Friday, April 11, 2014

U.S. Of Aliteracy

Once upon a time I delivered appliances. Or I actually helped a guy who did. I was just dumb extra muscle. But I got to go in a lot of houses over the course of a year, and I can count on one hand the number of homes that had books in them. I mean real books, not Chicken Soup for the Soul type crap (although there aren’t really many of those either). I mean nobody but nobody had books. One of those who did was a college teacher. She had all sorts of interesting African artifacts as well, but she was a blessed anomaly. In general, we live in a cultural desert.

A friend of mine works in the homes of the wealthy installing high tech electronics and whatnot. Smart homes are the hip new thing among the rich and well born. At any rate, my friend makes decent money hooking up their silly toys. These are the summer homes of the super-rich, genuine one-percenters, and he tells me the same sad tale: no books. On the other hand, one house has seventeen flat screen TVs. Four in one room. These people are so dull and unimaginative they can’t think of anything more important to spend their money on than televisions. It’s actually quite sad.

“Gee, honey, what should we do today?”

“I know. Let’s buy ten more TVs. One for each bathroom!”

“Baby, you read my mind!”

This is precisely the kind of witless excess that precedes revolutions, or at least reformations. Then again, we have full grown adults who get excited about Captain America in 3D. We have people who think Jay Leno is funny. We have people who watch Good Morning America and consider Go Daddy commercials worthy topics for earnest debate. It is possible that we are so completely narcotized and immature, so utterly flabby and clueless, that we just might be revolution-proof. It just may be that consumer culture has led us to the end of history, as it were, and it’s a fat guy in a baseball cap staring at an iPhone and playing fantasy football. He is completely aliterate and aspires to nothing beyond gross material pleasure. He laughs at commercials and says things like “It’s all good.” If he was a millionaire, he’d own seventeen flat screens too.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Wu Wei

Never do today what can be put off until tomorrow. Chances are, things will change and you won’t have to do what you thought you needed to do in the first place, and it won’t matter anyway: Somebody else will have already done it, assuming it needed to be done, and they’ll be the ones who are responsible for screwing everything up because they did something when doing nothing was required and hurt those who did nothing at all, so relax.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

21st Century Hypocrisy

Do our officials try to sound like hypocritical asses or does it just come naturally to to them? Here’s John Kerry from one of the Sunday talk shows:
“You just don’t in the 21st century behave in 19th century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped up pre-text,” Kerry said. “It is serious in terms of sort of the modern manner with which nations are going to resolve problems. There are all kinds of other options still available to Russia. There still are. President Obama wants to emphasize to the Russians that there are a right set of choices that can still be made to address any concerns they have about Crimea, about their citizens, but you don’t choose to invade a country in order to do that.”
Indeed, one musn’t invade foreign countries on trumped-up pretexts. Who ever heard of such an outrage?

Maybe we should sell Russia some drones so Putin can learn to resolve problems the twenty-first century way.


Sunday, February 16, 2014

Please Don’t Run, Hillary

I dread the coming Hillary Clinton presidency. Just what we need, another corporate sell-out “centrist” Democrat. Pinch me, I must be dreaming. I find the prospect about as alluring as discussing term life or looking at someone’s stamp collection. I’ve always thought her supporters overrate her popularity with the American people. If the Republicans weren’t as grotesque as syphilis I’m not so sure she could win. If Jeb Bush runs she loses. And doesn’t that sound like a swell race? Bush v. Clinton? Pass the morphine please.

But wait, Jeb can’t win! No sane person wants another Bush in the White House, right? Wrong. This is Amurrica, baby. We are a nation of infantilized ignoramuses.  Give us our flatscreens, iPhones, cheese-filled pizza crusts and a tub full of buffalo wings and you can do what ever you want with us. Vidal was dead right when he labelled us “The United States of Amnesia.” George W. Bush is already fading from memory, and Poppy may as well have fought in the Thirty Years War for all most people know. The establishment would throw all their money, weight and power into Jeb’s candidacy. After Oprah and The View work their dark magic and show his warm and fuzzy side — He’s nice to Hispanics, don’t you know? — the fix will be in. Mr. and Mrs. America will obediently accept whatever they are given.

In other words, the game is rigged, but you already knew that. But there’s also a certain symmetry to it. There has to be a third Bush. It is written. It’s like stopping the world wars at two: It creates this nagging sense of incompleteness that cries out for some final consummation. There simply must be a third to complete the cycle.

There is nothing to be hopeful about in a Clinton presidency. Nothing fundamental will change. The establishment can sleep tight. Goldman Sachs will still own the country and we’ll still have lots and lots of bombings and wars. Hillary will say all the most wonderfully progressive things on trivial social issues that don’t pose a politico risk (like another president I know). Big oil will be just as big. Construction on the Keystone XL pipeline will be well under way. The ten people in West Virginia who aren’t yet poisoned will be. It will be business as usual in the oligopoly.

Her supporters will become grating and blame all criticism of her as being sexist. Just wait for it. It’ an M.O. There is a strong possibility that such unappetizing figures as Robert Rubin will reenter our lives. Wouldn’t that be lovely? Egads, the horror, the horror (although I would warmly welcome Robert Reich and Jocelyn Elders back into the fold). Expect stale and cheesy campaign gimmicks. Remember the Conversation and the Kitchen Sink Campaign? May as well get a bucket now.

I fear that Hillary’s campaign will just have this sort of dull, unimaginative, back to the nineties vibe. It will be just as annoying as Republican eighties worship. We’ll be confronted with the spectacle of both major political parties having nothing to run on but nostalgia.

Now, I miss the nineties as much as the next guy. The late nineties were my glorious salad years. Colors were brighter. Love was more intense. Hangovers only lasted one day. The world was was young with me and all that, you know. But they are never coming back, and in retrospect they might not have been all that hot in the first place. A lot of the cancer that is now killing us took root then, and our boy Bill had a big hand in it.

So goodbye to the nineties. They were a brief, blessed Indian summer that preceded a dark age from which we still haven’t emerged. They are like 1929 or July 1914, the last rays of autumn sun before the longest and bleakest winter of our lives. Good times, to be sure, but there were serpents coiled in the basement.

So why am I talking about this? Pure spleen. Nothing more. But what got me started was stumbling upon one of the most dreadful headlines I’ve ever seen. No, I don’t mean “Is Oprah Gay?” or “Bob Costas Will Return To The Anchor Desk Monday” though they do be dreadful.  I mean this: “Where is Monica Lewinsky Now?”

Until today, it had been several years since I heard that name, which for me was just peachy.  I daresay I had forgotten all about that person. Nothing against her, but her name just conjures so many unpleasant associations —: Henry Hyde, Bob Livingston, the birth of Fox News and Drudge. Who was her confederate? Tripp? Sigh. That headline brought it all vividly back to life. And then I realized what we’re going to be in for should Hillary run. Drudge is already dusting off all the old Clinton sex stuff. The right wing noise machine is going to be insufferable. Why, oh Lord, must you punish us so? My spirit sank. I haven’t felt that desolate since the day I learned the Millard Fillmore Appreciation Society had disbanded. For the love of all that is holy, Mrs. Clinton, please don’t run. Spare your nation the trauma. Let Joe Biden do it. Let Elizabeth Warren do it!

Monday, January 13, 2014

Christie Puts The Ass In Hole

Do you think the mainstream press has finally got the memo that Chris Christie is a complete A-hole? Let’s hope so, because the last time they had this kind of adolescent crush on someone we got stuck with regular-guy-you-can-have-a-beer with George W. Bush. Christie is so demonstrably and palpably dickish it’s a miracle he could get elected to anything. He puts the ass in hole. If he sits down next to you in a restaurant you ask the hostess to reseat you. He monopolizes the arm rest on the plane. He breathes loudly through his nose and talks with his mouth full. I have no idea if Christie actually does those things, but it sounds plausible, doesn’t it? It has truthiness to it. Why? Because we all know Chris Christie. Every last one of us has a Chris Christie in our past, a pushy, domineering lout who made our lives miserable for a season. Maybe he bullied you in third grade. Maybe he was your boss or a gym teacher. Maybe he’s your neighbor. But he’s always there, forever lurking in your memory and springing to mind in the most jarring ways and at the most inopportune times. There is no escaping him. He will be part of you for all time. If you’re a woman he may or may not have groped you, but he certainly talked down to you. You always fantasized about decking him square in the jaw but of course you never did.

If you live in New Jersey he’s your governor, and so you are living that dream this very moment. Jesus, first Bon Jovi, then Sandy, and now this? I grieve with you New Jersey.

But he has the teens on Planet Beltway sopping wet. They haven’t been this aroused since Bush wore his flight suit. So he will probably be a serious presidential contender. Our only hope is that the Tea Party morons hate him because he once showed Obama some love. The Republicans will be split, and, it being an imperfect world, we will get President Hillary Clinton, who will be a very dull but competent chief executive. But watch the Chris Matthews/Cokie Roberts/Andrea Greenspan Mitchell set pimp him hard. Tough talker. Straight shooter. Tells it like it is. A man’s man. And there is no excuse for it. It takes all of thirty seconds to Google “Examples of Christ Christie’s dickishness’ and a plethora of material pops right up. Here is my favorite Christie anecdote from a couple of years ago. It really tells you all you need to know about the man:
In May of 2011, Christie flew in a brand new, $12 million state-owned helicopter to watch his son play a high school baseball game. After landing on a nearby football field, Christie was driven 300 feet in a black car with tinted windows to the baseball diamond. When he was done watching five innings, Christie boarded the helicopter and flew home. The trip cost $2,500 and Christie initially refused to reimburse the state for the expenses.
. That hasn’t stopped the press from gushing about what a regular, blue collar kind of guy he is. But I don’t think people out in the real world are buying it. I’ve definitely noticed that he is starting to have the Mitt Romney effect. What’s that? Simple. Every human being I spoke to during the election reacted with the same revulsion and disdain at the mention of Mitt Romney. Everyone, even Republicans. I was doing some painting that summer for a one percenter and former young Republican whose proudest memory was dining with Reagan. Her mother had been some lord high mucky-muck in the California Republican party too, so she had met a lot of the party big wigs of yesteryear (She even had Gerald Ford’s autograph. Jealous? It was the single most boring historical artifact I’ve ever seen. Worse, even, than a vase I saw in Russia with Leonid Breshnev’s portrait on it). Anyway, she hated Romney and so did her husband. “I can’t stand that prick,” he snorted one day when Romney came on the TV. That became the standard response. Mild-mannered people had strong visceral reactions against him.

Well, I’m noticing a similar kind of thing with Christie, except he’s not “that prick.” He’s “that asshole” because, well, it just fits him. Take the Chris Christie challenge. Strike up a political conversation with the first stranger you meet and bring up Christie. The number one response will be a baffled “Who?” But a close second will be this: a disgusted eye roll followed by a forcefully stated “What an asshole.” People got it with Romney and they get it with Christie too. He’s just another one of the Washington press corps phony paper idols, and I really hope he’s finished.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The New Satanists

John Michael Greer at The Archdruid Report reread the New Testament over the holidays and came up with an interesting insight:
Here are the passages I found in which Jesus tells his followers that they have a duty to take care of children, the poor, and other vulnerable people:

Matthew 18:6, 18:10, 19:21, 23:14, and 25:31-46; Mark 9:36-37, 10:21, and 12:40; and Luke 10:30-37, 11:41, 12:33, 14:12-14, 18:22, and 20:47.

Here are the passages in which Jesus tells his followers to pay their taxes without complaining:

Matthew 5:42, 17:24-27, and 22:19-21; Mark 12:14-17; and Luke 6:30 and 20:21-25.

Here are the passages in which Jesus tells his followers that they aren’t supposed to obsess about other people’s sins, but should leave that to God, and attend to their own moral failings instead:

Matthew 7:1-5 and 9:10-13; Mark 2:15-17; Luke 6:37, 6:41-42, 7:44-48, 15:2, 18:10-14, and 19:7; and John 8:2-11.

And here are the passages in which Jesus tells his followers to blame the poor and vulnerable for their plight, direct benefits toward the already well-to-do at the expense of everyone else, refuse to pay their fair share of taxes, and obsessively denounce and punish the sins of people they don’t like while finding every opportunity to excuse their own sins and those of their friends:

Yet these latter are the things that a great many Republicans, and in particular a great many of those Republicans who claim to be motivated by their Christian faith, have been pursuing in practice, if not always advocating in theory. If they’re deriving their commitments from a religion, it’s pretty clearly not the one taught by Jesus. Many people have made this same point in recent years, but it doesn’t seem to have occurred to any of them that another religion that’s active in today’s America does teach all the things the GOP supports. That religion, of course, is Satanism, and more specifically the version of it taught in Anton Szandor LaVey’s The Satanic Bible.
I didn’t know this, but Anton LaVey was also heavily influenced by Ayn Rand. He is credited with saying “I give people Ayn Rand with trappings,” and her influence is easy to see in a few of his Nine Satanic Statements. For example, Satan represents kindness to those who deserve it instead of love wasted on ingrates and Satan represents vengeance instead of turning the other cheek or, my favorite, Satan represents responsibility to the responsible instead of concern for psychic vampires   (psychic vampires being the people Ayn Rand would call moochers, looters or second-handers, and Mitt Romney would call 47% of the American population).      

Sunday, December 29, 2013

One Down …

Here’s a heartwarming holiday story: “A renowned Wall Street tycoon gave away his entire $800 million fortune before falling to his death in a suicide jump this week.” Hopefully this starts a trend.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Film Recommendations

Say what you want about the BBC, it puts American television to shame. They occasionally have programs aimed at adults with fully developed frontal lobes. We Americans get Romper Room. Here is an example of what I mean. This is a BBC documentary about the History of the English language that is very enlightening and entertaining. The second is a 1983 series about Orwell. This is the first episode, “Such, Such Were the Joys.”. If you havn’t seen these, they are well worth your time. You’ll thank me for this. Really, you will.

As you watch these, reflect on the fact that Duck Dynasty is one of the most popular shows in America.

Friday, December 27, 2013

A Note To Hedge Fund Managers: Go To Hell

I’m imagining a happy, productive community of sturdy, hard-working individuals, the kind who populate the fantasies of Republican pundits. I see farmers growing food and carpenters building homes. Dad is going to the office, promising little Skippy that he’ll hit him some fly balls after work. Mom looks on from the kitchen window with a dreamy smile. The milkman wears a bow tie and a paper hat. The local butcher is a jolly, avuncular fellow who knows everyone’s first name, not because the company orders him to but because he’s a genuinely friendly guy. Every little boy has a paper route and wants to grow up to be Henry Ford.

The bustling sounds of progress are everywhere. Everybody works and contributes. No one slacks. It’s the place Peggy Noonan dreams about after the brandy and Valium have kicked in. Rush ponders it during his refractory periods. He tries to explain its wonders to his bed mates, but thirteen year old Dominican hookers just don’t get it. It’s the place that dastardly old phony Reagan always conjured up to distract us from the real business of America, which was being conducted by the savings and loan industry, Oliver North, Nicaraguan Contras and Salvadoran death squads.

Funny, I look around this prosperous community of busy, industrious bees, and I don’t see any hedge fund managers. They’re just not there. I see lawyers and bankers who do, after all, perform necessary services, but no hedge fund managers. No commodities traders or currency speculators either, unless they are the figures dangling from a gibbet outside of town. The sun rises and sets on a community that is happily oblivious to the dark arts of financial chicanery. The hedge fund manager simply has no place. He is as useless as tits on a boar, as granddad used to say. Nothing but an extra mouth to feed. Hand him a broom or tell him to get the fuck out of Dodge. No. Make him buy his own broom. You have to teach these moochers self-reliance.

If you were stuck on an island, what would the hedge fund manager contribute? Advice? “Don’t build that boat yet, Frank, there’s too much uncertainty in the market. Sand castles are a much sounder investment.” He’d be the first one to recommend eating the children should cannibalism become necessary, and he would steal off other people’s plates when they weren’t looking.

Once again my biases are showing. I’m sorry. It’s just that, well, uh, how should I put this, I can’t stand the greedy motherfuckin’ cocksuckers, okay? But just to show you that I’m not a hard guy, I would say that I don’t dislike like them simply because they are greedy mutherfuckin’ cocsuckers. I dislike them because they are nothing but greedy mutherfuckin’ cocksuckers. If any of these turd blossoms ever said or did anything thoughtful or original my attitude might soften a bit. They don’t, at least not publicly. None of them ever display any genuine wit, learning, creativity, originality or even charm. They have no interesting hobbies or pursuits. Inside they are no different from the NASCAR rube down the block who, if you handed him twenty million dollars, wouldn’t have the imagination to do anything more intelligent with it than buy fifty flat screen TVs and collect vehicles. Their idea of a high class outing seems to be sitting in the luxury boxes at a football game. Some of them mindlessly hoard bullshit art, but that’s just an investment. Like most Americans, they don’t really have any intellectual dimension to their lives at all. They just consume consume consume the same trashy and vulgar shit as the rest of us. Their fortunes enable them to do it to a truly decadent and disgusting excess.

These are the soulless motherfuckers who put bumper stickers on their cars that say “He who dies with the most toys wins” and really mean it. Know what I’m saying?

Yet we put these greedy ass bores on a pedestal and let them get away with serious felonies that would land us serfs in the poke. The greedy mutherfuckin’ cocksucker in the linked article was guilty of a hit and run. His defense lawyer argued that his greedy mutherfuckin cocksucker of a client fell asleep at the wheel because of sleep apnea that was brought on by, wait for it, the “new car smell” in his Mercedes. It sounds to me like he may suffer from affluenza as well, but this story is a couple of years old and that bogus concept hadn’t entered the language yet.

The judge ordered jail time but suspended the sentence. The victim, who wasn’t killed but had been badly injured, was pissed. The judge didn’t care. He said, “There is nothing I can do in this courtroom to make your life better. You can be stuck or continue on a path of healing.” Someone might remind the judge that his job isn’t to make the victim’s life better but to enact justice. Then again, what would you expect from someone who uses cheesy, Oprahfied phrases like “continue on a path of healing”?

The district attorney had already dropped the felony charges down to misdemeanors. Why? Let him explain in his own words: “Felony convictions have some pretty serious job implications for someone in Mr. Erzinger's profession …” Indeed. Luckily they don’t have serious job implications for the rest of us. It’s refreshing to see such thoughtfulness in a DA. Normally they’re such meanies. He continued: “When you're talking about restitution, you don't want to take away his ability to pay.” I was a legal clerk at the DA child support enforcement office for several years. We used to take people’s licenses away all of the time, and many of these people, tradesmen like plumbers and carpenters, needed their trucks. Taking away their licenses was almost tantamount to taking away their jobs. Guys would be in the office complaining about this every day. Wanna know how much difference it made? Doodley squat. To get their licenses reinstated they needed to pay something like the equivalent of three months child support plus a hefty penalty fee. Almost no one could afford it. Once we got your license you were basically in a world of shit, just as we planned. When it came to restitution, we didn’t give a rat’s ass about taking away one’s ability to pay. We grabbed you by the nuts and squeezed.

Meanwhile, greedy mutherfuckin’ cocksucker Martin Erzinger whined about the “slanderous media campaign” against him. Sounds to me like baby needs a nap. I suggest Mr. Erzinger abscond to the nearest showroom, sneak into the backseat of a Mercedes and let that soothing new car smell waft him to sleep.

Two side notes. Mr. Erzinger was forced to take a leave of absence from his job. Miraculously, Vail didn’t collapse. Two, do you suppose some of Mr. Erzinger’s clients golf with the judge or the DA?

And I don’t wanna hear about their compassion. I get sick and tired of the media doing puff pieces on these grifters by showing us their warm and fuzzy side. I know a lot of financial elites donate to charity. Big whoop. I’m sure Jamie Dimon is a swell guy who loves his kids. So did a lot of the guards at Auschwitz. (I know he’s not a hedge fund manager, but he’s part of the same criminal tribe.) I’ve no doubt that when he bumps into Bono on the slopes at Davos every year, they shed a few tears for the poor and the dispossessed. “Believe me, Bono, if I could make everyone an economically viable unit in the New Global Economy I would, but I can’t. So we’re just gonna have to lower my taxes and cut Social Security instead.”

“That’s so deep, Jamie. Wanna come back to the lodge for a Pilates session with me and Deepak? Niall Ferguson’s going to stop by.”

“Then it’s a date!”

My contempt runneth over. Sorry. And sorry for all the foul language, but I felt the topic justified it. It always stimulates a certain, uh, intensity of feeling that requires the kind of strong emphasis that profanity so usefully supplies. Yes, I seriously used “turd blossom”. I’m fully aware of its origins. Credit must aways be given where credit is due. George W Bush popularized a slang term that, in my opinion, has enriched our language.


Kids Today & Then

Back in Russia, a couple of instructors at the school I (sometimes) attended used to lament that kids today were obsessed with pop culture and no longer read Pushkin. That being said, I dated a girl who worked in a store, no college education, who had read all of Shakespeare in translation and could intelligently discuss Mark Twain’s writing. Seriously. I’ve known many American graduate students who couldn’t do that. They all have iPhones, though, and back in my day many of them religiously watched Friends