The Talking Dog

September 30, 2016, Good times

We'll start with this semi-hit piece called "The Curious Case of Alicia Machado," she the former Miss Universe from Venezuela whom Hillary Clinton invoked at this week's presidential debate to highlight Donald "The Donald" Trump's generalized contempt toward women, noting that he once referred to Ms. Machado as "Miss Piggy" and "Miss Housekeeping," evident references to weight gain and Latina heritage. Trump, surprise surprise, has been fighting back, noting that Ms. Machado has "issues," including a purported sex tape (turns out to be true and was evidently a basis for baseballer Bobby Abreu to break up with his then fiancee, Ms. Machado), as well as allegations of wild gangsta' type crimes in Venezuela. The point of the semi-hit piece (as I read it... not as it purports) is the bizarre double-standard of coverage-- the very mainstream-media that created the golem-monster that is Trump in the first place, it seems, is not providing him "fair coverage" on things like Ms. Machado, by sanitizing her very public past. Alrightie then.

Mrs. TD and I just celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary. We were married five years before Ms. Machado became Miss Universe/Miss Piggy/Miss Housekeeping. And over the weekend, I completed Marathon 45 (at least, I think it's that) in the Rock N Roll Oasis Montreal Marathon (earning a coveted "World Rocker" medal to boot).

Alrightie then... we won't talk about Deutsche Bank...

September 28, 2016, Shalom

The Hebrew word for hello, good bye and peace seems the appropriate notation for the death, at age 93, of Shimon Peres, former Israeli prime minister (often considered the best of Israel's leaders in the technical sense of competent leadership, although he was rarely the most popular), as well as holding a number of cabinet positions, and late in his life, the figure-head president of the State of Israel. Mr. Peres was a prime mover for most of the modern peace initiatives that formed the seemingly never-ending "Israeli Palestinian Peace Process [TM]," but, as the last of the founding generation of the Jewish State, let's just say he believed that Israel's long-term best interests included a long term resolution of its fraught relationship with its Palestinian house-guests (and those located in refugee camps in neighboring Arab states).

In an era of obnoxiously arrogant show-boaters (the likes of Bibi, Dubya, and, God help us, Trump, come to mind), Peres was kind of a bland technocrat-- passionate, to be sure, but never quite making the emotional connection to be really popular, despite, at least in my opinion, being an old-school really effective politician and leader, in a world where fear-mongering, show-boating and playing to the lizard-brain are all, quite sadly, more important it seems.

And now the world will have to go on without him; perhaps events in the Middle East, which is now reeling with outright shooting wars in Syria and Yemen, and extreme tension in Libya, Bahrain, Iraq and elsewhere, have de-emphasized the importance of "Israel-Palestine" in the great geo-strategic sense... but in the minds of many (particularly American Jews... not to mention supporters of Palestinian rights as well)... it's still significant.

Mr. Peres had obviously slowed down with age, but as a moral force... he loomed large. Shalom, Mr. Peres.

September 21, 2016, Now is the Autumn of our Discontent?

Donny Trump, Jr., The Younger Donald (TM) has been on a tear lately , appealing to White supremacists ,and neo-nazis galore, sayeth Media Matters. The latest, comparing a handful of hypothetical Skittles from a bowl containing three poison ones to Syrian refugees, an "analogy" which originated in the Nazi propaganda machine, is, evidently, just the latest in a rather loud and clear appeal to this particular demographic (i.e. White supremeacists and neo-Nazis).

I hearken back to my own post from June, noting the uncanny comparisons between Trump rallies and Nuremberg-style rallies of an Austrian-born dictator of the not too distant past, and the Democrats insistence on running a flawed candidate against him-- one who might well lose to him, unleashing God knows what on the rest of us.

And here we are. And we are left having to support that flawed candidate (even as Hillary Clinton can't even seem to tell the truth about her own medical condition) , because, for a change, the lesser of two evils actually is far less evil than... well... the extreme evil-- that the Republicans have chosen as their standard-bearer.

September 18, 2016, Bombs away

On this, the fifteenth anniversary of the first post of this blog, following a blast in Manhattan's Chelsea section that injured 29 (with a second homemade explosive device found four blocks away from the 23rd Street explosion), which, in turn, came on the heels of an explosion that, thankfully, didn't injure anyone, along the course of a Jersey Shore 5-K race called the "Semper Five" (a fundraiser for Marine Corps related charity)... I ventured into Central Park for the NYC Marathon Tune-Up, an 18-mile footrace, this morning. [BTW, "ISIS" hasn't claimed responsibility for either of those events, though an ISIS "wing" supposedly claims responsibility for stabbing attacks that injured at least nine in a mall in St. Cloud, MN... the stabber was himself killed.]

Yes, the events in Seaside Park, NJ and in Chelsea certainly were reminiscent of the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013, combining the twin themes of attacking a footrace with a homemade pressure cooker explosive device. And so, one might wonder, why I would knowingly and deliberately set foot in another footrace (at about 5,000 runners, roughly the same size field as in Seaside Park), and in New York's Central Park no less, barely two miles from last night's explosions at the closest point.

I am reminded of events fifteen years ago... thousands of people didn't come to New York (or, more troubling in my view, lived here but still didn't want to run) for that year's NYC Marathon. Nonetheless, I ran it, and it was one of the most life-affirming experiences I ever had. Not out of any particular principles (though the stubbornness that keeps me at distance running despite no talent or willingness to train any harder than the level required to be "near back of pack" is obviously a factor), so much as annoyance at being told that I am supposed to live my life cowering in fear, and that "terrrrrrrrorism" is the defining condition of our existence. Maybe it is, and maybe I'm delusional, but I'll be damned if I buy that. It's fifteen years later; for almost all of them, I have, as a quotidian matter, gone to work about a football field's length away from the World Trade Center, NY Stock Exchange and NY Federal Reserve Bank... I'm well aware another terrorist attack is not only possible, but perhaps even more likely than not, as the World Trade Center has already been attacked twice in my adult working life, once with me working a block from it (the other time I worked in midtown Manhattan, about five miles away).

This sentiment of media-taught-learned-helplessness certainly makes centralized authority very, very happy, indeed. Once people are so afraid of and for their lives that they seriously question whether to even leave their homes, the powerful pretty much can then do whatever they want... put an entire economy on (an extremely profitable for some and extremely detrimental to the overall economy and most people) "war footing," throw out the rule books for things like torture, dungeons, Mafia style hits (okay as long as "a drone" is the means), Orwellian surveillance on every aspect of our lives (no matter how "private"), and so many of the salutary effects on our lives that we have enjoyed since 9-11.

Yes, I fully expect the bombings to be thoroughly investigated, and I trust that our law enforcement personnel will, hopefully sooner rather than later, get to the bottom of these incidents and bring the perpetrator(s) to justice (which, hopefully, will be elucidating as to just what happened, and not involve a special operations team). Despite the toxic water under the bridge, I am still counting on "normalcy"-- that ordinary working stiffs doing their ordinary jobs will get to the bottom of this, and the rest of us don't have to cower helplessly. I recognize the potential for more bad things to happen prior to the resolution of these investigations... best call it "inevitability."

It's a dangerous world; made unnecessarily more dangerous by the actions of our own government (which, just yesterday, "mistakenly" killed over 60 Syrian military personnel, thereby allowing ISIS forces, at least temporarily to take the position held by the Syrian position bombed by American led forces), but even if the American Empire were as benificent as our propaganda and fragile-national-ego insists that it is, it would still be a dangerous world, and this would be a dangerous country, which, thanks to our bizarre worship of both firearms and psychotrophic drugs, hasa murder rate that is just about the highest in the developed world (Mexico's, Turkey's and Estonia's are a bit higher, if you're willing to count them as our peers).

What of it? Damned if I know. All I can say to the rest of you, is go live your lives. Don't buy into the fear-mongering, both subtle and not subtle, that has come to dominate public discourse. [Yes, I recognize the irony of concluding this post in the imperative tense...]

Update: (9-19-16) Rather quickly, after an evening that included the discovery (and then "uncontrolled detonation") of an explosive device at a train station in Elizabeth, NJ, a man from that city has been identified as a suspect in the Chelsea bombings. Significance? To be determined...

September 17, 2016, Who's afraid of... time marching on?

In the brief interregnum between 9-11+15 and the 15th anniversary of this blog (tomorrow, actually... not sure what, if anything, I'm going to say on the subject) we are presented with the inevitability of the march of time with the loss of one of the greats of American art, the playwright Edward Albee. Winner of the Tony and the Pulitzer, some of his best known works include Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, The Zoo Story, The American Dream, and The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?

Like other geniuses of the modern era, Beckett and Ionesco (or O'Neill and Miller), Mr. Albee generally didn't write plays that would leave one with a "feel good" escapist experience; quite the contrary: he explored existential angst, in his case, often exploring the deep dark secrets of the materially affluent. Given how disturbing his work was, I can't count myself as a "fan," but in an era of ever more reality-t.v.-style-crap (which, of course, has now swallowed up the gestalt in the ascendancy of you-know-who), a dose of actual reality is always welcome.

Mr. Albee's passing, at 88, is just another marking of time. We ignore him-- and the stark (as it were) lessons that reality is trying to teach us-- at our peril. R.I.P., Mr. Albee.

September 11, 2016, 15 years on

Alright, alright. I'll quickly give you this Daily News piece noting that the Trump theme of "never give a sucker an even break" applies to the supposed reason that he received $150,000 in state funds following 9-11 for "business loss" (which may actually have been legitimate business loss at the time) which, being the compulsive liar that he is, he insisted on the campaign trail was for "charitable purposes" of some kind... and like virtually everything purportedly "good" that Mr. Trump says he did... the evidence seems scant. And so I can only say... damn it... even on 9-11 + XV, that bastard has stolen the spotlight. And worse, unlike that bastard, who was almost certainly in Florida on 9-11-01, I was actually at work a block north of the World Trade Center, with a front row seat from my 16th floor office (an office so close that I lost my job because the building was put out of commission for months)...

What I actually wanted to talk about was the broader implication of that day. The consensus is that the September 11th attacks (whatever their origins) killed 2,996 people and injured over 6,000. In response to those attacks, which were brazen to be sure, the United States mobilized a massive war effort (once described as "the Global War on Terror"), first in Afghanistan (and conjointly, in Pakistan) and then in Iraq (the latter with no established connection to the 9-11 events, the former in harboring the perpetrators rather than in orchestrating the attacks themselves), which, by one published report, resulted in at least 1.3 million deaths in those countries (another suggestion is that the GWOT caused at least 4 million deaths, all of Muslims).

Even if the American response to 9-11 -- the GWOT-- was not itself per se overkill (it even got more American military personnel killed than were victims of 9-11), given just the cost in American blood and treasure, given that at least some (such as those noted in this WaPo piece) insist that the world is now more vulnerable to "the jihadist threat" than it was 15 years ago... , we can only say wtf? And so, in plain old human terms, we engaged in a vast enterprise that resulted in the deaths of many more people than were lost on Sept. 11th itself (and perhaps hundreds of times as many, although, as with so much, non-American, let alone non-White, lives don't seem to register here)... and it seems, there is a consensus that this effort has not made us particularly "safer."

So where are we now? As I write this, preparations are in their final stages for the usual annual memorial ceremony, where I'm pretty sure the names of the only people that matter, will be publicly read out, usually by surviving spouses, children, parents or other loved ones, in a rather poignant and moving ceremony, that, were it the sole response to the 9-11 events, would actually be remarkably human (and indeed, beautiful, as is the 9-11 memorial, all things told.) Naturally, the victims of that awful day are, rather than used to inspire us to something better (such as invoking the selfless spirit of the hundreds of first responders who gave their lives that day trying to save others or the heroic passengers of Flight 93), instead, used first to evoke a strong emotional response... and then, with collective reason duly suppressed, the events of 9-11 have been used to do what the powerful really want, which is the unaccountable consolidation of state power (including the spending of untold vast amounts of money).

Virtually all forms of centralized power consolidation have advanced dramatically over the past 15 years, from income inequality (which, admittedly, was increasing anyway), to the government's ability to spy on you (admittedly, assisted by helpful technology in that area), to the government's ability to, without accountability, engage in torture, or outright homicide. As I've noted before, my daughter, who wasn't quite two as of 9-11, has grown up in a world where it is perfectly normal for the American state to arbitrarily hold people in our own Devil's Island, or to (remotely no less) liquidate its enemies extra-judicially even if those enemies are American citizens, or to expect their communications, whether by telephone (assuming anyone even uses their telephones for talking rather than texting or social media) or all computer or wireless communications, to be monitored by the government, and to expect their local police forces to be a heavily armed military occupation force (as well as the spearhead of a system that incarcerates more people than any other country in the history of the world).

To be sure, given how helpful these trends are to the powerful, it is easy enough to imagine that they would have gone forward anyway even without September 11th as an oh so useful catalyst (or that a lesser event might have been seized upon, of course), but we have 9-11 as an oh so helpful focal point. And while the American public was, in the days and weeks following 9-11 looking for its opportunity to achieve meaning in their lives and to do things greater than themselves (i.e., to be our own version of a "greatest generation"), the President more or less told us to go shopping. The point being, that, just as recipients of public benefits are told that they are "entitlements," lest they have the dignity of, if able-bodied, performing meaningful work (even if not directly compensated by wages), or indeed, any dignity at all... the public was told that there was no need for their collective sacrifice... their betters had this one.

And that has more or less been the collective spirit of the last fifteen years, it seems, with no small assist from technologies that allow a veritable zombie apocalypse of oblivious people walking through our streets (or all too often driving) while transfixed by bouncing electronic images on tiny apparatuses in their hands. The spirit of the time has become one of ever more self-obsession, because, of course, we are told in no uncertain terms that there is no we... only individual selfishness (any wonder that "the selfie" has become so significant?). This collective selfishness allows our nation-state to trash the rest of the planet, whether by direct violence unleashed by our military or intelligence services... or by the effects (direct and indirect) of our out-sized economic influence (as well as military, cultural, etc.)

And so, here we are. What 9-11 should have taught us, had we been listening, was a spirit of humility: even the vast might of master-of-the-universe financiers operating 100 stories in the air, or military officers in the Pentagon, would not prevent instant death inflicted by a not-particularly-well-funded but extremely determined small group... because, in the end, nothing can... Not the illusion of "security"... not spending all the money in the world on said security, not trashing the Constitution in the interest of "security"... nothing.

We could have, collectively, had some genuine introspection about, say, why it is necessary for our nation to operate nearly 800 military bases in over 70 countries (and that's just what we know about), or to consume a wildly disproportionate share of the world's resources. Instead, appeals to emotion trumped (as it were) all forms of reason, and, despite significant internal and external opposition, the American war machine went into full speed, and we have been "at war" for... the last fifteen years, with no foreseeable end.

All I can do at this point is, as I've tried to do these last fifteen years, is try to lead by example from behind metaphorically... or something... or at least make suggestions... as to how to get through an ever more fraught world, in which, if trends continue, I see nothing particularly good coming down the pike. But this is on a collective scale... individuals can, and do, still make differences. For one thing, we can remember the spirit of Richard Pearlman, a volunteer paramedic who perished after running into the WTC on 9-11, even though it wasn't his job... and we can use that as a point of inspiration. His sense of service and volunteerism. Or of Abraham Zelmanowitz, who stayed behind with a paraplegic friend Ed Beyea on the 27th floor of the WTC, rather than save himself and leave his friend to his fate. Lessons of the ultimate heroism-- quiet service, not violent revenge. Neither man wore a uniform... but both were heroes.

And Americans wanted inspiration from their heroic spirit... and instead, for the last fifteen years, we have gotten military flyovers at football games and the ever-more-common presence of military personnel in combat fatigues... as the new normal. Well, it ain't normal. I want normal. I'm begging for normal. A normal of the aspirations of this country, and of our species. An aspiration of the better, the beautiful... the heroic. That means ordinariness... no perpetual war, no internal military occupation and Orwellian oversight... just ordinary.

If that means forgetting 9-11-- the heroes and the killers alike-- then I say we forget it. I can live with that. People have died tragically before and since; indeed, our homicide rate reflects the murders of several times the 9-11 toll every year before and since. But anything that results in a supposed justification for being at war with the entire planet, for torture, for Orwellian surveillance, for murder-by-drone, and for the countless other bad things that have happened since 9-11... is best forgotten.

Not to worry... the powerful won't let us. But we do have a choice: we can turn off our emotional response to the jingoism (including the xenophobia), and realize that, as residents of this nation and this planet, we're all in this together (even if we don't think so), and behave accordingly. That, and start growing (and cooking) your own food, making sure you get enough exercise, try to minimize your involvement with the medical industrial complex, and, ideally, minimize your "consumption" of media, and just go outside and smell the flowers... seriously. Improve yourself... not out of selfishness or narcissism but out of the complete opposite... and... with luck, fifteen years from now 9-11 will be a tragedy to be sure, but not one that has resulted in the complete hijacking (as it were) of our entire existence.

September 10, 2016, Erev 9-11-XV Pot Pourri

Item: Right here in invariably-tolerant-Brooklyn [TM], a 32-year old woman with the all-American name of Emirjeta Xhelili decided to accost, attack and assault two hijab-wearing women pushing baby strollers, including nearly toppling over a stroller carrying a 15-month old baby, suggesting strongly that they get ... out of America. Yes Ms. Xhelili is a proud Trump supporter, but... you know...

Perhaps Ms. Xhelili is in that "basket of deplorables" to which Hillary Clinton attributes half of Trump supporters (the other half being people "just looking for change.") Name calling... good strategy. Calling your opponents xenophobic racists really worked well with that Brexit thing, IIRC... Oh, yeah... To be fair, leading Democrats do wonder just why Hillary can't pull away from Clarabell Bozo Donald Trump.

Item: One of the President's hometown newspapers, the Chicago Tribune, treats us to an op-ed piece called "Why Obamacare Failed." It suggests a death-by-a-thousand-cuts problem (the law is psychotically complicated) and, as wonks these days do, fails to recognize that the problem is quite fundamental: the existence of "health insurance" for anything except catastrophe (the usual reason we have insurance) as the problem in the first place, and the fact that the only viable system to replace our existing dysfunctional order will be four simple letters (spelled "cash"), and that complexity is the problem, and not the solution.

Item: The Grey Lady does a number of interesting things in this semi-hit-piece called "The Curious Case of Susan Estrich" (which at least appears to be written by a woman... at least...) Ms. Estrich was, famously, the first woman president of the Harvard Law Review (sadly too early to make it a Presidential credential, Barack), the first female Presidential campaign director (for Mike Dukakis), a staunch supporter of Anita Hill in the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearing kerfuffle, and, yada yada yada, a long-time Fox News talking head and eventual friend and defender (literally... as in defense attorney) of embattled former Fox News honcho Roger Ailes. Somehow, it seems, Ms. Estrich, as a supposedly pioneering feminist, is not permitted to have asshole friends, or even asshole legal clients. But the piece gives itself away, by observing that when a partner at Ms. Estrich's own law firm took on Bill Cosby as a client, he (suppose it was a he) took on far less guff than Ms. Estrich for representing Ailes. Got it... No double-standards here, eh Grey Lady?

And. well... I could go on and on I guess. but... Item: what 9-11 (or even Erev 9-11) could possibly go on without Mr. 9-11 himself, America's Ex-Mayor, Rudy Giuliani. Rudy, evidently, came unglued, and the old prosecutor cracked under questioning by Chris Matthews concerning the Donald's Birtherism.

Good times. Happy Erev 9-11 Everyone!!!

September 3, 2016, Nothing to it

Such is the conclusion of the invariably sober Kevin Drum concerning the latest FBI revelations associated with "Hillary's damned emails." He does a thorough review, and concludes that it is as close to an exoneration of HRC and her handling of her emails as one will see anywhere. And yet, she is just such a terrible campaigner, that she just can't spit out words similar to:

"Look, I readily admit that 'best practices' were not followed, and in hindsight, certainly should have been, but there is a huge chasm between not handling your electronic communications in the most perfect state of the art way and impropriety let alone, criminality, and the FBI and Justice and State Departments have so concluded, in their conclusion that there was no basis for prosecution. To quote the Republicans following the 2000 election of George W. Bush: GET OVER IT."

Nonetheless... her "untrustworthy" ratings remain high... and the Donald, despite not paying his own campaign staff, is improving in the polls.

To be fair, yes, I believe the Presidential election is pretty much a kabuki for the rubes... nothing much will change for the better or otherwise depending on which of the two vetted by the Central Committee major party candidates ends up winning the presidency... nonetheless, in the "character" department, Mr. Trump is just in a league (of awfulness) by himself... so, I'd like to pretend, more or less, that this sort of thing matters, because it helps me sleep better.

Anyway... where does this all take us? Darned if I know. There is, of course, research on the proposition that when belief and facts collide... bet on beliefs... A deeper discussion of this phenomenon, in the realm of the political is contained in my own interview with George Lakoff.

I will just say that in my recent foray in the last couple of days through the swing states of Ohio and Pennsylvania (ok... OH, as PA was almost entirely on interstates)... we saw perhaps half a dozen Trump signs and not a single one for Hillary... a shocking lack of enthusiasm all around, this close to an election and I must say, pretty unprecedented in my recent experience. It seems that, to their credit, a slice of the American public has come to the conclusion that with this "election"... there might just be... nothing to it.

Update (9/4/16): Even the right-wing Telegraph reminds us that Calling Trump Names Won't Stop Him Becoming U.S. President. Just sayin'.