Sunday, August 31, 2014

Self Indulgence

Talk about grabbing the wrong end of the stick on an argument. Look, as the quote at the top of the page at this here popsicle stand illustrates, I am unabashedly biased on the subject of Orwell's Politics and the English Language. Obviously, my writing style does not hew closely to Orwell's prescriptions, though I at least strive toward his lofty goal of absolute concision.

I've re-read Politics probably every six months or so over the past 10-12 years. Many times a piece or point in there will jump out in a way it hadn't before; sometimes new clarity comes with time and revisiting something you thought was familiar.

I believe that Self is misreading Orwell's intent by obsessing over Orwell's advice regarding things such as similes, brevity, or words with Anglo-Saxon rather than Latin roots. Writing at its best is really just the process of organizing one's thoughts and ideas coherently, in order to communicate them effectively, with as little lost in translation or parasitic motion as possible.

The examples of poor writing provided by Orwell in Politics should remove any mystery. Orwell was concerned primarily with meaningless deconstructivist burbling, as well as propagandistic writing. He felt, rightly, that language should convey meaning, and honest writing should reveal rather than conceal the writer's intent and meaning. Too often cheap erudition and baroque sentence construction were employed for the opposite purpose, to conceal either an unwholesome intent, a complete lack of meaning, or the incompetence of the writer.

The goal is not to encase writing style and vocabulary in an "acceptable" box; in fact, I suspect that Orwell felt very much the opposite. There's nothing wrong with new coinages, new rhythms, new ways of elucidating one's thoughts, so long as it's with clarity and purpose in mind.

Arbeiten Bis Zum Umfallen; Or, The Hunger Games

Boy, the future ain't what it useta be, is it?

The ads are surreal. They sound like an invitation to summer camp, and not just the ones for Amazon jobs. “Feel like a kid again!” and “Hey workamper, it’s time for fun!” are a couple slogans used by recruiters for Adventureland, a theme park in Altoona, Iowa where migrant workers run the rides, games and concessions for $7.25 to $7.50 an hour. Recruitment materials for the beet harvest, with 12-hour overnight shifts in subzero temperatures, refer to the work as “an unBEETable experience!”

This stuff is propaganda, pure and simple. It panders to the illusion that older Americans are free to retire, working only for fun, rather than acknowledging the reality that many folks need to keep bringing in money to survive.

Much of the work is hard and physically taxing. Several people I met dropped out of the Amazon program after a few weeks because their bodies just couldn’t take it. Others suffered from “trigger finger,” a ten­don condition that can be caused by repetitive movements like UPC scan­ner use. Many RVs I visited looked like mobile apothecaries, stocked with Icy Hot pain-relief gel, foot-soaking tubs with Ep­som salts, and bottles of Aleve and Advil.

This is what the Rubinization of the economy, really going back to the reckless financial deregulation of the Saint Reagan years, gets you. People born since 1980 probably don't realize this, but America was, for a brief moment from roughly 1945-1975, a nation of haves and have-nots, in a more egalitarian sense than that might imply. In other words, most working people were able to live comfortably if not extravagantly, take the family on a cheap vacation once a year, camping or Walley World or what-have-ya, and retire at a decent age with at least enough of a stipend that they could send the grandkids $5 on their birthdays, and not have to live on cat food.

Then we became a nation of haves and have-mores, and oh-hardy-har did Dubya's little snicker with his donors drive that point home. The gist was that now we had extravagantly wealthy people, most of them pelf-grubbing financial bookies, corporate swindlers, or Mitt Romney "creative destruction" types, people who literally became hectomillionaires by gutting American companies and sending American jobs halfway around the world. False promises were made about retraining "displaced" American workers, and because American politicians barely bother pretending anymore that they give half a fuck about anyone not in the donor class, no effort at all was made to keep those promises.

So now we're the worst combination of both of those things -- a nation of have-nots and have-mores. You're in one margin or another; you're either a paycheck or two from the street and up to your eyeballs in debt (which, never forget, is always and by definition someone else's equity), or you're a minted member of the owner class. If you're in the former category, your only course of "action" is to vote for Candidate Coke or Candidate Pepsi, and try to convince yourself it made any difference to your bottom line. If you're in the latter category, you've ensured that voting will not make a difference to anyone's life but your own.

There's your future -- traveling around the country in a 15-foot Airstream and hoping to hell you don't get sick, until you've finally had enough and check out. Awesome.

Middle of the Road

To be sure, many of the "professional atheist" writing claque of the past decade have come across as smug, even insulting at times. Worse yet, from a purely forensic point of view, it's counterproductive. Assuming one's goal is to persuade, rather than merely browbeat, telling people of faith how hopelessly deluded they are is not going to produce many converts. One would like to see more than (ironically) choir-preaching.

So it's fine that Sam Harris is apparently going the extra yard to match up the religious impulse with a universal secular one -- the acknowledgement that there are forces that are, at least for now, beyond our reckoning or comprehension. It's intellectually honest, without lending undue credence to "invisible sky buddy" dogma.

And a decade of literary smugness certainly does not, obviously, come anywhere close to offsetting thousands of years of insufferable behavior on the part of substantial segments of believers. The more routine approach is the unquestioning assertions one might find on, say, the Facebook pages of one's friends, unthinking log-rolling done mostly with cheesy graphics and (literally) "amen" comments and responses.

Certainly this is not true of all believers, as there are plenty of essays, past and present, that elucidate the primal urge to believe with at least enough passion and conviction to merit some consideration, if only as to the presentation of the argument rather than its veracity. But it seems to be true of the overwhelming majority of believers, who are unable to argue their points with any clarity or precision. There don't seem to be any C.S. Lewis types out there anymore, just Dinesh D'Souza, Sarah Palin, and millions of lemming-like followers who communicate through selfies and grunts and Will Ferrell meme generators.

It seems that Bruni would like to believe that Harris provides a context for a more contemplative spirituality. I would suggest that not only do most people not possess that capacity in any meaningful or consistent amount, but that when it comes to their religious beliefs, they actively eschew such activities, precisely because they're secretly afraid that, if they were to read or think about too many contrasting or opposing ideas, they would lose faith, and sooner rather than later.

It's easier to just believe that all our deceased relatives and friends are waiting for us on the other side of the rainbow bridge, feeding all our deceased pets and hanging out with, I dunno, Abraham Lincoln and Leonardo DaVinci. That's certainly a tempting prospect, but there are countless examples of vapid, venal, and vile things perpetrated by humans, frequently for no goddamned reason at all, or merely the usual ones of greed and stupidity, that should make just about anyone seriously question their faith if they really thought about it closely enough.

Reconsidering faith doesn't at all, contra popular assumptions, decontextualize or invalidate the ethical construct for "right" or "moral" behavior; one doesn't become a louche moral relativist or a feckless hedonistic sybarite simply because one decides to refute for themselves the dogma popular and political culture cynically -- or worse yet, sincerely -- embraces. That's probably the biggest lie of all. Ultimately, the more important question is not whether there is or is not a celestial being supervising our deeds and transgressions, but what each of us chooses to do with our belief or non-belief in such a being.

Peace Frog

There's having the right to defend yourself, and there's being a dick just for the sake of being a dick. Israel's land-grabbing is not going to help it, not in the long run. They are being outbred by the increasingly pissed-off Palestinians, and the breeding of the settlers and lazy ultra-orthodox will not be enough.

I suppose it's only a matter of time before some sort of attack takes place, gets portrayed as ISIS, and we get involved before finding out the truth of it. It's probably a good time to invest in the companies that make Hellfire missiles and Predator drones.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

#notallassholes; Or, Shart Week

Taking into account two fresh new stories that might make one consider the merits of capital punishment:

First is the heartwarming tale of one Douglas McAuthur (sic; Jesus H. Christ, do people not own a fucking history book or a liberry card?) McCain. Now, while Doug is not (as far as we know) related to our good friend Poor Ol' Straight Talk, he did make the fateful decision to leave his decadent, meaningless existence in San Diego, and join up with the world's most notorious terrorist group, to bravely slaughter villages of unarmed unbelievers and behead infidel journalists. You can sort of get why a kid in some horrid Middle Eastern despotism might say "the hell with it" and take up arms against whoever and whatever. What possesses a homegrown dipshit to head to one of these god-forsaken places to murder and pillage, who knows? Sounds like he got what he was looking for.

Second is this charming little story from England, where piece-of-shit "gangs" preyed upon children while the authorities turned a blind eye and scorned the victims, some of them as young as 11. Because nothing says "tough guy" like preying on sixth-graders, amirite? Forget all that claptrap of "the state has no right to take life," every one of these gang assholes needs to be lined up against a wall, and the "authorities" that let it go on need to do some serious time. I would seriously suggest that someone who participates or facilitates the gang-rape of children is not a fucking human being, and therefore you're just ridding the world of a rabid animal.

These are the sorts of things that serve as a reminder that the planet won't miss us when we finally push its climate past the point of no return.

Second Amendment Remedies

I'm sorry, but as they say in the 'hood, heh indeedy. Look, this is precisely the sort of thing that gun control advocates have a point about -- this weird "gun culcha" that encourages adults and children to treat dangerous weapons as toys. What kind of an asshole hands a fucking Uzi to a nine-year-old girl? And what sort of moron parents not only allow this, but video it?

You have to be fifteen or sixteen to get a permit to drive an automobile. You have to be sixteen or seventeen in most states to legally have sex or get married. You have to be eighteen to vote, or to fight for your country in the military. You have to be twenty-one to legally imbibe an alcoholic beverage.

So let's pose the obvious question -- in what sane universe with those sorts of age-based regulations does it make sense to allow nine-year-olds to handle automatic weapons? Everyone involved in this is getting exactly what they earned, but sadly the poor girl is going to have to live with the consequences of what the responsible adults with her should have taken care of.

Ad and Subtract

We've done a few "revenue model" posts this year, highlighting the rapidly changing dynamic taking place on these here internets, and how it has radically altered the traditional pelf-scooping activities that were enjoyed unhindered -- indeed, with a 10-year-old Cuban cigar, a 15-year-old Scottish single malt, and a 20-year-old Malaysian escort performing spectacular fellatio -- by the establishment media impresarios in the past.

So now it's a brave new world of content curation and such like, and so, since we're willing to put up with commercials, we must of course be willing to put up with pop-up ads. I dunno about you, Tonstant Weader, but I'll share this with you -- I pay about $90/month to DirecTV for I have no idea what, and aside from HBO, there's commercials up the wazoo on every fucking channel. I remember as a kid watching broadcast teevee being told that commercials were the price we paid for free content -- so now we're paying for the content and the commercials? Hunh. Spare me the lecture, So-crates.

There are two competing ideas here, both of them absolutely true. One is that people who create content -- even shitty "12 Weird Things You Didn't Know About Justin Bieber" copy-and-paste articles -- deserve to be compensated for their effort, commensurate to the value they create. Unfortunately, almost all value on the internet is created by selling advertising.

Which brings us to the second thing, the idea that the internets, just like the broadcast airwaves, should belong to the people. I mean you paid for it, right?

But because advertising, like gorging on food, is one of the few things Americans do well anymore, we get to sit through a million fucking commercials selling cheap insurance and expensive pharmaceuticals. Apparently we are running out of these things, if the wisdom of the marketplace is to be duly heeded.

And the wild wild web is no different in that unfortunate respect, a veritable wasteland waiting to be populated by pop-ups and embedded videos and such. Maybe they have packet sniffers waiting to spoof your computer's cloaca and give it the violent malware buttfucking it's been waiting for, maybe not. The choice is yours, valued consumer!

Where you used to just purchase a device that allowed you access to the entertainment infrastructure -- a television, in other words -- you now have to purchase the device and the access and the content itself. And you still have to put up with all the goddamned commercials!

Most of this, of course, is just a sop to the telecom giants who own and operate the infrastructure, per the supposed capitalist model. Capitalism, you may recall on the off chance that it occurred somewhere in the past for you, is predicated on the idea that someone creates a product or provides a service, and you exchange a fair amount of money for that product or service. This idea is commonly known as "fair value" or "getting your money's worth."

So, uh, when was the last time you really felt that you got your money's worth from the telecom industry -- $100/month for 500 channels, maybe 12 of which are worth watching; $50/month for "broadband" that really isn't (though at least your choices on the internet really are damn near infinite; it's your own fault you chose to while away your time jerking it to midget porn and playing internet spades all night); and another $40 or so per month to play Candy Crush and take selfies on your smartphone.

Now, value judgments aside, the point here is not really about our entertainment choices, it's about what kind of value we get in return for renting an infrastructure paid for by tax dollars in the first place. Imagine what you could get if your infrastructure wasn't controlled by demotivated greed-sucking monopolistic enterprises.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Police State

What can you say about a nation where fat, white, middle-aged slobs routinely carry rifles and handguns into parking lots and department stores with no consequence whatsoever, while unarmed black teenagers are (also routinely) shot in the street, whether by aforementioned gun-toting slobs playing at law enforcement, or by actual police officers, at which the blue wall goes up.

On occasion, thankfully, when the wall goes up, the shit goes down. Such is the case in Ferguson, MiseryMissouri, where young Michael Brown was shot by a cop, after being "warned" to walk on the sidewalk instead of the street. In broad daylight, no less. Then they left him there for hours. Well, I guess that'll teach him, right? Maybe we could bring back the gibbet.

So now, since the 2/3 majority black population of Ferguson has rebelled against their almost all-white police force and city leaders, the cops decide to flex nuts and harass journalists, and anyone who might have the temerity to, you know, document for posterity what these apes are doing to protect and serve the public. Someone might want to remind them that that is, in fact, their job.

The increase in use of force, lack of accountability, and more dangerous toys deployed by paramilitarized police forces -- even suburban and rural ones; this is no longer strictly the realm of urban forces -- continues unabated. The typical excuse given, for the ramping-up in general and the use of force in particular, is the timeworn "dangerous job" excuse, even though job-related police fatalities have been on the decline for many years, reaching a record low in 2013. In fact, many other occupations, from farming to construction work, typically have far higher rates of occupational fatality.

(Not to mention the rather obvious fact that, if you feel your job is simply too dangerous, maybe you should find another line of work. One thing law enforcement has in common with every other occupation in America is that no one forces you to do it. Hokay? Seriously. Are we tired yet of hearing these mewling excuses, the plaints that since the job is too hard and a few people are dangerous assholes, the solution is to treat everyone -- or at least minorities -- like they're dangerous assholes? Whatever happened to the idea that those who would sacrifice liberty for safety deserve neither? I would suggest that those who would sacrifice the liberty of others for their own safety deserve a swift kick in the nuts.)

Look, I know a fair number of police personally, and I literally (yes, I know what that word means) work less than twenty feet from law enforcement personnel. So I know, and I think many of you know, first-hand that most cops are fine, good people, members of the community, etc. There's just a few of them who are punks and assholes who use their toys and authoritah to push taxpayers around.

And there are punks and assholes in any line of work. But only in law enforcement -- or more broadly, criminal and administrative justice -- can punks and assholes not only get away with, but earn a solid buck being themselves, almost always without recourse. If your plumber is a pushy dickhead, you never use him again, and tell anyone who'll listen about his attitude. If you get shitty food and service at a restaurant, you can turn around and fuck them up via Yelp. But a bad cop can get away with a hell of a lot before anyone can actually do anything about it.

I suggest that at least part of the problem is not only the inordinate amount of deference we are all conditioned to grant unconditionally to the police (another element of paramilitarization -- I mean, you wouldn't question a soldier in uniform, would you?), but the increasing profitability of the law enforcement racket, from shithole towns shaking down passersthrough to the private prison industry. Even though crime rates, especially violent crime rates, have steadily declined, the force gets multiplied, corrupt authorities feed the machine with hapless souls in exchange for kickbacks, and the wheels keep turning. It's just another racket, like the finance, higher education, and health care rackets that run this country. Except no one can force you to go to college or to the hospital.

When you have a fuckton of money to be made, and almost zero accountability, you really can just about get away with murder. Ten bucks says that whenever the cop that shot Mike Brown like a dog in the street is finally identified, he walks away scot-free. And there'll be countless internet commenter douchebags to bark their hate and loathing, not aware that, but for their skin color, they could quite easily be the next dead dog.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Protest and Survive

Great interview in one of the local free sheets, with a gentleman who did a couple years for the high crime of crashing a land auction. What's particularly galling about this case is that not only did the judge rig the jury selection process by stocking it with people who pledged their allegiance to his decree rather than their consciences, but that it wasn't even allowed to be discussed at the trial that the auction in question had been ruled illegal.

There are other worthy tidbits throughout, not the least of which involves a cop who, in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, realized his basement was being shoveled out by on of the Occupy kids he had been told to truncheon in Zuccotti Park.

I differ from Mr. DeChristopher in his hope or belief that the cop might have been transformed even a little bit by such an encounter. Oh, it might have made him think a bit, but probably not enough to question seriously why he mindlessly did what he had "been told" to that kid and others like him, not enough to change the trajectory of his ways or beliefs.

DeChristopher's dismay (I was hoping for more palpable contempt, but the guy is simply too nice) for the chickenshit bien pensant liberal baby boomers is also choice -- and also not enough to get them to change their ways. They are clearly content to believe that shopping organic and voting Democratic is sufficient, that climate change is a problem for the next generations to figure out. They hung on, made their money, and they're going to by-god take as much of it -- as well as the health care and Social Security funding of the next generations -- with them as possible.

The problem is, since they have most of the money, they have most of the political power, and so pay for a system that keeps inert just long enough for them to finish their days in comfort, and then everyone who's left can start sacrificing.

I don't think Americans of any generation will start to take climate change seriously until there's a truly catastrophic -- and I mean like mid-five figures of casualties -- event, something like twenty Katrinas or Sandys all at once, on an "important" US city like Los Angeles or New York. Somebody famous will have to perish.

And even then, because the system more than anything counts on inertia, counts on people's willingness to be distracted from their fate for just one more day, there's always the chance that it'll go away. Think of the huge events of this new century already, man-made or natural -- 9/11, Fukushima, Katrina, the extended wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. After all the news coverage and the hand-wringing in the aftermath, what actually changed in the wake of any of these things?

Did 9/11 change our approach to dealing with the Muslim world? No, we still prop up corrupt petrocrats, sell them weapons, let them oppress their people into a senseless rage, and then wonder what the fuck is wrong with "those people". Did we take any measures that showed that we take seriously the clear ramifications of global warming and carbon concentration in the atmosphere after Katrina or Sandy or the 2004 tsunami? You tell me.

Consider -- in the space of a few minutes, nearly a quarter-million lives in fourteen countries were ended, and hundreds of thousands more transformed, by the tsunami. Yes, it was caused by an earthquake, and no, there wasn't anything man-made about an undersea subduction. But it should have been a potent reminder of the power of nature, and the powerlessness of humans to stop it.

It's not just Americans, though we certainly set the stage for all this. The Chinese and Indians, after all, are just following our model, empowered by the blessings of globalization and the credo of The Chicago Group. It's difficult to blame them for wanting to catch up with us in standard of living.

Yet that bears consequences, when 1 in every 3 humans lives in China or India, and 1 in every 2 -- think about that, especially if you're in America, which has comparatively sparse population density overall, every second human being -- lives in Asia. And most people live in cities, and most cities are near oceans, and the levels are rising, and will take as long or longer to reverse than they did to set in motion.

We don't all have to go full eco-activist and go to prison, in a system that's rigged to begin with. But if enough people, just in the US, looked at the three primary factors -- what/how we drive; what/how we eat; what/how we consume in general -- all of which are within lost people's control, a real dent can be made in this very real and growing problem.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Bot World

I'm glad to see the estimable John Robb back on regularly at Global Guerrillas, as he frequently has that futuristic take on things. Case in point:  the steadily increasing presence of bots in the routine tasks that affect our lives and perceptions of the world. Most of us are probably aware to at least some extent of the proliferation of automated algorithms in financial trading, or article "spinners" used by internet marketers.

But it's becoming more and more prevalent; the notion that a bot could be used to spin a million Wikipedia articles is staggering. The idea that the same tech could be used to generate more conventional content -- books, magazines, movie scripts -- is annoying. That bots are doing most Wall Street trading should be a cause of concern. The possibility that bots may, sooner rather than later, be driving us around -- and that there may be insurance ramifications that necessitate having them drive us around -- should be alarming.

Even setting aside the sci-fi Skynet scenario of AI taking over, or the already problematic issue of near-constant government surveillance, think of how many jobs are lost just in the four proposed uses for bots (and of course there are and will be many more uses). In a groaning, increasingly overcrowded planet, with resource scarcity issues looming on all fronts, with any and every function automated, what exactly are all those unemployed people supposed to do?

Words With Friends

When it comes to pedantic arguments over "correct" usage of this or that word, I tend to be something of a fence-straddler. I personally know and use the right word in the right manner, because I regard them as tools with specific functions. Just as you wouldn't use a screwdriver where a wrench is called for, why would you use "literally" for an analogy that is clearly figurative, or even fantastical?

However, as a practical matter, correcting someone on their incorrect usage is off-putting, a clear dick move. They are not going to learn from your noble example. Save your time, and your reputation, and move on. I recall seeing some fluff Sunday morning show piece about a couple of guys who would go around to restaurants and "help" them correct their menus, usually over misspelled words or misused apostrophes. Life is just too short.

The "literally" thing actually makes a small bit of sense to me, because there's not really a common-usage adverb -- aside from "figuratively" itself, which might be somewhat unwieldy in a casual conversation -- that conveys the figurative nature of the exaggeration in question. We know that the speaker's head did not literally explode, and yet it's scarcely worth the trouble to point out that that word does not mean what they think it means. They know, that just happens to be the handiest word at their disposal.

Now, I'll admit that I take a breath when I see the aforementioned misspellings, and especially the misused apostrophes, because the rules on those are so simple -- possessives, not plurals. Writing "ect." (or saying "ek cetera") is another peeve, because "et cetera" has a literal meaning, an actual function. "Should of" instead of "should have", that sort of thing. Approached as tools with functions, these things are not at all complicated.

But habits -- especially bad ones -- form through inattention and lack of caring. This is what the corrective pedants, well-meaning as they are in their quest to preserve the care and feeding of our noble, evolving language, may not quite get. People use "ect." and can't get the correct "your" or "there" homophone because they don't give a shit. By definition, correcting someone who clearly couldn't care less will not correct the mistake, but merely annoy that person.

Back in the chat forum days, I had several lively discussions about this subject with professional academic linguists, people charged with the mission of identifying, classifying, and organizing the various phonemic and grammatical constructs of languages. As a kid, I was fascinated by a variety of languages, and gained at least minimal competency in most of the major European languages.

The more you learn about language -- especially one as widespread and multiply sourced as English -- the more you realize that it is never static, it's a river that flows slowly but flows nonetheless. As with political systems, the outcomes of languages are frequently a result of a large enough mass of users who don't know or care to understand the nuances of what they're engaging in. They deploy it to convey their own immediate use, and some of it will accrue habitually. The more they read and/or write, the more competent they will be in hewing to convention, as one might imagine.

And that, ironically, is where preservationist linguists fall short, imho. It's easy to understand the impulse to chronicle and archive one of the thousands of dying languages around the world, spoken only by a dwindling group of elders in a remote village. But that impulse contradicts what we've noted above, that languages evolve with use. A dying language, by definition, is no longer one that is being used. It is intellectual lepidoptery to stipulate that a language that is dying out precisely because of its lack of use and interconnectivity has any utility, beyond capturing the oral history of the remaining few who speak that language.

In the end, the pedantic attention to upholding the simpler and more obvious conventions of language comes down to cash in many instances. I've been on plenty of hiring panels, and thus reviewed hundreds of résumés over the years. And I can tell you right now, when I encounter a misspelled word or a misused apostrophe on a cover letter or résumé, I don't bother correcting jack shit. I don't have the time. It just goes straight into the round file, I won't even bother to finish reading it.

And I'm far from the only one; I have heard and read plenty of hiring managers say the exact same thing. Ultimately what it comes down to is whether or not someone can be bothered to pay attention to what they're (as opposed to their) doing, and if they can't, hiring managers won't waste their time with that stuff.


Another day, another Gaza cease-fire, another opportunity for Hillary to get some distance from Mr. Popularity and burnish her fo-po cred for the inevitable '16 run -- which, since it's only 27 months out and hundreds of millions of dollars need to be raised, should be official any day now. (Even better, rather than Jeb, conventional speculation is now projecting Clinton's opponent to be none other than Mitt Romney. Again. Awesome. Is this the greatest political system on the fucking planet, or what?)

So as much as nobody really wants to consider all sides on the awful, insoluble subject of Israel vs. Palestine, perhaps no other issue demands close attention to both clear perspectives. Neither side has ever expended huge amounts of effort dealing in good faith; unilateral withdrawals from a seething seaside ghetto mean little when elsewhere, families are uprooted from their homes because Zionist settlers want their property for themselves. And Hamas insists on indoctrinating its hate early and often, and doubling down on its charter's stipulation of killing and driving out all Jews.

American politicians have long been accustomed to prescribing clear, simple pronunciamentos -- almost all of which are at the very least devoid of context or perspective, and are frequently just flat-out wrong. This reinforces the notion that electorate craves or needs simplistic resolve, that there is no room for nuance. Certainly it must never be admitted that maybe large swathes of people around the world don't like us and are riled up because we haven't been friends to them.

Every year on December 7, there is a solemn ceremony of remembrance at Pearl Harbor, the attack on which took place in 1941. No doubt there will be similar ceremonies for 9/11 long after you and I and our children have passed on.

The mantra for these tragedies is that we must never forget, which is certainly clear, simple, true, resonates with just about anyone, regardless of their political bent. And yet it seems inconceivable to most Americans that other countries -- who lost many times more people, not to mention generations of strongmen, torture, fear, and all the other trappings of authoritarian regimes propped up by American support over the years -- might hold a grudge. We must never forget, but they've just got to let it go.

I am not suggesting that the way to end all strife is to have a massive group hug and chant "Kumbaya". I am suggesting that basic empathy, on the part of all sides, is key to achieving any resolution. Israelis need to understand that treating every Palestinian miserably, in all aspects of their daily lives, is going to beat them down until they have nothing to lose. Palestinians need to get that, as long as they keep endorsing leaders who use women and children as human shields, while they themselves kick back in Qatar or Bahrain and watch the bloody PR campaign from afar, Israel simply has no percentage in accommodating Hamas' tactics.

Saturday, August 02, 2014

Tea for Two

In a world full of phantom scandals, the attempt to make deposed IRS factotum Lois Lerner look like the Obersturmbannführer of the imaginary teabagger persecution wing ranks as one of the more desperate, right down there with your Benghazis and your border security rambunctions.

Look, I'm about the last person to stick up for the IRS, especially since it's expanding as part of Obamacare, but there's just nothing to this one. These shithead astroturf teabagger groups tried to apply for non-profit tax status, but keep their political advocacy. And you can't do that. Hundreds of liberal groups were denied that status as well, but you don't hear them crying.

Even more pathetic is the way this plaint is tinged with dark undertones of "animus" and targeting, as if these poor patriots were being followed around and harassed by gubmint goons. No, such cheap and cowardly tactics seem to be the province of gun nuts, who are all too happy to pick on veterans and women who happen to disagree with the notion that an anonymous asshole strapped with an assault rifle in a Chipotle is a good idea.

All Lerner said -- in a private email, poor judgment in using her gov't account aside -- was that the talk-radio hosts catering to these maroons were "assholes" and "crazies". It's hard to disagree with that assertion, and in fact, it does transmit to the listeners, by osmosis if nothing else.

But it seems clear that right-wing radio, more so than what passes for a left-wing counterpart, traffics specifically in affirmation, rather than information. That crazy uncle that keeps forwarding Glenn Beck rants to you isn't trying to stay informed, no matter what he says or thinks. He's affirming his imaginary grievances, mustering ad hominem arguments to bolster his lame assertions that the blah guy has fucked up everything and anything, most likely on purpose.

It's amazing to think that what passes for political debate in this country is, more often than not, merely an exchange of fnords, a distraction created by a select few to keep the many at each others' throats, lest they pay attention to the hand which is always and forever in their pockets.

Crime and Punishment

As if there weren't enough reasons yet to feel guilty about watching sports, especially football, consider the current kerfuffle over Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice. Rice, as you probably know by now, was caught on video in a hotel, punching his girlfriend (now wife) unconscious, then dragging her out of the elevator.

For what is (last I checked) a violent crime (that is to say, aggravated assault), Rice not only managed to avoid prosecution, but in a league that routinely suspends players for four games for testing positive for marijuana use (yes, even in Denver and Seattle, where it's legal), NFL commissioner Roger Goodell suspended Rice for just two games.

One might say that this is simply the price sports fans pay for enjoying sports -- not the culture of macho posturing and woofing (and yes, in some cases, even domestic violence or suicide), but the culture of enablement that pervades star athletes. For the rare few that make it to the pros, these men and others that have a decent shot are, in many cases, coddled and feted and spoiled from the time they show potential in high school. Whether they knock up a cheerleader, or beat someone's ass in a barroom brawl, the athlete with star potential always has family members or alumni boosters to step in and take care of the mess. After all, the player is a cash cow for these concerned parties, should his career happen to last beyond the 4-year average for NFL players.

An even more egregious comparison to Rice's slap on the wrist would be Terrelle Pryor, who in a convergence of NCAA and NFL punitive action, not only fell to the supplemental draft (costing him millions), but was pre-suspended -- that is, before Pryor was even drafted, he had this punishment imposed on him, thus serving as draft baggage -- for five games. Pryor's high crime? Accepting a couple of free tattoos while he was at Ohio State, possibly a 350Z as well.

See, when it comes to exploiting people, the National Collegiate Athletic Association has the National Football League beaten every conceivable way. To be sure, the NFL makes tons of money off the players, but the players are adults by that point, belong to a professional union that negotiates on their behalf, get high salary minimums, etc. It's millionaires playing for billionaires, but everyone (except the cheerleaders) is at least making some money.

The NCAA, on the other hand, has no such safeguards for its wet-behind-the-ears, straight-out-of-high-school chattel, nor any compunction about using them to turn a buck. The schools make a fuckton of cash selling expensive tickets and jerseys with these kids' names on them, not caring whether or not said kids have enough to eat, much less whether they're able to read in the first place. (which, ah, might in a rational world affect one's chances of, you know, getting into college).

That's bad enough, but heaven forfend any of these kids making a few bucks off their own name, on their own time. Should a player have the temerity to sell autographs or accept a free tattoo, and not give the NCAA their taste, the NCAA will be up their asses with a quickness. And they act the whole time like they're doing these kids this enormous favor by "giving" them a communications degree that won't be worth shit in the real world, because the market is already saturated with retired athletes turned analysts. And good luck if you blow out your knee before making it to the pros.

So I dunno. Do we boycott the hypocrisy of the NFL and NCAA, show them that we're not going to support this nonsense anymore, any of it? I'm getting very close to that point, personally. People who don't watch sports won't get this, and that's understandable, but whatever the sport, fans will appreciate the fact that we become conditioned to look forward to these spectacles. I was a baseball fan from a very early age; my parents had Dodger season tickets until I was about 7 years old, and I followed most of the California MLB clubs until the '90s, when the sport just became unwatchable. It should not take four hours and five pitchers to get through nine fucking innings, sorry.

But I've also watched football and (to a lesser extent) basketball since second or third grade. For those of us conditioned to wait for the season, to run fantasy football teams (I usually run three or four teams online every season, and play a small weekly book with friends), to watch the games so closely that you can analyze and even predict plays, formations, blocking schemes, it's a hard habit to break.

At this point, though, perhaps sports fandom is the moral equivalent of eating a lot of fast food -- all that tasty fat and sodium can't take away the fact that you're perpetuating and participating in the routine torture and slaughter of factory farming, and just because football is fun to watch (though less and less so, the more overburdened with commercials it becomes), you're still supporting the exploitation, and in most cases eventual physical impairment, of young men -- and the abuse of their spouses.