The Talking Dog

September 27, 2012, we all must watch what we say and do, etc.

It seems (as if this is a surprise, to anyone) that Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, now holed up in the cozy Ecuadorean embassy in London, was designated "an enemy of the state" by American military officials (according to classified documents heretofore leaked to... Wikileaks.) This, of course, means that, without charge [Assange has never been charged by the United States with anything, though he has expressed fear that if he were extradited to Sweden on suspicion of sexual assault, he would be handed over the United States for "disappearing" (as an Australian national Assange might be eligible for Guantanamo Bay or Bagram or a CIA ghost prison, for example), torture, or who knows what. Were he at large, he might be deemed a "legitimate" target of a drone attack... wherever he might be] our President... the one who is "so much better than that awful Romney"... might just gratuitously order his death.

And so... Assange remains holed up, where, I predict, he will be for some time to come. The "friend of my enemy" doctrine, of course, would doubtless incorporate, presumably, me (for example, my dear friend Andy Worthington, for example, has been a "Wikileaks media partner", presumably making him, me, and perhaps, you for having the audacity to read this sentence, "enemies of the state"...) There is no logical end to a failing government desperate to hold on to its power coming up with outrageous and unconstitutional (and uncivilized) national policies. Once the constitution and the laws aren't followed "a little"... well, no real reason to follow them at all...

Just saying...

September 25, 2012, Fun with headlines

We start with the question posed by Peter Kirsanow in National Review Online, noting, among other things, unemployment figures, economic trends and polling on such questions as "is the country on the right track?" and "are you better off now than four years ago?" etc... and asks... "Why isn't Romney ahead by ten points?"

Possibly because Romney doesn't know why you can't roll down windows on an airplane. [That, and he wants to get those gosh darned snakes off his dang nabbed plane. Man, I could use a milkshake right about now.]

Or maybe because in Romney's world, he believes that the University of Utah "solved" cold fusion,

In short, Mitt Romney is, at the end of the day, an out of touch rich boy dumb-ass (never saw that one before... especially among Republicans). As the great Mike Huckabee observed, "Mitt Romney looks like the guy who fired you." It certainly begins to explain just why a President who campaigned on being "Not George W. Bush" but has spent nearly four years being, well, George W. Bush [and with the same disastrous results of pursuing these policies once predicted by... Barack Obama...] is still in this at all, let alone ahead in key "battleground states" (and even Chris Christie observes that, in the context of Mitt Romney, "if the election were tomorrow... that would be a problem".)

I remain more than agnostic on this election: I actually hope neither of the Wall Street Darlings manning the tops of "the Two Parties'[TM]" tickets "wins," as both are committed to our suicidal national status quo (with only stylistic and atmospheric differences between them). But that's not how the system works: one of Goldman Sachs' chosen candidates will get to chose other Goldman Sachs employees to man key governmental posts for another four years, for the purpose of continuing our neo-feudal hierarchy as far as it will go.

Needless to say, the Rockefeller family will have nothing to worry about for at least another four years.

September 23, 2012, Play ball

For the third consecutive try, I failed to reach the 26.22 mile marathon standard in a 6-hour race at yesterday's Staten Island Six Hour (somewhat ironic, as I usually, albeit not always, complete marathons in well under six hours). Anyway, in my first try at a six hour race in 2010, I intentionally ended my day slightly early, knowing that my fall season would consist of two other marathons and a 50-miler that year. No such excuse this year, but my winter medical maladies have evidently resulted in some weight gain which I haven't been able to shake; I went into yesterday's race near a life-time high weight, at around 199 lbs. This morning, it looks like 194 lbs.... I'll probably go out again in a few minutes and jog for an hour or two... I need some preparation for next month's Midwest state capital double, the Indianapolis and Columbus marathons on the same weekend (logistically, some doubling is the only conceivable way I'll get to 50 states). Anyway, I'm not a fast runner, nor particularly interesting to watch, nor, quite frankly, are these "time races", where a few dozen people circle a loop of a city park competing simply for the most mileage. But it's not really about watching... it's about doing.

Which takes us to a story about watching: the Grey Lady's take on NFL replacement referees: they may be costing the game it's entertainment value. NFL football is more than our national sport (in terms of viewership and fan interest, anyway)... it's arguably our national religion. People seem to take their football more seriously than just about anything else... including, well, politics, religion, their families, or their health, for example. Which is why, as the Times piece observes, television ratings for football are so strong. Which is why advertising rates are so high. Which is why the National Football League's decision to lock-out its referees
is arguably such a dangerously short-sighted one, and yet, so quintessentially American... that the American business practice is always-- always as in 100% of the time-- to risk the goodwill of customers and the quality of the product and hence the long term viability of the business itself-- for the opportunity to stick it to interloping workers who might just want a slightly larger slice of the pie.

In the NFL context, this is dangerous because [American] football, especially at its professional and premier college ranks, has been designed for the American attention span: fast moving, exciting bursts of energy [usually replete with violence and occasional poor sportsmanship], with a constant rhythmic flow until the next beer or automobile commercial. And the NFL's professional (albeit part-time) referees fully understand what it takes to move the game along-- when to throw the flag, when to overlook a transgression that may technically be a foul but will more likely simply foul up the flow of the game. The sort of thing that comes from... wait for it... experience.

NFL franchises are worth hundreds of millions of dollars or more despite only having eight home dates a year because of the television value: to risk screwing that up over a seemingly minor money dispute with a comparatively inexpensive, but clearly important component of the game... seems dumb... football's short experiment with "replacement players" wasn't a particularly successful idea. Fans recognized a reduction in the quality of "their entertainment experience"... and labor peace was quickly restored. One assumes something similar will happen with the referee lockout.

One does not assume, however, that the long-term trend toward the eventual death of "employment" as a model for economic organization in this country will end (despite the "headline unemployment" figures, workforce participation rates, full-time employment and real wages continue the decline they have been on for decades), even as a variety of factors from things like health insurance costs (even before "Obamacare") and the coming "fiscal cliff" promise to drive the cost of enterprises hiring people for employment to be even higher. Anyway... long-term trends... not good. One wonders why the NFL didn't simply fire the refs and hire them back as "consultants." Possibly they are too visible.

Which is pretty much all that's happening here: we are watching a trend that's been playing out for a long time (called "the worker is the enemy.") We are only noticing because of the context of our nation's most popular sport. While one hopes that this is a useful opportunity to consider the broader trend... Gotta go! The game's on!

Update (9/27/12): On cue, after the replacement refs evidently made a disastrous call costing the vaunted Green Bay Packers a game against the not vaunted Seattle Seahawks, just as with the players' lockout of yore featuring "replacement players" the fans quickly tired of and settled... after... three weeks... it seems... a tentative deal has suddenly been reached. The economy as a whole is still in the crapper, folks... we'll need to cling to our national religion (that would be football)... perhaps more than usual...

September 18, 2012, Welcome to the future

I began blogging at this domain on 18 September 2001... eleven years ago today. More on that below.

First, it seems a federal Appeals Court judge here got the memo on the NDAA, and noted that when Congress and the President say we're a de jure dictatorship, by Jove, we're a de jure dictatorship, and if the Government feels like it, it can lock you up without recourse to, you know, law. This, of course, has been the law of the land for over eight years, ever since the Supreme Court refused to spring Jose Padilla. And hence, perversely, the federal appellate judge is right on this one: if the Constitution doesn't apply to Latino ex-gang-bangers like Padilla, it doesn't apply to upper-middle-class White journos like Chris Hedges and the other plaintiffs... I've been trying to tell you this for years.

In Fake Election News[TM], it seems that old Scrooge McDuck Romney told a "truth is no defense" political "truth" to his donor base, and Mother Jones got a secret video of it... He suggested that something like 47% of Americans are on government entitlements and "will vote for this President [Obama] no matter what." Or something. Vaguely reminiscent of Obama's "gotcha" four years ago, when he lamented that lower-middle-class White voters would "cling to their religion and guns." Like all pseudo-truths, there is an element of truth to what Romney said, except there really isn't. He, of course, meant "YOU KNOW, BLACK PEOPLE." The joke, of course, is that most of the government entitlement money goes to White people, mostly via Social Security and Medicare [and Defense contracts and corporate welfare]... of course, most food stamp money and even most Medicaid money, nationwide, probably does too... because there are still a lot more White people than non-White people in the USA. The other joke is the assumption that people actually vote on economic self-interest... that's not really true either, or Democrats would never really lose elections, given that most Americans actually aren't particularly well-off (and logically, wouldn't vote for "the party of the well-off."). At this point, both parties are in the thrall of the feudal lords in the upper strata-- "the 1% or higher." Knowing this, most Americans either don't vote at all (one of the few signs of a healthy society out there, along with our national distaste for soccer)... or else, they vote on "spleen" and nonsense issues... like, of course, "abortion, gay marriage and gun control"... or, code words aside, that is to say, which party they think will be meaner to Black people. [Impressively, the President, despite, you know, being Black, has been pretty mean to Black people himself, all things told.]

Meanwhile, as American interests in the Middle East are quite literally under attack, including the unfortunate recent killing of Christopher Stephens, U.S. Ambassador to Libya, the fifth sitting ambassador killed in U.S. history, it seems this is a well-followed story among Americans (who also view Mitt Romney's right-wing-talk-radio response to it quite negatively). The easy-to-understand story is "rage over an anti-Muslim video"... but of course, that video has been out for a while... the rage is about the failure of the Arab Spring to improve the lives of most Middle Easterners, and quite probably, because of stepped up American intervention in the region (perhaps designed to cause World War III to break out as a last-minute "rally 'round the flag" election tactic just in case "QE-3"-- the Federal Reserve goosing/juicing of the markets to boost Obama's reelection odds at a time when the equity markets are near all-time highs-- doesn't work... electorally.)

All of these things reflect a consolidation of central power... financially, or via outright brute force... that has been underway for a while. There is consensus among our political classes (if not our citizenry) on this point, that this kind of power consolidation is "good"-- it keeps the status quo power in place. The proposition of this blog is that this is unequivocally bad: IMHO, decentralization, autonomy, and local control... are always superior, pretty much regardless of context, be it of agriculture, or politics. Not to say rules, including the rule of law, consistently enforced, aren't good... Of course, as you know, laws in the USA anyway aren't consistently enforced... be it on [mostly] racial lines, or on socioeconomic lines, or just on an out-and-out raw power basis... and this is, you know, bad.

Reality is that the human condition, at least through recorded history, has mostly sucked for most people. We had a window throughout most of the latter half of the Twentieth Century where things were getting better-- at least politically and materially-- for more people than had ever happened before. Now, it seems, we are reverting to the norm (some kind of feudalism). I am saying this is unnecessary, and given the "environmental" in every sense (physical, biological, moral, etc.), I am suggesting that this too, is bad. Only it's more than bad: in the interest of propping up the power and status of the status quo, we run the risk of killing everything and everyone on this planet, be it from global warming, rampant use of chemical and GMOs in agriculture, nuclear waste, fracking, war, or any of the self-imposed pestilences that our current hierarchical based status quo and our ever more "me first... and only me" lifestyles are imposing on everyone else.

And so, once again, here we are. Poetically, just as my first post did eleven years ago, this blog anniversary falls around Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, a time when the annual cycle of life can re-set... a time of celebration, yet of sober reflection, as in just over a week, comes Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, when the Jewish people's Deity, at least goes the theology, will finally seal our fate, and determine whether our year-to-year contract is finally up, or whether we get to make it another year. While, in my view, this is an extremely useful metaphor for individuals, it is also an extremely useful macro-metaphor. Somehow it has been lost in our "Me first" world [where our dominant philosopher has become Serial-Killer-Admirer Ayn Rand.] We can either acknowledge that our fantasy of Adam Smith's "invisible hand" (he did not suggest it as a "good thing") is not an appropriate ordering mechanism of the universe, or we can go on not being nice to each other (micro and macro) and maybe give up having a chance at a future just to keep an unsustainable party for fewer and fewer people going. Eleven years on in this blogging endeavor, I cannot say that I'm optimistic about the direction we've chosen.

But the metaphor of the universal cycle-- and the possibility of renewal-- is always available to us, and this seems as appropriate a time as any to reconsider whether we are capable of actual renewal and genuine introspection. On that point, as my dear friend Candace always says, "Hope dies last."

September 11, 2012, 9-11 -- plus 11.0

And so we come to "that day"-- like "that day" eleven years ago here in The City [TM], a Tuesday, with weather almost as crystal clear.

I don't know what to say any more. Like that day, this morning, I will make my way to work, more or less 100 meters or so from the World Trade Center site. But unlike that day, my assumptions about the nature of the nation I live in are wholly different. Then, there were expectations of Constitutional limits to what our government could do to us. We had expectations of a more or less benevolent (if not utopian) future.

Those assumptions are gone, now. OBL and minions have gotten us to destroy ourselves, in the purported interests of "safety" and "security." In the sham election coming up in seven or eight weeks, neither of the "major party" (for now) candidates want to talk about these things-- the fact that "growth" is probably over, that the national security state is now permanent, that we have achieved "bipartisan consensus" on these things, and indeed, even "bipartisan consensus" to make sure that unimportant issues (in the sense of a President actually doing something about any of them, like abortion, gay marriage and/or "gun control") continue to be "areas of difference."

And so, later today, for the eleventh time, I suppose there will be a public reading of the names of those killed eleven years ago-- in a gesture torn between private grief and public catharsis-- just a symptom of a society where private selfishness equals public virtue (see Ryan, Paul and Rand, Ayn.) and our "national grief" justifies the slaughter of God knows how many of "the Other."

I was there that day, as you'all know. I'm tired of this day. As far as I'm concerned, the sooner we put it behind us in our national consciousness, the better.

Just saying.

September 9, 2012, Sunday Sunday

We'll start this Sunday with this happy sorta op-ed by Nick Kristoff in the Grey Lady on... wait for it... organic dairy farming. Yup: good food makes us happier not to mention, the cows are happier. I say this all the time: our grandparents and great grandparents had many more stresses in their lives than we do-- but crappy, health-destroying pseudo-food produced in the most heinous industrial conditions and traveling thousands of miles to get to them wasn't one of them. Exhibit A as to why we spend one in six dollars of our GDP on "health care" (we almost certainly spend far less on "food" itself!) Healthy lifestyles and good food, are of course, infinitely less profitable to the corporate behemoth monsters who own Washington (you can see them clearly identify themselves by their advertisements on Sunday morning political talk shows), and hence, discouraged in the strongest terms by our establishment. Follow them down their (proverbial) garden path at your extreme peril.

The lead article (at least on the Grey Lady's web-site) is this cacophony of student loan collection stories, noting some staggering facts, like the fact that current defaults alone exceed all current tuition expenses. As our readers know, student loans, if not repaid, follow us to the grave, as they are not capable of discharge in bankruptcy. But this is something else our grandparents and great grandparents didn't have to deal with: if college proved unaffordable, they simply didn't go, and there were plenty of opportunities in the job market anyway. Further, if they did go, colleges were infinitely more affordable (I note that my entire Ivy League degree cost less than a single semester at the same institution some thirty years or so later, for example.) Also, they didn't have to deal with the plethora of heavily advertised enterprises like "the University of Phoenix," profit-making "educational institutions" that, in a rational and healthy society would, like "health insurance companies," be against the law. (For-profit institutions have higher default rates, of course.)

Nor, of course, did our grandparents and great-grandparents have to deal with implicit pronouncements of their "character issues" from "lack of grit" if they didn't complete college, more or less the substance of this Joe Nocera op-ed on education. Nocera tries to laud charter schools and educational innovators who are improving the performance of generally under-performing groups of students (code for "poor and dark-skinned"); starting out with laudable goals, however, he, alas, advances the prevailing narrative that somehow people are poor and unable to advance through the education maze for reasons they can control.

OK... what is all this? Well, Kristoff is looking forward-- back to the future, if you will-- when we all eat good, healthy local food again (perhaps which we were involved in growing)-- because it makes us happier (and because the infrastructure of how we presently eat is largely unsustainable). Meanwhile, back in the Matrix, people have to deal with the realities of a declining economy which has largely been deindustrialized as it is, with a rather insane set of incentives: go get an expensive degree that you probably can't pay for (with just about automatic ability to borrow whatever it costs, regardless of any prospect for ever paying it back) which will probably not be of much help to obtaining high paying work in an economy with less and less high-paying employment and more and more people with college degrees competing for them...

Doesn't the bucolic, happy dairy farm seem "nice"? Anyway-- that's the broader point... our "health" and "education" complexes are not doing their job of nourishing body and soul... before we move on to broader "reforms"... perhaps we should undertake a more "basic" assessment?

Just saying...

September 8, 2012, If only...

We give you an encore link to our friends at The Onion, for their hilarious parody of the President's convention speech ["Obama: Help us destroy Jesus and start a new age of liberal darkness"] (more because it's funny not so much because of the send-up of "the culture wars," but because of the implied proposition that Barack Obama actually feels that strongly about anything besides his own prospects for that corner office at Goldman or Morgan.)

September 6, 2012, Convention Highlights

Our friends at The Onion nail it as usual, and tell us about Bill Clinton's rather demonstrative speech, Michelle Obama's thoughts on her role in the campaign, Joe Biden's long road to Charlotte, a candid shot of a delegate, a discussion of DNC programming, a profile of keynote speaker Julian "Not Fidel" Castro, and, of course, news from the Romney/Ryan camp.

Finally, "America's Finest News Source" laments that this year's DNC just lacks the delusional magic that marked the '08 convention.

We are not worthy.

Anecdotally, there are still millions of people paying attention to this crap... for real. Good luck to you'all.

September 3, 2012, PR

Happy Labor Day.

"PR" in running circles means "personal record," in commerce it usually means "public relations"... and in politics these days, it could mean "Paul Ryan" (full name, Paul Davis Ryan, or "PDR" usually meaning "Physician's Desk Reference"). Since Familia TD was happily on vacation in an area with pretty much no electronic media (and right here in America... stick around, folks!), I missed much of the mirth and merriment of the GOP convention, such as Clint losing a debate with an empty chair, and, of course, Paul Ryan making up his best marathon time.

Like me, Paul Ryan ran his first marathon while in college, and like me, his time was over 4 hours... his was 4 hours and a minute and a half in Duluth, MN in 1990, mine 4 hours 22 minutes and 38 or 39 seconds in Charlotte, NC in 1982. Nonetheless, in lying speaking to friendly right-wing talk show host Hugh Hewitt, Ryan suggested that he was a bit faster... well, here's the excerpt:

HH: Are you still running?

PR: Yeah, I hurt a disc in my back, so I donít run marathons anymore. I just run ten miles or yes.

HH: But you did run marathons at some point?

PR: Yeah, but I canít do it anymore, because my back is just not that great.

HH: Iíve just gotta ask, whatís your personal best?

PR: Under three, high twos. I had a two hour and fifty-something.

Sub-three marathon times are very, very good... the stuff of elite runners. And so, if Mr. Ryan were, even in his past, an elite runner, this would be very interesting indeed. And so, his need to casually lie about something that millions of runners take with the utmost degree of seriousness... is quite interesting. Perhaps it's the nature of being in the political bubble and surrounded by yes-persons and toadies (of which Ryan himself is one), and of being constantly told that you are [what passes for] a deep thinker and intellectual. Or perhaps it's something even more troubling.

I'm on record as saying there's no meaningful substantive difference among and between "the two parties," and indeed, "our" [presumptive] Vice Presidential candidate, Vice President Joe Biden, has his own history of confabulation (or at least plagiarism). But Biden's "thing," like most political confabulations, was politically self-serving; Ryan's was merely gratuitously ego-aggrandizing... more the stuff of [juvenile] mental health "issues," especially given the certainty it would be immediately debunked. Also, note how easily he just rolled into the huge, throbbing lie (when he could have said "I don't remember, Hugh... three, four hours... it was a while ago")... indeed, the campaign attributed the lie gaffe to a rounding error or some such lame-ass excuse. Obviously, that Ryan's "budget plans" would increase the deficit by trillions, rather than decrease it, could also be a simple "rounding error." Really, that this rather unserious person is taken for "deep" and "wonky" just shows how cartoonish the whole thing has become.

Barack Obama has been a disappointment; worse than that, actually, as he hasn't even tried to implement the agenda he campaigned on, and he has made no bones about demonstrating where his actual allegiances lie (that would be "to his donors, especially in the financial sector"). Obama has expanded the wars, tightened the national security state, stepped up the war on Black people drugs, doubled down on Dubya's "health care reform means throwing more taxpayer money at Big Pharma and Big Insurance" and refused to prosecute the most blatant crimes committed by Wall Street... and even extended the Bush tax cuts when he didn't have to... and while Dubya gave himself the right to throw citizens in the dungeon, Barack Obama has claimed the right to outright murder citizens (as long as the decision is made on Tuesday, apparently).

So don't tell me Mitt Romney (or Sarah Palin, or Paul Ryan, or Ron Paul, or Rand Paul, or any Republican) is going to be particularly worse in any meaningful, substantive way. The same? Absolutely. Because that's how sham democracies work: you have "a vote" (well, White people do, anyway)... but it's not exactly "meaningful," now, is it?

So then, why do some tall-tales told by Ayn-Randian sociopath Vice-Presidential candidates matter? Because it reflects a broader socio-systemic problem here: the political process, and much of American life, purports to behave as if reality doesn't matter... but, as Kuntsler reminds us... reality always wins. Just as actual sub-three hour marathoner Lance Armstrong recently found out.