Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Cops = Robbers

From a recent Frank Rich column in the NY Times:

What's most impressive about Mr. Rove, however, is not his ruthlessness, it's his unshakable faith in the power of a story. The story he's stuck with, Iraq, is a loser, but he knows it won't lose at the polls if there's no story to counter it.

And so he tells it over and over, confident that the Democrats won't tell their own. And they don't — whether about Iraq or much else.

The question for the Democrats is less whether they tilt left, right or center, than whether they can find a stirring narrative that defines their views, not just the Republicans'.

What's needed, wrote Michael Tomasky in an influential American Prospect essay last fall, is a "big-picture case based on core principles.


Right, narrative is everything. Whatever your "facts" happen to be, if you have control over the narrative in which they are embedded, you control their import.

I'll tell you why the Democrats are so mysteriously unable to beat the Republicans, who couldn't be more vulnerable if they were cleaning drains in a prison shower: they have no story. They cannot have a story to rival the Repub's story, cause as repulsive as it is, the Repub's story is based on truth.

Here are the two party's narratives:

Republicans: We're rich bastards who don't give a damn about the poor or the common good, cause we can afford to buy our way out of the mess our single-minded pursuit of wealth and power creates (we'll filter our private air and water, hire private security firms, build walled communities, pay for private medical care, etc). We pretend to be Christians in order to give us some popular base, but all we really care about is power and money. If you support us, there's a chance you might get some of the booty we control.

Democrats: We're rich bastards who do sorta care about the poor and the common good, but not enough to get unruly when the other party rapes and pillages the environment, the Constitution or the above-mentioned working class. Truth is, we can afford to buy our own protection as well, so the plight of the working class is a bit of an abstraction to us, but it's an abstraction we find somewhat compelling. In other words, we're full of shit. Supporting us will get you nothing but well-intentioned platitudes.

This is why Clinton was compelling but Kerry wasn't. Clinton came from an alcoholic trailer park, while Kerry lives in castles. Without a credible hope of understanding poverty, no Democratic candidate has a chance.

Say what you will about the Repubs, their message makes sense. It has conviction. They're swashbuckling pirates with knives in their belts.

The Democrats are what? War heroes without the balls to directly confront a sniveling shithead like GWB? If John Kerry is so fucking brave, why didn't he throw that shit in GWB's face in the debates? Why did he defer to Bush's accusations without mentioning Bush's avoidance of national service, his drug use, his business failures, his father having bought him every opportunity he's ever had? Why didn't he go to the mat over the vote-stealing in Florida and Ohio?

I'll tell you why, because the Democrats are merely "representatives" of the working-class, while the Republicans are actual members of the class they represent.

That's the difference; the Republicans represent their friends and families while the Democrats represent people who work for them. And really, who's gonna risk their career and comfy life on an abstraction or an easily-replaced employee?

At this point, there's as much difference between the two American political parties as there is between cops and criminals in a place like Nigeria. In other words, none beyond the uniforms. Both of them are criminals, but they enact a simulacrum of struggle to distract the victims of their corrupt game.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Vonnegut on Bush

From Vonnegut's recently-published memoires:

Running the Country as TV Entertainment

"Do unto others what you would have them do unto you." A lot of people think Jesus said that, because it is so much the sort of thing Jesus liked to say.

But it was actually said by Confucius, a Chinese philosopher, five hundred years before there was that greatest and most humane of human beings, named Jesus Christ.

The Chinese also gave us, via Marco Polo, pasta and the formula for gunpowder. The Chinese were so dumb they only used gunpowder for fireworks. And everybody was so dumb back then that nobody in either hemisphere even knew that there was another one.

We've sure come a long way since then. Sometimes I wish we hadn't. I hate H-bombs and the Jerry Springer Show

But back to people like Confucius and Jesus and my son the doctor, Mark, each of whom have said in their own way how we could behave more humanely and maybe make the world a less painful place. One of my favourite humans is Eugene Debs, from Terre Haute in my native state of Indiana.

Get a load of this. Eugene Debs, who died back in 1926, when I was not yet four, ran five times as the Socialist party candidate for president, winning 900,000 votes, almost 6 percent of the popular vote, in 1912, if you can imagine such a ballot. He had this to say while campaigning:

"As long as there is a lower class, I am in it.

"As long as there is a criminal element, I am of it.

"As long as there is a soul in prison, I am not free."

Doesn't anything socialistic make you want to throw up? Like great public schools, or health insurance for all?

When you get out of bed each morning, with the roosters crowing, wouldn't you like to say. "As long as there is a lower class, I am in it. As long as there is a criminal element, I am of it. As long as there is a soul in prison, I am not free."

How about Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes?

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the Earth.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.

And so on.

Not exactly planks in a Republican platform. Not exactly George W Bush, Dick Cheney, or Donald Rumsfeld stuff.

For some reason, the most vocal Christians among us never mention the Beatitudes. But, often with tears in their eyes, they demand that the Ten Commandments be posted in public buildings.

And of course that's Moses, not Jesus. I haven't heard one of them demand that the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes, be posted anywhere.

"Blessed are the merciful" in a courtroom? "Blessed are the peacemakers" in the Pentagon? Give me a break!

It so happens that idealism enough for anyone is not made of perfumed pink clouds. It is the law! It is the US Constitution.

But I myself feel that our country, for whose Constitution I fought in a just war, might as well have been invaded by Martians and body snatchers.

Sometimes I wish it had been. What has happened instead is that it was taken over by means of the sleaziest, low-comedy, Keystone Cops-style coup d'├ętat imaginable.

I was once asked if I had any ideas for a really scary reality TV show. I have one reality show that would really make your hair stand on end: "C-Students from Yale".

George W Bush has gathered around him upper-crust C-students who know no history or geography, plus not-so-closeted white supremacists, aka Christians, and plus, most frighteningly, psychopathic personalities, or PPs, the medical term for smart, personable people who have no consciences.

To say somebody is a PP is to make a perfectly respectable diagnosis, like saying he or she has appendicitis or athlete's foot. The classic medical text on PPs is The Mask of Sanity by Dr Hervey Cleckley, a clinical professor of psychiatry at the Medical College of Georgia, published in 1941. Read it!

Some people are born deaf, some are born blind or whatever, and this book is about congenitally defective human beings of a sort that is making this whole country and many other parts of the planet go completely haywire nowadays. These were people born without consciences, and suddenly they are taking charge of everything.

PPs are presentable, they know full well the suffering their actions may cause others, but they do not care. They cannot care because they are nuts. They have a screw loose!

And what syndrome better describes so many executives at Enron and WorldCom and on and on, who have enriched themselves while ruining their employees and investors and country and who still feel as pure as the driven snow, no matter what anybody may say to or about them?

And they are waging a war that is making billionaires out of millionaires, and trillionaires out of billionaires, and they own television, and they bankroll George Bush, and not because he's against gay marriage.

So many of these heartless PPs now hold big jobs in our federal government, as though they were leaders instead of sick.

They have taken charge. They have taken charge of communications and the schools, so we might as well be Poland under occupation.

They might have felt that taking our country into an endless war was simply something decisive to do. What has allowed so many PPs to rise so high in corporations, and now in government, is that they are so decisive.

They are going to do something every fuckin' day and they are not afraid. Unlike normal people, they are never filled with doubts, for the simple reason that they don't give a fuck what happens next. Simply can't.

Do this! Do that! Mobilise the reserves! Privatise the public schools! Attack Iraq! Cut health care! Tap everybody's telephone! Cut taxes on the rich! Build a trillion-dollar missile shield! Fuck habeas corpus and the Sierra Club and In These Times, and kiss my ass!

There is a tragic flaw in our precious Constitution, and I don't know what can be done to fix it. This is it: only nut cases want to be president. This was true even in high school. Only clearly disturbed people ran for class president.

The title of Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 is a parody of the title of Ray Bradbury's great science-fiction novel Fahrenheit 451.

Four hundred and fifty-one degrees Fahrenheit is the combustion point, incidentally, of paper, of which books are composed. The hero of Bradbury's novel is a municipal worker whose job is burning books.

While on the subject of burning books, I want to congratulate librarians, not famous for their physical strength, who, all over this country, have staunchly resisted anti-democratic bullies who have tried to remove certain books from their shelves, and destroyed records rather than have to reveal to thought police the names of persons who have checked out those titles.

So the America I loved still exists, if not in the White House, the Supreme Court, the Senate, the House of Representatives, or the media. The America I loved still exists at the front desks of our public libraries.

And still on the subject of books: our daily news sources, newspapers and TV, are now so craven, so unvigilant on behalf of the American people, so uninformative, that only in books do we learn what's really going on.

I will cite an example: House of Bush, House of Saud by Craig Unger, published in early 2004, that humiliating, shameful, blood-soaked year.

In case you haven't noticed, as the result of a shamelessly rigged election in Florida, in which thousands of African-Americans were arbitrarily disenfranchised, we now present ourselves to the rest of the world as proud, grinning, jut-jawed, pitiless war-lovers with appallingly powerful weaponry - who stand unopposed.

In case you haven't noticed, we are now as feared and hated all over the world as Nazis once were.

And with good reason.

In case you haven't noticed, our unelected leaders have dehumanised millions and millions of human beings simply because of their religion and race. We wound 'em and kill 'em and torture 'em and imprison 'em all we want.

Piece of cake.

In case you haven't noticed, we also dehumanised our own soldiers, not because of their religion or race, but because of their low social class.

Send 'em anywhere. Make 'em do anything.

Piece of cake.

The O'Reilly Factor.

So I am a man without a country, except for the librarians and a Chicago paper called In These Times.

Before we attacked Iraq, the majestic New York Times guaranteed there were weapons of mass destruction there.

Albert Einstein and Mark Twain gave up on the human race at the end of their lives, even though Twain hadn't even seen the first world war.

War is now a form of TV entertainment, and what made the first world war so particularly entertaining were two American inventions, barbed wire and the machine gun.

Shrapnel was invented by an Englishman of the same name. Don't you wish you could have something named after you?

Like my distinct betters Einstein and Twain, I now give up on people, too. I am a veteran of the second world war and I have to say this is not the first time I have surrendered to a pitiless war machine.

My last words? "Life is no way to treat an animal, not even a mouse."

Napalm came from Harvard. Veritas

Our president is a Christian? So was Adolf Hitler. What can be said to our young people, now that psychopathic personalities, which is to say persons without consciences, without senses of pity or shame, have taken all the money in the treasuries of our government and corporations, and made it all their own?

Kurt Vonnegut/ICH

© 2005 Kurt Vonnegut Extracted from A Man Without a Country: : A Memoir of Life in George W Bush's America.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Why don't yanks like soccer?

It's not because of the dearth of scoring (think hockey). Nor is it due to the theatrics of faking injury (think "professional" wrestling). It has nothing to do with the kissing and hugging after a goal (think of all the ass-slapping on the NFL sidelines -- far more expressive of repressed homoerotic tendencies). No, it's the fact that soccer is not a game that can be interrupted every 3 or 4 minutes for commercials about beer and trucks.

When in doubt, follow the money.

A soccer game is composed of two 45-minute periods and a 15 minute half-time rest. In other words, it takes just under 2 hours to watch a complete game, including the convenient 15 minutes to go get a beer, take a piss, call your mom, and so on. An American football game is composed of 4 15-minute periods, plus half-time, plus innumerable commercials. One ostensibly 60-minute game can take 3-4 hours to watch!

That's why soccer isn't popular in the States. Madison Ave. can't figure how to make it work for the money boys, so they don't sell the idea to the punters.

40 hrs./wk = $10,700/yr (gross)


Wonder why people laugh at entry-level jobs and turn to selling drugs on the street (or join the army)? Check it out. Richest nation on earth, and this is what we offer:

From Marc Cooper (www.marccooper.com):

"$10,700 per year. That's how much somebody makes if he or she earns the minimum wage of $5.15 an hour. That's $6,000 below the Federal poverty line for a family of three. And that's before payroll deductions. So figure take-home pay at about eight thousand per year. $150 a week. For a 40 hour week. Makes you proud to be an American, doesn't it?

"Thanks to the Republicans --who awarded the top 1% of the population nearly a trillion bucks in tax breaks over the last five years-- $10,700 per year is exactly the amount that minimum wage workers will continue to make.

"For the ninth time since 1997, Congressional Republicans on Wednesday voted down a proposal to raise the minimum wage. The vote was 52-46 in favor, eight votes shy of the 60 needed to pass. Eight Republican senators voted for the raise; four of them are up for re-election.

"The others, apparently, couldn't give a flip. Of course, these Republican misers are the same folks who have voted to raise their own salaries and benefits on a consistent basis. While minimum wage service workers have their pay frozen, fat and lazy U.S. Senators get an automatic cost of living increase every year. Is there anyone out there stupid enough to even try to justify this disparity? U.S. Senators will now make about $170,000 per year, about a $30,000 (or if your prefer, a 20%) increase since the last time the minmum wage was raised.

"Adjusted for inflation, the purchasing power of the minimum wage is now at its lowest point since 1955. I repeat, minimum wage workers now have less buying power than they did 51 years ago. Again, adjusting for inflation, the minimum wage hit its post-war peak in 1968 when it was equivalent to $7.71 in current terms."

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Tin Hats in the Rain

I love how thinking 9/11 may well be a government-sponsored event
designed to "sell" the U.S. public on the pre-existing take-over of
the Middle East and Afghanistan (permanent bases are nearing
completion in both places, coincidentally the source of the world's
most precious resource) is presented as "nutty" and "tin-hat" stuff.
But if we know anything at all about history, we'll recall that the
sinking of the Maine to start the Spanish-American War (the U.S.
wanted Cuba and the Philippines -- got them both), the Gulf of Tonkin
incident used to justify the start of the Vietnam war, and the
burning of the Reichstag were all inside jobs used to sell war to the
public. In other words, there is a long history of governments
staging attacks to justify their aggressive "response." Yet those of
us who suspect that history may simply be repeating itself are the nut-jobs.
Interesting reading of history, if you can call it a "reading" at all.

And really, knowing what we do about GWB's utter disregard for history and world politics, can anyone really believe that he is motivated by a burning desire to bring "democracy" to the Middle East? Utterly ridiculous.

It's the same theme I'm writing about in my book at the moment: those of us who suggest that there have been times, places, and cultures that offered a better life are considered "hopeless romantics," while those who insist that we live in the best of all possible worlds and that the evolutionary process is one of constant improvement of overall living conditions (a demonstrably false supposition) call themselves "realists." No evolutionary theorist of any repute believes evolution to be a process of "improvement." Evolution is simply a process of adapting to a changing social and physical environment. There is no tangible sense of "better" or "worse" apart from the organism's relation to that environment. But for some reason, supposedly serious thinkers still advance the belief that our time and place is the best that ever was. There is no scientifically valid reason to think so, as far as I can tell. But I'm the romantic. Bizarre.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Nisa!

The name finally came to us. Thanks to all of you who suggested names. Some of them were very good. My sister suggested "Teflona," as none of the previous names stuck. But we finally realized that she reminds us of our favorite female anthropological subject, Nisa of the !Kung. If you don't know her, check out the book by the same name, by Shostak. It's a great read. All about her life, including the most intimate details. You really get a sense of how a life can be so utterly different from yours yet still be aligned along the same thematic lines.

So, the little black and white mountain kitten is henceforth Nisa.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Name our Cat!



If you read the previous post, you know I'm not big on birthin babies, but I do like cats (and since they won't live longer than me -- with any luck -- I don't have to concern myself with the state of the planet before taking one in. Anyway, here are a couple photos of our new one. We're not sure what to call her. So far, we've come up with:

Maggie (cause she reminds us of my cousin, Maggie, when she was little)
Uma
Shakti
Halle Berry (cause she's half white and half black)

Any suggestions?

Who's Romantic Now?

Sometimes I find myself in the position of being asked by smiling parents-to-be why I don't want to have kids. I normally try not to answer at all or I let them off with half an answer: I'm too selfish to give up my own life in exchange for spending the rest of it worrying about someone else's. The other half of the answer, the part I don't normally discuss with smiling parents-to-be, is simply that I don't believe in the future.

That's not to say I don't think there will be a future. I'm sure there will be. But it'll suck.

The myth of progress is no myth. It's the central pillar of an elaborate marketing campaign. Myths are tales containing useful information designed to be easily remembered, while the notion of progress upon which our sense of "aren't we the lucky ones" is based contains nothing of any use whatsoever. It is utterly false, but effective at reassuring us that we are fortunate to have been born here and now. Then and there was so much worse, according to this advertisement for the present. I'm sure the Ancient Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, Mongol hordes and Aztecs all had self-gratifying stories that celebrated their uncanny fortune at having been born when, where and who they were. The Vikings no doubt felt blessed to be Vikings, even as they drifted out to sea under overcast northern skies.

But that ain't science.

However, as the appearence of rational thought is what floats our boats, we couch our self-aggrandizing myth in scientific-sounding mumbo-jumbo. We convince ourselves that human life was "nasty, brutish and short" before the advent of our exalted rational civilization, despite copious evidence to the contrary. Any who doubt this party line are dismissed as hopeless romantics.

But what is more romantic really, than insisting that your world, your age, your way of living is the best in the history of humanity? To my way of thinking, a true realist would entertain other possibilities.

I know the arguments. I hear you saying that modern medicine has doubled the human life span. But you only say that because that's what you've been told. You haven't checked the numbers. Why would you? Who bothers to confirm good news? The purported doubling of the human life span is a trick based upon statistical dishonesty and highly parsed wording. Look, in the Old Testament, we're told that a man's allotted time on earth is "three score and ten." That's 70 years. I don't have the space to get into the whole thing here, but suffice it to say that an "old" person 50,000 years ago was over 50 for sure, and quite possibly over 65. The notion that the average life span was 30 is based upon child-mortality figures. Many children died as infants, both from disease and as a means of controlling population. A stable population is vitally important to hunter/gatherers, as the available food supply is pretty stable as well. There was no way to increase the holding capacity of the land until the advent of agriculture. So sure, if you calculate 30 dead babies, and 30 people who lived into their 60s, you'll get an AVERAGE life span of about 30. But that doesn't mean someone from this group was a doddering senior at 30!

What would the "average human life span" be in contemporary USA if aborted fetuses were included in the calculation? If anthropologists agree (as they do) that infanticide was a widely-practiced form of population control, then what's the scientific justification for including those in the mix but not the abortions?

And I hear you saying, "But Chris, modern medicine has cured so many terrible diseases!" Right, but the diseases that are so terrible weren't significant problems for humans until the "miracles" of agriculture and the domestication of animals. Influenzas, measles, pox, tuberculosis, fevers... all are viruses that jumped from one species living in close proximity to humans. Pigs, cows, chickens... they are the sources of these killer diseases it took modern medicine 12,000 years to bring under some form of control. If you light my house on fire, don't expect me to thank you for putting that fire out a few hours later.

You want to know why time always seems to be going faster and faster? Because it is; we're circling the drain, my friends.

I wouldn't wake you up with a phone call at 2:30 in the morning urging you to come to a party that is already at the spilled beer and full ashtrays stage, so why would I want to invite children to this party, a party that is clearly well beyond its best moments and pretty far into what is already recognizable as a very brutal denouement?

I love kids as much, or more than the next guy. That's why I let mine keep sleeping.