a writer's journal - politics, music, american culture, esoteric aspects of life, and stories

Saturday

Microscopophilia


swiped from a tight little blog. I note her blog's name also comes from a poem.

A nice point somebody else made, anyway

This is a great bit of connecting the dots. This is what America needs - Insourcing. Yes, I know that insourcing is used currently to describe the ballyhooed phenomenon of foreign companies employing Americans in America. Well, that's typically because the foreign company bought out the American's former U.S. employer. And it basically doesn't happen very much at all. No, insourcing should refer to bringing foreigners into America in order to do the sort of jobs here the rest of us don't want.

Which brings my mind to class war. Insourcing new labor for the class war... What is so interesting about America's class struggle is the lack of heirarchical structure. Most class systems use pecking order systems, wherein each member knows his place, and a member of level n + 2 can peck not just n + 1, but n and n - 1 and on down. What we've got going on here is a crazy mishmash. Nobody knows who in America is worse off - Hispanics or blacks - Hispanics have worse jobs, blacks fewer; blacks get the worst education, hispanics don't assimilate enough. Are Asians inferior to Whites? It must be troubling to republicans not to know the answer. But the root cause of these types of confusion is the new aspect of class war - it is no longer a "hot" war, it is a cold war, like the war between Russia and America or Coke and Pepsi.

The class war is cold because it is no longer carried out primarily by the man in the street or office, persecuting and discriminating. It is carried out through indirect means. It is carried out through tax codes and educational funding, through police department policy, so spectacularly in Hollywood debasement of the enemy, etc. It is a bureaucratic war, the same way all cold wars are. A war of rhetoric, i sinuous war of jockeying for position.

Monday

Politics is Over

Aren't you glad politics is all over? Nowadays it even seems longer than baseball.

What is politics, now, anyways? In Israel, people kill each other, and blow themselves up, and torture homeless people - why? - because there are two completely irreconcilable parties struggling for control of some territory. It kind of makes us in this country look like wimps, doesn't it? When the stakes are so much higher here, aren't they?

When liberals get uptight about the right wing using religious rhetoric and exploiting religious media channels and churches, the problem can be crystalized by that phrase, "completely irreconcilable". The nature of religious thought simply bypasses the time-honored process of consensus through discourse. As a liberal, I simply don't have any rational argument that can interface with "The Bible teaches us that..." gay marriage is bad; "The church believes that..." abortion is wrong; "It's obvious that..." Israel is our greatest friend in the Middle East. What can you do, but take up arms against those who have such concepts lodged in their brains?

Now, I am not advocating that they must be tortured, killed, or tricked into blowing themselves up. I simply think that we must live with them, but forget about using politics too. Politics is over. I think maybe mind control is a promising avenue of research here, and in the meantime blast rock music outside their churches where they are hiding, like we did with Noriega.

Tuesday

Examing an old cliche: "the present does not exist"

-We view time in linear fashion, you know, the future is a line that stretches on seemingly forever in front, and the past is a line in back, and the present is a dot that creeps forward. The present doesn't have extension in reality, it has no length, it's instantaneous, it is less than a millisecond long, it is infinitely short. Of course there's a growing group of physicists who believe that time can only be reduced to minima, to quanta, the way energy can be; discrete packets of time, like a grid, like the whole universe is information packets plotted on a computer. I don't know about that but I think it's pretty useful to think of the present in terms of a fuzzy area around where you think your dot should be on the time-line. Fuzzy like an electron, or an idea. Anyway... the fuzzy area extends in front of the putative now-point a certain distance depending on your immediate expectations of the next few moments: at least a few milliseconds. Maybe a few seconds. Depends on what my energy state is - the higher the state, the further out the fuzzy area extends.

I mean, if I'm driving, and at a certain moment I detect a skid, my now really starts to stretch. Because a whole series of seemingly inevitable experiences suddenly pile into my moment, some of which are technically in the future by a few ticks of the true clock. The car is moving at a certain rate in an unpleasant way, and suddenly I am into the shoulder of the highway, carried by a smearing of rain; and my now is smeared too, it all happens at once. In retrospect, I can smooth out the picture if I need to, re-establish proper non-fuzziness, through a conscious thought process, a form of work, of re-living. But the true memory is recorded as a smear. The copy memory, which looks more like conventional living time with a very tiny fuzzy area (almost imperceptible), that's like a digital enhancement. I try to keep both in the files but the copy can easily replace the original.

Consider the facts, in terms of fuzzy relativity... when we talk long distance, our nows get gently stretched, as we sync into the very slight delay, and expertly talk over each other's pauses. This is fine and even, like strolling in rhythm with arms linked. My perception of any given point on the chat transcript is either slightly behind yours or slightly in front, depending on whether it was you or I who was then speaking; and If someone were to actually record the talk from a point on the lines, that would certainly be a convenient baseline for comparing our nows. But it would be just a compromise, and "incorrect" about every moment, rather than half the time, as our assessments would be. Or one could say it would be correct but only for itself.

The signals are traveling at light speed, as well, as they course through the phone system. So it's even worse for the signals - the problems of relativity now become huge, because your words imagine that my words have slowed to a crawl, or aged hundreds of years, or something. Whatever happens when things go light speed.

I'm kidding about that, but it does interest me, the messiness of "now". I can sit and track the present, watch the present move like a dot along a line, tracking the changing surroundings, listening to conversation or watching the car skid or just sitting in bed reading, letting the lines I read be the now-dot. But it takes a moment for me to convert sensations to something my brain can use, react to, understand, or question. And if there's more than one thing going on, I can pay closer attention to one thing or another, and the fuzzy now changes shape.

I concentrate on my body as I read, and the now-dot is a very large fuzz ball now: because I know what will happen in each successive moment, and the future of a second or two dissolves into a longer present, maybe the length of half the time it takes for me to breathe in becomes a single now, a thicker moment. Sure I "know" intellectually that the now isn't a half breath long. It creeps forward relentlessly, never stopping, never speeding up; I know that. But when I meditate, I really can change its speed, and not only that, its shape. It changes from a particle to a cloud, or something like that; I'm not sure exactly what happens, but the now expands a bit. It's like jumping, you can't get it to expand very far, unless something catastrophic is happening. Like, I could jump for a tenth of a second or maybe even a half second, but beyond that... the only way to stretch my hang time is to jump off a building. That's like the car skidding.

Which brings me to falling. Time's like that. We all move through time together, falling at the same rate with respect to each other, basically. Maybe someone drifts ahead for a moment, that's the relativity aspect... But one thing we know, as you get old, subjective time speeds up. A baby falls much slower than an old man. It's like, you fall, and fall faster, until you die - bang, you hit the ground, you no longer experience time. Just a metaphor, of course; we all fall the same speed basically. Unless you believe the multiple universes theory, in which case the you I experience falls at the same rate as me, faster as I go faster, then we all crash together, meanwhile in your universe I went at your rate, and when I crashed you just watched me stop moving while you kept falling, and had to leave me behind. But I don't believe that. And the physicists know - the literate ones - that most of what they deal in when it comes to abstract stuff is attaching mathematics to metaphors. They know it's made-up, like poetry; they know black holes are still just a metaphor, the atom and electron are metaphors, the now is a metaphor.

Actually, the present is the future a few milliseconds in front of you that you are anticipating as inevitable and the few milliseconds behind you that you are still processing, yes? The point is, there's no fine line separating it all. And things happening that close together I can't tease out onto different spots on the mental timeline anyway; it's a local jumble.

So try flexing your awareness of the present. Can you make it bigger? It's rather like trying to be aware at once of everything from one peripheral edge of the vision field to the other. But not really, I think it's deeper than that. It's more to do with how you are processing time, than how much you process at once. How aware you are of your processing of your immediate past-moments, and how aware you are of the edge of your future as it touches your present, blends with it.

Newsblogging... or, talking to myself

Don't think too hard about this article. Don't ask how partisan HRW is; don't ask who they want to win the election, whether they love or hate America, whether they work day and night to bring liberals to power and stifle the actions of our military and state departments. Don't think about how it happened, how it can be happening in our enlightened nation as we speak; don't try to reconstruct in your mind the actual events, how denigration became abuse, how torture was justified in the prevention of further attacks or further arrests, how far up the chain of command responsibility for this lies. Don't think about what it says regarding the brute power of certain elements in our government - don't wonder what else is happening inside the prison walls that you don't know about, can't know about for your own good.

Don't feel sorrow for the victims, don't feel sorrow for the routine prison employees who are manipulated into taking part in such misdeeds, don't feel sorrow for yourself in having such things done in your name, done through the power you grant your government, done on your watch.

Just go numb

Numb

Here we are,
We are Americans,
We are children of genocide, slavery, religion, capitalism, freedom, pleasure.
Do you deserve what you have, while 95% of the world makes do on dollars or pennies a day? That is your pleasure.
Do you make the most of your opportunities, to read what you like, move and dress how you like, find almost anything you need? While most of the world has such circumscribed options...
That is your freedom.
Is your wage appropriate to the suffering your work imposes on you? On your time, your body, your talents? And do you get sufficient value for the money you make?
That is your capitalism at work.
Do you live by your beliefs? Or should I say, look at how you live, look at how your existence affects the earth and the people around you. From that looking, try and reconstruct what your true beliefs are.
That is your religion.
Do you know how you benefit from the slave wages paid to the laborers who make your shoes, your food, your plastic toys?
Oh! you can reply. That's not real slavery. I've read about real slavery, we don't do that anymore. And you don't understand my religious beliefs, you don't understand how hard I work every damn day, what price my ancestors paid for my freedoms, and what I really live for.

And the policy of the United States towards Islamic peoples isn't anything at all like genocide, you'll add, pre-emptively. You can't compare such things, it's despicable to talk that way.

But it's true, I'll mutter, numbly: we ARE children of genocide, and people don't change much. The day is rapidly approaching when U.S. policies in the middle east will exactly replicate Israeli policies, on a much grander scale.

No. Stop thinking about it all. Worried, worried. Fears and facts swirling in my head, getting jumbled, the machine grinds to a halt, cools, goes numb.

Our government kidnaps Muslims, tortures them, kills them, denies everything, covers it up. As far as I'm concerned, we can forget about worrying about the Patriot Act - that's peanuts, a propaganda stunt, mostly intended to win votes by creating the illusion of decisive action and steely resolve. Don't complain about the Patriot Act anymore; complain about our government disappearing its prisoners.

Ok, I'm back to normal, now. I can function again, I'm no longer numb, that was just a brief moment of shock, like a piece of a mourning process.

Sunday

Belatedly, a farewell

Jerzy the doorman for the high-rise was going on vacation for the whole month of October, so we had pitched in to get him a replacement. He thought it was great, and comes in all the time to see us (he spent a weekend in Dallas with his brother, and I think they spent all his vacation money at a couple of strip clubs) and more importantly, change the batteries. He also fixed its jaw when it got stuck too far open - someone must have been pretending (?) to make out with it, or making it drink (to see the liquor spill through its ribs).

Anyway at first I was quite repelled by the fact that one of the songs it sang as you walked past it was "Superfreak" but after all, Rick James probably appreciated the crassness of it. In life, in death. The fans don't seem to mind either. We got it at the Wal-Mart, after we saw they had one their by their entrance. It's Wal-Mart who made famous the geriatric door greeter whose ostensible purpose is to brighten your day, and perhaps employ one of society's castoffs who probably once owned a mom & pop store that couldn't keep up with the times, but whose real job is to peskily check suspicious looking people's receipts as they leave the store. Now there's a truly morbid skeleton paying ironic tribute to a recently deceased disco singer (people insist on dignifying Rick by calling him a funk musician, although he really wasn't; and why should funk be more impressive than disco?) to keep the greeter company, or lighten the work load perhaps.

Miss Sheila on the third floor says it all the time how it scares people (her?), I could see how it could, with its sinister eyes and muffled ventriloquism, unpleasant tarantula dance moves and smart black suit. I tacked a post-it on its lapel that says "Rick James RIP, Bustin' Out" and then someone stole its legs, now it's a funky midget. Jerzy's pissed at that, says "that shows how much I'm needed back on the job... all these vandalisms."

Future historians will often begin the story of our times with, "Americans were a crass people." It's a highly refined crudeness, though. Born of an almost instinctive appreciation for stupid and garish ironies. A highly developed love of profound inversions displayed through cheapness, trivial desecrations of (for example) a man's death. A man who sang about sleaze, sex, and clumsy pleas for reconciliation. Who then came to embody those songs and the destructive drives implicit in their glamor. And pretended to dig his way out, pretended to clean himself up, in order to be granted another shot at the big time; although he probably didn't believe it was honestly given to him. It wasn't. He was returning to pop culture cachet as the butt of a series of lampoons by a cable comedian who wasn't even out of diapers when Rick made his first recordings, then he died with a dozen drugs in his veins including more than one popular antidepressant, and then some fucker stole the legs off Jerzy's skeleton doll that memorialized him for us. It's just so tragic. It's not grand tragedy, but it's more affecting because it's trivial, pathetic tragedy. Why, god? Why did you have to take the skeleton doll's legs away from us??? Just when Jerzy had refreshed the doll, changed his batteries and fixed his jaw? You saw fit to call to you the legs of your faithful servant, can they do more good with you in heaven?

Tuesday

I hear you, I see you, I love you, shut up, go away

Music is so casual. Books are so uptight, they say, "start at the beginning please," they don't make any sense unless you give them some time. Books are squareish, records are round - and doesn't that say it all?

Throwing on an old friend record like a sweater, you don't have to think about her, she's just there with you, filling that cool space with warm gentle memory-thrum. Or go to the store and pick up someone new, judge her by her cover: you can do that with records. A casual contact. Once in a while it breeds something deeper. Hard to express to other people in your life just what get from her.

Books you might come back to again and again, too. But them you less party with than revere. You spin records, books you cradle. And it's so rare anyway, to connect like that with a book. The worst is when you go looking for a book you loved once and realize she's idiotic. Fills you with disgust - "what did I ever see in you?" You want it out of sight. But a record you once had fun with, no matter how naive or goofy, or just plain dumb, you can go back to. That's so casual.

You treat books casual and you'll regret it. Leave'm splayed on the floor and they'll pretty soon go to pieces on you, making a mess. You might find a lost dusty page that belonged to her under your dresser when you move, and it won't make any sense on its own but it's a scathing reproach for that very senselessness. And don't let them get wet, their words run together when they're full of tears, they get sticky, heavy, moldy, ugh... Best to put them back on the shelf carefully. Keep the writings on the wall. Titles out so others, visitors, can see. How should you stack them? By size I suppose.

Records too though, you mistreat them more. You dump shit all over them without hardly realizing you're doing it. You give them scars, make them jumpy. They might even refuse to play with you. You've got more though. "Fine" you think, "I'll play one of the others." You toss her to your left, on a chair or bed or table or floor, out of the way, turn away.

Actually, you think, you should throw her out completely.

And sometimes you look at 'em all, and think, "I wish I didn't have any of you anymore, I wish I had a completely different horde. How, in God's name, did I end up with you all?" (Like they're your children. Running around, giving you no peace. But they're not your kids, where do they come from? From love made somewhere else. The ones much younger than you are especially baffling.) Whichever one's making noise at that moment, you start mocking it, mimicking it with a screechy voice.

Records, you listen to though. You listen without even thinking about it. You don't really listen to books. You just sit there with them, quietly. Aw, you know you love to listen to them make that same old noise. Peel the shirt off one more time and give it a go. Ok, now, back in the stack - you blow some dust off, wipe with your cuff. We like that damage on the records if it isn't too serious, after all, it's personal; we caused it, we can live with it.

I wish I loved books like I love records. Hell, I wish I loved womankind like I love records and even books. Squareish women, round women. Racy or enigmatic in appearance. Casual ones, serious ones. Splayed on the floor, or up on the shelf, or spinning in place. Pleasure, pleasure, life is about pleasure, isn't it? A record won't tell you, a book will; but you won't listen. A women might tell me, a bookish woman. I need a musical companion, I think. I want to hear someone new tonight, I want to get lost tonight for hours on end inside a good one, actually I want one of my old favorites tickling my ear while I get lost inside a new one, experience both at the same time; I think I want to go all the way through three of 'em, one right after the other, until I can hardly see straight and my body aches and my head's practically spinning, and all the while I want that old favorite I've had around for years, just tickling my ear gently, not distracting me, but keeping things lively.

Do they creak when you open them up? Or make a whooshing noise when you pop them out of their packaging? How long has it been..? Oh, I know what satisfies me. Macking on a few interesting ones at the Goodwill, walking out to the car with an armful, blowing all my money on them. It's art, hey; I'm a cultured dude. I've had so many, though. Some of my friends think I'm obsessed, or it's a crutch, a way of avoiding real contact, they think I think just in terms of quantity too. It isn't like that, they're all special to me. Ok, well, some are more special than others.

I might pass some on to my little brother or even my parents. I love it when my friends like the ones I'm really into, to. I let everyone borrow. I pick and choose through my friends', see what they got.

I wish I could remember the first ones, recall that feeling. It was pretty pedestrian, actually. In my twenties it was the most important thing, it was all-consuming. It was all I talked about, too. Discussing the complicated ones with my friends, pointing out serious flaws maybe. That queasy cheated feeling of I loved that one before she was everyone else's darling. Cherishing those laugh-out-loud moments when you're alone with one in your bedroom. Up all night, every night.

Nowadays I'm not so driven. It's still important, sure, but I don't let them interfere with my life. They don't change me as much, I don't so often imagine there's a deep affinity where there isn't - and there almost never is - and I definitely have trouble warming up to the new ones, and devoting enough time to them; I almost never bother to let them finish.

Sunday

Recent News

She: You need to start listening again.
He: Look at this, that volcano up north is active again.
She: You need to start listening again.
He: I am listening to you. I was also listening to the news.
She: You can't do both at once.
He: But you aren't listening to me either; there's a volcano, earthquakes, etc.
She: Yes I was, but I refused to acknowledge it. Until you registered hearing me first.
He: Uh, perhaps we should forget that, about acknowledging. Maybe we should both just talk.
She: Actually, the funny thing is, I told you about the volcano five minutes ago.
He: ...They say it's not too serious.
She: [pause] No, it isn't.
He: How can they ignore a volcano, though? It's pretty serious for the people around there, anyway.
She: Yeah, ignore at your peril.
He: Not that they can do anything about it.
She: Yeah, that's what I was saying, five minutes ago.

Friday

"You can't send mixed messages to the troops"

This line of Bush's (heard several times during the display last night) seems to confuse some people. They think it's an ultimate underhanded argument, to impugn the challenger's patriotism, imply that he is treasonous, because he discusses what's going wrong in the war.

If you notice, one of the president's major attacks on Kerry through the dabeate was his claim that Kerry's criticism of the president's own war policy made him unfit to be president. That's extraordinary - certainly a set of rules that would put Kerry in something of a bind if he followed them, no?

Well, first of all, we assume that Bush is referring to the guerilla insurgency in Iraq, but what if he means the War on Terror itself? Wouldn't that be interesting? It's not such a stretch, given what we have observed so far of the President's penchant for gravitating his thinking to the broadest of terms when dealing with any issue.

But more importantly, I think everyone's missing the deeper reading of this charge of Bush's. It is a continuation of his most fruitful line of attack, the inversion of Kerry's Vietnam credentials. Bush hasn't yet come out and explained the charge in full detail, but I'm sure he or Cheney will, and the gist of it will be: it was the criticism of the war effort in Vietnam by men such as Kerry that lost us the war, and now it the criticism of the war effort in Iraq (or against Islamic fundamentalism more broadly) by men such as Kerry that is costing us this war. This is clearly a genius move on Rove's part, and I enjoy hearing this attack because deep down, I agree with it: personally, I do think we should and will lose the war in Iraq... but that's neither here nor there, I am not an expert on the subject.

Let me just say instead that the conceptual basis for such an attack rests on the unshakeable belief of Americans that America is all-powerful, and can only lose a war by its own lack of resolve. It can only experience economic depression when its consumers lose heart and fail to purchase enough, you can only wind up a poor American if you don't exert yourself enough, democracy and capitalism American-style are the bride and groom of the prosperous world of the future, etc.

Monday

Some possible "Grand New Visions" for the Democratic Party

(As a continuation of the previous post below)

We cannot know what the great geopolitical struggles of the 21st century will consist of; I think it is naive to think that Islamic fundamentalism will pose a monolithic and symmetric threat to western capitalist manufacturing exploitation, the way the dictator-led command economies of Germany, Russia etc. did in the 20th. That said, current fears of terrorist action are justified, considering the sorry state of nuclear weapons control in Russia and Pakistan, the growing threat of nuclear competence from North Korea and Iran, and future wild cards (Indonesia, Nigeria, and South Africa may find it far more economical to buy nukes for local dominance, than to buy state of the art aircraft and armored vehicles; and such erstwhile allies and local power brokers as Japan and Turkey might drift from the U.S. sphere of influence and reformulate their own spheres.)

What if the democratic party decided to address the longterm challenge of possible nuclear terrorism from any nonsymmetric source (e.g. small rogue state, semi-independant radical organization, economically backward giant power)? The current republican plan, apparently, is deal with Islamic terror first and deal with it ruthlessly where possible and cut deals elsewhere (Pakistan, Saudi Arabia); and worry about loose nukes later. The proper, sensible response for democrats is to try to take the upper hand in terms of grand geopolitical strategy. Develop, in tandem with a couple of NATO states, a key Mideast partner (ideally Egypt, failing that Saudi Arabia, but definitely not Israel or Iraq of course), Japan, and either China or India (preferably the former, but a tough pitch), a new international intelligence agency. Outside the U.N., outside NATO, plugged into as much U.S. satellite networks as the Pentagon can be forced to stomach, and dedicated to controlling nuclear weapons at all costs, as well as working on other big ticket items (biotech weapons, piracy on the high seas, the slave trade, multinational collusion, etc.) as time and resources allow.

I don't think many Americans have a lot of faith in the competence of the CIA, FBI, and "Homeland Security" (I will never refer to that dept. without scare quotes) to protect us. Democrats should get on this. There is only one solution to the problem of loose nukes: cooperation between the capitalist empires, to develop a network of information gathering, weapons tracking and hostile cell infiltration all across the world. I think we've learned what the U.N.'s weaknesses are, and any new international peacekeeping organization should follow the model of NATO to whatever extent it does not strike out entirely into uncharted bureaucratic and logistical territory. This is something the U.S. should be throwing a lot of money at, have long-term dedication to, and serve as an organizing principle in terms of our reaction to 21st century-style conflicts (the era of asymmetric aggression).

***

A second Grand New Vision for the party of the left would be the promotion of increasing state autonomy and experimentation. In contrast to republican top-down management, characteristic of their business background, democrats should make their basic message one of diversity via state and community innovation. Democrats should begin to emphasize strongly their support for conservative states' desires to curtail gay rights, for example; the rhetoric should be, "what may be right for Massachusetts may not be right for Kansas." On every social issue, from religion to self-reliance to patriotism, democrats should try to weasel around to the right of republicans, in order to demonstrate the absurdities of those positions, and expose the triviality. Agree with the wingnuts on the (relatively) unimportant stuff, and fight harder on things that matter like Kyoto and Iraq, campaign finance and education.

Democrats are the diversity people, and this should be a keystone of the message and the talking points. Innovate in every city; instead of No Child Left Behind, which tries to impose federal standards everywhere, democrats should push for greater innovation and difference in styles of schooling across the very different cultures of American cities. Perhaps high schools should be more like colleges, easier to transfer out of, with greater independance in course structure, and with more emphasis on independant thinking. Or perhaps they should be more like discipline-oriented military academies, or return to vocational training as was much more prevalent in the 1950s, or go completely high-tech, or use student tutoring for as much as 50% of classroom education, or who knows?

If the mantra of the party became, "let each community take control," or "state's rights", or something catchier but encapsulating either of those concepts, that would be a powerful and resonant message. Don't let congress try to fix welfare, or health care, or even taxation. Yeah, let the states work out a better way to tax people. That way, if I don't like how taxes are gathered in Texas, maybe I'll move to Louisiana. Income tax gathering could be devolved to the states entirely, with the proviso that the states must forward X percent of all government revenues (income, property, sales, fees, and so forth) to D.C. for such federal programs as federal courts, the military, and the other essential departments of the executive such as the state department.

***

I think it would be pretty interesting for the democratic party to tackle the modern problems of media bias, spin, smear politics and subtle lies by political entities head-on. So my third idea for a grand re-thinking of the party would be to take the high moral ground, and over a period of a few years remake the party into a so-called party of truth. The party would seek to strengthen its ties to the most prestigious scientists, legal analysts, professors and writers, and at the same time send the word out about zero tolerance in the party of any kind of smear tactics or less than upstanding rhetoric. The basic idea is to gain a bit more credibility with the public, and emphasize that "they are about supporting business and promoting growth, we are about the truth - and the truth is, when the support business it hurts the little guy."

I admit this last idea is a bit half-baked. But it's just always seemed so bizarre to me that the greatest heroes (perhaps) of America are politicians, and our political world necessitates dissembling, distortion, smearing the opponents, and hoodwinking the public. Would it be possible to base a party on the truth? To repeat that over and over, and try to live by it, and profit by it? To make it the motto and trademark, the bankable quality? It would be worth the initial ridicule, the initial losses to the sneakier party, and the initial self-doubt.

Friday

Progressive republicans, conservative democrats

Whatever your generalized views are on the overarching ideological struggles between the U.S. political left and right in the 20th century, the so-called "American Century", it is now pretty obvious that as far as the 21st century is concerned, the republican party is the party of progressive ideology in the sense that they want change, and the democrats don't. Consider any issues, from the most nuts-and-bolts policy questions to big-picture philosophicals, such as these:

Education - democrats continue to want money to pay teachers and build inner city schools; republicans favor privatizing education as much as possible, and would like to scrap the system. NCLB is a revolutionary program designed to gradually accomplish this by declaring a majority [eventually, all] schools as failures.

Energy - democrats are comfortable with the current time-frame of oil reserves running out, and believe science and the marketplace can adjust, though it will be painful; republicans violently repudiate this laid-back attitude, and consistently target ANWAR & the Mideast

Foreign policy - democrats have no discernable ideological vision for America's place in the world, apart from continuing to play the conflicting inherited roles of arms broker and peace broker; republicans seek to spread [as they claim] democracy through force of arms.

etc. Even issues such as gay marriage are recast as progressive: a pre-emptive strike must be made via amendment, a new and christian affirmation of what marriage means, rather than simply claiming that only those who currently enjoy marriage rights should continue to - which would be a literally conservative attitude. And on and on: taxes - we tax the rich too much and must change that; environment - we hamper business too much and must change that; military - the armed forces must create ever more complex technological systems such as missile defense and tactical micro-nukes...

In the 20th century, democrats had utopian visions of political world unification [e.g. U.N.], sweeping reforms of man's relationship with his ecosystems, revolutionary labor movements and government safety nets giving power and dignity to the common man, and most basic of all universal educational and legal enfranchisement which has gradually come under attack again. What did republicans have? Protecting the old boy's club from invasion. But now it is time to admit that our party is on the defensive, and I believe part of the problem is lack of grand vision, even on such a seemingly symbolically hollow issue as space travel.

It's not inconceivable that the democratic party could try to revitalize itself through the promulgation of new grand visions, which could vie with the energetic aims of republicans'. Far easier, probably, to re-envision the party as the new conservative voice of American wisdom.

This is a continuation of my previous post on christian democracy... the democratic party must reposition itself as the party of conservative values. For solid demographic reasons, it must stop pretending it is the party of the young, and be the party of the old. After all, youth culture is presumably increasingly anomic and valueless, uninterested in long-term planning, and easily seduced by flash and responsive to advertizing pitches, or so I'm led to understand. And there are solid demographic reasons why democrats should focus on the old, of course. The main issues of the next 20 years are health care & social security.

Wednesday

Fleeting Story

We all have gremlins inside us, urging us to act irresponsibly. Which bleeds into acting viciously. And it ends in acting calculatingly. You keep on top of the impulses but when your heart's asleep one might run wild with you. Of course the worst demons are those who convince you they're angels. Consider the civil war inside you - what you think is a war between good thoughts and bad - what if it was like most human strife, between two evil empires?

You better try to avoid all positions of weakness and servitude. The cringing smile and stale stink of fear's traces attracts desirous impulses for guns, drugs, and the most numbing forms of bland sexual release...

Don't stay here long enough to let the predators get your scent. Imagine if the demons and angels within you joined forces: you'd miss out on quite a story, and never see their fascinating reversion as they returned to squabbling, now over your carcass.

After being yelled at by a bum, who explained that city sewers keep spirits trapped in the heart of towns the same way vampires cannot cross river bridges, I clicked awake from my frenzied wanderings. I was halfway across the city, barefoot, and had been thinking about hurting someone famous. But I dissipated when out of sight of the bum, who thought all of this story in a half second between random-flash memories of Victorian ghost-tales and the cheap beer he swilled to keep his brain clamped down. He cleaned his glasses with scuddy shirt end and ran fingers across his greasy arm hair, and twitched as immediately another thing happened in his brain. The worst migraines throb like coming, is how the next one began...

How the internet is changing things, from my perspective

Today I've been online for an hour and have spent maybe 20% of the time scanning links pages and political blogs, 10% clearing my inbox and examining some photos left there by a friend, and the rest of the time reading articles. This is pretty analagous to my father, who reads the paper and flips through the magazines he gets in the mail for an hour or two each day [he subscribes to about 10 magazines [half of them are car magazines, the others are lifestyle ones such as Men's Health [a gift from me] and Wine Spectator [a gift from me from 4 years ago which he got hooked into, and I think it replaced National Geographic] and gets the Kansas City version of your generic Knight-Ridder paper]. These are things he pays for, needless to say. And he can't read the internet while sitting on the toilet or the couch, because he doesn't have the proper equipment - probably only vaguely knows about wifi.

I was considering doing a post today that followed every page I linked to, as an experiment or demonstration of the difference between my daily indoctrination and that of my father's generation. But I'll just link to the four most interesting things I read:

A particularly great reductio ad absurdum from one of my regular daily stops
A cutesy little puff piece written in style, found from a link dump I check weekly
An atypically interesting bit of reporting, linked to from a humor site I check monthly
An old-fashioned bit of geekery that amused me, found about ten steps down a trail that began with googling "proto-surrealism"

The point is: nothing more than "internet, yay" in a way. Mine's a much stranger daily indocumentation than my father's - as you'd expect; I'm much stranger too. But I think this will help everyone of my generation be made stranger to a greater or lesser degree.

Sunday

~thought for the day~

In fact, when competition for food, space, or mates becomes intense, lemmings will actually become aggressive toward each other and are much more likely to kill another than to kill themselves. Is the victor the more intelligent lemming, the severely mentally disabled lemming, or the more resourceful lemming who is trying to dream up ways of selectively choosing who should reproduce and who should not?

What's life worth to you

We've all read stuff about the exact value of the human life. I was thinking about this last night as I drifted off to sleep: what if we applied this concept to white collar crime? Let's let researchers pick a number from out of their research assistant's cute little butt and set the value at e.g. $1.54 million. Ok then, that means Richard Grasso might get the equivalent of several dozen counts of involuntary manslaughter when it turns out he used his influence and corrupt failure to regulate to get other members of the board to give him his millions. And anyone who steals that 1.5 mill with genuine evil, malice aforethought - such as the Enron people - gets mandatory life minimum in prison without parole, with possibility of the death penalty. You know what? That would make me, raving liberal, support the death penalty.

It really would. If the state [i.e. you and me and our elected representatives acting as one] suddenly started hanging rich white criminals from dirty gibbets at some sort of appreciably equivalent level to the rate we [you and me, yes us] kill poor blacks & latinos [that's right, you and I are killers, never forget that: carry that knowledge with you, it's just something you are as an American...], I think my objection to the death penalty would evaporate, poof, snap, gone, dead, buried, forgotten.

Saturday

Vietnam Syndrome, Iraq Malaise

Read Fergeson's Colossus [2004] this week, he's center-right [was much more disgusted by Clinton's skittishness following the Black Hawk Down incident, which kept us from committing copious ground troops to the Balkans, than he was by Bush's failure to stay in Afghanistan and actually accomplish anything useful there beyond a temporary setback for Osama, which Fergeson doesn't like but notes & accepts]. He likes comparative history, trying to learn from the history of the British empire to better understand our own empire. Useful for me mainly in the effort to pin down in what ways our nation is an empire unlike the previous 67 [he cites this statistic]... but full of idiotic misunderstandings, such as his failure to grasp in what way current "Harvard & Yale graduates" [italics mine] have any desire to be "foreign proconsuls" the way their British counterparts 100 years ago did. He seems to think Americans don't want to be an empire, they are simply forced into being one by circumstances...

Anyway, there's a bunch of handy charts in it, and one of them tracks U.S. public support for the Iraq war across last year against the growing casualties. It's predictably enough an X, with falling support as casualties rise. The author is too dumb to realize that he's making an error of correlation, because it surprises him that public support could dwindle so rapidly after such a tiny amount of casualties compared to glorious Vietnam, which shows a similar X graph, only over a much larger time frame and body count. I'm sure I don't have to tell you that public support for the Iraq war hasn't really dwindled that much, in fact most people don't really care because they've figured out that it literally doesn't have a whole lot to do with them. Probably it's expensive, but maybe the government will figure out how to pay for it. Probably some poor people will die, but war is also good for the economy and it has [many believe] salutary effects on a nation's character. There was a patriotic surge at the beginning of the war and that disappeared, and now approval of the war is roughly on par with other republican indicators - that change has nothing to do with any casualty count.

This makes me think, however. You get all kinds of liberal sputtering these days about how the news outlets have stopped covering the war now that sovereignty's been nominally transferred, now that it's too repetitive and the public's bored by it, now that it's worse than ever for the republican side, now that it's the Olympics or whatever. But think about it - the official body count's just passed 1000, and America doesn't give a fuck. We should stop sputtering, and think about what that means.

To me, it means any talk of Iraq being a quagmire is rhetorically empty. Why, exactly, should Americans care about 1000 dead? Wake up! We lost 50,000 in Nam, and the current consensus is that we didn't fight hard enough! Do you hear a single voice anywhere in the media that has said, "...You know, I respect John Kerry's returning from combat and taking a stand against the Vietnam War"? No: such a concept is treasonous, even today, especially today, 9/11 changed everything [mothafucka.] And Iraq is a cakewalk, as far as the American public is concerned. That's not brainwashing from Big Brother - that's the truth.

There cannot be any outrage over Iraq, why? Because in the end, history has been sufficiently rewritten so that any outrage over Vietnam is a sign [in politics] of weakness, of wanting to cut the Pentagon budget, of wanting to second-guess the hawks, of hating American empire and American hegemony.

Just accept it: it is inconceivable that there will ever be outrage over Iraq - unless we get kicked out. The war is not a mistake, people. We need the oil. [or so the public believes - it fucking shit its pants this summer when the inflation-adjusted price of gas hit 1/2 of what it was in 1979] We need the enemies; we need to hit the terrorists any way we can, no matter how ineffectively. It's a question of honor - if all we can do this year against the forces of Islamic extremism who have so offended us is depose Saddam and cause chaos in Iraq, that's what we will settle for. Face facts: most Americans love the idea that Iraq is in turmoil, that it's nearly a civil war over there.

Moreover, America running out of Iraq with its tail between its legs would be almost as symbolically painful as 9/11 or Vietnam. What you need to understand is that in war, casualties beyond a certain minimum level don't matter much - all that matters is the symbolic outcome. [note that this concept, that casualties beyond a certain level don't change things much, has a strong philosophic basis in concepts of one soul counting for many, or redeeming many, or representing many...] This is emphasis on symbolism is exactly the same as in elections - the specific numbers may not add up, the policies may on deeper analysis be absurd and destructive, but if they are symbolically appealing, the voters will respond.

Thursday

new theories of elevator etiquette

I can't remember where I first heard about that feature of elevator etiquette which stipulates that in order to best allow your fellow passengers to maximize their personal space, as more people enter those already inside should alter their position to approximately the furthest distance possible from all others, as if the humans were similarly charged particles all repelling [/ repulsive to] each other. This is common folk wisdom and probably first articulated as a short comedy routine, illustrating the mechanical aspect of etiquette: we naturally hover away from each other, without thinking. If there are two people, they should occupy opposite corners; if there are five, each gets a corner and the last entering gets the uncomfortable center...

What I have recently noticed is that this sort of subconscious jockeying for greatest etiquette display* extends well beyond the simple positioning of your center in the space. The elevator box is three dimensional, and our brains understand this; so it's unconsciously considered good form take a completely different attitude from everyone else in the box. If one person is standing straight in the air at attention, watching the numbers on the hip-level controls, the other should slouch against a far wall, look up at the display over the doors, and fidget slightly. Their torsos should not be pointing in the same directions, or at exact right angles, but produce more pleasing random angles, which soothe the brain shut in these unpleasantly straightjacketed confines. This also reduces the danger that we might breathe each other's exhaled air.

If, on entering, your brain detects the other rider not examining your face, you should examine theirs [as briefly as possible]; in large groups, it is polite for the person stationed closest to the buttons to smile fleetingly, and the last person to enter should scowl ingratiatingly as they eke out an awkward habitat in the barren center zone. This monkeylike grimace signifies their regret at having to bare their back to one or more of the passengers, obviously; but it also helps equal out the emotional spectrum of the elevator.

And on and on. Your brain will cue your body to make little noises like throat clearings or shoe squeakings, if it is too quiet - or if you have a companion, you will mumble something meaningless to her, without realizing why. Presumably, if the elevator ride were to last for a long enough time [several generations], music would be re-invented in this way. I wonder too what happens during rocket launches, is the etiquette similar?

The elevator is a luxurious ritual for the brain because it is so rigorously similar in each enactment [yet usually shorter than church], allowing the brain to competently improvise along basic patterns, and ignore all status markers beyond the most basic ones [sexual and tribal]. Contrast this with the difficulty so many adults have in walking around others who are approaching: this is a trajectory problem requiring considerable calculation made so difficult precisely because it involves a declaration of one's status and evaluation of the other's. To what extent will I give ground, to the left or the right, leading my curve with my far shoulder [and so facing my opponent] or with my near shoulder [and slightly turning my back to my dance partner]? I do not understand why it is that walking past someone is a struggle for dominance, while riding an elevator with them is not; but such is my obversation.

The elevator is special for other reasons less dear to me... It is the third smallest urban microverse [after the bathroom stall and the taxi backseat, omitting the now archaic broom closet tryst node]. It is a sort of no-man's land between different zones of activity, and clears the mind so much better than a hallway or stairs. As terrifying as it is to be shut up in this box, working the insultingly big buttons on a sluggish computer, suspended by wires or a more abstruse corner-gripping apparatus, lacking the fireman's key, and confronted by accusatory braille, the interior designers of elevators eschew comforting touches and favor harsh hazy metals, sinister lighting and gloomy earth tones with a pointed lack of anything to gaze upon other than the floor numbers and weight limit [and, as I say, possibly each other for achingly brief snatches]. Well, thank goodness for that, that they aren't gaily painted, stuffed with inflight magazines and a disco ball.

*Note how this link encourages passengers to leave the car "in numerical order"

Tuesday

Technical Diffies

Are now somewhat mitigated (was having trouble for a week with the pages expiring, and couldn't post, but I've figured out a slightly annoying workaround for myself). The time off was well spent wondering if I am wasting my time doing this, looking for work (or as I call it "financial masturbation") and trying to figure out the best adjective for describing the difference between white meat and dark meat - dark is more - loamy? swampy?
"We know which kind of meat we like best, but few of us know the reason for the difference... It's a question of fibers."

So I should be back to roughly 1 post per day now. Perhaps after being backed up for a week, I will burst forth with a diarrhea-like torrent of clever insight, we shall see. Patient reader, you will no doubt be waiting with your mouth open in suspense.

Sunday

Tipping points

When I was a waiter, and I was seeing a girl who was a waitress at the same place, we had separate apartments but did a lot of living together. I always cooked dinner, she always cooked breakfast; we fought quite a bit and had lots of fun. We had a vicious running joke whereby whenever one of us was pissed at the other, we'd leave a tip with the meal the other one served up, a few bucks or some silver. Eventually it started making things worse, but that made the gesture more vital.

I am occasionally reminded of this whenever I eat out. I get a glimmer of hatred in me as I tip.

She and I split up after a while, and I realized that I hadn't left her a tip on that last morning.

So I went back to the diner on her shift - I'd quit the job the week before - and sat in her section. She refused to serve me, and I dumped out my spare jingle and blew.

You ever do that? Go to a restaurant, leave some change, and go?

It's funny, but I can't do it like Warren Zevon did - "I went home with the waitress / the way I always do" - if I'm working as a waiter, I sleep with the waitresses, but if I'm a customer, I sleep with other customers. I tip pretty good.

Getting ready for rioting in the streets

There's been some handwringing on the left about the conjoined problems of easily-tamperable electronic voting and the general air of intent to defraud hanging over Florida from the 2000 election, the 2002 election, and the current felon list question.

The basic issue is, what can ordinary people do to help insure that the 2004 election will not be "stolen"? Whatever that means, exactly. The problem, as most lefties see it, is that unless either large parts of the media or major Democratic Party figures start talking about the distinct possibility of election-stealing, there's little in the way of control over the shadier activities of the republicans in Florida or elsewhere. What I suspect is that even if the election is "stolen", and the facts do come to light, it will not be a major blow to the Republican Party: look at the arc of politics in this country following the ignominious fall of Nixon and his election-tampering squad. It seems to me that Nixon's fall strengthened his party immensely. The image of the Republican Party has gradually been shaped and molded into a seductive "brand" of power, competence, dirty dealing at home and abroad, tough talk, etc. It is the party of money & white men; that's their brand. And obviously, there's an intuition many people have that that's what's always worked for America, that's what's made us great & powerful.

This prickly dread about the election is compounded by a growing awareness of the Democratic Party's collusion in election-tampering in this country. After all, we know that Lyndon Johnson was an inveterate election-stealer, and it is the nature of the Democratic Party itself which leads inevitably to corruption: the nature of the party structure is little fiefdoms of corrupt bosses in industrial cities, cutting dark deals with labor machinery, with mafia and Hollywood men, and with shadowy businessmen who distrust the Republican Party's distinctive top-down control. This dynamic was made obvious last year in the Democratic Party's turning a blind eye to the republican redistricting of Texas. There was quid pro quo happening behind closed doors at the highest congressional level that let Tom Delay get away with it.

Consider, then, what might happen if after the election, facts come rapidly to light that the Bush brothers engineered a fraud in Florida. Certainly, Bush would be forced to step down. But would that matter? It might even be planned for. Think of how this works in the business world - a CEO runs a company into the ground, and leaves with a briefcase of money and stock, attracting vociferous condemnation from the press. Meanwhile, the board of directors did just as well, and everyone moves on to their next project.

If the election is stolen, with Congress still in republican control there will be no possibility of prosecution. And the inevitable rioting in the streets will only serve to make the Democratic Party look ridiculous, extremist and powerless. That's certainly the way it looked to America in the summer of 1968.

I know, I know, I sound like a conspiracy theorist. Well, let me ask some practical questions in a straightforward manner. Are you prepared to riot in the street come winter? What, exactly, would it take to make you take to the streets? Once you've figured that out, then think about how little it would accomplish. Hmmm...

What we all need to do is face the realities. We need to take preventive measures. We can do that by placing pressure on our media and our Democratic Party representatives. Ideally, what we want is a system put in place whereby if election tampering occurs, the election results can be corrected. If such a reform is made to the system, the problem of 2000 would have been solved. And so much averted...

Such a reform is an unrealistic expectation, but a rational one; yet so far as I know it is not even discussed on the left. And if the media did discuss it, that would place pressure on the republicans to behave. At the very least it would be better than giving up the issue to Michael Moore, who has vowed to single-handedly insure valid elections in Florida - what a joke.

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