Saturday, December 20, 2008

i've been trying to pull my head out of the aethosphere a little bit lately.

mostly out of political junkyhood, i've been living out in the universe of discourse a lot for the last couple years. it's a funny, private little way to live in the world, confined as it was to interacting with my computer screen and taking my stories and facts pre-digested by mama birds whose insight and disgust mirrored my own. occasionally i'd toss my own two cents in the ring; mostly not. i've always been more of a reader than a writer, though i've read you can't be the latter unless you're the former. unless you're bukowski maybe. and even he had a hero or two.

but i just can't do it anymore. the good guys won, or something. i'm cautiously optimistic about the new crew in dc, but who can say for now? they're not actually governing yet. everybody who's got their panties in a bunch about anything other than real problems either just really likes and is used to having their panties in a bunch, or is getting paid for it, or, more likely both. dunno about you, but my parents always told me to do what you love, and figure out how to make money from it after.

i don't know if i love what i do. but i do a lot of the things i do well. that's what i tell myself, anyway. other people tell me that too.

anyway, i feel like i'm coming back to the world. i'm reading books again, instead of using up all my reading time online. i let my subscriptions to harper's and the atlantic lapse. i'm watching way less tv.

it's good. i think everyone should do it.

Monday, December 08, 2008

The regnant strain of "conservativism" in America uses a rhetoric of "personal responsibility" in order to denigrate and scapegoat the less privileged and more marginal members of our society because it is not conservativism: it's conservativism's tatooed ex-con brother-in-law: white ethnic nationalism. Its fundamental ethos is a hastily constructed set of cultural resentments. Its commitment to economic liberty is window-dressing for mere acquisitiveness. Its cultural exceptionalisms would make a young Kipling blush.


Thursday, November 20, 2008

Never Trust a Teetotaler

In vino veritas.
With those three words, Pliny the Elder gave voice to a saying so old its origins were already lost by the time he wrote them. Think of it as the first cliche, a phrase they probably coined about a week after the first human tribe figured out that drinking fermented grape juice could make them happy.
In wine, the truth.
Everybody knows that alcohol lowers your inhibitions; that’s one of the main reasons people drink it. You can say and do things after a few drinks that you couldn’t or wouldn’t normally. It’s liberating and fun, one of the great rewards of surviving to your majority and one of the great consolations for what you lose in getting there. By choosing to drink, you choose to liberate yourself, to shake off the strictures of the routine workaday world and live a little. Also it tastes good.
Yes, it sometimes makes you say and do stupid things, things you wouldn’t normally be stupid enough to say or do, but hey, that’s all part of growing up and learning about life. The worst part is that you probably meant it at the time. Shame on you. But as long as you apologize and learn your lesson then everything is generally alright, as long as you didn’t get pregnant or catch the AIDS.
Used properly, alcohol really is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy, just like Ben Franklin said. It’s good for you, body and soul, for more reasons than I have world enough or time to share at present.
But some people don’t drink. And not all of them are Muslims.
(Muslims are excused from the following series of sweeping generalizations. They are prohibited by their religion from drinking alcohol (although the word alcohol is, oddly enough, Arabic in origin), and I respect anybody willing to take their religion seriously, as long as I don’t have to also.)

Now, I’m not saying that everyone who abstains from alcohol is not to be trusted. There are many fine people who, for perfectly rational reasons, choose not to drink.
Having said that, when you meet someone for the first time, and they tell you that they don’t drink, you should immediately become suspicious, and be on your guard with them, until such time as you know them well enough to revisit that judgement from a more informed position.
Let me explain.
Very few people don’t drink because they have never drunk. If you meet one, you shouldn’t trust them because they are too closed minded to find out for themselves what something is all about. People who are afraid to have their preconceptions and received wisdom shaken up are dangerous, because they will usually do and say anything to keep those preconceptions and nuggets of received wisdom from coming into question. A brittle worldview is not the sign of a robust mind, or of a soul at ease with itself. Trust these teetotalers least of all.
But most teetotalers fall into another category, those folks who have indeed imbibed of Demon Rum, and been burned by his fiery kiss. Usually those folks go on to burn others, one way or another.
They usually have a story, or several. They don’t like themselves when they drink. Lots of times they have very good reason not to.
And that’s the problem. And that takes us back to the beginning.
In vino veritas. In wine, the truth.
Alcohol makes us simpler creatures. It burns away the artifice and veneer, the surface persona we cultivate to show to others in the daylight. We become more truly ourselves when we drink, more honest about who we are and what (and who) we want. Some people are happy drunks; some people are angry drunks. Some people are horny drunks. Whatever it is that is truly inside you is all you’ll have left after enough cocktails, and the truth will out, at least until you learn how to handle yourself, which is the crux of the matter. Because people who choose not to drink (or even fantasize about quitting drinking) have usually decided that the person they really are is something they can’t handle one way or another.
We all have our faults and our shortcomings, our peccadilloes and embarassments. We all sometimes get the urge to do or say things that we know we shouldn’t and that we’ll regret later. Alcohol exacerbates these tendencies, along with other, more positive tendencies (we are, after all, as much more disposed to love and generosity in the embrace of lady liquor as we are to violence and depravity, if such is in our hearts). The reason you can’t trust a teetotaler is not that they have evil in them per se, it is that they either have too much evil in them, or they lack the character and determination to overcome that evil through force of will.
The reasons that people decide to stop drinking are generally that they do or say stupid and/or terrible things when they’re drunk, and they can’t manage to take control and stop themselves. And if they have it in them to do or say those stupid and/or terrible things, then you have to be careful until you’re sure they won’t do or say them to you.
Again, I’m not saying never ever trust a teetotaler. There are some generally wonderful human beings out there who simply choose not to drink, for a wide variety of good reasons. All I’m saying is that when you do meet someone who claims not to drink, be careful, because the likeliest explanation is that, deep down, there’s something there they don’t like, and neither, most likely, will you.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Huseyin Kalkan, the mayor of Batman, Turkey, said
that the town would sue Warner Bros. for a portion of the
royalties from the movie "The Dark Knight." "There is,"
said Kalkan, "only one Batman."
from this week's harper's weekly.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

friend of mine sent this along. write a goodbye letter to george w. bush. or send him a picture. it's super fun.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

one of the things i like best about barack obama is one of the most anathematic things about him, at least as far as his liberal base of support would be concerned, were they not so intent on his chances of victory, and that is his clear recognition of the central front in the war on terror, or islamic extremism, or whatever you want to call it.

afghanistan, and pakistan.

whatever aspersions have been cast on him over here for his politicization, witting or un-, it is undoubtedly a good thing that david petraeus is ascending to command of centcom. he's a smart, capable guy, and we need that, because, despite the enduring popularity of iraq so far as media attention and public outcry go, afghanistan and pakistan is actually a much more dangerous and potentially catastrophic situation than iraq could ever hope to be. the taliban is, at least to some extent, a cat's paw for the pakistani intelligence service, which exists as an independent power/player in that less-than-ideally-stable country's political ecosphere.

they are also getting strong enough to mount direct attacks on our military outposts, which is horrifically scary. that they don't have to skulk about in hiding and constrain themselves to guerrilla tactics means they have men and materiel to spare, which means that we're creating insurgents/terrorists/taliban fighters faster than we can kill them. the most probable explanation is that, because we lack sufficient boots on the ground to guarantee order and stability we are constrained to fight more of the conflict from the air. when we do that, we end up killing civilians in large numbers.

think about it from the locals' perspective: assholes from the other side of the world drop a satellite-guided bomb on top of somebody's wedding, killing dozens on what should be a joyous day. how do you think you would feel about people that did that, whether they acknowedged their error or not? what if that was your cousin getting married? or the kid you grew up with?

this kind of stuff happens all the time over there. and one of the main reasons it happens is because all of the available combat brigades that the army and the marines can muster are deployed in iraq, which when you take an objective look at it is really a second-order concern, so far as the national security interests of the united states are concerned (yes, we need that oil, but we need it less once we commit to a domestic green energy revolution, which we have to do anyway, but more on that some other time).

and yes, barack obama is right that we will need to redeploy a significant number of the troops that are freed up when we draw down forces in iraq directly to afghanistan, but even if we were able to redeploy the entire force there, which is absolutely ridiculous to even speculate could happen, we would still be far from the threshhold established back when it might have mattered by soon-t0-be-outgoing chairman of the joint chiefs of staff eric shinseki in terms of the ratio of soldiers to civilians necessary to ensure the stability and good order which would be necessary (though not sufficient) to establish some kind of viable self-sustaining political order that would be able to take over eventually. to wit, we do not have the military (or, at this point, economic) resources, or the national will, to occupy afghanistan in sufficient depth to ensure a good outcome politically.

which brings me back to david petraeus, the guy who turned iraq around when most people had concluded that it couldn't be done.

the conventional wisdom is that the additional deployment of combat troops, the surge, as it were, was the primary change-engine. that the nobility and professionalism of american soldiers and marines was of such great magnitude that the simple addition of a few extra combat brigades was enough to turn the tide.

that such nobility and professionalism exist i do not doubt. to attribute the anbar awakening and the standing down of the mahdi army to the presence of a few extra troops is magical thinking at best, and not even the good kind. the end of the shiite intra-fighting (between the mahdi army and the iraqi army) was brokered by the iranians, for one thing. and the sunni awakening had a lot to do with a) them realizing what assholes the al qaeda guys were (al qaeda in iraq did mostly bomb iraqis, remember) and b) us giving them lots and lots of money and guns.

the reason capitalism always wins is that everybody likes money. and the more they have, the less interested they are in unrest. once we started paying the sunnis to police themselves and turn on the foreign fighters in their midst, things mellowed out quite a bit. so long as they get their piece of the pie they'll be invested in the general good, which removes a major destabilizing factor from the overall political equation.

which brings me back to david petraeus, the guy whose idea most of this was, and what a good thing it is that he's moving on to the afghanistan theatre.

when first we fought the afghan war, and chased the taliban in the mountains of waziristan, we were playing right into bin laden's trap. his avowed strategy (and it wasn't a half-bad one, really) was to punch us in the nose, which he did, then draw us into a long, drawn-out land war in afghanistan, bleeding us like they bled the soviets back in the eighties until we decided to leave them alone and let them establish their caliphate or something. the reason we stomped them so definitively was because we bribed the other warlords in afghanistan, who knew the terrain and the people, and who'd coexisted uneasily with the taliban and were glad enough to be rid of them if they could, to fight with and for us.

all we had to do was finish the job ourselves, which we didn't. we had the fuckers holed up in caves, for fuck's sake, but we'd had such a clean war i guess nobody wanted any americans to die, even to get bin laden. it's the only reason i can think of that isn't too horrible to contemplate. i treasure american servicemen and -women as much as the next red-blooded american, but part of what they are for is to die so we can kill fuckers like bin laden.

and because we didn't, the taliban was able to retreat to a safe haven (in nuclear-armed pakistan, which is totally awesome. they shoot at us when we chase the taliban back to the border now) and regrow their forces to the point that they can now mount traditional military offensives on american positions in broad daylight.

but we won't have enough soldiers to deploy the forces necessary to do what has to be done ourselves, and our nato allies aren't going to pony up enough either, since none of their populations have the stomach for ongoing military casualties that we do, and even we're kind of shaky these days. which means we're going to have to figure out who to bribe and how much to get some local help. and i'm glad david petraeus is in charge there now, because he seems to understand this kind of thing pretty well.

and yes, he's going to need some more soldiers. but hopefully he'll be smarter about using them, and hopefully, when barack obama is president, this theater of operations will get the attention it deserves, because it is far and away the number one threat to world stability and american national security.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

sarah palin may be kind of hot, but she has an ugly nose. i keep noticing that.

her voice really grates, too.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

so, i do want to give credit where credit is due, and john mccain last night actually made some news with his proposal for the federal government to buy up $300bn worth of bad mortgages and renegotiate with the borrowers at their home's new, much lower value, basically eating the loss for them, so that people can stay in their homes.

i actually think that's a pretty good idea, and brought up something similar in a discussion with some friends that can be found at i think the money ought to come out of the bailout (ahem, i mean rescue) bill that was just passed (instead of being new spending), but i think it's a solid idea, and addresses at least part of the core problems of what wall street did to the american economy. if the mortgage market is stabilized, and the foreclosures slowed or stopped, it seems to me that those toxic collateralized debt obligations whose monetary obligations are freezing up the credit markets become less toxic, easier to value, and that once that value was established and everybody knows or at least has a better idea what's on the balance sheet, then maybe the credit markets thaw up some since banks will know what kind of cash on hand they'll need and can lend out the rest to other banks and businesses short-term, which is a major underpinning of american capitalism.

shit, even the state of california was running day-to-day operations on short-term loans. schwarzenegger just asked treasury for $7bn, after all.

i should also mention, fwiw, that i think that movement conservatives are going to eat john mccain alive for such a liberal, progressive policy proposal. i mean, i think it's a great idea, and might actually help some people that need help, but it definitely goes against everything the republican party stands for.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

pakistan will give nuclear weapons to terrorists before iran ever does. mark my words, and god help us all.

Monday, October 06, 2008

so, i just watched face the nation on dvr, and i just want to ask everyone to remember that david brooks, weaselly-as-usual, just said that sarah palin is not qualified to be president.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

got this from andrew sullivan, one of whom's readers wrote this to him in an email after seeing garry shandling, of all people, on bill maher's show.

On 9/11, Al Qaeda had no expectation of a traditional military victory against the United States. The point of the attack was economic -- to draw the U.S. into expensive and protracted foreign wars that would deplete our resources and destabilize our government. By invading Iraq, George Bush became the happy idiot to assist Al Qaeda in this goal. Now, Sarah Palin and John McCain take the leaders of Al Qaeda at their word when they say Iraq is the major front in the war on terror.

Neither consider the possibility that Al Qaeda wants Iraq to be the major front because it furthers their goal of weakening the U.S. while inflicting minimal damage on their operations.

Seven years after 9/11, we are seeing Al Qaeda's long-term goal being realized: the destabilization and economic collapse of the United States. Even as it's happening, the people who supported it all along want to continue facilitating our own long-term disintegration by clinging to simplistic concepts of traditional military victory and defeat. In this sense, they are possibly the most myopic, least strategic thinkers in the history of this nation.

As Gary Shandling said, with this approach, our only hope of killing Osama Bin Laden is that he'll laugh himself to death.

the really awful thing is that bin laden pretty much said this was the plan from the get-go. it was supposed to be afghanistan where it happened; bin laden figured he could do to us what he and the mujahideen did to the soviets and bog us down in afghanistan for a decade or two, bleeding our military and our national will slowly but surely by drawing us into a land war in asia (which, as anyone who has seen the princess bride knows, is the only blunder, historically speaking, greater than going in against a sicilian when death in on the line). that we were smart enough to buy off the warlords that were going to help him bleed us redounds to our credit as a nation. that we didn't finish the job ourselves more or less completely erases that credit, but for a while it looked like we were actually smart and savvy enough to out-strategize some spoiled rich asshole whose worldview is stuck in the middle ages.

lucky for him, we've got our own spoiled rich asshole, who didn't like the gift-wrapped war he got for christmas and so he decided he was gonna get the one he wanted that santa didn't bring him, and show his daddy up to boot, come hell or high water (pace new orleans).

and now here we are, half a decade later, our much-vaunted military near-broken, our economy swirling down the toilet (thanks to the aforementioned spoiled rich asshole's aversion to economic oversight), trillions of dollars in debt to the people who brought us lead-painted toys and milk with industrial additives to boost the apparent protein content, and, bless their li'l hearts, one major party's presidential ticket thinks we should keep on down the road we've been travellin'.

it's like the manchurian candidate, except i'm convinced that nobody in bin laden's organization is that smart. it's just that these fucking people really are that fucking dumb.

after all, one of the definitions of insanity is to keep doing the same thing over and over, expecting a different result. i guess when you create your own reality, maybe that works. unfortunately, it only works in the make-believe reality inside your head, which doesn't really overlap with the world you share with the rest of us.

clap all you want, kids. tinkerbell's dead.
i knew john mccain was an opportunistic jerk. it was apparent early in his presidential campaign, as he reached out to embrace the agents of intolerance as eagerly as he came to embrace many bush administration policy positions that he had at least initially opposed (though whether from principle or because, pre-9/11, he intended to run against bush for the 2004 republican party nomination), like tax cuts and torture.

i knew he was a jerk when i first heard the story of how he dumped his first wife after she got in a car crash and wasn't beautiful anymore, going on to marry an heiress twenty years his junior, who was.

but it wasn't until i read this in rolling stone that i began to understand just what an unbelievably gigantic fucking opportunistic jerk he really is.

In its broad strokes, McCain's life story is oddly similar to that of the current occupant of the White House. John Sidney McCain III and George Walker Bush both represent the third generation of American dynasties. Both were born into positions of privilege against which they rebelled into mediocrity. Both developed an uncanny social intelligence that allowed them to skate by with a minimum of mental exertion. Both struggled with booze and loutish behavior. At each step, with the aid of their fathers' powerful friends, both failed upward. And both shed their skins as Episcopalian members of the Washington elite to build political careers as self-styled, ranch-inhabiting Westerners who pray to Jesus in their wives' evangelical churches.

In one vital respect, however, the comparison is deeply unfair to the current president: George W. Bush was a much better pilot.

i saw this youtube clip today (on culture11's confabulum blog). it's sarah palin reading a quote from madeleine albright about there being a special place reserved in hell for women who don't support other women. she made the obvious point, obviously, as well as getting in a dig at the msm, wondering what they'd make of it in tomorrow morning's papers, but what i thought was funniest (aside from an anti-choice governor who cut significant funding for victims of sexual assault in the state which has the highest per-capita rates of rape and sexual assault talking about women supporting women) was the source of the quote.

she read it off the side of her starbucks mocha cup.

she does know that a mocha is just a latte with chocolate syrup in it, right? isn't that supposed to be one of them elite coffe drinks that them damn coastal elites drink while they talk about what rubes and hicks everybody who doesn't live on the coast is?

guess that's just sarah being sarah.

Friday, October 03, 2008

so i watched the palin-biden debate last night after i got home from work (yay dvr). i thought joe biden did about as well as could be expected. he knew his shit, was comfortable in his own skin, and spoke in a way that not only demonstrated that he understood the complexities of the policy and political challenges that face the country, and indeed the whole world, but that he was able to take that understanding and translate it into terms that were meaningful to folks who don't work in the senate for a living. i think the format of the debate, with the time limitations involved, kept him from making that third or fourth paragraph verbal blunder that is something of a signature move for him, and it kept him focused and his answers crisp and to the point.

i think he pretty clearly won, at least by any objective standards, and i also think that there was no way he was ever going to lose, at least by any standards that ought to matter to serious-minded people.

i think sarah palin did as well as she was ever going to, and i felt for her as i watched. she was clearly nervous from the get-go (she actually seemed to be gushing when she greeted biden as they walked onstage and shook hands), and it was also obvious that, despite the many cogent talking point sentences that had been drill-baby-drilled into her mind, she had very little idea about the answers to many of the questions that gwen ifill asked, and knew it. she was clearly most comfortable when speaking in vacuous folksy-isms, blessing hearts and six-packing with joe, and clearly uncomfortable when expected to answer any questions about almost anything substantive. according to politico, on at least ten occasions she dodged, evaded, or outright ignored the question put to her, to the point where she even acknowledged herself that she was going to skip one of the questions put to her in order to go on the attack against biden and obama. and, like many people of less-than-sparkling intellect, she wasn't half bad at sticking the knife.

that she managed to fill all of her time with words (cogent and on-topic or not), and neither fainted nor farted into the microphone, has apparently re-energized the twenty-odd percent of america that thinks she's just the bee's knees and would be a great commander-in-chief-in-waiting.

i can only assume that these are the same sorts of people who think their children should get sports trophies just for showing up.

in fact, what the debate reminded me of most of all was the parent-child scrimmage i do for last practice of the season for the kids' soccer team i coach. the kids are ten or thereabouts, and even the ones who've picked up on the basic skills and introductory understanding of the game that i've managed to instill in them aren't playing the same game that the grownups (many of us players, both active and retired) are. and hey, noone expects them to. the whole point is to get them out there, have some fun, build some skills, some self-respect, a little character maybe. and hey, if they win their games, or lose them, it doesn't really matter. they're kids. it's fun. and if their parents want to buy them trophies at the end of the season so they feel better about the whole endeavor, then i will gladly keep my mouth shut and smile as i call their names one by one.

but you wouldn't let one of the ten-year-olds coach the team, even at the extremely non-serious level at which these kids play. letting sarah palin anywhere near national office, at least at her present level of understanding of the many serious issues that we face as a nation and a people, would be just like that, only with nucular weapons.

makes me shiver just thinking about it.
noone who cannot successfully pronounce the word 'nuclear' should be taken seriously on any subject that matters.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

what you say: i'll have a long island.

what the bartender hears: i'm a cheapskate jerk.

what you say: i'll have a strong island.

what the bartender hears: i'm the biggest asshole in the room.
i haven't so much as glanced inside a rolling stone for years, but i sure do love me some matt tabibi ranting. it's like my id and my brain tag-teaming reality and calling her all the dirty little names she deserves.

Monday, September 29, 2008

i know why john mccain won't look at barack obama. obama is his enemy, and, as he has made abundantly clear in his remarks about meeting with foreign leaders (even the prime minister of spain), john mccain does not meet with his enemies, not even with his eyes. he doesn't talk to them, doesn't acknowledge their existence, because his mammalian empathetic brain structures might remind him that they are as human as he is.

he is a weak man. he may not have always been, but he is now. the campaign has eroded almost all that was good in him. too bad.

Friday, September 26, 2008

john mccain wants to 'win' in iraq because we 'lost' in vietnam. barack obama understands that we have to cut our losses there because it's not as important as other things we have to deal with.

john mccain is a dick, and will kick you in the nuts if you get in a fight with him. barack obama is tough enough to get kicked in the nuts and still fight fair.

john mccain isn't man enough to look a man in the eyes when he sticks the knife, or tries to.
this is one of the funniest fucking things i've read in a long time.

reminds me of the one time i went to a 'drinking liberally' meeting. there were at least five people making the argument that if the democrats could only toss out the people who were not batshit-crazy radical leftists then they could totally win on the national level. with straight faces. i wanted to pat them on their cute little heads.
bartending haiku #1

it doesn't make you
a bad person not to tip
you already are
what you say: what do you have on tap?

what the bartender hears: i'm an idiot.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

i saw a sea change today. chris matthews appeared as a guest on rachel maddow's show. he looked slightly uncomfortable not being the guy whose show it was, but i think it was good for him as a talking head; it made him focus and say more cogent and well-thought-out things.

i heard he's thinking of running for the senate in pennsylvania. i think i like that idea, but i have to think about it some more.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

When the vast majority of the public and a sizeable number of members of Congress balk at the bailout, they are told that there is no alternative and they simply must accept the deal, so how could it be that the financial institutions who stand to benefit from the bailout might reject it? We are supposed to be on the verge of catastrophe, and presumably no one would be more aware of how close we are than these very institutions, but the government has to sweeten the pot enough to get the institutions to participate in the rescue? Supporters of the bailout insist that we need to throw a lifeline to drowning banks, lest they pull all of us under with them, but we still have to give the banks enough of an incentive to grab on to the lifeline? One might think that being offered rescue would be enough incentive. If the consequences of rejecting the plan are as bad as the administration says, why would the plan’s primary beneficiaries not jump at the chance to have the government purchase these toxic assets? If they wouldn’t jump at the chance, doesn’t that suggest that things may not be quite as bleak as we are being told? Isn’t it then reasonable to ask why Congress and the public should be railroaded into accepting a deeply flawed plan?
daniel larison, over at amconmag

tony fratto kind of gave this away at a presser earlier this week, and it made me wonder then (as it makes me wonder now) just how insanely urgent this whole catastrophe really is. if the drowning man turns down the life preserver because it means he has to swim in a cheaper swimsuit the next time he dives in, he's probably not really drowning.

i do think there's a need for some bailout money, but i don't think it should be aimed at wall street. those guys should all have known what they were getting into, and if they didn't, or did and didn't care, then they should suffer the consequences.

myself i think any government intervention has to start with individual mortgage holders, people who might be able to stay in their houses if they could renegotiate their predatory loans. for one thing, it actually helps people that need help. for another, presumably such an action would help to stabilize the securities market because it would make it easier for banks and rating agencies to accurately value these incredibly abstruse investment vehicles, which presumably would help unclog the credit markets, which are chock-full of money (where the hell else is the government going to get that $700bn, anyway?) but are scared to lend it because nobody knows what's on anybody's balance sheet.

if the government wants to buy into these companies at fair prices for an equity stake, and advocate for good governance of them, that might be one thing, but to give the former chairman/ceo of goldman sachs a giant bag of money to hand out to all his buddies that helped him screw the whole thing up is just stupid.

the parasite class has sickened the body politic enough. time for a robust immune response, even if we have to go through a little fever sweat and puking.

Monday, September 22, 2008

i should be working on my novel right now, but my friend jay set me to reading today about the collapse of the economy and the beginning of the whole what-are-we-gonna-do-about-it conversation. i'm still planning on disappearing into imaginationland for a while in a minute, but first i'm gonna do a little spitting about the world and the crazy shit going on in it right now.

first off, hank paulson can suck a great big cock, preferably one with some active herpes lesions on it. anyone who can say, with a straight face, that the government and, by extension, the taxpayer ought to foot the bill for this mess and just buy up all that bad paper so that the people that did all these shady deals and made all these mistakes can turn around and do it some more, collecting tens of millions of dollars in severance packages while the people that work for them default on their own mortgages because they don't have jobs anymore should be extrtaordinarily rendered and dropped in downtown sadr city wearing nothing but a pair of american flag boxer shorts and a hijab with a target on the back of the head so they know where to donkey punch his ass.

seriously, what a jerk.

"hey mom and dad, i wrecked that car you gave me for my birthday. can i have a nicer one?" then again, in the circles these guys run in, that kind of thing is probably pretty common. seriously, why are we asking the former head of an investment bank (even if it's one that hasn't gone under. yet) to solve a problem that people like him basically created? are we to suppose that, now that he's cashed in, he can afford to engage in morality and ethics?

i will say this, though: i never in my life expected to hear a republican advocate state-sponsored socialism, which is pretty much what the paulson plan amounts to. company failing? we'll nationalize it. make some bad bets and now your loan shark is at the door with a baseball bat? here, we'll pay him off, and hey, here's a little extra for your suffering and mental anguish, i hear the ponies are racing again tonight.

there is, of course, plenty of blame to go around, and everyone deserves some small share, even you and me. after the tech bubble popped, we should all have realized that what goes up must come down and that double-digit increases in housing prices couldn't possibly go on forever. i mean, even i was able to do a cash-out refi on a property i inherited from my grandparents, and i tend bar for a living, which means i can't prove my income since so much of it is in cash. i almost giggled when the guy asked me what i made each year and then did absolutely nothing to confirm that what i said was true. now i'm just glad i didn't take more out. that condo has lost at least half its perceived value in the last eighteen months.

i even realized that something had to give, slightly before everyone came to their senses, but i was foolish, and i let people talk me out of selling when i could've actually made some money on it. ah well, live and learn. but seriously, it was obvious to anyone with open eyes that it couldn't last, that the whole system was built on magical thinking that had little or no basis in reality.

all of which does nothing to excuse the real perpetrators, the guys whose idea it was to buy up all this questionable paper and bundle it together, fooling the ratings agencies into giving it the ol' triple-a when it was at best a gentleman's c. what really grinds my gears is that a few hundred people went from obnoxiously to obscenely rich, and in doing so left us with the bill when the man behind the curtain showed his ass.

and now they want a blank check, with no strings attached, to fix their mistakes without suffering any of the consequences of their own bad judgement, and that shit stinks.

Friday, September 19, 2008

addictions are nature's antidepressants.

(note to self: expand on that sometime.)
"i don't love you."

she whispered the words in my ear, the last thing i heard before i woke up this morning. she wasn't there, just a voice in my head really, but i knew the voice, knew it was her, even if the words she spoke were mine and not hers.

two nights before, i asked her if she could love me. we were drunk, and i don't remember what she said in response, but i think it was something like yes-with-a-but, which was good enough at the time. later, she asked me the same question, and i said yes.

i always have been kind of a sucker, though. well, maybe not a sucker, but my heart has never been one to dip a toe in the pool to see if the water is warm enough to jump in.

we were naked that night, naked and drunk and each of us at the mercy of our bodies and hearts, but mostly bodies. no matter what mammalian sheen of emotion and feeling coruscates on the surface, it's the deeper animal that drives the likes of we, the simple necessity of eating and sleeping and most of all fucking. but it's never that simple, and life gets in the way, and sometimes in the morning you have to rewrite the story in your head to keep yourself from going crazy.

morning wasn't so bad, small kisses and oxytocin smiles, cooking breakfast and talking about the night before, such a lovely time (and it was). i'm used to sleeping alone, and my back hurt in strange and painful ways from melding my body to hers, but i was still smiling, marveling at the tactile delight of running my fingers over smooth curvaceous skin when i woke in the night and by the light of early morning, at the surprising warmth and welcomeness of her body cuddled close up next to mine, at the way my heart burbled giddily when she flashed that crooked smile my way, love in her eyes.

for most of that day, after she left (off to the arms of another man, which i knew going in) none of it mattered. i was still smiling, still riding the wave of warmth and well-being i get when a girl i like smiles at me that way.

it couldn't last, though, and didn't.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

back when i was in college, my area of concentration was something i called critical studies, which revolved, mostly, around the application of post-structuralist semiotics to the meta-narratives of western culture and history, broadly conceived. what that involved, mostly, was taking apart ideas and narrative structures as if they were machines, breaking them down into their component parts and seeing how those parts fit together, and also conceiving new ways of fitting those parts together in order to construct new idea-machines.

this may explain why i take my lattes with soy milk. well, that and the fact that cow's milk makes me sick and gassy. but i digress.

the point i'm trying to make is that it was heady stuff, the kind of stuff that, presumably, makes you a wine-track, latte-sipping coastal elite, aka the opposite of a real american, at least as conceived by the movement-conservative election-time noise machine. and, to some extent, it's true, as i learned when, after college, i moved to the colorado rockies and worked on a roofing crew for a while.

one of the reasons that i made that move, away from academia and towards the real world, was precisely that headiness. i realized at some point, or maybe i knew all along, that what i was doing was just a game, that, taken to its logical conclusion, one could only conclude that nothing was real, that everything only existed in relation to everything else, morally and ideologically, and that, in the end, there were only just competing power structures and differences in opinion.

sound familiar?

it should. back in the day, conservatives and republicans used to excoriate the left for precisely that. moral relativism, they called it, and it stood for everything wrong with the limp-wristed eggheads that wanted to take over washington and make everybody gay-marry aborted fetuses while bending over for our enemies at home and abroad. if nothing was true, everything was permitted, and all kinds of unsavory characters would do what they wilt as a result. it was the duty of all red-blooded, two-fisted, right-thinking americans to oppose such insidious undermining of all that was right and true and just and good.

but i guess that doesn't focus-group so well these days. or, rather, it does, but the bad guys know that not enough people have the time or inclination to do more than scratch the surface. we've all got lives to lead, after all.

when i read about john mccain's presidential campaign, i'm struck, over and over, by not only the sheer mendacity and the bald-faced lies, but more importantly by the mindset behind it all, which is the very same moral and ideological relativism that once upon a time stood for everything they stood against. obviously the media plays its role as well, with its pathological addiction to 'balance,' but what blows me away is the sheer cynicism and hypocrisy of it all, the win-at-any-cost mentality that allows people to convince themselves that they can knowingly do evil in the service of what they call good without irreversibly soiling both their souls and that which they hold dear.

i don't know. maybe it's just hard-wired into some people. i read of a study once that concluded that moralistic people (not moral people, who look to themselves and their own actions and try and do right, but moralistic people, who are more concerned with what other people do and think), who spend their time and energy seeking to monitor and police the actions of others, are more likely as a group to allow themselves some wiggle room, morally speaking. they're more likely to steal, more likely to cheat on their spouses, more likely to abuse any authority they manage to obtain. i suppose they tell themselves that they've earned it, that since they do so much to make other people conform to their own personal morality that they don't have to themselves. so maybe there are some people in whom hypocrisy is hard-wired, and for them, lying and cheating and stealing can be done with a clean conscience, since they serve some greater good (or at least conceive themselves of doing so).

me, i can't understand how anybody could be that way. guess i'm just wired differently.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

what i would do if i were barack obama:

unless you live under a rock, or are a member of about half the american electorate, you probably already know about the mccain-palin campaign's ad about barack obama's education policy history in illinois. you know, the one that falsely states that obama sponsored and 'fought for' a bill in the state senate that would supposedly teach sex-ed to kindergartners. it's a lie, and not even a good one. the actual content of the bill, at least vis-a-vis kindergartners, is to help them understand and avoid inappropriate touching between children and adults, which is something we can presumably all get behind, even john mccain and sarah palin.

and yes, it is part of a larger pattern of abuse of the truth in a cynical ploy to muddy the waters and assassinate barack obama's character, since that is the only way the republicans can possibly win the november election. to expect them to do otherwise, given the situation they're in, would be foolish, and the hand-wringing worrywort wing of the democratic party is already in full faint over the indignity of it all.

i say fuck that. let's take it to them, face to face, mano a mano, like men do.

i think barack obama ought to take time out of his schedule and track down john mccain (it shouldn't be hard, his schedule is a matter of public record), find him wherever he is, and confront him on this, in front of the press and the cameras, not only as a candidate, but as a father of two young girls and a man whose moral character should be above such allegations. he should offer john mccain a chance to repeat his charges face to face, man to man, and stop cowering behind sarah palin's skirts. my bet is that mccain won't know how to handle it, and will dither and dissemble and crumble in the face of a righteous man's righteous indignation. or who knows? maybe he'll get pissed off, and we can see a little of that famous temper, unscripted and on-camera. either way, it's a win for obama.

coastal elites aside (and i count myself one of them, even drink my latte with soy milk), americans do not like and will not vote for wussies. our culture and history are way too violent for that. and while it may be a nice idea to try and move that way as a people on a historical level, we is where we is. liberals and progressives tend to abjure violence, which is laudable and the correct approach to most problems. but some things are not acceptable, and one of those things is such a blatant and knowingly false attack on a man's character.

don't get me wrong. i am not suggesting that obama challenge mccain to a fistfight (though i would pay good money to see that). but the heart of america knows that any man who allows something like to stand isn't fit to be called a man, and can't be trusted to stand up to the thugs and the hard men that rule the rest of the world. that's why republicans keep winning the presidency. and they'll keep doing it until somebody stands up to them in a way they can understand.

Monday, September 08, 2008

unbunch your panties, everyone.
As always, there seem to be people who prefer losing high-mindedly and with great ideological purity to winning. I have to question how seriously committed they are to serving the causes they profess. We can all go off after the election and practice moral self-flattery to our hearts' content. Now is the time for business. And "business." for the next sixty days, means appealing to voters who may not share all of our values or opinions.
mark kleiman, over at the reality-based community

i run into this problem a lot with some of my more liberal/progressive friends, and while i applaud integrity in all its forms, and am a firm believer in winning fair and square, the idealism that i share with such people is tempered by the realization that actions have consequences and elections do matter. there may or may not be as much daylight between the republican and the democratic parties as my more radical friends might desire or demand, and neither is likely (or even able) to live up to the truly liberal person's dreams and desires (a thing which may or may not be possible, predicated as it is on a presumption of universality, i.e. it would work, but only if the whole rest of the world was liberal in exactly the same way).

but, for those that lean to the left, and mean it, to say that there isn't enough difference between the republican and democratic parties is quite frankly ridiculous. in response, i invite the reader to engage in a little thought experiment and ask yourself what eight years of a gore presidency might've been like. do you think we'd be at war in iraq? would the multitrillion dollar budget surplus we had coming into this century have become a multitrillion dollar national debt? would we have doubled down on a petroleum-based economy just as world oil production was hitting its peak and the developing world was beginning to demand as much oil as we do?

perhaps the case might be made that the answer to any or all of those questions would be yes, but i can't think of any compelling arguments.

the truth of the matter is that all action is morally hazardous, because the world as we live in it is not black and white (nor is is shades of gray, either; the real spectrum between black and white is the rainbow spread of glorious full color, but that's a point for later contemplation). choices have to be made, and while you always have to choose (and refusing to choose is also a choice), you don't get to choose what the choices are. there is such a thing as a lesser evil, and even if it is not the greatest good, it is, by definition, the greater.

besides, does anybody really think it's going to be easier to get progressive legislation passed with john mccain or (gulp) sarah palin in the white house? seriously? after all, whoever gets elected is everybody's president, even if you didn't vote for him. barack obama may be imperfect, but on every issue that counts, he's closer to what i believe in than the other side is, and while he may not match me up as exactly as i would like him to, he's gonna get my support, my money, and my vote, and if you're a self-described liberal or progressive or whatever other sub-category on the left, he should get yours, too.

Friday, August 29, 2008

i live in seattle, one of the best towns in the country for live music. the local scene is world-class, and every band worth hearing, along with another million or so, comes through the city when they tour.

at the same time, almost every time i go to a show, i can't help but feel bad for the bands, because i can't remember how many times i've watched a great band rock the shit out of a stage somewhere, really putting their whole hearts into it, and then i look out over the crowd, and everyone is just standing there, arms crossed, attempting a look of detached intellectuality, as if they were some emotionally retarded researcher observing an interesting specimen as it wriggles in the plastic restraints, lips pursed, head nodding ever so slightly. like they're attending a lecture they're not really interested in but feel like they need to burnish their cultural and/or intellectual street cred. either that, or they're texting their friends and surreptitiously making fun of what that girl over there is wearing.

call it the cool kid syndrome: i am unimpressed, because i am unimpressable. i've seen/done/been that and am so over it.

it's fucking horseshit.

when i was younger, i was cynical, too; too cool for school. i was sure that my eyes were open, unclouded, that my nose could detect the slightest whiff of bullshit no matter how deeply buried or covered over. it was a defense mechanism, of course, an overcompensation for the fear and discomfort i felt at how strongly and deeply i could feel things, at how i could be carried away out of myself and my comfort zone by things beyond my understanding or control. eventually my brain began to rewire itself so as to filter out things that moved me, things that might dangerously upset my cynical detachment, my ability to put ironic distance between myself and the world, because i lacked the courage to allow myself to be moved. no matter what was right about a thing, i could tell you right away what was wrong with it, and by doing so i could extinguish its power over me. such is the nature of being cool.

you may be asking yourself (if you exist, being that i'm pretty sure noone reads this): what's that got to do with anything? sure, we all feel better calling bullshit on bullshit. it can be very therapeutic and it makes your friends like you more. but there's a point i'm trying to make here.

i had to work last night (i tend bar for a living, and while i work only three days a week, on those days i'm usually there for 12 hours or so), and last night was busy more or less start to finish. as barack obama was delivering his acceptance speech at the democratic national convention i was busy schlepping happy hour cocktails and five dollar pizzas to a couple dozen regulars and some randoms, and then spent the rest of the night slinging cocktails and schooling fools in bar etiquette. i didn't get home until almost five in the morning, because after the fun's all over, we get to clean up the mess while everyone else has sex and/or breakfast. i started to watch the daily show on the dvr, but once i saw evan bayh's face i had to turn it off.

i was beat-down tired, my body aching, my ass chafed raw from the ten miles i walked between the register and the service area. i was pissed off because the girl i like blew me off and is sleeping with a friend of mine. even jon stewart couldn't bring a smile to my face.

then i turned on the computer and clicked on the youtube. i'd heard all night about how good the speech was. i'd been told to be ready for teary eyes and goosebumps, and not necessarily in that order.

and the man delivered. holy shit did the man deliver.

i remember four years ago. i missed obama's keynote speech, the one that made him famous, but enough of my friends talked about it that i looked it up and watched it, and i remember thinking: that guy's going to be the first black president. i still think so.

but back to last night, or rather this morning, because by the time it was all said and done, the sun was clearly visible in the sky.

there were goosebumps. there were tears in my eyes. i remember being grateful when he went down the laundry list of policy specifics, told us what the obama presidency will mean, because if he had kept up with the heart-string pulling i was definitely going to cry, and even though i was alone with noone to see, there is still enough of that younger me inside to feel shame at being so easily moved by a fucking politician.

and yeah, i know that a politician is what he is. i don't agree with every plank in his platform, and i understand that in practice there will be compromises i might prefer not come to pass. but i hear the call that he's giving voice to. i've been waiting for that call my whole life. there's always been an idealist in me, constantly at war with the cynic, and to finally hear someone i can actually vote for say those words i've been waiting to hear stirred me in ways that usually only the love of a good woman or a really good rock tune can.

which brings me, full circle, back to where i started. i spent an hour or so today surfing the web, looking to relive the elation i felt as i watched obama last night, an elation shared by pat fucking buchanan of all people, a man who is as ideologically opposite to myself as it is possible to be, and seemingly almost noone else.

what i found instead is a bunch of cool kids picking nits, people whose intellects i genuinely respect, even if they are only capable of deconstructing things and not building anything, people who are seemingly not for anything, only against things. and it makes me angry. not that they don't feel what i feel, or think what i think, but that such minds could be so colonized by cynicism that their capability for wonder and faith have shrivelled and dried out so completely.

it also makes me sad, for exactly the same reasons. i feel compassion, because i too nearly fell into that trap. it would have been easy.

one of the reasons i named this blog what i did (aside from the fact that i think it's really catchy) is to continually remind myself that it isn't enough just to be against things (a point that barack obama makes quite often). finding fault with the constructions of others is the easy part. in this world of compromise and illusion and imperfection (indeed imperfectibility), there is always a flaw, always a nit to pick. one of the things i like about the scientific mindset is the radical doubt; we can never say the world is just so, only that we haven't found any evidence to the contrary of what we have theorized and tested and found to hold up under scrutiny in the lab and in the field.

but you have to be able to make that leap of faith, to believe in something. you have to have the courage to be for something, because it's the only way anything ever gets done. and so i have dubbed myself the anticontrarian; i am against those who are only against things, because if you ain't for nothin' then there ain't nothin' there.

that doesn't mean you have to close your eyes. this ain't peter pan, where if you clap hard enough and believe in fairies then tinkerbell will be okay. that's the trick, actually. you see the chasm, but you jump anyway, because otherwise you're gonna be standing there forever.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

fucking pumas make me sick.

i'm sorry, ladies (and gentlemen, i guess), but ya lost, fair and square, on a playing field as level as you had any right ever to expect. i'm sorry your team got out-organized and out-performed, but you did, and this whole fucking extended tantrum you're throwing is so fucking childish that it makes me want to shake you like a recalcitrant child.

remember, nobody likes a sore loser. and if you help elect mccain, by omission or commision, everything you stand for will have been sacrificed for a moment catharsis that'll last just long enough for the horror to sink in completely.

you'll be like a child who has nothing to play with because she's broken all of her toys. unfortunately, so will the rest of us.

also, note to the media: stop enabling this bullshit. even if you're a secret mccain supporter, there're way too many important issues to debate to waste even a moment of airtime, even in a twenty-four hour news cycle, on this stupid, stupid bullshit.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

i still can't get you out of my head. i don't know why. you won't even tell me why you can't see me. you make it sound like you want to, but you can't. i wish i understood.

come back.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

for more than a year now, i've had half an ear cocked at the presidential primaries. it's been amusing enough. kind of like following a sports team, in that it's a largely harmless pastime that gives one the illusion of a grander narrative in which one is sunk without actually having to do much about it besides get drunk and watch and blather and bloviate amongst like-minded persons.
it passes the time, anyway.
but now that we've rung in the new year (who knew we'd all survive to 2008? that america would survive, even, wounded and limping though she is?), it's up to the good citizens of iowa to actually get the ball rolling and do some delegate-allocating. i'd say do some voting, but as anyone with half a brain and half an ear cocked (and i count myself as such) knows, they don't vote in iowa, they caucus. and boy howdy is it complicated, and apparently it takes a long-ass time.
some people say caucusing is undemocratic, that a straight-up primary with secret ballots and voting and electronic machines to count those votes is easier, will draw more people out, and is therefore more democratic, because if it brings out more people, then it must, by definition, be more democratic, since more of the demos participates. and they can do it more honestly, since ballots are secret and nobody can see you there in the voting booth, just like nobody can see you in the bathroom (insert your own larry craig joke).
i am amenable to arguments like this, but i'm not so sure they outweigh the arguments on the other side.
hey, we're all busy people. we have lives to lead, kids to raise, mortgages to pay, all that. even people like me, with no kids and who work no more than 30 hours a week have shit to do everyday, some of it obligatory, some of it for love. it is certainly more convenient to not have to spend more than ten minutes or so taking care of our civic duties before returning to our regularly scheduled lives. considering how few people who can vote do, it makes a lot of sense to make it as easy as possible.
on the flipside, what i like about the iowa caucuses is that, by making it difficult to do, only the people who really care make it out and make themselves heard. and while i suppose that that is, in itself, somewhat undemocratic, in that it is effectively if not legally exclusionary, i think that its lack of platonic idealitude actually works in the nation's favor, because only the most passionate, informed voters are willing to venture out into the cold and spend the time that it takes to figure this shit out.
i also think that the collective nature of the caucusing process is a good thing. having to defend your position in the face of direct and personal opposition is healthy for democracies and other living things. the worst ideas, the worst ideologies, always insist that they have a sole lock on the truth of things and always act in such a way as to undermine or suppress debate. and that is as un-american as a thing could be. the greatest of the ideas underlying america, what makes us truly special among nations and among experiments in governance, is that america is a place where the free marketplace of ideas is not only enshrined in the national consciousness, it's actually built in to the system. it's unbelievably difficult for any single idea or ideology to acheive hegemony here, because the system is built to prevent the accumulation of too much power in too few hands.
i am not saying that it always works out this way. far from it. but the idea is there, and it's strong enough to have withstood our entire history of not quite living up to our own ideals.
left alone, it's easier for people to get set in their ways. easier to ignore evidence or arguments that don't fit your position or worldview. having to engage others who are not necessarily like-minded is healthy for people and democracies alike. sometimes, the best idea even wins.
anyway, i know i've made arguments for both sides of the equation here. perhaps i am my very own marketplace of ideas.

well, now that i've wonked off for a bit, here's what i think's going to happen, which i set down solely and only as a record against which i can later measure myself.
i think obama wins iowa, by a small but not negligible margin. he's got the momentum, and from what i hear there're going to be a lot of independents and even disaffected republicans caucusing with the democrats, and they like him.
edwards comes in second. he's been working the state for four or five years now, has the ground game, and speaks middle american better than any of the top three.
hillary posts up at third, and the patina of inevitability that she, her handlers, and msm have been painting her with for the last several months is revealed for the illusion it always was. it's a shame, really. i very much want america to get grown up enough to have a woman president (and eventually get to the point where a candidate's gender doesn't matter, but hey, one step at a time), but man does she ever rub me the wrong way. she's as fake as bill, but without the charm or the humanity. and it's not like the clinton years were super-awesome if you were an actual progressive; they just look that way from here.
on the republican side, i think romney and huckabee split the vote so closely that it's a virtual tie, with ron paul being the real story, even though he comes in third, because noone actually takes him seriously as a candidate (aside, that is, from actual voters who still believe in the old version of conservatism, the one actually grounded in real americanism, not this new imperialistic armageddonite bullshit).

if nothing else, i'm just glad that someone besides the pundits and the columnists can finally get a word in edgewise, because i am really fucking sick of these fucking blowhards pretending they speak for us when they're so very much a part of the problem.