The Talking Dog

July 29, 2010, Injustice delayed...

I had been "ambivalent" in my feelings toward Arizona's rather nasty sounding new law ("SB 1070") which ostensibly tried to criminalize being Latino undocumented, considering both (1) that the federal government has utterly defaulted in the immigration area both by permitting the border to largely be out of control and to have a "wink wink" policy that purports to make it "illegal" to enter and work in the United States without legal authority to do so, with very real local consequences that has made a great number of people genuinely fearful and desirous of "doing something," and (2) that Arizona is a notorious cracker state, the law at issue was written by an unabashed racist, signed by a racist, and racists writ large are just delighted with it (and since White people fearful of "them" are the majority of Arizona's population, coupled with a robust voter suppression effort, Gov. Jan Brewer will likely be elected to a full term in November). Enter the Obama Administration, which sees political hay to be made in a desperate effort to shore up Democratic electoral prospects viz Latinos, and brought its vaunted law suit to set aside Arizona's law, which resulted in a federal judge enjoining the nastier bits of the law just hours before it was to take effect..

The reactions, of course, have fallen on the usual partisan lines, and really do demonstrate that this particular law is, was, and will always be mostly about sticking to Latinos, even if there actually is a point to it. But of course, it also allows a huge measure of cover to the feds (and now, that's the Obama Administration) who can defer actual immigration reform under a mountain of sound-bites associated with the Arizona law, rather than actually deal with the fact that while the actual (as measured before Bill Clinton) unemployment rate is in the astounding over 21% range, and an astounding 10-15% or more of our work force is not working with legal work authorization, both our immigration systems and Southern borders remain out of control. Worse, our sociopathic "war on drugs" has reduced much of Mexico to war zones or wastelands, driving still more people Northward for the comparative safety of... here. Best.. not... go... there...

Best keep this to the standard narrative, however, of "us vs. them;" for one thing, ":both sides" are more comfortable with that narrative than anything else. We'd hate to think for a moment that the fact that what Arizona is trying to do is largely something Rhode Island is already doing has anything to do with the fact that Rhode Island is one of the most Democratic leaning states in the country and Arizona one of the most Republican... no, no, no!

Well, the preliminary injunction out of Arizona's federal district court will keep things where they are for a while; "p.i.'s" are immediately appealable, in this case, to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. Who really knows where this will end up? The one thing I'm reasonably sure of is that we now have the political excuse that will be used to avoid coming to terms with the mess that is American immigration policy for at least the rest of President Obama's first term.

July 25, 2010, Game changer?

A huge cache of classified military documents from soldiers in the field and other military personnel providing a never before seen view of the Afghan war has evidently been leaked on Wiki-leaks, and previews have been given to England's Guardian, to the New York Times, and Germany's Der Spiegel.

Among the details released are the larger than expected (which by me was thought to be "pretty large") extent that Pakistani intelligence services have been helping the Afghan insurgents, , , the White House condemned the release of any and all information that might tell the public what the Government is up to the "classified information" that might embarrass it, such as extensive discussions of hit squads and, of course, the dependence on killer drones operated from Nevada... and lots of other embarrassing details that show, surprise, surprise, that the Afghan war is a mess, and probably unwinnable.

The rather grim picture of the war in the graveyard of empires Afghanistan defies the standard propaganda narrative that the Obama Administration,has been putting out. Having adopted the Bush "surge" idea as if throwing more men and materiel at an intractable problem foolishly thinking that was a good idea, Obama now owns the Afghan war, just as he owns Guantanamo, state secrets and the other abominations on which he elected to double down rather than to dial down. There is no doubt that rather than correcting the "issues" that have been identified, the Obama Administration will, instead, chose to go after "the leakers" with all of its energy.

Will this be like the Vietnam era leaks that dramatically changed public opinion as to that conflict? I have to put a question mark on that-- this is a huge development and will take a while to sort through. My gut feeling is that corporate America-- which wants the military industrial complex (can we rename the DoD the Dept, of Overseas Homicide?) to go all-out in Afghanistan, Iraq and the other more than 100 foreign countries in which our military is deployed-- has effectively controlled enough of the media to control the "public dialog" on this; coupled with Obama's popularity among what I'll call "rooting interest progressives," who believe that principles are irrelevant if violated by "their team"-- will keep this from being the explosive "game changer" that it should be.

But one can hope.

July 25, 2010, Dept. of "Duh" (Sunday Times edition)

This week, the Grey Lady treats us to the obvious in both its news and vapid op-ed pages. The New York Times is certainly not alone in this department (and I don't mean that by picking on it, I am suggesting it is unique in its inanity) but it is my hometown paper and all, and supposedly a bastion of liberalness and certainly a bastion of arrogance,,, and well,,, you know!

We'll start with a subject near and dear to my heart, at least my professional one I suppose, and talk about "the law." We get this Adam Liptak piece on the Supreme Court telling us... wait for it... the Roberts Court is the most conservative in decades, In one sense, the United States Supreme Court is at least performing in the manner it was intended to function. It was arguably designed a a "check" on everyone else in government based on the fact that the sentiments of its members were formed years or decades earlier.. certainly, it's worked this way historically, whether we got such gifts as the Dred Scott case, or decisions voiding much of the New Deal. The mid and late 20th century socially "activist" courts, like American non-upper class prosperity, were something of a historical one-off anomoly, and now we must face both of those unique historical trends "reverting to the norm" of the long-arc of American history (most people lived miserably, and the patrician Supreme Court helped make sure that particular brute fact didn't change.) From a political standpoint, of course, the individual members, most notably the Court's first cyborg Chief Justice John Roberts, replacing his one-time boss William Rehnquist, and smarmy little cuss uber-conservative-true-believer Scam Alito, himself intended to "Souter-proof" the Court from a possible stealth-nominee in the form of Harriet Miers (who let's face it, didn't go to Harvard or Yale Law School (or even any Ivy League school at all... and therefore simply wasn't "qualified" to sit on the Supreme Court), have largely also performed as intended. So... what a shock! A Court whose members were largely appointed by our most conservative Presidents of both parties in decades... is our most conservative. Wow... I'm almost speechless,,,

And Frank Rich shows us in this piece, why for an op-ed writer, he's a hell of a theater critic. He discusses a scene in the upcoming Mad Men season premier, in which the "long hot summers" of the 1960's were discussed, and Mr. Rich suggests that the turbulent 1960's might be portentous of... something. LIke a good theater critic, Mr. Rich certainly notices the details of the scenery and the apparent plot points, such as the "Tea Party" movement's fairly obvious racism (the fact that it's a subsidiary of the dependent-on-the-Deep-South's- aging- White-people-Republican-Party should be the giveaway on that) or the recent Shirley Sherrod debacle, but alas, he misses the all-important... wait for it... subtext. That being... this ain't the 60's. "The Man" (at least the man in the White House) was born of a Kenyan father, and is still extremely popular among African Americans. While bourgeois liberal Whites (such as m'self) regard (my college classmate) Barack Obama as little more than another corporate sell-out in a long line of corporate sell-outs, others have a different opinion-- notably, the putative rioters envisioned by Mr. Rich (White and Black alike, btw). And, of course, the overlay of our current era is not a mountain of pent-up opportunity as the greatest economic engine in the world was being revved up, including a lean and quite mean underclass demanding their share, but the after-effects of having revved that engine way too hard and way too long.. with an underclass no longer lean and mean, but morbidly obese and appropriately docile as a result of the most effective pharmaceutical project in the history of the world. Anyway, I'll at least give Frank Rich credit for at least correctly observing the pieces on the board, if not.,, anything else.

Which takes us to the pinnacle of "Duh," Maureen Duh Dowd, who takes us on this week's hilarious romp as to "what's wrong" in the Obama White House, to wit, wait for it... not enough Black people. Ms. Dowd, like Mr. Rich, looks at the Sherrod debacle quite superficially, and concludes that actual Black people in the White House (besides the President and his family and perhaps Valerie Jarrett) might help the President deal with "racial issues" better. I guess I have to go back to "reality 101" for Ms. Dowd: the President is only "half Black". He could get elected President, rather than his far more intelligent and professionally accomplished wife, who suffers (irremediably in this country) from being (1) female, (2) entirely African American and (3) not raised in such a manner that she got to attend entirely private schools... unlike the President. What he is 100%, however, is "corporate whore." Unlike me, who foolishly went right into law school out of Columbia College in 1983, the President spent a year or two working in "corporate intelligence" at something called the "Business International Corporation" (later acquired by The Economist, IIRC) and then a few years as a "community organizer," before getting himself into Harvard Law School, and the presidency of its vaunted Law Review. Further, unlike me, who foolishly went to work after law school (first for the U.S. Dept, of Justice, and later, private law firms)... Barack got a lucrative book deal, a no-show "job" at the U. of Chicago's law school not teaching Constitutional law, cultivated friends in the financial and insurance sectors, and managed to pretty much avoid real jobs (and no, senator, whether state or federal is not a real job) until he found himself President of the United States... a rather difficult "first real job..." but hey, he's the second President in a row we've found in that position. Anyway, my point is that Ms. Dowd has completely missed what is going on here: our corporate President is running the White House like an American corporation: certain "controversies" are on a hair-trigger. Any hint of "racial controversy"... will not do. (This was fully beta-tested with last year's "beer summit" fiasco; it did not sell,) And so, only when it became overwhelmingly clear that Ms. Sherrod was an innocent victim of uber-political-dirty-trickster Andrew Breitbart (who, with his periodic story plants, has once again taken full advantage of a "professional" media utterly incapable of "gathering news" on its own), and that in fact Ms. Sherrod was doing exactly the opposite of that for which she was accused, only then did the corporate machine switch into full reverse, and try to undo political damage that overshadowed what should have been "a good week" what with "financial reform," the BP oil spill finally off the front-pages and the apparent death of meaningful climate or energy legislation. But the fault, my dear Maureen, lies not in our lack of key African American advisory personnel, but in our entire corporate mind-set: the actual first African American President doesn't concern himself with the cadence of non-patrician Black people because they don't pay for 30-second spots, $100,000 speeches, $1,000,000 book deals, or $10,000,000 hedge fund advisories, now do they? ,

This has been "Dept. of 'Duh' (Sunday Times edition).

July 23, 2010, Old school

I'm saddened to hear about the death of long-time (as in forever) broadcaster Daniel Schorr, but a little less so when I saw that he was 93. I figured him for not a day over 87. On the radio, at least, he seemed to still have all his marbles... maybe that was just an act, like his curmedgon thing... which I suspect, was no act.

Anyway, I always enjoyed his recitation of conventional wisdom on National 'Pologist Radio (NPR), not for the conventional wisdom itself, which is every bit as worthless coming from NPR's airwaves as it is on any of the broadcast or cable, print or web media, but because Dan Schorr seemed so damned apologetic about having to do it that way. It just struck me that in his curmudgeonly heart, he'd rather just have said something like "You're all assholes; you know this script you want me to read is crap; the Government is full of as much bullshit now as when Tricky Dick was around." Maybe, maybe not...

As a Jewish guy born in the Bronx to parents of Byelorussian extraction (which is vaguely my own background), I found that Schorr's shtick always resonated with me... the fact that he regarded his greatest achievement not his various broadcast awards or his three Emmy Awards, or even arranging the first television interview with Nikita Krushchev (who rewarded him by banning him from returning to the USSR!),,, but the fact that he ended up on Richard NIxon's enemies list... well... how can you not admire such a man, pretty much regardless of anything else he ever did (and Schorr was a pretty damned fair journalist in his own right, as attested to in his lengthy obit.).

Anyway, Schorr the professional pain in the ass-- the guy who maniacally leaked things before the days of "Wiki-leaks," who lived to fight the power and stick it to the man, often even when "the man" was his employer... is the kind of "old school" journo that is an all-too-literally dying breed in our pathetic era of "he-said, she said, say,what did Lindsay Lohan say?" ersatz journalism. He's been around so long, I forgot he was a protege of Edward R. Murrow. Well, time seems to be marching on. God damn it.

Rest in peace, Mr. Schorr. Rest in peace. .

July 23, 2010, Ever thus

A special master charged with "tut tutting" but with little actual power to do anything about it has concluded that major Wall Street banks... wait for it... gave out "excessive bonuses" to their most beloved insiders during the 2008 financial crisis. The special master whose job seems to be to "tut tut" (as 11 of the 17 institutions that received what many thought then was unnecessary federal bailout money have easily paid it back... with the miniscule interest demanded, it seems there is little if any ability or authority to "claw back" the "excessive" bonuses which were paid by such behemoths as Goldman Sachs, Citigroup and JP Morgan Chase) concluded that around "80%" of a particular pool of a billion and a half dollars in bonuses were "questionable."

Where has Mr. Feinberg been for the last several years? Also... without the authority to force disgorgement... what's the point of what he's doing? Folks, greed is good. That's the defining ethos of our social system. The fact that our most successful entities-- rapacious financial and "health care" sectors should be against the law in their present forms... is irrelevant. Ditto the fact that they are our most successful "industries" at a time when the rest of "our economy" writ large actually produces little if anything of value. Sure, there was once a time when people would "self-check" their own actions based on whether things "looked good."

But those days are over. It's every White man (and notwithstanding our purportedly enlightened society, it's STILL by and large WHITE MAN) for himself, whether it looks good or not. And so, it's just another day in our world where more and more people can easily perceive the end of the world in sight... but under no circumstances, the end of capitalism...

Ever thus, friends. Ever thus...,

July 19, 2010, Yesterday's news... today!

Look: I love Glenn Greenwald. He has the temerity to get in The One's [TM] face just about every day, unswayed from the star-struck-teenage-girl bullsh*t that defines most of my brethren and sistren "progressives" in bloggyland, who somehow think because my college classmate The President is on "our team," that he is "a good guy" who "is on our side" and "means well" notwithstanding his advancement of his predecessor's (and his predecessor's, and so forth, back to God knows when) systematic and seemingly inexorable advancement of "the national security state".. even though, in the case of Barack Obama, he campaigned, and I daresay, got millions of votes (including mine) solely because of his promises to rein back the executive overreach of his predecessor. The Obama Administration's quite early adoption of the Bush Administration's "state secrets" doctrine lock, stock and barrel was a body blow, and a betrayal which, rather than any kind of anomoly, has just led to more and more betrayals.

Well, fool me once, Barack baby. Fool me ONCE. From here on in, you can kiss my tush, because I'm not voting for you, I'm not supporting you, I'm not contributing to you, or to your miserable sell-out party, and I'm certainly not going to waste my time volunteering for your campaigns. Did I say that out loud?

Anyway, kudos to Greenwald, especially for today's piece in which he wonderfully juxtaposes the deadly serious reporting by WaPo's Dana Priest concerning the inexorable advance of the super-secret-total-national-security-state with the horsesh*t trivia that otherwise defines "political journalism". Of course, Greenwald is a bit late; I'll certainly give Ms. Priest credit for having worked on this story for a long, long time (and she has to do it while laboring at a dying institution at that... albeit one managed by yet another of my college classmates.).

Regular readers here know that we were on this particularly story years ago, with our own hard-hitting interview with gonzo journalist, artist, photographer and geographer Trevor Paglen in which he let us in on "the black world" of insane government secrecy... a world where the Government knows more and more about you, and you know less and less about it. And that world, in the stated guise of "protecting us" and of course, feeding its insatiable war machine.,. just keeps getting bigger,.. and bigger... and sucking up more and more of our money,

Of course, tens of millions of you have just about already conceded any semblance of "privacy" as it is by publicly posting your most intimate details on Facebook, Twitter, and/or other social networking software; in that sense... by living as an open book, you're basically giving the Government a big "in your face" by not giving it anything to hold over you; I caution, you however, that your employers may feel differently. Others like me, still somewhat squeamish about that "life as an open book" sort of our thing, simply try to live exemplary lives with nothing much of significance to hide... not that if the national security state decided to get us, there would be anything other than the political consequences of doing so stopping them. At the moment, only people of color, Muslims, illegal immigrants, legal immigrants, political advocacy groups, young people, old people, unemployed people and working people are particularly in any danger from the national security state... but that could change at any time and impact the rest of us.

My advice to you'all is never... NEVER... stand for injustice, if you're in a position to do anything about it... but do not waste your time on political "process" bullsh*t, which, as Greenwald's piece brilliantly observed, has largely been reduced to Seinfeld episode "show about nothing" stature... in short, I urge you to "opt out" of the political system... Don't pay any attention to it, because you can't do anything about it, and, well... the differences between "us" and "them" are as superficial and "about nothing" as any Seinfeld episode. What you should do is lead your life, and to the extent possible, prepare yourself for the ultimate comeuppance of the total national security state, to wit, its inevitable failure as it collapses under its own weight by bankrupting our economy. Figure out reliable sources of food and water, shelter, transportation and security, preferably "off the grid" if at all possible... mock them for it if we like, but our grandparents and great-grandparents lived much more simple and sensible lives than we do, in many cases under far more stressful conditions than many of us face, particularly in matters of... food, shelter, transportation, etc.

If it's going to be... it's up to me. A government collapsing under its own weight of trying to spy on you (and trying to make sure you don't know what it's up to) just isn't the kind of government that's going to be of any help to you when you need it most. Just ask anyone in Greater New Orleans about that. Just saying.

July 14, 2010, Genuine loss

I was most saddened when Candace told me that Charles Gittings passed away at the extremely untimely age of 57. Charly (whom I interviewed here) epitomized the concept of "citizen activist.".

Charly's Project to Enforce the Geneva Conventions was a kind of one-man-show. It served as both an archive of the misdeeds of those of in power and a back-drop for Charly's one of a kind advocacy. Despite not having legal training, he submitted a number of amicus curae briefs in major "war on terror" cases that were so brilliant that they downright sung. I can only wish we saw so much more of.that kind of thing; maybe nothing would be any different... but if there were 5 more Charlies out there... or 10... one can only imagine...

It's one thing for "the professionals" to use our professional skills and training to try to represent individuals who have found themselves ground to dust under the weight of "the system," which always seems so much more concerned with "the political price" of following the law than behaving with any sense of right or wrong or justice,.. or even just plain following the law. Those of us who still believe in the system were wondering just who would step up and take on the role that we fancied the government itself is supposed to take, to wit, standing up for the law because it's the law. Obviously, in my cynical moments (that would be most waking hours these days) I would suggest that "the law" is little more than a subterfuge by the rich and powerful to assert that the outcomes they desire are "legally justified," complete with outcome (Antonin Scalia) oriented (Scam Alito) judges (John Roberts) to tell us that the outcomes the powerful desire are "correct" and "legally proper." And certainly, the last 8 or 10 years have shown us that this is just too perilously close to true just too often.

But Charly stood, all too often alone, weakened by his medical state, perhaps, but loudly and clearly nonetheless, and just said "Hey wait a minute! The Government may have guns, but it is still as subject to law as any other institution or individual." And he tried to keep the Government and its officials honest. Time will tell whether anyone "who matters" heard him, but I sure did, and I know other people of goodwill have as well.

Charly will be missed. Rest in peace, Charles Gittings..

July 13, 2010, Who's there?

Andy writes to advise that he has updated both his definitive Guantanamo prisoner's list and an index to his archives. For those of us interested in the specifics of the nuts and bolts of America's little foray into The Dark Side If You Will (TM), Andy's painstaking work has been utterly indispensable.

One does hope that Andy's work will be a key resource for the time when this nation's quite irrational obsession with "terrrrorism" will be seen with the same clear-eyed regret with which we now look back on similar hysterics of the past, such as the post-World War I Palmer Raids, the Japanese internments of World War II, or the McCarthy era blackballings of the early Cold War. (Many Americans, of course, do look back on those events with somewhat teary eyed nostalgia, which... does explain a great deal.)

July 11, 2010, Animal act

The old Thomas Nast cartoons depict political elephants against political donkeys. The reality these days is more jackals vs. pussiespussy cats. Not that I any longer think it makes much difference (if any), but does anyone out there think that in such a contest, the jackals are going to lose to the pussiespussy cats?

Me neither.

Update: The Obama Administration seems to agree.

July 10, 2010, Saturday pot pourri

Item the first: while Clarence Thomas has been one of the most reliable Republican conservative apparatchiks in history, serving as a complete and polar opposite number to the man he replaced, the activist ground-breaking first Black justice, the legendary Thurgood Marshall, this is still the United States of America, and he, and his relatives are still Black. And hence, when his epileptic nephew Derek Thomas got all uppity and suggested he would leave the hospital rather than do what he was told and assume the position in his hospital gown (or was he just being, you know, epileptic?), he got what he deserved in Clarence Thomas's America: his ass punched and tasered by hospital security in New Orleans.. Thomas himself is on his way to New Orleans to look into the matter. Well, good luck Justice Thomas. It's your America: we, including your own relatives, just live in it.

Item the second, fresh from the Obama Administration's much vaunted announcement that it was suing the State of Arizona to prevent implementation of its recent legislation permitting that state's police officers to demand immigration status credentials from those it stops and to stop anyone it suspects of being Latino here illegally, the Grey Lady reports that the very same Obama Administration has been engaged in massive employer audits seeking to purge the employment rolls of illegal immigrant workers. Unlike the less extensive Bush Administration raids of employers which resulted in numerous deportations, the much quieter Obama Administration actions do not; they are much more humanitarian... they result in fines and enforcement actions against the employers, and of course, the much quieter misery of the illegals simply being unable to work at all (and of course, unable to obtain public benefits... perhaps they will then leave on their own, or better yet... die.)

Item the third: Economist James K. Galbraith tells us that "the recovery" ain't never gonna take hold until we do something that the Obama Administration went out of its way not to do when it first took office: restore the rule of law to the financial sector. Let them eat steak, Professor. Truth is no defense here: the business of America is enriching its most dishonest citizens, and that's just going to continue. (And the ever-growing gap between the richest and poorest is the sort of thing that would spawn revolutions in ordinary countries... we in America can take pride in being "special.")

Item the fourth: In other alleged "rule of law" news, yet another federal judge has ordered yet another release of yet another wrongfully held Yemeni Guantanamo detainee, bringing the "score" to something like 37 habeas petitions granted against
14 denied (with one of the 14 the subject of a recent Circuit Court reversal)...
the great Carol Rosenberg tells us it brings the Government's loss rate to 75%.

Item the fifth: it seems that birds, squirrels, insects or rodents of unusual size or something else is nibbling at my zucchini and pepper flowers up on our roof; I'm thinking of just getting some chicken wire and surrounding the damned things, and seeing what happens. I hear you can plant some things that birds, squirrels, etc. don't like... anyone have anything on that?

This has been... Saturday pot pourri.

July 8, 2010, More things that don't work

Our friend Roy Edroso identifies the latest brilliant and on-point observation as set forth in the pages of the Grey Lady, to wit, wait for it, certain rich kids don't want to take standard issue entry level corporate jobs that they feel are beneath them, Roy gives a most excellent meta-analysis of why he thinks The New York Times is behaving in this seemingly clueless way of presenting the "plight" of a most unrepresentative comparator for purposes of assessing just how bad the job market is right now for so many millions of people, to wit, a recent elite college grad from a family of deep means (a number of whose members have gone to law school as a fall-back).

Among the options considered by Roy is that the Times is simply presenting the world through the standard lens of the Upper East Side Upper Class readership it so desperately craves. Another is simple laziness based on a reporter's simply being able to find this particular young man of unlimited self-worth, but evidently limited drive to bring it to job-market fruition.

Roy (himself not merely an excellent blogger, but an excellent journalist) does hint at the explanation I would give...a sadder explanation: so many of the people who work at and run the Times, along with so many other large American institutions, private or public, elite or merely prosaic, are... dare I say it... just not very good at their jobs. To be fair, it's not as if they'd be good at any jobs, since our entire economy is, to quote the great IOZ, a castle made of bullshit built on a bullshit foundation foundering in a swamp of bullshit... well, let me give you the broader quote from him for some context:

Persistent unemployment is not a problem because employees and employers are "mismatched," one of those callous Management euphemisms that will one day take its rightful place alongside such Third-Reichisms as "transport." It's a problem because our economy is a castle made of bullshit built on a bullshit foundation foundering in a swamp of bullshit. It is not an absence of skills and abilities that curtails and limits the prospects of gainful labor; it is an absence of any industry requiring any labor. Yes, it was lovely that we had a decade or two in which fake jobs full of people pimping their fake skills abounded, but that wave crested and rolled back.

Honestly,.. I can't think of a more likely explanation for so many things, these days, or a better justification for simply concluding "if it's going to be, it's up to me," and that includes everything from fixing your own bicycle to gardening (and home canning) to befriending as many useful people as possible who will help- rather than hinder- you and your family's survival in a world where seemingly everything is breaking down around us much faster than the ever dwindling number of competent people left can fix it.

People who will also have the good sense to laugh a lot at all of this will be especially useful. Just saying.

July 4, 2010, Happy fourth

I have no idea why I'm so amused by the reports of now 4-time champion Joey Chestnut downing 54 Nathans hot dogs in ten minutes to win the annual hot dog eating contest at Coney Island yet again, other than it takes place in Brooklyn every year, and is an amusing slice of Americana. Of course, it was also amusing that the prior champion (Mr. Kobiyashi of Japan, a six time winner), managed to get himself arrested for trying to crash the proceedings (there seems to be some contractual limitation on his competing himself... for whatever reason, he won't sign on with the organization running the contest...). Meanwhile, temperatures in the New York area are well in the 90's Fahrenheit, with clear skies all around.

Most years on July 4th, I find that I'm spouting some combination of maudlin tut-tutting or nostalgic reverence for an era that never existed to describe "the state of the nation" on what's supposed to be its birthday. But I no longer think that this sort of thing is consistent with the spirit of "independence" that the date is supposed to signify. And hence, I no longer think that publicly expressing this kind of "downer" assessment of our political state is appropriate. I will just say that the Gulf mega-spill is just the latest line in things ranging from computers to governments to militaries (how's that "close Guantanamo thing going?") to my garden hose: a world where things that we think will work... just don't. And wasting energy to try to identify "whose fault" any of this is represents the kind of fool's errand that taking too much time on will just prove detrimental to what matters now, and that is preparing ourselves and our families for the world that inevitably follows from the world where things used to work but no longer do... a much simpler, "lower tech" world, where the paramount issues will not be the apps available on your i-phone (hint: you won't get a signal, even if you had any power), but stupid things, like eating when the store shelves are empty (assuming you had any money anyway), or where you will live, or how you will get around, and how you will get around without being mugged or murdered, and so forth,

We just have to reconcile ourselves to all of this, and stop pretending that "technology will save us" when there is, of course, as much evidence of this as there is for the propositions that "capitalism will produce a fair and efficient distribution of goods and services," or "everyone is entitled to their opinion (no matter how ill-informed or stupid)" or other lies that will only serve to help kill off ourselves and our families faster, if we are foolhardy enough not to summarily reject such nonsense as the dangerous delusions that they are.

"Left" and "right" are constructions of the powerful, designed to convince us that our civic existence is some kind of sporting event; the evidence is that it is not a sporting event, and on what actually matters as the purpose of this nation, there is no difference whatsoever between the two allegedly different parties (or even, for that matter, "independents"). And lest we forget, on things like "the public option," or bringing American torturers to justice, the main impediment to these things has been from Barack Obama's White House... I guess this is what "bipartisan" means.

But let me not spend too long there, lest you think I think the machinations of our government are particularly important. They really aren't. The reason I'm still somewhat optimistic (alright, alright... the only reason I even have a kernel of optimism left) for my countrymen... is that (1) we don't vote [because we know our elections are buillsh**), and (2) we don't like soccer [the insane arbitrariness of the game just annoys our sensibilities]. With that nucleus of virtues, I am at least a little hopeful that enough of us will overcome our obesity, our pharmaceutical addiction, and the cultural wasteland in which we reside to do what needs to be done to carry on. Yes, we'll have to swallow our pride and realize that "American exceptionalism" is, aside from a blatant lie, a rather dangerous self-delusion... and we'll have to start living within our collective means, which is to say, much as the rest of humanity lives. And many of us will fail at this, and as a result, probably won't make it.

But if enough of us keep our perspective, and our senses of humor... we have a chance. And if we make it-- declaring independence from the delusions that tie us to the rich and powerful against our will, and then following through on it-- we just might make it through after all.

So... happy fourth. It's not much, but it's all I've got.