • More than half of the foreclosures were in the city’s two poorest wards, 7 and 8, where dozens of owners were forced to leave their homes just months before purchasers sold them. One foreclosed on a brick house near the Maryland border with a $287 lien and sold it less than eight weeks later for $129,000.
  • More than 40 houses were taken by companies whose representatives were caught breaking laws in other states to win liens.
  • Instead of stepping in, the D.C. tax office created more problems by selling nearly 1,900 liens by mistake in the past six years — even after owners paid their taxes — forcing unsuspecting families into legal battles that have lasted for years. One 64-year-old woman spent two years fighting to save her home in Northwest after the tax office erroneously charged her $8.61 in interest.

  • So you have indifferent gubmint bureaucracies and soul-dead paper-holders teaming up to prey on the poor and elderly, coupled with the paramilitarized oops brigade, in the service of a machine that uses human beings up like cord wood. Are we having fun yet?

    Stockholm Syndrome; Or, Serfs Up

    I swear to the Flying Spaghetti Monster that at first glance, I thought this was an Onion parody. Nope, just a grotesque, sloppy blowjob to the takers who pretend to be makers. Apparently the line forms to the right and extends around the world to orally gratify the fine upstanding rentier thieves. (Fantastic takedown of the article here as well.)

    And that's really what these assholes are -- they're bookmakers, racketeers. They don't produce, or even truly invest, in anything. They take bets and skim the vig, regardless of the outcome of said bets. They borrow money from the government interest-free, and lend it to the peons at three, or six, or ten percent. That's not industry, it's usury.

    It's bad enough that animals like Blankfein and Dimon are allowed to plunder at will in this wretched, Rubinized clusterfuck of an economy, this teetering wigwam of rackets and machinations, undue political influence and hyper-disparity. It's somehow even worse when someone is so lacking in self-awareness, or even basic human decency, that they can so shamelessly defend them, and shit on people who actually work for a living.

    As long as working-class mutts continue to be willing to be gulled into voting against their own rational self-interest, as long as they're content to be the proverbial chickens voting for Colonel Sanders, it's going to be like this. One holds out hope for the tumbrels and guillotines, for the thieves and their soulless propagandists, but it won't happen, not until things crash and get too far beyond repair, if then.

    As I've become fond of saying more and more lately, I hear Costa Rica is nice. Life is simply too short to waste in fighting the few who own everything, and their highly-aid dogsbodies. Somehow this bullshit system has bamboozled otherwise intelligent people into cutting their own throats, miring themselves in perpetual debt and wage slavery. At this rate, I'll probably spend the rest of my life paying interest on $200 textbooks, in exchange for a worthless degree.

    Maybe living in a hut on the beach, swimming, surfing, playing guitar, is the way forward from the worker's paradise we've created here, where people spend most of their time sending each other silly meme generators and tweeting racist babble. There's no better day than today, no better time than now. It's a worthwhile goal. Let's all check out, see how the masters' spreadsheet-diddling works out for them.

    Friday, September 20, 2013

    Unforced Error

    Jesus Christ, really? Smooth move, asshole.

    Yes, Amanda Carpenter's empty-headed twit-crowing hits the teatard trifecta of being pointless, obnoxious, and inaccurate, but whatever. It's Twitter, home of racists and inbreds. I mean, I should probably start a Twitter account either for this thing or the PTG site, but I'm afraid either one would contract sepsis simply by existing in the same virtual universe as some of these shitbirds. Hell, I'm embarrassed to physically exist on the same landmass as some of these motherless fucks.

    But every moment a sociopath like Carpenter spends fucking around on that freak show is a moment where her hand is away from a lever of power, since she's not converting, merely affirming. If she wants to faux-gloat to her choir, great, no need to concern-troll her by literally wishing death upon her children. I mean, I occasionally sweat Donald Trump's insufferable twitardery, and I'm serious when I say he's a douchebag and an asshole, but I don't really care enough to wish harm upon him or his family. Seems like being Donald Trump is probably punishment enough.

    It has to be frustrating to be a Democrat at just about any level, with the hyperbole and vitriol at the state and local levels, and the pure, unadulterated scamboogery in the House (which at this point might as well be renamed the Outhouse, because fuck them). But the way to do it -- and still bring Amanda Carpenter's kids into it, if one must -- is to muster some stats, which are in ample supply, and use them in a "more in sorrow than anger" type of screed. Won't fit into 140 measly characters? Even better, make it a multi-post. Done and done.

    These are the times that try the patience of sensible people, when serious business is afoot, idiocy runs amok, and the brains of otherwise intelligent folks are left ajar. Fucking get it together already, it's not that complicated. In fact, I stipulate that an effective strategy can be spelled out in three (3) simple points:

    1. Health care is a racket that victimizes the poor and enriches insurance companies, HMOs, and Big Pharma.
    2. The 20% of GDP we blow on health care is effectively a tax -- and we know how that word gets the teabozos' peckers wagging.
    3. There was an election last year -- I fucking swear it happened, it was in all the papers and everything -- and the guy pushing this mess won. When it went the other way under the previous regime, shit went down and people had to just suck it up. That's just how it is in a so-called dumbocracy. Act like it for once, for fuck's sake. Obama needs to just step up and say, "Fuck you, they voted and this is how it shook out. Eat shit and die." What, are they suddenly going to lose respect for him and start obstructing everything and being fucking children? Yeah, wouldn't want that to happen.

    I mean, I assume by default that at the federal level, both "parties" are more or less in cahoots, since they have the same donors and are really more alike than different from each other. But at the lower levels, there is actually some daylight between them, and it helps when the minions don't lose their goddamned minds over a smug tweet. Wait and see what kind of legs this thing gets, the CA Dems will have to dump this guy within a week and issue pleas that they didn't really mean it.

    Sunday, September 15, 2013

    Human Cockfighting

    Talk about burying the lede. As sad as the accidental death of Buckwild cast member Shain Gandee is, it's a fairly logical consequence of the various stunts he and his castmates were encouraged to do as part of the "show," though of course these were things they were doing in the first place

    As always, I'm more intrigued by how these sorts of antics constitute a program series, an associated group of episodes with with a cohesive narrative of plot and characterization, in the traditional Aristotelian sense. Yes, there are archetypes, even in cultural edema such as Storage Wars and Redneck Intervention. But at what point do otherwise sensible people take stock of their lives and ask, if only of themselves, not only why there is something on the teevee called Redneck Intervention but why the holy fuck they are watching it?

    Gandee's mother, deep in the article, actually makes some decent points about the escapism aspect of this nonsense. But even there, what are they escaping, and is this the best we can do? Is this all working people have available to them to avoid thinking about the wretched futility of their lives until the next slave shift, watching drunken hillbillies molest farm animals and each other?

    Thousands of years from now, when we're all just dust and distant memories, it will be interesting to see how future archaeologists perceive this metastasized cultural tumor of "reality" teevee.


    The spate of teen-suicide-via-cyberbullying stories continues unabated, but becomes no less tragic with each passing instance. Implicit within each article is that Something Must Be Done, according to the judgment one finds on each of the persons involved -- the vicious classmates, the do-nothing school administrators, the hapless parents, the sad victims themselves. No winners there; no easy judgments to be made. The bottom line is that the whole tragic event is horrible, and didn't need to happen.

    Yes, kids are cruel. They have always been cruel, this is news to anyone? Technology has both enabled said cruelty, and allowed the torturers to distance themselves from their victims. Certainly Rebecca Sedwick's bullies should, in a just universe, feel the weight of their collective guilt every day for the rest of their miserable little lives.

    But obviously the teen years are a tremendously volatile time of life, rendered vivid and intense by social pressures and physical changes. The things that make one kid unable to handle a barrage of nasty electronic screeds are the same things that make other kids unspeakably insensitive to the turbulence every one of them endures. The hallmark of being a teenager is that one has zero perspective on mortality, or consequences, or impulse control.

    And Rebecca Sedwick's mother apparently did everything she could to rectify the bullying situations, to the extent of her knowledge. You could make the argument that perhaps a 12-year-old doesn't need a smartphone, but for many families there's a built-in safety issue there. There is a practical use, and you can only police so much, though of course you have to be alert against those who would urge someone else to kill themselves, as well as those who would take up such invitations. However, at some point you really do have to trust your kids, your instincts, the rest of the world. A life of hypervigilance and excessive paranoia is no life either.

    It would be nice if things always worked out, if there were always sensible solutions available, if kids on the edge understood that it really does get better, that high school is not the be-all/end-all by any means, and that a permanent solution to a temporary problem is exactly that. If only you could communicate that to every kid in school right now, happy or unhappy, bullied or bully, suicidal or on top of the world.

    Things change, more than any of them could ever know, whether they believe it or not. The roles frequently reverse, or at least change radically; the awkward, different kid getting picked on finally blooms, and realizes that high school is just bullshit anyway, and that life has much more to offer, while the bully frequently finds out the hard way that their few years playing King Shit of Turd Hill is about as good as it's gonna get for them.

    In the meantime, maybe schools do need to start making examples of bullies, whether "traditional" or electronic. Expel them, send them home, make their clueless parents have to deal with their sociopathic bullshit. You can't child-proof the world, but you can crack down on the assholes who inhabit it with impunity. Fuck them. It's easy to blame the technology, or negligence on someone's part, or "the culture," whatever that entails, but maybe it's just us. Maybe we're just fucking mean, and maybe we're just too tolerant of that meanness at a time in life that is far too volatile and impulsive to handle it.

    Money for Nothing

    So Larry Summers is out, and maybe Janet Yellen is in. I'll believe it when I see it, but it really doesn't matter much anyway. What's she going to do, stop giving interest-free money to the banks to lend to the peons?

    Since we have Asians to make our shit for us, our economy is predicated on a few people keeping everyone else in perpetual debt and wage slavery. There is nothing else; no Fed monetary policy change is going to affect that. The "jobless recovery" will continue to be defined by more min-wage mcjobs and more people forced to make money on the side just to survive. Green grass and high tides forever.

    The pernicious issue of wealth/income disparity could be solved tomorrow, either with some sort of (at least partial) debt jubilee, a bailout of the working class, or some combination. But that won't happen no matter who helms the Fed, whether it's Larry Summers, Janet Yellen, or Noam Chomsky. This machine operates under certain rules of political physics, and they are unalterable.


    I'd like to share a revelation that I've had during my time here. It came to me when I tried to classify your species and I realized that you're not actually mammals. Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment but you humans do not. You move to an area and you multiply and multiply until every natural resource is consumed and the only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. Do you know what it is? A virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet. You're a plague and we are the cure. -- Agent Smith

    Well, good thing that's settled then. Christ on a cracker, where do these fucking people come from? Normally actual scientists, who spend their lives studying logical thought and tested hypotheses, don't resort to this magical, providential thinking, which in this case boils down to "something will come along, because something always does."

    The world population is now estimated at 7.2 billion. But with current industrial technologies, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has estimated that the more than nine billion people expected by 2050 as the population nears its peak could be supported as long as necessary investments in infrastructure and conducive trade, anti-poverty and food security policies are in place.

    Oh, the food wing of a borderline-useless relief organization has estimated. Shit, no need to worry anymore, I guess. Nothing to see here, folks, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has estimated. The same people who spent five years thumbing their dicks while Syria's record drought morphed into a civil war. One does wonder where some people find pants large enough to contain their enormous balls. Because of course all of those "necessary investments in infrastructure and conducive trade, anti-poverty and food security policies" will be "in place" tout de fucking suite, n'est-ce pas? Sure, and if my aunt had balls, why, she'd be my uncle. Cool story, bro.

    Neither physics nor chemistry nor even biology is adequate to understand how it has been possible for one species to reshape both its own future and the destiny of an entire planet. This is the science of the Anthropocene. The idea that humans must live within the natural environmental limits of our planet denies the realities of our entire history, and most likely the future. Humans are niche creators. We transform ecosystems to sustain ourselves. This is what we do and have always done. Our planet’s human-carrying capacity emerges from the capabilities of our social systems and our technologies more than from any environmental limits.

    It's almost as if it was cribbed from some tech wing of the US Chamber of Commerce. We can have infinite energy, so long as we don't mind removing mountaintops, turning water tables into flammable vats of poisonous slurry, and the occasional bursting pipeline inundating some backwater with a few thousand barrels of crude. Hey, that's why we have media blackouts and airspace closures. What you don't know hurts someone else, amirite people?

    We "transform ecosystems" by damaging their long-term sustainability in a variety of ways, from pollution and desertification to more vicious and mendacious means, such as habitat destruction and poaching. Yes, the magic beans Monsanto is forcing us to buy may indeed make it possible for 20 billion people to stack on top of each other and feed heartily, in a world with smartphones but without tigers, or coastlines, or potable water. Awesome. Where do you sign up?

    There is so much more to the impending overpopulation catastrophe than merely being able to produce enough food for everyone to eat. The most overcrowded places are also the most poverty-stricken; surely this is not a coincidence.

    Which makes one wonder, what was even the impetus for this op-ed in the first place? What the hell is wrong with acknowledging that there are very serious environmental and sociopolitical ramifications inherent with overcrowding? Why do some persist in whistling past the graveyard and presuming that infinite growth is possible and/or desirable, without any serious environmental and quality-of-life impacts?

    How does better food tech help, for example, Bangladesh, where 160 million people are crammed into an area about the size of Iowa, that is mostly underwater, and will be almost completely submerged by 2100? Who gets to handle all the refugees, one of the other overcrowded backwaters surrounding it? Don't worry folks, the UNFAO has estimated. It's all good.

    Just as Paul Ehrlich might have jumped the gun a bit (at least as far as the Oceania and Eurasia nations are concerned), so might Malthus have presumed too much, so might we yet (depending on who "we" is, 1 in every 3 people lives in China or India, 1 in 2 in Asia, so....) innovate a way out of this. But maybe not; there are a multitude of serious issues looming in relation to overcrowding, and there is much work to be done just to alleviate the almost certain impact for many millions right now, not to mention those yet to be born.

    Saturday, September 14, 2013

    Transactional Morality

    You have to give Conor Friedersdorf some credit for writing about a contentious issue with sensitivity to both sides of said issue. But as with the self-inflicted travails of Paula Deen several months ago, one needs to look beyond the fripperies of "human rights" and "tolerance" of "both sides" of these things.

    As a lifelong diehard fan of professional and college football, I absolutely get that people want to believe that the televised broadcasts of games are there to enable them to watch their favorite teams compete, and that the commentators are selected for their ability to entertain. Sure, and the nightly news is there to inform you, right?

    Look. Sports and news broadcasts exist to sell you shit, period. And with sports broadcasts especially, this is even doubly or trebly true -- since unlike the news broadcast in between the endless commercials for insurance and pharmaceuticals and big ol' pick-'em-up trucks designed to make you feel better about your tiny dong, the televised game also implicitly sells tickets and swag for the teams and the league.

    It's a sports broadcaster's job to keep customers coming, and clearly Fox thought his comments might drive away customers, just as the Food Network thought Paula Deen's comments might drive away customers. These were not (at least not predominantly) moral considerations driven by political correctness. These were business decisions; in fact, it is entirely plausible that if James' and Deen's respective comments were found not to be impactful to the bottom line, their employment statuses would have been unaffected.

    Individuals make moral decisions, but organizations do only when it is advantageous to do so, and I think that's something opinion writers tend to forget, which puts them into the position of begging the wrong questions. This is also a symptom of financial reporting, as perfectly good writers and thinkers persist in grabbing the wrong end of the stick.

    As long as the government is giving free money to the banks to turn around and soak the peons, there is no "crisis," nor even a problem, from the viewpoint of the usurers, for whom the economy and the political system run. So the reporters and observers ask their plaintive questions of what needs "fixing." It's fixed, folks, take a closer look; if you're Goldman Sachs there is no problem. The object of the "economy," such as it is, from the rentiers' perspective, is to keep as many people as possible is a state of perpetual debt. This is accomplished primarily by chronically depressed wages, due to outsourcing and siphoning all profits from worker productivity gains at the top levels.

    With non-stop news cycles and practically infinite modes of commentary, it is still a bit weird, if not terribly surprising, that so few "mainstream" media folks are inclined to simply see things for precisely what they are. The continuing, increasing rates of wealth inequity and hyperconcentration of wealth, and the domination of rackets in captive markets (especially health care and higher education), constitute the greatest threat to the well-being of American society.

    All the more reason that no politician from "either" party will ever do a goddamned thing about any of it. They are being paid to let it ride. Those are the questions that need to be asked, at least as often as whatever tedious celebrity-sniffing bullshit gets offered as "news," or even "entertainment."

    Wednesday, September 11, 2013

    School Daze

    As someone with a 12-year-old daughter who is bright, inquisitive, and certainly would benefit from the college experience (were it not a racket), I am honestly at a moral and ethical crossroads as to whether to encourage her to simply keep learning and achieving on her own, or to go into indentured servitude for a magic piece of paper that ain't all that magic anymore.

    Knowledge is free. It's credentialism that costs you.

    Blind Justice

    Congrats to the state of Iowa for going beyond the usual bounds of reason. You can't even parody this sort of thing, it writes itself.

    Threat Averted

    Praise Jebus, the Million25 MuslimPeacenik Idiot MarchPresence was thwarted by 235 kajillion would-be Sons of Anarchy who are peaceful and had no plans whatsoever to confront any of the non-existent be-inners.

    I guess we can all go back to watching Miley Cyrus dry-hump lawn furniture.

    The Summer of George

    In a media-driven culture, one tends at the beginning of each calendar year to wonder what weird, unpredictable things fate (or, more practically, the media) will throw in our path. And so we are invited to watch the trajectory --  the downward spiral, if you will (and you just might) -- of one George Zimmerman.

    Now, it doesn't help that his soon-to-be ex-wife comes off as a calculating, flaky shrew, changing her story at almost breakneck speed, and apparently insisting as part of the divorce petition that Zimmerman pay for a permanent life insurance policy on himself, with her as the beneficiary (is this a common thing, or a Florida thing?).

    Let's just agree that both George and Shellie Zimmerman are reprehensible human beings, shall we? While George may be guilty of manslaughter rather than murder, his post-acquittal conduct seems by and large to indicate an asshole who seems to think he got away with something. I dunno, maybe it's just me, but even if I had justifiably killed an attacker who was legitimately threatening my life, I still would think at least twice before making my first stop the gun factory that manufactured the killing machine that protected me.

    Actually, Zimmerman's visit to the Kel-Tec facility says as much about the corrosive nature of America's gun culture as it does about Zimmerman himself. Look, there are only two people who know precisely what transpired between George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin that fateful night, and anyone who says different is full of shit, and filtering what they think they know through an amalgam of personal assumptions and prejudices. But Zimmerman's visit serves as an affirmation to a the sizable contingent of folks who need and enjoy such an affirmation. And that, not guns themselves, is the problem.

    Now that a husband-and-wife visit to The Biggest Loser seems to be out of the picture for George and Shellie Zimmerman, it will be interesting to see where George's path takes him. At the rate he's going, it's not hard to imagine him trying his tough-guy bullshit on some Florida cracker that sees him as just another fat Mexican, and gives him the beatdown he seems to be cruising for.

    Sunday, September 08, 2013

    Everything Looks Like a Nail

    As the paramilitarization of even semi-rural backwater police departments continues apace, it behooves one to ask to what eventual end. Before long, the average 'murkin will no longer have a memory of a time when law enforcement personnel were not almost instinctively antagonistic to the routine needs of citizens. There was a time when you wouldn't have brought a fuckin' SWAT team to defuse a situation involving a 107-year-old man. (And it will be interesting to learn what set Monroe Isadore off, and who the people were at whom he brandished his gun. Centenarians don't usually just lose their shit for no reason at all.)

    Pine Bluff, for some reason, has a homicide rate that trails only Detroit's, primarily as a result of increased gang activity. So it makes sense that they may have acquired out of necessity more law enforcement tools and equipment than might ordinarily be found on a city of less than 50,000 people.

    But what comes with the enhanced capabilities is a heightened tendency to use those tools and response mechanisms across the board. SWAT teams used to be only for extreme circumstances, not for an angry codger waving a gun. Now they have the toys, so it would be silly not to use them, right?

    Police used to know the citizens they serve and protect, and proceed accordingly. I mean, really -- unless Monroe Isadore had just moved to Pine Bluff for some reason, there wasn't anyone in a position of power there who knew what has to have been the most senior resident there, no one who could talk him out of his tree?

    No. That's just not how it's done anymore. Police departments apparently think nothing of invading citizens' homes now, terrorizing their families, if said citizens choose not to let their homes be used to stake out domestic violence allegations at the neighbor's house. (A commenter at Volokh helpfully provides more detailed information about the fascist pigs who pulled the Henderson job, if any of you happen to be in that area and want to drop by and say hi.)

    The upshot is that persons in a position of authority no longer feel the least bit obliged to explain or negotiate with lesser mortals, and that all problems can be resolved by applying overwhelming force on the target. This is also clearly true at the foreign policy level as well, as the Obama administration seems to think that seeking and acquiring congressional approval for a poorly-considered tactical strike in Syria automatically legitimizes it.

    Not to put too fine a point on it, but perhaps the current reliance on drones for tactical application has dulled the senses of policy-makers in this instance. The default assumption that such strikes are "surgical" in nature obscure the realities of the situations in question. In the Af-Pak region, the overall result appears to be a hardening of the hostility of the populace, automatically delegitimizing any benign efforts we might undertake or sponsor in the region.

    In Syria, the results appear to have little or no tangible upside, and many likely opportunities for escalation and regional catastrophe. The notion of using American military force on an identified target, yet explicitly not having removal of that target as an overarching goal, is as lame-brained and unimaginative as one might conceive of.

    "We're going to pimp-slap Assad because he's an asshole, yet leave him in power because his opposition is even worse" is not only not a plan, it undermines the credibility of using military force. Imagine our reaction if Putin chose to unilaterally undertake such a move, or the Chinese decided to engage in that sort of thing. (In fact, we did, if one recalls, strenuously object to Russian military actions in and around Georgia in 2008, even though there was a plausible case for Russia intervening to protect Russian citizens in the region.)

    The temptation to resolve disputes with aggression, under the guise of "law enforcement," becomes greater with the availability of more and more overwhelming tools of force. Untouchable superiority in weapons, technology, training, and organization should allow such entities to negotiate more, if they choose to do so. More and more, though, it appears that it simply grants the powerful carte blanche to do whatever the hell they want, whenever they want, without having to answer for it.

    New York State of Mind

    I wonder if Bloomberg ever gets tired of being a jerkoff. If he had his way, he'd just cancel the election and appoint Christine Quinn as his successor. And the thing is, he's probably just enough of a putz to admit it.