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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Losing a Whole Year

I remember you and me used to spend the whole goddamned day in bed. -- Third Eye Blind

Hopefully all of you out there have had a good year, and are set for a fine '15. Me, it's been a strange one this most recent go-round, mostly unpleasant, but also on a level that I would generally feel bad complaining about, in the "first world problems" sense. Nevertheless....

2013 was a productive year for me, as in the absence of viable opportunities to take my degree and make some real chedda, I took the initiative and read anything and everything I could find on website monetization and e-book creation and marketing. I created a guitar website and wrote five (short) tab books to support and drive traffic, finding a niche that no one had scratched. The books were modestly priced, but so far have generated at least a "beer money" level of side income. Not quite what I had my sights set on, but better than nothing.

Now, in my day job, as 2013 came to a close, there came an opportunity for a direct promotion in early 2014, not only for about $15K or so more, but directly in my chain of advancement, the next step up, work I was already doing, because this new position was being created, not filling a vacancy. Slam dunk for yours truly. Then it went sideways, after they fucked up the recruitment and interview process, taking three months to make a decision -- and when they finally did, I didn't land the gig. Still don't know why exactly, something that more or less boils down to "shit happens", near as I can tell.

(I did get to keep my current position, but am already at the highest step, maxed out in salary, so as long as prices for things like gas and food come back down -- and strangely they have the past few months, but not for long -- it's all good.)

Mostly it was an opportunity to finally start getting ahead just a little, turn that eternally tenuous toehold into something resembling a grip. And when the process gets stretched out to more like six months, when all's said and done, it takes a lot out of you. The thing was, I set aside all my extracurricular activities in order to concentrate on proving how over-qualified I was for the newer, shinier, better compensated position. I had ideas for at least three more guitar books for 2014, and shelved them "temporarily" whilst humping legs for that fucking promotion. By the time the smoke had cleared I'd lost the thread on the books. It was a long summer, between trying to get back on that horse, accepting getting passed over, and getting more and more work coming my way.

Then just a couple months ago, mid-October, my father, who had turned 90 at the end of August, passed away. It was painless and peaceful, in his sleep, and he was still in possession of his mental and physical faculties, which was important to him (and to all of his kids, of course). He had a rich, long life, and died content. If we were given the opportunity to choose our own personal way to go, most of us would probably pick this. He was a great guy and I miss him terribly, but we've all had elderly relatives, and we all steel ourselves for what comes eventually to all of us, the way you clench your abs just before someone punches you in the gut. But you never quite know when that punch is coming. Life has a way of making you flinch before the real blow comes.

Since then, it's triggered a sort of midlife crisis response for me, not that I'm running out to get a red sports car and a 25-year-old girlfriend (though I'm not opposed to those things!), but mostly in my professional life. It'd be easy and fun to paint an Office Space type of picture for you, and there's an element of that, as there is in any sedentary desk-monkey job. But in general, I like the people I work with, they like me, and I'm good at the work I do.

I just don't enjoy the job anymore, and my dad's passing has served as a reminder that life is short, because even if you live to be 90 or 100, your body starts failing you long before that time. I'll be 48 this coming May, but all I see is staring down the barrel of the big five-oh already. And then it's a crapshoot to see how long shit holds together physically. Fifty to sixty years of age is, on average, the time of life where either you start developing some sort of chronic condition, or just the normal aches and pains that never quite go away, but settle in, get a nice ass-groove going, and expand, slowly, persistently.

When I was a 25-year-old wannabe Eddie Van Halen, I looked down the temporal road and chuckled that I'd be retired at age 50, no sweat. If we knew then what we know now, if we could go back and warn our younger selves. Life has ways of throwing little twists into things, and truly pivotal paths can turn almost imperceptibly, on a dime. And you are well down a different path before you even realize it. Shoulda left a trail of bread crumbs, or unraveled a giant ball of string behind you. But we can never find our way back, we can only look back up the path and wish in futility.

So it's become this weird -- not vicious, just weird -- cycle, of a lack of productivity and motivation, of self-recrimination for said lack, of having days where I just want to say fuck it, sell everything I own for pennies on the dollar, and take my guitars and books and laptop to Costa Rica, and spend my remaining salad days teaching milfs how to surf and play guitar. I suppose my wife might have some difference of opinion on that particular dream; let's just say I would be perfectly content to run a normal mom-and-pop business with her, but still in that location, or something like it. Somewhere away from the hamster wheel of debt slavery.

It's the fear -- and obviously, this is something I've explored in depth the past couple years in here, picked it like a fuckin' scab, never quite letting it heal over -- of being mired in debt right up to the end. Worse than that, denying myself the chance to go try something I'd probably love and enjoy. I'm not a big "purpose" guy, but like the aforementioned Peter Gibbons, I don't think we were meant to spend our lives pushing paper and pixels, doing the impossible for the ungrateful because we're conditioned to remain tethered to our paper debt in perpetuity.

So that's my goal for 2015, to get back into trying to monetize the music and internet stuff, attack it with a renewed vengeance (and yes, purpose), make it click, get some traction. I think it's important to not let the bastards get to you; I wish this poor soul had had someone to tell her that, that life for all its faults and traps is generally good and frequently great, that you can wait out the townies and the parents and the assholes, and move away from them and never look back. That's the sort of thing that makes my carping feel like small beer. I have a small house and a big dick, and that's still better than the other way around. The only reason I complain is that I expect more out of myself.

I mentioned in my 2013 year-end roundup that I would probably be closing up shop here at The Hammer this here very night, at the end of 2014. There seemed to be a certain symmetry to it, ten years exactly and all, and there are many days when I feel like the well has run dry. But there are enough days where I still feel like pumping to continue to plug along. Writing, as I've tried to impart to my teenage daughter, is nothing more or less than organizing your thoughts. And while I don't feel like I've had all that many fresh ideas or thoughts as of late, I still think the organizing part is important, needs to be kept up. Maybe mixing things up, with something besides easy-meat hot-button politics and current events, would help.

So we're still here until we're not -- me, you, everyone. Stay safe. Live better, laugh louder, fuck harder and more often. Hope this coming year brings only good things for us all.

The Out Crowd

Few things are funnier than watching huge corporations appropriate teenybopper slang for cheesy social-media marketing lingo as it's already played out; as by its very nature such silly words and phrases are ephemeral. This is by design, obviously -- once the 'rents have figured out what you're saying, it's time to let them have it and come up with something else. But hey, if you want your multi-million dollar bidness to sound like an eighth-grade girl, knock yerself out, hoss.

It's sort of the linguistic version of Charles Eugene "Pat" Boone fucking up Little Richard songs.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Malacca Triangle

Remind me never to get on an Asian passenger jet. Two in about ten months, they're losing these things like socks in a fucking dryer.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Giuliani Time

Maybe I missed it in what coverage of the police protests I've seen, but I would have definitely taken note of protesters literally chanting for "dead cops". It would take some serious fucktardery for anyone to perceive or portray the cold-blooded, deliberate murders of police officers as some sort of moral equivalence for the various and sundry police killings of unarmed civilians around the country.

For that matter, it's pretty asinine to chant a desire for dead cops, just as it's asinine to loot stores and attack passersby at a protest. There is a legitimate reason to protest the spate of shooting deaths of unarmed civilians by police officers, and that reason is to demand accountability for those specific officers, justice for those specific victims. Attempts to broad-brush all law enforcement for the actions of an inept, trigger-happy few are counterproductive.

That said, the cops and their unions do no one any favors by their reflexive, defensive attitude. They deliberately repurpose any and all honest attempts to right specific wrongs as attacks on all law enforcement. This is nuts. Saying that Darren Wilson's shooting of Michael Brown or Daniel Pantaleo's choking of Eric Garner deserve scrutiny and honest investigation is not an automatic indictment of all police officers, or even most of them, or even many of them. It's saying that the actions of Officers Wilson and Pantaleo need to be checked out by honest observers. Apparently this is impossible, not allowed, verboten.

Bill DeBlasio made a fatal error in having the nerve, the gall, to publicly admit that he has had The Talk that many parents of black sons have about how to deal with cops -- never have your hands in your pockets; don't make any sudden moves; be as deferential as possible; and for Christ's sake don't run. Parents of black men have been telling their kids these things for generations, this is nothing new. This is something every honest police officer knows to be true in the first place.

And it's not as if the NYPD (and other urban police forces) in particular doesn't have a nasty recent history with this sort of thing. 9/11 acted as a sort of mind eraser for some pretty bad behavior in the years immediately preceding it, and we all fell all over ourselves to genuflect to Our Heroes. But it's there all the same, in the plunger shoved in Abner Louima's asshole, in the 41 bullets that perforated Amadou Diallo as he reached for his wallet, in the punching of reporters and the burning of Dinkins effigies when the cops went batshit at the idea of independent oversight.

Just as the Ferguson protests were about so much more than just what happened between Darren Wilson and Michael Brown, so is this mushrooming impasse between the NYPD and Bill DeBlasio about more than Eric Garner, or the two officers murdered in their car yesterday by a deranged idiot. It's about the resentfulness of a paramilitarized urban police force the size of a small army, taking the reflexive posture that they don't have to explain themselves to anyone.

They get to ask the questions, and as such, they don't like being on the other side of the interrogation table. As I've been pointing out, their mission is now compliance, and the fact that "outsiders" continue to have the temerity to ask inconvenient questions shows a lack of that critical asset. We're supposed to take their answers as given, shrug our shoulders, quietly pay off the families, and forget about it.

When the hell did being a cop mean you had to answer to no one for anything? Arguments that "you don't know what it's like" ring hollow. I don't know what the President of the United States has to deal with on a daily basis either, but I do know that if he fucks up badly enough, people get to question him, and he has to fucking well answer. That's the difference between a truly free society and, well, a police state. And this is exactly how police states get started, by thwarting any and all attempts at simple accountability.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Work Ethic

Interesting article in the NY Times about the apparent statistical correlation between higher taxes, stronger social safety nets, and lower unemployment rates. It makes sense to be at least skeptical about whether correlation is causation (hint:  it generally isn't), but there are a couple of things worthy of note, if for entirely different reasons.

Robert Greenstein, the president of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, notes that wages for entry-level work are much higher in the Nordic countries than in the United States, reflecting a higher minimum wage, stronger labor unions and cultural norms that lead to higher pay. (In October, my colleagues Liz Alderman and Steven Greenhouse wrote about $20-an-hour Burger King employees in Denmark.)

Perhaps more Americans would enter the labor force if even basic jobs paid that well, regardless of whether the United States provided better child care and other services. The employment subsidies Mr. Kleven cites surely help coax more Scandinavians into the work force, Mr. Greenstein agrees, but shouldn’t be viewed in isolation.

“You get into trouble when you cherry-pick things,” Mr. Greenstein said.
Needless to say, there are a few things to unpack here. First is the seeming philosophical disparity that the notoriously Calvinist (at least as applies to work in general, rather than a specific teleological view) work ethic of Northern European countries. Scandiwegian countries may be louche and highly sexualized -- and only an American puritan would think that was a bad or questionable thing -- but they get shit done, and do it well, and have consistently high levels of quality of life and general happiness 'mongst their plebes.

Second is the reflexively (and again, almost uniquely) American stance that fast-food work is and deserves to be the lowest-paid in the conventional (in other words, non-immigrant) workforce. While it's true that, at least in theory, compensation in the American workforce is based more on value-added and difficulty of training or replacement, rather than mere difficulty or exertion of the workload, this principle completely ignores how it takes money out of the economy. If you pud-pay the masses for their grunt work, they don't have any discretionary income after paying their bills. And the one-percenters can buy only so many toys.

The American business community is obsessed with the quest for "optimization," yet that differs from how other business cultures understand that word. A European businessperson will optimize processes in order to maximize profit; their American counterpart will re-jigger every process possible -- even if the process becomes more inefficient or dangerous -- if it will increase profit even a hair. And where the European executive will generally spread at least some of the spoils downstream, there's no fucking way any self-respecting 'murkin bidness tool will do jack shit for the peons unless forced at gunpoint.

And as always, the wealthy actually have the working poor on their side, so there is literally no disincentive to bad behavior or sociopathic indifference.

The second quote, completely decontextualized but valid all the same:

The system is designed to keep us working.

You're goddamned right it is, until the Age of Automation takes over, and everything that can be commodified will be. Then we'll see what the powers that be figure out to do with you lot. I'm guessing something of the soylent variety.

The Paranoid Style, Part 2: State of Siege

It continues to be the one of the most fascinating dynamics in this -- or indeed any -- year:  the way political demographics who have distinctly characterized themselves by an intense, almost instinctive mistrust of the flex and impact of the gubmint jackboot, rush quickly and readily to defense of militarized, trigger-happy cops and their self-serving bullshit excuses for why they had to perforate that kid brandishing a BB gun in a playground in just two seconds flat. Well, as my dear memaw useta tell her Sunday school kids, fuck that noise.

It should be abundantly clear by now (and if it isn't, watch the video in the Reason link) that that whole "protect and serve" thing is done; it is simply your duty to comply, to shut the fuck up and do what you're fucking told. That might earn you the right to survive and get back to your meaningless hamster-wheel existence, but we're not making any promises, pally.

What's so weird and amazing is how thin-skinned they are, how any and all criticism, no matter how well reasoned and explained, is so frantically dismissed. Tamir Rice and John Crawford, both black males brandishing BB guns in an open-carry state (Ohio), get put down like dogs, without even being given a chance to comply. This is not in dispute, both murders are easily viewable on the YouTube.

As with Rodney King and Oscar Grant, who knows what lies these assholes would have told and gotten away with, but for the irrefutable video evidence? They shot someone because they failed to comply, to obey, because they could, because no one will call them on their bullshit. Because at heart, America is neither "liberal" nor "conservative," but merely authoritarian.

And a cheap, lame type of pseudo-authoritarian at that, pretending to chafe under the yoke of largely deferential federal and state authorities, while local and urban police forces run wild with no accountability whatsoever -- and indeed, the sincere support and appreciation of these erstwhile Red Dawn fantasists, the last civilized bulwark against those people.

This is of a piece with the collective 'murkin shrug over the "revelations" of torture, of which neither the torture allegations themselves nor the public coverage of same surprised any sentient being, domestic or foreign, friend or foe. These are the maroons who whinge about the consequences of terrorists finding out what they already knew, who in the next breath denounce the idea of rapprochement with a regime that tortures its political opponents. Oh, the humanity!

If irony and hypocrisy were Ebola, this country would be bleeding profusely from every single orifice. Our currency is now a hopeless mix of manufactured outrage and handwringing inaction, as if the perfidy of a few protesters posed a greater threat to the republic than, say, criminal financiers robbing you blind every goddamned day, the ongoing transformation of the economy into a series of rentier rackets, the impending commodification (and thus bankruptcy and peonage, due to the massive labor surplus it will cause) of the American workforce.

Everyone knows the old saw about politics basically being two wolves and a sheep deciding what to have for dinner. There is a great deal of truth to that, especially the higher you go in policy-making levels. A corollary to this premise is that "success" is largely contingent on the wolves' ability to gull the sheep into at least going long with the game. It's worked well for a couple hundred years so far.

What's changed in the last thirty years or so is how eagerly the sheep actively support the wolves now, if for no other reason than to not be identified as a fuckin' sheep. They bleat incessantly about the virtue of dying on their feet rather than living on their knees, which is admirable enough. Yet they can't wait to put the kneepads on at every opportunity; hell, they'll do it without asking at this point. Jamie Dimon could fuck their wives and rifle their underwear drawers right in front of them, they'd still man the Facebook barricades to post another stupid meme about how the asshole cop who blew away a twelve-year-old in a playground had no choice.

This is the sort of shit that makes me want to sell everything, like tomorrow, fucking high-tail it to Costa Rica, spend the rest of my life teaching tourist milfs how to surf and play guitar. I may yet do it; there is less and less reason not to. When the alternative is slaving away to pay down college debt, for the privilege of listening to seething mouthbreathers dog-whistle to each other, maybe it's time.

The Paranoid Style

So let's see if we have this straight -- one of the world's largest entertainment companies just got intimidated to its knees by a system hack supposedly perpetrated by a hillbilly cult disguised as a country, whose sole officially-sanctioned internet presence is hosted by another country's TLD extension and looks like it was put together by a random sixth-grader from any industrialized nation.

The only way North Korea has the technological sophistication to pull this off is with help from the Chinese, since no one else will even look in their direction. And on the off chance that NK did manage to do this entirely of their own volition and ability, so what? Why does that mean that American studios feel compelled to pull every NK-related project?

When did we become a society of such cosseted, mewling ninnies? You are infinitely more likely to get hit by a bolt of lightning (or, more realistically, plowed into by a drunk driver) while exiting a movie theater than attacked by a North Korean splinter cell because you saw a middling Rogen-Franco comedy. This is just a test case; it will get bigger and weirder and with more interesting targets, and soon.

And as Steve points out, where are those bold champions of free speech when you could really use them, why does George Clooney, like always, have more balls than all of those lying, chickenshit hacks put together? The answer (of course) is that when your "philosophy" operates primarily as an ongoing persecution complex, the constant challenge is to portray yourself as a disempowered, beleaguered minority -- even if, in fact, the opposite is plainly true.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Torture Never Stops

There are some pretty simple rules of thumb that can be used to determine whether something is "torture" or not:
  1. Would it qualify as torture if someone else did it to American soldiers or civilians?
  2. Has the U.S. tried and executed soldiers from other nations for doing it?

If you answered "yes" to either of those questions, it's probably torture. If you answered "yes" to both of them, then it's definitely torture. If you answered "yes" to both questions, but still don't give a shit, then you're a sociopath and a hypocrite at best, a soulless homunculus at worst.

Which brings us to Dick Cheney, show-hopping in the wake of the official announcement of what we all knew. Cheney, to his eternal credit and damnation, does not dodge or deny his involvement and endorsement of waterboarding, rectal rehydration, chaining people up in diapers and forcing them to piss and shit themselves, or just chaining them to a dungeon wall until they freeze to death.

Remember the Nixonian rationale that "it's not illegal if the President does it"? That's pretty much what's going on here -- it's not torture if we do it, or if we farm it out to more brutal practitioners.

These sorts of "revelations" are, of course, nothing new at all to anyone who even casually reads up on deep-state activities, which have been ongoing since the end of the 19th century but became more systematized after World War 2. It's laughable to believe that anything about US policy at large changes because we "reform" CIA policies as to what tactics can be used for interrogation -- we'll just send the next unfortunate victims out for one of our pliant minions to help with the wetwork. We'll still find pretexts to meddle or knock over inconvenient countries who don't understand that when we want them to play ball, we're not asking.

Dick Cheney does not give two shits if one of our official torture or rendition victims is innocent or not. Tough shit for Maher Arar, who was kidnapped from JFK Airport and sent to Syria, where he was beaten with cables and kept in a coffin-size box for ten months before, oopsy, turns out he really hadn't done anything. Tough shit for all of them, innocent or not, charged or not. Let God or Allah or the entropic void sort them out.

I sincerely believe that if you were to poll the vast 'murkin public, in its infinite limbic, lizard-brain wisdom, you'd find an appalling level of agreement with Darth Cheney, a seething, toxic brew of cranky indifference and outright hatred, a base assumption that if you can't tell 'em apart, then you should git 'em all, just to be safe.

There is an outside chance that circumstances could be made to change; after all, even Maher Arar eventually was set free and even sued and won a large settlement and apology. In some of the shitholes we outsource the nastier tasks to, they'd have finished the job and thrown him in a landfill.

(It probably didn't hurt that Arar's Canadian citizenship necessitated the involvement of another party to the disgusting behavior we were conspiring and perpetrating. Canada, our best friend, basically saw our hitchhiker sex dungeon through the basement window, and got us to set the poor bastard free. As long as they don't know about the crawlspace.)

The big lie, one of them anyway, is that torture is a normative method for finding out critical information. It isn't. That's not to say that it can't ever work; a person guilty of a crime or who has knowledge of an impending crime will probably crack at some point if enough pain and pressure are applied. But the thing is that the interrogator has no sure way of knowing. Life does not generally conform to the predictable outlines and neat resolutions of a 24 episode.

In countries that use torture more routinely, there is barely even the pretense of using methods solely to extract usable information. It is primarily a tool of repression, meant to terrorize and dehumanize, intended to send a message to fellow dissidents that they're next, that no one is safe from having their fingernails yanked or being boiled alive.

One of the more fascinating characteristics of humans is how so many of them derive such joy -- and make no mistake, Richard Bruce Cheney and every one of these fuckers that did these things are proud of what they did -- from inventing newer and uglier ways to inflict pain. To be sure the merciless cocksuckers in Al Qaeda, ISIS, whoever, they're no better. But we were supposed to be. Once you start pretending that torture is okay, if done by the "right" people for the "right" reasons, you're just a step away from instituting it on your own dissenters.

Hell, maybe the next police brutality protest, the police infiltrator instigates violence as a pretext to drag in some hippie punk, a jailhouse beatdown by pissed-off cops followed by tossing the DFH into the bubba tank for forcible sodomy. Happens every day in the American gulag, and it will not change one bit just because an ancient senator finally got pissed enough at the internal security state to give them a parting slap.

The question is, when do we become pissed enough at the whole lot of it to actually do something about it, even if it's just collectively refusing to support or participate in this corrupt system anymore?

Saturday, December 13, 2014

This Week In Butthurt

Here's one useful way to tell that law enforcement officers and their union reps are inherently aligned with what are now called "conservatives" (in other words, whiny teabaggers):  even though they hold all the weapons, and juries and courts are automatically inclined to side with them, they still have the whole "persecuted innocent" act dialed in to a T.

Look, if it's too tough, or too dangerous, or just a load of PC bullshit being a cop, there is a very simple solution:  don't be one. Be anything else. Be a plumber; a good plumber can make great coin. Worst case scenario, you come into contact with human waste while wearing nitrile gloves.

I get that cops see idiots and assholes at their very worst, that on an average day, probably 95% of the people they encounter (other than their own colleagues, but probably some of them as well) are jerkoffs, skells, criminals, fucking lowlifes. That can't not color your view of humanity in general after a while. It's the same thing prison guards deal with.

I couldn't be a cop in even a small town without wanting to crack some fool's skull after like a week. My threshold for jerkoffs is low enough, but said threshold for, say, paroled tweaker who terrorizes his wife, beats the kids, kills the family pets, etc., is non-existent. Does not exist. It is my sincere belief that the world would be a better place without said violent, abusive assholes who prey on the weak and powerless because they have balls of their own, or mommy and daddy were mean, whatever. So here's the thing:  that is precisely why I would never consider being in law enforcement -- because I know I'd be terrible at it.

And if cops are killing unarmed citizens on the street for bullshit crimes, just to show who's in charge, maybe the public is better off with those cops doing something else. The good news -- and from the way these whiny-ass cops and their douchebag supporters act, it might actually be news to them -- is that no one forces anyone to be a police officer. Really? Yeah, really. There's no conscription. It's entirely voluntary. I know this will blow peoples' fucking minds, but I swear to the Flying Spaghetti Monster it's 100% true.

Nobody forces anybody into any career in this country, which means that if your line of work seems to dangerous and unappreciated, well, you just show 'em all and pick another goddamned career. We all know you got into it to "protect and serve", but when you're no longer doing either of those things, but simply using tactical violence to enforce absolute compliance, maybe it's time to try another line of work.

Freedom of Choice

Boy, when the pro-life crowd want to yank your heart-strings, they go all out, don't they? It's very tempting to pull an Ed and FJM this sort of guff, but let's keep it simple, because it really is.

Beyond all the usual choir-preaching, these folks are missing the fundamental element in the abortion argument, that of individual agency. This woman chose to maintain a pregnancy conceived in a brutal rape, chose to endure the dangerous and painful symptoms of preeclampsia throughout the pregnancy, chose to have and keep what she refers to as her "delicious gift from God". Well, good for her.

But her OB-GYN is Greg Brannon, a pro-life absolutist who finished a distant second to Thom Tillis in what turned out to be a rather overcrowded North Carolina Senate primary this blessed year. As you can see, Brannon is unequivocal and unapologetic about denying women their right to choose, or at least choose something other than appeasing a capricious deity whose favorite pastime seems to be testing and tormenting his most devout believers.

And that is what is so aggravating and perplexing about the most ardent pro-lifers, at the bottom of all their purple prose and professions of ultimate love, this insistence that their choice is the only one -- because for them, it quite literally is. Nothing can make them comprehend the idea that other women, other men, other families may look at the same situations and see different options and outcomes.

As always, the most intractable opponent is not the one we simply happen to disagree with, no matter how strongly. Absolute certitude is the real enemy, the inability to have any real empathy for someone else to draw their own conclusions about a highly contentious issue, and the urge to legislate and impose their morality on everyone else.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Takin' It to the Streets

Let's reiterate, for the kids in the cheap seats:  it doesn't matter if you throw Molotov cocktails in the streets, or lay down in Grand Central Station -- it won't do any good, because they don't care. You think a federal investigation or a body camera will prevent the next cop from perforating an unarmed civilian? The ends of Eric Garner, John Crawford, Tamir Rice, and plenty of others are on video. We can all see what happened. Nothing will be done about any of them, because what the fuck are you gonna do about it, block traffic? Go ahead. Vote? Please. Jesus H. Christ.

Back in the day, the noted optimist Jim Morrison said "they got the guns, but we got the numbers". In a modern, militarized surveillance/security state, it's really the other way around -- mere numbers become irrelevant when the minority has all the weapons, the money, and the power, overt and coercive. Power gives you options:  to beat, to imprison, to ignore, to propagandize, to wait you out, to fuck up your future job prospects, any number of things. Mainly to refuse to respond to your plaints and your protests and your duly registered disgust at their conduct.

They don't give a shit because they don't need to give a shit because they don't want to give you the satisfaction and risk legitimizing your grievances because fuck you, cowboy. Whose country do you think this is, anyway? Get back in line or the hired dogs will just put on the riot gear and roll out the up-armored assault vehicles.

Of course these are lessons learned from the '60s, that hippies and idealists need to be beaten down, bought off, or spied on and blackmailed. Nowadays, they hardly even need to do that -- the flying monkeys at Faux News and their scumbag commentators will happily ridicule any non-teabagger grievance. Rudy Giuliani and his Nosferatu shadow have opportunistically slithered out of the coffin to piss on the graves of Eric Garner and Michael Brown and anyone else who fucks with Our Boys In Blue, the same type of hyper-paranoid mutt that perforated Amadou Diallo for the high crime of reaching for his wallet.

I respect the idealism of protestors, the sincere conviction that it will do jack shit to change anything. Occupy Wall Street changed nothing, the massive Iraq War protests around the world in 2003 changed nothing. People reserve high praise for the non-violent (well, on the part of the protestors, anyway) resistance tactics of Gandhi and MLK. And those did change some things, but at what a price, a lot of people getting the shit beaten out of them or murdered for saying no, and a couple of martyred heroes.

But the most modern manifestation of the tactics you see when you see protests is the WTO protests in Seattle in 1999. A grim combination of pushing people around, presenting the tactics of looters and vandals as the norm, and dismissing and delegitimizing valid grievances, Seattle became the template for defusing the causes of disruptive groups of citizens.

(Some of the comments in the Atlantic article are just as appalling. Look, most reasonable people will acknowledge that pulling hundreds of millions of people out of grinding poverty in China and India is a net positive from a humanitarian perspective. But, uh, it wasn't the average 'murkin manufacturing worker's fault that those countries are hopelessly overpopulated; it wasn't just a couple thousand greedy union tools that lost their jobs, it was millions of working-class people who were promised retraining and opportunities; the usual suspects made all the money from gutting their countrymen's jobs and communities. Whatever potential globalization legitimately had, what it was was just another round of American corporations fucking over American workers, and pocketing the profits.)

About the only protests you don't see getting smacked down are old white guy protests, your Cliven Bundy types, your teabagger rallies, your gun-nut slobs sporting stretched-out beach shorts and assault rifles at the Chipotle ostensibly because Second Amendment, but really because most guys who can no longer see their dicks have trouble convincing women to suck them off.

The reason those protests don't get shut down is because they're useful to the powers that really be. They're a handy distraction, a way to further propagandize and polarize a dwindling but effective slice of the electorate. They've had their lives upended so that greedheads could profit massively from exploiting the competitive advantage of places with a massive surplus of labor, and look for easy answers to pin the blame on.

Body cameras on cops won't hurt, but also won't change much when grand juries literally refuse to indict despite actual video evidence of police over-reaction and misconduct. Those punk-ass cops gang-mauled Eric Garner for selling individual cigarettes; the man lost his life for selling loosies. It's all on video, crystal clear, and still they refuse to do a goddamned thing about it. Video doesn't matter, in a climate where citizens will not just eat the shit sandwich, but run down to the store and buy the bread.

Here's the only video that matters, if we want to understand what's going on here:
Robin Harris in House Party

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

First Amendment Remedies

What have we learned from the Ferguson riots -- or, perhaps more meta-importantly, the coverage of the Ferguson riots? The most critical thing (imho), and therefore the one that has not been and will never be brought up in the incessant media navel-gazing is to me the most obvious one:  that people will go completely batshit about five football players expressing their opinion with a harmless gesture, while the financial industry screws the country out of more money every single day than most of these ofay crackers will ever see in a lifetime.

(And it shouldn't need to be said, but just in case, of course any violent crimes committed during these riots need to be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.)

Oh dear, where is the moral outrage? Where are the armchair stat monkeys mustering their hastily googled nuggets of research on the prevalence of suit-on-everyone-else crime rates, of how decades of outsourcing and gutting the manufacturing base has left the hallowed small-town 'murka a meth-addled husk of dollar stores and welfare families? So much analysis, so completely devoid of context, of perspective.

Ferguson is about much more than whether or not Michael Brown stupidly instigated his demise. I think most people will agree that if you punch a cop and try to grab his gun, you can reasonably expect to get your ass shot. The problem is, it's not a slam-dunk whether that's what actually happened. But again, Ferguson is not about that anymore, if it ever really was. It's about the larger context of black men and kids being shot by trigger-happy cops, of militarized police forces acting like they're raiding Fallujah, and not dealing with a dumb kid doing a dumb thing.

If being young and irresponsible was something that should get you shot, it's a safe bet that most of us wouldn't have made it past twenty years of age. But even the dimmest, most reactionary bulb should be able to suss the pattern here.

It's about whites literally not understanding what black males are routinely taught by their parents and friends about walking with their hands in their pockets, about running for any reason that is not obviously jogging, about wearing a hoodie. It's about how a black guy buying a pellet gun -- in an open carry state! -- can get turned into Swiss cheese, while any fat white slob can strap up for some Oreos or to menace people with their penis substitutes, and it's just understood that it's a Second Amendment thang. It's about how we're not as far removed as we think we are from a time when black people in some areas had to go in through the back door at the veterinarian's office to get a tooth pulled, despite what the "slavery was 150 years ago, get over it" crowd think they know.

That is the problem, that is the injustice. That is the source of frustration for protesters, much more encompassing and pervasive and commonplace than whatever actually transpired between Michael Brown and Darren Wilson. The only thing that will sway the reactionary crackers' minds is when one of their own gets shot by a shoot-first-ask-questions-later idiot.

Even then, there will always be the ones who will indulge in victim-blaming, because that's all they know.

Monday, November 24, 2014

No Surprises

There can't possibly be anyone out there surprised by the Ferguson grand jury's finding. All the usual ofay assholes, the Giulianis of the teevee jabber industry, will flood the zone tomorrow and pontificate about how if those people just stopped acting up, white cops wouldn't have to put 'em down.

Yes, maybe Michael Brown should have been a little smarter about cops. Same goes for Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old shot by a Cleveland cop over the weekend. We were all young once, but some of us have forgotten that part of the deal with being a dumb kid is that you haven't yet learned that the world is at best indifferent to your fate, at worst out to get you, or just waiting for you to fuck up so it can pounce on you.

Children are made aware of sex at about the age they hit puberty, just so that they hopefully understand the potential consequences of irresponsibility and recklessness. What would be an ideal age to teach them that if they screw around with the law, a cop can shoot them like a dog in the street and not lose a wink of sleep over any of it?

I'm old enough to recall a simpler time, a time when shooting even known perps was considered a last resort for cops, or nearly so, a time when cops didn't just gun down a sixth-grader in a playground swing as the go-to option. I think that if Michael Brown or Tamir Rice or John Crawford or Akai Gurley or Eric Garner had been white, they'd all still be alive. I know that there are still parts of this country where thieving racists hold positions of some authority, and they get away with it until they're caught on camera, until there's no choice but to hold them at least a little bit accountable.

Then they get fired, maybe, sometimes. But the dead are still dead, and paranoid white people still side with overeager shooters, until it's their turn or their screw-up kid gets a visit from Johnny Law. Riot all you want, kiddies, it won't do you a goddamned bit of good. You get to hear yet another round of full-throated song from the proverbial rednecked peckerwood, that most pernicious and tiresome of the political aviary. That's about it.

For now, this is racial, but it's really socioeconomic at heart; only poor people get the full iron fist treatment. And because 'murka is full of gullible maroons who assure themselves that poor people are lazy idiots while they themselves are just temporarily embarrassed millionaires, the crackers assume that the police are always right, as long as it's someone else they're picking on.

Fortunately, in our post-scarcity utopia, when no one has a job because robots are flipping our burgers, delivering our goods, and yes, patrolling our streets, and what jobs are left are for (perhaps literally) peanuts, everyone will be fair game.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Dugout

One of the "advantages" of having mostly conservative (especially a few really conservative) Facebook friends is that you get direct links to some odd shit. We're talking about stuff that makes Whirled Nut Daily look like the Utne Reader.

One such outlet is something pulled out of (let's say) Jerry Corsi's gaping asshole, called (hilariously) Western Journalism. One such "article" (the entire site seems to be an incompetent mishmash of half-witted conspiracy theories and circus-freak clickbait) involves the hapless Duggar family, whom you may recall as the goofball Arkansas cultists whose sole claim to fame is doing what just about every human can do, just way too much of it.

Apparently some five-figured number of gay-rights supporters have e-signed an e-petition to cancel 19 Kids and Counting, not because the entire premise of the show can be gleaned from the title, and therefore every episode is interchangeable, but because they tried to start a stupid meme and got trolled by same-sex couples, and took those eeevil fotoz down. Oh noez!

So of course e-supporters from the "other" "side" of the e-divide sharpened their e-crayons, and proceeded to self-actualize by e-signing their e-petition exhorting TLC -- which, let's step back and recall for a hot moment, putatively stands for The Learning Channel -- to keep the show on the air.

Does it really need to be said that whether or not this dumb fucking show about these dumb fucking people (and really, take a look at the ricockulous clickbait items on the right sidebar at the HollywoodLife link -- "Jessa Duggar & Ben Seewald:  Why They Didn't Have First Wedding Kiss"; what sort of inbred maroon cares?) gets cancelled is entirely based upon whether it gets good ratings or not? And amazingly, it does. Someone actually tunes into this nonsense, for some reason.

Like Duck Dynasty, this sort of stuff is just the usual cultural self-affirmation, a reminder of a largely mythical time when those people knew their place, and Jebus brought the Constitution down from hebbin to explain to the Founding Fathers (in English, doncha know) what the deal was.

I really could not possibly care less whether or not 19 Kids gets kicked to the curb or not. It's not like religious fanatics haven't had shows cancelled that that they found offensive. There can't possibly be any more to this premise, than watching the grown kids conceive and start ludicrously large families of their own. The Duggars are a "traditional" family only in the most archaic sense of the word, a vestige of a time when life was short and there were acres of subsistence crops to tend to.

I think this "quiverfull" bullshit is just that, especially on a groaning, strained planet at the extent of its resources, vastly overpopulated as it is. If everyone decided, like these religious fanatics, that viral over-breeding was the thing to do, we'd have twenty billion people, instead of just seven billion. The idiocy is in thinking that something will come along and work out and enable that to happen, because something always comes along. And that's just not true; every tsunami and earthquake and hurricane that takes thousands of lives is the earth sneezing, attempting to expel the virus which has overrun it.

That's a bit polemic, but the core truth still holds; the planet is optimized for maybe 2 billion people tops. After that, the issue of finite resources tend to become an issue. Good luck when the majority of humanity, who live in poverty-ridden, over-populated places like China and India, catch up with the West in resource consumption. That is the endgame of thinking you can just have a couple dozen kids, turn your vagina into a clown car, and that there will be no environmental effects.

It's to be expected that in an enormous (and enormously diverse) nation there will be manifold buffooneries, each more puzzling and laughable than the next. What's tricky is figuring out whether the cultural buffooneries inform the political ones, or the other way around. Probably a bit of both.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Spanish Fly



So, uh, this Cosby thing, right? I can't recall offhand which one in the flurry of commenters said, as this story was breaking hard a week or so ago, something to the effect that it was having trouble sticking because most Americans, growing up in an era of Cosby as this benevolent icon, mugging for his teevee family and endorsements for pudding and Coke, just didn't want to live in a world where this man was a serial rapist.

It's why, obviously, such celebrity transgressors typically get the benefit of the doubt for so long. Cosby has epitomized the image of the jovial, avuncular figure for longer than many of us have been alive, and has in recent years become more well-known as the voice of what some have called "organic black conservatism," essentially a call for more conventional goals of responsibility for blacks, especially men.

Cosby's calls to the next generations for more and better bootstrapping both have a ring of truth that transcends race, gender, and even age, yet still do not exactly harmonize with the reality of the post-job nirvana American society has achieved in its globalized rutting frenzy. The urban and poor communities have been hardest hit by many of these episodes of outsourcing. Telling the kids to knuckle down, pull their shit together, scramble to get to college to rack up a lifetime of debt, yada yada, works for some, right up to the point the kid gets out and realizes the game was rigged all along, in a way that Grandpa Huxtable cannot possibly fathom, because it didn't exist back in the '80s -- it was conceived then.

These exhortations are relevant to the current discussion, because where normally time has a way of smoothing the rough edges of prickly characters, for Cosby it seems to have had the opposite effect -- where in the heyday of The Cosby Show (a show which I might have caught once or twice, if that, for the record, and even then probably just to check out Lisa Bonet) his public image seemed pretty bulletproof, Cosby over the last decade or so has become perceived as more of a curmudgeonly "you damned kids" sort. Of course that has no bearing on whether he is or isn't a serial rapist, but it does seem to have made him just a bit less unassailable.

Certainly there is no shortage of women who make bullshit accusations against men, famous or not, for a variety of reasons. Sometimes the men do hard time based on those lies. I think that women who fabricate rape allegations should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. I think that women who accuse anonymously and try to fuck up a famous man's life or career should not be surprised or indignant when the man contemplates using his resources to retaliate forcefully against her. I agree that their fabrications harm actual rape victims, raise the specter of doubt across the board.

Did Conor Oberst have a "power disparity"? Of course, and it's reasonable to speculate that many other women do not come forward against celebrity rapists precisely because of that fear. But in Oberst's case, he also had a lot to lose from the anonymous -- yet public! -- fabrications of "Joanie Faircloth". She probably should consider herself fortunate that she didn't choose to defame a more litigious person. Fuck libel, let's try obstruction of justice.

Few crimes have as peculiar a dynamic as rape. Until the relatively recent advent of reliable DNA analysis and forensics, it was one of the more difficult crimes to prove conclusively, by nature frequently devolving to "he said-she said" interpretations of whether the crime took place, and to what degree. It is probably the only crime where, even when the victim is an adult, their name remains anonymous (justifiably so), yet the alleged perpetrator's name is instantly emblazoned on every media outlet far and wide.

(Then there's the inconvenient probability that the US is the only country where more men are raped than women. Probably the only country where it's considered high-larious too, just so long as it's perpetrated by some giant buck on a trembling new fish. Git 'im, Bubba, hee hee! That shit happens every day, right now, not thirty or forty years ago, all across the country, with the complicity of the people employed by the taxpayers to prevent it. And no one says jack shit about it.)

If there's a single factor that leads me to lean slightly toward the "Cosby probably did it, or at least some of it" camp, it's the sheer number of accusations so far. One, perhaps two accusations, without any hard proof and the distance of time, make it much easier to dismiss as a cynical, baseless attempt to ruin a good man. But Cosby's accusers number in the mid-teens so far. As Ta-Nehisi Coates says, it's hard to believe so many individuals would agree to participate in a conspiracy of spite with no clear motive.

But let's play devil's advocate for a second:  thirteen of those accusers are (unnamed) women who were deposed and set to testify in Andrea Constand's 2006 civil suit against Cosby, which was settled, and so their stories were not heard. Apparently in all of their cases the statute of limitations had run out, so they couldn't go to the authorities to investigate and prosecute. But unless they were getting part of Constand's settlement, there should have been nothing stopping them from going public with their stories there and then.

Just as it's difficult to believe that over a dozen people would suddenly decide to take a swing at Bill Cosby, it's also difficult to believe that if all of those same individuals had been raped by Cosby, that they would just drop the whole thing. And Janice Dickinson coming forward doesn't exactly add any credibility. From everything I've had the misfortune of seeing or reading about Dickinson, she's just awful, probably playing up to the reality-teevee cameras, but a little too much and too willingly. She plays "crazier than a shithouse rat" just a little too well. I wouldn't give Charles Manson a parking ticket based on Janice Dickinson's word.

The media just piles on wherever they can, especially when there's even a whiff of fame; a prime example of this sort of thing is characterized by the execrable Don Lemon, who essentially asked one of Cosby's alleged victims why, when Cosby supposedly drugged her and stuck his cock in her mouth, she didn't just use her teeth to dissuade him from wanting a blowjob. In a just world, Don Lemon would be asking you if you would like fries with your burger, but I don't know anyone who lives in such a world.

I have very little doubt that Cosby, an admitted poon-hound, used his fame and status to entice and seduce aspiring starlets, and bang them every chance he could. It is probably at least as seedy and sordid as the most lurid Jackie Collins potboiler. And while there is an unsettling consistency to the known alleged incidents that have come forward, there is still no proof.

And you used to need proof to ruin someone's career. We used to at least pretend to look at all sides, all possibilities, all likelihoods, all the evidence, before rendering a verdict. Now it has to be filtered through an agenda, whether it's "Conor Oberst hurts all rape victims by protecting himself against a false accusation that could send him to prison or ruin his career" or some "men's rights" douchebag that instinctively wants to defend every date-rapey broseph.

Even before charges are filed there are frequently consequences for those accused of rape. Keep in mind that Cosby has not been charged with anything, and in fact, will probably never be charged with anything. Yet he has already lost two occupational opportunities.

This is a man whose last significant career choices took place over two decades ago; Cosby has been living off residuals, both financial and cultural. They seem to have run out on him. He's already been tried and found guilty in the court of media and public opinion.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

It's Not Even Past

Let's not put too fine a point on it -- if the events and actions and social dynamics in the south over the past 150 have taught us anything, it's that Billy the Torch didn't go nearly far enough. The fact that there are still no shortage of fools in that region who persist in mythologizing what was nothing more (or less) than a brutal, racist, genocidal machine, a society built on nothing but the extracted blood and unpaid toil and pain of others, only reinforces that fact.

People like Jack Bridwell suppress and avoid those truths because they are inconvenient, difficult to accept. Republican politics since 1964 has taken advantage of that revolting, absurdist mentality, and owned the entire region since then. That is not a coincidence.

Nationally, that strategy has translated into soft-focus gimmickry, mostly revolving around mythologizing an America that never was. The verb that pops up most consistently in their marketing materials is "restore"; they continuously promise to "restore" "America," whether that's "values," "greatness," whatever. I think the word they're really looking for is "instauration," which is very similar but not precisely the same.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Oversight

Just wondering what it might be like if this country had, say, a governmental agency that provided regulation and oversight on an untrustworthy and reckless financial industry. Even better might be if there was another governmental department that ensured that when financiers were caught doing awful things -- such as rigging currency and interest rates, money laundering for drug cartels, all the other things these fuckers have been caught doing over and over again -- that these crimes which literally affect everyone's lives and wallets would be prosecuted aggressively and appropriately.

When the next financial crash comes -- and rest assured, it will -- I hope Eric Holder understands his direct role in all of it, that his indifference and unwillingness to drop the hammer on these sociopaths only emboldens them. And I also hope that when it comes, and these thieves try to make us all pay for their bullshit again, that instead they are treated to tumbrels and guillotines.

Cross Purposes

I wasn't aware of this freaky asshole until just the other day, and right away you wish you didn't know about him. It's at least some consolation that his small congregation has lost more than 80% since 2007, so it's more like a black Westboro, an insular claque run by a closet-case nutjob and supported by family members and assorted dead-enders. The story and dynamic of James Manning and his silly circus draw some interesting parallels (at least to me) about cultural norms and expectations, and our responses to religiously inspired bouts of lunacy.

No doubt you are aware of the recent kerfuffle involving Bill Maher, Ben Affleck, and UC Berkeley. Maher had been invited to speak at Berkeley's December commencement, but was disinvited after he and Affleck (along with professional atheist author/provocateur Sam Harris) got into a shouting match over Islam on Maher's HBO show. The issue was that Maher had defamed Islam with his comments, which were certainly strident to say the least, and he got called out on it yet again just last week with Palestinian journalist Rula Jebreal.

(Gratuitous sexist editorial note:  Rula Jebreal is smokin' hot, and really sharp, which of course just makes her hotter. I don't agree with every single thing she says, but good grief, she's beautiful. Even if she is married to a Goldman Sachs heir.)

It takes some unpacking, and perhaps some extra attention -- along with the acknowledgement that Maher, in his bluster, is broad-brushing a bit with his portrayals of Islamic fanatics -- but the fact is that the core of Maher's contention is correct:  Liberals (meaning Western liberals, Americans and Europeans) don't do a very good job of acknowledging and decrying not just the video atrocities of the fanatics, but of the day-to-day oppression people endure under putatively Islamic regimes.

One thing I think Westerners don't quite get about Islamic societies is how interwoven religion and culture are. The most-cited "big distinctions" between Christianity and Islam are that Islam has not had a Reformation or Enlightenment type of large-scale adjustment, nor does it have a centralized authority or hierarchy. On the one hand, that latter factor allows for more dissenting voices; on the other, it makes it tougher to crack down on the violent wingnuts that spring up. But the church-state separation that we take for granted -- even if it is with a wink and a nod in the south -- is practically non-existent in the belt of Islamic countries.

Stretching west to east from Morocco to Indonesia, it's not exactly a continuum or spectrum, but at least in those two bookend countries one finds a more secularized, even liberalized (compared to some of the more infamous countries in between) co-existence of religion and government. Even poor Tunisia recently had a step in the right direction, and Jordan has long been a bastion of moderation in a sea of fanaticism. And it's not as if the greed for oil in the west hasn't played a huge part in stoking said fanaticism. There are no clean hands here.

But liberals, whatever their ecumenical aspirations, need to more forcefully acknowledge that they would not want to be female in most of these countries, would not want to be gay in these places. The things they complain about the most when it comes to American Christian goofballs -- which, while annoyingly routine, are not quite normative -- are commonplace and worse in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan. Your average Duggar-smacking limo-lib would not last two weeks in Yemen, or any country whose official name begins with "The Islamic Republic of". Bokay? That's just how it is, and false pieties about cultural imperialism and such like don't change that fact.

Either you believe that women should be allowed to drive, or not have the shit beaten out of them for going to the store alone, or not be buried up to their waists and have rocks thrown at them until they die for "adultery," or that homosexuals shouldn't be hung by cables from cranes, or you don't believe those things. Or hell, just that women need to spend their entire adult lives sweltering in a fucking beekeeper suit, because it's the seventh century or something. That's the stuff that goes on and on, every goddamned day, whether it gets reported in the corporate media or not.

I refuse to acknowledge the feasibility of societies that repress their people in such ways for such picayune things. I'm not gonna pretend that it's not bullshit, that more generations of the people who live in those countries need to just wait it out, and hope that their great-great-grandchildren won't be butchered for throwing away a Qu'ran or teaching girls to read. If we call bullshit on our homegrown loons, we have to do the same with those abroad.

Don't get me wrong. I do not in any way wish to impose western values and mores upon any of these societies, beyond the universally obvious ones of basic human rights. Western societies certainly have their flaws to answer for, but violent over-reaction to nonsense is not one of them. We do not riot and kill people for writing books, not even shitty books. (I don't mean that The Satanic Verses is shitty, I mean that we have an overabundance of crap in general.)

As far as I'm concerned -- and I believe that Maher has made himself clear that this is where he's coming from on this -- is that to the extent one needs to voice their support or disapproval of various comings and goings and deeds of seven billion fools heading in almost as many directions, there should be some consistency as to what sort of things (that is, actions) one disapproves of or supports. Again, soon as you start parsing whether it's "one of ours" doing something awful as opposed to "them," you've lost the thread. It's the action that's horrible; frequently it's the person committing the deed as well, but the focus should be on the deed itself. The world never runs short of morons and assholes doing and saying stupid things, change the things and you hopefully change the people doing them. Eyes on the ball, son.

Nor would I advocate for a complete abolition of religion. Sure, there are countless examples of it poisoning the proverbial well, substituting for critical thought and motivating violent action. But there are just as many examples of it providing comfort and solace to the desperate and hopeless. The religion itself -- whether Islam, Christianity, Scientology, whatever -- is not the problem, the problem is absolutism, the problem is seriously thinking that violence is the best solution to transgressing that absolutism.

To be sure, I have given the cafeteria believers a hard time, but certainly a more syncretic belief system, however much "outside" the club rules, is preferable to the lunacy that pervades the Wahhabist strains of what was once a scientifically and intellectually innovative system of thought. And as Jebreal points out in the Salon interview, liberal Americans who support Israel (and I'd count myself in that group) also need to be critical of Zionist actions that oppress Palestinian lives heedlessly and needlessly. It is what it is, as the kids are fond of saying, but the corollary is that it usually doesn't have to be the way it is.

The truth is that the most virulent adherents of all three Abrahamic religions routinely excuse or ignore their transgressions and vicissitudes, and even their more moderate co-religionists will squint and wince rather than protest. So it is with any belief system, or more precisely, any power bloc. Because that's really all any religion is.

Which brings us back to "Pastor" Manning, and more specifically the anti-gay tirades that his church and other black churches have indulged in over the years, and encouraged their congregants to vote on. Considering that much of the anti-gay-marriage rhetoric in general has echoed the arguments fifty years ago against blacks and whites marrying, it would seem that black organizations and black individuals have perhaps an emphasized responsibility to speak out forcefully against such discrimination. And to their credit, the NAACP, other black organizations and politicians, and individuals black Americans have said exactly that.

But you're never going to get 100%, for a variety of reasons, just as you're never going to get 100% of Muslims around the world protesting the actions of ISIS, or the Saudis, or the Iranian mullahs, or whoever. They have lives to live, and sometimes the best they can do is just to stay out of it, and at least not even tacitly endorse it.

And the more we drone-bomb "terrorist" areas, without troubling ourselves much to ensure that everyone -- or even anyone -- hit by the strike is actually a threat to us or anyone else, the more we radicalize the Muslims in the area who are already on the fence, and the more we risk alienating the moderate Muslims who live and work in western countries.

But people of whatever race, religion, sexuality, etc., who profess to uphold liberal ideals of basic human rights and social justice, have a principled obligation to decry all of those things. Is it racially or culturally "insensitive" to insist that human beings should be treated well and as equally as possible, that treating women like farm animals and using gays as scapegoats is unnecessary and regressive? So be it.

As for the campus groups that tried to remove Maher, and have removed speakers such as Ayaan Hirsi Ali, they need to keep in mind that freedom of speech is also a putatively liberal ideal, and that it is only important when it protects people we might not agree with. Intelligent adults should be able to hear things they don't agree with and take them into consideration, weigh them against their already-held principles. Only children and demagogues need to hear the soothing amen choir every single time.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Insane in the Membrane

It's no surprise that Bo Dietl is an ignorant, jingoist asshole, but I didn't realize that he'd lost his fucking mind. Someone might want to tell Bo about decaf.

Also, too -- people are still listening to Don Imus? I mean, I guess Paul Harvey's audience needed somewhere to mosey off to after that clown bought the farm, but shit. I almost feel like we should all chip in and get these angry codgers the Murder She Wrote and Matlock box sets.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Race to the Bottom

It's in the nature of partisan commentators, in the wake of an electoral blowout, to spend time attributing the loss of clearly better ideas and candidates to the calumnious nature of the opponent, the shameless excess of their bankrollers, and of course, racism. That's the job. And certainly there's an element of all those things in last week's smackdown of the Democrats.

It's not a coincidence that just about the only demographics Obama didn't win in his 2008 beatdown of Poor Ol' Straight Talk were men, old people, and southerners (and he barely won the white vote, 49-48). So guess who showed up to vote last Tuesday?

So rather than whinging yet again about the pernicious (and yes, all too real) influence of the vile Koch brothers, Democrats have to be honest with themselves about why they really lost:

  1. Barely a third of eligible voters showed up.
  2. The ones that did show up were the usual fucking maroons that can't wait to cut their own throats electorally.
  3. Every one of the Democratic candidates spent most of their time showing how Republican they secretly were. Way to mobilize your base, assholes.

Thomas Frank does have a valid point about how the Democratic party has, in general, become the voice of a technocratic, professional-managerial class. They apparently bought into the Clinton-era NAFTA-GATT-globalization gospel, the one that insisted that the Chinese and Indians would make our crap for five cents a week while we all sold each other ten-dollar coffees and optimized spreadsheets and such like.

It's like it never occurred to them that gutting American companies and outsourcing American jobs would actually result in a tiny, insatiable claque of pelf-grubbing weasels, with a slightly larger class of upwardly ambitious (if not actually mobile) supervisors, with the other 90% or so stuck at the bottom. Did these people not attend high school? Or did they know what would happen, and just didn't give a shit? It doesn't matter -- it boils down to incompetence or indifference (at best), and neither one helps.

If Sarah Palin has ever been accurate about anything she's said, it's about the whole hopey-changey thing working out. Yes, there are mitigating factors. Obama could not get the Republicans to work with him -- but part of that was because he didn't make them respect him. The stock market continues to chug along at record levels, but only about half of American households own stock at all (mostly 401(k) plans and pension funds), and the top 10% own 80% of the wealth. And the median wage is still where it was back in 1974.

Greed has ruined this country, and attempted to placate the masses by alternately telling them that poor people are poor because they're dumb and/or lazy, and that they (the peons) can join the rich man's club someday, if they just keep their noses to the grindstone and don't ask too many questions. But the 10%-owning-80% should be the clue, if Americans weren't so bad at math.

If you work in an office with nine other people, and someone brings in a dozen donuts, and one person takes ten of those donuts, leaving everyone else to portion out the other two donuts, what should the rest of the office think about that one asshole? Even if he's the one that bought and brought in the donuts, it's a fucking dick move, period.

That's what the economy is anymore, and neither Obama nor the next occupant can or will do anything about it. It's a waste of time to worry and wonder, as Frank does, about why Georgia, the state with the highest unemployment rates, just elected as governor a man who is proud of his career as an outsourcer. Sometimes people don't understand the obvious until they get one broken off in their ass. So Georgia, and Kansas, and Iowa, and the rest of them are about to find out what that's like.

Maybe the young Democratic voters get off their dead asses and vote next time; maybe the Democrats find better and bolder candidates next time. Maybe the peons, liberal and conservative, old and young, brown and white, get tired of this shell game being perpetrated on their lives, and the lives of their children and communities, and do something that actually makes a difference.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Cruz Control

Wasting no time in his eternal quest to be Asshole of the Year, every year, Canadian-born Goldman Sachs spouse Rafael Edward "Ted" Cruz, Jr. flexes his fake vox populi muscles, taking on those eeeevil regulators who ensure that anonymous dipshits like you 'n' me have the same access to the public internets as he, "Ted" Cruz, has.

This is an issue where Obama is right and Cruz is wrong, plain and simple. In fact, precisely because our telecom system is really just a profit-sucking oligopoly that thwarts competition and innovation, Americans already pay more money for worse performance. Jesus H. Christ, Moldova -- noted primarily for being the poorest, most repressive country on the European continent -- has better performance than the US, like a 50% higher download rate.

I resent this stuffy, squawky little prick, Cruz, with his shrill voice and strident tone, really more of a male Sarah Palin than anything, with his stupid square-peg-round-hole metaphors. How the fuck is net neutrality anything like "Obamacare," which, it should be noted, is more of a success than a failure so far, despite literally half of the entire Congress actively working to ensure its abject failure?

The thing to keep in mind is, if you look at the various worldwide markets for internet service, North America has one of the smallest markets in terms of population, and by far the highest amount of market penetration at 84.9 percent. Europe is next, at 68.3%, followed by the tiny Oceania/Australia market -- smaller than California! -- at barely two-thirds penetration. By way of comparison, the Asian market, estimated to be nearly 4 billion strong, has less than one-third penetration. Africa, whose market is nearly four times the size of North America's has just 21.3% penetration.

That means that just about everyone who wants internet access in the US has it already, while there are other far larger markets out there waiting to be exploited. But where Europe and Asia actually have a competitive environment and government involvement in ensuring affordable, high-quality services, the monopolistic conditions here guarantee the opposite outcome.

Internet access is no longer a luxury, you need it to search and apply for employment, to access news and information, any number of things. Squashing Net Neutrality cements the monopolistic practices already in place, makes a bad situation worse, and more usurious (with, again, even shittier service) for the people who can least afford it.

From radio to television to HDTV to the Internet, the telecom industry has been one of the greediest, sleaziest rackets on the face of this planet. The airwaves, according to the FCC Charter, belong to the people. At least in theory. This notion has yet to actually be put into practice.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Honor Among Thieves

The big problem with modern Democrats is that they learn all the wrong lessons, every time. As Matt Stoller points out, the current corporate-crony DLC model essentially aligned them very close to the Republicans on economic policy, and because they are political mercenaries, they have no incentive to change their operational principles.

So the lesson they'll learn from their electoral ass-kicking is not that they should have shown at least a little backbone, stood by the legitimate accomplishments of their president -- who, whatever else you want to say about the guy, did get elected twice, fair and square. No, what they'll take with them into the next round of the perpetual campaign system is that they weren't Republican enough.

It's estimated that over $110M was spent on the North Carolina Senate campaign between Kay Hagan and Thom Tillis alone. Especially since the "vulnerable" demographics who typically vote Democratic couldn't be bothered to show up, why and how exactly are Democratic candidates supposed to espouse policies that would benefit those groups? They'll never be part of the donor class, and half the time they don't even vote. It's a self-fulfilling dynamic.

But in an environment where the outgoing Attorney General might as well have been in cahoots with the thieving financial industry, it matters less and less. None of the losing Dem Senate candidates would have changed that; not one of them would have held the fort against predatory banks, or greedy oil companies wanting another pipeline, or kept another abortion clinic open, or anything any actual liberal cares about.

The ratchet-pawl system will continue apace, and the etiolated pseudo-libs will engage in the usual hippie-punching of any perceived dissenters who might be thinking about Elizabeth Warren. They will expend profound amounts of energy lecturing what's left of the left on the Importance Of Settling For Hillary, and nothing at all for their erstwhile compadres who, just as they abandoned Gore for Bush in 2000, will waste no time going for Jeb or Ted or Rand or whichever grinning psychopath runs against her.

And people like Al From will still get paid, because that's what they do.

Dingbat Logic

NewsCorpse has a nice rundown on Palin's latest delusional stab. Whether or not it's a good idea for Obama to personally back-channel communications with the Iranian mullahs, even a mouth-breathing dimwit like Palin should know by know that the ISIS thugs and the Iranians are deadly, bitter enemies -- in fact, the whole reason ISIS gained traction in Iraq is because the government, led by the Shiite (and thus an Iranian stooge for all intents and purposes) politically marginalized the Sunnis who comprise the ISIS movement.

And of course, to invoke Saint Reagan -- you know the guy who traded arms for hostages with those same Iranian mullahs -- should drive home the cold, hard fact that Palin is even dumber than you thought. She should stick to what she's good at, which seems to be crashing parties and pissing off her neighbors with her drunk, obnoxious brood.

Karma may be coming in the form of Palin's web channel (started by a lamestream media weasel, doncha know) derping along at low traffic levels, perhaps because her low-info demo actually has at least a couple of IQ points to rub together.

King for a Day, Fool for a Lifetime

If there is a creature more lacking in self-awareness than jerkoff emeritus Jorge Fredo Arbusto, I'll be damned if I know who it could be, though there's certainly no shortage of his fellow party members to give him a run for his money.

"....I think you have to earn your way into politics. I don’t think that anything is ever given to you."

Seriously, what the hell is wrong with this guy? His name is exactly what got him into politics; no one in their right mind would stake money behind a joker like him otherwise. Bush seems genuinely incapable of seeing what is so obvious to any honest observer -- that if he hadn't been the son of a president and the grandson of a senator (and the descendant of yet another president, Franklin Pierce), and born into considerable means that literally 99% of his fella 'murkins cannot even conceive of, he'd have been some dipshit floor manager at some random retailer, at best.

Shame on our complicit corporate media for giving this asshole a platform. But got into politics because of his last name, got into high office thanks to James Baker and the Supreme Court the first time, and Diebold the second time. He lawn-darted this country, setting off an expensive war that will take another generation to pay for, and is still going on in the region.

And he's got the fucking balls to sit there and whine to Bob Schieffer that poor ol' Jeb won't get a fair shake should he decide to run, because these days, people can say whatever they want without any consequences. What the hell would he know about being held accountable for things said and done? His entire life has been one of escaping the accountability that the rest of the world considers routine.

George Walker Bush should not be listened to on any subject whatsoever; in fact, the sooner he's ignored and forgotten, the better off we'll all be.

Rescue Dumb

I suppose it's a good thing that the Kenyan Moooslim got these two idiots out of North Korea, but at the same time, it would not have bothered me terribly if we hadn't. Traveling to North Korea -- for an American, anyway; people from other countries can and do travel there with no repercussions -- is a foolhardy idea.

Engaging in risky behavior is very much a part of the human experience, it's why some of us ride motorcycles, race cars, fly planes, climb mountains, become astronauts. But for the risk there should be some tangible reward -- automobile racing has led to numerous safety and efficiency improvements in all cars; air and space travel have led to countless innovations.

There is no point to going to North Korea and engaging in deliberately provocative behavior, with its notoriously paranoid and erratic regime, none whatsoever. Just as rescue teams have better things to do than endanger themselves to save morons who chose to climb a mountain in a snowstorm, diplomats have better things to do than grant concessions to psychotic despots in order to save fools who should have known better.

Somewhat (but not entirely) off-topic, this little nugget gave me a grin, though:

A recent United Nations report documented rape, torture, executions and forced labor in the North's network of prison camps, accusing the government of "widespread, systematic and gross" human rights violations.


Aha. Rape, torture, executions, and forced labor. Yeah, none of those things are commonplace here, in the most incarcerated society (both total and per capita) on the entire planet. The North Korean gulags may be hell on earth, but the disgusting, vicious American prison system is not so far behind.