Sunday, July 27, 2014

Free Willing

Interesting op-ed from Rolling Stone's Tim Kreider on the effects of the freebie economy on creative occupations, especially writers, especially journalists and article writers. We covered other aspects of this brave new economy a few months back, and to be sure, the pissing contest between Amazon and the traditional publishing houses still has some thrashing to go before the dinosaurs finally sink into the tar pits.

To recap the high points from before on these various types of professional and creative media:
  • Music is now a loss leader rather than the central product. It is tacitly understood that, since at least a plurality of consumers know or expect to be able to download it for free, the producers hope to use it to get consumers to actually purchase swag, concert tickets, etc.
  • Books are still a product, but Amazon has created an economy of scale and a royalty scheme that flattens the landscape for self-publishing, and disintermediates all the middlemen of the traditional industry. As more people get used to electronic reading, especially when coupled with the ease, portability, and capacity of devices, they have become accustomed to lower prices.
  • Short-form factual writing -- again, informative articles and journalism -- are simply clickbait. The revenue model for websites is strictly ad-based, usually with some combination of Google Adwords or AdSense, Kontera or some such, or even just privately contracting ad space on your website to various buyers. The barrage of cheap and easy "[#] Ways [noun] [verb] [object]" (one typically ludicrous recent ClownHall example is titled "15 Ways Liberals Are Like Bratty Kids") has resulted in a simple go-to template that has been abused practically to death, but shows no signs of abating.
The last example in particular speaks to how and why people like Kreider, who can actually write and provide context and analysis, get hit up for freebies everywhere they turn. Since consumers seem content with the bare minimum, and just about anyone can Google a random subject and generate a list in a short amount of time, listmaking has become a handy substitute for analysis.

Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of that dynamic is that, while musicians and authors can at least theoretically pin their content either to cross-promotional products, or scale up their audience on Amazon, the journalist has no such options. What we've seen happening is basically your HuffPo model -- create and run your own portal, sell a shitload of ad space (again, the actual product at the end of all this) and then try to corral writers who don't mind trading valuable time for a slim chance at name recognition.

This is one of those issues I keep trying to chicken-egg, back and forth, over and over. Does the lowest common denominator shift because content is cheap and easy, or is the content curation model simply giving people what they wanted all along? In the aggregate, it seems now that too many people are ready and willing to consume a news-like product, devoid of nutrients and context, and unwilling to figure out the context on their own, from, I dunno, a history book, or even a longer article.

It all comes back to asking oneself why precisely we want to inform ourselves, if it's actually to understand how the world works and to make informed decisions based on that knowledge, or just as affirmation of imaginary grievances, or just to be a part of ephemeral cultural phenomena, to anonymously register our impotent outrage on some network news chat board, as if it had any meaning or use.

Ultimately, this is where talented writers like Kreider will lose out, if he's unable to suss the new paradigm. I think his former RS colleague Matt Taibbi has a better grasp of what the new journalism model is for people who actually do journalism, as opposed to people who just want to be a cable news anchor. By complementing his journalistic output with well-researched, topical books, and shrewd, acerbic TV appearances, Taibbi may just be carving a path for a noble but dwindling breed.

Vulgar Display of Moron

One of my pet peeves (and yes, as you might guess, I have many) is when individuals need to be told something that you really shouldn't even have to tell a child. The various ways in which we interact in public places -- driving, shopping, parking, eating in restaurants, attending sports and entertainment events -- require a shared understanding that there are other human beings on this planet. Some folks, because they're just that fucking special, don't trouble themselves with such ordinary considerations.

When someone boxes you in with their lousy parking, when they leave their shopping cart in the middle of the aisle and waddle off to look for an item, when they let their screaming brats run and make noise in a pricey restaurant, when they talk on their fucking phone in the middle of a fucking play, like it's a rock concert or something, the message to everyone else should be clear -- fuck you. I cannot be bothered to maintain even a basic, fundamental amount of common respect for anyone else. I am the only one in this parking lot/supermarket/highway/whatever who matters.

Particularly in the instance of stage performances, where your average dipshit should realize going in that a level of quiet engagement on the part of the audience is necessary both to the enjoyment of the play, and the ability of the performers to do their jobs, you have to really wonder -- why do these idiots go in the first place? If you want to sit there and tweet and eat and play with your toys, why not just stay home, or go to the Starbucks? It makes no sense.

Hopefully these theatres, especially those with name performers, stop leaving it to the actors to browbeat the idiots, or set up special "social media" areas (because, holy shit, their need to live-tweet their attendance at a Kevin Spacey play simply must be accommodated), and just toss them out on their asses.

Doing the Same Thing Again and Again, Expecting a Different Result

The civilian body count in Gaza continues apace, despite the unsurprising revelation that the incident that triggered the current round of conflicts was not perpetrated by Hamas after all. It will end after some number has been reached to generate sufficient outcry by the rest of the world at Israel.

Not that that absolves Hamas in particular -- they really do dig tunnels and stockpile missiles in civilian areas, specifically to goad the Israelis and gin up world outrage, while the Hamas leaders sit in Jordan or Qatar or wherever, and watch it all take place on TV.

But Israel also needs to get it through their heads that, between Gaza and the settlements, the outrageous treatment of Palestinians in their daily lives leaves them quite literally with nothing to lose. Anyone would figure that if there's no reward for good behavior, only more punitive actions, then you might as well try another tack.

At the end of the day, though, Israel really is the only thing resembling a democracy in the region, and certainly more democratic than its neighbors (excepting perhaps Lebanon, which tends to be too weak to avoid meddling and infiltration by Syrian and Iranian entities). The world may be repulsed at the civilian body count Israel is producing, but most are also repulsed at the radicalized Islamist "culture" perpetuating right in Israel's backyard.

It's okay to be objective and call horrible things and people for what they are. What ISIS and other radical groups do in the context of Islamic religion or Arab culture should be separated from those things specifically. What those groups do and impose on their hapless people is nothing more than raw power. Sure, there are things about decadent western society that repulse even most decadent western sensibilities.

But the difference is that we don't force, with violence or the threat of violence, our women to wear beekeeper suits, or beat them if they leave the house unaccompanied, or whip or stone them for having sex. That would be at least one way in which you could differentiate one culture as being objectively superior to another, especially one that hasn't produced anything useful or innovative for hundreds of years.

Back to Gaza. Israel is going to have to make a good-faith effort not just to stop the fighting, or to make concessions entirely contingent on the cessation of any and all hostile incidents, but to curtail the activities -- again, at a local or even neighborhood level -- of settlers and ultra-Zionists, who make the lives of Palestinian residents as miserable as possible. If they do something about that, they might not find themselves back in this fix every year or so.

Free Kindle Books and Random News

Next weekend (August 1st through 3rd) you can pick up Baker's Dozen and Lucky '13 for your Kindle, absolutely free. You're welcome, America.

The plan to bring The Hammer to an end at the end of this year is still very likely to happen. It really just depends at that point how much time and interest I have. Obviously there hasn't been much content lately, for a variety of reasons related to work and general morale and motivation that would sound too self-pitying if I got into it.

And what content there has been seems to revolve around the rather exhausted theme of fat-cat bashing. A few wealthy people are running the world, and your life and my life, and there's not much any of us can do about it. Fine, you get it already. There's only so much more beating that dead horse can take before it disintegrates.

All of which is to say that while I'm not hell-bent on shutting this thing down outright, I'm also not interested in keeping it going just to keep it going. So we'll see.

Anyhoo, as far as the Kindle thing goes, it's been a fun experiment, which I plan to continue as much as possible. There will be another year-end retrospective, as well as an Assholes of the Year mini-book, to release first week of January 2015. Sometime after that, probably in March or April, all six will be bundled together into one package, and sell for probably $1.99 or so.

I'd like also to do a full 10-year retrospective, but to do it right, it should probably be something like picking one post from each month, which obviously is an enormous undertaking. Please let me know in comments if any of this sounds interesting to you.

While the books move some units here and there, none of them ever really had substantial volume, sort of like how this blog itself, while it has very steady, decent traffic, never cracked into the higher levels of fandom. Long-time readers will recall that this was something that annoyed me somewhat back in the day, but I stopped worrying about it quite a while back, at least 5-6 years ago.

Things either click or they don't for a variety of reasons, but the leg-humping necessary to try to convince large numbers of people to check something out is just something I've never been comfortable with, beyond occasional open-thread pimpery at some of the posher joints. So it goes.

Anyway, two free books for your perusal, August 1-3. Grab one, leave a review if you're inclined, etc., etc. Back to your regularly scheduled programming.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Velikaya Voyna, Letom Akuly

So, now that some time has actually passed since Malaysia Flight 17 was shot down, by Russian-backed separatists using Russian-supplied weapons, have we actually learned anything new?

Putin is a bastard. Well, no shit. Good thing he got the Winter Olympics this year, and the 2018 World Cup. Sanctions are one way to hit this prick, another is to delegitimize his prestige goals. So we'll see how many of these outraged countries boycott the World Cup in 2018. But that's a pretty effective way to take the piss out of the guy.

Despite what armchair tough-guys Poor Ol' Straight Talk and Huckleberry Closetcase are braying every Sunday morning on the network circle-jerk, we aren't going to war with Russia. Here is where The Googul, or a history book, or even a decent memory, is helpful. Despite being in some sort of conflict or other since World War 2 ended, almost none of those military actions have been against countries that can actually fight back. Oh, your Iraqs and Vietnams and such like can muster enough guerrilla insurgency to wear us down and make us leave, but I'm talking about countries who can strike back in the US. That hasn't happened, and it ain't gonna happen.

Russia may be something of a Third World despotate (albeit an enormous one), in terms of laws and life expectancy and such, but they aren't in the same league as the banana stands and oil cans we're used to knocking over with our swinging dick.

What we're seeing in Ukraine is a civil war, pure and simple, and it's one that at least in part could have been avoided by more prudent action on the part of the US and Europe. Continuous instigation to get Ukraine into NATO and/or the EU, or to get them on the IMF debt hook, was always going to be unacceptable to Russia, just as Soviet incursions and overtures into (for starters) Cuba and Nicaragua were completely unacceptable to us. Do these people not recall the Saint Reagan years, or was it all just a collective coke-fueled dream?

"So what?", you might say, and not without some justification. "Fuck the Russkies, we run this popsicle stand, baby! USA! USA! Dee-fence, unh-unh! Dee-fence! We're the hegemon, we run the show, we call the shots."

Well, ah, yes and no. This is a classic case of "we got the guns, but they got the numbers"; yes, we have 11 aircraft carriers where no other nation has any, and we have state-of-the-art machinery in every phase of war -- land, sea, air. Hell, our killbot roboplanes are more sophisticated than all but a few conventional manned air forces.

But this has all come at a cost. Fat, drunk, and stupid, as Dean Wormer acidly observed so long ago, is no way to go through life, son. Militarists can jabber on about how the defense budget is at or near an all-time low as a percentage of GDP, but that is meaningless in the context of banana-republic levels of economic inequality and mobility. It is a zero-sum game; all those aircraft carriers and killbots come at the price of something else along the line -- a school, a road, a bridge, an educational grant, something to give someone in the lower dalit strata of 'murkin life an opportunity besides working multiple shit jobs just to survive, or worse yet, becoming a Juggalo.

In the meantime, they attempt to whip the maroons into a jingoist frenzy about Russia, or Syria, or whoever. Ambrose Beirce famously said that war was God's way of teaching Americans geography, but he would be disappointed to know that that is no longer even true, as in order to teach someone something the other party has to be willing to learn. And Americans just don't give a shit about where any of the multifarious objects of this or that week's Two Minutes of Hate are, or what the history or context might mean.

(Or that, uh, it ain't just Ukrusky separatists that shoot down passenger jets. There's your inconvenient truth, podna.)

The thing is, you're supposed to completely ignore the fact that the owners are screwing you over, every day in every way, that quite literally the more people they fuck over, the wealthier they get. Instead, you get bombarded with either a barrage of "the world is going up in flames" stories, again devoid of meaningful context or analysis, or completely meaningless features on the comings and going of "royals", or how some imperceptible change in yet another interchangeable comic-book movie franchise is, like, rilly rilly important.

When 1% of the people control more assets than the bottom 90%, it's a recipe for destabilizing levels of inequality. An increased level of anxiety and fear becomes systemic, and must be, via the corporate propaganda machine, projected onto The Other as much as possible. Whether it's assholes in a country you can't find on a map, or teeming hordes of Central American maras coming to steal your flat-screen teevees and virgin daughters, it's always someone else's fault. Pay no attention to the leveraged-buyout specialists behind the curtain.

Not to fear, though, gentle reader -- though your job has been outsourced to Bangalore, you will still be able to purchase the item you once manufactured for less money, so long as it doesn't exceed your gubmint assistance allowance. But hey, those Apaches are swell, aren't they?

The 1% needn't worry about any of this, mind you -- they can and have put millions of their countrymen out in the street without a care in the world, because increased capital mobility. And if there's one thing they know, it's that large groups of people will literally go live in tents before they'll mobilize and at least try to do something, anything about the fuckers that put them there.

And on the off chance we actually were to send any sort of ground force into Russia, or Ukraine, or anywhere else for that matter, there won't be any one-percenters' kids in the action. There is never any rich skin in this game.

Also, too.

Friday, July 18, 2014

We Just Disagree

The settlers are dicks. So are Hamas. This nonsense will continue until the Palestinians get that they are basically the Washington Generals playing the Harlem Globetrotters, over and over and over again, destined never to win. There will always be these radicalized events that escalate into official violence, and when neither side is willing to give in on its most egregious tactics, you're going to get what you got, which is one side with a missile defense system that actually works against the constant barrage of rockets, and another side whose death-cult propaganda allows for their kids to be martyred. In turn, the rest of the Arab Middle East uses the plight of the Palestinians for their own propaganda purposes, while studiously refusing to take any of them as refugees.

A frequent tactic of modern religious believers -- evangelicals in particular -- is to contrast death counts between believers and atheists, comparing the hundreds of years of religious wars against the 20th century totalitarian systems that murdered millions of people for the sake of atheist ideologies. It would be easy enough to characterize this most recent spate of violence in Israel as a Jews vs. Muslims religious cage match, or the ISIS insurgency as Sunni vs. Shi'a internecine bickering.

The root of these issues are really just the usual old things -- power, control, water, territory. Religion is part of it, sure, as are culture and history, and the inability to drop a fucking grudge. But it always comes back to monkey killing monkey over pieces of the ground.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Return of the Ladies' Man

Speaking of dipshits who don't know when their fifteen minutes is up, remember Todd Akin? He's the knuckle-dragger in one of those flyover states who botched a fair chance at unseating Claire McCaskill, until he tried to play amateur gynecologist on teevee, and the wimmins were not amused.

After an apology that fooled nobody, Akin scuttled back into the woodwork, presumably distributing aspirins for sluts to keep between their knees. While nature may abhor a moron, America clearly loves them, and so of course Akin is back, with a book no less, one in which he retracts his bullshit apology, no doubt much to the relief of his true believers.

Here's Akin's assessment of how ladyparts can magically shut down their capacity to conceive:
“My comment about a woman’s body shutting the pregnancy down was directed to the impact of stress on fertilization. This is something fertility doctors debate and discuss. Doubt me? Google ‘stress and infertility,’ and you will find a library of research on the subject.”
We all make jokes about morons such as Akin pretending to be ob-gyns, but the serious fact about conservatives in general, and Akin in particular, is that this is their stock in trade, taking fairly obvious scientific distinctions -- in this case, fertility studies correlating "stress and infertility" in the context of infertile couples trying various methods in order to conceive -- and implanting (see what I did there?) them with their own biases. Conflating such studies with scientifically and statistically unverifiable -- that is to say, a steaming load of shit Akin pulled straight out of his own ass -- conjecture about rape victims biologically self-aborting, speaks volumes about the inability of these people to understand the difference between empirical data and tarted-up religious dogma.

What this really is all about, as Akin himself has made clear, is his obsession with abortion.
Akin later says during his time as a state legislator, he wished he could have done more to “end this evil,” referring to abortion, which in his view “easily trumps slavery as the greatest moral evil in American history.”
There's kind of an art to this sort of thing, if you think about it, to not only be completely hyperbolic over something that has actually been decreasing over the last twenty years, but to brazenly assert that it is a much bigger transgression than the centuries of rape, oppression, torture, murder, abuse, the sundering of families, the fucking buying and selling of human beings, forcing them to work until they drop, and keeping the profits, this should remove all doubt and permanently affix Todd Akin as an idiot and a scumbag.

But if you need just one more reason to convince you let it be his impassioned -- and completely incorrect -- defense of George "Felix Macacawitz, Junior" Allen:
In part, Akin uses the current political atmosphere and media to argue that trackers who follow candidates on the campaign trail are just looking for a candidate to slip up.

In that context, Akin defends former Virginia Gov. George Allen’s comments in 2006, when he called a tracker of Indian descent “macaca.” Allen would go on to lose to Democrat Jim Webb. The incident is even credited with dashing Allen’s national political ambitions.

“He could not possibly have known that, in the Portuguese language at least, the word means ‘monkey.’ Allen is not Portuguese … and neither was his opponent,” Akin writes.
Well, for one, Allen's opponent was Jim Webb, not the Indian cameraman whom Allen called "macaca". Second, while Allen may not be Portuguese, neither in particular is that word. It's a generic term used by European colonials in Africa to denigrate their native subjects. And hey, ho, whaddya know -- Allen's mother was a French national born and raised in Tunisia! This was all duly researched, verified, and chronicled back in 2006, does Todd Akin not have access to the Google, or does he only use it to feverishly squint at "stress and infertility" findings?

Perhaps just as revealing as Akin's stubborn guff is the comments in the linked article. As it predictably devolves into what Akin supposedly means, when it is perfectly clear to anyone who can actually read, the real point gets lost in the shuffle. The real point is that Akin's implications are multiple, and all of them are indefensible.

Akin's use of the phrase "legitimate rape", coupled with other comments of his, insinuate pretty clearly that he believes, though he provides no evidence or proof, either that rape must be violent to be "legitimate", or that some number of reported rapes are exaggerated by the victims. In fact, he appears to believe both of those things to some extent, though again he indicates no evidentiary knowledge of either one.

The assertion of the female body having mechanisms to shut down pregnancy as a biological response to violent rape, is perhaps one of the dumbest things ever to be uttered by a supposedly sentient human being. It betrays a complete lack of knowledge of history, particularly the history of warfare, where rape has been routinely used as a tool of war and conquest. One of the primary reasons we got involved in the Balkans in the late '90s, in addition to the Srebrenica massacre, was the widespread allegations of mass rape by military personnel. Again, rape has historically been the norm for conquering troops, as the easiest and quickest way to change the demographics of a conquered region.

More specifically, the statistical incidence of pregnancies resulting from rape is significant, and would seem to belie Akin's assertion of biological shutdown mechanisms. One would think that if it were that simple, there would be fewer than 32,000+ pregnancies per year resulting from rape. Maybe the mechanisms are broken; whatever the case, if they are not 100% infallible, one must ask if women -- adult women with their own identity and agency and rights, mind you -- can be trusted with the responsibility over their own reproductive health.

I don't have much patience with "civil" commenters such as "Hank" in the Politico comments, disingenuous tools who lament the callous incivility of intellectually dishonest liberals in practically the same breath as they launch some tired shot at Bill Clinton. Fine, Clinton was a cad and a dick, and his treatment of women has been execrable. That has no effect on the fact that Todd Akin is either a vicious liar, or an impossibly stupid person who has no business anywhere near a position of responsibility.

But the real issue here, as always, is control over the sex lives of women. Let's put it out there right now -- if any of this touched on the sex lives of men, there would be no debate, real or contrived. That shit is settled. Nobody tells us where or when to put our cocks. But somehow this bullshit persists over what women can or can't do with their junk. I think the main difference is that there are actually other women who assist in these stupid battles, where you would never find a man who would participate in repressing -- or even affecting, even a little bit -- our right to do what the fuck we want.

It takes a dickhead like Todd Akin to crystallize these nonsensical attempts to control the reproductive activities of women, but it is only with the active or passive acquiescence of other women that any of this stuff gains any traction. We can't do it without you, ladies.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Mouth That Bored; Or, A Farce to Be Reckoned With

Life is uncertain, but July has come to mean two immutable facts of life -- one is the sweltering itch of swamp crack, and the other is Sarah Palin honking something stupid into a towel, knowing that her idiot fan club will worship it like it's the Shroud of Turin. Not content to rest on her mama-of-the-year credentials, Palin continues her tireless quest to become the go-to rainmaker and prognosticating mynah bird of the dim set.

It doesn't matter that, as inept as Obama has been on multiple fronts, no laws have been broken, and you'd think even a maroon like Palin would know that you need to be able to cite chapter and verse what part of the legal code has been transgressed. Chewed-on complaints and stale "battered wife" jabber won't cut it.

Then again, who knows? It's midterm season, which for the Goopers means keeping turnout low but passionate. They'll hold the House, and if they can take the Senate, they can easily ramp up the mischief factor, and may even find a way to stretch some penny-ante bullshit into impeachment. Unlikely, but all of this would have been deemed unlikely 5 or 6 years ago, when these hooting jerkoffs had gleefully plowed the country into a garbage scow.

Palin has even asserted that she could and should host her own talk show, or be on The View panel. And why not? People make fun of, say, Fox and Friends, and rightly so, but The View has had more than its share of mouth-breathing fools (including current F and F cupcake Elisabeth Hasselbeck, uncomfortably sandwiched between leering doofuses Steve Doocy and Not Steve Doocy) spouting some of the dopiest things imaginable.

It might be worth giving Palin a small platform in the dingbat ghetto, braying her nonsense at bored hausfraus who are just waiting for Dr. Oz to sift through their poop, just to get her out of the nation's ass already. On the one hand, she fits perfectly Dorothy Parker's classic observation that if you want to know what god thinks of money, just look at the sorts of people he gives it to; on the other, no matter how much filthy pelf she rakes in with her dumb jokes and dumber assertions, her kids will blow it all on magic beans and monster trucks.

Friday, July 04, 2014

Eat, Spray, Love

So apparently we are running out of ideas for useful, informative articles. Lest someone get the wrong idea, let's make something abundantly clear -- fist-fucking six dozen hot dogs down your gullet in ten minutes does not make you an athlete, it makes you something of an asshole. The fact that professional hockey took some years to get squared as to teams and rules does not equal the hard truth that "competitive eating" is more a joke than a real sport.

It's disgusting to compare the sheer gluttony of butt-chugging hot dogs to what Babe Ruth or Michael Jordan accomplished in their careers, even vicariously. Maybe it's because I was raised in a poor household where food was prepared to last 3-4 days at a time, but I am well conditioned to believe (secularly, anyway) that gluttony and waste are sins.

But as a sports fan as well, it's very difficult to reconcile the idiotic notion that trenchermen are "athletes" in the same sense that genetically blessed, superbly conditioned humans who do things that few other people can do, are athletes. Any asshole can chug water for a few weeks to extend their stomach, and allow themselves to gorge on dozens of hot dogs and tacos or whatever. That is not a skill, and athletics require some sort of skill. I am only mildly comforted by the thought that Joey Chestnut's dumps must be episodes of furious grunting and rectal brutality (much like Gary Busey's sex life).

I suppose complaining about nonsense like this is a lot like complaining about shitty music or hot weather -- like the poor, they will always be with us. But at least no one's trying to claim that Justin Bieber is Mozart, or that a 110° heat wave is actually a pleasant way to spend an afternoon.

Studies Show

I don't place much stock in "studies" and "findings" normally -- anyone who actually gets paid to do some of the shit these people do should instantly be suspect. Seriously, if your "job" involves keeping people awake and letting them shock themselves instead of sitting quietly and thinking, something's hinky. We all know how scientific method and testable hypotheses work, but a lot of this stuff is just make-work for grant funding.

And yet, there is something that resonates with this study, something we can quite clearly observe by going to just about any public place -- real or virtual, Costco or Facebook -- and just watching people, how they act and react. It's not a value judgment to postulate that people in general, and perhaps Americans in particular, are tethered -- addicted, even -- to external stimuli. It's tough for many people to just shut it off.

It's like that person in your office or family that is hooked on interpersonal drama, to the extent that they'll go out of their way to create said drama, if there's none to be found. They get some sort of adrenaline rush, something like that. I've never understood it, but we all know it's there.

It doesn't seem unreasonable to presume the same sort of thing going on here, that the more you force people to slave away just to get by, the more they start to live and perceive through their work families. Which is the other thing about all these studies -- what do you actually propose to do about your findings?

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Scott Brown's Legacy

Longtime readers of this here cereal box know that a persistent (if intermittent) theme here, in between all the f-bombs and fat-cat rants, is the idea of possible pasts. Playing the "what if" game is useful as a strategic, speculative pursuit, as it forces us to think about alternative outcomes.

More specifically, it's the notion that fate sometimes turns on a dime, that a seemingly small event can have a catalytic "butterfly" effect on its surroundings. One such example is the death in 2009 of Senator Ted Kennedy, as his passing took place at a critical point in "negotiations" over what would eventually become the Affordable Care Act.

Somehow, the Democrats managed to lose the seat that Kennedy had held for nearly half a century, due to a spectacularly inept and tone-deaf campaign by Martha Coakley. Coakley lost the seat -- and with it, the Democratic supermajority in the Senate to one Scott Brown, a photogenic, amiable doofus that the Republicans seem to grow on trees. Brown proved to be the linchpin in what became the now-standard GOP practice of might be called ABWOW -- Anything But What Obama Wants.

Only in a turgid industry like politics would pure, stupid obstructionism for its own sake be considered a strategy, but that and the constant threat of filibustering is all that has kept the Republicans going since 2009. Brown filled the Senate seat just long enough to force Obama to accept a ham-fisted, loophole-riddled sack of shit whose primary purpose is to hold doors in place on windy days.

Had Kennedy lived even a year longer, chances are that the supermajority could have forced through the public option, the single-payer system that is the standard in every other industrialized nation. Sure, your betters in the corner offices might not get the nine-figure salaries they so richly deserve, but the last five years of impossibly wealthy corporations and owners whinging over every fucking dime would not have happened.

Let's accept as a given that regulatory legislation written primarily by the industry it's designed to regulate is guaranteed to either be useless or more harmful than the situation it's intended to remedy. This was seen as a feature, rather than a flaw, by Brown and his cohort. And now we have what we have, which is another layer of bureaucracy in the IRS, a health-care racket whose pricing structure is exactly as much of a theft mechanism as it ever was, a baroque clusterfuck of industries bloated with lobbyists and marketers, gouging their captive markets and laughing all the way to the bank.

So now this week, we have one of the more bizarre eructations resulting from the ACA. Some dipshit craft store has decided -- based on its own ignorant interpretation of how certain birth-control options actually work -- that it cannot, in good conscience, be party to the IUD holocaust, or whatever it is these overbreeding, Christofascist weirdos call it.

Legalistic and moralistic angels-on-the-head-of-a-pin arguments aside, what sucks about this is that it gives license for any and every business, whether for reasons of mere penny-pinching or for some fanciful interpretation of Bronze Age legends, some bullshit excuse to duck out of something that could and should have been very simple and easy. No, now because someone "believes" something that is empirically not true, they can weasel out of it. Yeah, that's gonna work.

The public option would have worked, and well, because it would have disintermediated all the parasitic middlemen who drive up costs with marketing, admin, and sales. Ask yourself how well your grandmother's cancer was abated by fucking admin.

None of this had to happen. And now Brown is running for Jeanne Shaheen's seat in neighboring New Hampshire, because there is always more damage to do, more precious money to be made. People will die, and other people will go broke, because the health-care system in this country is an abomination, something that should be strapped into an electric chair and fried like an egg.

But as long as Scott Brown and his benefactors continue to make money and make a flawed process even worse, I guess it's okey-doke. I mean, hell, Jeanne Shaheen is just an Obama puppet, and he's evil. Some 80-year-old fart in Nashua said so, so it must be true. Cool, pops, pay for your own fucking bypass, then. Frankly, I have no interest in subsidizing these morons. Talk about doing the impossible for the ungrateful.

Whenever the post-mortem on this country and this species is written, whether it's five or fifty or 500 years from now, the thing our successors will note about us will be exactly what we noted about the previous civilizations we've unearthed, thinking that we've surpassed them with our intellect, might, and technology. That thing is the tendency to be our own worst enemies, to undermine our own rational self-interest for the sake of superficial qualities of glad-handing and smiling contempt. Your mastery of Candy Crush on your smart phone does not make up for not seeing what is right in front of you.

When Mitt Romney smiles, I see nothing but discomfort -- the inner pain of a man who regards the unrich as another species, and does not understand why the customs of this society compel the best and brightest to break bread with such people, to pretend that they like or even comprehend them. For every rich guy with a conscience, there are a hundred Mitt Romneys -- and because they sincerely regard their infestation of the political process as a bulwark against takeover by the rabble, they're the ones that actually run the show.

As always, people who willingly vote for politicians who can barely conceal their contempt get exactly what they deserve.