Monday, March 30, 2009

Kicking the Habits

It looks like The Great Recession is going to be the label attached to this thing we're going through. Since it has to have a label, I guess that one'll work.

But is it something we're going through, or is it here to stay? And is it, maybe in some ways, not a bad thing, but a good thing?

I hate to think there could be anything good about all those people at GM and all the people working for their suppliers getting thrown out onto the pavement, on top of everybody else who's lost jobs. How many of them suddenly find themselves deep in debt and living on unemployment, with the prospect of either welfare or no income down the road a short way?

But make no mistake, we won't deal with the environmental crisis or the danger of an energy famine unless we get a lot poorer than we've been, and stay that way. There's a lot of pain in poverty, but, as David Owen shows in his New Yorker lead editorial, "Economy vs. Environment,""the world’s principal source of man-made greenhouse gases has always been prosperity."

The recession makes that relationship easy to see: shuttered factories don’t spew carbon dioxide; the unemployed drive fewer miles and turn down their furnaces, air-conditioners, and swimming-pool heaters; struggling corporations and families cut back on air travel; even affluent people buy less throwaway junk. Gasoline consumption in the United States fell almost six per cent in 2008. That was the result not of a sudden greening of the American consciousness but of the rapid rise in the price of oil during the first half of the year, followed by the full efflorescence of the current economic mess.

Owen also comments that the economic crisis has "put a little time back on the carbon clock." I'd add that it puts a little time back on the clock which is ticking toward the certainty of petroleum and fuel shortages if we don't radically and permanently cut back on consumption, and continue to work to find alternatives, not just to petroleum, but also to driving. And the only way to accomplish that is by combining a poorer population and more expensive gasoline, even if the price of oil stays low. A national gas tax would be the best way to accomplish this.

There's one more silver lining in that dark prospect of a permanent economic downturn: unemployment and underemployment might evolve over time into a renewed opportunity for people to spend more time maintaining families, networks of friends, and communities. Instead of nuclear households in which both adults are working full time and the kids are shuttled from day care to home to school to Saturday morning soccer, we might be able to adjust to a norm of one parent working and one staying home, as we used to, or both adults working part-time, with the caveat that workers would have to be paid better than most of them are now, for we've seen real household wages decline in the years since 1980, even as the number of hours worked per household has risen.

People living in a future characterized by a lower standard of living but a higher quality of life would have to forget about the weekly trip to the gourmet grocery store, or eating at Applebee's all the time, or the annual motor pilgrimage to Orlando. But we were better off before those things came on the scene anyway.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Sunday Afternoon

All winter I've been watching the waterfowl, half a dozen of which were at any one time floating on the little tendril of Puget Sound that snakes into the shoreline parallel to my back lot. All day I'd see them, and at night I'd hear them. But today I hadn't seen a bird on the water all day. Where'd they go?

I investigated a little more closely while on a walk uphill to the corner store. The tide is coming in now, with sun shining invitingly on the glassy surface of the tiny bay. One lone seagull hunted for clams in the middle distance. Then a pair of mallards started up from the muddy shoreline about 20 yards below my feet where they'd been digging for grubs and such. I was still a good distance from them, but they're very shy and they flew off.

There's no denying the season is finally changing. The earth and air are warming, and today's tepid sunshine is a welcome contrast to yesterday's cold drizzle and monotonous overcast. At the blacktopped little hillside strip mall where the store sits, the grassy areas are dotted with young dandelions and some sort of miniature wild daisies. The air is sweet and it's a joy to be able to breathe it.

Holden Caulfield, the protagonist of Salinger's "The Catcher in the Rye," famously asked, "Where do the ducks go in the winter?" Apparently they come here, and then in the spring they go back to Central Park. That'll work as a theory until a better one comes along.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

It's Called "Change," You Big Dummy!

One thing you have to give Bush and Cheney credit for is bringing some excitement into our lives. You could never tell what hair-brained scheme they might launch next. Their saliva-flecked insanity and depths of stupidity kept us guessing, and they never lost that magic capacity to baffle and surprise us. "Shock 'n' Awe" was just the beginning.

But recently I've noticed that even political junkies are suddenly yawning. The intensity of conversation has dropped off except among primitive humanoids like Michelle Bachman and Sean Hannity, and we're already bored with Obama's timid, unimaginative, weak, wimpy, delicate, anemic, and reflexively conventional embrace of the status quo. "Change," his monotonous and incessant campaign mantra, is now revealed as what he's most afraid of, and this was never more in evidence that at a townhall meeting a couple days ago where our Ken-Doll preznit dismissed any notion of legalizing marijuana with a wink, a nudge, and a giggle.

Now, of course, anyone as much in thrall to established powers as Obama would never challenge the bread-and-butter practices dependent on keeping pot illegal. Hundreds, if not thousands of DEA agents depend for a living on being able to harass and persecute marijuana farmers, and protecting the perks of all the various precincts of the administration's vast and self-perpetuating bureaucracy is Priority One, even if it means ignoring a potentially game-saving revenue source, such as a ten-dollar-per-ounce tax on the harmless giggle that is now this country's richest cash crop.

"The answer is, no, I don't think that is a good strategy to grow our economy," Obama said in response to on-line inquiries about whether he might reconsider the Fed's long-standing hostility to legalizing marijuana. But he didn't say a word about why it's "not a good strategy."

Obama's poverty of imagination was further amplified after the meeting by his press secretary Robert Gibbs. "The president opposes the legalization of marijuana," Gibbs told reporters. "He doesn't think that's the right plan for America." Once again, there was no clue concerning the reasons or arguments for this approach to the issue, since there are none. It was the classic "Our minds are made up and that's the end of it" moment.

Maybe Obama will change his mind if he gets glaucoma or when the budget deficit balloons to a quadrillion bucks. Until then, strike a match and light another, and watch out for cops.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Bronical Bill the Sailor

I never understood people who habitually mispronounce certain words. It's not because nobody ever corrects them; chronic mispronouncers get corrected all the time, but they just don't seem to care.

The most famous case, of course, is George W. Bush's pet mispronunciation, "nucular" (I once had a science teacher who said it that way, too). But equally annoying are people in Indiana who refer to the state next door as "Illinoise," presumably because of all those immodest and noisy people who live over there. Then there's my friend Larry, who's always having trouble with his "prostrate" gland -- you know, that collapsed gland that's lying down there flat on the perineal floor.

And I've told him 100 times, "Larry, it's not 'prostrate,' it's 'prosTATE.'" He repeats it after me, but this repeated lesson has no effect on the poor swamp-cooler guy.

However, my favorite mispronunciation of all time is "bronical" (spelling uncertain), in place of "bronchial." I got this one years ago from a young friend who suffered from severe self-inflicted bronchitis, from his overuse of marijuana. The funny thing is, he could say "bronchitis," but he couldn't say "bronchial tubes." They instead became, and were always and forever more, "bronical tubes."

This particular mispronunciation conjured up a wonderful and lasting mental image, that of Bronical Bill the Sailor, a socially obnoxious denizen of the sea whose picturesque speech was sprinkled with salty jargon and crusty nautical terms, and who, like my friend, suffered from an acute and endless inflammation of the bronical tubes. Bill was always puffing on a clay pipe stuffed with equal parts Egyptian tobacco and Pakistani gold seal hashish -- the really good, dark brown stuff. Nobody wanted him around, as he coughed constantly, spraying droplets all over anybody unfortunate enough to be listening to one of his interminable, rambling monologues, and was in addition a prolific spitter.

That's the only use of habitual mispronunciations I can think of. They sometimes help someone with nothing better to do imagine what traits the worst person in the world might have.

Joe Smith's Excellent Adventure

I remember reading in the news a few years back about a big, home-grown National Organization of Women demonstration surrounding the main temple in Salt Lake City. There was a lot of other female emancipation activity within the LDS Church going on at that time, if memory serves me, and I remember thinking that women who entertained hope that such a paternalistic institution as that might loosen up a bit were asking the leopard to change his spots.

Throughout my life I've known quite a few Mormons of all varieties, lapsed, "jack," and devout, and sometimes I feel like I've spent large parts of my life trying to avoid the Mormon Church. I'm scared by it, in the same way I'm scared by the movie versions of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers," but at the same time fascinated by it. Sometimes I think it's chasing me.

Most of what I know about the LDS I learned from Fawn M. Brodie. If you're Mormon, I'll bet you're already familiar with her, so I probably don't have to tell you that she grew up in Utah, that her family was very prominent in the church hierarchy, that her paternal Uncle David O. McKay was president of the church, that her first book was "No Man Knows My History," a biography and expose of the career of "The Prophet" Mr. Smith, that she was excommunicated and generally condemned in Utah, not just as a heretic but as a traitor to her religion, her community, her family, etc., that she wrote four other successful biographies including a ground-breaking account of Thomas Jefferson's personal life and multi-racial descendants, and that she died after a successful career as a history professor at UCLA, respected, affluent, and influential. My kind of person, in short.

I read "No Man Knows My History" years ago and don't recall it perfectly, but I remember the important parts of it: a poor kid in Pennsylvania with an overactive imagination hatches some gold-discovery and -digging schemes which come to nothing of course, and this adolescent impulse gradually metamorphoses into a vision of a hoard of golden discs or plates inscribed in a formerly unknown language with the auxiliary Biblical scriptures of a lost Tribe of Israel which had been stranded in the New World, and so on and so forth, ad infinitum and ad nauseaum. The whole towering, swaying, fantastic edifice was built up piece by piece and brick by brick over a relatively short time, crowned by the appearance of one of the most curious literary works under the sun.

I find the Book of Mormon interesting, but unreadable. Mark Twain called it "chloroform in print." I've never known what to make of people who give credence to it. It's an incredible flight of imaginative and ludicrous fancy, and supplies the template for home-grown American religions from our early days down to the present, a bizarre landscape littered with millennial end-times cults, elaborate, complex, and thoroughly articulated fantasies such as the Urantia Book, and insane messiahs like Jemimah Wilkinson.

All these exuberant and excessive effusions of Spirituality Gone Wild are way too loud, rich, and flecked with the saliva of hysteria for someone as deeply planted in quiet skepticism as your humble narrator. I don't really know enough about the how or why of the universe to claim knowledge of anything, but I'm solidly convinced, as a lifelong and vaguely deistic Unitarian, that if there even is a God at all, there's only one of her, and that her outstanding trait, as far as humans are concerned, is unknowability.

The Buddha asked, "Why engage in vain speculation? We know that all things are fixed by causation, so let us practice good, so that good may result from our actions."

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Big Adventure

Turning away with disgust from the relentlessly monotonous and depressing prospect of our current political scene and all its associated economic chicanery, a sense of relief will overcome one who escapes into a straightforward tale of old-fashioned adventure, full of the bravado, violence, racism, and unapologetic assumptions of Anglo superiority beloved by our ancestors.

Such is the charm of Samuel Chamberlain's Mexican War memoir, "My Confession: Recollections of a Rogue." Even though he later became a bonafide hero during the Civil War and rose to the rank of brigadier general, Chamberlain never stopped working on his personal history of the U.S. invasion of Mexico, 1846-48, despite that war's reputation as a minor dustup (although the prizes it yielded were anything but) compared to the War Between the States. The old soldier's affection for his earliest military adventure probably stems from his age at the time -- he was not yet eighteen when the war broke out -- and the exotic foreign locale where it occurred, set among whitewashed cathedrals and adobe villages, and teeming with hordes of needy young senoritas.

There are two things about this book that are particularly enjoyable: possibly as much as half of it is true; and the writing is accompanied by the author's watercolors, which lavishly and thoroughly illustrate every phase of the story. As an artist, Chamberlain was definitely what we would term "primitive," and his drawing never progressed much beyond the childlike, but he developed a solid sense of composition over time, and from the beginning had a dramatic sense of color. His golden skies are especially enjoyable.

The best edition of this book, produced in the '90's by the University of Texas, is out of print and not available on Amazon. Too bad. It's the only edition worth having. The notes are copious, and from them we learn, for example, that Chamberlain was present at the Battle of Buena Vista, as he testified, but not at the Battle of Monterrey as he claimed. When the latter occurred his unit, the second dragoons who served under General Wool, was still back in Texas.

Likewise, the innumerable seductions and erotic assignations which decorate these pages would have been physically taxing even for a seventeen-year-old. But they're still a lot of fun to read. Much more enjoyable than the news of the day.

Watercolor: A Knife Fight, by Sam Chamberlain.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Heist

The bank bailout plan is a criminal act -- larceny to be specific, and people more knowledgeable than me will back me up on this.

Krugman is not the only Nobel-winning economist to blow the whistle on this heist. In an interview with Reuters yesterday, Columbia University's Joseph Stiglitz condemned the Geithner plan in no uncertain terms.

The U.S. government is basically using the taxpayer to guarantee against downside risk on the value of these assets, while giving the upside, or potential profits, to private investors, he said.

"Quite frankly, this amounts to robbery of the American people. I don't think it's going to work because I think there'll be a lot of anger about putting the losses so much on the shoulder of the American taxpayer."

That's it in a nutshell. Obama and Geithner are telling the investor class they can sit down at the green table and gamble that the constituent parts of the shitpile are worth a lot more than anybody's been willing to pay for them. When they lose the gamble -- and they will -- we, the taxpayers are now standing behind them, ready to cover their losses, and we're on the hook for upwards of a trillion bucks.

Stiglitz is right; there'll be a lot of anger. But that won't matter much, because the banksters own the country. They certainly own this administration, just like they owned the last one.

There's not a dime's worth of difference between "liberal" Democrats and "conservative" Republicans. When push comes to shove, political liberalism is a fashion statement and a "lifestyle" choice. The substance of real reform will have to come from outside the political establishment.

George W. Bush at least had an excuse. He could always say, "It's not my fault. I was born this way." Obama doesn't have that escape clause.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Page Three Gril

Yeah, I know, people will say "It's supposed to be g-i-r-l." But I say, "Doesn't that just ignore the hell out of all the grils out there?"

So here's what happened. It was just another hectic day at the dog track until a young Italian porn actress stripped down to her underpants in the Milan Stock Exchange last Tuesday as a protest against the financial crisis.

Laura Perego, 22, climbed on to a table inside the bourse entrance clad only in her panties and with the Italian flag painted on her body, a police spokesman said.

"Italy is down to its underpants," the Sicilian-born actress shouted before being taken away by police. She was charged with obscene acts.

It wasn't immediately apparent whether this action helped alleviate the crisis. Stand by. Film at 11:00.

Ms. Perego is pictured here with her dog, Rory.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time

Political Apathy is an idea whose time has come.

My political education started with Eisenhower's farewell address. It's ending with a vacancy named Obama in the White House.

There are mainly two issues: the perambulating disaster called the economy and the search for "peace" (ha ha) throughout the Middle East.

Regarding the first of these, Geithner's "new" plan for dealing with the economic meltdown is now mostly leaked out. It's essentially indistinguishable from his earlier plans; at issue is his (and Obama's) determination to maintain that the huge pile of "toxic assets," the vacuum at the center of this mess, is actually worth something, hence, there's nothing really fundamentally wrong with the system.

"Toxic assets" is an oxymoron, because if they're toxic, they're not assets, and vice-versa. Krugman explains in detail why this so-called plan is just the Bush/Paulson approach calling itself "change:"

The Obama administration is now completely wedded to the idea that there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with the financial system — that what we’re facing is the equivalent of a run on an essentially sound bank. As Tim Duy put it, there are no bad assets, only misunderstood assets. And if we get investors to understand that toxic waste is really, truly worth much more than anyone is willing to pay for it, all our problems will be solved.

In other words, the new plan is for the innocent to pay up and bail out the guilty parties who created all these "toxic assets." Same as the old, Bush plan.

At the same time the administration is refusing to deal with the financial crisis, it's been stiffed by the Iranians, for cause.

Iran's supreme leader rebuffed President Barack Obama's latest outreach on Saturday, saying Tehran was still waiting to see concrete changes in U.S. policy.


Khamenei asked how Obama could congratulate Iranians on the new year and accuse the country of supporting terrorism and seeking nuclear weapons in the same message.

Khamenei said there has been no change even in Obama's language compared to that of his predecessor. (Emphasis is mine.)

"He (Obama) insulted the Islamic Republic of Iran from the first day. If you are right that change has come, where is that change? What is the sign of that change? Make it clear for us what has changed."

Still, Khamenei left the door open to better ties with America, saying "should you change, our behavior will change too."

As I noted here a few days ago, Obama and Hillary Clinton habitually keep referring to Iran as a "nuclear threat," even though their own security chief has testified before Congress that Iran has neither the capacity nor any plan to produce a nuclear weapon.

I fear we've been played for rubes, one more time. This guy campaigned on a promise of "change." I would very much like to see some. Maybe somebody could wake me up if there ever is any.

Somebody remind me again why the presidential election of 2008 was so damned important.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Strictly L7ville

Good eva ning ladies anda chennamen; happy ukachinas.

And with that, Lawrence Welk turned it over to Myron Florin to introduce Gail and Dale, performing a vocal duet of what Mr. Welk termed "a modern spritual."

And so it is, just teeming with modern spirit.

Nice outfits.

A snare drum roll and cymbal splash to ChristianLib at BNet.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Being and Politics

The ancient discipline I'm studying developed over time and was fully formed over a thousand years before James Watt lit the first fire under the boiler of his first steam engine, initiating the modern industrial age, an era of incredible productivity, horrible destructiveness, and an utter absence of introspection and self-knowledge.

The ancient Indian sages visualized the human being as a multi-layered organism, with its successive depths of being nested inside the superficial body, as the successively smaller Russian nesting dolls are enclosed within one another. The human body encloses its vital functions (pranamaya) -- breath, digestion, the heartbeat, and so forth. Inside that is the mental body of thought and the intellect, which in its turn encloses the body of the personality and ego. The deepest aspect of the human, beyond the ego, is the anandamaya -- the heart and soul.

Obviously, the study of politics and history engages us at the third level of our beings, that of thought, intellect, and the mental activities involving apprehension. And here again, consulting the ancient Indic sages leads to contemplation of another suite of five -- the five modes of mental apprehension. Patanjali listed them as understanding, error, imagination, deep sleep, and memory. In our own study of politics and history, only four of these modalities ever come into play, since deep sleep hasn't been part of anyone's political repertoire since Strom Thurmond died.

In understanding politics (or deliberately misunderstanding them, as the case may be), we try to understand the evidence of our senses and of faithful testimony. Failure to do so leads only to error. Likewise, we try to bring to our analyses a true assessment of accurately-related historical events. Misrepresenting history, or imagining it differently than what it actually was, leads to erroneous, false, or deliberately dishonest conclusions.

Looking at the last 100 years of American history, two things stand out.

There have been two world-shattering, global economic crises in the last century, both of which had their origins in this country. Both were caused by a class of American speculators whose greed and hysteria verged on psychosis, and whose incapacity for introspection or insight rendered them blind to any aspect of reality except immediate cash profit. Their tendency to sell any assets they acquired as quickly as possible, pocketing the difference between the purchase price and the sale price, indicates that they knew they were embarked on a criminal enterprise.

The enormous mountains of debt generated by both these episodes led to a sudden, catastrophic shrinking of the money supply, and subsequent collapse of demand for goods and services which people could no longer afford, at which point workers engaged in the production of those goods and services lost their jobs, further fueling the downward cycle.

Anyone looking for another cause for the present crisis or the disaster of the 1930's is guilty of either intentional or unintentional dishonesty (the latter is sometimes called "denial"), and is to be neither believed nor trusted by anyone who has any interest in truth, honesty, or understanding.

Likewise, the last 60 years especially have seen an increasing tendency for the U.S. government to engage in invasions of foreign countries. Over time the reasoning put forward to justify this aggression, which now appears continuous and perpetual, has gone from questionable, to weak, to duplicitous, to ridiculous. Behind this habit of aggression are the enormous standing U.S. military establishment headquartered in the Pentagon, and its umbilically-connected offspring, the corporations and industries engaged in war production and war profiteering.

These two sources of mischief must be addressed and remedied if we're to progress as a nation. That is to say, the possibility of any political progress depends on this.

Before we can solve our problems, we need to accurately and (especially) honestly assess their origin. This is exactly what most of the people talking about politics in this country, from professional pundits to "the man on the street" seek to avoid, and I no longer have anything to say to them.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Born in the USA

There's an AP story over at Yahoo! and elsewhere concerning the number of babies born in the US in 2007, and how the total of live births broke the old record set in 1957.

Nowhere does this story mention that the population of the U.S. has nearly exactly doubled during the fifty years between the two record-setting dates. That's what I call "journamalism."

In his final paragraphs, the reporter, Mike Stobbe, does mention that despite the record number of births, this increase is different from occurred in the 1950s, when a much smaller population of women were having nearly four children each, on average. That baby boom quickly transformed society, affecting everything from school construction to consumer culture.

Today, U.S. women are averaging 2.1 children each. That's the highest level since the early 1970s, but is a relatively small increase from the rate it had hovered at for more than 10 years and is hardly transforming.

Otherwise, The AP reports that abortions are down, and so are births to married people. 40 Percent of all babies born these days are born to single moms. Even happy couples who have been together a long time aren't bothering with "official" recognition.

The good thing about this is that it gives the kids an opportunity to attend their parents' wedding, if they ever decide to have one.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

P. Eye, Paper

I remember riding home to our beloved suburb in the back seat of the family sedan on summer nights in the late '50's and early '60's. Slouched down half asleep and wedged in between my sisters, warm, full of restaurant food after a family outing, I was always reassured, as we drove past Seattle's Post-Intelligencer building, by the sight of the big blue globe with the gold eagle on top, and the spectacular revolving illuminated slogan: "It's in the P.I."

I figured our little world was secure as long as that beautiful neon totem was shining in the night. It was in its place and I was in mine.

Not that I read the P.I. My dad, a television newsman, and in those days an Ed Murrow liberal, remarked somewhat contemptuously that it was a "Hearst rag." He also thought the name was funny, and made funnier by the street cry of the newsprint vendors.

"P. EYE, paper," they said, with the emphasis on the "eye" and a comma before "paper."

As we were headed into a football game in Husky Stadium one Saturday afternoon, dad remarked that "Any tourists that hear that are going to go home and tell the neighbors that people in Seattle sure talk funny."

In recent years, as its readership fell away and the age of the printing press, checkbooks, "cigarettes that bear lipstick's traces," and Kodak film gave way to computer-dominated commerce and communication, the old PI Paper became an excellent repository of first-class local reporting and liberal opinion. Its being one of the country's better dailies couldn't save it from the inevitable.

Before long, the New York Times and Wahington Post on line will be everybody's papers. Local web sites, staffed by volunteers or a few badly-paid journalists will have to suffice for local news markets. The ruling class will still have their Wall Street Churinal, no doubt.

Anybody know what's going to happen to the big blue globe? It's not often that I shed a tear for an advertising device.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Prayer to Lord Ganesha

Ganesha, the elephant-headed god of the Hindus, is regarded in India as the remover of obstacles. That's why I have a statuette of him on my dashboard, where other people have a plastic Virgin Mary.

Today I'm praying to Ganesha to remove our most threatening obstacle to recovering from the mess we're in -- the American ruling class.

It looks like Obama is on board with this too, finally.

Joining a wave of public anger, President Barack Obama blistered insurance giant AIG for "recklessness and greed" Monday and pledged to try to block it from handing its executives $165 million in bonuses after taking billions in federal bailout money.

"How do they justify this outrage to the taxpayers who are keeping the company afloat?" Obama asked. "This isn't just a matter of dollars and cents. It's about our fundamental values."

The CEO of AIG says he HAS to pay the bonuses, because he has a contractual obligation to do so.

In a letter to Geithner over the weekend, the government-appointed chief executive of AIG, Edward Liddy, said the bonuses were legally binding obligations and the firm's "hands are tied." (Emphasis is mine.)

It isn't just Obama and the Democrats who are going ballistic over this. Conservative Republicans expressing the same kind of outrage include Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell called the bonuses "appalling" and said he hoped "the administration gets the message from the taxpayers on this issue."

Oh, the administration gets the message, all right. Not just the message from taxapayers, but the message from AIG. It's a little unclear, but I think AIG's message is, "If you don't let us pay these bonuses, we'll pull the strings on our suicide bomber belts. And then your whole economy will die a horrible death. Bwah-hah-hah-hah." Read this, and tell me if that's what it sounds like to you.

For 60 years the American government, no matter which party has been in charge, has been functioning as a bunch of water boys and gophers for the ruling class.

By "ruling class," I mean the people who charge you upwards of 20 percent interest on your credit card when you're forced to go into deep debt to meet a medical emergency, and pay you one-tenth of one percent on your savings when you're flush. And then they add insult to injury by adverstising at us. And divvying up our bailout money which we gave them out of the goodness of Little Timmy Geithner's so-called heart, as million-dollar bonuses.

Since when is a bankrupt and insolvent company obliged to honor its contractual obligations? When it's still got one sucker hooked, is the answer, as long as it's a real big sucker.

We've bought their credit cards and their SUV's and their wars. And now it's time to take and stand and eliminate them. And I DON'T mean "eliminate," as in "kill." I mean eliminate as in "Don't let the door hit you where...etc."

Lord Ganesha, I pray that you remove these pestiferous obstacles, and eradicate these pimples on the butt of progress.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Jung Love, Tough Love

So Bloody Dick Cheney was the featured guest on the CNN Sunday news show "State of the Onion" with John King today. Video of this event isn't posted yet, which is just as well 'cause I couldn't bear to watch it anyway. I don't know which is more dreadful, King or Cheney. Probably Cheney, since in his day he was much more powerful than any corporate media shill.

So I didn't see, but I heard that old Doc Strangelove was bragging that we've now accomplished just about everything we set out to do in Iraq.

To which I reply, "I throw a shoe at your phony Iraq War. In fact, I throw both my shoes."

And since I'm certain John King and Dick both would dodge the question -- why are we so worried about Iraq's sins when our own are so egregious? -- I'll let someone else frame it again, another way. Since the question can only adequately be answered by a psychiatrist rather than a political commentator, I call on the great Swiss doctor Carl Gustav Jung, who said:

The evil that comes to light in man and that undoubtedly dwells within him is of gigantic proportions, so that for the Church to talk of original sin and to trace it back to Adam's relatively innocent slip-up with Eve is almost a euphemism. The case is far graver and is grossly underestimated.

Since it is universally believed that man is merely what his consciousness knows of itself, he regards himself as harmless and so adds stupidity to iniquity. He does not deny that terrible things have happened and still go on happening, but it is always "the others" who do them.

(snip) would therefore do well to possess some "imagination for evil," for only the fool can permanently disregard the conditions of his own nature. In fact, this negligence is the best means of making him an instrument of evil.

So I'll ask again, why is it that we ignored the presence of a lunatic at the top of our own government, a person who brags about loving to torture people, and one who was armed up past his eyeballs with weapons of mass destruction, to travel halfway around the world and attack a lunatic who offered no immediate threat?

Why did we seriously nod in agreement with this same insane monster, who was a threat to the safety of the human race due to his possession of a nuclear arsenal, when he threatened to drop nuclear bombs on Iran? In a breathtaking example of psychological projection as described by Dr. CG Jung above, he justified this proposed action with the bald lie and false premise that Iran is "a nuclear threat."

And we would do well to ask why Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton continue, to this day, to harp on the fictitious Iranian nuclear threat, when their own national security chief has testified before Congress that Iran does not possess uranium enriched to anywhere near the level required for weapons production, and has no program or plan to do so.

It's not just Saddam Hussein who is evil. It's never just "them." It's us too. And by "us" I mean you and me. We really need to critically look in the mirror every day, without fail. Otherwise, we're liable to commit unspeakable crimes.

And if you were to ask why we're liable to wreak so much evil on the world, I'll let Dr. Jung answer for me again: It is not that present-day man is capable of greater evil than the man of antiquity or the primitive. He merely has incomparably more effective means with which to realize his propensity to evil.

What the good doctor was saying is that if Alexander the Great had possessed a couple of nukes, we wouldn't be having this conversation.

(All quotes are from CG Jung, "The Undiscovered Self," first published in 1957. Bollingen Edition, published by Princeton University, 1970, pages 52-54.)

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Shake That Thing

Now that I've belatedly acquired a little knowledge about the career of 20's diva Annette Hanshaw, I think I've heard 'em all. Ruth Etting was also a great one, as was the awesome Bessie Smith. But as with any other category of American pop musicians, one 20's songbird invariably stands out above all the rest.

For example, there were a lot of great horn players in the 20's, and even though I personally prefer listening to Bix, because he (as they say) "resonates" with me, there's no doubt that Armstrong stood head and shoulders above all the rest, both technically and in terms of irrepressible, raw energy. Louis did what all great standout artists do: he mastered everything that had been done by those in his field up to that time, then added a few new wrinkles of his own and invented his own, clearly-defined style.

This is the same thing Sidney Bechet did among reeds players, or (somewhat later) Louie Bellson did among drummers, or Rachel Brice among modern-day belly dancers.

And among the divas of the 1920's, none could keep up with Ethel Waters. Her sense of intonation was flawless, her enunciation a thing of beauty, her vocal control mesmerizing, and her dramatic sense of delivery awe-inspiring. The good news is her best stuff, recorded when she was in her prime, is still commercially available. If you go to i-tunes, or AOL music downloads, or wherever it is you buy your MP3's, I'd suggest starting with "Shake That Thing" from the album "The Incomparable Ethel Waters." Prepare to be impressed.

Thursday, March 12, 2009


This paranoid looking man was Mallard Feelmore, number 13. He was born in upstate New York, in a log cabin which he built with his own hands, His beginnings were humble, as his first job was in landscape maintenance at a cemetery. However, he soon had a lot of people under him, even then.

Even though he was number 13, Feelmore was never elected. He was the bottom half of the Whig ticket in 1848, and stepped up to the top spot only after number 12 died unexpectedly of terminal flatulence.

Feelmore was not a bad person, but he proved to be unequal to the task, mainly because he was a centrist, which is sometimes also called "moderate," "ruling from the middle," and other silly veshches of that sort. There was then, as there is now, this unfounded and superstitious belief that placing oneself in some mythological "middle" of an unbridgeable gap is virtuous, right, pure, good, true, and all that pollyanna rot and vapid silliness.

The reality was that Mallard Feelmore refused to take a stand in the war that was brewing between the slave states and the free states, or more precisely, between the slavery lovers and the slavery haters. This was unfortunate, since the slavery lovers were evil, and the slavery haters were, if not good, not evil. But Mallard Feelmore was not perceptive enough to figure this out. He believed everyone has a right to his or her opinion, however perverse, cruel, unjust, anti-factual, wrong-headed, stupid, and evil that opinion may be. He was a very weak person.

He was very poor at the job, number 13 was. I guess nobody told him that 13 is an inauspicious number. But as it turned out, he was not as bad as number 14, a drunken Democrat for whom every day was a bad hair day, and also a very weak individual, or number 15, a mediocrity so unperceptive and obtuse that he seemed barely conscious much of the time.

Number 16, of course, was Lincoln, who was a revolutionary. He was probably not a revolutionary when he took office, but had become one by the time he spoke at Gettysburg, in the wake of that enormous blood sacrifice to extirpate the Devil and all his works from American politics and daily life. For unlike numbers 13, 14, and 15, Lincoln understood that he was dealing not with two equally-weighted and legitimate points of view, but with a fight to the death between good and evil.

Will Obama be able to do the same? Will we? Stay tuned.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Random Thoughts

I have nothing significant today, just a few stray brain waves.


Yesterday I spent almost $600 having my car worked on. There was nothing wrong with it; this was just for maintenance. A VW New Beetle is very expensive to maintain properly, but worth it, and I have no complaints. Like most Americans, I love my car. It's nearly nine years old now, and buying it when I did, in the summer of 2000, and in the way I did, paying off the $20,000 purchase in two years, was one of the best things I ever did for myself.

The yellow bug's odometer reads over 162 thousand now, and it runs perfectly, almost like a brand new car. Even considering how much it costs to maintain and run, preserving the bug is much cheaper than buying a new vehicle every three or four years as many do, including lots of people who can't afford it, and who carelessly fall deep into debt indulging in such foolish behavior. I tell myself that, and note the excesses "Most People," or most Americans anyway allow themselves in order to justify my living at a level I consider affluent, in spite of my shepherding of resources and habits of thrift.

I've moved out of Southern California, but I'm still living in an exurban setting, where a car is a daily necessity. Up until now I always assumed I'd move to a city at the first opportunity, but my resolve is weakening. Life in a Western Washington exurb is just too pleasant to give up, despite the inconvenience of having to drive significant distances to get anywhere. It's a fat way of living, in a fat land. Americans tend to use an unfair proportion to the world's resources because we can afford it. I'm an American, and no exception.


Yesterday there were two major incidents involving muckers, one in Alabama where nine people were shot and killed before the gunman did the world a favor and killed himself, and one in Germany where a kid in black, in the manner of Centennial High School shooters, shot or wounded an as-yet undetermined number of people. Then the police brought him down.

"As above, so below," the philosopher once observed. And violence among the proles mirrors that of their rulers. Bloody Dick Cheney, the closest thing to Hitler or Stalin the U.S. has yet produced, wanted to nuke the Iranians, and we'll never know how close he came to actually doing so. His accusation that Iran was a "nuclear threat" makes this psychotic interlude such a classic example of psychological projection, in which one's own violent impulses are imputed to the victims of one's own homicidal intentions, that it could serve as the poster example of this frightening principle.

For a long time, I've felt that slaughterhouses, cattle feedlots, pig farms, and broilerhouse egg ranches are major components of the endemic violence which plagues our modern industrial society. The conviction has not led to changed behavior, however; I still eat meat, just as I still use more than my share of gasoline.

It's possible though, to cut back by degrees, to eat more fish, to spend the extra money for grass-fed beef and cage-free eggs, and to make an effort to eat more vegetarian meals. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has said that most real change is incremental, and that little is accomplished by revolutions. I'll take that as my ration of wisdom for the day, and run with it.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


Frank Rich's current affairs column in the New York Times this past Sunday was pegged on Thornton Wilder's famous play, "Our Town," and the fact that the number of productions of it, both amateur and professional, has doubled since 2005. In this time of economic chaos and great stress, Americans, it seems, have a longing to return to Grover's Corners, N.H., the pleasant little town where nothing ever happens.

I hate to be the incurable cynic and negative old fart among dewy-eyed idealists -- I really mean that -- ruining everybody's good time. But I've never understood what it is about this play or its population of boring, aggressively conventional citizens that people like. Is it popular because most people can relate to it?

I can relate to boredom and mediocrity too, but I've always found watching or reading this turkey to be about as interesting as watching paint dry. I hated it when I read it in high school, even though our teacher, Mrs. Marshall, loved it. And she was one of the best teachers I ever had. And then, when the shoe was on the other foot and I was the high school English teacher, I was forced by curriculum requirements to return to Grover's Corners, during spring quarter when all my little ones were squirming in anticipation of being released from bondage for the summer. On top of that, my students, or many of them, had reading problems, and a remarkable absence of thespian ability. Getting through the mundane banalities of Wilder's celebration of I-don't-know-what in that class was like having a root canal.

It could be that I'm just not smart or soulful enough to be able to glimpse the profound in the ordinary. But any definition or understanding of human nature I ever acquired has been based on the contemplation of unique extremity, such as the study of big-time homicidal maniacs like Hitler and Stalin, world-class perverts like Caligula and the Marquis de Sade, or impossible saints like M.K. Gandhi and Rev. M.L. King. There are also writers whose ability to inspire derives from their reaction to extremity -- Viktor Frankl, who found life's meaning through suffering and almost dying during the Holocaust; Emily Bronte, for whom the tortures of betrayed love and lethal heartbreak opened a window into that portion of the soul which is beyond good and evil.

Meanwhile life goes on in Grover's Corners. At least I assume it does. I really can't be sure, 'cause I'm outta there.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Past and Future

I drove to the nearby town of Poulsbo -- well, not too nearby, but relatively so, considering the great distances one must drive in this exurban setting to get anywhere.

I stopped at a Rite-Aid store in a large Poulsbo strip mall. Traffic was nasty and so was the weather -- cold, with a light mix of snow and hail coming down. Inside the store there were lots of empty shelves, wide open spaces, and untended registers, a sure sign that a business is dying. Rite-Aid has for years been the byword and poster child for the poorly managed and incompetently run large enterprise, and now it finally does seem to be truly shutting down.

I bought a pack of cigarettes, an operation which took no small expenditure of time and energy and required a bit of patience. But I was helped through it by the store's remnant of staff, bright, friendly young people who seemed to have little fear of our uncertain and insecure future.

Outside I saw an old man smoking and weeping in a parked car. An old woman with a nervous system disorder of some sort was gingerly exiting the store, trying very hard to walk without falling. I thought about offering to help her to her car, but was afraid that in the impersonal and paranoid environment of a strip mall parking lot she'd be afraid I wanted to rob her.

I then drove across the street to the large parking lot adjacent to the Central Market and entered another world. This is a large, thriving, high-end grocery outlet with an in-house bakery, several small eateries, and every kind of edible you can imagine, including an extensive bulk foods section. The decor and affect is cement floored, with rack-style shelving, and utilitarian in that affluent way that characterizes successes of the future. No pretentiousness, no cuteness, no rich-bitch curlicues, just solid, get-'er-done practicality. The joint was jumping.

I nosed around looking for deals, pushing one of those pint-size wheeled carts that all the better groceries have nowadays. Bought a box of wheat crackers, a little gourmet cheese, and went looking for produce. I asked a young lady in produce if there were any bagged oranges, and got a response that I didn't think was possible in a retail setting any more.

"I'm afraid not," she said, "but we have all kinds of loose oranges. Those behind you are organic. Wanna try one?"

She stopped what she was doing, unsheathed a jackknife and cut open a piece of fruit. It was a little under-ripe but otherwise very good, so I picked out three. Then she asked me if I'd had any of their honey tangerines, and went and got one of those for me to try. It was better than good -- a truly remarkable piece of fruit -- so I picked out half a dozen and bagged them, mentioning that it was my first time in the store and I appreciated the help.

I wasn't angling for a freebee or anything, but that's what I got. She marked the tangerine bag with a notation that it was gratis, and announced to a couple of other employees that I was a first-time customer.

Besides getting the royal treatment in a human, non-patronizing way, I noticed that much of what Central Market carries is conspicuously labeled "Produced Locally." This is the shape of America's future: there will be far fewer businesses and retail outlets, and those that survive will be selling things we need, not Chinese tchotchkes and flat-screen TV's. Agriculture, commerce, and most other business will be intensely local and uncompromisingly practical. There'll be no margin for error or silliness, and we will go back to being people, and forget about being "consumers."

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Most People and Some People

Right. So in a parallel universe, there's this guy Simon, and he supposedly met a pieman, but that's another story. So anyway this Simon veck says: "...because for most people in America and especially on the net, you either drink their kool aid or you are evil incarnate."

There we go, picking on Most People again -- everybody's favorite target. Ever notice that it's always Most People who are less intelligent, perceptive, sensitive, and fragrant than we are? True enough. And I think it's even true to say that Most People feel that way.

Most People once thought Bush was the kind of guy they'd like to have a beer with, so after 9/11 when he said Saddam is a threat to us let's go to I-rack and git him Most People went along. And Most People were for the war when it started -- that's a true story.

But then the war kind of got stuck on stupid and Most People turned against it. So it goes, as Vonnegut used to say.

Then Most People soured on Bush and on the Republicans, and after this bigass recession started in 2007, they got really sour.

So Most People voted for Obama last time around, and Most People like him.

So I try not to be too hard on Most People. They have their weak moments, their Duh moments, and their tormented gee-it's-all-too-much-for-me moments. But mostly, Most People seem to do OK. Except for when they don't.

And then in this parallel universe I'm speaking of, this distinguished chelloveck, or it might be a ptitsa, who is a spiritual agnostic comes in and says: "'most people' really mean something synonymous with either US or THEM when they refer to 'most people' - US when referring to a postive, and THEM when referring to a negative. ;-) "Most of the time", I think it's a holdover from our tribalistic evolution that I truly hope we'll evolve away from ...

1. "most people" are the same as US.

2. "most people" think like US.

3. "most people" are..... you know, NORMAL, and REGULAR people. You know, like US.

4. "most people" can't find their a$$ with both hands... you know, like THEM.

5. "most people" don't know what they're talking about.... you know, all of THEM and THOSE...

At least it's my impression that 'most people' may think this.... Or maybe it's only 'some people' that may think like this...."

Ah, well, Some People -- that's a whole different subject from Most People.

There was a time in our country's history when Most People stayed where they were at, meaning where they were born, but Some People left where they were and went west, to "make a new start," as it were. And that shows you right there that Some People are not like Most People.

And that is as true today as it ever was, because today, as the polls show, Most People like Obama, and voted for him, and say things about him like, "Yeah, Obama, he's my Main Man" and other lame things of that sort, because they are, as the spiritual agnostic points out, REGULAR and NORMAL people trying to appear cool.

But Some People are not like Most People, and don't fit in, as anyone who spends time around here knows. Hence the title of this thread, which distinguishes between Some People, Most People, and others.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Ask Dr. Catboxx

Dear Dr. Catboxx:

Why is the world we're living in such a screwed-up place?

--Ann T. Pasto
Sequim, West Nebraska

I'm glad you asked that question, Ann. And to answer it, I'm going to tap into the expertise of one of the few people I know of who knows more than I do, my history teacher, Dr. Will Jacobs of the University of Alaska at Anchorage.

Back in 1984, at my very first Will Jacobs lecture, at the beginning of the first semester of freshman Western Civ, this distinguished-looking man mounted the podium and, dispensing with unnecessary preliminaries, got down to it.

"The primary difference between modern times and premodern times," he said, "is that in premodern times there were no efficient means of energy conversion. And because production in premodern societies was limited by the available energy sources -- primarily muscle power, delivered from the muscles either of humans or domesticated animals -- premodern economies were regimes of low productivity. Ninety percent or more of people living in premodern societies were engaged directly in food production, and low productivity generated a small food surplus which supported the society's ten percent who were specialists -- rulers, priests, artisans, scribes, soldiers, and so forth.

"And what I just described were attributes of the French Ancien Regime of 1750 as much as they were of the Egyptian kingdom of 2500 years before the current era. Societies have changed much more in the last two hundred years than they did during the previous five thousand.

"Late in the premodern era, there was extensive application of wind and water power added to muscle power, but these things, while big improvements, did not come anywhere near matching the energy-generating capacity of modern societies, with their modern, industrial methods of energy conversion.

"And while premodern societies were characterized by low productivity, they were also characterized by low levels of capacity for destruction. Wars were either long and intermittent, or short and intense, but never long and intense. And it becomes very obvious, as we examine the revolutions in production that are the story of the rise of modern societies, that the tremendous amounts of energy and wealth that have been unleashed in the last 200 years have been used as much for destructive purposes as they have been for creative purposes.

"With the advent of James Watt's steam engine in the mid-18th century, for purposes of increasing productivity in textiles manufacturing, the modern era could be said to have begun. With the introduction of rifled firearms and paper cartridges, for purposes of increasing death and destruction on the battlefield, the advances in creative capacity made by Watt and others were equalled by a corresponding increase destructive capacity.

"Later, even more spectacular methods of energy conversion -- petroleum and electricity especially -- further escalated and accelerated both the creative and the destructive aspects of modernity, whose reliance on modern, effective means of energy conversion can be measured, as always throughout history, by the numbers of people in any given society who are engaged directly in food production. Today, in a fully-developed, modern industrialized society, that number is slightly less than three percent."

Doctor Jacobs did not stop there, but I'll interrupt his lecture to point out that modern times and modern methods of energy conversion are still relatively new, full modernity having arrived in western Europe and North America only after 1800.

Now my great-grandfather was born in 1838, so we've been at this modernity thing just a short time (a few generations), and we're still not used to it. And considering our inability to live in peace with each other, the unintended consequence of environmental degradation created directly by all these wonderful modern methods of energy conversion, and the anxiety, angst, and mass psychosis accompanying our modern way of life, I'd say we're pretty much like the Sorcerer's Apprentice; we can't control what we've called into being, because we have neither the knowledge nor the self-discipline to be able to do so.

We will all, I'm certain, forever picture the Sorcerer's Apprentice as Mickey Mouse, as he appeared in the segment so titled in the Disney film "Fantasia." This is the image of the human being in modern times -- living in a threatening, dangerous world, a world which he has quite possibly already destroyed, because even though he created it, he doesn't have the power to control it.

And that's why the world we're living in is so screwed up. Thanks for asking.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

History Ain't What it Used to Be

That's a quote from Yogi Berra, a very wise man. And it's another way of saying "Everything that arises shall pass away." That's a quote from the Buddha.

But that's enough quoting. I'm tempted to complain about the way people, places, and things pass away, but I really can't. I've got a pretty good deal going here, in this cold, dark, wet place where moss grows on everything. Actually, it's funny how things invariably work to my advantage, even the wet and the moss, seemingly by accident.

For example, I can no longer smoke cigarettes because they give me a really terrible hangover now. I know, I know, I shouldn't smoke 'em because I already have emphysema, they could kill me in a heartbeat, it's an obnoxious habit and people won't like you, etc.

But there's nothing like strong, immediate, harshly negative reinforcement to make you stop doing behavior "X" -- you know, you do it and your ass immediately falls off. Concrete physical pain trumps abstract philosophy.

So on balance, I got nuthin' to complain about. We're like old cars, going down the road with nuts and bolts falling off, but everything still works and we're still running.

Just one more quote: James Brown said, "At my age, if you've got your hair and your teeth, you've got just about everything."

And in these days of plague, "cancer free" are magical words.

Man, didn't Lauren Bacall look great, back in the day?

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

I Have a Message for the Medium

With Obama's job approval ratings in the mid to high sixties and his favorability ratings even higher, it's no wonder that the right-wing shrieks echoing from the inside of history's garbage can are rising a to terrified and desperate pitch. The wingers are now very afraid. And they should be.

But you have to wonder why that point of view, suddenly so distinctly in the minority and heading rapidly toward marginal status, is about the only thing you hear on the TV news networks. If you were to turn on CNN right this minute, I'll bet you'd see and hear one of three things: a) a commercial (most likely); b) a Republican operative or Congressperson going on about how unfair it all is, while a corporate manager from Time-Warner stands behind the set pulling the string that makes his mouth move (second most likely); or, c) a network talking head reciting Republican talking points (third most likely). You might see something else, of course, like a human interest story about a woman whose dog ate her baby or something, but the chances are better than 50-50 you'd get either a commercial or Republican propaganda.

It's now painfully obvious which party represents our ruling class, and equally obvious that our ruling class is scared stiff. For the last 60 years they've had everything their way, and exercised nearly total mind control over a passive and complacent population through manipulation of the news and other information via the electronic media they own and control. They've done this almost effortlessly, with news that reinforces the commercial ads, so that most of us ended up thinking that Wall Street financiers, drug pushers, and backward-ass fascist-leaning politicians were our good-guy pals.

Who is this ruling class I'm speaking of? Well, all the NBC networks are owned by General Electric, a giant corporation which is also a major war contractor and profiteer. CBS is owned by Westinghouse; ABC by Disney; CNN by Time-Warner.

I've been watching the news closely for 50 years, and it's not hard to figure out why, up until now, the overwhelming majority of Americans have assumed that living with history's biggest war machine is normal, or even desirable.

Forty years ago, Marshall McLuhan told us "The Medium is the Message." Now we have a message for the medium.

Public perceptions are changing fast now, and there's nothing the ruling class fears more than a public which is awake, aware, and capable of acting in its own self-interest. This is why network cable news since the election has become a nonstop Republican propaganda blitz. Don't take my word for it; turn on MSNBC or CNN (don't bother with Fox -- you already know who they are) and count the numbers of Republicans you see on the air, and the numbers of Democrats, and the even smaller numbers of dissidents who adhere to neither party. But of course, the latter are outside the frame of "acceptable" or "mainstream" or "recognized" discourse.

What are people who scream that Obama was born in Africa and wants to appropriate all private property then?

In this environment, a news organ like the New York Times becomes more important than ever, because it's independent (owned by the New York Times Corporation). Only in the independent print media will you see editorials challenging the status quo, such as Bob Herbert's anti-war piece, a masterpiece of clarity and focussed concentration on the real issues, on this morning's editorial page.

Read that editorial, which challenges Obama to keep his promise, end the Iraq War, and goes even further, to show why it is necessary that he at least begin dismantling the war machine, and you'll come up against precisely what the ruling class has striven at great pains to exclude from the national political conversation.

We can no longer live with this ruling class, because their continued existence is incompatible with the existence of any kind of orderly or coherent society. But they're very dangerous at the moment, because they're running scared. They look out their 31st floor windows and say to each other, "My goodness! Look! The people are revolting!"

I always knew they felt that way about us.

Monday, March 02, 2009

what I Saw

Today I saw dead and dying malls and strip malls, with long, semi-deserted parking lots. The fast food joints are still lively, though.

I saw passive adolescents with wise, ancient eyes, rolling on skateboards, watching patiently to see what the world is going to do to them.

I saw wet, cold forests full of sober, thoughtful evergreens.

I saw a fairly good crowd at the Target Store.

I saw a machine that filled me full of radioctive glow while taking pictures of the inside of my body.

I saw a world lost, confused, disoriented, but still bravely carrying on with life's daily rhythms in spite of it.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Politics, History, and Psychosis

Talking with a friend in an e-mail exchange yesterday, I was struck by her observation that when engaged in debate with right-wing troglodytes, she felt herself transformed into someone "like them."

For a full description of "them," see Frank Rich today.

There's a lot of truth to that, especially lately. Now that they've lost a few elections, and have no prospect of winning one any time soon, and in fact are now looking like history's biggest losers, the wingnuts have become more shrill, more hysterical, more intolerant, more incoherent, and more distanced than ever before from anything that might be identified as reality. Trying to argue with them is very upsetting, and there's no profit in it. And yet, even though they've relegated themselves to history's garbage can, they're still setting the terms and conditions of the debate, by continuing to shriek like a bunch of 15-year-old girls at an 'N Sync concert.

It's really too bad. All my life I've been fascinated by history and politics, which are actually two versions of the same thing. So it's a sad day when I can no longer actively pursue dialogue, wherever and whenever it arises, relating to both my twin passions. However, when such debate and discussion starts doing me harm, it's time to quit. As the scripture says, "If thy hand offend thee..."

This morning, as I tried to attend to my breathing (pranayama, in Sanskrit) in preparation for movement (asana), I couldn't clear my mind of the disturbances generated by the heat and intensity of a couple recent political discussions. And if politics is threatening my understanding of what life is all about, it has to go.

"Even if you take no interest in politics," the Athenian politician Pericles is reported by Thucydides to have said, "you can be certain that politics takes an interest in you." And yes, it really is a topic whose importance can't be downplayed, since to a large extent our political configuration at any given time determines the specific arrangements of our material circumstances.

However, political debate at the moment falls more into the realm of the psychoanalysts than the policy makers. We used to call them "conservatives," but that word no longer accurately describes them. They are really horrible, dreadfully twisted, broken people. Engaging them in any manner is a mistake, and the experience is bound to be toxic.

I love to write, and I still love politics and history. But for the moment, I think I'll stick to history, or maybe historical fiction, or even historical fantasy.

The illustration, "Nearly Hit" (oil on canvas), is by Paul Klee, and is housed at San Francisco's Museum of Modern Art.

The quote from Thucydides appears in "The Peloponnesian War."