Monday, September 19, 2016

Voting for the (Blood)Sport of it All

This election is not about the soul of America, it's not about who will "steal" it more effectively, it's not about whether one person is a liar or one person is a crook.

It's a reality show with no winners and no losers - only conflict. Because conflict is what we live for. We can't get enough of schadenfreude. We watch the Kardashians and Dancing with the Stars and The Voice and NASCAR, because we want to see the biggest wreck we can see. Our lives are mostly about working an 8-5 job, with relatively shabby benefits, we numb ourselves with drugs, because the day's not right without a Valium in our systems, and it's not over till we've had at least one drink. While it's great that marijuana is being decriminalized, I have to wonder if we use it because it's the closest thing we get to seeing the absurdity of it all, while not doing anything about it. And when we get home, we want to see how other people are having a worse time than we are.

"You're such a bummer". Yeah, I know.

I've asked people who are refusing to vote for Hillary to give me examples of her corruption, and it's mostly conjecture. While I agree she's a neoliberal nightmare, she's not the end-all, be-all of terrible that some Bernie Sanders supporters (and all of Donald Trump's, Jill Stein's and Gary Johnson's supporters) believe she is. Yes, she's a hawk. Yes, her foreign policy decisions have not, perhaps, been terrific over the years. And yes, I think her ties to the banking system of this country run a little too deep. But you're seriously going to vote for a different candidate because you don't like her? Because you don't trust her? The "don't like, don't trust" crowd have been around since her husband ran for office back in '92. They have grown, mostly feeding off each other, because nothing says confirmation bias like a crowd of people all reinforcing each other's beliefs.

I blame the internet. Which is why we still get people saying that Al Gore said he invented it.


If you think that Hillary is somehow worse than Donald Trump, by all means, vote for him or one of the independents, because Trump is who we will get if you vote for anyone other than Hillary. And if you want Hillary to fall in line with your belief systems as far as foreign policy or women's rights or whatever, then for God's sake, push hard to get the progressives in your district/state in Congress. That's where the rubber meets the road in this country, not the Presidency. Because whoever becomes President this time around may have as many as four judges to appoint to the Supremes. If you like old white men who disapprove of a woman's right to choose, or who think corporations have more rights than people, by all means, vote for someone other than Hillary. But if you want to get Citizen's United overturned, if you want a Public Option for healthcare, the least you can do is make sure your local politician is a progressive. The same goes for mayoral races, state legislatures and governors. As long as we have a base that accurately reflects the will of the people, it will all the more difficult for the folks higher up the food chain to fuck with us. But for you folks who are going to stay home, because you don't like Hillary, but you won't vote for Trump, you're voting for Trump by staying home. You're voting for Trump's policies and his racism if you don't at least vote for Congresscritters and local pols who think like you do. Washington State may be sending our first Socialist to Congress this year.

If you want to know what the American crater would look like, look at what's happened in Kansas when Republicans got their hands on the tiller for a prolonged period of time.

If we can't have the Commander in Chief, at least we can have a legislative bulwark to stem the tide of his ideas, and maybe make him a one-term president. But I'm also in favor of Hillary being a one-term President, unless she surprises us all. As a nation, if we don't get our heads together and our act together, the great future for this grand experiment will all be in the past. We will become a conflict-enamored state of chaos, looking to find ways to become famous by having a terrible time, just like everyone who's ever appeared on The Apprentice.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

A Matter of Facts


Why Aaron Sorkin Really Pisses Me Off

Never watched The West Wing (couple minutes here and there), never watched The Social Network, and never watched Steve Jobs. LOVE The Newsroom (mostly).

The West Wing annoyed me partially because it seemed like everyone was so full-on Type-A personalty, I couldn't stand to be in the same room with them for more than about three minutes. Plus, who talks like that?

The Social Network. An interesting topic, though I couldn't figure out how you'd make a movie about the creation of a really annoying web service that I still use (to my shame). Coders are not generally exciting people, except in the genius of their creations (unless their creation is the Kardashian App). I knew there were many lawsuits generated between the folks who started it, and there were probably lots of interesting dramatic personae involved. Sorkin wasn't happy with that, so he made people meaner and weirder than they were, motivated by things they weren't actually motivated by in real life, and creating and doing things that never happened.

Steve Jobs. A fascinating, infuriating human being who was the head of arguably one of the most innovative tech companies since the industrial revolution. He was a difficult, cranky man who was one of a team that ushered in an era of computers for everyone (well, everyone with a relatively hefty savings account), allowing people to use their computers to do stuff other than just tell other computers what to do (though you can use them for that, too). His character was reduced to a blank individual whose primary skill is in marketing, not in motivating folks to do better, to create a more innovative product every chance they could. Certainly there were some egregious mis-steps in Apple's product lineups over the years, but it's hard to deny they were at least interesting. But there's a lot of absolute bullshit in this movie. Things that did not happen, people who weren't like their portrayals at all, and meetings and events that are entirely made up. The same can be said for The Social Network.

And then there's The Newsroom. This is a TV show about a news organization, a completely fictional news organization, that seems to have a gift for getting the "right sources" almost every time. I won't go into too many details for those that haven't seen it, but it has the same rapid-fire patter of The West Wing, and occasionally droops into some very unbelievable dialogue. Sam Waterston is possibly my favorite character who admits to being drunk most of the time, and also offers to punch someone's teeth out one at a time with a big happy smile on his face. I love the guy, and his charm factor is way off the scale in this show. Will McAvoy, played by Jeff Daniels, is a near-genius level newscaster whose newscasts have been centered almost entirely on getting ratings. Pretty much the entire first episode is him sitting front of a teleprompter, doing an entire news hour with the word "VAMP" on the teleprompter screen, about a very big story that is developing, and they, of course, scoop every other network. If that were true, I'd be impressed.  The dialog is snappy as hell, occasionally impossible or highly improbable, but often amusing.

The show itself is generally about the rehabilitation of news on the show, essentially bringing up one of the major points of most liberal media, that there aren't always two sides to an issue (the world IS flat, goddamn it). They are wanting to inform viewers about facts, and ensuring that the facts they're presenting are both relevant and, well, factual, for the education of the voting public.

You know, like the news used to be..  mostly...

McAvoy even says at one point that you can't even get Americans to agree on facts.

There's this big argument then: if facts are so goddamn important, why can't Sorkin stick to them? Both Facebook and Steve Jobs are modern stories with characters who are still alive. He can check. He can talk to them. Mr. Sorkin's extreme concern for the facts has led him to write two movies about real people which involve counter-factual and/or nonexistent events in these famous people's lives, one of whom is still alive. I get dramatic license, but there's a limit. Sure, you can't know every conversation that every person ever has, and of course you're going to have to make some stuff up. But, to espouse such a concern for the facts in one instance, and then to ignore them so completely in another is at least hypocritical.

I could also go on about the Titanic movie, too, but that's another rant for another day.

Friday, April 8, 2016

The Masochist Says "Beat Me" and the Sadist Complies

Welcome to the land of the punished, of original sin, of the Calvinist work ethic and supreme self-denial. My father used to tell a joke, that Puritanism was the sad, haunting fear that someone, somewhere, was having a good time. He sourced it back to Oscar Wilde, but as I recently found out, it's a quote from the great journalist and all-around fount of sarcasm, H. L. Mencken. My father used this to illustrate how important it was to enjoy oneself whenever the opportunity was presented. My father, of course, being the strict Calvinist, having been brought up in a Southern Baptist community, where the preacher looked down on dancing, but had no problem with close rollerskating (to the point of dancing on skates with underage girls - yeeuch), my father became an atheist at the ripe old age of thirteen. This did not, however, divorce him from the ideas of sin, of the virtue of very hard labor for its' own sake, and regular conversations about only getting a buck knife and an orange for Christmas. When he did enjoy himself it was generally tainted with guilt. When we couldn't work in the yard because the weather didn't permit, whatever we watched on TV better be either some highfalutin' foreign film or something educational. Vacations were all about backpacking into difficult environments.

I didn't mind the foreign films, as it happens - lots of Japanese sword fights made them all the more palatable, and they imbued in me a taste for better-made films.

But I always wondered about my father's attitude toward any kind of pleasure. He liked good food, he appreciated many cuisines of the world, he really loved music (mostly classical, but he was also a big fan of the Beatles, Janis Joplin, Canned Heat, Tom Lehrer and Spike Jones). And then, when it came time to work, labor-saving devices were, apparently, sinful. Nothing was better than doing the job with a pick & shovel, where renting a roto-tiller would have gotten the job done in a tenth of the time, for ten bucks.

When my father passed in 2005, he still had an O-Cedar broom that I remember using in the eighties. It had lost three inches off the bristles. There's "frugal", and then there's "sorta nuts". I digress...

There is a weird strain running through the American psyche that tells us that unnecessary or very difficult labor is somehow good for us. That it "builds character". This is the lie we've been fed since Plymouth Rock, and I'm hoping that we're figuring it out, finally. I'm hoping that we've finally realized that, while hard work can be fufilling, tedious labor crushes the spirit, and pointless labor kills it completely. Not to sound like a curmudgeon of my father's variety, but I am reminded of the days I'd spend, mowing a half-acre of grass with a very old lawnmower (that I think came with the house), and then edging the lawn with a pair of grass clippers that were not much evolved from a pair of scissors. I understand economizing, but, even as an eight-year-old,  I knew better. I knew there were inexpensive tools designed to do this sort of work with less labor, but, as my Dad put it, "it made you soft". That, right there, is  America writ large.

Think about what other countries provide for their citizens. And no, I don't mean, "for free". which is a bullshit argument against useful societal improvements, paid for by taxes. Childcare, healthcare, family leave, college - all low cost or no cost, paid for by everyone's taxes. We are told, have kids! families are the cornerstone of American life. Then, "whaddya mean you want time off to have a kid? I can't afford for you to do THAT!" Childcare costs are often the equivalent of a second mortgage. Affordable housing near where you work is usually a non-sequiturr - just look at San Francisco. And once your kid goes off to college, be prepared for that child to come back home, to pay off one of the biggest debts they'll ever incur next to a mortgage - student loans.

It's as if we've decided that a life of self-flagellation is a major building block of society. Of course, the advice we get is "if your job really sucks, well, go find a better one". Once you reach a certain age, going out and changing jobs is about as easy as changing a tire without a jack or tire-iron.

Perhaps a revolution is what we really need. Stay tuned...

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

We've Got The Runs

Hillary vs Bernie.

Trump vs. Cruz. vs. Rubio vs. Christie vs. Carson vs. Fiorina vs. Kasich vs. Jeb! vs.   .... did  I miss anyone? I'm sure I did....


So, the TPP has been signed and must be ratified.

For once, I am not going to talk much about the Repugnicans, for the simple reason that I don't think I have to any more. So here goes: Trump calling Cruz a pussy, Rubio using a canned line three times in a row during a debate (if Chris Christie can call out your bullshit, you really have a problem), Jeb! begging people to clap for him, Fiorina demanding a seat at the adult table, even though she's polling below the margin of statistical error - is it possible for people to unvote for you? Not sure there's much we can say about this troupe of jugglers, clowns and whores that hasn't already been said by better writers than I.

That leaves the other ticket. According to a couple of older feminists, if you ladies aren't voting for the candidate with the lady parts, you're goin' ta hell. Does anyone else remember the group that called themselves "Ladies Against Women"? Used to show up at Phyllis Schlafly rallies and overstate her positions to the extreme: "You're no one til you're Mrs. someone", that sort of thing. Best part was old Phyl didn't get the joke, and never banned them, because they were so enthusiastic. My thoughts on Hillary I've made before, and it's only gotten worse. I'm not interested in electing the same last name to the White House. The Roosevelts were fine it was practically a generational difference between the two. And Bobby would have been a better Kennedy anyway. But Hillary had her shot, and couldn't convince the Democratic party that she was the better candidate against someone we knew nothing about. Here we are again, and unless you're a full-time listener of Thom Hartmann's show, Bernie Sanders wasn't exactly a household name, either. And he didn't get to deliver any address at any convention.

(can you imagine the fit of vapours that Fox would have had had they let him sell the Democrats during a convention?)

Clinton has taken in more money than God from various banks and bankers to tell them that what we're all about is commerce, and we must work with the banks, rather than against the banks, to make sure that the American Dream can continue unabated. She doesn't actually mention who it's going to be unabated for, but that's nuance, and Washington, DC doesn't do nuance. And Hillary will absolutely ratify the TPP, even if, right now, she says she won't.

While Bernie is definitely on a longer road with the whole Socialist thing hanging over him, Hillary has the baggage of having a large number of Repugs who hate her so much it makes them sick. For them, it's not about policy, it's about the murder of Vince Foster, it's about letting Bill treat the Oval Office as his recruiting tool for, well, for his tool. It's about her probably being more criminal than attorney. It's about Whitewater. No matter that most of this is utter bullshit or something for which they've let lots of their own off the hook, they still believe it down to their shoes and beyond. They're convinced she's the Antichrist, and she will drag the country down to hell with her. I don't know if this is the majority of Republicans, but it's certainly the majority of Repugnican pundits, and they will tirelessly beat those drums until every registered R votes for pretty much anyone else. She's a name brand, but for the most part, she's a completely toxic brand on the Right side if the aisle.

And since I have to vote for someone, I will probably vote for her if she's the nominee. Really hate that kind of "choice".

Bernie is less well-known, and he does have the socialist taint (I've heard normally reasonable people ask, "you mean, the communist?"). But he's honest, and fearless, and willing to go anywhere to spread his message. The guy spoke at Liberty University for goshsakes, not exactly a hotbed of registered Democrats. I can imagine him going on Bill O'Reilly and just killing it, frankly. I won't go into all his policy ideas, since I'm sure they've been covered ad nauseum on other websites and by other writers, but the stuff he's for (Universal Health Care, a higher minimum wage, reining in and/or breaking up the big banks, etc., etc.) is what I'm for, and I see no reason to vote for people who think we should move slowly and pragmatically, when, as far as I'm concerned, that just means continuing not to do anything. I relish the idea of Lloyd Blankfein being really worried, the idea that Jamie Dimon might not get to make as much money for fucking over the country, I want the bankers who screwed us to go to prison, and I want jobs to come back to this country. We desperately need a revitalized middle class, and the sooner we get started, the better. And we need to be prepared for the next industrial revolution, because it has no relationship to the way things are done now.

Bloomberg? Of the smaller sodas? Please don't....