Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Losing a Whole Year

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Out Crowd

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

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

Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Malacca Triangle

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

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Giuliani Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Work Ethic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The system is designed to keep us working.

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

The Paranoid Style, Part 2: State of Siege

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Paranoid Style

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Torture Never Stops

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 13, 2014

This Week In Butthurt

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

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

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

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

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

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

Freedom of Choice

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Takin' It to the Streets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

First Amendment Remedies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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