Monday, July 20, 2015

The View From The Center

I am a fat, white, middle-aged man sitting on the couch. I’m wearing a baseball cap and watching sports. I pay attention to commercials. I’m not politically active, but I vote out of a vague sense of duty. I’m not a Republican or a Democrat and do not vote along party lines. I proudly say that I vote for the “best person.”

I’ve never left the United States because, as I’ve told my friends, “there’s plenty to see right here.”  I do not read for pleasure. I’m not clear on the difference between a Honduran and a Salvadoran or a Mexican.  For that matter, I’m not one hundred percent on the difference between the Chinese and the Japanese. But it doesn’t matter, because such issues never, ever  come up in my day-to-day life. Such knowledge is totally irrelevant to my work, and nobody in my social circle knows or cares about such information. It is as alien to our concerns as astrophysics or ballet.

I’m a moderate, but my views, such as they are, tend to lean center right. For example, I believe the United States needs to be tough on crime, tough on terrorism, and tough on illegal aliens. I think we need to stand up to Putin, Iran, and other enemies of democracy.  I don&rsquo't like welfare handouts, but I’m okay with a social safety net because I’m basically a decent and generous person.

In my heart of hearts, I believe blacks are less intelligent than whites, and this is why they are continually behind everyone else, but I never admit this unless I’m with friends who I know feel the same way.

(On the other hand, I secretly fear that Asians are smarter than whites, maybe a LOT smarter. This is troublesome to me, but I dismiss it with the thought that they’re robotic and lack individuality. I console myself with the knowledge that intelligence isn’t everything.)

I am, in short, the big fat white American normal. I used to be called “the vital center” in American politics. I am the demographic that candidates try to win after they’ve secured their  party’s nomination.

Lately. just lately, I’ve begun to sense something wrong with this country. I can’t put my finger on it, but I can feel in my bones that something way deep down is askew. It no longer feels like the country I grew up in. What is it?

So for the first time in my life I am paying closer attention to politics. I am listening with an open mind to candidates from both right and left that I normally wouldn’t give the time of day. This weekend I decided to give leftists like Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley a look, and what did I see?

I saw everything Rush Limbaugh says about the left. I saw every cliché about left wing activists all rolled up and bunched into a single, cringe-worthy episode that proves they are totally unfit to be taken seriously as a political force in America. I saw a screeching activist undermining her natural political allies for the sake of getting attention. I saw a spoiled child ruining it for everyone because nobody was giving her pet cause enough attention. Just as the views of people like Bernie Sanders were beginning to gain a little traction among people like me, I saw a fool, an arrant fool, deliberately cutting them off at the knees.

Meanwhile, Trump stuck to his guns. I don’t agree with a lot of what he says, but he has guts and he doesn’t back down. He talks straight. And funny as it sounds, he might be just  the kind of person this country needs … 

Saturday, July 11, 2015

No Laughing Matter

Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and Mike Huckabee are not funny. They are not fluffy celebrities that we can laugh at in between bites of Cheetos and jalapeno poppers. They are symptoms of deep political dysfunction that reflective people should be disturbed about. How is it that our political culture has degenerated to a point where these kinds of clowns and charlatans can be taken seriously as presidential candidates? This is not a joke. This is not a laughing matter. This is something that should give all serious people pause.

Has it occurred to anybody that one of these dangerous incompetents might actually stumble into the White House?

This is not a television show. This is not a popularity contest. We are not judging contestants on American Idol. These people are angling for a job that gives them power to use nuclear weapons. We must insist as a culture that it be treated more seriously. One of these rich, celebrity dolts might wind up with the most powerful job in the world. One of these frivolous celebrities might be in charge of negotiating with foreign countries.

We are playing with fire. We laugh at these buffoons, but do you realize how close they are to edging their way into power? Our “serious” candidates, our Bushes and Clintons, are plutocrats with absolutely no clue about life as it is actually lived in America. Their way of thinking is stale and out-of-touch. They offer nothing but the same cliches that have been dumped down our throats like castor oil for the last thirty years. They are dull, unimaginative, and totally unable to grasp the magnitude of the problems that are confronting us. A blunt, outspoken Donald Trump type can easily pose as a “truth teller” and kick them over like so much moldy wood. Sooner or later it’s going to happen.

We are laughing at the show like it is just a joke, like it is just another episode of Keeping Up With The Kardashians. We are going to laugh ourselves right into a catastrophe.

Monday, June 15, 2015

A Dark Prediction

Watching an anthill is more interesting than anything David Brooks or Thomas Friedman ever write. It is infinitely more engaging than anything Jeb Bush or Hillary Clinton ever say. Insects are more fascinating than anything our so called “elites” ever do. I get more wisdom from ants dragging a moth carcass around than I do from Bill Gates or Warren Buffet.

I’m thunderstruck by how dull and unexceptional our “leaders” are. They are the colorless emanations of an exhausted culture. They can offer nothing but stale thinking and shopworn cliches. Sooner or later, a sinister Ted Cruz type is going to step into this leaderless vacuum and take us all down. Just watch. He’s going to kick the door down while our idiot weakling leaders dither. They will mindlessly repeat conventional wisdom while this evil demagogue speaks the “truth” to people. Fifty percent plus one of the electorate will go along with him.

I’m telling you this country is ripe for it and it will happen if we don’t get our shit together.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Indecision Time

I have a big life decision coming up. Wait, stop yawning! Should I go teach in China or should I stay with a girl I've recently started seeing? Should I choose China or the girl?

Friday, June 12, 2015

Sociopath Support

What would a support group for sociopaths look like?

“I first stopped caring about people at ten.”

“I stopped caring at birth.”

“I didn’t ask for your opinion.”

“I don’t care.”

“I don’t care either.”

“Hey, let me explain something: All of you are just objects to me.”

“You’re just an object to us.”

“ I don’t give a shit.”

“We don’t give a shit either.”

What gets me on this subject? This weird blog that I half suspect is fraudulent. At any rate, there is a fine line between sociopath and narcissist. I think we’re dealing with the latter here.

Monday, May 25, 2015

A Memorial Day Message

This cartoon is tendentious and carries a dangerous message:

We do not owe everything we have to the military. Our rights, benefits, and living standards are not bestowed on us by the Pentagon. In fact, constant warfare and a bloated military establishment are the most direct and dire threats to constitutional government there is, as Madison famously pointed out: “Of all the enemies of public liberty, war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of all the others.” We should honor those who have fought and died in wars, but we should do so from an honest perspective. We do not need not to distort history or succumb to militarism to pay tribute to the victims of U.S. wars. I don’t wish to give offense, but no American soldier has died defending our freedom since World War Two. Ho Chi Minh, Manuel Noriega and Saddam Hussein posed absolutely no threat to our “freedom.”

Terrorists may threaten our physical safety, but they have no ability to subvert or destroy our liberty. Homegrown flag wavers are chiefly responsible for doing that. Sharia Law is not coming to America and never could, not because of the military, but because of American popular culture, which is totally antithetical to fundamentalist Islam. The burka is no match for American Idol or Dancing with the Stars, not even close. Our crass stupidity will save us from Muslim theocracy, brothers and sisters, count on it.

The invasion of Afghanistan may or may not have been just retribution for 9/11, but our freedoms weren’t threatened by the Taliban and their medieval beliefs. None of the grubby little skirmishes we’ve engaged in over the last half century had anything to do with preserving our freedom. All they did was enrich a few privileged industries and make us hated everywhere in the world.

This constant, uncritical praise of the military is deeply unsettling. It creates a category of individuals — soldiers — and an institution — the military — that are effectively beyond criticism. This is pernicious in the extreme and characteristic of fascism, not democracy. It is also reflective of deep insecurity: It’s not a coincidence that all of this hyper-inflated soldier love is occurring while the U.S. is in palpable decline and losing wars.

Our exaggerated military worship is just one more gaudy extreme in a culture full of gaudy extremes, and stems from the same source: Our inner emptiness and moral bankruptcy. Almost everybody, I think, senses on some level that there is something seriously askew in America. Ever since Bush the country has had a slightly eery, slightly alien feel to it. If you are poor or working class, which I have been most of my life, there is a distinct atmosphere of hostile condescension that wafts down from every American institution. You are treated like complete shit and quite deliberately held down. You experience the utter hollowness and bullshit of our national rhetoric. You live the gap between how we talk about ourselves and what we really are.

You are ripped off by government, you are ripped off by business. You are ripped off by your insurance company, ripped off by your bank, and ripped off by your boss.

One day, you wake and realize that every goddamed institution in the country is ripping you off, and they are not delivering the goods anymore. The trains aren’t running on time. You don’t get rewarded for hard work. The quality of everything feels diminished, and there is precious little that is wholesome or virtuous. You can’t even eat at McDonald’s for under eight bucks anymore, and that shit is practically inedible, and the little plastic and nylon flags you buy on the Fourth of July are made in fucking China! 

So what do we do? Start looking for someone or something to believe in. We start groping around for heroes. But who in this increasingly ugly country is heroic? Banks and corporations are run by out and out thieves, none of them even remotely loyal to the country. Our politicians are low-grade non-entities completely in hock to said thieves. The few who actually grasp the hellish situation we’re in show little inclination to do anything about it because we are not their concern. Athletes are venal, grossly overpaid cry babies and felons;  lawyers are lawyers, astronauts are dull, and most celebrities are vapid twits. Who’s left? Soldiers, and, of course, first responders. That is to say, cops and soldiers. This is not healthy. This is ominous.

I maintain that a healthy society of mature grown-ups doesn’t have a compulsive and childish need for heroes, and that it wouldn’t fetishize authority figures.    

I have students who have never been alive when the US wasn’t at war.  I’m happy to report that many of them display a healthy cynicism about it and occasionally make sarcastic quips about Amurrica! (I have nothing to do with this. I never preach political viewpoints to kids). Nevertheless, this soft core militarism has been the permanent background music of their lives. Bombing, flag waving, drone strikes and sticky soldier worship is the norm for them. The idea that peace, not war, should be the normal state of affairs in our foreign policy is basically unknown to them. It’s just not part of their calculus. They do not necessarily support war, nor do they feel compelled to oppose it. It just is and they accept it, just as you accept smog and traffic jams, work, death and taxes. This is mission accomplished.  

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Mencken On The Radio

Ever wonder what H.L. Mencken sounded like? You’re in luck. Check out this radio interview that he gave in 1948, shortly before the stroke that put him out of action forever.  He sounds like a stodgy old grump, which, of course, he was.


Saturday, May 16, 2015

I’m Already Sick Of Elon Musk

Once upon a time, there was a planet drowning in bullshit and fraud. Then, one day, Elon Musk came along at saved it all with lithium batteries, or so his press agents said.

I know very little about Elon Musk and care even less. Is he the one who sky dives and rides around in a hot air balloon over the Himalayas, dreaming about space flight, or is that the other asshole? I forget. So many tedious billionaires, so little time. I do know that this bold capitalist wheedled one fine deal with Big Guvmn't in Nevada to build his "gigafactory" outside Reno:

$725 million in sales tax abatements over 20 years, which is equal to about 80 percent of the total sales tax revenue state government receives in a year.

$332 million in real and personal property tax abatements over 10 years—an amount equaling two and a half times the amount of property tax revenue Washoe County receives in a year.

$195 million in transferable tax credits, which other Nevada companies will be able to buy from Tesla in order to reduce their own tax liabilities to the state.

$27 million in payroll tax abatements over 10 years.

$8 million in electricity rate discounts over eight years.
Basically, Tesla is operating tax free for ten years and gets a discount on the electric bill. That’s the invisible hand of capitalism in action.

That’s the way our world works and there’s no use complaining about it. You and I would take the same deal, but just don’t give me all this jive about free markets, pulling yourself up by your bootstraps, and welfare moochers and looters. The government picks winners and losers, and it’s done so since Alexander Hamilton ran the Treasury, so let’s drop all of the Milton Friedman, University of Chicago free market bullshit.

And please stop telling me that Elon Musk is some kind of visionary. Is he is bad as the Wall Street parasites who are eating our colons from the inside out? No. He’s actually making something. But just because he builds electric cars doesn’t mean he’s Leonardo da Vinci. Stop telling me all of his quirks and personality flaws are symptoms of genius. He seems to me like a full-fledged creature of the modern age: a media savvy techno geek with a Gordon Gekko attitude. Forgive me if I don’t get wet.

What bothers me is the notion that change only comes through actions of billionaire businessmen. The rest of us are conditioned to sit back and wait, passively, until some slick sharpy with money decides we should do something different. Then it’s American Exceptionalism time, baby!They will create jobs and carry the rest of us to a new paradise.

It’s a version of the aristocratic principle: nothing can be done until one of our betters decides it is profitable to do it. Collective action is not necessary. The John Galts will take care of everything and see us through, even if they have to destroy unions and lower living standards to do it, which Elon Musk, hero of late stage crony capitalism, will do.

The very idea that we get everything from the generosity of individual billionaires is a serious revision of American history. Enlightened rich men did not end slavery or Jim Crow, or give women the vote, or give workers a forty hour week, a pension, and a minimum wage. These were gained from the bottom up. The notion that everything comes from entrepreneurs is a dangerous fallacy.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Some Bullshit Happening Somewhere

This is pure genius, network news broadcasts in a nutshell:

Sunday, May 10, 2015

My All Time Favorite Movie Lines

Now that I have your attention …

Just kidding. It’s Sunday and politics have become a great big bore to me. I remain as firm as ever in my conviction that Jeb Bush will be the next president of the United States. I am not happy about this. I don’t want it to happen. I am just acknowledging reality. There will be a third Bush, America. It is written. We are sinners and this is our punishment.

And so what? Is he going to do anything substantively different than what President Hillary Clinton would do? Yeah, he’ll nominate some primitive, hanging judge prick conservative for the Supreme Court, some scowling, dehydrated, ass-puckered “strict constructionist” type who pines for the glory days of the eighteenth century; Clinton will nominate a solid liberal. He’ll oppose gay marriage; Clinton will support it. He’ll tell the rubes they should be able to wear sidearms to Disneyland; she’ll favor background checks, but only after carefully affirming her commitment to our Second Amendment rights. Viva effing democracy.

I won’t bore you with any more Hillary bashing, apart from saying that her phony baloney populism is an insult to anything with a fore-brain and opposable thumbs. I think she has genuine liberal sentiments, but ambition trumps sentiments in politics, and she’s running for president of the United States, not president of Sweden or Denmark, and we don’t truck with too much liberalism. Not one minute after she she snookers us libs into voting for her, she’ll be off to brunch with Lawrence Summers and Lloyd Blankfein, and they won’t be eating hot dogs and spare ribs like the folks. They will, however, be having Very Serious Discussions about raising the retirement age and cutting those wicked entitlements. They will be drafting her inevitable speech about “fiscal responsibility” that we’re all going to have to endure. Just watch.

I can hear it in my nightmares. I can hear it in my daymares. I can see it, smell it, feel it and sense it as if it’s a tangible, living presence hovering over my shoulder getting ready to pounce, the Ghost of Establishment Politician’s Past come to smother me with smugness, condescension and hypocrisy.

But that’s moot. She is going to stumble and implode, allowing Jeb to squeak into the White House. Hearken unto my words, brothers and sisters, the third Bush cometh. Plan accordingly. He’s already cutting backstairs deals with Ralph Reed types to garner wingnut support. The media is already doing puff pieces about him; stay tuned for the companion series about his Venezuelan wife, his abiding Catholic faith, and his deep commitment to education reform. The country club that runs our increasingly dingy nation wants him in there and that’s that. The fix is in, suckers.

(They wouldn’t mind Hillary either, mind you, but the Chris Matthews, Howard Fineman, Maureen Dowd Axis of Vapidity can’t abide older ladies with wrinkles. I’m willing to bet that a plurality of voters can’t either. And don’t go throwing poll numbers at me. They mean nothing — NO THING — at this point in the election cycle. They just give nerdy Beltway types something to natter about on slow news days.)

Enough. No more politics!

As promised, some good (bad?) movie lines.

Apollo 13. The lunar module is orbiting around the dark side of the moon. The crew has lost radio contact with earth, and they’ve had to cut the power down to conserve energy. It’s dark and cold. The situation is dire. One of the men then says to the Tom Hanks character, “It hurts when I urinate, Jack.” It cracks me up every time. The idea of chaude-pisse is more terrifying to me than being stranded in space.

Titanic, quite possibly one of the stupidest movies ever made. Worse, perhaps, than Shakespeare in Love, which is saying a lot — I couldn’t stomach ten minutes of that abomination, and this was on an eleven hour flight! I went back to the drink cart while the stewardesses were napping, made myself  a few Stoly drivers and watched Greenland pass by instead (alas, Iceland was covered by clouds. Maybe next time). Anyway, Leonardo and Kate are gamboling about on deck, giddy with new found love, when they hear the iceberg slash through the hull. Leonardo gravely informs his mistress, “This is bad.”

Planet of the Apes. One the best movies ever made, based on a novel by a great French author/satirist named Pierre Boulle, who also wrote The Bridge Over the River Kwai. Mention that bit of trivia to impress your friends, but it probably won’t help you get a girl into bed. What can I say? We live in an imperfect world.

Okay, we’re at the very end, when everyone is on the beach. Charleton Heston mounds his horse with the lovely, lovely Nova. Dr. Zira comments that she didn’t think humans were capable of monogamy, and Charleton Heston replies, “On this planet, it’s easy.”

Anything from Network, but especially Arthur Jenson’s (Ned Beaty’s) “The world is a business” speech. It’s one of the most astute descriptions about how the world really works ever made.

That’s all I can think of off the top of my head.

Just for the hell of it: