Sunday, March 30, 2014

Purity Bawl

Since it's an election year, it's time for the regularly scheduled plaint of the Thanksralphers, that migratory flock of folks whose bleats and peregrinations have somehow never quite clued them to a small but vital fact -- that Democrats don't lose because of third-party perfidy, but because too many of "their" voters end up voting Republican.

It's been repeated countless times in this here blog, but if the stupid "Mumia sweatshirt" schtick still merits play, then this does too:  in the 2000 electoral debacle, twelve times as many registered Democrats in Florida voted for George W. Bush as voted for Ralph Nader. Hokay? The Thanksralphers and DFH-punchers can ignore that all they want -- and they clearly want, since it's been twelve years and I'll be damned if I've ever seen any Dem animosity toward those party-jumpers -- but like gravity and evolution, this is a true fact whether or not people believe it or act on it.

I've come to believe that the folks who continue to indulge in meaningless Nader-baiting have simply made an easier strategic decision for themselves. It's easier to titty-twist the minuscule number of "purists" who supposedly insist on absolute ideological rigidity, than to take a serious look at the much greater number of people who, for whatever reasons, jump over to the other major party.

Or the even larger number of people who look at a corrupt system run by and for the wealthy and connected, understand intuitively that neither party gives a red-hot monkey-fuck about them, and stays home. It's all well and good to insist that even if one is getting by and not in need of assistance, they should at least vote with compassion for those less fortunate, who are in need of this or that government assistance. But uh, if one is looking at, say, literally spending the rest of their natural life paying interest on $200 textbooks because the higher education system is a fucking racket, that person may have different priorities in the voting booth besides ensuring that the alcoholic vagrant shitting on the downtown sidewalk has adequate health care.

There is certainly a difference between the two parties, operationally and policy-wise. These differences have become larger and more apparent due to the polarizing nature of the teabaggers, and their effect on the Republican party. As much of a disappointment as Obama has been to lefties and progressives, I don't think anyone would argue the point that his strategies and outcomes would have been vastly different with a better Congress and Supreme Court. Still probably would have been dickless incrementalism, because that is all our owners will permit, but the intransigence and idiotic obstructionism of the 'baggers has certainly worsened an already bad situation.

But the real problem here is the idea that anyone's vote is "owed" to a political party, as opposed to the party having to make its case for earning your vote. It's dangerous and undemocratic, it has led to the current situation, where the parties are owned and operated by corporate interests, and simply take your vote for granted, promising everything and delivering jack shit.

Hey, whatever floats people's boats, I guess. I could just live without the smug, sneering, condescending attitude that permeates these sorts things, expending far more energy and effort lecturing a tiny portion of voters on their sincere (if perhaps somewhat misguided or impractical) principles, than on the vastly greater numbers who jump over to the other side without a care in the world.

It's important for everyone to keep in mind that politicians, good or bad, are reflective of their constituencies. Somebody keeps voting -- on purpose, even -- for dipshits like Louie Gohmert and Jim Inhofe. Those people are the goddamned problem, not the handful of supposed purity trolls.

Free Downloads Tuesday

Folks, if you want to show some support for our humble efforts here, and not spend any of your hard-earned cash in the process, do me a solid and grab yourself some free downloads this Tuesday, April 1. All four Hammer e-books for Kindle will be available for free download, as will all six Purple Tiger Guitar books (available on the AStore page in the upper right sidebar).

So take a second, drop in and grab some free reading material, leave a review if you're inclined, spread the word, yada yada. As always, your participation and support are appreciated.

[Update 4/1/14 11:15 PDT: Well, that was something. I suppose I could and should do some statistical analysis on this phenomenon, perhaps later in the year with a larger sample size. But today's little free download experiment ran the gamut from sublime to ridiculous -- the 5 main PTG books (the 6th book is actually a 99-cent sampler of one of the other 5) were downloaded over 2,000 times each, with Practice Power going over the 3,000 mark. (To give you an idea, generally a free download day will result in a given book being downloaded roughly 100-120 times that day, around 150 or so on a Friday, Saturday, or Sunday.) The grand total was just a shade under 12,000 books for the day. Pretty fucking cool.

At the other end of the spectrum, none of the four Hammer books (admittedly, they are dated even before they are published, in terms of content and even titles) even made it out of double digits. There was a time when I would have taken it personally and gotten butt-hurt about it, but frankly, as the two or three people who have checked out Lucky '13 found out if they read far enough into it, this blog will probably close up shop at the end of 2014. There are multiple reasons for this, many of which I've gone over in here from time to time. But the bottom line is a combination of lack of time and lack of response -- in other words, if there were more response, I'd make more time, but as today showed, a guitar site I started less than two years ago, and post to less frequently than I have here for nearly a full decade now, just moved about 200 times as much product. For free.

When you can't even give it away anymore, maybe that's a sign. Maybe I should have put stories and photos of my pets in the Hammer books. We'll touch a bit more in depth on this particular dynamic down the road at some point. I am still hoping to close out strong with three final Hammer books -- an Assholes of 2014 shorty, a 2014 essay compilation (with new intros), and a huge retrospective encompassing the entire decade of the Hammer's run (I'd really like to throw some of the comment dialogues into that last one, one thing that has made this blog stand out over many others is the quality of so many of the regular commenters here). We'll see how the rest of this year goes, but whatever of those I actually do, I will be promoting early and often.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

911 is a Joke

Heads up, Kim Jong Un -- the United Nations is coming hard for your doughy ass. Check this shiznit out, yo:
In one of its stronger resolutions, the United Nations Human Rights Council urged global powers on Friday to back an international criminal investigation of North Korea for crimes against humanity and to consider targeted sanctions against those responsible.


“You couldn’t expect a stronger resolution,” Julie de Rivero, Geneva director of Human Rights Watch, said of the measure. “The package as a whole is unprecedented.”
So, like, wow, right? A "strong resolution," which mandates a "special rapporteur," which may even culminate in a -- wait for it -- "field presence." Oh my. These are forceful, fearsome phrases. I'm sure Kim is trembling in his wee elf boots.

Look. I'm not saying that the US or any treaty organization should initiate bombing or invasion of North Korea at the earliest opportunity; in fact, such a move, given the apparent mentality of the NK populace and its leadership cadre, would be catastrophic for South Korea at the least. But the notion that the dickless, finger-wagging, bureaucratic postures of the UN carry any weight with the monsters of the world will, in retrospect, prove to be one of the more dismal ideas of the age we live in.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Plane and Simple

Have you had enough "missing plane" coverage yet? Well, I'm no Courtney Love, but I think Dr. Samuel L. Jackson may provide a clue as to what really happened.

Ministry of Truth

Several of these "what is the deal with these medical conspiracists" articles have cropped up lately, probably in the wake of info-quack Kevin Trudeau's recent 10-year prison sentence for refusing to allow suckers to keep their money.

I don't have a dog in the fight, really. Medical science is, as they say, what it is, and people can and do speculate over causes and cures all the time. I would note for the record that it isn't just African-Americans who believe that the AIDS virus was created by gubmint assholes in a secret lab; Frank Zappa's autobiography ends with a similar allusion. I doubt that that's the case, but you just never know, right?

And that's really the deal here -- not whether "they" did, but whether "they" would. Because we know that people in positions of corporate and government power have done any number of awful things with experimental drugs, from MK-ULTRA to the Tuskegee Experiment. And a quick Google search will help you decide if Big Pharma has ever or would ever engage in unethical behavior for a buck, whether it's torturing rabbits and cats for a better mascara, withholding info about nasty side effects on various tonics and philters, or just holding back on a better pill in order to maximize profits.

I mean, seriously. We know for an indisputable, irrefutable, empirical by-god fact that humans deliberately infected other humans with syphilis in the name of some perverted version of schmience. You really think there aren't people out there who'd build a superbug just to see if they could? Don't get me wrong, it's still annoying that people are actually dumb enough to listen to Surgeon General Jenny McCarthy and not vaccine their kids. But it's not really that much of a surprise that they act as if people in power don't have their best interests at heart.

Revenue Model

The Atlantic's Derek Thompson asks a reasonable enough question, one (as he points out) the music industry has been asking ever since Napster changed everything, for them (the music industry) and for us (end users). Thompson also correctly points out that the situation extends beyond the obvious one, of people simply finding download sites to steal music from, now more than ever it's the streaming sites such as Pandora that enable and facilitate this sort of consumption of product.

As any current working musician will tell you, the product (you know, the music) has become secondary, almost peripheral, to the overall process. In the past, technological limitations necessitated that the food chain of production, manufacture, promotion, and distribution of the product were where all your marginal costs existed and could be optimized. Obviously, that is no longer the case; bands now cover their nut by touring and selling swag.

This is somewhat ironic, since those four "food chain" costs that were so central to the old music industry revenue model have all been rendered practically null and void; even a modestly talented, ambitious, and entrepreneurial individual can create, promote, and sell quality product for under a couple grand, where even 20-25 years ago bands racked up six figures in debt creating 45-50 minutes of music that still had to be trucked to record stores across the country. Production and supply chains have altered, and radically in favor of the content creators. This is true not only of music, but of books. (And teevee, of course.)

Of course, lowered barriers to entry also enable purveyors of crap to proliferate in all those media. But that is a subjective, aesthetic decision best left to the fabled market to sort out. Someone who's just peddling shit can certainly make some bank, but when has that not been true? The other side of that coin is that the true artist, whose voice can't or won't be silenced, now has an abundance of affordable venues which he or she can easily access to ply his or her wondrous wares. They don't have to sell their souls to some record company that's going to fuck them over and hose them on recoupable costs anyway. Certainly reasonable people can agree that this simple, clear benefit greatly outweighs the nuisance factor.

There are several dynamics at work here, as far as the music industry goes (we'll get back to books). One is the prevalence of selling single tracks for 99 cents, rather than packaged albums for 12 or 15 bucks (which generally means a built-in pricing cushion. From a marketing standpoint, this constrains the producer's ability to test variances and find a viable price-point equilibrium; that is, if the main pool of consumers come to believe that a "song" is "worth" 99 cents and no more, then you'll have a tough time convincing them to pay 12 bucks for a ten-song "album" running about 45-50 minutes, whose length in the first place was determined by the physical and technological constraints of earlier media such as vinyl records and magnetic cassette tapes.

Another ongoing dynamic is that the trend (insofar as to where the money and activity are gravitating) is content curation rather than creation. This is why blogs, to use one example, are a dying model as far as viability goes -- consumers have been herded past mere consumption, and on to aggregation. I think for someone under the age of 20-25, this would make no sense, but for people who have been around long enough to gain a sense of perspective, it is more clear -- not only has the prevalence of computers and software changed the way we think, perceive, and process data, but the changes themselves are coming at an accelerated rate.

So people's attentions have changed from the singular focus to a band or a song or a news factoid, and to a sidebar clutter of external links, an endless daisy chain of distractions. This is what content curation is all about -- being able to provide the quick eyeball fix that the clicker is looking for, and then having something ready to go on the page that the clicker didn't even know they wanted.

When I graduated from high school in 1985 and entered college for a brief attempt, I took a marketing course in the second semester (in fact, I had a marketing minor for my Biz Ad major). I went in and came out of that course with the cynical (but true!) observation that marketing, at its essence, is simply the art of convincing people to spend money they don't really have on shit they don't really want. I wouldn't claim any special insight to this, except to note that I was all of 18 years old when it occurred to me, and my attentions were otherwise engaged, mostly on beer, guitar, and girls (not necessarily in that order). Perhaps a more nuanced way of putting all that would be to say that a good marketer encourages people to find money for things didn't know they wanted, until the marketing made them aware of those things.

Now, in my second, more recent go-round at the university system, I additionally internalized the rather obvious marketing concept that when someone buys a product -- especially a creative product -- they're not just buying that product, but also the experience of buying the product. It could be the affirmation of finding a great new band that hasn't been popularized and diluted yet, or finding a book that you truly think will get you over some hump in your life. It happens to all of us, it's not foolish at all. Marketers realize this essential truth -- that every one of us (including the marketers themselves) wants something, usually something that will get them laid, make them more money, or make them smarter, but it could be any number of other things. Even if you're happy, there's always something you aspire to or want, whether it's travel, better communication skills, to be more fit, have a larger cock, whatever.

The thing is, these are synaptic sensations that are only bought with time and patience, of reading and internalizing whatever it is you felt like you were missing. So the aggregated content curation model doesn't, by design, really feed that well into that particular dynamic. It's a very ADHD dynamic, and as such, requires not an ability to sustain attention and focus, but the ability to divert or even avoid focus, and simply jump among endless lilypads of external stimuli. While many or most or each of those virtual lilypads might be revisited regularly, they are constantly in flux; the whole point of repeated visits is to tune in and find out what new content has been curated.

I know, you're thinking this is where the "Old Man Yells At Cloud" riff kicks in and the tube amps swell to eleven. Not at all -- I love technology, and more than that I love the way it has democratized the ability to produce music, real music made by real human beings. But that technology has also changed the way those same humans -- or at least the potential audiences for the musicians -- perceive the more easily facilitated creations of wonder emanating from those digital fonts.

And that's the problem here, the impasse that what's left of the music industry has not figured out how to ford. See, ever since Muddy Waters invented electricity and white people figured out how to poach good music from black people, the music industry was predicated on middlemen exacting a certain (generally usurious) percentage from the creators of the product. There is no longer much of a role for said middlemen. This is the sum and essence of the dilemma facing the "music industry."

And yet, as any of us who truly enjoy and love music, who derive pleasure and joy and even the occasional transcendent experience of it know, one of the coolest things about real music is that you can listen to it ten, fifteen, ninety times, and still retain the very real possibility of catching something you haven't caught in prior listens. That's an excitement you don't get with most other forms of media, the notion that a four-minute work can have those possibilities, every single time you experience it.

But how do you experience it? That's yet another issue that the "industry" has been unable to address. The previous model relied heavily on programmed radio to disseminate the product. And look, if moron stunts like this aren't evidence enough of why not only that model is dead, but that it deserved to be killed, I don't know what to tell you. I honestly have no idea what sort of asshole would want to listen to the same song for twenty-four hours straight (bearing in mind that the radio model is predicated on keeping people listening for as long as possible), but I hope never to run into such an individual. It's just too sad to contemplate.

But such instances are also indicators of the accelerating frangibility of music fandom, as it were. I don't mean groupies; like the poor, they will always be with us. I mean the ability of some anonymous person out in the boonies to commune with the sounds they hear and use those sounds to reify their deepest, darkest desires. When their mode of access consists of Morning Zoo gabble and the same half-dozen AutoTuned monstrosities spoon-fed in heavy rotation (and syrup), I suggest that their interaction with those things -- those products, tangible objects that can be marketed -- changes substantially.

And in fact, it has changed. We (as in the majority of the marketplace) no longer commune with the existential spirit and angst of the artiste. We interact with their various efforts incidentally, perhaps using their occasional communal efforts (i.e., live shows) as events by which we can get laid. It's not that this is inherently wrong per se, it's that it inhibits our ability (again, in the aggregate) to effectively partake and participate in a truly vigorous musical culture, as opposed to one that relies on weird endurance-based stunts.

In the end, what this is really about is revenue, and the ability to generate it. And our new ADHD virtual lilypad is predicated less on the old experiential heavy-rotation-on-the-one-station model, and more on the aggregate advertising model. There's a risk that curation eventually turns the content itself into a loss leader, something practically given away in order to upsell something else to the consumer (usually advertising).

The alarums regarding the demise of the industry-based models are true enough, and rightly so. In the old days, record companies functioned much like a bank -- or more accurately, a loan shark, fronting money to broke-ass musicians to cover high but necessary studio costs. But again, the previous barriers to entry have disappeared, the loan sharks and their insiders' club of payola and promotion are no longer needed or even useful.

This should have been a blessing for musicians and listeners alike, and to a great extent it is. But the nature of listening, and the modes and habits of consuming that product, have changed, and not necessarily for the better. Once the product became free and easy to acquire, consumers (as they would with any other product) adjusted their habits and needs accordingly.

The book industry is undergoing those same challenges, and it's good for small, independent authors who might otherwise never get a shot, but the trend has hit established publishing houses and their author list like a ton of bricks. Too many people are opting for the ease and convenience of the Kindle book for around five bucks, stored on a small device that can store thousands more, rather than shelling out twenty bucks for a bulky paperweight that they may not even like.

It's a real gamble, and it will be interesting to see how this all plays out, for music and for books, each of which has specific challenges built in. A full-length (250+ pages) book is a time-consuming process, generally accomplished by a single person, who still needs to eat and earn a living while working on the project. While a song, or several songs, can be composed and recorded more quickly, it's also generally a more collaborative effort, and thus needing to provide a living for several people. These things used to be more scalable, but the ongoing attrition of direct revenue for the content itself may discourage many potential creators, who may see that the easier money can be had on the curation end.

The boutique phrase "post-scarcity" gets thrown about perhaps too loosely, but this is a situation where it is more clearly justified. There are, in fact, people who make a pretty decent living still, and without having to deal with the overhead, bureaucracy, and finger-crossing of the "industry." Take a look at what Joe Konrath is doing, or Barry Eisler. (And hell, read Be the Monkey -- it's fast, funny, thought-provoking, and just 99 cents.)

The model is changing -- like gravity or health care reform, you don't have to like it, but whether or not you believe in it or agree with it, it's happening all the same. And as Konrath and Eisler have shown, again and again and again, piracy isn't ruination, for an independent operator -- in fact, it can easily serve as free advertising. The author or musician has to be willing to give their product away here and there.

But advertising also costs money, and the "industry" model, such as it is, gives no artist or author a majority or even decent royalty rate. Publishers assume that readers only buy so many books per year, and at twenty bucks or so per copy, they're right. The old music industry model was even worse, starting with its accounting and deliberate ruination of many a good band.

And again radio, as a system of promoting and distributing great new music, was always useless, and is now worse than ever at exposing listeners to something new and fresh they haven't heard before. It's simply a slow death by quasi-nostalgic scamboogery, merely a reminder that so many of those songs you haven't heard in years, you really could have lived the rest of your life never hearing again. I don't know about you, but as a lifelong music lover, radio makes me hate music, makes me want to tear the damned thing out of my dashboard and throw it out the fucking window. And they wonder why everyone would rather just tap into Pandora, listen to the music they want to hear, and not a bunch of retreaded shit sandwiched in between endless commercials and "morning zoo" jerkoffs. Really, how much do you spend commando-raiding the Kim Dotcoms of the world at the RIAA's behest? Maybe if they had a better model, they wouldn't have to worry about what really amounts to parasitic loss (or in Biz Ad terms, "the cost of doing business").

It's okay to ask questions and be skeptical, the new model is not going to be fair and/or perfect. But once again as with health care, it's not like the old model was worth a hot turd in the first place. It stifled creativity and innovation, and made its participants virtual serfs because of the high barriers to entry. Those barriers are gone. The old model deserves to be killed off, and never discussed again.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

No, Virginia

It's a shame when they lose their idealism, isn't it?
Let’s assume, for a moment, that a real meritocracy would be an awesome thing to have; that giving every person a chance to run the Race to the Top is a worthy goal of government policy.

Even with those assumptions it’s not so simple. Why should Americans work to ensure that everyone has a fair chance to join the ruling class, if the great principle of that ruling class is unfairness? Why should Americans compete on the level if what we’re trying to win is admission to a fraternity of thieves?

Let me explain. A meritocracy requires more than simply making it possible for people at the bottom to climb the ladder of opportunity. It also involves chutes of accountability for those at the top. These are two sides of the same coin: the skilled must be able to rise, but grandees caught with their snouts in the trough must also come tumbling down. “We cannot have a just society that applies the principle of accountability to the powerless and the principle of the forgiveness to the powerful,” writes Chris Hayes in his sweeping meditation on meritocracy, “Twilight of the Elites.” And yet: “This is the America in which we currently reside.”

Is it ever. Recall for a moment the situation in which Barack Obama was inaugurated in 2009. During the preceding decade, we had endured a tech bubble and a housing bubble; our accounting industry had been suborned in all sorts of ways; our prize stock analysts had been suborned in all sorts of different ways; our leaders and foreign-policy pundits had sold us a war in Iraq using completely bogus reasoning; our investment houses specialized in cooking up poisoned investments; our ratings agencies specialized in hanging blue ribbons on them; and the executives of our financial industry specialized in helping themselves to stupendous bonuses even as they lost billions—even as they blasted holes in the economy of the world.


I confess here that believing Obama would act in this way was one of my reasons for supporting him back in 2008—the hope that this thoughtful and talented man would bring a completely new crowd to D.C. and break the grip of the Clinton-era centrists on the Democratic Party.


I will also confess that Obama’s subsequent failure to follow these meritocratic rules astonished me in a way that we cynical types don’t like to be astonished.
Yeah, well, join the club, bunky. It's a hard lesson to learn, but like Lucy pulling the football one more blessed time from poor ol' Charlie Brown, it must be learned and internalized all the same. It's nice that the "WTF Haz Obama Done?" crowd can hang their hat on the previously uninsured now getting insured, but they are strangely silent on the fact that, since everything still costs what it always has, and the 1% have refused to pitch in, someone has to pay for all that. This country still has banana-republic levels of income and wealth disparity, something Obama has a popular mandate to remedy, and failed not only to do so, but to even try.

Nothing will happen, because nothing ever does. People will either get out and vote like they think it makes a difference, thinking that holding back whatever ludicrous teabagger poltroon counts as a principled stand, or they won't bother, fulfilling their own assumptions that it doesn't matter.

Well, it doesn't and it does, in that acceptance of the, in the Chomsky parlance, "evil of two lessers" constitutes any sort of real choice. Hopefully by now even the most enthralled Obamanaut from '08 understand now that their man, however well-meaning he may have genuinely been, is simply an errand boy sent by grocery clerks to collect a bill. So is everyone he's surrounded by, colleagues, counterparts, and political opponents alike.

I think many, if not most, people understand this at least intuitively, that their government no longer has their best interests at heart, that the middle-class expansion of the middle of the last century is well and truly dead and gone, that it's a dog-eat-dog world and we're all wearing bacon pants. What remains to be decided is whether that is acceptable, what is to be done about it, and then to do it.

Whether that means simply disengaging from a parasitic, overweening system of hypocritical technocrats and their corporate PR crews, or taking your chances in the streets against an increasingly paramilitarized and unaccountable security apparatus, is anyone's guess.

Oversight In Plain Sight

It's an unusual but perhaps critical issue on which I beg to differ with the estimable Charles Pierce, who feels that Obama has lost his grip on his administration. This is very similar to the media gabble heading into the weekend that Grandma Feinstein is suddenly mounting a principled stand against the vicissitudes of the intrusive meta-security state.

Wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong. People are welcome to insist upon and celebrate the substantive differences between the current boss and the previous, insofar as they do exist, though I suggest that perhaps Obama has not been and never will be the transformative figure he originally campaigned as. For the most part, in fact, he is simply a smoother and more articulate continuation of many of the Cheney regime's more objectionable policies.

Perhaps nowhere is this more true than the expansion of the capacity of the internal state security apparatus to spy upon and permanently archive the metadata comings and goings of its inhabitants, who through political and economic attrition have become less and less the traditional idea of "citizens," as in an informed and empowered body electorate, but rather a collection of demographics to be herded and cajoled, so as to make the picking of their pockets a simpler process for the rentiers who actually own the system.

In other words, Feinstein has been a US Senator for a very long time, and the head of the Intelligence Committee for a long time, and never before had any issue with the spying capacity or activities of the CIA or FBI or NSA -- in fact, it has been part and parcel of her office to enhance those capabilities. But now it's a problem, because the watchdog has stretched its leash, and is spying on elites and peons alike. You can see the problem for poor DiFi, suddenly the champion of principle, after previous tilts at such threats to the republic as flag burning and video game violence.

Similarly, Obama's problem is not that the CIA has exceeded its operational portfolio but rather, as with the self-serving data dumping of Edward Snowden, that the organization has now been observed doing so. These things are not errors or flaws in the system; they are features. The organizations in question are doing precisely what they've been asked to do, designed to do.

What's really unclear is why any of this should be worthy of note, especially under the hoary rubric of a "free society" -- the average 'murkin, like his proletarian counterpart in Russia, is much more authoritarian, or at least comfortable with the characteristics of such governments, than he lets on. Hell, this is a country where you can literally get away with murdering a kid for sneaking into your daughter's bedroom for illicit nookie, you think enough people give a shit that the Feebs are archiving their porn searches?

Joe Dirt

You know, the interviewer doesn't do himself any favors by baiting with the same question over and over again, but Palin-with-a-penis Joe Miller seems like a bundle of fun, right?

Here's the thing (puts cranky contrarian hat on, adjusting the brim) -- Miller is actually correct about a few important things (setting aside his tedious "states' rights" guff). What passes for the federal government these days does a piss-poor job of providing adequate representation to, well, the average Joe.

Merchant princes and soulless corporations own and operate "both" parties, which ought to provide some clue as to the extent they are genuinely different from an operational standpoint. The truth is that, while each side makes lots of noise for its respective base, little or no action actually takes place, but the bases are distracted sufficiently from the ongoing pocket-picking of their futures. To loosely paraphrase a noted political philosopher, the best way for rich people to keep the poor people they bully and cheat off their backs is to pit them against each other, which they do quite well.

It's a common trope that this nation doesn't make or manufacture anything anymore, but that's not quite true -- America invented the concept of public relations, and the operational aspects of the nation are handled accordingly. PR, opinion, and consent are manufactured routinely, and in mass quantities.

This is what enables "us" to send warships to the Black Sea to flex nuts at Putin's own nut-flexing in Crimea, and not even consider how deeply we would consider it a provocation if, say, we decided to send in the National Guard or even a few army units to eliminate the Mexican drug cartels once and for all, and the Russians or Chinese took it upon themselves to masturbate out in the middle of the Sea of Cortez. This is what enables professional opinion-mongers and analysts of dubious skill and repute to talk about Ukraine like it's important to them on a personal level, without mentioning the geopolitical issues of how Russia perceives our continuous overtures to get Ukraine into NATO, or how much money Ukraine gets in hock to the World Bank and the IMF (i.e., the western centralized banking usury system).

This is how chickenhawks like Huckleberry Closetcase get to go on the Sunday morning follies and pull assertions out of their asses, brush the peanuts and disappointment off them, and present them as facts, apparently based on the premise that, sooner or later, they might actually right about something. (And of course, we wouldn't want to mention that maybe Huck's tough-guy 'tude is driven mostly by the fact that he's being primaried, because the Koch Brothers simply won't be happy until they own every fucking thing and all citizens are merely serfs to their lordship.)

It is all of a piece -- the corporate-owned political and media systems have vested interests in keeping people ignorant and belligerent, outraged over all the wrong things, and ignoring the issues that actually affect their lives. Miller may not think he's part of that, since he likely has no direct stake in such things, but he is a part of it, whether he realizes it or not. Because he, like the corporate insect overlords, make bank on stoking jabber and nonsense, on getting folks liquored up on stale -- and logically impossible; Obama simply cannot be both a tyrant and a pussy, so maybe pick one and stick with it already -- bullshit.

Not only do election season get longer and more polarizing, but midterm election seasons get angrier and weirder with each iteration. Again, it's easy to see where the perpetual horse-race industry has a vested interest in all that. But maybe -- and here's where I suspect someone like Miller and someone like myself might be more aligned in opinion -- it may be time to consider the benefits and strengths of a more decentralized political system, a Hanseatic League type of setup if you will (and you might) that forces welfare states such as, um, Alaska to actually be self-sufficient, instead of just talking about it, and taking blue-state tax dollars and talking shit the whole time.

To paraphrase yet another cinematic thinker, I would prefer if they just said "thank you" and went on about their way; failing that perhaps it's time to cut them loose and make them fend for themselves. We'll see how that rugged individualist shit works out when the deep southern states aren't propped up by our decadent, filthy money.

Lucky '13 Free Download Ends Tonight!

The headline says it all, folks -- here's the simplest free way to support our efforts here at The Hammer (besides checking out our sponsors). Just head on over to Amazon before midnight tonight and grab a free (Kindle only) download of our 2013 retrospective, Lucky '13. It's a collection of greatest hits from last year, with a new introduction and new prefatory remarks for each essay. There's been some good interest and activity so far, so grab your copy, tell some friends, and enjoy!

Friday, March 14, 2014

Free Download Weekend

Hey kids, do your part to support this thing and grab a free download of Lucky '13 this weekend. As always, it'll make your whites whiter, your colors brighter, your dick longer, etc. Impress your neighbors and annoy your friends with the baroque talking points of the previous year's posts here at The Hammer. Lucky '13, as of this post the #1 ranked free book in the Political Humor sub-category -- check it out now!

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Cargo Cult

So the annual clown car nonsense at the Gaylord nears its blessed end, and Real 'murka's favorite prop comic / concern troll blasts through some "new" and "borrowed" material for the trained seals in the audience:
“No you can’t log onto the website,” she said. “No you can’t keep your health care. No you can’t make a phone call without Michelle Obama knowing this is the third time this week you’ve dialed Pizza Hut delivery.”

Palin singled out Cruz for his marathon speech on the Senate floor last year during his push to defund Obamacare, when the freshman senator read Dr. Seuss’s “Green Eggs and Ham” to his young daughters watching at home.

Palin brought her own version of the rhyme, crediting a couple lines of it to the Internet.

“I do not like this Uncle Sam,” it began. “I do not like this health care scam. I do not like these dirty crooks or how they lie and cook the books.”

The crowd devoured it.
Well, of course they did. These are the same classy folks who are snapping up bumper stickers saying "The Good, The Bad, The Ugly" featuring a Republican elephant, Democratic donkey, and Hillary Clinton, respectively. They're always on the lookout for the next hypocritical stunt candidate, another inert douchebag to serve simply as an obstacle, an obstruction to doing anything that might actually benefit the unrich.

As always, jerkoff politicians are a reflection of jerkoff constituencies.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Shche Ne Vmerla Ukraina

So there is much hand-wringing over ol' Pooty-Poot's (remember back when C-Plus Augustus "looked into his eyes, and....saw his soul"?) crude efforts to undermine and overtake the critical Crimean peninsula, and there should be. But is this something that the US (or, more to the point, Europe, since that's really who Russia is leveraging here -- they're not worried about us in the least) should be interfering overtly in? Depends on which electioneering hack you ask on the Sunday follies.

Don't get me wrong -- Putin is certainly acting aggressively, and his long-term game appears to be to return more or less to Peter the Great imperial days, complete with buffer states, of which Ukraine has historically been one (the root word of the country's name, "kray," literally means "edge" in Russian and Ukrainian). One way to look at the country historically, culturally, and geographically, is that western Ukraine is eastern Poland, and eastern Ukraine is western Russia, in many respects.

This certainly doesn't mean that Ukraine shouldn't have its own sovereignty, just that there are greater contexts here that you can count on many 'murkins to just ignore during the corporate network Two Minutes of Hate. These are just some of the things bound to be going on in Putin's brain -- along with, of course, the fact that Ukraine is one of the world's largest grain exporters, the Crimean peninsula has shipyards and heavy manufacturing resources, and the country itself, with its natural gas pipelines, serves as valuable leverage over the expansionist European Union.

Since George Kennan formulated US post-World War 2 geopolitical principles, our policy has included the doctrine of "containment," characterized by the Cold War moves and countermoves, mostly via proxies and military buildups, that never culminated in head-to-head confrontation, but fomented many "small" wars (see, wars are always "small" when they involve overthrowing someone else's leader, especially if said country is small, brown, and has exploitable resources, such as oil or bananas). It should not be surprising that the largest nation on the planet, one with a much longer history that includes savage periods of conquest, invasion, and mass slaughter at the hands of everyone from the Mongols to the Nazis, as well as buffer zones of compliant vassal states, has its own version of the containment policy.

Putin is also, unsurprisingly, flexing nuts and showing us that he will not abide by our dictates, any more than we would listen to him if a restive British Columbia or Baja California attracted our attention. Other than the oligarchs sending their kids to our colleges, and snapping up our real estate, the US has no active or deterrent role in Russia's foreign policy. And our handling of Syria (not that there were any good options) and North Korea probably send a signal of at least some weakness to Putin.

Obama acolytes have been fond of saying that Barry O plays "11th dimensional chess," at least with domestic issues and with handling political opponents. I don't really see whence that notion originates at all; while certainly a thoughtful and intelligent orator, a refreshing break from the wretched syntax and incoherent burbling of the previous guy, it's hard to point out significant instances where (as the chess phrase implies) Obama out-thought an opponent to any great or impressive degree.

Certainly this seems to be the case with Obama's approach to foreign policy, a studied, measured, reasonable doctrine that places great stock in, for example, the UN's recent condemnation of North Korea's long-running record of human rights atrocities, while not backing such pronunciamentos with any real teeth. Quite frankly, all one has to do is look at the UN's record of ineffectiveness and inaction in recent years in the Balkans, Rwanda, and Congo, and be less than convinced that their harrumphing condemnations carry any weight with anyone. So just as China will never go along with cracking down on the Cult of Kim, critical trading partners such as Germany and Italy are not going to kick Russia out of the G8 just because we want them to.

Obviously, foreign policy historically has operated on having carrots and sticks at one's disposal, in order to leverage or pressure for a desired result. In the previous century, that dynamic worked to our advantage, since we had the most of both carrots and sticks to use as we saw fit. This is simply no longer the case, and hasn't been for some time. Economic wealth has become hyperconcentrated, to the detriment of the government's ability to even remain solvent or operate efficiently, and warfare has become much smaller in scope and scale, not to mention that America is leading the way toward a more automated approach to warfare.

In other words, we don't have enough money to bribe Putin (unless the greedy, pelf-grubbing motherfuckers who own half of everything want to chip in) to be nice, and we're not going to send a fleet of flying killbots over Sevastopol. We have nothing he wants or fears, and it turns out that, like any good American preznit, Putin plans to inflate his nation's perceived prestige. It is not a coincidence that the Olympics served as the chronological fulcrum for several important activities in that area, including the release of the Pussy Riot protesters from the gulag. (Incidentally, it should be apparent just how brave and reckless these women are, to the extent that if they don't leave the country or back down their antics, they'll probably be dead within a year or two, without any involvement from Putin. It should be quite clear that Russia is still a pretty culturally conservative country.)

So what do we do? Well, if we're serious about this 11D-chess thing, then we're playing a longer game, and not over-reacting to troop movements in a small, strategically inconsequential place. Economic sanctions, sure, but with the realization that, again, the US is not one of Russia's most valuable trading partners, and that their lock on major commodities give them plenty of options. Plus sanctions won't work if the EU doesn't go along, and chances are they like getting their natural gas.

One thing's practically a given: the "Hitler invading the Sudetenland" comparisons aren't going to help matters.