Sunday, June 24, 2007

The Present, Considering the Past

THOUGHT #1: So, you know how the Bush administration is determined to keep the Iranians from getting nuclear weapons and even nuclear technology? You know how they think that's possible?

Well, here's a thought: any Sony PS3 is way more powerful than the computer that NASA used to put people on the moon. And that NASA computer radically outclassed the computer that the Manhattan Project used to build the first A-bomb. (That one ran on paper punch cards.)

So the Bushies are pretty sure that they're so smart and/or that the Iranians are so dumb that the Iranians could never duplicate a 70-year-old technology. Neither strikes me as especially likely.

THOUGHT #2: American car manufacturers are bitching about how impossible it would be to raise fleetwide fuel efficiency to 35 mpg in the next few years as a new bill under consideration in Congress would require. Current fleet-wide mpg for most American cars is around 25.

I guess our car makers are right. The 1914 Ford Model T, which had a hand throttle and only two forward gears, averaged 20-25 mpg, making for an increase of 2.5 mpg in 94 years. Since there's no way that the lack of increase has anything to do with American car manufacturers never having given a damn about fuel economy, the only conclusion is that God has ordained that mpg increase by less than .03 mpg per year. More proof that the Democratic Congress is godless.

The Japanese, the Europeans, and even the Chinese, of course, are using black magic to keep their domestic fuel economies above 35 mpg.

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Thursday, June 21, 2007

Hating on Everybody, Starting with Dick Cheney

So I haven't been posting much. (I won't apologize because, really, whose feelings am I hurting?) In part, I've been trying to get some work done. And some sleep. (Failing at the sleep right now.)

But mostly I've just been too pissed off to blog.

Readers of this blog may assume I'm pissed off all the time. Usually, "grumpy" is a better adjective. But lately "pissed off" is accurate. "Infuriated" is even better. I'm infuriated all the time with my government, and my blogging just makes it worse. So I've been trying to fight the urge.

Sometimes, I can numb the rage by reminding myself that they haven't yet figured out a way to keep Bush in office for four more years, though I don't doubt that some Regent University law grad is working on it over at Justice.

Still, I can't believe the administration is standing by Gonzales, threatening to bomb Iran, trying to appoint as Surgeon General someone who thinks he's found a way to cure homosexuality (next up, Doctor Demento cures the clitoris), calling the Iraq War the most important struggle that America faces while not asking anybody but twenty-year-olds in fatigues to make any sacrifices for it, pretending we can fix climate change by blaming it on China, half-ignoring Afghanistan, totally ignoring the Sudan, blah dee in-a-handbasket blah.

There's so much to say and so little reason to say it--anybody paying any attention of any kind knows how bad it is and is waiting for Nov. 2008 because it seems like any change must be for the better.

So in a way, I should be grateful to Bush. He's been so bad for America, so disastrous, that people across the political spectrum have started to realize that, although they do they have have fundamental differences, they all want a President who, at a minimum, can find on a map the places he wants to blow off that map. Hell, I'm starting to hear liberals, in all seriousness, call radio shows and praise Ron Paul. You know things are bad when people start saying, "Sure, Paul wants to abolish the Dept. of Education and end Social Security, but even so, George W. Bush makes me feel that that Paul really shares my lefty values."

But I'm not grateful to Bush. I'm mad. Very mad but also very tired. I'm past spitting mad because my mouth has dried up and my hawking muscles are all worn out.

So I'm not going to tackle any big issues in this post. Just a small one.

Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Henry Waxman just posted a set of documents outlining Dick Cheney's efforts to thwart routine operations by the Information Security Oversight Office, a branch of the National Archives created by executive order to ensure that all executive branch entities properly label and safeguard classified information. Since 2003, Cheney has refused to let the ISOO do its job. The ISOO has appealed, and the Justice Department is erasing its own e-mails. I mean, the Justice Department is considering the appeal.

Cheney hasn't replied in writing to the ISOO, so nobody's sure what his rationale is for refusing. (All previous VPs have since complied the order creating the ISOO went into effect, and Cheney himself complied in 2001 and 2002.) The New York Times is reporting that Cheney's justification seems to be that he's not really part of the executive branch because he's also a member of the Senate. Or maybe that his office isn't really an executive branch "entity" in the sense meant by the executive order. (And I thought Republicans frowned on ontological questions about what is is and what entities are.)

Well, fine, Mr. Vice Presisenator, but if you're not really part of the executive branch, then you can damn well stop claiming executive privilege when the Congress or a special prosecutor wants to ask you about your meetings with oil execs or about one of you aides mishandling classified information.

Or, if your really want to distance yourself from the executive branch, you could resign.

You could go back to Haliburton. As a contractor. In Anbar province.

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Monday, June 18, 2007

Hating on Obama

As primary season slowly heads into full gear, I've started making some decisions.

I won't be supporting Barack Obama.

This week, Obama's campaign launched some attacks at Bill and Hillary Clinton. Though Obama has recently called our politics "small" and has often admonished both politicians and citizens to "put away their toys" and to "grow up," the Obama attacks were childish.

He attacked the Clintons (mostly Bill) for doing business with people and companies who either outsource jobs to India or who squeeze American union workers. That'd be a fair attack, if Obama's hands were clean. But his wife was until recently on the board of TreeHouse Foods, a supplier to Wal-Mart. Of course, Hillary Clinton was once on Wal-Mart's board.

So, struck me as a hypocritical attack because it conflicts with Obama's promise to not engage in petty politics and also hypocritical because Obama and his wife have also participated in similar economic arrangements.

But, my problems with Obama run deeper than that.

There's no "there there," as Gertrude Stein once said.

He speaks in platitudes. He is, for all intents and purposes Barack Oprahbama. I know he's smart but I can't say I respect him much. His own view of politics is small. He's a Hallmark Card type of candidate.

He's also benefitting from a cult of personality. He's charming and loved for it. But his supporters make a better case for him as a person than as a thinker.

So... Obama's out for me. I think I'll vote for Richardson when the NY primaries come around, but it will be a done deal by then and Richardson will no longer be a serious candidate. I'll vote for him just to see that he gets VP consideration or a cabinet post.

As for who I'm pulling for... it's either Hillary Clinton or John Edwards at this point. Though I kind of do wish Gore would run, despite earlier statements that we don't need a "saviour" candidate.

I could even see myself supporting a third party candidate, provided a true progressive emerges.

But I won't be voting for Obama. I think he exposed himself this week as being as petty as the politicians he criticizes.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Us and What Army?

When Senator Joe Lieberman (CT - Connecticut for Lieberman) won re-election last year he did so by falsely claiming that a vote for him was not a vote for more war. Now the Senator thinks we should use military force against Iran.

There's lots of "attack Iran" talk these days, both to stop them from supporting elements of the insurgency in Iraq and to stop them from developing weapons of mass destruction.

I'm going to leave aside the argument about whether or not we should attack Iran, or even whether or not an attack on Iran would advance our interests or achieve what we'd want it to achieve. In fact, I'll grant both for the purposes of this discussion. We should attack Iran and an attack would end Iran's meddling in Iraq and demolish its nuclear ambitions. It would even lead to the Iranian government falling to be replaced by a friendly, moderate, enduring democratically elected government. It would create utopia.

Doesn't matter. We don't have the troops! An air war won't be enough and we have no ground troops that we could deploy because they're all busy in Iraq and Afghanistan. So even if attacking Iran would make the world's wildest dreams come true, it's not worth discussing because we aren't capable of doing it and the Iraq quagmire, which Lieberman supports, is why.

It amazes me that we have this "what to do about Iran?" discussion without facing the reality that our armed forces are stretched too thin to be of any use.

Another thing we don't discuss: Do the American people want another war right now? I know that people like Lieberman don't care what the general population wants but shouldn't the press? Shouldn't one big question be: "Given that the American people don't like the war in Iraq and want it to end, what makes you think they want a new war with Iran?"

The facts about Iran right now are these: We don't have the will and we don't have the power. If Lieberman, Cheney and their neocon enablers can get us into yet another war during Bush's lame duck period then we'll know for sure that our democracy is failing and that a realistic use of our volunteer armed forces and any deference at all towards the will of the people are ideals that our government can't meet.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Masturbating Zombies

I watched Evil Dead II recently, which reminded me of an old SNL sketch, "The Night of the Masturbating Zombies."

For those who don't remember the sketch, it was a pretty funny piece emerging from the insight that the monster in horror movies always seems to show up where good-looking teenagers are going at it. Best line: "Folks, it looks like we've got a bunch of zombies stumping the munchkin."

The sketch was pretty racy for network TV when it ran (late 80s? early 90s?), so SNL had to be pretty careful what it showed. I was thinking about that and realized, yet again, how dumb our obscenity laws are and how childish our priorities are as a nation.

Here's a question with a depressingly hilarious answer. Which one are you more likely to see in TV-13 or PG-13 entertainment: a masturbating zombie actually blowing a load on the rear windshield of a car with kids making out in the back seat or a non-masturbating zombie ripping one of those kid's heads open and splattering that kid's blood on the rear windshield? The blood, of course. Because, you know, the semen would be gross and depraved.

Think about that. The non-masturbating, murderous zombie is a pretty obvious euphemism for the masturbating, voyeuristic zombie, which means that our censors--both official and industry-appointed--feel that exposing adolescents to images of wanking is far worse than exposing them to images of vivisection and brain-munching. (I assume the censors believe that adolescents all whack off with their eyes closed.)

Too often, our ridiculous puritanism knows neither logic nor bounds. Pity poor John McCardell, Jr., who's lobbying to get the drinking age lowered to 18. In a recent Newsweek interview with Samantha Henig, McCardell (a former president of Middlebury College) points out that he keeps having to insist that he's not "a wacko or someone who's tilting at windmills." Henig makes it sound like McCardell is a lone voice in the wilderness because she fails to point out that America is pretty much alone in the world in having a drinking age of 21 (the rest are 18 or even earlier). Given that our college grads' test results lag way behind those of students in countries with lower drinking ages, we should probably stop kidding ourselves that our older drinking age somehow protects the delicate, developing brains of 19-year-olds.

If we really believe that 19-year-olds have biologically or psychologically different minds that need special protection, we should act like it. For example, even more important than saving kids from the demon rum would be saving them from combat stress, PTSD, and brain trauma from IEDs. Only in a ridiculously confused society in which bodily pleasure is a bigger problem than bodily mutilation would we protect 19-year-olds from beer while exposing them to Iraqi insurgents.

In a mildly heartening recent ruling, a NY federal circuit court sided with various broadcast networks and struck down recent FCC guidelines that had broadened the definition of obscene utterances to include "fleeting" vulgarities. But even that ruling is disheartening at its core because it's at least partially based on the notion that some obscenities aren't really sexual or scatological and therefore aren't really obscene. The judges noted that Dick Cheney and George Bush had both been caught swearing publicly and denied that Americans would have found those vulgarities to be truly obscene according to FCC standards: “In recent times even the top leaders of our government have used variants of these expletives in a manner that no reasonable person would believe referenced sexual or excretory organs or activities.”

In other words, Cheney's "go fuck yourself" and Bush's "asshole" weren't obscene because they didn't really refer to sex or shit. Because, of course, sex and shit are the real problem this country faces. Not war, not violence. Doody and humpy are our greatest perils.

Remember when the FCC decided it was okay to air Saving Private Ryan with the curse words intact? In that case, the FCC said that cutting the naughty words “would have altered the nature of the artistic work and diminished the power, realism and immediacy of the film experience for viewers.” So naughty words are okay if they intensify our experience of the organized slaughter depicted in the movie.

Saving Private Ryan is actually a good movie that handles violence in a relative thoughtful way, so I'm glad they broadcast it without moronic ADR replacements like "motherhater" and "gosh darnit," but I think it's hilarious that the FCC decided that the film's obscenities were okay because they gave Americans a more vivid experience of violence.

Since 85% of American households now get their TV from somewhere other than the airwaves that the FCC can regulate, it's growing increasingly moot what the FCC wants to call obscene. Moot but still pathetic and offensive.

First, it's a waste of my taxes. Second, it's an embarrassing comment on American society that we're okay with watching acts of mass violence so long as nobody curses during their commission. Third, it's a shameful comment on our society that we're okay with sending our 19-year-olds to foreign countries to kill and be killed but we'll do everything we can to stop them from drinking at home and that we'd try to find a way to fine them if, from the combat zone, they were to use their access to a news camera to say, "Fuck you, come fight your own fucking war, you lazy, protected power-addled neocon fuckballs. We want to come home and have a beer on the front fucking porch."

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Friday, June 01, 2007

Left vs. Right, the Debate

Forgive me for a posting a "view from 10,000 feet" that might seem boring but throughout my life I've been told that American politics is basically a struggle between reformers on the left, preservationists on the right, and a middle waiting to be grabbed by either side and I'm tired of it.

Because it isn't true.

When I first became interested in politics, as a teenager, I was an "Alex P. Keaton" style of Republican. At the time, I believed that life was a contest and that it was won or lost by individual will and that alone.

Then I saw a bit of the world and went to college and realized that life was far more complicated and that indivuals were rather influenced by circumstances of birth and luck and so I strayed towards socialism.

But, I've never forgotten what I loved about the true conservative philosophy, as expressed by Edmund Burke, William F. Buckley and (during his first campaign for president, anyway, and then after) my friend and employer, Steve Forbes. Those people really believe in the innate goodness of human nature. They really believe that society (and more to the point, government) corrupts an individual and that if individuals are free from such influence, they will rationally choose the best courses for themselves and truly incidentally, will choose the best courses for one another. Ironically, a true conservative embraces the revolutionary notions of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and rejectes the truly conservative notions of Thomas Hobbes who believed that life in a world without government would be nast, brutish and short.

Thing is, Hobbes was right. Current Republicans, who profit by war and who are authoritarian when they rule, prove it.

Everything I've written thus far is classical bullshit. See, once upon a time, the debate about how to have a society was a debate about individual freedom versus the common good. No doubt, such issues are still important, and will always be important, but neither party represents either camp these days.

I was once attracted to the conservative ideal because it was romantic. At it's philosphical core, which is never practiced today, it was based on faith in the potential of individual humans. At it's core it said, "Let us all be what we are or want to be and we'll all be better off."

That is not how conservatism is practiced these days. I don't need links to prove that. All of the readers here (a bunch of lefties and Emily) know that I'm right about that.

The left has its own romantic ideal -- one of unity among individuals that leads to a utopia. But no society has ever reached that and those that have tried (USSR, Cuba, Iraq) have wound up dictatorships.

So what is the left/right debate now? It's a perversion. Shocked to the right by the moral (not fiscal, consider China) failure of planned economies, the left has moved towards the right. Emboldened by the threat of global terrorism the right has given up on faith in individuals and gone towards authoritarian notions.

The oldest, still unanswered question about society is this: "How free can individuals be while still supporting one another?"

To my mind, both the left and right in the U.S. have become so corrupted that we're not even trying to deal with that question.