As promised, more words.

I haven’t done very much about the political season of late. I’ve been watching it in utter dismay. I am astounded at the circus antics of those who would style themselves as America’s saviors. It’s just possible their intent is to save us from them.

Ben Carson melted down recently, bellowing that Obama didn’t get treated this way. His memory, like everything else, is deficient. But to be fair, Obama gave the sharks less to attack. He behaved like a serious-minded person, offered content, policy ideas, and a grasp of reality that did not lend itself to easy assault unless those mounting the assault intended to do so on the basis of his politics.

So they made shit up. He was born in Kenya. He’s a Muslim. He’s a communist. A variety of lesser things. With an evident lack of ability to attack him on the grounds of political position, they concocted ephemeral bullshit and hoped some of it would stick—as they have continued to do.

Carson has apparently opted to make things up for himself instead of letting others do it for him, and complains when he gets attacked for it. From my perspective, that he has now become the front-runner for the GOP nomination suggests the media has gone easy on him till now, otherwise how could he have reached this point?  When they failed to attack him and focused instead on his chief rival, Donald, he started shoveling out more nonsense to attract the detractors and gain some traction.

As a campaign strategy it may have worked too well.

Really, there are only a couple of things he has said which should have eliminated him from serious consideration long before now.

His comparison of Obamacare to slavery.

No, he did not say slavery was the best thing that ever happened to black people, that was a comment from a satirical website.  But he did suggest Obamacare was akin to slavery because “in a way, it is slavery, because it is making all of us subservient to the government.”

By that thinking, traffic laws make us all slaves.

One might put this down to the hyperbole of political campaigning, and I’m willing to concede that.  In this case, I don’t care, because it is an abuse of language and an insult to morality.  “In a way” nothing is like slavery except slavery, and we need to step back from this kind of comparison.  It’s as bad as labeling any policy you don’t like fascism just because you don’t like it. Or comparing someone to Hitler simply because you disagree with him.  It bends the meanings of those words so out of shape as to render them meaningless.

Besides, the longer the ACA  (Affordable Care Act, not “Obamacare”—this was a law written by congress, not the president, so use the correct labels, please) stands, the more actual citizens like it.  This is not a guess, this is born out by surveys. Oh, and the gargantuan economic meltdown attributed to it hasn’t happened.

It also shows a blatant insensitivity for history, but Carson isn’t the only one who indulges in that.

No, “Obamacare” is not like slavery and by saying that he exhibits a willingness to indulge the basest sort of demagoguery.  And for a doctor to take that line bothers me, since it also shows a disconnect with the realities of his profession.  Now, had he then said “We should go to single payer” then I might listen closer and give him a bit more consideration.

The other thing is this whole magilla about evolution.  He said: “I personally believe that this theory that Darwin came up with was something that was encouraged by the adversary.”

The adversary being Satan.

If you believe in that sort of thing, I can’t argue with you.  It’s bullshit, but belief is one of those non-negotiable things that thrives on disagreement.  The more people tell you you’re wrong, the more noble it is to dig in and believe.  So there is no profit in trying to argue about it.

But that non-negotiable part is worrisome in someone who wants to lead a powerful nation and might be called upon to compromise over fundamental disconnects in ideology in order to preserve, like, the world.  One of the things Obama is continually criticized on by people who think adherence to immovable ideologies is noble is his seeming willingness to compromise. It is seen as weak, poor leadership, etc. It happens to be one of the things I like about him and in that job the ability to listen and accept sometimes uncomfortable differences in pursuit of mutuality and peace is a talent I suspect Ben Carson, if he means this stuff, lacks.

He has made similarly idiotic statements about the Big Bang.

Now, he’s a brain surgeon, which is suppose to be, in certain contexts, code for “really smart.”  I’m not seeing the smart.  He keeps making shit up to gain some kind of street cred among the Party faithful.  That whole thing about being confronted in a fast food restaurant?  True or not, he said of the encounter “Guy comes in, put the gun in my ribs. And I just said, ‘I believe that you want the guy behind the counter.'”  I’m having a hard time seeing how this is any indication of presumed bravery.  He just admitted to telling a robber not to hold him up but hold somebody else up.  Point the gun at the minimum wage worker behind the counter.  Aim that thing at someone else.

He’s a doctor.  What happened to “Above all, do no harm”?  Why not, “This is between you and me, let’s go out to the parking lot” and get the assailant away from others who might be hurt?

I get it, this is supposed to be his Clint Eastwood moment.  But think about it.  He was figuratively and, if he is to be believed, literally stepping behind someone else in the face of personal harm.

Then, we have his recent problems over—wait for it—the pyramids of Giza.

“My own personal theory is that Joseph built the pyramids to store grain. Now all the archaeologists think that they were made for the pharaohs’ graves. But, you know, it would have to be something awfully big — when you stop and think about it, and I don’t think it’d just disappear over the course of time — to store that much grain.”

To be fair, he said that in 1998, it is not part of his current campaign strategy to undermine archaeology.  But still, it makes one wonder if he has ever read a book outside of his course studies in medical school. There’s a term for this kind of thing:  pseudoscience.

Now he’s bellyaching about media scrutiny.  What did he expect?  He’s running for president.  There is one school of thought that suggests that personal beliefs should be off-limits in considerations of who should serve in that office.  As far as it goes, I accept that.  But when one opens one’s mouth and reveals it to the world, it kind of stops being only a personal belief, it becomes part of what you want the public to perceive, and an indication of what you think is important for the public to make a choice.

Now we come to the West Point thing.  He claims to have been offered a full scholarship.  What does that mean?

Here are the  admissions requirements . Note, one of the requirements is a nomination from a senator, a representative, or a president.  He would have had to apply.  A “recommendation” from a general would not have been enough.

As for his attitude toward the Black Lives Matter movement, well, it may be a question of style, but it seems perverse.  “I hate political correctness” has become akin to those who claim to hate feminism but without actually understanding what it means.

But he has supporters.  More, it seems, than Trump, which may not be saying much.

There is a deep admiration in this country for so-called plain-speaking, especially when it seems to be in service to challenging the establishment.  But such speech ought first and foremost be linked to intelligence and a bit of knowledge about what windmills you think you’re charging.  The flush of shocked cheering at the presumed independence of someone like Ben Carson should give way to a reasoned apprehension that he also seems to be independent of actual reason in too many areas.  On top of his Party consistent adherence to the standard issue GOP platform, this causes me some amusement and a bit of nervousness that people who would vote for him could be so stump gullible.

And the clown car rolls on.

Then and Now

Okay, okay, so it was my birthday.  I have been inundated with well-wishes, more than I ever expected, and I had a very special day yesterday when my sweetie came to have dinner with me.

The news is—I’m 61.


Now, what follows is perhaps wanting in taste, but it’s my blog so if I want to do something like this, who’s to stop me?  Besides, it’s kind of interesting, at least to me.

Two pictures, the first shot by Donna back in 1981.  Then, after that, another shot the morning of my 61st birthday.  (I should’ve done something with my hair, yeah, but oh well.)

So, without further what have you, 1981:

Me 1981 CNote the modest collection of books and records on the cabinet behind me. No, that wasn’t all we had, but I find it interesting that there was nevertheless room on the shelves.

Now, 2015:

Me 2015Yeah, I am a bit vain.  But I work hard to earn it.  I never really think I do, so I labor under a bizarre mix of humility and pride that often results in odd manifestations.  But in this instance—and there may never be another one—I’m looking at that and thinking “Take that, 61!  Screw you!”

Been a hard few years now.  I had appendicitis a few years back, then this past year I had my right arm in a brace for months from a ruptured tendon.  Not to mention the usual assortment of annoyances and the fact that I’ve been running full-out now for like a decade,

But also a terrific few years. Good things have happened and most importantly I feel in a better place now than I have in a long time.

So I’m braggin’ a bit.  Soon enough there will be another post here and you can ignore this one, which, admittedly, is dubious at best, but hey, why not?

Still. After 34 years…not too shabby maybe?

Mania and the Resignation of Reason

Speaker of the House John Boehner is stepping down.  Old news by now, I know, but I’ve been looking at some of the responses and his own statements in the wake of the decision and while this is not a new opinion on my part I have come to the conclusion that a sizable element of the GOP, especially in the House, are simply batshit crazy.  I no longer believe they have an agenda.  As long as it’s not The Other Guy’s program.  When they announced back in 2009 that they intended to do anything to obstruct Obama, regardless, it was annoying but easy to assume that the more rational members of their party would temper their zeal and business would get done as it should.  And that’s been more or less true.  There are procedural tactics that have always been used by the opposition to appear to reject a policy while allowing that policy to proceed.  The GOP has been relying on them more and more so that the People’s Business can get done even while they must look to their base and present a facade of uncompromising opposition.

Boehner has been wrangling this circus now for almost 5 years.  His rhetoric has often made it seem he is one with the BSC contingent (Bat Shit Crazy people) while his deft handling of floor votes, positions, and other alignments of planets has seen more accomplished than one might expect.  But it’s a shell game and he knows it and it must be wearying to have to continually lead with a false face.

Mind you, I am no fan of Mr. Boehner’s policy stances, but he is far more a mainstream politician than appearances suggest, and he is fed up.

Such has been clear to anyone paying attention for a long time.  He has been undercut, encircled, compromised, and used by the BSC contingent and he has from time to time let it show.  Personally, I think he should have taken the high road and called bullshit on these people while he still held the gavel, but who knows what else he has had to deal with that is not public knowledge which may have stayed his hand.  Certainly he’s talking about them now.

The question I have, and have had for some time, is: what is it the BSC faction wants?  What is it they think they’re going after?

The end of welfare?

The privatization of everything the government does?

The cessation of taxation?  All of it?

The building of a military on par with the levels of World War II?

Complete return of all internal policy to the individual states, regardless of constitutionality?

The establishment of a state religion?

The end of any discussions about things that seem to impede the headlong rush toward American hegemony and domination?  (Including climate science, minority and women’s rights, economic justice, environmental science, and judicial reform?  This list could go on and includes just about everything that constitutes a criticism of business as usual.)

I look at the list, by no means complete, and all I see is a lot of flag waving in the wrong direction and rejection of reality.

No wonder the rest of the world is looking at us in dismay, wondering what ever happened to the Wise America that seemed imminent in the post WWII era.

Boehner is calling bullshit now on his colleagues who, by his assessment, seem to have no clue what this country is all about.  Of course he’s not saying it quite that way, but that’s what it amounts to.  They are living in a land of fever dreams and non sequiturs, refusing to compromise over the simplest things because they believe compromise leads to—

What?  I see vague, indistinct fears voiced.  Socialism?  They don’t appear to know what that is.  If they actually believe Obama is a socialist, they clearly have no idea.  But even so, they seem unaware that we’ve been using socialist tools since the 1930s and what do you know, our spines are still straight, our knuckles do not drag on the pavement, and a good number of us can think.  We have become the largest economy on the planet (whether you believe that’s a good thing is another matter, but the point is they think it is, so how has socialism been a problem?), the most powerful military force in history (again, mileage varies on how one feels about that, but they see this as a positive), and until we started enabling the top 1% to suck all the money out of the economy, we had the highest standard of living on the planet, even while incorporating those evil socialist programs.  Of course, they (the BSC faction) believe that if we’ve slipped on that a little it’s because of those socialist programs, not because they’ve been doing everything they can to enable the pillage of our national treasure, but the problem is they still talk about things as if we still had that position in the world and that we’re about to lose it.

Causation is one of those scientificky concepts they seem not to grasp.

But I don’t know what kind of country they think they’ll have when and if they get their wishes.  From the evidence, I don’t think most of us—including them—would like it very much.  They have no vision that I can see.

What I see is a lot of nativist warmongers who think by handing over the keys to the kingdom to the top 1% everything will be marvelous for them.  They remind me of Grima Wormtongue.

But I believe they are caught up in a mania.  They have no program, because that requires reasoned deliberation, and that has become an enemy to them.  They are headlong rushing toward the eradication of the institutions and people they think are their natural enemies, but it’s panic-driven.  It’s like some dark, twisted form of Beatlemania.  Reasonless and ultimately empty, but in this case even the music sucks.  They are a mob.  You speak reason to them and they do not understand.

They have been told so often and for so long that America needs to be great again and they seem never once to stop and ask what that would look like.

A job for everyone?

No divorce?

Minorities in distinctly small numbers who are nothing but grateful just to be here?

Men calling all the shots and women reduced to sex toys and brood mares?

God plastered all over everything, especially those things that should exist unquestioned?

Industry and invention but no actual science?

And what about all those people who simply don’t fit that kind of construct?

Well, that’s what prisons are for, I suppose…

A large part of the problem is that too many of us, even those of us not charter members of the BSC contingent, live too much by labels.  Even when we seem to be on the “right side” of an issue, very often we don’t know what’s in that issue.  This makes it difficult to argue effectively against people who don’t care about any of that but just want to win.  Win at all costs.

We have some serious issues that don’t get any real air-time.  The presidential debate was a demonstration of how little any of these people  are even aware of them.

For instance, whatever your feelings about the causes of climate change may be, the fact is we’re seeing it, and one of the consequences will be a dramatic redistribution of potable water.  This is already happening.  None of those people even raised the issue.  Of course, we’ve been told our real concern is oil, and consequently we’ve seen this horrible practice of fracking take off, to the quick benefit of  certain shareholders, but also to the gradual detriment of water.  Now, there may well be a lot to be discussed on either side of that issue, but it doesn’t even raise a blip on the radar of presidential campaigning!

For another instance, we have a growing number of displaced workers and a shrinking pool of traditional jobs to absorb them.  If anything gets said at all, it is couched in terms of entitlements and lazy people without a single nod to the fact that we are building our own replacements and jobs are simply not there.  No discussion of it at all on the level of local communities devastated by standard Big Business practices that often obliterate local economies.

Oh, can’t talk about that!  That implies a need for Regulation and we all know that regulation is inimical to growth.


But my point is, these kinds of things, which are real and current and need to be dealt with do not get a reasonable public debate because we’re so damn caught up about someone’s fucking email account or whether angels are real.

I did not side with Mr. Boehner, but he has my sympathy.  He has probably felt like the only rational person in the room most of the time.  He has been bludgeoned by stupidity.

The problem, however, is that the GOP is losing its reasonable members.  They are becoming increasingly shrill because the BSC faction thinks it’s winning because people like Boehner throw up their hands and walk away.  You can only be in the same room with idiocy for so long before you begin to doubt your own sanity.  But it is that shrill, loud whine of lunacy that most people hear and it has the unfortunate attribute of overwhelming everything else.

It would be nice for a change if the quiet, thoughtful ones would stop demurring in the face of what is becoming criminal irrationality.  I kind of like a two-party system, but in order for it to function properly both parties must have credibility.  Right now, judging by the rhetoric and who they have running for the top position, the GOP has no credibility.  Not with me, anyway.  And I don’t think that’s a good thing.


Bernie and the Clown Car

Scott Walker has dropped out of the presidential race. Given another month, all that will remain will be Kasich, Fiorino, and Trump.  Maybe Bush, but even he’s been resorting to hired audiences.  Maybe not Kasich, either, he seems not be doing well, but I’ll address that below.

I thought I’d seen the bottom of the barrel in national politics, but this election cycle is so far bottomless in terms of pointless rhetoric, jeremiads, lies, and crappy spectacle.  I would like to say something serious about the GOP but they haven’t given us anything serious since the season premiered. I felt a bit sorry for Governor Kasich, who in the Grand Debate kept trying to bring the discussion back to policy and serious issues.  Unfortunately, he was upstaged by the Trump Train that kept running over the other clowns tied to the tracks.

What can be said of a roster of candidates who seem so dedicated to being on the wrong side of so much?

When Jeb Bush proposed Margaret Thatcher for the face of the ten dollar bill, it was indicative of so many levels of disconnect from American reality that I believed it could not get worse.  (He called her Ronald Reagan’s “partner.”  This is so revealing of so much that it’s difficult to unpack in one sitting.  In truth, I doubt Jeb really understands just how meaningful that gaff was.)  At least Trump is doing what he’s doing on purpose.

It is difficult to see much merit in the choices.

Bobby Jindal wants to be white (or so it would seem—just look at the official portrait he commissioned recently) and denies that race is an issue.  At a time in this country of surging racial tension, I can only imagine what kind of a message he thinks he’s sending.  (Did you know he took his name from the Brady Bunch?  His real name is Piyush)  This is a new level of misrepresentation, but of what I’m not sure I want to say. On policy he’s demonstrated an anti-immigration bias, but that’s in the news a lot.  Of course he’s an antichoice candidate, he couldn’t run on the GOP ticket if he weren’t, but he also backs a Constitutional amendment for a balanced federal budget.  This issue has come up from time to time.  It’s stupid.  It shows a profound misunderstanding of how government funding works.  A state can have such a law and get by because in times of catastrophe a state can depend on the federal government, but only because the federal government is not prohibited from spending outside its budgetary limits.  Put this in the Constitution and see what happens next time a flood or hurricane produces a disaster that requires federal help.  More than that, though, it would produce serious impediments to our international agreements, treaties, foreign aide programs, and all those ships, planes, and soldiers we keep at the ready in case we need to invade another country or intervene between two other powers for the benefit of the world.  Now, Jindal is actually a Rhodes Scholar, which suggests he’s smart enough to know better—know better about a lot of things—so why doesn’t he seem to get this?  I think he does, which means he misrepresenting the issues, which means he doesn’t think the voters aere smart enough to see through this nonsense, but it also means he’s relying on a base that just might be that uninformed.  And,hell, he’s been given the Duck Dynasty Seal of Approval,so maybe that’s the case.  But its disingenuous.  He’s playing to his base at the expense of the truth, which is pretty much what passes for politics in this country, regardless of party, but it appears this year the GOP has distilled itself down to the true essence of nonsense.

Then there’s the usual roster of absurdities—christians are under attack and he wants laws passed to protect them; he’s opposed t gay marriage; another one who thinks corporations are people and pay too much in taxes, despite the growing evidence that corporations of a certain size are really vampires; and he’s a climate change denier.

Of course, he’s polling at 4%, along with Rand Paul, so why pick on him?

No reason other than he, in one person, exemplifies so much that is wrong with the GOP.

Chris Christie is a vindictive man who has nothing but a gruff manner to recommend him, which is wearing thin finally.

Ted Cruz, for all his anti-immigration rhetoric, has had his own oops moment with the question of nationality.  This wouldn’t be an issue if Cruz hadn’t stoked the fires of the Birthers during his tenure in the senate.  And then that gaff where he mixed up “Keynesian” with “Kenyan.”  Cruz also, along with several of the others, wants to make the Patriot Act permanent.  I’ve already stated how this is one of my biggest disappointments with Obama.  What I will not support is another president who can’t see his (or her) way past this kind of fearmongering and sees something “necessary” in violating the Constitution and our civil rights.

But again, Cruz isn’t polling very strongly.

Carly Fiorino is another of those baffling chimeras the GOP seems to love—a former CEO who cost her companies market share and recovered by firing thousands of people and somehow has made this a virtue.  A business “leader” who is actually rather bad at what she does—unless what she think it’s all about is filling her own coffers, then, yeah, she’s great.  But also, this affection they have for business people, as if that’s any kind of recommendation for high office.  Details aside, there is one fundamental difference between government and business that puts the lie to this idea.  Business, at its base, is about beating the competition.  Governance is about accommodating competing factions.  In practice, the two things couldn’t be more different.  So every time I hear a Ross Perot or a Mitt Romney blow smoke about how their business experience has made them fit for the presidency, I first want to ask How?  And then I realize that they have the wrong idea about what government is all about.  Probably they think that once they get in office they can do something about all those annoying rules and regulations that frustrated them in business and then make it easier for businesses to siphon off resources from the public trough.  Which is pretty much what’s been happening since St. Ronnie and the era of deregulation.  I think it’s fair to say we have subsequently found ourselves in deep doo-doo because of it.

No, if Carly does well with the GOP at all it’s because of another fundamental disconnect—they think because the mood of the country seems to favor a woman for president, any woman will do.  They made that mistake with Sarah Palin and that scotched their last chance of electing a serious politician to the White House.

And what can be said of Ben Carson, who seems to think African Americans didn’t have it so bad as slaves?  No, I don’t really think he believes that, but it fell out of his mouth, so I have to wonder at the filters he has in place or what really goes on in that skull of his.  Here is a doctor, at least putatively a man of science, who thinks evolution and the Big Bang are inventions of Satan.

Trump is doing well in all this because he is an honest clown.  So far I have not heard one thing he has said that did not come first from the mouth of another GOP face, although couched in more arcane and abstruse rhetoric. He has stripped away the Newspeak  and is simply reporting what, for many people, the GOP has come to stand for.  His misogyny is in line with the voting records and speeches made in opposition to women’s rights we’ve been listening to for decades now.  His immigration remarks reflect the growing nativist sentiment of the party.  His view on the economy is completely in the fold as are his views on taxation.  He is a vulgar, selfish ideologue shouting his message in catchy phrases not quite but almost at the level of what one could find on lavatory walls in truck stops across the country.  He is an outsized, tasteless, gauche demagogue who cannot be argued with by the others on the debate platform because they believe that stuff, too, they just don’t want to say it like that.

Trump is, if he keeps going, handing the next presidency to the Democrats.

The only solution for the GOP is to clean house of all the mean-spirited, small-minded, myopic idiocy that keeps shouting down reason and common sense and find a candidate that speaks to the issues as if he or she actually has a grasp.  I mentioned Kasich.  Not my favorite guy, but he is more reasonable than the rest.  But like past also-rans (I know, he hasn’t dropped out yet, but he can’t compete with the ones fighting for the steering wheel of the clown car, he will) the one GOP candidate that might save the Party and possibly begin to steer it back toward some semblance of rationality has no chance because the screaming hordes cheering on Trump and who would have preferred a Cruz won’t—possibly can’t—listen.  They have been told for decades that the evil Democrats will destroy their country and they just can’t seem to get past that.

And the Democrats?  Most of them seem to be stuck in the “let’s just keep the ship on course and worry about where we’re going once the storm is past” mode.  They will do less damage.  They might, if there is a thorough turn-over in congress, do something worthwhile.

Right now I’m backing Bernie.  I’m too cynical to believe he win the nomination—tricks and deals and smoke-filled rooms have a way with people like him—but so far he’s saying things I find more relevant to the world than any of the others.  And who knows, he could be this century’s Andrew Jackson in terms of a populist revolution.  (No, I do not think Bernie Sanders is in any way like Jackson, just in case any of you who read this might decide I’m making any kind of policy comparison—as far as I’m concerned, the only thing Jackson did came before he took office in terms of expanding the franchise.)

And, really, I think the business-as-usual crowd should be worried—Bernie got applause at Liberty University, of all places, even while maintaining his convictions on an issue which there, of all places, one would think would get him nothing but boos.

As for the GOP, I’m watching the retrenchment of stupidity and ignorance, all because they hate—-I can think of no more accurate word—hate President Obama.  I do not understand.  These are the people who are supposed, by virtue of their election to high office, be above that, but after seven years I can conclude nothing less.  They hate him.  Institutionally.  When he’s gone, I worry that they will do something with that hate other than shed it.  What will be their next target?

Well, there are already several they seem ready to go after.  Some they already have.

Update and So Forth, With Appreciation

It’s still awkward to do this. My right arm is bound in an articulated brace that bears a resemblance to some kind of robotic prosthesis.  This one, however, is only intended to constrain my movements so I don’t damage the surgery while it heals.  Makes typing difficult, but it’s getting easier.  My handwriting, already questionable, is another matter.

So back in August I had an accident.  I could characterize it as an act of stupidity, but that’s not really true.  I did something I had done before and had no reason to think I couldn’t do again.  However, my right biceps tendon chose to give and I experienced a partial tear.  Not enough to incapacitate me but enough to give me chronic problems.  When it became evident that it wasn’t healing, I sought advice and went to a specialist.  I saw Dr. George Paletta.  One MRI and a lot of conversation later, I agreed to surgery to repair the tendon.

So on March 31st I went to a small surgery where Dr. Paletta opened a small incision on the inside of my elbow, “completed” the tear, and bolted the tendon back in place.  I spent the next two weeks in a full cast. photo 1 me Much reading and watching of movies ensued.  Learning to do with just my left hand proved an education.

Removal of the cast occasioned one of the worst pains I have ever experienced.  My forearm felt as though the Incredible Hulk had grabbed it and determined to crush it. When my eyes once more focused and the spots stopped dancing, the staff, including Dr. Paletta, were standing around me smiling.  “Perfectly normal,” they told me.  Okay.

So now I’m doing physical therapy twice a week and slowly, slowly reacquiring the use of my right hand.  I can drive, I’ve been back to work, and I’m doing this.  Because the brace is a restraint on range of motion, I can’t yet brush my teeth with my dominant hand.  Or eat with it.  Or scratch my nose, comb my hair, etc, you get the idea.  Next week I may get a bit more range.  I haven’t tried playing piano and I’m not even getting near a guitar with this aluminum thing.

Before the surgery I managed to finish the 1st draft of a new novel.  I’ve been noodling on a couple of short stories lately and still reading.  (I’ve decided to start Agatha Christie.  Read some of her books as a teenager, but that was almost half a century ago, so…)  I’m working my way through a book by Kip Thorne about wormholes and such.

My hope is that by the end of May I’ll be more or less mobile again.  My gym kindly put my membership on hold till such time as I can come back, but that may be even longer.  I’m feeling…puffy.  But if I’m careful, which I intend to be, I’ll be good as new by fall.

Meantime, I thought I’d just give folks an update.  More words are coming, trust me.  But lastly I want to say Thank You to everyone involved in this.  People have been terrific.  From my coworkers to the medical personnel, everyone has been generous, supportive, and tolerant.  Thank you all.


photo 3 me

And So It Begins

Campaign season seems to begin earlier and earlier every time it comes around, but this time it’s starting up almost two years before?  Well, in many ways it began in 2008 and has continued almost nonstop since.

Ted Cruz has announced his candidacy.

I have two reactions to this.  The first is, perhaps predictably, “You have to be kidding.”  But the other is an unpleasant chill running through my entire nervous system.  I have come finally to embrace the maxim “Never underestimate the power of human stupidity.”  There are and will be fervent supporters for this demagogue and over the last couple of decades it has disturbed me how such thoughtless, anti-intellectual, entrenched ideologues seem to creep ever closer to the White House.  On the one hand, Romney lost because he really did not understand the mood of the nation.  On the other, those who mourn his loss have, at least in part, put enough of their kind in congress to effectively cripple national government.

I feel this would all be solved by the simple expedient of a 95% voter turnout.

No, I do not support any suggestion of mandatory voting.  Freedom does not thrive where choice is limited, and choosing not to vote is as viable a freedom as choosing to vote.

It would be less troubling if I believed that this was the case, that people were choosing not to vote.  I think for many people it’s just too much trouble, low down on the list of priorities behind shopping and yard work.  For many others, whether we wish to accept it or not, obstructions effectively dissuade voting.  And for still more, a deep pessimism that voting does no good keeps them from even knowing who the candidates are or what the issues may be.  Throw in a thick broth of lazy and there you have it.

So Ted Cruz may get and keep support from people who will find it easier to vote slogans than to actually find out something about their candidates.  He mouths the appropriate small-minded palaver about government overreach and too much regulation and the loss of American prestige.  Some people nod knowingly, as if they actually understand what he’s talking about.  If they did, they would know him for the political half-wit he seems to be.  He’s going to know how to get out the vote among those who think, when they do, in terms of feelings and disapprovals rather than by issues, so he may run a solid campaign by such metrics, but he would not know how to be a president if he won.

To wit, there may well be government overreach, but it’s not a single thing liable to a simple solution.  There is no cabal to which you can just say No and stop the problem.  And frankly, as with most things in America, one person’s overreach is another’s necessary program.  Likewise with regulation. Sure, there may well be—and assuredly are—too many inappropriate regulations imposed upon us by government.  Just as surely, my list will be different than your list, so exactly how do we come to some agreement about which should go and which should stay?  And, just to make matters worse, which government?  Municipal, county, state, or federal?  Not all regulations are from the same source.  This is why democracy, whether we like it or not, is an ongoing process, a conversation, requiring engagement by the citizenry.  It doesn’t run on its own.  We can’t just elect someone and then ignore everything afterward.

As for American prestige, that’s one of those noble-sounding but useless phrases that can mean anything.  The decline of American prestige?  In what way and for whom?  It’s not quantifiable, for one thing.  For another, it’s as personal as the other two points.  For some, having the world afraid of us is evidence of “ascendancy” and “prestige.”  Like we’re all of us school kids in the playground, throwing our machismo around to count coup.  For others, respect is what we want, and that’s something you earn by cooperation.  Working with other nations, more to help them with their problems than ours, but getting in return some help with ours, and then knowing when their problems are caused by us and being willing to do something about it.  Not sexy, but in the long run more effective.

I recall seeing one of the last big conferences Bush attended before he left office, and all these prominent leaders of other countries mounting the stage, many of them putatively allies, and it was obvious that none of them respected Bush.  He was all but snubbed.  They saw him as a rube.  A clueless tool of his handlers.  Whether that assessment was correct is immaterial, that was the perception, and let’s be honest, in politics perception is more than half the game.

That is not the case with Obama.  Again, whether you like it or not.

Or perhaps people just don’t recognize respect when they see it.  Respect is a voluntary thing, not something you can demand, and certainly not something frightened people give.

Cruz is a demagogue.  He also doesn’t seem to give a damn about anything other than his career.  His people are perhaps aware of his deficits.  He made his announcement to run for office in a packed auditorium—filled with students who were required to be there.  Many of them may well have shown up for him anyway, but not all, and it was little more than some opportunistic stage craft.

What he represents, if in fact he represents anything other than himself, is a laundry list of regressive ideas that are everything we’ve come to expect from reactionary coalitions of malcontents who don’t like the idea that America has to be shared with people they don’t like.  That he is one of the poster boys for a Tea Party that still won’t let go the idea that Obama is not a citizen is profoundly ironic.

To be clear, the charges that Cruz is ineligible to run for the presidency are as groundless as they were for Obama.  His mother was born in Wilmington, Delaware.  End of argument.  He’s a “natural born” American.

Still, that some people are throwing the charge at him already carries a small schadenfreude about it.

As far as I know, no one in recent memory who began their active campaign this early has made it through the primaries.  I could be wrong about that, but I think it’s so.  Which means he’s being poorly advised OR this is part of a larger Party strategy to set him up to take all the flack while another candidate, more moderate, more “electable” is positioned for a later announcement closer to time.  If so, I have to wonder if Cruz knows.

It’s going to be an interesting season.

Time Capsules

On Thanksgiving, we spent the day with my parents.  While there, they handed me a stack of prints and a pile of negatives I had completely forgotten about.  Most of them are crap.  They’re from 1971 for the most part and I was in the early stages of trying to learn photography.  I was shooting a LOT of film and about 99% was ultimately junk.  But this is the way I learn.  I dive in and do a great deal of whatever it is I’m trying to do, largely ignoring instructions and books, which I consult only when I’m so hopelessly lost that I admit to needing expert help.  It’s an absurd way to go about it, but when I do finally learn something it stays learned.

Anyway, among the negatives I found a couple shots my dad took of me at the keyboard.  At this time I still hadn’t made up my mind what I wanted to do or be.  Music was always a possibility, a big deal, but it turned out not to be.  However, I had aspirations.  (When you’re that young, you think you can do it all.  At one time I simultaneously wanted to be an actor, a musician, a photographer, and a writer, and saw no reason why I couldn’t.  The acting has, subsequently, faded completely from my list of ambitions.)

So, here I am being…well, I was getting my Keith Emerson on, clearly, as well as the serious composer bit.


Me As Emerson, 1971, b&w

Me As Composer, 1971, b&w

Seems I couldn’t read my own notation…

Local vs National?

A curious thing came out of the midterms.  The fact that a lot of GOP candidates won their races (many by a nose hair) and yet in those same districts more or less progressive referenda also won.  Legalization of marijuana and the legitimization of gay marriage being the two most prominent.  This is curious when you consider that for the last umpteen years now the GOP has made its bones by being obsessively loudmouthed social naysayers.  People seem to have been voting for them because they are opposed to all the things identified as signaling the End Times of Civilization, most of which can be lumped loosely under the rubric of “Permissiveness.”  Abortion, sex education, liberal arts education, science, critical thinking, and so forth have all come in for pulpit-drubbings by various right wing candidates.

And yet, it seems, even while in local to state races the electorate has been rewarding such rhetoric, when given the chance to actually vote on specific policies the trend would appear in the opposite direction, if only by a smidgen.

According to polls, the country has maintained more or less the same split over abortion, namely that the majority favors its legality.  On the local level, the Right have resorted to playing very narrow games of accreditation for facilities in order to shut down clinics and in some cases have enacted what may appear to the uninvolved perfectly reasonable waiting period laws, but every “personhood” amendment on the ballot across the country failed.  When it comes to the actual core issue—a woman’s right to choose—that divide doesn’t budge.  (If they keep playing games like this, though, we may discover in the next couple of election cycles that a greater majority favor legal access than we previously assessed as people get tired of the brinksmanship.)

The War on Drugs, declared under Nixon lo these many decades past, is losing its moral legitimacy with more and more people.

And finally Texas school books have been purged of anti-science rhetoric.  Now all we have to do is achieve the same in history.

So what exactly is going on?  If right wing demagogues are being elected to “represent” districts while at the same time those districts are rejecting the social programs being pushed by these demagogues, some head-scratching is in order.

It may not be as baffling as it first appears.  It just depends on what battle we think is being fought.

It occurs to me that, stepping back and trying to see it as a whole, the closest fit would be to see this as a variation on the Civil War.  Specifically, the debate between local and federal control.  It is a fact that most of the men who fought for the Confederacy were not slave owners, they had no direct stake in the Peculiar Institution (although it would be a mistake to maintain that they were totally unaffected by the question), and that there were deep pockets of abolitionist sentiment throughout the South. Of the multiple reasons they would fight so ardently, the one that makes the most sense is the “Because you’re down here” issue.  They did not think of themselves as Americans in the sense of a single national political (or even social) entity, but as a general idea expressed through regional tradition.  Culturally, it would difficult to describe a New England seaman, an Appalachian hardscrabble farmer, and a Louisiana riverman as belonging to the same social aggragate.  We are, as we like to say, a nation of immigrants, and no one abandoned their heritage when they got off the boat, even if they tried.  We are a nation of villages.

When the Civil War broke, the driving political question was where the primary power to change lives lay.  Locally?  Where most people, even in the North, naturally assumed?  Or centrally, at the federal level, with laws emerging from the minds of people most of the country did not know and did not understand and could, it would be reasonable to assume, knew nothing of “how we live here.”

This is not to say we lacked any kind of national identity.  Far from it, but for the most part the two—local, or regional, and national—had little real interaction.  You could be an American and believe you lived in a country of fellow Americans, without that ever meaning you had to do anything to accommodate the sensibilities of people living a thousand miles away.  Or even a hundred, for that matter.  It became an issue when those people came to your area and began telling you that, in fact, you did have to make such accommodation.

Again, probably for most people in any given area or era, this was not a big deal.  But we can see explosions of when it became one.  The Range Wars in the west over settlers and grazing rights is exactly this kind of dispute.  The Whiskey Rebellion, while not usually characterized this way, was one of the earliest and most prominent, an explosion coming out of the fact that the Atlantic seaboard had no idea of the conditions for survival in Western Pennsylvania.

The so-called Civil War is the largest of these and utterly transformed the relationship between states and the nation as a single entity.

It’s useful to recall the by-now well-known statement that Robert E. Lee made when refusing command of the Union Army, that he could never fight against his country.  It is perhaps simplistic to see that as his claiming that Virginia, the state, was what he regarded as “his country” and it wouldn’t be wrong, only insufficient.  Lee was not simplistic and he was a West Pointer.  “His country” may well have been both—Virginia and the United States—and his statement would then have made sense as a declaration of his unwillingness to fight in opposition to the configuration in which both existed in relation to each other.  Fighting for the Union in order to facilitate the imposition of the federal over the states would for him be as bad as treason, because that meant changing the very intent of that relationship.

David Brin has written an overview of a version of this ongoing civil war.  While I might quibble with details, it suffices to describe a sentiment which I believe is at the heart of the apparent contradiction evident in the last election.  The visceral rage evidenced by the Right since Obama’s election, something which has been building and gaining momentum since Reagan took office, seems to me perfectly explicable when viewed  in this way.  What we’ve been seeing is not so much a rejection of progressivism or even social justice—although there certainly is such rejection by certain factions—as it is a rejection of federal hegemony and centrality.  Progressive ideals and social justice become collateral damage in this fight, which may seem a weak description of the real impact of such damage, yet the lack of any kind of genuine guiding principle behind their rollbacks can be explained by the apparent larger battle.  This may be the last phase of an ongoing war over identity that has raged, to greater or lesser degree, for two centuries.

We want to be Americans but only as defined by local identity.

As I noted in the previous post, low midterm voter turnout may be an artifact of a perceived pointlessness in voting locally when one can do nothing about another district’s or state’s representative.  If, in other words, my vote won’t get that guy from Ohio or Kentucky out of office, what’s the point?  This would be a component of this identity question, expressed in ambivalence and manifest as apathy.

When you look at certain maps of electoral trends, there would appear to be a set of characteristics that are being squeezed.  As frustrating as recent politics have been, federalism seems to be gradually winning the field. America is becoming one country, finally, after all this time.

Which would explain, in part, the most recent battle over immigration.  The forces circling the wagons around the besieged identities of which I speak see rationalizing immigration policy as another attack on their primacy.  Who can say what several million newly naturalized voters might do at the polls?  Better to do all we can to keep them out and try to gain some kind of upper hand for—

Well, that’s the question, isn’t it?  If what I suggest underlies all this, then the fight is over the desire to retain independence from the very thing you put forward as a last hope for freedom.  You want to be an American but you don’t want to change yourself in order to be what that might mean.

Which makes several apparently absurd things make a kind of sense.  Opposition, for instance, to the theory of evolution.  If evolution is true—and, worse, we teach it to our kids—then that means change is natural, indeed inevitable, and, furthermore, that there is no scientific basis for exclusion.  These twin notions, when put in political context, are explosive for certain people who are also trying to assert that our Founding Fathers based our guiding documents and institutions on Biblical foundations, which they by their own admission did not.

God created Americans, whole and perfect, and these pesky scientific notions of change and mutation and inconstancy violate that conceived perfection.


How about climate change, then?  Never mind the cause, but the fact of it means we will have to change how we live in order to meet the challenge of the new environment.  We will environmentally stop being the Land of Milk and Honey, the cornucopeia we have always told ourselves we are.  If you are someone who believes the above idea about perfect creation, then this can be nothing but divine judgment (as opposed to natural evolution, which might be addressable if we would just get out of our own way), and by all that is who we wish to be that cannot be.  It must be because of—

And the litany of the excluded follows.  Gays, minorities, socialists, feminists.

As long as the larger world did not intrude upon your small patch of the landscape and you could define yourself according to standards shared by your next door neighbor without any regard for the nation or the world, everything could be fine.

Of course, it’s not, because such hermetic isolation is impossible, and ideas if nothing else seep in.  The former Soviet Union was nothing if not an almost century-long attempt to isolate an entire nation ideologically from outside ideas, and if failed miserably, resulting in its collapse when the weight of willed ignorance grew too much.

I’m not here claiming a preference so much as indicating vectors and possible causes.  The invective hurled at Obama would seem baseless and utterly without motive in any rational sense, the yowling of people who feel threatened for no apparent reason.  But if seen from this perspective, it begins to make a kind of sense.  This is, possibly, the last campaign of a civil war that has been going on for a long, long time.  This is a stand against the future.  Obama won both elections by wide margins of the popular vote, so clearly this is not a majority reaction, but a stung minority who see him as representative of a change which many of them may not themselves have clearly defined.  That the very progressive measures which one assumes are the meat and bread oppositions of the representatives recently elected passed in so many places suggest that policy is less important in this than a kind of granulated regionalism.

It’s not the kind of argument, unfortunately, that lends itself to clarity, to a clearly defined right and wrong.  Which is what makes the rhetoric so unfathomable at times.

Games, Equity, and He-Man Woman Hater Clubs

I do not play games.  I haven’t for decades.  I used to play Trivial Pursuit™ and I still enjoy a game of chess, but both these games are high on the mental acuity charts and low on the following the rules charts.  Sorry, but it’s true—to play Trivial Pursuit™, inane as some of the questions are occasionally, you actually have to know something about, you know, The World and its contents.  That’s why people who read widely and pay attention to things outside themselves do well at it.  Chess requires strategizing way outside the possibilities prescribed by the relatively simple set of rules and works the gray cells and synapses much more thoroughly than the repeatable pattern-following of many games.

Most games bore me, but more than that I am put off by the zero-sum essence of so many of them.  For me to win, someone has to lose, and while that is also true in both chess and Trivial Pursuit™, it is also true that you can play both those games without having that as the primary focus.  Chess is a problem-solving game and Trivial Pursuit™ is about its contents.  That’s my take on both and I’m sticking to it.

Even so, I rarely play either anymore.  The fundamental competitiveness of games puts me off.  I’m not particularly competitive and I have too often come face to face with the ugly side of a player who staked his entire status on winning games.  (I’ve played foosball once.  Once.  Some friends of mine and I happened to be in a bar, toying with trying the game out.  None of us had played it before.  We were approached by a guy who, in retrospect, was a regular and a true foosball fanatic, who offered to play by giving us a fourth.  Well, he was on “my side” and I was terrible.  My friends and I were laughing while trying to figure it out, but this guy damn near punched me out for being so bad.  It was far more to him than “just a game” and I never tried it again.)  For the most part, this is just me and I have no brief on others who are into playing games.  They’re having a good time, life is short, go for it.

So this is about those who make a life out of games, especially those who have chosen to invest in those games everything of value of themselves.  Obsession above and beyond the weekend warrior variety, because for these folks the game is life.

Even with that, there are many gamers for whom more is definitely merrier, they are inclusive, expansive, and social.  I’m not talking about them.

I’m talking about those who are evidently very particular about who gets invited into the clubhouse.

We come now to the ongoing farce known as GamerGate.  I say farce knowing full well that it has, for some, gone way beyond what may normally be meant by that word.  This is not harmless.  This is exemplary of just about everything negative in a certain kind of mindset.  We’re talking elitism, hypercompetitiveness, insensitivity to others, paranoia, exclusiveness in the extreme, and the abandonment of empathy that comes from a psychic insularity bordering on the pathological.


You do not threaten people’s lives and physical safety over a fucking game!

What’s wrong with you?  So there’s a girl who plays games as well if not better than you and she has some suggestions for making it better for more people.  So?  What’s this whole Attila the Hun thing about keeping her out and beating, raping, and maybe killing her if she doesn’t stop criticizing your fucking game?  Did you miss the part that it’s a game?  Didn’t your mother teach you that you don’t make threats to people just because they have a different opinion?

Or are you so terrified of women that you just can’t deal with them inside the clubhouse?

Yes, I’m using the simplest terms and models for this because I just cannot wrap my head around anyone older than nine reacting this way.

Unless, of course, we are dealing with a sociopathology that has somehow found a place within gaming from which to look out upon a world that is nothing less than an absolutely hostile place determined to take away all meaning from your life.

This is basic ingrown immaturity which in order to feel worthwhile at all seeks to define everyone else as in some way less in order for you to feel even nominally worthwhile.  It appears not much more complicated than that, although I will quickly point out that simple heuristics, put in play, can often result in complex manifestations.

It would be perhaps worthwhile to see a full psychological and anthropological work-up on the mentality at work in someone who is so threatened by the presence of a female in their preferred venue of escapism that they would resort to violence to not only prevent the females from entering but to tear them down to a level of complete subservience from which they might never be able to rise again.  Maybe.  But I think it reasonable to say that we’ve all encountered something like this from time to time in individuals who have so little sense of who or what they are that just about anything outside their sphere of understanding demands that they ridicule, revile, and render harmless via full-bore antagonism.  Rather than step outside and find out about something, better for them to shut it down, blow it up, kill it.  Rather than risk the hermetic seal insulating them from any recognition that there are things which they not only lack understanding but which are perhaps more important than the arrangement of furniture in their pyschic den they play a hard and fast game of total destruction on the offending truth.

Game?  Did I say game?  Indeed, because that’s all this is.  The harm comes from the sudden interface with reality that catches them completely unprepared.  The game is all, the game is the world, and wouldn’t it be wonderful if the world itself was the game.  Simpler, where the rules, as byzantine, myriad, and manifold as they are, could be known, memorized, mastered, and those who did not play by them could be penalized immediately, without any considerations of rights or ethics or pesky maturity.  A place where every eventuality is covered by a rule.

For young males of a certain age and mentality, females seem to conform to no rules, at least none they understand.  The presence of a female is a chaos-making event that is fraught with exactly the kind of uncertainty these males have fought hard to deny.

I say that knowing full well that any individual, of any sex or gender, who is not part of the game represents exactly that kind of potential to upend everything and render all these carefully-wrought rules…inapplicable.  Imagine trying to roll against someone who not only may not know what the die faces mean but who doesn’t care.  Imagine then the sheer terror of rolling against someone who not only knows all the rules you do but intends to change some of them to accommodate factors you joined the game in order to avoid.

The vitriol and childish, tantrum-soaked invective of the GamerGaters is precisely the reaction one should expect from someone in full reality-denial mode who doesn’t want their (artificial) paradigm fucked with.  They doubtless experience similar reactions to males who threaten the model, but it’s harder to tell the males apart.

Women are obvious purely by their appearance.

Is this sounding pathetic?

Here’s something even more so.  That some idiot can publicly threaten violence in a public space and get away with it because the powers that be are too afraid to piss off a different set of Gamers playing by another set of reality-denying rules by doing anything about it.  I’m talking about the Anita Sarkeesian event in Utah, canceled because the university refused to enforce a no-carry policy in an open carry state, and yes, I’m comparing the fanatics backing open carry to the GamerGaters, because they’re exhibiting the same pathology of establishing the parameters of a worldview inconsistent with reality or reason and excoriating anyone who suggests that maybe there are circumstances in which a reasonable alternative to walking around armed every-damn-where might be in order.

Like in the auditorium of a university where there will be a speaker appearing who has been threatened with death if she steps up to the podium.

(Pathology?  What else do you call people who see the blocking of approval of a surgeons general at a time when we may be facing a rather nasty epidemic just because he said some things you find objectionable?  I suggest that the mentality is about the same.)

Others have gone public with rebuttals and denunciations of the GamerGaters, so much of what I have to say is redundant to say the least.  But I’m saying it because I think more males need to get out there with this, that targeting women, because they are women, because you can’t handle dealing with them is pathetic, spineless, and repulsive.  I don’t care what level psionic warrior you are within the cramped confines of your game, if you don’t know how to talk to a girl like a human being and feel so threatened by females that you would rather stay in the monastery of your game than even attempt to accommodate reality, you have nothing.

And under no circumstances is it acceptable to threaten anyone, especially if all they do is suggest your game could be improved.

I realize that GamerGate is comprised of a small group within the large and diverse gaming community, but the structure of these games has the unfortunate effect of granting permissions for obscene behavior in the minds of certain poorly functioning child-men.  In this is it similar to religion, and in a world which is fully aware of the weight of ugliness layered upon women because men have decided what they are and what they may be, no one who has the least interest in something called morality or civilization can tolerate this infantile nonsense.

Admittedly, I have no profound insights here.  There’s actually, in my mind, very little depth involved.  These are people who have mistaken a game for reality and forgot—or never learned—how to behave in public.  Assholes who talk loudly in the movie theater, ruining the experience for everyone, and who ought to be escorted out.  These are the disrupters who sat in the back of the class, fouling the air for everyone else.  The inept wannabes who think it’s cool to drug a girl at a party and rape her, because who the hell wants to actually talk to a girl?  The real question is, why don’t they want to talk to you?  Well, because.

Within their games they are warriors and rulers, wizards and magicians, with many arcane powers.  Unfortunately, outside of the game they’re still ten years old and they haven’t learned how to behave.

But they aren’t ten.  Physically, they’re adults, and living with such illusions makes them just a bit dangerous.

So, guys—yeah, all you males on the sidelines who know better—time to step up and start stating up front that this is wrong, that women are people first and foremost, that venting spleen over someone just having an opinion is the mark of a very poorly developed intellect, and that threatening and abusing women is no longer acceptable.

As for the GamerGaters—I’m reminded of that foosball fanatic who was ready to take me to the parking lot and beat me up because I caused him to lose a game.  Pathetic.  Grow up.  I’ve known magic people and they didn’t get their powers from a fucking board game.  They got them by living life.