Thursday, April 28, 2011

μὴ μου τοὺς κύκλους τάραττε: The Inner Circle

This spring I have been slowly realizing that I am well on my way to losing my faith in the ability of my country as a nation, and my fellow Americans as citizens, to act intelligently, decently, with honesty, and with humanity.

I am developing the attitude that my government and the classes that run it are thoroughly mortgaged to the wealthy and powerful, that it cannot be relied upon to act in any interests but theirs. That they are addicted to the adrenaline of foreign wars. That they are blinded by their own hubris and self-love into willful blindness to their own cruelty, venality, and mendacity. That they are becoming baleful actors abroad, and a vile, moronic - wait! Did you hear that? Someone just praised Donald Fucking Trump as a potential Presidential candidate! Fuck me sideways! - pottage of scum and villany at home. That We the People, the putative rulers of this decrepit state, have become so inured to the toxic combination of elite malfeasance, public indifference, corporate greed, the idiocy of the Cheney Right, and the mewling, puking unwillingness of all and sundry to stand up and question where we're going and what we're doing in the handbasket that the chances of changing direction or destination at this point is somewhere between unlikely and impossible.

In other words, we're well and truly fucked.'s the thing. I don't think we here in the U.S. are actively worse than any other nation in the world. And better than some; we're certainly no North Korea or Zimbabwe. And we are certainly better off than the two other Great Powers, kleptocratic Russia and gerontocratic China. We're not actively evil; we don't intend to do wrong.

But if there is somewhere an Eternal Verity, a commandment lit up in baby spotlights and neon it is this; intentions don't matter. Acts, and results, do.

My country is and has been behaving foolishly, and oftimes badly. And it has made itself so oligarchic that a private citizen such as myself without access to wealth, influence, or power, without favors to give or bribes to bestow cannot budge the tiller of the ship of state so much as a millimeter. I thought that I had helped, two years ago this autumn, in electing a so-called Democrat.

But the system has clearly been so damaged that the most "liberal" person electable cannot change the heading of the ship of state from its heading towards increasing oligarchy and overstretch.

And this small loudspeaker of a blog...well, doesn't speak very loud. Because otherwise why do people like Krauthammer and Brooks and the loathsome Limbaugh continue to pollute the air years after I wrote:
"I get the feeling that we're all talked out here.

We all know what’s happening: we can see the iceberg. It's huge, it's gouging its way deep into the hull, and we've spent the last two to three years pounding the helmsman on the back of the skull, shouting "Turn, you idiot! You're ramming a fucking iceberg!" only to have him slew around and stare at us with that skeevy grin and babble some inanity about "staying the course" and "no substitute for victory".

We know that the water is going to be cold, and the bottom is a freezing blackness that we will never feel at the end of that long, spiraling drop into the abyss.

And we know, because we can hear the clink of glasses and the bray of the band that on the saloon deck that many of our fellow passengers are still gobbling their meals and charging their glasses to the soothing sound of the stagefront crooner. Nothing we've said has touched them. No scolding, no pleading, no explaining will make them tear the lunatic helmsman from the wheel. The fear may be hidden in their hearts, but they won't stand up and act, won't admit that the damage is already done, that the black water is already pouring in, the ship is already doomed, and that whatever illusions of "victory" they have will end when the icy sea closes over our heads."
That was written about Iraq. But it could have been written about the levees of New Orleans or the bridges over the Mississippi. Written about the S&L bubble or the dot-com bubble or the mortgage bubble. Written about the Deepwater Horizon or, hell, about any number of goddamn obviously fucked up incompetences that we've watched over the past twenty years or so.

We know the problems are out there.

We either don't want to hear about them. Or we don't want to deal with them. Or we lack the power to change them.

So I while don't think we're falling into some bottomless well of wrongdoing like Stalin's Soviet or Mao's China or Hitler's Germany and I don't fear that we will reap a whirlwind of revenge from other nations, I am less and less inclined to involve myself in or sacrifice myself and my own for them.

It seems to me that we're going the way of 18th Century Spain, or Great Britain in the last century; a slow, steady slide into desuetude. Inconsequence for our grandees, relative poverty for peasants like me and mine. Ever more encounters with the niggling irritants of decline; things that don't work, business undone, carelessness, problems that might be mistakes or that might be deliberate. The top and bottom will continue to drift apart; the top spume will float off in frivolous excess, the heavy bottom mass subside into whipped indifference.

All set to the blaring inanities of advertising jingles.

This is how our world ends; not with a bang, but with a Levitra commercial.

So, you ask; what now?

Well, as luck would have it, I currently live in a good part of the world. The Pacific Northwest has long been blessed by a mild climate and a spectacular coincidence of land and water. Our soils - when we stop paving them over - are marvelously fertile, our forests - when we can resist clearcutting them - wellsprings of life.

Oregon is a verdant mixture of city and farm, forest and desert, mountain and valley.

Although we have backcountry full of goobers, birthers, and inbreds, we have a surprisingly communal pack of freebooters and innovators here.

If there is anyplace in the U.S. I have hope for it is here. We need to club our Teatards, and yes, we have them, like the rabid weasels they are. We need to quit sucking up to our malefactors of great wealth. But here, at least, is a place I have hope that I can make a difference.

And within this circle are even smaller ones that I can hope to keep the good and effect to change the wrong; my community of St. Johns, my children's school, my city of Portland.

I don't pretend that I can shelter all of these inner circles from the storms that rage outside. We have more than our share of fools that are raptured by the foolery on the Big Stage; we cannot cut off the television or the radio and still the voices of the infotainment buffoonery that we've embraced as a nation.

But we can reply with our own brand of commonsense. We - I - can hope to make here some sort of sane alternative to the ignorance and fatuity of the nation at large. In my children I can hope to instill some degree of sense as well, enough, I hope, that they will see the world and its lunacies with the eyes of compassion...but of clarity, as well, and of unsparing honesty.

So while I have the wisdom to know what I cannot change, I hope I have the strength to change what I can, here, within the shadow of my own fir tree and the sun that shines down upon my home.

Lame of Thrones

Remind me American citizen should care about this...why?

(h/t to Good Media)

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Exotic Perfume

When, with both eyes closed, on a hot Autumn evening,
I breathe the scent of your warm breasts,
I see unfurled before me happy shores
Dazzled by the fires of a changeless sun;An indolent island upon which nature bestows
Curious trees and savory fruits;
Men whose bodies are thin and vigorous,
And women whose eyes are astonishingly frank.

Guided by your scent toward charming climes,
I see a port filled with sails and masts
Still fatigued by the swell of the ocean,While the perfume of green tamarind trees,
Which permeates the air and swells my nostrils,
Blends in my soul with the song of the sailors.

-Baudelaire, translation by Cat Nilan © 1999, 2004

No reason. No reason at all.

I just fell in love with my bride again, and it's starting on to spring, and the golden evening light fills with the sound of my children playing.

Monday, April 25, 2011

I have an attitude problem

And every so often it shows.

A "Facebook friend" (who is a very smart and passionate woman, BTW, who I would be happy to befriend more traditionally if she lived closer than 200 miles to Portland) posted a link to something called "Free Love Day".

This hootchie is described in the link as
"...a day to promote awareness of suicide and depression, as well as to advocate a LIFESTYLE of unconditional love. On April 25th, put a heart on your wrist to signify that you will wear your heart on your sleeve and observe a LIFESTYLE of love. ASK SOMEONE HOW THEY'RE DOING. TELL PEOPLE YOU LOVE THEM AND DO IT. Nobody should have to feel so bad about themselves that they take their own life, so let's give them a reason not to! Let's change the world on April 25th!"
Well, okay then.

Anyway, the conversation from there went like this:ME: I'd prefer to draw crosshairs over the foreheads of the Koch brothers. 7.62mm national match corrected-for-drop-and-windage attitude adjustment, gentlemen. I'm here for your tax breaks.

I like to think I change the world in my own special way...
7 hours ago · LikeHER: You do John.
7 hours ago · LikeME: THEN I'd draw a heart on my wrist.
7 hours ago · Like · 1 person

I can't believe that some people think I'm not a sensitive guy just because when someone asks me what I would feel taking the life of another human being and I reply "Recoil".

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Losing My Religion

So Friday I posted about my disgust and despair at the condition of my country's politics.

Pat, like a Terminator in a James Cameron film, came Dave Brooks to drive the last nail into the lid of that political coffin with "Creed or Chaos" in Thursday's New York Time.

Now like you, I usually ignore Bobo. He's an idiot.'s the thing.

As an idiot, he usually represents the mainstream Republican sort of idiot that has run the party since Reagan clubbed the last of the Rockefeller and Eisenhower faction like a blubber-chewing Inuit with adorable baby harp seals. Bobo's writings (and by "writings" I mean "nearly incomprehensible errata scrawled on the padded walls by the gibbering inmate using his big toe and a slurry of drool and his own feces") are a way to glimpse, in a sort of lifting-the-rock-to-observe-the-writhing-vermin-beneath way, what goes on inside the brainpan of a typical country club Republican.

I should be specific; this does NOT include the sort of thing that occurs inside the occipital lobes of the Palinite/Teatard Wing of the GOP. God knows what the hell those people think about; probably gypsy knives and gypsy thighs that pound and pound and pound and African appendages that almost touch the ground and little boys playing baseball in the rain. But, whatever. Bobo does nothing to enlighten you about whatever THEY think.

But for the Kiwanis-Chamber-of-Commerce-former-Quayle-supporter sort of Republican, Bobo's your man. He stands athwart the GOP like a sort of teeny tiny Colossus, mouthing the sorts of things that make the Republicans feel warm and snuggly as they enter within.

So his Thursday column was a real revelation for me, because in it the spokesmodel for the two-SUV family advocates that African - and by inference, U.S. - Christians should be more like Torquemada and less like Pastor Niemoller.

"Many Americans" he says "have always admired the style of belief that is spiritual but not doctrinal, pluralistic and not exclusive, which offers tools for serving the greater good but is not marred by intolerant theological judgments."

But this is so, so wrong, explains Bobo.

Why? Because "The religions that grow, succor and motivate people to perform heroic acts of service are usually theologically rigorous, arduous in practice and definite in their convictions about what is True and False."

Now based on human history you might be forgiven for thinking that religions that are "theologically rigorous" (meaning: intolerant of dissent and punitive to religious deviance), "arduous in practice" (meaning: insisting on complete obedience regardless of cost), and "definite...about what is True and False" (meaning: convinced that any variation from orthodoxy is False, unrighteous, and, presumably, unGodly) tend to be by nature militant, divisive, intolerant, and often dangerous to anyone and anything not beloved of their God and his tenets.

You might be forgiven for thinking that such religions are prone to outbreaks of violent persecution and religious war when they collide with people or cultures they anathematize.

You might be forgiven for thinking that such religions tend to make people smug, self-satisfied, rigid, intolerant, slothful entitled pricks.

But Bobo would not forgive you any such thing.

Because Bobo thinks - meaning that your average country club Republican, your average Republican, period, thinks - that people qua people are stupid, feckless, lazy scumbags.
"No matter how special some individuals may think they are," says Bobo, "they don’t have the ability to understand the world on their own, establish rules of good conduct on their own, impose the highest standards of conduct on their own, or avoid the temptations of laziness on their own."
Think about that for a moment.


Bobo goes on to insist the following:

1. Rigorous theology provides believers with a map of reality.

2. Rigorous theology allows believers to examine the world intellectually as well as emotionally.

3. Rigorous theology helps people avoid mindless conformity.

4. Rigorous theology delves into mysteries in ways that are beyond most of us.

5. Rigorous codes of conduct allow people to build their character.

You got that? People whose religion demands that they accept every jot and tittle of the Holy Word (no shrimp or owl for dinner, no sex during menstruation, stuff like accepting that a consecrated celebate in a three-ringed crown is channeling the Great Spirit verbatim) are the only ones with a Michelin Guide to reality, the only ones with real intellectual acuity, the only ones with genuine originality, the only ones with the keys to the Great Mysteries.

Oh, and the only ones capable of avoiding sex with vegetables and stealing pocket change.


I'm perfectly willing to grant you that religion, whether "theologically rigorous" or otherwise, has been the foundation of some of humanity's most incredible achievements. Faith has motivate humans to raise cathedrals to the sky, care for the sick and dying, help the poor, found cities and even nations. Religions touch something very vital in many, perhaps even most, people.

But at the same time, religion has been behind some of history's great horrors. Religions have butchered children for their "sins". Religions have sent entire populations lurching into others' lands; murdering, raping, looting in the belief that the "others" were beneath the consideration of God's love - indeed, that God demanded the others' lives as punishment for their unbelief in the invaders' God or gods.

Religions have also helped people justify those horrors, often by their very nature, in that something that helps you believe the improbable often helps you embrace the unthinkable. Bobo cites Dorothy Sayers (who was a delightful novelist and decent scholar but whose door wasn't exactly hanging on all its hinges, theologically speaking) saying that
"...Christianity’s advantage is that it gives value to evil and suffering. Christianity asserts that “perfection is attained through the active and positive effort to wrench real good out of a real evil.” This is a complicated thought most of us could not come up with (let alone unpack) outside of a rigorous theological tradition."
No. This isn't a complicated thought most of us could not come up with (let alone unpack) outside of a rigorous theological tradition. It is fucking nonsense.

Evil is evil, suffering is suffering. Fighting evil (assuming that it IS evil and not just something "abhorrent before My God" like boys having sex with other boys or women voting) is admirable, enduring suffering bravely is honorable. But neither of those "give value" to evil and suffering.

Evil and suffering are plagues on humanity, full stop, and anyone who believes that they are valuable because they allow Christians to achieve perfection through fighting them are as fucking nuts and stupid as a bag of hammers.

So, resolved; anyone who tortures, or butchers, a tiny baby is a vile criminal bag of fuck. Unless, says Dotty and Bobo, it allows a Christian "to wrench real good out of a real evil."




It is just this sort of tortured logic that allowed Crusaders (or their Islamic, Hindu, and Buddhist equivalents) to believe that their evil had value, that by slaughtering infidel women and children got them closer to Paradise.

This is madness. THIS is evil.

If this were all Bobo brought with him I could simply walk away with a shrug. Theocrats are a nickel a gross; they have arisen throughout history, usually from a heap of human bodies, and have largely been tossed aside when the survivors realize what an intolerable pain in the ass being ruled by someone who insists that all his or her opinions are crafted in God's toy shop. Theocracy is probably the worst single form of human governance and has been proved as such again and again by practical example.

But remember - this isn't just Bobo.

This is the mainstream wing of the GOP that Bobo represents. It is this group that honestly believes that their fellow Americans are unable to think, plan, or control where they put their penises or vaginae (vaginas?) without Baby Jesus there to point out Tab A and Slot B and what doesn't go where. This group seems to think that what the U.S. needs is more "theologically rigorous" religion and less "...(v)ague, uplifting, nondoctrinal religiosity..."

The real genius of the Framers was not to toss religion out of U.S. public life. They knew their country and knew their fellow citizens. They knew that the religion would get there one way or another. No, their genius was to ensure that when it did arrive a the public square it would be gutted of its "theological rigor". That it could not test Americans on their knowledge of the doctrine of transubstantiation, of the traditions of a seder, of the Five Pillars as a price of citizenship, couldn't demand fealty to any theology as a cost of entry into public business, or privilege one over another, either in public or private.

Regardless of how vile this belief is to that one, regardless of how many lives of one faith the other has taken.

This country is founded on the notion that you in the name of your religion WILL NOT be allowed to take public action against me for mine. And if you take private action that traduces my public rights you will be prosecuted for it.

This has gone a long, long way to producing the secular character of U.S. public life - despite the very public presence of religion, a presence nearly absent in Europe, a continent much more familiar with the evils of "theologically rigorous" religions and their public feuds - and the large number of U.S. believers who leave the outward trappings of their faiths in church, synagogue, and mosque.

But Bobo, and his GOP counterparts, seem to think this is a mistake. They think all this warm fuzzy ecumenism is a dodge, a cunning scheme to defile our vital bodily fluids. And what should we do to avoid this weakening, this flaccidity, this impotence of the American soul?

Well, "changes in behavior change the mind," Bobo reminds us, " small acts of ritual reinforce networks in the brain. A Mormon denying herself coffee may seem like a silly thing, but regular acts of discipline can lay the foundation for extraordinary acts of self-control when it counts the most."

And y'know what? If you started on young Americans with those "regular acts of (theologic) discipline" early enough you could probably lay the foundation for a cruel unflinching youth, a youth as hard as steel.

I wonder.

What could you do with people like that..?


Note: On Mormonism

I observe that Bobo's observations were made posteriori to viewing something called the "Book of Mormon", a play by the guys who do "South Park".

Whilst I tend to be fairly tolerant of other people's personal beliefs if you wanted a religion to mock Mormonism is one of the fattest slow targets outside of genuinely fucking out-there religious goofologies of the Scientology breed.

I mean, read the Joesph Smith story. Guy is a "gold witcher" in Palmyra, NY, back in the 1820s, claiming that he can find gold with "magic stones". He claims that in 1823 an angel tells him where to find two golden plates written by Ether, Mormon, Lehi and Nephi, who are Native Americans circa 1AD, a brass plate with Hebrew scripture quotations and genealogies written by one Laban, oh, yeah, and "Urim and Thummim," magical translating stones.

Magical translating stones.

Okay. Now he doesn't head out, snatch this boodle and run, mind you. Nope. Instead, in 1825, he and his dad head to Pennsylvania to look for buried treasure at three bucks a day. Nothing turns up and Smith offers the suggestion that the treasure had sunk deeper due! That's it; enchantment! Seriously! Enchantment!

Yeah, okay Joe, sure.

He loses the job but finds a wife, Emma, the local schoolmarm. They elope in New York in 1827. Which is, you'll remember, when Joe trudges back to Palmyra to get all that golden loot and the Indian-Jesus stuff, remember?

So between 1827 and 1829 Joe Smith "dictates" the "translation" of these supposed golden plates (which no one but he has seen, remember) to his new wife and a couple of pals. The entire business is odd; sometimes he's hidden behind a screen, when he's not the tablets aren't in view. He puts the "magical stones" in his hat...and puts his hat over his face.

He finishes the "Book of Lehi", lends it to his pal Marty Harris, who takes it home and "loses" it (supposedly Lucy, who hated Smith and thought he was a fraud, tossed it).

That sucked, and Smith now says that God has taken away the "special stones" because Joe's buddies stepped on their poncho, and he starts on the "Book of Nephi" which, he says, tells the same story as Lehi only, you know, sort of, different.

Anyway. The Book of Nephi, if you've ever bothered to skim it, reads like one of those Fifties sword-and-sandal movies, with lots of thud and blunder, prophets, visions, a "ball of curious workmanship", and how Jews became the native Americans.

Really, no shit.

If you put the whole thing in a movie and got McG to direct it nobody would believe a word of it, although I would pay good money to see Adam Sandler play Smith, the old Sandler back when he was funny.

Tina Fey could play Lucy.

Either way, it seems to have become a religion because people who want to believe stuff will believe it regardless of how goofy it's backstory is. And you can say this for Mormonism as you pass up your morning coffee.

It sure as hell is "theologically rigorous."

Friday, April 22, 2011

μὴ μου τοὺς κύκλους τάραττε: The Outer Circle

I've been silent here for a long time, or so it seems to me.

Here it is almost the end of April and I've posted, what, five times?

I realized just this week that I have lost...something...some critical passion or fire that kept bringing me here.

One thing, I think, is the realization that this place is now so empty, that so many friends and readers have gone.

I enjoy writing for its own sake, but one of the main reasons I write here is to try and get my ideas heard and hear back from those who read my writing. And while I love talking to Lisa, mike, Ael, Pluto, the folks who come for the "battles" posts like Leon and Don Francisco, seems like such a small circle. Much as I enjoy our little community, blogging means time, thought, and work, and I had once hoped that work would enable me to reach out much further.

Realizing that it's just the few of us in this little room, frankly, makes me think that the Facebook contingent might have something. At least all they have to work on is 520 characters. (He snorts...)

And MilPub, too, absorbs a lot of energy; my military and political writing that once came here ends up there being discussed in ways that make the sad idleness of the cross-posts here all the more frustrating.

But I think it's broader, and deeper than that.

Way back in probably 2007ish or so I wrote a post here called "Don't Disturb My Circles".

In it I talked about the Grand Illusion of parenting; that we, we parents, could somehow, through will, or effort, or just hope, divert the the terror by night and the arrow that flieth by day.

That we could
"...manage our little piece of the world while the Heavens fall around us. We teach, we warn, we clutch, hold and pull away. We hide the scissors and cap the poisons and pad the corners and close our eyes at the daredeviltry and hope that the fates are kind and the ground soft. We compare car seats for impact performance, choose bike helmets for impact resistance, make healthy lunches, watch uplifting programs, read good books and teach good manners and confide good choices until it seems that we’re ready to fall over exhausted from so much care."
And that somehow, by all these good choices, all this care, that we could control our world.

And when I say "control", I mean only that we could protect our children from physical harm.

Mojo and I know, in a way I hope few parents know, and will ever know, that the harm is always there. We can never forget that. And if we ever do, the fine gray skiff of ash inside the wooden matryoshka doll on the shelf in our bedroom is there to remind us that though
"...we may tell ourselves that anything that wants to hurt or kill our children will have to tear us apart before it does, as we do we realize that all our love and all our strength are helpless against a kinked umbilical cord, a flu germ, a moment’s inattention on the part of another driver."
We live with that pain, and the fear of that pain, every day.

And to that pain the only options are to surrender, or endure it and continue. We chose to risk the dark seas of Fortune and have there continued our journey as parents.

But I didn't really want to talk about parenting again.

I wanted to talk about my country.

Because in the earlier post, I talked about how part of parenting is a deliberate decision to ignore the statistical facts that a certain number of children will die or be maimed by auto accidents, falls, poisons, disease, violent acts...and that in the most incisive parsing of persons and circumstances there is no way of ensuring that your - our - own children are protected from harm. Instead we live our lives as if those awful fates were not possible, as if we could spend the remainder of our lives tracing our children's hopes and dreams in the dust and that the shadow was just the plane tree from across the garden and not a Roman soldier with his sword red in his hand.

Right now I think more and more about that because of what I see in my country.

First, let me just say that making a democracy work seems to require some fairly simple things.

Yes, I know that there many, many difficult things within those "simple things" - a googleplexmillion, as my son would say, of complicated individual choices and decisions. The devil is, as always, in the details.

But it seems to me that the overarching principles seem pretty commonsensical:

Involve everyone in the life of the nation to the extent possible.

Try to keep the citizens "citizens", and not rulers and ruled. That means that extreme wealth and extreme poverty, extreme partisanship and extreme homogeneity, extreme power and extreme weakness are all inimical to making a country work. The critical mass in the middle exists not as a lump unable to choose a pole but as an active force of median values; practicality, sense, compassion, bravery, honesty, fidelity.

Make the place as equitable and fair as possible; let those who can exceed do so, but not by letting those who can't fall below the level of "citizen".

Help for the sick, the weak, the old; callousness makes a nation vicious, not strong.

Be strong, but not swaggering, powerful, but not rapacious. Don't go looking for fights; enough trouble will come your way without seeking it.

Spend within one's means, but recognize that polities have common goods with spending on. Accept that taxes are the price we pay for civilization, and that those who reap the most benefits pay the highest price, and should do so gladly and graciously.

Aim for self-sufficiency. It's one thing to trade, another to be dependent on things like minerals and petroleum that we as a nation can't produce for ourselves. It presents the ugly choice between a hostage to, or a thief of, the things - such as petroleum - that the nation lacks.


I know that my country never really lived up to those ideals. But I look around now and it seems that I can barely recognize the nation I grew up in, I can't ignore the ignorance, greed, short-sightedness and general fucktardry.

My country seems determined to tear apart the structures that helped form it as I knew it for no better fucking reason that because our wealthy seem to object to paying taxes and our "leaders" seem addicted to foreign war.

Instead of possibilities like a Manhattan Project to solve our dependence on the petroleum we must buy or take from others, our energy seems to be invested in arguing about aborting pregnancies and similar nonsense.

Instead of asking why we seem to insist on giving up our liberties for some illusion of safety from scary Terrorists, and our broad base of economic power for a narrowing and precarious - but taller - pyramid of lucre, we worry about idols and silly street crime.

I would never, never in my life have imagined "Busted" magazine as little as two years ago. But there seems to depth to the folly we delight in, and not simple, harmless foolery that we hairless monkeys have always delighted in but the sort of bone-deep stupid that begins to warp and twist the very structure of our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.

And I feel powerless to stop any of this.

I have tried conventional politics, and helped replace our senior Oregon senator with a man who seems to believe in the ideas I mentioned above. I voted - not gleefully and with a dull resignation - for the current president and his party. In hopes that they would fight for the nation I grew up in.

And, instead, watched them and their entire organization cower from, and truckle to, the people who seem to think it would be good if my country returned to the time when power, and wealth, were reserved for a small elite - assuming, I suspect, they they will be in that elite. I have watched the people I thought would fight for the sort of America I grew up in; the America of the living wage, of the GI Bill, where old people and sick people could, at least, have some hope of evading a Dickensian casting off...I have watched them squirm to evade being called "liberal" and flinch under the invective of liars, buffoons, idiots, and lunatics.

And I look around and just don't see a hope of changing this. The alternatives appear to be either the new Oligarchs...or those who run before the oligarchs.

My country is being commodified, privatized, outsourced, downsized, monetized, saturated with advertisements, war porn, greed, and foolishness. It is getting "leaders" like...Donald Trump.

While I recognize that much of the history of humanity has always been thus, it is painful for me to watch it happen again, to my own land, and know that anything I can do is less than a grain of sand in this vasty deep of clusterfuckery.


So, as with parenting, I can't keep the Romans outside the walls. I can't prevent the terrors, avert the bad choices, make decisions for the governing of my Syracuse in hopes that it will avoid the siege and sack. All I can do is try and keep them from disturbing MY circles. The circles I have some hope of control over and feeling for.

It hurts my heart to admit that I no longer feel that I can make any real positive change for my country, but my country seems to me to have mortgaged itself to its wealthiest citizens and industries, and I haven't the power or the riches to compete with them.

All I can do is look to my family, my home, my neighborhood, my city. My little circles in the dust.

And in the next post, I want to talk about that.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Friday Jukebox: Sometimes a special theory of relativity is just a special theory of relativity Edition

Because Mr. Newman is in town this week......and because I love the idea of Sigmund, cigar in teeth, spoofing Albert for his pals in Vienna whilst poking fun the the Land of Opportunity.

Here's one more. Just because he's a funny guy, too.That's why I love Mankind.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


It was on this day 150 years ago that the United States...weren't. The military arms of the brand-new "Confederate States of America" opened fire on the fortification in Charleston harbor as a way of officially announcing that it was "game on".

Enough ink has been spilled about the blood that was spilled thereafter to make any further effusion on my part somewhere between extraneous and foolish. I may just pick one of the Civil War engagements to talk about this month, although I'm starting to wonder whether anything about that mess of a fraternal slapfight was "decisive", given that we seem today to be as much a house divided, half Fox and half free, as we were back in the day.

But I will make one observation that should really be jim's, since he has gone further down the road towards recognizing that the first step to take when you set out upon resolving your differences through armed force should be to dig two graves, is that the capture of Sumter may well have been decisive in defeating the Confederacy.

Adam Goodheart observes as much in today's NYT:
"It is difficult to see what the rebels would have lost if they had allowed Major Anderson and his tiny Union force to remain indefinitely. Indeed, they could have couched their forbearance as a humanitarian gesture, a token of their peaceful intentions that might have won them allies not just in the North, but also – all-importantly – among the nations of Europe. Certainly leaving Sumter alone would have bought them more time: more time to more fully organize and equip the South’s armies; more time to establish all the ordinary apparatus – a postal service, a stable national currency, a judicial system – that serve to make government a solid fact rather than a speculative figment. Both to its own citizens and to the rest of the world, the Confederate States of America might have come to seem like a fait accompli."
Certainly the man who did perhaps more than anyone to scourge the Confederacy with fire and blood seems to have agreed. "They attacked Sumter," said Abraham Lincoln, "it fell, and thus, did more service than it otherwise could.”

I've always been pretty skeptical about the way we here in the U.S. seem to congratulate ourselves on our national greatness about liberty and equality. It took four years and millions of deaths for us to accept that owning other people like they were Cheeze Doodles wasn't really a good idea. The British, who made us look like pikers when it came to butchering and conquering peoples duskier than most Britons, did the same with a bloodless Act of Parliament thirty-two years earlier.

But, anyway, it was April 13, 1861 that we began our four-year internecine dispute over how the domestic help should be payed. Feel free to discuss.

Update 4/13 p.m.: One good place to start the discussion might be the fact that...
"In the CNN/Opinion Research Corporation Poll released Tuesday, roughly one in four Americans said they sympathize more with the Confederacy than the Union, a figure that rises to nearly four in ten among white Southerners. When asked the reason behind the Civil War, whether it was fought over slavery or states' rights, 52 percent of all Americans said the leaders of the Confederacy seceded to keep slavery legal in their state, but a sizeable 42 percent minority said slavery was not the main reason why those states seceded." many as a quarter of us LIKE the idea of "It was OK to believe that black people are ownable, like Cheeze Doodles" (i.e., the "sympathize more with the Confederacy") and almost half of us are lying to ourselves about history, and not in a subtle "well, gosh, the historical record is SO unclear on this" way but a "Gee, I know that Jefferson Davis said that
"The condition of slavery with us is, in a word, Mr. President, nothing but the form of civil government instituted for a class of people not fit to govern themselves. It is exactly what in every State exists in some form or other. It is just that kind of control which is extended in every northern State over its convicts, its lunatics, its minors, its apprentices. It is but a form of civil government for those who by their nature are not fit to govern themselves. We recognize the fact of the inferiority stamped upon that race of men by the Creator, and from the cradle to the grave, our Government, as a civil institution, marks that inferiority."
but that doesn't mean he and all those other rebs committed treason in defense of slavery..." sort of way.

I know that the post hoc does not ergo propter hoc, but the fact that a hell of a lot of Americans STILL believe this crap after millions of people like my great-granduncle Richard died trying to knock the fool-stuffing out of their ancestors' heads makes me even more irritated with the Public as Ass; we often get the nation and the government we deserve.

And the fools that believe this nonsense, well...

Update 4/14: Let me be a little MORE explicit here.

We in the U.S. need to knock this Lost Cause nonsense on the head like a sick cat. Here's a good example of what I'm talking about, from Crooked Timber; the writer explains that he had to take a citizenship test, that part of this test was about U.S. history, and that the part about U.S. history said this about the origins of the Civil War:
"The Civil War began when 11 southern states voted to secede (separate) from the United States to form their own country, the Confederate States of America. These southern states believed that the federal government of the United States threatened their right to make their own decisions. They wanted states’ rights with each state making their own decisions about their government. If the national government contradicted the state, they did not want to follow the national government."
This is the "official" version, funded by your and my tax dollars.

Well, horseshit. The "right" the rebels believed in was the Cheeze Doodle Clause. It didn't have anything to do with how they felt they should be able to spend federal highway funds, or whether the tariff on imported goods was too high or too low.

Would it kill us to drive a stake into the heart of this fucker? To accept, as most Germans today accept abut Naziism and most Japanese accept about the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, that the South broke the Union on behalf of their belief that it was right and proper for one man to OWN another?

I don't believe that we'll ever really get there. But this sort of stuff shows me we don't really even want to start.

So is it any wonder we're discussing stuff like bombing for peace and punching poor people in a depression? Christ, we can't even agree that the Cheeze Doodle Clause was fucked up like a football bat. No wonder we're so ate up.

(Crooked Timber post here: - for some reason my computer has decided not to let me link to stuff today. It's probably virused, and I blame it all on Congressional dysfunction.)

Tuesday, April 12, 2011


Because you know it when you feel it......Chag Sameach Pesach, Yo!

Monday, April 11, 2011


I checked the comments on the "Columbus" post the other day and realized with some chagrin that I had not posted since the third of this month; more than a week, and that's bad blogging, even for me.

The thing is...I'm frankly bloody discouraged - to the point of real despondence - by the failure of my liberal compatriots to be willing to go bareknuckle against the Teatard Insurgency that comprises the current GOP and force the government to shut down rather than to accept one more cut in the Death of One Thousand Cuts that the Remoras of Oligarchy are working on the U.S. I grew up in.

I just haven't had the heart to blog about that because the result would be a furiously incendiary angry rant, and one that I can't even promise to make entertaining because the object of my fury wouldn't be the caricature-able morons of the Right (from whom I no longer expect even coherence, much less actual governance) but the "centerist" Democrats, the Obamites and Clintonistas, that are all that's left to represent "me" in U.S. politics. There's nothing funny about that crew, and even their cravenness is a calculating, bloodless sort that defies open mockery; it would be like trying to get all wisecracky and snarky on an Arthur Andersen audit.

There's just nothing to work with there except sick bile and rage.

And I don't know about anyone else, but as one who has been to one of those wedding receptions where the family curmudgeon gets bombed on shitkeg beer and explodes on everyone to the cousins of the third degree who have insulted, ignored, belittled, or whatever his alcohol-battered brain interprets as disrespected him over the past forty years...well, it's not pretty, it's not enlightening, and it's not really entertaining except in a debutante-falling-down-the-staircase sort of way.

And right now I don't really have the heart to blog about anything else. I feel like I'm watching a bunch of overprivleged frat boys beat the nation I loved, the nation I grew up in and helped make me a man, down to the size of some shitty little Second World kleptocracy whilst half of the pundits applaud and the other half tut-tut in helpless kerflustery.

This whole standing-by-while-the-world-ends-not-with-a-bang-but-with-a-tea-party feeling seems like it will result in a blog post. But I'm just not big enough to write it right now.

It's like we're driving off a fucking cliff with one bunch of fucking idiots slamming Natty Lights and stomping on the gas pedal while the other bunch makes little hamster noises and flutters their fingers over the steering wheel, and I'm supposed to find a blog post in me to somehow change that. I feel like I'm watching some beloved friend suck the shotgun while desperately trying to explain why this might not be such a good idea.

Here's a good example of the kind of thing I'm despairing, from the New York Times:
"Passengers fainted when a 5-foot hole opened in the roof of a Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 flying from Phoenix to Sacramento last week. The most frightening moment may have been when, as one passenger said, “You could look out and see blue sky.” It was an unusual episode in an industry with a strong safety record. But that record might be hard to sustain: on the very day that Southwest’s Flight 812 was diverted to Yuma, Ariz., for an emergency landing, the House of Representatives passed a bill likely to make it more difficult to detect and prevent midair ruptures, metal fatigue and other serious flight risks. The bill would cut $4 billion from the Federal Aviation Administration’s $37 billion budget...(an) agency (which) has been short-staffed for years. A $4 billion cut will necessarily reduce the work force further."
What the fuck can you do with a story like that? Where's the bloggage there?

What sane fucking country would do things like that? Cut back on airliner inspections - what could go wrong? Who could figure that one out? And what the hell can I, a middle-aged geologist in Portland, Oregon, without political connections or the cash to buy them, do the fuck about that if the so-called smart people who run the country can't?

Except fucking swear at the fucking screen and wonder what the hell happened to the fucking country that used to defeat Nazis and cure diseases and now seems to be about nothing but sucking up to rich people and fiscal frottage for big commerce?

So I beg your indulgence for another day or so of silence. I will be back, I promise.

But in what condition, even now I cannot tell.