Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Business As Usual

Is there anything more hilarious than watching Jan Brewer, of all people, suddenly becoming the voice of reason, or what passes for such in the desert crackpot utopia? It's as if it never occurred to these yahoos that they're picking on the group that has the most discretionary income, and that if your states depends fairly heavily on tourism, you'd best unfuck yourselves on this issue. The Chamber of Commerce must have realized, after the teatard tilt at the windmill, that they weren't really willing to fall on their swords for a few squeamish wedding photographers and cake shops.

It has to cut every which way, though -- Muslim service workers here, and in the UK and Canada, also cannot be allowed to refuse service to people buying alcohol or pork, or traveling with dogs, because of their religious hang-ups. Right? If the Catholic or evangelical at the pharmacy can't refuse to sell special pills to whores, then it applies across the board; whether you're Muslim, Orthodox Jewish, Wiccan or whatever, and your beliefs prevent you from performing the basic functions of your job, you need to find another fucking job.

It is not the responsibility of a customer who just wants to buy some booze, or a wedding cake, or birth-control pills, to concern themselves with what should be people's personal, private beliefs. They want to come in, purchase something, and go home. There is no need for the merchant, or his minion, to infect what is entirely a transactional relationship. Most of us wouldn't put up with that sort of treatment from our friends, and we're supposed to let some asshole suffuse a simple purchase with his feewings? No dice, pal.

As Ed points out, racism really is more about social standing than anything else. But where it intersects with the world of commerce, especially in a chronically depressed economy, there are now powerful built-in disincentives to this sort of hare-brained bullshit. Businesses simply cannot afford to lose any customers at all, especially over something stupid.

Lucky 13

Been sidetracked with a metric fuckton of work and family issues lately, but the promised 2013 retrospective, Lucky '13, really is just about done. I'm shooting for this weekend, we'll see if it actually happens. It will launch with several free days of downloads. Holla in comments if you give half a fuck.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Frustrated Incorporated

What if I told you insane was working fifty hours a week in some office for fifty years, at the end of which they tell you to piss off; ending up in some retirement village hoping to die before suffering the indignity of trying to make it to the toilet on time? Wouldn't you consider that to be insane? -- Steve Buscemi, Con Air

As we head into the middle of the second decade of this blessed new century/millennium, there are some clear issues that societies will have to deal or cope with, if they are even to continue, much less progress. Almost all of the major ones -- water, climate change, health care, extended longevity, resource consumption, habitat depletion -- revolve around population (or more accurately, overpopulation).

Add into that mix the notion of work, as defined as the performance of productive duties and tasks, in order to secure an income by which one may survive, and even participate in the greater economy. This is an issue I've been dancing around here and there in recent months, but I reckon I'll spend most of this year teasing out ideas more and more as they occur, as events necessitate.

One such event that just took place was the rejection of UAW unionization among workers at the Volkswagen manufacturing plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee. What's peculiar about this, as Ed points out in the link, is that not only is VW pro-union, but the Chattanooga plant is their only one without a union workforce. In other words, this was not the usual instance one sees in American sweatshops, where the threat of moving jobs overseas, in response to unionization, is more explicit than implicit.

No, what happened was an equally usual combination of cheap politics and ingrained cultural assumptions regarding the uselessness and corruption of unions. (As opposed to the mighty corporate bootstrappers of the world, who have never goldbricked or bullshitted their way through anything, no sirree Bob.)

This is what fascinates about this issue more than anything. Although I obviously have written a lot about economic issues over the years here, and I believe that the observations and occasional predictions have been proven correct far more often than not, I have no real specialized knowledge of economics. So I don't know or necessarily believe that Chattanooga is some sort of bellwether for American labor unions, in general or in particular. Obviously unions have massively declined since the '70s, in conjunction with globalizing labor and capital, and all those things are important factors in the concurrent median wage stagnation and the accrual of income and wealth to the very highest economic strata.

So the fascinating part is how willingly -- indeed, eagerly -- the worker bees have embraced the insect overlords who have systematically destroyed their lives and communities for four decades running. Anecdotally, one of my oldest friends, whose parents had union jobs, "shared" some bullshit anti-union graphic the day after the Chattanooga vote, with the smug surety that could only be possessed by someone who didn't think about their own childhood. Given the lack of self-awareness or intellectual consistency we see from the average 'murkin on virtually any issue of note, it's probably safe to say that this idiotic sentiment is the norm, rather than a statistical anomaly. An entire generation of right-wing radio loons has desensitized the proles to even basic reflection and common sense.

It's very difficult to feel any sympathy or pity for people who so consistently vote and rant against their own rational self-interest, time and again, and then are surprised to reap the exact consequences which they sowed. But the thing is, not only do those consequences affect everyone, as the rain falls on the just and unjust alike, but they will continue to hit harder.

Overpopulation in globalized "emerging" markets obviously exerts downward wage pressure across the board (except, of course, for our wondrous job creators -- o bold transnational merchant princes!). This is what we have been seeing the past two generations, and the pace has increased the entire time. At the same time, technology and innovation have served to automate and commodify routine jobs, workflow processes, and entire jobs and production lines. In other words, whether you are building Volkswagens or flipping burgers at Mickey D's, you are only doing so until a robot can be developed to do your job.

So your best options become either to be the person who maintains and repairs the mechanical lines of production, or to spend 4-6 years and $100K or so to get into the manager class and "optimize" those operations. You don't have to be a whiz with numbers to intuitively grok that you only need so many folks to perform either of those functions.

Imagine what things will look like in 10, 20, 30 years, even without increases in, say, extreme climate events and patterns, or water scarcity. More humans to contend with, and by definition, the increased efficiencies in producing and distributing commodities will be disruptive, to say the least, to the normal mechanisms of commerce. You don't have something for x number of people to do, but you need them engaged in the economy at some point, purchasing things that are produced and move through supply chains. Proposals for guaranteed minimum incomes are being discussed, and will out of necessity be implemented on some level at some point, probably sooner rather than later.

How much do you pay this x number of folks to essentially do nothing (or at least nothing that adds direct value to the aggregate economy), and how will that square with (again) consistent downward wage pressure on people who do perform necessary tasks? There is a point of equilibrium for any set of multiply competing dynamics, so there is certainly one here.

In short, what price-point will Joe Average have in this future workscape, where his options are circumscribed by participating in the "higher education" racket, meaning (in the best case scenario) years of indentured servitude paying down his overpriced tuition, versus being someone who can just kick back and collect a stipend that, once the externalities of the "traditional" career path are accounted for, may end up being comparable?

Another recent event that highlighted this coming paradigm shift was the announcement from the Congressional Budget Office that a labor effect of the Affordable Care Act will be a large number of people leaving the conventional workforce, to trade in jobs they hate or are just tired of, but were hanging on to for the necessary health-care benefits, to pursue their entrepreneurial or creative dreams. Of course this is tragic news to the class that has a vested interest in keeping their work staff cowed and compliant, but again, it also begs the question of what those folks will do.

There will always be something to do, don't get me wrong. You can't automate every single thing, can't commodify every single experience. This is something the optimizers didn't really think through, as all these technological blessings and productivity gains began accruing mostly to the top of the food chain. Sure, it's been neat to be able to get those nifty electronic devices from Chinese sweatshops at bargain prices, but there's only so many teevees and iPhones you can buy, and there's only so many line-waiting dunces to buy the same thing with new bezels every year.

We can't all make each other $5 cups of coffee, or self-publish e-books (though FSM knows I've given the latter my best shot). The more entrepreneurial among us will come up with more and better scams and rackets by which to grift the poor and gullible; exploiting the vulnerability of others is, aside from fouling our own nests, probably the most charming of all innately human characteristics.

Of course, once enough people realize that their Tinkerbell economic system is largely smoke and mirrors and imaginary wealth in the first place, subsistence will be the job, and just about everyone will be employed at it.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Free Speech for the Dumb

Oh, they do jest, don't they?

When did conservatives become prisoners to idiotic vulgarity?

Jeez, I get that the guy is in, like, Englandia and stuff, but where has he been, really? Look, Brit Van Winkle, for one, the people who consider themselves "conservative" in America are anything but, as far as the traditional definition goes. They are reactionaries, about as far from "conservatism" as one can get.

The modern traditionalists, bravely trying to hold on to a powdered-wig philosophy, like to think they are upholding Burke and Locke, John Stuart Mill, David Hume. Maybe Bill Buckley casting himself as the man bravely standing athwart all the scary civil rights movements of fifty years ago, crying "Stop!". Nice try. This is Hofstadter country, this here.

For one -- and maybe Professor Oxford doesn't realize this -- American conservatives don't read, at least not the founding documents of the traditionalists' proto-views. Hell, plenty of American liberals don't read outside their self-affirming bubbles either. But the current strain of American "conservatism" is really just anti-"liberalism," counter-reformationist swag against what is really just corporatism with a sprig of fake conscience for garnish. All they want is one of the flying monkeys to convincingly walk them through the Two Minutes of Hate on any given day.

It took this guy this long to get embarrassed by the barmy stumping of Ted Nugent, after years of countless cartoon characters making names and careers for themselves talking shit and peddling lies about Democrats too weak-willed to punch back with any real conviction? Sure, Nugent's an asshole on wheels. But A, he's been their asshole for a very long time; and B, he's one of a seemingly endless collection of assholes.

The only thing that makes Nugent stand out a bit is that he plays guitar and speaks perhaps a bit more colorfully than the pecksniffs would prefer. That Nugent trucks in what he thinks is referring to a, um, spade as an entrenching implement merely clarifies what they are all really thinking.

It is a point of more recent observational "liberal" humor to proclaim this or that shithead flyover state -- Texas, Kansas, Florida, etc. -- as the "meth lab of democracy." I'll go you one better -- American democracy itself is a meth lab. Hell, bath salts is more like it, the shit that turns you into a face-eating zombie.

After two or three generations of elitist indoctrination from the Himmelfarb-Kristol high-falutin bullshit factory, and another generation or so of Limbaugh and his infinite homunculi, and an ever-escalating glossary of calumnious nonsense, it's no wonder the electorate is as polarized as it is stupid. Why read Locke when you can just crank up Michael Savage, or vote for some jabbering teatard? Why learn to think for yourself -- or even think at all -- when you can just slap some bumper-sticker horseshit on a meme generator and inflict it on all your Facebook friends?

This sort of thing has been going on for a long damned time, there is simply no excuse for plainting why or when or how it got "like this." It has always been like this, it was just never this quick and easy to spread the virus to so many so quickly.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

On the Origin of Feces

They tell us that we lost our tails, evolving up from little snails. I say it's all just wind in sails. Are we not men? -- Bob Casale, RIP

There are days where you just have to wonder and/or conclude that there are simply too many dipshits cluttering the planet, wasting precious resources, polluting the gene pool, and that a bloodbath (volcano, megatsunami, deadly flu pandemic, airplane fuselages dropping from the sky, etc.) might really be a cleansing.

I don't what to make of fucktards like this animal, except to pray to a non-existent god that it doesn't reproduce, ever. I feel immense waves of pity for whatever unfortunate creature (probably roadkill or a slow-moving farm animal) that it chooses to stick its tiny, nasty junk into. Its parents must be proud, so proud. Read the rest of its Twitter, this is a card-carrying moron that barely shows up to what sounds like an entry-level shelf-monkey job it's barely qualified for.

This is the sort of halfwit that exemplifies what David Simon famously said about there now being more people than there are productive things for them all to do. Which is all well and good; at some point in this blessed "post-scarcity" society, we have to start thinking about big-picture things like this, what to do with inbred belligerents -- people who simply do not and will never add any value to the planet, their communities, or even their own families -- besides doping them up with Ow My Balls! video soma and such like.

But this guy, I'd pay good money to watch him head into Compton or Oakland or South Side Chicago or some such, try that "nigga" shit out there. In the meantime, maybe we start thinking about ways to pay these ass-smoking dipshits not to breed. There are more than enough of them already.

Friday, February 21, 2014


Remember, the premise of the prescient classic Idiocracy was that morons would outbreed smart people. Folks, I give you Exhibits A through Z. These people should get no jail time, but be forcibly sterilized.

Better Off Ted

This is probably another one you can file under "said it before, but it bears repeating", but whatever. When we enjoy a song or movie, once we get familiar with the individual who made it for us, we tend to make mental associations that are difficult to break. Countless examples abound, of course, but probably the most famous examples are Roman Polanski, Woody Allen, and Ted Nugent.

Of these three, obviously Nugent made a point of escalating his "toxic asshole" quotient, where Polanski and Allen have at least made modest demurrals regarding their past transgressions, went on about making their art, and stayed away from making tendentious statements in general, not to mention provocative political sound bites in particular.

Indeed, Nugent has made it a point of pride to spout his nonsense to any microphone within reach. He doesn't have to worry about consequences because there are none for his side of the aisle -- you can pull any bullshit quote out of fat air, slap it on a tee-shirt or bumper sticker, and dare everyone to call you out on it. Every time this moron opens his cakehole, you see plenty of snappy action quotes about how the tyrant Obammy is taking away everyone's rights -- but never any evidence cited, nor the rather obvious retort that if he's such a bastard, how is it that you're able to get on Cousin Cooter's drive-time shit-show and flap yer gums, and not get sent to the gulag?

And so, as someone who has played rock guitar for nearly 30 years now, and counts the Nuge as one of hundreds of influences, it becomes a situation where you're forced to separate the music from the madness, the same way you can enjoy Chinatown as a work of art and craft, and not think about Roman Polanski butt-fucking a 13-year-old on Jack Nicholson's couch. Except again, Polanski, while insufficiently contrite, at least does not go out of his way to exacerbate the situation.

Meanwhile, in addition to his moronic political spewings, Nugent has another thing in common with Polanski and Allen -- his move, back when he was 29 years old, to become the "legal guardian" of a 17-year-old girl. Oh, and his twice-asserted draft-dodge of shitting his pants in clothes he wore for ten days before his physical for Vietnam. For a self-proclaimed tough guy who wants to jam an automatic weapon up Barry and Hitlery's soft pwoggy asscheeks, the Tedster sure seemed to back down when it was his turn at glory.

But the bottom line is, there comes a point where the artist's bullshit outweighs the cool things they did. And frankly, while you can charitably find a handful of solid tunes from the '70s, and even be generous and throw in a Damn Yankees song or two, there ain't much else to this guy, really. I'm as pissed at Obama as the next guy, but if Nugent thinks Stranglehold or Great White Buffalo give him cover to call the president a "subhuman mongrel" and then issue a half-assed non-apology, well then he can just go fuck himself. He's a creep and a dipshit, and it's about goddamn time the "liberal" media stopped giving him any play at all. Fuck off already, old man.

Monday, February 17, 2014

I Got Your Stimulus Package Right Here

On the fifth anniversary of the "stimulus," it's not unfair to ask what precisely it stimulated. You can see pretty effective breakdowns of ARRA funds here and here, itemized and tabulated six ways from Sunday. There are descriptions of plenty of beneficial projects.

But it's also important to look at results, to ask why, for example, if over $98 billion was spent on transportation and infrastructure, so many of our bridges and highways are on the verge of collapsing. Why, after spending nearly $19 bn on health care, is the health care system still such a monumental clusterfuck, an issue that essentially works out to a 20% productivity tax, where wealth is extracted and siphoned upward for shareholders and exec bonuses.

Speaking of extracting and siphoning, how is it that after putting over $41 bn in stimulus money toward "energy," presumably at least some token efforts toward conservation and efficiency, the best this administration can point to is fracking, and pipelining tar sand bitumen? Does this sound like a tremendous bang for your hard-earned tax dollar?

Surely jobs were created and preserved by these and other efforts, so even as a stopgap there is some efficacy. But I said it at the start, and nothing has happened to change my mind -- at least some of the stimulus should have gone to households, rich and poor alike, some flat amount across the board, say $50,000 per household. You would have seen an aggregation of activities centered around three main goals -- spending, saving, and eliminating debt.

That last one is the killer, as our debt ratio has skyrocketed, with no way to get it back down to where the average person can save, or even have discretionary income to put back into the economy. This is a situation that I strongly and sincerely believe is not accidental or coincidental. It is by design -- the owners continue their accrual without missing a beat, while the rest barely manage to hang on, making them even more desperate to cling to whatever straws are left, to accept the few crumbs that still fall from the table.

It's a patronage system, so the stimulus pelf was going to patrons regardless of which party supported what policy. But imagine for just a second how much more successful it would have been to have at least part of that money go directly to taxpayers and consumers, rather than finance weasels who pulled the money at 0%, hoarded most and lent the rest to the peons at interest -- or just rigging the interest rates in the first place. Nice racket you got there.

{Update 2/21/14 20:00 PST:  Looks like The Krugster had the same bright idea there.]

The Party of Ideas

Shorter Republican Party:  We got nuthin'.
Look, I don't think that a Bush-Clinton-Bush-Clinton dynastic dynamic is particularly useful or beneficial for anyone, except the two families and their associated claques and hangers-on. It's a reminder that the political process is hopelessly debauched, that you have to be something of a skeevy bastard to raise the unholy amounts of money it takes just to run. To the extent that there are substantial operational differences between the parties, they both need to develop deeper benches, rather than running back to the same people every election cycle.
And yes, the idea of a president getting his cock sucked by a subordinate at his business desk (not to mention finishing off in a sink -- because blowing a load in her mouth would have been wrong) is, to say the least, off-putting, regardless of which party. That Billy Jeff was impeached by hypocrites was certainly no surprise; in retrospect, he should have been impeached for repealing Glass-Steagall.
But what's done is done, and been done for quite some time. Anyone who is still actually upset over the Lewinsky thing is a lot like the goofballs that show up en masse every Roe v. Wade anniversary. It's done, it's settled. The idea that this is a battle ever worth revisiting, much less when there are a multitude of real issues affecting our lives that need attention, is bizarre.
Of course, these are just midterm talking points anyway, only the most fervid and bereft polimonkeys will be jabbering about Monica by 2016. But midterms rely on low turnout, primarily by old people who have nothing better to do, and who would have been shoved out onto an ice floe in earlier, simpler days. So they'll rant amongst themselves about that awful thing Billy Jeff did, nearly a full generation ago now, and connect it to his grasping lesbo wife, and then go pull the lever for Scott DesJarlais and Mark Sanford, without a trace of irony or self-awareness.

Magical Misery Tour

Remember when gun enthusiasts had George Zimmerman's back, so to speak? Welp, apparently that didn't pan out so well for ol' George, who is unemployed, deep in debt, and even claims to suffer from PTSD. As opposed to Trayvon Martin, who continues to claim to suffer from being, you know, dead, since it's difficult to stand your ground when you're armed with only Skittles and iced tea.

The only reason anyone's talking to Zimmerman is because of the Michael Dunn case, which, because Florida, the jury reliably managed to fuck up the verdict. Unlike Zimmerman, Dunn does appear to be headed to the big house for quite some time; like Zimmerman, Dunn seems to think he had no active role or volition in the sudden change of course his life has taken.

Given the apparent level of volatility in Zimmerman's personal life, to say the least, he seems to be on a trajectory that won't change until the world forgets about him and moves on to the next bright shiny thing, or he goes into hiding, decides to end it all, etc. Any number of things can happen, but the fact of the matter is, assuming he's telling the truth about the shambles his life has become, Zimmerman is at least paying some price for what he did. The people who found him to be a useful idiot for their ideological arguments have forgotten about him, his usefulness expended by this point.

One sees the same dynamic with the Duck Dynasty "controversy" (remember when that was a thing, seven or eight long weeks ago?). After all the stupid "stand with Phil" marginalia and hand-wringing, all the threats to make A&E hurt for the non-existent "suspension" they leveled at Phil Robertson, ratings are down substantially. There could be a number of reasons for that, ranging from more competitive programming in January than in July, to the possibility that there's only so much to be wrung from what was already a stale idea.

To the extent that "conservatism," as opposed to "liberalism," functions primarily as a narrative of mostly imaginary grievances punctuated with alarmist rhetoric and torch-and-pitchfork vigor, the shelf life for their token "causes" is mercifully short. Zimmerman is finding this out the hard way; if he thinks that his grousing about unfair treatment for opportunistic interviewers is going to translate into some sort of popular groundswell of support that will pull his dumb ass out of debt, he's in for an unpleasant surprise. He'd be better off coming up with a few snappy slogans and logos, putting them on t-shirts, keychains, bumper stickers and such like, and getting hisself a table at the next CPAC or NRA circle jerk. His vague "gubmint is out ta git me" assertions will play right into their core talking points.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Menace II Society

It's no surprise at all that a halfwit state like Florida should find itself in a quandary over the case of Michael Dunn. Dunn, you may recall, is the mouth-breathing dipshit who shot up an SUV full of black teenagers for the high crime of playing their music loud, killing one those teenagers, 17-year-old Jordan Davis. The idea that you can shoot up a car full of kids, head for your bed-and-breakfast, and order a pizza like nothing happened, is the essence of what Michael Dunn was thinking on that fateful day.

So of course we have to revisit what happened -- or what we think happened -- between George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin, in that same state, not so long ago. Zimmerman got away with what, from a truly objective observer, was an egregious, violent over-reaction to what was most likely a provocation of Zimmerman's own making.

Similarly, Dunn is, via the reliable conduit of what is apparently an easily gulled Florida jury pool, about to get away with plugging ten (10) bullets into a vehicle in a convenience store parking lot. This is unacceptable, or is it? Common sense would dictate that this sort of thing could not go unaddressed, yet we seem as a society to have long since passed, on so many levels, the idea of "common sense."

Look. What kind of a piece of shit do you have to be to do something like this, to perforate a bunch of teenagers on the false threat of brandishing a shotgun, a relatively difficult weapon to mistake for anything else? What does it take for a jury of one's peers to determine that maybe not everyone is intellectually, morally, or reflexively equipped to have a concealed-carry permit, that maybe while the Second Amendment has value, incidents like this are worth reconsidering where the boundaries are?

True Detective

If you haven't yet seen the HBO series True Detective, you really should. It comes compellingly close to the rarefied heights achieved by The Sopranos and The Wire, but appears to be much more finite in scope. The interplay between Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey (and the last couple years for McConaughey have been nothing short of spectacular) is outstanding, and the narrative taut and energetic.

Anyhoo, this extended piece rings eerily close to what True Detective is all about -- dead shithole towns, corrupt cops, the ability for the wrong person in the wrong place to get away with literally anything. Check it out.

Why We Can't Have Nice Things, Part Duh

One might at least creatively, rhetorically, make the argument that certitude is not bulletproof and absolute about, say, how precisely the universe "began," or the exact process by which species of biological organisms have developed over hundreds of thousands or millions of years. I wouldn't want to bother to engage in any sort of intellectually honest "debate" with such a person, because right away their motives would have to be in question. But it's at least theoretically conceivable that a person could raise some (again, intellectually honest) questions as to the specifics of such theorized processes.

But there's no excuse for this, there's no rationalizing how a grown-ass adult, even if English is not their first language, cannot understand how the sun appears in the east every morning, and disappears in the west every evening. We are supposed to be beyond the times where we told ourselves and each other various stories about that process. There is no chariot, pulled by celestial beasts and driven by a heroic mythical demiurge, laboriously towing the giant golden ball across the sky in slow motion day after month after decade after millennium.

As easy as it would be to drum another cynical eye-roll about how stupid these "1 in 4" are, this pseudo-statistic (and while I believe that 2,200 is too small of a sample, any contingent is still too large, on a subject like this), larger questions are begged, if we pull back far enough. One question we might ask, in the context of, say, "who the hell is educating these people, and how?" is what we expect our educational system to do, in the most general sense. In other words, if we expect our archaic Prussian model to merely churn out compliant workers, people who dutifully vote and pretend it made some difference, then hell, that's what you got. Keep on keepin' on.

But if we harbor notions of "greatness," however one chooses to define that, whether "continued" or "restored," we have to revisit that model, and its extenuations, accordingly. For one, even if we did decide we simply want our compliant-worker-drone model, one must ask, doing what? Considering the factors of overpopulation, leveraged comparative advantage in emerging markets (that is to say, cheap labor in overpopulated Third World countries), productivity gains (accruing primarily to owners, almost completely at the expense of labor), automation and commodification of routine tasks, and hypermobility of capital, the irrefutable issue facing Americans is the cold fact that there are simply more people than there are things for them to do to secure a living.

So what do you do with them, what do you "teach" them in the institutions of learning, the highest of which have devolved into a naked racket, a system of indentured servitude where one rolls up six figures worth of loans, and scrambles to pay them back down, in 10-15 years (of their prime years of life) if they're lucky (and they frequently aren't)? What is to be expected of such an "educational" system, frankly, when there are fewer and fewer options for them as employable drones?

I observe the experience of my daughter, who is in seventh grade, and I can only wonder, what is the point? To take but one example, her math class is something called Common Core. There is no textbook, only a series of worksheets that comprise the homework. "Notes" are taken in class, but for some reason are collected afterward by the teacher, presumably to show the accrediting body that notes are being taken.

However, as any of us who have learned a new concept already know, things like notes and textbooks are useful for reference, a way to preserve those oh-so-valuable experiential moments in the classroom for future study and guidance. It is a persistent assumption that those experiential moments cannot be replicated by the mere hunting and compilation of data, that there are interactive and interpersonal dynamics that must be internalized to attain true educational self-actualization.

There is some truth to that assumption; there are experiences in bonding, socialization, and team-building that are difficult or impossible to transfer to a wholly online paradigm. But again, a live interpersonal experience that mostly involves the mindless ticking of boxes, without understanding how the process of learning continues apace, becomes, while not completely valueless, certainly a process with diminishing value. Rather than instilling a love and appreciation for the edifying experience of learning a useful skill or idea, one learns how to navigate a bureaucratic maze posturing as a learning institution; instead of mastering a concept, one learns how to pass the test.

So we have to decide, at some point, probably when it's too late, that we would rather not be a society that knows the price of everything but the value of nothing, that while the things we can optimize and quantify and goal-seek on a spreadsheet have and add some value, they do not comprise the entirety of that value. They do have some value, don't get me wrong. But we have been misled to believe that it's the be-all-end-all, the ultimate goal of the process. And in a world where the knowledge is free, if you know where to look for it, if we can pull up a Khan Academy or Academic Earth video and learn something cool, what the hell are we going to "school" for, and worse yet, paying for an experience that has less and less meaning and value?

1 Timothy 6:10

So plutocrat performance artist Tom Perkins, apparently trying to leave no doubt amongst the proles as to whether he really is an asshole, lobs this little polemic:
In order to vote, [Perkins] proposed, everyone should have to have paid at least $1 in taxes.

"And those who have paid a million dollars in taxes," he continued, "should have a million votes."
Perkins demurred afterward, claiming that he had "intended to be outrageous and [he] was," but it was probably the truest expression of his beliefs about society at large -- and by association, the beliefs of many of his pelf-grubbing peers. These beliefs are simple, and pervasive, and borne out by the things they say and the things they do.

They believe firmly that poor people are poor not because of luck or circumstance, but because they're lazy and/or stupid, that they're basically children of a lesser god, and only by the benevolence and forbearance of their betters, and an occasional crumb from the table, can they be truly managed to a level of competence that is tolerable to the elites. They believe that they comprise the sum total of "greatness" this country still has to offer, choosing not to look back and see what really made the US great, a true world leader, for a considerable period of time. They have the luxury of being able to fuck things up, and then to sit back and complain about it.

To be (somewhat) fair, you have to give Perkins this much:  he's not an entitled idiot who walked into Daddy's money and just assumed he hit a triple. He has degrees from MIT and Harvard. (Then again, George W. Bush has a coveted Harvard EmBeeAyyy, doesn't he?) Still, Perkins does at least seem to have (or did at one time in his life) a marketable skill. The problem is that he thinks that skill gives him some sort of helicopter view over the rabble, and the right to exercise it as such.

Coming from a guy who weaseled out of a fatal yachting accident with a measly $10K fine, the whole thing is, pardon the expression, too rich. It's all just so terrible for them, the ingratitude of the peons. Not quite enough to change places, mind you, but terrible nonetheless. They have it all, but it ain't enough. They need us to love them, apparently, or at least admire their swagger and fortitude.

But that would be like a rape victim sympathizing with their attacker; the family of one of Ted Bundy's or Richard Ramirez' victims sympathizing with the animals that slaughtered their loved ones for the thrill of it all. There's Stockholm Syndrome, and there's mental illness catalyzed by extreme trauma.

The one-percenters, in their inexplicable defensiveness, have chosen to fight fire with stupid, to lash out at the least fortunate with the most despicable plaints. The peons need to organize enough to grab Perkins and his scummy ilk by their custom silk lapels and say:  Listen close, motherfucker. You won life's lottery. You and your children and grandchildren will never know for a day what 99% of us know every day of our lives -- that life is struggle; that we're lucky to cadge a paycheck-to-paycheck living doing something we can barely tolerate through the best years of our lives; that we're one bad break, a job shift to China or a health-care scare, from the street.

It barely merits pointing out that, since the political system is already owned lock, stock, and barrel by rich assholes like Perkins, that the "one dollar, one vote" principle he espouses is already in play, has been in play as long as any of us can remember. I don't know what system he's talking about; the system I know is one where rich people (like Perkins, who sits on Faux News' board) pit poor people against each other with imaginary distractions.

These idle rich fuckfaces use the system not just for their own benefit, but for their own amusement -- while you try to figure out how you're going to make it through the next week or month or year, they look for a new toy to play with, something else to keep score. It really is a game to them, and my long-standing contention that "Wall Street hates Main Street" couldn't possibly be clearer now. Although it does overstate the point; to hate something you actually have to care on some level, and they don't care. At all. At all. At all.

One assumes that Perkins' greatest expense, aside from taxes and stepstools to plant his nose up Danielle Steel's ass, is a team of minions to help him get his pants on around his giant fucking balls every morning. It's a toss-up at this point whether a more satisfying fate for him would be for him to be rendered destitute by some random ill fortune, or just to see his head on a pike.

Either way, Perkins is 82, so he'll be dead, sooner rather than later, but not soon enough. And some stray three-legged dog will stroll by, and piss on his headstone and take a massive dump on his grave.

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Gay for Play

Well, it's about time -- a well-known college player from a highly-ranked program who will almost certainly be drafted comes out as gay before the draft. Short of an already established player coming out, this should have a pretty good-sized response, perhaps even an impact.

Or not. No doubt some knuckle-draggers will have some nasty things to say about Michael Sam, the same sorts of assholes that thought it was cool to call Richard Sherman the n-word after Sherman's amped-up outburst at the end of the NFC Championship Game. The hell with 'em.

Sam's declaration will get some chatter, but it wouldn't surprise me too much to see people either shrug or openly support his announcement. It's just not that big of a deal anymore. If English rugby players -- you know, the guys who do most of the same things American football players do, but without pads -- can come out and be accepted by their teammates, then this should not be a problem.

Still, it takes some guts on Sam's part, in that it could affect where he lands in the draft, and thus his pocketbook. But one would assume that he'll be happier not having to hide or play games, and maybe some of the few remaining holdouts on this issue will grow up a little in the process.

The Voices in Their Heads

Okay, we get what Bill Nye was trying to do. It's a respectable sentiment, anyway. But to call that dog-and-pony show a "debate" is an abuse of that word. There is no debate, there is science and not-science. There is the scientific method, and testable hypotheses, measured against the immovable derp of raw belief, and faith unsupported by evidence or reliable outcomes.

The nincompoopery of "intelligent design" was a frequent topic in this blog back in the day, when it infested school districts, eventually getting dumped unceremoniously on its ass by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. The problem was not that science and religion were at some unbridgeable impasse; the problem was that "intelligent design" was neither of those things -- it was politics, and as such did a disservice to science and religion.

Now, this Ken Ham strain of "creationism" isn't even politics -- it's just marketing, in this case, marketed as some sort of sensible dialogue between equally-matched (if ideologically opposed) interlocutors. The reality of it is that it barely qualified as Firing Line for morons.

To paraphrase one of the Slate commentator's points, religion has more to lose by the absence or dismissal of a Prime Mover, than science has to lose by the (somehow) irrefutable proof of the existence of the divine hand. Were such a Hand to be demonstrated, it would be in the form of universal laws to be tested and verified.

Conversely, if it could be disproven (again, somehow), it not invalidate creationists' barrage of whoppers and claptrap in the fields of archaeology, geology, and many other sciences, it would completely undermine their moral cornerstones, the ones they routinely infest the political world with. After all, without the celestial graybeard judging, testing, and (occasionally) rescuing us, the many biblical prohibitions and commands would be without merit. Obviously, it would still be wrong and immoral to (for example) kill, steal, and lie, but the obsession with, say, homosexuals would lose overnight what remaining ground it still clings to.

The problem is that implying intellectual discourse -- on the creationists' home turf, no less -- legitimizes to that claque what can only be seen with honest eyes as incoherent jabber, a tangle of fables that, in its attempt to heave itself into discussions of science, only appears more and more illegitimate.

This Flintstones level of interpreting the historical past just holds us back further, impedes our collective ability to regain our footing as scientific leaders, casts us as the slow kid in the classroom of industrialized nations. The idea that hard-pressed taxpayers and school districts are supposed to waste scarce resources teaching this guff in science class would be funny, if only they weren't so dead serious about it.

Animals With Human Faces

So this happened within the last 24 hours. I think most of us would like to think that zoos are artifices of nature, sort of a cocooned Edenic environment where exotic fauna are gathered and stewarded with love and care.

But as we continue to be the only animal that deliberately fouls its own nest -- and indeed accelerate that hideous dynamic -- the truth is that zoos are museums, storage sheds for species that are murdered and poached into extinction, because small penis or some other lame excuse. (And yes, I sincerely hope that anyone involved on either end of the poaching game gets eyeball cancer and dies in agony.) We overbreed and overcrowd without a care for a damned thing, destroying habitats with the mindless vigor of a swarm of army ants, but it's other species that need to be "managed." Right.

I honestly have no clue why we search for "earthlike" planets out in the celestial firmament. So we have more things to butcher and despoil, so we can exploit and destroy ever more inconvenient creatures? Maybe the reason so many of us are drawn to post-apocalyptic fiction is that, despite the chaos and turmoil that drive such narratives, there is also a restoration of balance, which we no longer have any sense of.

Nature bats last, always, and it will be a hard rain that falls.

Saturday, February 08, 2014


Here's an idea that is only part polemic:  the next whiny, thieving billionaire asshole to complain about Obama being Hitler, should get the literal result of his assertion -- that is, stripped of all valuable possessions, herded on to a boxcar, trundled out to an isolated work camp, starved, beaten, tortured and forced to fight to survive, until being loaded into a fucking oven. Hokay? Enough of this shit already.

It's just beyond disgusting, this incessant whinging from these slimeballs who have everything they could want, and it's still not enough. Apparently they need the admiration of the peons as well. Well, fuck you, Tom Perkins, Steve Schwartzman, et al. Do the world a huge favor and kindly fuck off and die already. We don't need you and the nothing you produce, but expect everything in return for.

I sincerely look forward to the day when enough people realize how badly these assholes have ripped them off, and have added insult to injury, and we finally get the guts and brains to bring the tumbrels and guillotines on to Wall Street, and we put an end to this self-serving bullshit once and for all. Better yet, an economic collapse that evaporates their paper profits, catapults them and their useless skill sets into a Mad Max hellscape, and forces them to do something worthwhile to survive, would just about be worth it. Many of the rest of us are already on our way there, thanks to their shenanigans, so might as well lean into it.

Gradually, Then Suddenly

Brother Orlov has some (fairly extensive) observations about how this house o' cards comes tumbling down. Food for thought, and a solid counter to the incessant chunder from Suze Orman types, constantly telling the peons to make hay while the sun shines, even when there is no hay for those folks. So forget the hay, maybe use the internets while they're still relatively free, and figure out how to build a decent raft. Because the small cadre of shitbirds who have precipitated current and future conditions will, when the time comes, make sure everyone else puts in more skin well before they do.

Same Old Trip It Was Back Then

In the week since Philip Seymour Hoffman's untimely demise, I find myself taken aback by two entirely predictable sentiments:  one, the obvious sadness of a vibrant talent squelched in its prime; and two, the small but noticeable segment of know-it-all commenters around the internets who feel comfortable in judging Hoffman's final actions.

Perhaps we've all become inured to the jabber of various internets morons, but still, one holds out hope that once in a great while, some of these bozos find occasion to do something more productive, like jerking off, or eating mayonnaise straight from the jar. But of course, there's always a pocket of dipshits who can feign outrage and indignation over any little thing, no matter how little it actually affects them.

People are welcome to agree to disagree over whether addiction is a clinical or a behavioral disease; perhaps, like homosexuality, there are different factors of causation. So for some it may be biological, some environmental, or some combination. The idea that complete strangers and onlookers can somehow intuit what Hoffman's problem was is ludicrous. Hopefully, given the man's body of work, everyone can at least agree that this was a man of prodigious talent and artistic courage, given that he had very few true commercial successes -- indeed, for the most part, commerce did not seem to factor into most of his role choices.

It's a common trope that the "artistic temperament," as it were, leaves one more open to issues of substance abuse. You can probably chicken-egg that one to the end of time, trying to figure out which is causal or effectual. I can tell you firsthand, from my long-ago years of slugging it out as a dive-bar musician, that it's not always as simple (as opposed to easy) as it might appear. A touring musician's life is certainly not torture, but it's also not a picnic, and a steady diet of fast food, alcohol, speed, and random women can, to say the least, be dissociative after a while.

For a successful stage and film actor, it must be several orders of magnitude past what I saw and experienced in my decade on the road. Film shoots, from what I've always read, are intensive, weeks or months of long days, frequently in strange locations, hours of tedium in between short bursts of activity. And any time you're on a stage, in front of an audience, your task, whether you're an actor, musician, or cat juggler, is to get a roomful of (possibly hostile or at least indifferent) complete strangers to like you.

Like most fans, I feel sad for the brilliant future work we will no longer get to experience from Philip Seymour Hoffman, just as I wonder what sort of magic Jimi Hendrix or Randy Rhoads would have produced had they not died tragically young. And fortunately the dumbass detractors seem to be a minority, albeit an obnoxious one. Sometimes it's just best to murmur a hope of peace for Hoffman and his family and friends, and move along, and hopefully one day those folks will find something better to do than piss on someone's grave for no good reason.

Sunday, February 02, 2014

Super Bowl 48 Prediction

This year's matchup is sort of the turd icing on your typical Raiders fan's cake -- a hated divisional rival versus a former divisional rival (Seattle, of course, was moved from the AFC West to the NFC West in the 2002 league realignment.) However, any real football fan can appreciate the classic strength-versus-strength matchup here, with Denver's record-setting offense going against Seattle's aggressive, bone-crushing defense.

Casual fans got to meet all-pro trash-talker Richard Sherman in the wake of Sherman's game-saving coverage at the end of the NFC Championship Game, rousing the usual knuckle-dragging fucktards out of their caves for some routine racism. Just a reminder that, to (very) loosely paraphrase Faulkner, it isn't 2014 everywhere; in some places, it's more like 1864. While I found Sherman's amped-up woofing off-putting, to say the least, the fact of the matter is that he backs up his trash talk with his play, which is all any fan of the game can ask.

Further, Sherman turns out to be a decent guy, a sharp kid who made it from Compton to Stanford and tries to serve as a role model for other inner-city kids looking for a ladder to climb. He's an outstanding student of the game, and there's no doubt he's spent the last couple weeks watching how Peyton Manning deploys his fleet of receivers. Sherman will almost certainly have an impact in the game, either a pick or some key tackles, or some combination.

But assuming the weather is not too terrible (and it appears just to be very cold, but no rain or snow), the odds are with Denver. The Seahawks' defense only allowed about a third of opponents' red zone offensive drives to end in touchdowns, so expect some of the Broncos's efforts to peter out into field goals, diluting their impact somewhat. And to compound the "strength-versus-strength" trope with even more specificity, consider this:  Denver's offense is first in the league in converting on third and fourth down, and Seattle's defense is also first in preventing such conversions.

(If you're a sports-stat geek, you are probably already aware of Football Outsiders, but if not, you'll love it. They compile a mind-boggling array of numbers, but in a way that doesn't require a PhD in statistics to comprehend.)

Anyway, it seems that the Seahawks' offense might be the weak link here, not by a great deal, but in the sense that they just won't be quite able to keep up with Manning and the Broncos' offense. Manning is infamously the most astute and obsessive film student in the game, and you can bet he's dissected Seattle's powerhouse secondary just as much as Sherman has picked apart the Denver offense. Look for Manning to victimize safety Earl Thomas, with WR DeMaryious Thomas over the top, and TE Julius Thomas (yeah, I know, all these Thomases, and none of them related, afaik) up the seam. Earl Thomas has been burned in coverage a few times over the past month or so by opposing QBs, and so will probably be considered a point of vulnerability to exploit by Manning.

Early looks at this matchup made me assume a slow first half, followed by Denver breaking away in the second half, but I think Seattle may keep it closer after all, if returning speedster Percy Harvin can break even a couple of big plays off for them. Denver's run D is weak, and Seattle RB Marshawn Lynch seems to be in his trademark "beast mode" lately.

To the extent that I have a dog in this fight, I would like to see Seattle win it, if only because they have never done so before, and because it would be slap in the face of the twittard racists (who I sincerely hope will kindly do the world a huge fucking favor and die before they reproduce). But Manning will probably come out of this with his second ring (which would be the first time a QB has won a SB with two different teams), though the Seahawks will make him work for it. It should be an excellent game regardless.

Prediction:  Broncos 31, Seahawks 30.

[Update 10:00 PM PST: Holy shit, talk about being wrong on almost every factor. The only thing I got right was that Seattle's defense was just unstoppable -- getting a safety on the very first play from scrimmage, holding Denver to just 11 offensive yards in their first 3 possessions, and shutting the Broncos out until the very end of the 3rd quarter, when they finally allowed them their only points for the night. Denver's secondary was banged up, playing backups in mostly soft coverage, and Russell Wilson took advantage of that with a decisive performance.

This may be a case of two organizational ships passing in the night, going in different directions. Seattle is young, and has relatively few key free agents in this coming off-season, while Denver in general -- and Manning in particular -- skew older, and may lose key slot receiver Eric Decker to free agency. Certainly the Broncos should be expected to at least make the playoffs next season, but the Seahawks will easily be the Vegas odds-on favorite for another full run.]

Order Distorters

This week's bucket o' bullshit, in the wake of a predictably vanilla ('scuse the pun) State of the Onion speech, comes to you courtesy of failed veep tool and P90X spokes-prick Paul Ryan:

"We have an increasingly lawless presidency where he is actually doing the job of Congress, writing new policies and new laws without going through Congress. Presidents don't write new laws, Congress does," Ryan said.

Ryan backpedals against the other exec order bullshit that your senile fascist aunt probably forwarded to you when she was in her cups, that The Blah Guy has issued a flurry of orders, to grease the skids to herding the freedom-oriented folks into those FEMA camps out in the boonies. (Never mind that they are still flapping their yaps, which would seem to, erm, logically undermine their "point," but whatever.)
If only there were some way to verify those assertions, right? Not that it matters, since as always, facts are completely orthogonal to whatever argument it is that they think they're making. So the new talking point, according to Ryan, is the "scope" rather than the number of executive orders (since again it turns out that Obama has issued the fewest exec orders for a two-term president since Grover Cleveland, and in fact is barely ahead of Poppy Bush, and only two ahead of Gerald Ford, who only served two years as the fill-in between the disgraced Nixon and the single-term Carter).
No matter how easily and often these lies can be refuted, this "lawless imperial dictator" guff will no doubt be the midterm mantra, as gerrymandered incumbents run -- unopposed, in many cases -- to screw their constituents ever more.