Friday, July 18, 2014

Always Expect More Of The Same But Worse

I’m creating a formula that can be used to make predictions in American politics. So far, it goes something like this: You take the status quo, add the dullest or most uninspiring possibility, and that is the most likely future outcome. In other terms, SQ + MUP = LFO (where MUP is Most Uninspiring Possibility and LFO is Likely Future Outcome).

When we apply this simple formula to reality, we can easily envision the following plausible scenario: Chief of Staff Lanny Davis and Secretary of the Treasury Rahm Emmanuel convince President Hillary to nominate Elizabeth Warren to the Supreme Court. That way, the court maintains its current balance and a liberal critic is effectively gagged. Wall Street is happy and progressives are out. See how easy that is?

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Why I Don’t Cry For Israel, Or Palestine

The other night, the grumpy old man I’m destined to become made his first appearance in my life. Somebody was watching the nightly news, and the hairdo on screen was affecting that grave tone  they reserve for Very Serious Matters, like announcing celebrity deaths.  In this case, though, it was nothing so earth shattering. He was just talking about the latest round of fighting in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But something in me suddenly snapped. A surge of bile rose out of my guts, and the voices of all the grouchy old farts from every American Legion Hall in the country spoke as one from my larynx: “Fuck ’em all,” it said. “Both sides can kill each other off for all I care.

A few minutes later the anchorman, whose name I’ve tragically forgotten, dropped his Edward R. Murrow reporting from London during the Blitz persona and became, as if by magic, a fountain of sunshine and levity as he talked about LeBron James returning to Cleveland. But it was already too late. The damage was done. The scowling reactionary at the bottom of my soul roamed free all evening long.  I spent the whole night yelling at the dog and fighting the mysterious urge to buy all of Jesse Ventura’s books.

(Just kidding. I never yell at the dog.)

(I only yell at the cat.)  

I don’t really think that way, of course. I abhor violence and don’t want anybody to be hurt, not even people who deserve it. I could suffer the likes of Dick Cheney or Jamie Dimon to endure a few strokes of the lash, or maybe a week or two in the stocks so people could walk by and spit on them, but that’s about it. I don’t want innocent people to be harmed or killed. I sympathize with the Palestinians and think Netanyahu is a war criminal.  If I had three wishes that could come true, world peace would be third on the list.

There. I said it. Now you can chuck those sentiments in that overstuffed folder labeled, “Things I Believe That Make No Fucking Difference.”

Netanyahu could be herding Palestinians into gas chambers and it wouldn’t matter as far as U.S. policy is concerned. Both presidential candidates would still go groveling to AIPAC to convince them that Israel is their BFF, and that under their presidency Uncle Sam will never take the car keys and the credit cards away.

The media narrative in this country, with few exceptions, would still be all about gallant little Israel, oasis of democracy in the Middle East, nobly fighting wicked Arab terrorists, whom all good Americans know are ipso facto our enemies as well, even when they aren’t.

I happen to think large numbers of Americans don’t buy that narrative. I think a lot of people are sick and tired of Israel. I think a lot of them would gladly tell Israel to stick it where the moon don’t shine. But you can put those sentiments in an even larger file labeled “Yet Another Issue Where the U.S Government Ignores Public Opinion.” Here, as in so many other instances, what we think doesn’t amount to a piece of rat shit. U.S. policy is a foregone conclusion no matter what we do. 

After a while you just stop caring. You shrug your shoulders, give up, and realize the only rational thing to do is focus on matters closer to home, like figuring out how to pay the rent in a “jobless recovery.” Hence the outburst. Hence the angry old man. So the Israelis and the Palestinians are at it again, huh, just like the dysfunctional alcoholic couple across the street who have been fighting over the same stupid shit over and over again for the past two years, world without end? Well, what the hell do you want me to do about it? Give me my hot cocoa and get off my lawn, dammit.

(I don’t really yell at the cat.)

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Rolling Coal

Some upstanding citizens on the right have come up with a cute new way to stick it to the EPA, Obama, and all those liberal fairies who drive Priuses. It’s called rolling coal, and it pushes the frontiers of stupidity towards whole new horizons. In fact, it pushes them towards the event horizon, which is the point where objects get sucked into black holes and no light can ever escape.

Guys, for just about five hundred dollars you can trick out your diesel truck so that it burns more fuel, spews more pollution, and shows the world that you’re opposed to big government tyranny. It also helps beat back the pain of acute penis envy and repressed homosexual urges. What have you got to lose? Step up and make a statement!

(h/t Boat Bits)

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Modern Visigoths

This what my home looks like after the 4th of July. The people who did this were not trailer trash or ignorant lumpenproles. They were, for the most part, well-off white suburbanites from the Bay Area. The have good jobs, nice homes, nice cars. They also have all the latest gadgets, so in addition to being comfortable they are fashionable as well. These are the people we mean when we say “middle class” or higher. Many of them work in the Silicon Valley. They are educated, cutting edge, culturally and economically hip modern Americans.

When given half a chance they immediately become Visigoths:

Is it just me, or do you think that at bottom we really just don’t give a shit anymore?

Sunday, June 29, 2014

White Trash Odyssey

I just took a little road trip through northern California and Oregon. The countryside is beautiful, but when you lower your gaze to the things of man you feel naught but desolation and despair. What a ghastly slum we’ve created. We slaughtered an entire race of people and deforested large tracts of land to put up Chevron stations and McDonald’s. If there is a hell we’re surely going to roast in it.

This is nothing new, of course. We turned the county into a standardized corporate purgatory years ago; a parking lot with identical neon signs in every town. But the cancer, I’m afraid, has spread to the liver and the brain. It’s terminal now.  Every place has the same Taco Bell, the same AM/PM, the same Burger King, the same Denny’s, the same Shell. And when you venture into these nothing places, you see the exact same sloven and degraded specimens of humanity behind the registers or milling around out front — tattooed crankster types wandering shirtless through the parking lots; obese rednecks with too tight cut-offs pushing baby strollers into the Carl’s Jr., and scraggly homeless people with dirty backpacks and beat up bicycles traveling in a daze from nowhere to nowhere. The permanent American underclass flourishing in its natural element.    

If I was a foreign tourist I would tell people back home that America is a scummy, poor, boring and mildly frightening country. Stay away.

The downtown areas still maintain their individual character, but these seem like so many quaint little museums where you go to get a small taste of what life was like before Corporate America Inc. stamped its iron template down upon our heads. And even there you see the same motley dregs who dwell along the interstate. They are everywhere, the seedy new normal, the white trash remains of consumer culture gone bad. Unfortunately when this, our redneck Third Estate, gets the urge to rebel it will probably do so under the banner of some right wing monstrosity. But even that’s unlikely. These people are completely out of the loop. They are as cut-off, clueless and tuned-out as the proles in 1984. 

Back on the road. To pass the time, you can listen to the same twenty classic rock songs over and over again: Queen, Foghat and Lynyrd Skynyrd on a continuous loop that will go on playing until the stars go dark and the Statue of Liberty lies buried under the sea. When you need to make sense of it all, you can switch over to the AM dial where legions of right wing talk show hosts and evangelical Christians are waiting to put it all in perspective for you.

A billboard for the Seventh Day Adventists says that Saturday is the Lord’s day, but that Antichrist switched it to Sunday to deceive us. An hysterical old woman who’s late for her nap tells Rush Limbaugh she has given up all hope for the country. Obama is letting the immigrants take over and Ron Paul is maybe the only politician you can trust anymore, and oh how she fears for her seven year old grandson. Rush tells her he understands, but soothes her with a quote — real or imagined — from Ronald Reagan, whom he calls Ronaldus Magnus: No matter how bad things seem, the country is worth fighting for, or something.

Back in California, a sign advertises for the State of Jefferson — the product of some tea party wet dream about parts of northern California seceding from big government liberals in Sacramento, or something.*

After about eight hours of this, you shake your head and start to wonder: What kind of fucking country do I live in, anyway?

*Apparently this idea dates back to 1941, making it a pre-tea party wet dream.

I Hope Team USA Loses

I’m getting a little tired of all this World Cup B.S. Team USA is competing so now everyone is a soccer fan. Uh-huh. It’s getting so bad I expect to hear a couple affluent white suburbanites refer to it as futbol, at which point I’ll seriously question my commitment to non-violence.

Last week I heard David Gregory and a panel of smug Romans chirping about it on Meet the Press. Conspicuous among them was famed pundit, sociologist and moral philosopher David Brooks. He conspicuously failed to mention all the poor Brazilians who were booted out of their homes and whose neighborhoods were destroyed so that the world’s one-percent can watch soccer games at a level of comfort they’re accustomed to. No doubt our illustrious pundits discussed this dicey moral conundrum on the back nine at the Chevy Chase Country Club later that afternoon.

But who cares about that? Certainly not Americans. About one half of the electorate would shrug their shoulders and say it was their own damn fault for being poor in the first place. The other half, the ‘liberal’ half, would concede the point, but then sheepishly add that those who were impoverished “through no fault of their own” kinda sorta maybe deserve a little help.

I’m getting that queasy feeling that overcomes me when the vast corporate combine that shapes our culture is attempting to get me to care about something I don’t care about or believe something that isn’t true. It’s a form of peer pressure, but the cool kids are giant media corporations and the school yard is the entire country. It tried to convince me that Princess Diana was a saint who could walk on water and cure lepers when she quite obviously wasn’t and couldn’t. It told me Steve Jobs was the biggest, bestest, most awesomest creative genius in the universe, a man more visionary than Christ, Jefferson, Henry Ford and the guy who thought of putting plus and minus sign on batteries, when to my mind he was just another successful business asshole. His company uses sweatshop labor and his contribution to humanity — the iPhone — is a glorified toy gadget that enables adults to act like rude and distracted teenagers; it has made it socially acceptable for full grown human beings to say things like “check out this cool new app” and think that ringtones are an interesting thing to talk about. It has helped create a culture where nobody sees anything wrong with this.

It’s the same cultural force that bullies me to automatically root for team USA every four years in the Olympics. Well, why should I? Our athletes have the most money, the best facilities, the wealthiest sponsors and the most coddling of any athletes in the world. Rooting for them is like rooting for a bank or an insurance company. It’s like rooting for the spoiled girl in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. The fact that so many of them are unsympathetic whiners just makes it all the more unseemly. Fuck that. I’ll cheer for the poor Nigerian kid over commercialized hipster twits like Apollo Ohno any day.

Now the same process is under way with soccer. I guess our corporate masters have decreed that we need yet another sports spectacle. We need one more gaudy venue where we can be swamped with with Budweiser and Subway commercials. We need one more group of clay-footed multimillionaire heroes to gawk at on talk shows and reality TeeVee — tattoos, goatees and ten pound diamond earrings a plus! One more tribal competition to rekindle our dying national pride. One more source of cheap, superficial nationalism to artificially pump us up on our shameful slide to the bottom.

Friday, May 9, 2014

The Good American

Picture a sweating fat man, baseball cap and remote, tossing in a fitful sleep on his Barcalounger. Call him Jake. He is groaning and slapping at imaginary terrors. Something is obviously bothering him, but what could it be?

He is woken by a kind but somewhat bland man in a bland suit. Jake is startled. He gulps and gasps with apnea, lets go of his balls, and has to rub the goo out of his eyes before he is fully composed. A flash of recognition crosses his bleary face. His visitor speaks:

“Hi, Jake. I’m sorry to bother you.”

“No worries,” Jake replies. “It’s all good.”

“But, you see, we need your cooperation again.”

“Why’s that?”

“I know you care about America.”

“I do.”

“You were there for us when we needed to defend ourselves against Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.”

“Better to fight the terrorists over there than over here.”

“Our thoughts exactly,” the visitor says. “And you were realistic when we didn’t find any weapons.“

“Stuff happens,” Jake says.

“Yes,” the visitor replies. “Stuff happens.” The visitor comes closer, his knee touching the arm of Jake’s Barcalounger. “And you understood when we had to take, uh, extra measures against terrorists and other people of interest?”

“After nine eleven the gloves had to come off.”

“Our thoughts exactly.” At this point, the visitor leans forward and assumes a very chummy, very intimate air with Jake. He speaks in a low voice: “You know, you didn’t even mind all that much when every American had to pitch in and save the economy. You know what I’m talking about, right?”

“Well, I didn’t really understand all that.”

“Of course not. No normal people did. That’s what makes you normal, you didn’t understand! Let’s just say mistakes were made. Stuff happens, as you and the man say. But it’s okay. The appropriate parties have taken full responsibility, and now they’re back on the job and as good as new. That’s one of the things I love about America. You can learn from your mistakes and move forward. We don’t dwell on the past. We always look ahead. Don’t you love that about America, Jake?”

“Yeah, I suppose.”

“The important thing is that the country banded together and helped out our job creators. You do believe in creating jobs, don’t you, Jake?”

“Uh, yeah.”

“Of course you do. You know, it’s the common sense of everyday Americans that keeps this country going strong. We see eye to eye on so much, I sometimes wonder why I bother talking to them at all.”

Jake drifts back to sleep. His visitor goes on talking about the “lone superpower,” “maintaining credibility” and “moral responsibilities,” but by then it’s all a blur. Jake has other concerns. He is still uncomfortable. Something just isn’t right. There is a nagging pain that won’t leave him alone. It is a neck-grabbing existential torment that has kept him tossing and turning all night. What the hell is it?

Suddenly Jake discovers the problem: He is sitting on his iPhone, which has left a painful welt on his ass. He removes it from his butt cheek, places it on the coffee table, and sleeps soundly through the rest of the night. He forgets his dreams.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Visions Of Heaven

Most people’s idea of heaven is just a continuation of the things that bring them pleasure on earth. They might pay lip service to wanting to bask in God’s love and righteousness, but that’s not really true. If you could delve into the subconscious of your average man, into that little place in his head where visions of heaven lay, you wouldn’t see any trace of God’s love and righteousness, no yearning for a higher plane of consciousness, not even a soothing white light. There would be no desire for anything fundamentally different from what you find here on earth. The contents of his paradise would be no different than the content of his typical daydreams, except they would go on forever. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, by the way, but it means that Mr. Average Consumerist American’s vision of the Great Beyond boils down to something like this: NASCAR and football for eternity; putting little white balls into little holes; a collection of sports cars; a harem of pliant young women who don’t mind his belly or his hairy back because they can see his inner beauty … new episodes of Sports Center and Two and a Half Men every hour of every day; an occasional visit to the wife and kids … The most spiritual items in his utopia would be a valley full of nachos and a cascading spring of Bud Light.

But why shouldn’t he confine his aspirations to such things? What do our so-called spiritual leaders have to offer in its place? Mr. Consumer’s heaven might be intellectually and spiritually destitute, but at least it allows for some fun. It is vastly more appealing than singing campfire songs with vacuous born again Christians for all time, or listening to Billy Graham sermons, or any of the other the bone-dry pleasures Judeo-Christianity has on tap. If the Mormons have their way there won’t even be any coffee. Shit, even my bank gives me free coffee. At least the Muslim afterlife offers you seventy-two virgins. That might sound barbarous and horrid, but stack it against the white Christian American version before you judge: No sex, no drugs, no booze, nothing, just an endless, arid prayer meeting with the likes of Rick Warren, Joel Osteen, the Christian Coalition and a few murderers who got right with God on death row. Which door which you choose?

And it gets worse. Michael Bloomberg might be there. Just ask him. He’ll tell you. This is what he recently told an interviewer: “I am telling you that if there is a God, when I get to heaven I’m not stopping to be interviewed. I am heading straight in. I have earned my place in heaven. It’s not even close.”

All that and a rich prick too? No thanks.  

Another Rich Racist Speaks

Have you heard the news? A rich old white guy made racist comments about black people. No, really, it’s true. So, barring a war or a natural disaster, this story will take up a large part of the “news” for a while. We’ll be subjected to the standard script. Right-thinking Americans will howl with moral indignation. The offender, in this case the owner of the LA Clippers, will apologize and insist his remarks were taken out of context. As soon as it’s clear this hullabaloo is going to affect his bottom line, he’ll abase himself in some symbolic way, maybe by throwing some money at a black charity or putting some black people in high positions within the Clipper organization.

It will be debated on all the cable talk shows. Like every other issue, it will be crammed into a simplistic framework that prevents any serious discussion about the underlying issues at play. It will degenerate into a stupid morality tale in which high-paid louts argue about whether his apologies are sincere or not, and whether his penance has gone far enough, and what should the NBA do to combat this problem in the future? It will become such a childish farce that we’ll all start praying for Kim Kardashian or Beyonce to commit some equally egregious faux pas so we can obsess over that instead.

Two aspects of this issue are confounding people. First, the man in question, Donald Sterling, is the owner of an NBA team. Second, his trophy girlfriend is half-black. Why would a racist own a basketball team and cavort with a black woman himself? This defies common sense. Some enterprising TV producer might even have a telegenic TeeVee psychologist come on to explain the mystery and put our dissonance at ease. In fact, this is an interesting psychological question, but it can’t be discussed in three minute segments between commercials for Cialis and Applebee’s. In terms of history, though, there really is nothing surprising here: Plantation owners ran operations staffed largely by black people, and many of them had no qualms about sleeping with black women at all. Does that mean they weren’t racists? This the modern version of a phenomenon that is older than Monticello.

The one-percent doesn’t believe, rightly, I’m afraid, that they are subject to the law. Why on earth would they consider themselves bound to petty social mores and conventions? What’s the fun of being at the top of the pyramid if you have to treat all the little people — black or white — with decency or respect? He’ll be a pariah for a season or two, but he’ll go to Canossa, i.e., Dancing with the Stars, and win over the plebs, who by that point won’t remember why he’s on TV in the first place. He’ll just be another circus clown for them to gawk at during those two-minute intervals when they aren’t looking at their iPhones. By the time the elections roll around, the politicians who denounce him today will be able to safely and quietly deposit his checks and no one will be the wiser. That’s the real issue here, and it won’t be touched.

Friday, April 11, 2014

U.S. Of Aliteracy

Once upon a time I delivered appliances. Or I actually helped a guy who did. I was just dumb extra muscle. But I got to go in a lot of houses over the course of a year, and I can count on one hand the number of homes that had books in them. I mean real books, not Chicken Soup for the Soul type crap (although there aren’t really many of those either). I mean nobody but nobody had books. One of those who did was a college teacher. She had all sorts of interesting African artifacts as well, but she was a blessed anomaly. In general, we live in a cultural desert.

A friend of mine works in the homes of the wealthy installing high tech electronics and whatnot. Smart homes are the hip new thing among the rich and well born. At any rate, my friend makes decent money hooking up their silly toys. These are the summer homes of the super-rich, genuine one-percenters, and he tells me the same sad tale: no books. On the other hand, one house has seventeen flat screen TVs. Four in one room. These people are so dull and unimaginative they can’t think of anything more important to spend their money on than televisions. It’s actually quite sad.

“Gee, honey, what should we do today?”

“I know. Let’s buy ten more TVs. One for each bathroom!”

“Baby, you read my mind!”

This is precisely the kind of witless excess that precedes revolutions, or at least reformations. Then again, we have full grown adults who get excited about Captain America in 3D. We have people who think Jay Leno is funny. We have people who watch Good Morning America and consider Go Daddy commercials worthy topics for earnest debate. It is possible that we are so completely narcotized and immature, so utterly flabby and clueless, that we just might be revolution-proof. It just may be that consumer culture has led us to the end of history, as it were, and it’s a fat guy in a baseball cap staring at an iPhone and playing fantasy football. He is completely aliterate and aspires to nothing beyond gross material pleasure. He laughs at commercials and says things like “It’s all good.” If he was a millionaire, he’d own seventeen flat screens too.