Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Trump L'Oeil

I guess if you purport to be a journal of political goings-on, sometimes you have to at least pretend to bite on the eternal snipe hunt of Donald Trump pretending to run for office. Those poor writers gotta make a buck just like the rest of us. (Do writers still make any money, aside from scribbling shitty slashfic for horny housewives?)

It matters not what some cocksucker who already sold his soul to the Koch brothers, before supposedly being leased by Trump, has to say about Trump's seriousness or viability. This is the exact same cock-tease that Sarah Palin uses, knowing that there's a firm-but-stupid base out there that believes, despite all evidence to the contrary, and Palin and Trump are all too willing to exploit the gullibility of that base.

But the issue is the same with Palin and Trump -- the thing about painting yourself as an alpha maverick in a jacked-up Excursion is that you paint yourself into a corner. They've consistently portrayed themselves as people who need no advice about any damned thing, so why would any self-respecting qualified person present themselves in an advisory capacity? There are only so many Condoleezza Rice types out there.

In the meantime, shame on the human skidmarks that watch Trump's played-out show and help keep him in the public eye. This is all your fault, you assholes.

No Win Zone

It seems that, by comparison, Bill O'Reilly's selective, self-aggrandizing memories seem a bit less transgressive than those of Brian Williams.

But really, let's cut the shit:  O'Reilly could have done exactly what Williams did, right down to the very letter, and it wouldn't have mattered. O'Reilly doesn't care, his audience doesn't care. All they know is that some librul asshole did what those types do, and that's that. Bill-O the Clown just needs to create a glimmer of reasonable doubt, and the viewers will do all the heavy lifting for him.

People who rely purely on faith and conviction rather than empirical evidence have so much more skin in the game than people who rely strictly on evidence and knowledge, who are willing to change their opinions and observations as more evidence comes in. This is true regardless of ideology, though of course the preponderance of such folks tend to self-identify as conservative.

So when I read lengthy articles about the plight of poor conservatives, and then look at the animals they voluntarily take their Hoverounds down to the precinct and vote for (Buchanan County VA is in the 9th Congressional District of that state), I am at an impasse -- not an ideological one, but a logical one.

On the one hand, I suppose it's a nice thing that someone cares enough to provide medical care to impoverished areas of rural 'murka. But when these areas have voted almost 2:1 for shitheads like Ed Gillespie, and 3:1 for probable maroons like H. Morgan Griffith -- well, I'm not at all sure why I should be concerned with idiots who are sick primarily because they keep voting themselves sick. You wanna die, then fuckin' die already. The rest of the world does not have the time to read and interpret the news of the day to you.

These are the same exact people who believe the worst about Williams, and the best about O'Reilly -- as well as all the "librul media" imaginary baggage -- without bothering to think about it, to research it, even to look around for maybe a broader context to all these things, and the corporate media's role in them. I find them exhausting. You can't win them over, you can't convince them of jack shit. They'll show up for a free health care clinic or van or whatever, take their gubmint check that they "earned", and with the same breath begrudge every fucking nickel that might go to someone else.

To the extent that there is something resembling a genuinely liberal party in this country, let's hope that they don't look at all this and take it as yet another excuse to tack further right yet again. But as the late Chris Hitchens once said, some people don't learn because they don't intend to. So rest assured that once again, the Democrats will waste valuable energy trying to convince the usual genus of passionate, incoherent moron to vote for something tat they simply never will.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Israeli Gears

It's nice that Joe Lieberman thinks his role as Asshole Emeritus entitles him to have a say in how the government should be run, even though he, you know, retired a few years ago. The beauty of being a professional buttinski is that you no longer have to go through all the expensive, ritualized bullshit of running for office, you just pen an op-ed or become a Fixed Noise common-tater, start your own agony column for fellow birdbrains, what have you. This is the beauty of the perpetual campaign industry -- pretty much everyone gets a voice, if they holler loud enough.

So it's Lieberman's turn to ring the bell and stump for a political leader he actually believes in. Now, Netanyahu and his nation are in a pretty tough pickle right now, with virtually every country east and west of them for at least a thousand miles blowing the hell up. Chances are Netanyahu, if he had his druthers, would just start a bombing run due east, through Iraq and into Iran, before swinging back around through a Saudi Arabia that is about to get real weird, and on to Libya. And there's a roughly equal chance that the usual yahoos in Congress would be happy to throw in with him.

Israel certainly has a lot to answer for with its ongoing abuse of Palestinians. They struck a devil's bargain with the settlers and the ultra-conservatives, and they're continuing to reap the whirlwind on all that. But the bottom line here is that this is just a foreign leader using this opportunity as a PR prop, and our federal legislature using the same opportunity to further embarrass and obstruct the administration.

There are still some Nader-baiters out there, cooling their jets for the inevitable "you must vote for Hillary or else" campaign we'll all be subjected to next year. Make sure you remind them of what they wanted for vice-president that fateful election. Lieberman would have been better than the Cheney shit sandwich we all got, but only by a matter of degree.

Anatomy Lesson

Here's Idaho's tax dollars at, uh, "work":

On Monday, Idaho's House State Affairs Committee debated a bill that would prevent doctors from prescribing abortion pills unless they had met the patient in person. The bill passed through committee, but only after one member asked "if a woman can swallow a small camera for doctors to conduct a remote gynecological exam."

No, the esteemed maroon in question is not in sixth grade, but is in fact 63 years of age, according to his Wikipedia page. That there's a special breed of stupid, folks. It's like he has a bet with Louie Gohmert and Steve Doocy to see who can get away with being the biggest dipshit. At any rate, nicely done, Idaho. Does this guy write his bill proposals in crayon?

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Cities of Salt

By now no doubt most people who are interested in geopolitical goings-on, beyond the usual "the Middle East is burning while Obammy fiddles" Chicken Little plaints, have read this exhaustive analysis of the ISIS movement. It's a valuable take on a subject that is simply too complex for a teevee -- or even most print outlets -- summary of the situation.

It takes some doing to go to London and Melbourne and sit down and listen to these cold-blooded psychopaths, who are using their religion as an excuse to fuel their apocalyptic fantasies, and address grievances that are legitimate, but are really the grievances of their parents and grandparents.

That said, I think the freshest thinking and writing on the subject is from John Robb at Global Guerrillas. Graeme Wood postulates in his Atlantic article that a theological movement whose doctrinal weight must eventually place it in a situation where it can no longer operate in the way it intends. Robb, on the other hand, sees these "open jihad" things as stigmergic, constantly iterative, with a clear short-term goal of taking down the Saudis, at which point they obviously are in a real position to write their own rules.

(Not that the Saudis have been great friends or anything.)

It should be clear by now that where the US has failed in its war on terror is in more or less the same mode as the Soviets failed in Afghanistan:  the approach has been rooted in ideology, rather than in a practical application of systems theory, as Robb approaches it. The Islamic State actors embrace both things almost equally well, which is another clear indication that a good part of their success is attributable to the Iraqi Army regulars who have defected to that cause, since we managed to fuck the dog so thoroughly in putting a corrupt Shiite gubmint in charge of what had been a mostly Sunni command infrastructure.

In other words, our obsession with de-Ba'athification post-Saddam worked in perfect congruence with the destabilization of Syria in the wake of a record drought (and please don't ask about who controls all the water that flows into Syria and Iraq). When people ask whence ISIS sprung and gathered momentum, those are the two big conditions that fed the beast.

In hindsight, it would have been wise to temper our expectations about the "Arab Spring" of a few years ago, so it would be wise now to carefully consider our viable options now that that false promise has faded into a haze of chaos, violence, recrimination. The usual right-wing armchair tough guys want to blame Obama for all that, and they're right insofar as geopolitics doesn't seem to be Obama's strong suit.

But, uh, it wasn't Fredo's strong suit either. I don't think anyone has the right answer, because the foreign policy of the hegemon is mostly all or nothing, especially since you can't use checkbook diplomacy with these Islamic State creeps. At the same time, you can't just let them overrun the Saudis either (and yes, all the precious oil). Iran and Saudi are mortal enemies, of course, which makes the dynamics of all this so much more compelling -- and dangerous.

The US has obviously had no talent for knowing which corrupt petro-douche to throw its support behind, and how (or how much). Strangely, it may turn out in retrospect that the biggest missed opportunity was to not have gotten the Russians involved to help strike a balance of great powers to assist in stabilizing the region (which again has not worked out too great so far, but look what's happened with no presence at all).

Putin did us a solid in helping dial down Bashar Assad's chemical assaults on his own people (not that that's stopped the Syrians from just dropping barrel bombs on "rebel" entities, who of course are hiding among civilians). And while the Russians' actions in Ukraine over the last year have been contentious, to say the least, there's been zero effort on our part to work any of it out, no acknowledgment of the fact that Russia considers a NATO state on its borders as unacceptable as we would consider Mexico becoming a Chinese or Russian satellite.

So what do you do about this region, and how? Our previous bungling empowered and cleared the way for these psychopaths, we have some moral obligation to at least think about options to help the captive populace. Forget the idiots from western countries who are going over there for jihad; no one will miss them if they get droned.

But more practically, maybe it's time to get serious about renewable energy sources, to dump Marshall Plan money into a Great Project -- akin to landing on the moon or Mars -- to make those sources viable and scalable. What powers the Middle East is oil revenues, and the second those are gone, the wealthy Saudis and Kuwaitis will get out one step ahead of the surging mobs, escape to their Greek island hideaways, and those places will sort themselves out. There will be voices calling for us to jump in, and again perhaps we have a moral obligation to do that in some respect. But it has to be done with the knowledge that innocent people will die, regardless of our good intentions, no matter how careful we try to be.

And it has to be done with a systems outlook that is responsive and agile, that adjusts as quickly as they do. It could all end up in another decade of chasing shadows in a miserable moonscape regardless, but that approach is the only way you stand a chance against a faceless, implacable foe.

Yes We Cans

Debunking the creationist debunkers of mundane scientific principles such as evolution and, um, carbon-dating tends to be a monumental waste of time, as they cherry-pick their falsehoods, argue in bad faith, and willfully (by their own acknowledgment) remain ignorant of even the basic precepts of scientific method and observation.

But hey, at least Professor Tits McGee here has a fresh take on the subject, from what I paid attention to. Better that take on bad science and repudiating the modern world than what you get from certain other places.

Friday, February 20, 2015

News of the Whirled

It's odd, yet somehow fitting, that Brian Williams gets caught "conflating" his war stories at almost the exact same time as Jon Stewart announces that he's leaving The Daily Show. Who knows, maybe the impending demise of Williams' career played a part in Stewart's decision. Obviously the two are good friends, and Stewart walked a fine line in lampooning Williams' gaffe, and presenting a greater context for it.

Williams seems like a nice enough guy, and with his appearances on 30 Rock and Daily Show and such like, he's cemented that perception in the public mind. Given his position as corporate news reader, making such appearances is more crucial to career stability and advancement than, say, actual journalistic research. Stewart, on the other hand, may literally be the closest thing to an actual journalist this country has on television, though John Oliver has jumped in impressively and taken it up a notch, with deeper digging and no filters at all. And David Carr's recent untimely passing is a reminder of what real journalists do.

What we've become accustomed to thinking of as "journalism" most often involves video, rather than audio or (god forbid) print. Judicious editing and tight narrative replace nuance and context. The corporate logo, by definition, requires hewing to an establishment line. No doubt Brian Williams considers himself a serious journalist, and even though the helicopter he was riding in did not get hit, he still rode in a helicopter in a combat zone. Not that it matters; the most important subtext of a combat embed is that you're not showing a thing without the approval of the military and the government.

And it's not a minor detail that the conservatools bleating the loudest about Williams' typical lamestream perfidy are mum about the many prevarications of their latest and greatest totem, Chris Kyle. They do not care that Kyle almost certainly fabricated several image-building war anecdotes (one of which ended in a fat judgment against Kyle's estate in the favor of Jesse Ventura), and likely at least embellished some parts of his combat record.

To that point, actually I don't much care about Kyle's lies all that much either, insofar as they don't negate the things that Kyle did that are verifiable. And that's part of the point about Brian Williams. He's merely a product of the machine he works for, a machine that by design employs and promotes team players such as Williams, affable faces to provide a semblance of information between commercials for a tired, bored populace that wasn't going to rise up anyway. This is how consent is manufactured, and pharmaceuticals and automobiles are moved. It's not rocket science.

Nor is the cable commentary circus anything approaching rocket science either. So when a toxic dickhead like Rudy Giuliani starts running his filthy cakehole one more goddamned time, it's tough to get mad at Giuliani, any more than you can get mad at your dog when you leave him in the house and he shits on the floor and chews up your couch pillows. He's a fucking dog, you're the dumbass for not understanding that dogs do what they do when given the opportunity.

Giuliani is just one of countless professional buffoons whose stock in trade is ventriloquizing the moronic delusions of a demographic that deserves everything they're getting -- aggrieved maroons who, in between collecting their gubmint checks, begrudge everyone and everything else, and scribe fanciful tales about the Black Satan in the White House. The idea that Obama is a closet Muslim is ludicrous; the idea that he's a closet atheist, and understands exactly how shit would blow up on him were he to even hint at such a thing, makes much more sense. But we'll never know, because these coddled, cosseted dipshits literally would not be able to handle the truth.

It's unfortunate that the only barrier to entry in becoming a political meme or talking point these days is simply being something that can be described, digested, and shat out in under ten seconds, just long enough to get someone riled up about some nonsense. They would much rather send other people to fight and kill an enemy they know nothing about, make an awful situation even worse, so they can go back to what they were doing, which was absolving themselves from their ongoing fuck-ups.

Network and cable teevee news is all just marketing and public relations, properly diluted and vetted for mass consumption, something to keep people placid yet attentive enough to listen to the words from the sponsors, whether it's the Koch Brothers or Big Pharma.

Sunday, February 01, 2015

First World Problems

I guess this is a sign of just how far out of the loop I am on some things -- swear to the sanctified pasta soul of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, I was entirely unaware of the phrase "trigger warning" until today. Frankly, I wouldn't mind being still unaware of its existence and use; it still makes very little sense, and I'll be goddamned if I can figure out what value it might add to the pursuit of an actual life.

Even though it's the norm rather than the exception, it never fails to amaze how many people act as if it's their inalienable right to spend their entire lives without ever being offended, without ever having to actually listen to someone with an opposing viewpoint. I don't mean the usual onstage back-and-forth jabber of talking points posturing as debate, but to actually listen, and disagree, and assess the situation afterward, and decide if that disagreement merits an equivalent response, or is something to vote against or write or speak out about.

Of course there are many things in this wicked world that all of us can and should speak up about when the opportunity arises. Societies where women are treated like property, bloggers are beaten in public, adulterers are stoned or beheaded, or any number of awful things going on right here at home.

It just seems odd that in a country whose economy is mostly rackets, whose criminal justice system is a cruel joke, and so on and so forth, that seemingly intelligent people would rather choose to police subtle grammatical inflections, bandying words such as "cisgendering" and "othering", words which have zero practical utility outside the walls of academia.

Maybe this ankle-biting type stuff is just what they think they can win, if only by attrition and the fact that most people will just back away slowly from some stranger trying to strong-arm them over their mansplaining. It's not that there isn't some truth to the complaints about the nature of the white male heteronormative power structure, it's that this sort of nanny-policing tends to have a polarizing effect -- it's only going to work on people who are inclined to agree with it in the first place, and will drive everyone else further away, because of its nagging nature.

But then, that's been true of political discourse in general for quite some time; when was the last time you heard of someone "converting" because of something they heard or read? Virtually every ex-lib-turned-con has some self-serving road-to-Damascus story about The Man over-taxing them, over-spending, letting criminals off, etc.; while people who change in the other direction do so because their job got outsourced around the world, they got shit-hammered into bankruptcy by a usurious medical bill, whatever.

In my first go-round in college, right out of high school back in the '80s, I found the campus political correctness folks to be somewhat annoying, but generally harmless, and more or less willing to stir the pot. Which should be the idea -- you come from where you're raised with a certain outlook, and go to a place where that outlook gets challenged, in good ways and not-so-good. Pure ideologues are the ones you need to watch out for; most sensible people are generally syncretic, whether or not they realize it.

Going back to grad school in my early 40s was the exact opposite for me -- since nearly everyone in our weekend-warrior MBA cohort was at least 30 and had some sort of career, they tended to be more conservative, with the couple of 20-somethings being even more conservative. But we all mutually understood, without having to explicitly say so, that it was okay to see the world and its issues differently from one another. We could engage in principled disagreements without having to worry about someone getting "offended". (Then again, while there were some women in the cohort, everyone was still part of the white heteronormative paradigm, so there's that.)

If the "microaggression" concern-trolling serves to at least create some small measure of awareness and tolerance on someone else's part, great. The more likely case is the kids get out into the real world and have to find a decent job or three in a depleted market, and realize that university is about the only place in the world where any of that stuff has any traction.