Foggy, Raw, Learning Curve

Newfallen

 

One of my more annoying personal characteristics is a seeming aversion to instruction manuals.  For someone to whom reading is one of the four or five great pleasures of life, for whatever reason, I cannot abide the tedium of reading a set of instructions.  For one thing, nothing seems to stick until I actually try to perform the functions laid out.  I might as well be reading Linear-B.  (Oddly, I can read theoretical texts without much difficulty—physics, art, philosophy, psychology, and so forth—it’s only step by step “how to” works that both try my patience and do me no apparent good.)  Of course, when I do read the instructions, something does stick and I find the task at hand less baffling.  Nevertheless, all my life, I have my hands on what I want to do before getting past the table of contents in the manual.

Where they help is when I run into something that stops me in my tracks.  (Let me in my defense say here that I am not one of those males who make a fetish of not asking directions; I have no problem stopping on a road and asking someone where I am and how to get elsewhere.)

Anyway, I’ve been, the last few years, teasing my way through digital photography.  I’ve been posting the results as I go along.  I broke down a couple years ago and bought a new camera, a Canon 60D, which is not the top-of-the-line (good heavens, I  didn’t have five grand!) but is not an amateur machine, either.  It’s about what I needed to get me started and produces more than acceptable results.  (I suspect I’m going to have to pop for a better lens one of these days, not to mention a second one to extend the range.)

To date I’ve been shooting everything in JPEG and working with the images in Photoshop 7.  I’ve been hearing and reading about shooting in RAW all this time, but the JPEGs have been very amendable to my manipulations and I’ve been learning my way through Photoshop handily.  (A friend came over a couple of times to show me the initial stuff, which made the instructions make sense.)

Lately, I’ve been running up against the edges of quality.  Nothing I could quite put my finger on, just…an impression…that these photographs could be sharper or a bit richer…what finally came down to a sense that they simply didn’t contain enough information.

So I thought it was time to try RAW and see if it made a difference.

It did.  The first one being, I can’t open the files in Photoshop 7.  A quick check around the intraweebs and I discover that I need a plug-in for that.  Hm.  A hundred bucks.

However…

The program that came with the camera does open them and there is a, what I initially thought was a cruder, processing program included.  Well, there are many things I don’t readily see available, but I can work with the files and convert them into JPEGS, which I can then pull into Photoshop for further work.

And it does seem that there is more to work with.

Back in the ancient past, we used to debate lens quality versus film acuity, the amount of information a given lens could transmit and the ability of a particular film to “see” it.  On paper, at least, it always seemed a silly argument, because even the cheapest aftermarket lenses transmitted far more data than the finest film was capable of recording.  And yet, there was a reason Leica lenses were so damned expensive.  You could see the difference.  It was palpable.  What information was recordable by the film was intimately dependent on how much information it had to, for lack of a better word, choose from.  In the end, it was a signal-to-noise problem, classic amplitude/frequency physics.  I was pretty good for a time at distinguishing the quality of the glass, as we said, from the quality of the image on paper.  In my own work, I could see it clearly, even though more often than not, it was not quantifiable in other than æsthetic terms.

If the quality isn’t there, it can drive you nuts, even if in every other respect there is nothing wrong with the image.  It’s like a noise in a motor than only you can hear.

So all I want for Christmas (for now) is the latest version of Photoshop (or equivalent) that allows me to work in RAW without having to buy a damned plug-in.

Why not get the plug-in, you ask?  Excellent question.  Basically, because I have rarely had any luck downloading those blasted things and installing them properly without days of struggle fixing whatever went wrong in the negotiation.

Besides, I’m sure what I’m using currently is antiquated.

Meantime, I seem to have managed to step up the level of quality this way.

Eroded Ascent

Post Thanks

I asked Donna this morning, “Is this the first Thanksgiving we’ve spent entirely alone, at home?” She thought for a moment and nodded. “I think so.”

Just as well.  I seem to have caught a bug that has churned me up a bit the last couple of days.  Not bad, just very uncomfortable, leaving me not in a very congenial mood.

But it got me thinking on the nature of the day and its uses.

 

 

We lounged, walked the dog, talked, read a little (I’m finishing up a stack I’ve been working on for a time and this morning completed William Least Heat Moon’s Blue Highways), talked some more, napped, ate a little.  We did not engorge.  Neither of us felt good enough for a feast, so perhaps we came through the day more clear-headed than in past years.  We watched a favorite movie—Pleasantville (which I still think is one of the finest films ever made, easily in my top 100 if not my top 20)—and thoroughly appreciated each other.

Our tradition has been to take the first invitation that comes for the day, but this year the one that came with geologic regularity did not come—regrettably, I suspect politics has scuttled that one—and we demurred on another.  No matter, I’m glad it worked out this way.

I skim on a light froth of gratitude most of the time.  I subscribe in no way to the notion that what I have has come entirely by my own hand.  I have no problem crediting others for their contributions to who I am and what I have done.  I’ve been through periods of ill-advised hubris, thinking myself wholly self-completed, and all it left me with was an ashen taste of disappointed affirmation when I realized how unfair and ungenerous such an attitude can be and how hurtful it is to express it.  I am grateful.

I am grateful for my friends, of whom I have more than my share and who are among the best people I can imagine (and I have a pretty good imagination).  There is no way to adequately assess how important they are and have been to my life.  We have among us constructed many a worthy moment, torn through seminal evenings with laughter, tears, and unspoken commitment, reinvigorated shattered hopes among each other, and sat through despondencies together like old sailors waiting for the tide.

I am grateful to live in a place, in a time, where I can think any thought, read any book, make any art, and live according my own principles, and all without having to steal such privilege from anyone else around me.  I live in a house of books and music and art that resonates with songs of imagination and whose walls are only place markers by which the true horizons of my inner life can be appreciated in the comparison.

I am grateful to have the wherewithal to understand and appreciate what I have.

I like to think that in some small way my life has meant something, if only to a few people, and that I will not have spent my time frivolously and without effect.  If this single vanity is not self-deception incarnate, then I am grateful to have lived to a purpose.

I’m grateful for my dog.

I am mostly grateful to have a companion who shares with me without reservation.  Donna has been the best, insofar as I can understand the term, a soul mate, the one with whom I have both laughed and cried the most, and with whom this life has taken on the contours of its present delights, of which, though I complain often of what I have not yet achieved, there are many.

Everything else is secondary, transient, novelty, replaceable, but for which I am also grateful.

To all of you who have added grace and joy and the pleasure of shared experience to my life—to our lives—I thank you and hope the coming year will see a few of your hopes fulfilled.

It’s a good life.  Appreciate it.

Where Is Found A Soulful Mind?

Roger Ebert, the film critic, recently wrote a piece about the possible death of the Liberal Arts.  It’s disturbing, not so much for the dire forecast of a nation of business majors and software geeks who know nothing of Montaigne, Sontag, or Charlie Chaplin, but because of what it implies about those who keep track of Culture.

We are university-centric in our appraisal of where the Culture lies, where it is going, and what value we produce of what may be called a national geist.  Ebert talks about the days in which writers were celebrities and the universities, if not the actual mothers of such luminaries, were at least their midwives.  If there is one thing we have all learned in the last half century, though, it is that such institutions—and their products—are expensive.

Blame for the death of the Liberal Arts is lain at the feet of conservatives, but here is where I would like to start teasing these definitions apart.  Genuine conservatives, those with whom I grew up and became most familiar, were the champions of the Liberal Arts.  This was before the term “Liberal” became inextricably tangled with the concepts of “permissiveness” and “socialism.”  Because of the constant hammering both liberalism and conservatism have taken in recent years from a class of philistine whose twin deities are money and conformity, we have lost sight of what both of those labels originally meant and, worse yet, the kind of country they informed.

William F. Buckley jr. may have been many things, but poorly-read was never one of them, nor was he an advocate for the kind of close-minded censoriousness that has poisoned the Right today.  Presently, George Will carries the torch of a conservatism fast vanishing in the flood of a reactionary myopia that passes for conservative but is nothing but avaricious opportunism dressed up in an ill-fitting suit of Victorianesque disapproval.

But then Ebert goes on to remark on his comment log and how refreshingly well-read, educated, and enthusiastic his readers seem to be.  The Liberal Arts is not dead or even dying.

But it may no longer have a comfortable place in universities, which charge a small fortune for an education with which the buyer not only wants but needs to cash in.  Degrees in philosophy, except for a rare few, pay poorly in a job market grown increasingly cutthroat by dint of the exclusion of the kind of broad outlook once supplied by a Liberal Arts education.  Why bother with Thomas Paine when he died poor, a loser?  Or Herman Melville, who had to quit writing because it didn’t pay well enough to support him?  One could go down the list.

And yet.

People read.  Widely.  Minds rove over as broad a range of interests as at any time in the past—more, as there is more to learn, to see, to experience.  It would seem the Liberal Arts is far from dying.  It has only moved out on its own.

I’ve encountered students who refuse to read.  They want to know only those things that will garner them good salaries and all that this implies.  Success.  Goodies.  “Why read F. Scott Fitzgerald?  Hell, I read Ayn Rand in high school.  That’s my kinda culture. ”

I have no time for them.  Were I a teacher in a college, I’d flunk them and send them from the hall.  They are as clueless and feckless as they think others are who pay attention to the contents of the mind.

Tell me this—once you have the six-figure salary and the 2200 square foot condo and the BMW, what are you going to do with yourself in those moments when you’re the only one to keep you company?  Other than winning a footrace, what have you done?  When you look around for something to Do, how will you recognize what is of value, of worth, of substance?

I know, most people like this could care less.  If they don’t have any culture now, they think, if they think about it at all, that they can always buy some later, when they’re “secure” or ready to retire.

Unfortunately, by then they may only be able to recognize “value” as the price tag on the frame rather than the world that’s on the canvas.

New (ish) Job

Okay, I’m going to be a bit less here for a while. For one thing, I think I’m fairly toasted from the election season.  My blood pressure hasn’t been this consistently tasked since, I don’t know.  And the aftermath has gone from bad to silly.  Sure, I could probably comment on the silly (oh, the stupid—it hurts precious, it hurrrtsss), but why?  Just seeing it should be enough and I don’t need to get angry all over again every day.

Look, guys (yeah, you old white farts who seem to think the only two things of value in this country are money and the military), Romney lost.  He lost because people didn’t like him.  Although, to be fair, a lot of people apparently did like him.  Maybe.  Maybe it was just that a lot of people don’t like Obama.  But apparently not enough to vote for Romney.  Anyway, you seem to be trying to find every other reason under the sun (or under a rock) to explain that so you don’t have to face the most likely reason—your policy positions don’t appeal, Romney didn’t have enough “charm” to overcome his deficiencies as a candidate, and a majority of people, in spite of a long campaign of disinformation, defamation, and distraction, think Obama should have another four years to see what he started through.  Romney lost because voters preferred something else.  It’s that simple.  You want to change that for next time?  Do something about the nonsense in your party, grow up, and stop fooling around with issues that piss people off.  Then come back and talk to us.

Also, it is not the end of the world.  It’s not even the end of the world as you know it.  Obama is not the anti-christ, he’s not a socialist, he’s not going to end liberty (I actually saw that declaration often, that his re-election would be the end of our freedom, and I couldn’t help but wonder: what do you people think is going to happen?  And ancillary to that is: just what can’t you do today that you could do five years ago, other than maybe afford the mortgage on your McMansion? Jeez, folks, get a grip!)  In four years you’ll have another shot at trying out your vision, the election will happen, and people will vote.  America will go on.

Anyway, that’s not what I wanted to talk to you about today. Ahem!

I have a new job.  Newish, anyway.  I’ve been doing some on-again off-again work for Left Bank Books this past year.  They opened a downtown St. Louis location a few years back and it’s been taking a while for people to become aware of it.  So I took walks around, meeting people, letting them know the good news, that they have a full service—independent—bookstore right in their midst.  Now and then, I’d repeat, remind, find some new folks, and it seemed to have a small effect.  Business picked up.

I’ve now joined them as part of their regular staff.  Part time.  I’m still trying to launch a literary career, after all, and I need time to, you know, be literary.  But how cool is this, that I get to work in a bookstore now?

Peruse their webpage.  These folks do a lot.  Many, many author events, lots of programs, reading groups.  Now, obviously, to do cool things requires cool people, and they have more than enough.  The last few weeks I’ve been trained by some and they rate high on my cool people meter.

So if you wonder at my lack of comment here or you can’t get me on the phone as often as you might like, well, this is why.  As we wait for the fuse to catch on the rocket of my best sellerdom (yeah, right), I’ll be there, wandering amid the shelves and offerings and drooling (dryly, dryly, can’t get the pages wet) and wondering why I won’t live long enough to read all the really great books.

Oh, yeah, I’m still writing stories.  I have a little news on that front as well, but I’ll save it for later.

So have a good rest of the year, check back from time to time (I’m a little compulsive about this, I will be posting something), and maybe if any of you are in St. Louis, come on by Left Bank.

War On Women

My previous post, over-the-top as it was in some ways (yet heartfelt and, I think, not misdirected) spurred a few remarks about the so-called War On Women.  There are people who claim this is a myth, a straw man argument, a distraction, that there is no war on women, only the mouthings of a few extremists with no real authority and, really, nothing has or will change.

I can agree to an extent that maybe War On Women is perhaps an overstatement, because—and it’s a fine distinction—I don’t really believe most of the politicians engaged in it care one way or the other.  It has become a useful polemic for them to stir the ire of their base and garner votes for the things they do care about.  It’s like race-baiting, which I think few of those who indulge it actually believe in but will nevertheless employ the language because they collect a constituency around it.  It’s bait, in other words, to attract a following which they can then use for other things.

In this sense, claiming that it’s a “war” is perhaps inaccurate, an overstatement. It was, perhaps, more a war with women, a loud pyrotechnic show that kept our attention over here when it should have been over there. If true, then the hammering on contraceptive access and abortion and the blocking of various anti-rape and violence-against-women bills really meant something else. Battlefield tactics in a cause of a different nature. One might take some comfort in that.

Except for those who feel themselves being used as human shields and missiles in a cause disingenuous at its core and fraught with unintended consequences.  It would not be the first time in history that the cynical use of a rhetorical position (to defeat an opponent, rally a populace, misdirect attention from other things) took on a life of its own and produced results no one wanted.

I think the Right has seen some of those unintended consequences in the last election.

How hard is this?  Equality means we should not limit people based on their biological characteristics, which include race and gender, as well as physical capacity, health, mobility challenges, and so forth.

As for the rhetoric, I will leave you with this, which cuts to the chase rather better than anything I might say:

The Following Is Brought To You by the Slut Vote

From the Department of the Chronically Clueless, we learn that Romney lost the election because of the Slut Vote.  I thought I’d heard everything, but this is a new candor I’d not quite expected.

I’ve been saying for years that the major driver behind much of the deep core, far right, religiously self-identified GOP agenda is an obsession over Other People’s Sex Lives.  This past year and change, they’ve been making it explicit in surprising, sometimes funny, but usually jaw-droppingly amazing ways, and this is just a continuation of it.  If anyone is inclined to cut them slack over this anymore, it is an exercise in strained tolerance.

As far as I’m concerned, we had this argument in the Sixties and in terms of how people actually live, it was settled in favor of personal choice and a rejection of what I term Levitical Law.  In other words, all that stuff about the evils of sex is just the neurotic shaming some people who are by virtue of nurture (they were raised that way) or even maybe nature (they are perpetually self-conscious and easily offended by, you know, personal stuff) insist on putting on the rest of us.

For the record, I like sex.  I don’t think there is anything innately wrong with it.  As a friend of mine once said, “It’s all good, some’s better.”  (Also, for the record, I am talking about consensual sex, not rape, not coercive insistence, not child abuse, but mutually beneficial, consensual sex.)  I do not believe sex should be put in a box or straitjacketed by social convention born out of other peoples’ inability to be comfortable with it.

In other words, it’s none of your business who I fuck or how and I refuse to accept guilt or shame you think I should feel because you can’t get past your own “Eww!” reflex.

(Because also clearly, that’s not quite it either, since some of the biggest proponents of the anti-sex league are themselves congenitally indulgent.  As long as “no one finds out” they do everything they tell the rest of us we shouldn’t do.  Jim Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart, go down the list.  Also, apparently, the active anti-choicers who find personal redemption by parading in front of Planned Parenthood clinics seem not to understand the concept of other people having rights, as close to 20% of the women with picket signs seem to end up in those same clinics availing themselves of the services they so ardently wish to deny every other woman!  I abhor the politics of hypocrisy.)

Many years ago I stood in line outside a theater showing an X-rated film.  An earnest young woman was handing out fliers decrying the awfulness of the sinful film being shown.  She got to me and starting haranguing me not to go in.  I asked her, what is it you find so offensive?  It emerged that she herself had never seen the film in question.  I insisted she do so, I would buy her a ticket, after all if you’re going to protest Speech you should know what speech it is you’re trying to suppress.  Scared her to death.  She ran away.  I have no pity.  It wasn’t the film she was protesting, it was, in my opinion, a compulsion to deny an idea—that sex is okay.

People abuse sex all the time.  Hurting people to get your rocks off is never okay.  I do not for a minute excuse rape.  But I make a distinction between healthy sex and hurting people.  It is the hurting part that we should pay attention to.  Instead, it seems, some people can’t separate the two.  (It is unfortunate and sad that for some folks, sex is never anything but hurtful.  Something should be done to address the circumstances that lead to that.  But taking away the rights and abilities of others to engage in mutual, consensual, wholesome sex is not the way.)

So I  think my response to the apologists for the GOP who have decided this is why they lost is—fucking right.  Fair, perhaps, is fair—the Right doesn’t want the Left to take away their guns, then the Right should stop trying to take away everybody’s sex.

Maybe that should be a new Third Party—Sluts for Liberty.

I think I prefer the Slut agenda to the Prude Platform.

A Final Thought (Maybe)

I’m listening to Bartok.  The Miraculous Mandarin, a recording by the St. Louis Symphony, Leonard Slatkin conducting.

Earlier I was listening to Morning Edition on NPR.  A report caught my attention about—you guessed it—why Mitt Romney lost.  Or, more to the point, why he almost won.  It had to do with something I find utterly baffling about the American political consciousness.  I don’t know, maybe it’s true everywhere.

Basically, that during most of the campaign Romney ran on issues and did little to “let people know him personally.”  This, according to the report, was the cause of his low approval numbers.  People didn’t “like” him because he seemed cold and distant.  In August, his campaign turned that around by presenting a more “homey” Mitt, highlighting his “personality” and his “likeableness.”

It worked.  Suddenly people warmed to him, his approval rating rose, and, as we saw, he took 48% of the popular vote, something six months earlier seemed unlikely in the extreme.

Because people liked him.

It reminded me of George W. Bush’s first campaign, when we kept hearing this “he seems like a guy I could sit down and have a beer with.”

As it turned out, that quality did not translate into good policy.  Honestly, there are many people I like but I wouldn’t even let them watch my dog.  Like does not translate to ability.

So my reaction was—is—what the hell?

What this tells me is that a candidate can misrepresent, lie, withhold, distort, tease, and otherwise spew nonsense, but if the voters like him, none of that matters.  (Let me remind you, Romney kept to a very casual relation to the truth in the debates; none of this is arguable, he either didn’t know what he was talking about or flat out lied.)  Furthermore, as I indicated early in the election cycle, he was an advocate for a failed policy.  People have had it demonstrated to them by everything short of utter and total economic collapse that the fiscal and tax policies of the GOP have not worked.

And yet.

People will ignore measures of competence, reasonableness, sound judgment, and policy and vote for someone because they like him?

For the record, I’ve done the reverse myself—voted for someone because I didn’t like his or her opponent.  I get that. (Heck, I did it this time.)  They did or said something that turned me off.  But frankly, how much I liked the candidate for whom I voted played little part in my decision.

This is something that beggars the imagination.  I deal with this in the arts all the time.  Basically, there is the artist…and there is the work.  It is the work that matters.  I don’t care (usually) if the artist is the reincarnation of Simon Legree, if the work he or she produces has merit, that is what counts.  (Yes, there are exceptions, but it takes a great deal to force me to abandon this principle.)  What matters if So-n-So was an alcoholic womanizer who kicked puppies, if the novel he wrote or the music he made moves and inspires us, that is the salient point.

So to—perhaps more so—with politicians.  I want someone who will do the job well, not someone I might be able to “sit down and have a beer with.”

Like that would ever happen anyway.

I didn’t respond to the nonsense about Romney putting his dog in a crate on the roof of his car, because it had nothing to do with his qualifications as a potential president.  We try to ignore the religious leanings of candidates for the same reason.  Personal foible, the vagaries of “character” are slippery, tectonic grounds on which to base such an important decision.  I don’t care how much I might “like” a candidate for the school board, if he or she doesn’t understand basic science or thinks the Earth is the center of the solar system, I will not vote for that person.  Competence trumps personality.

(Besides, how the hell are we supposed to gauge “like” or “dislike” in such a context?  No matter what the image presented may be, none of us know that person, nor will likely ever know them.  “Like” in this case is purely a projection, our own hopes and desires put on someone we may never meet in person.  We aren’t “liking” them so much as liking what we want of ourselves that we imagine reflected in the candidate.)

Back in 1952, Adlai Stevenson, possibly the most intelligent, educated, and competent politician vying for high office, lost to Eisenhower because, as it was spun at the time, he was an intellectual elitist.  I think we were fortunate that Eisenhower possessed a competence of a different sort, but the fact is people did not vote for him because of that competence, but because “We Like Ike!”  Kennedy defeated Nixon because of his “personality.”  (Famously, the debates held showed an interesting divergence—those who listened on radio said Nixon had won, those who watched on television said Kennedy had.  Depending on the medium, “personality” favored the candidate who could appeal best through the insubstantiality of “likeableness.”)  Hubert Humphrey lost to Nixon because he could not translate policy competence into the kind of popular “like” that Bobby Kennedy clearly had.  George McGovern, four years later, never overcame a certain dourness, which is something when you consider that Nixon was possibly the least likeable president since Coolidge.

And on that note, it is only in recent years that people have been acknowledging what competence Nixon did possess, digging its way out from beneath the ignominy of his ultimate paranoid ogre image.

George H.W. Bush was by far the better qualified contender in 1980, but Reagan had “like” all over everyone.  Reagan is still forgiven for the damage he did by virtue of a profound lack of grasp because people think back fondly on him as someone they liked immensely.

This is a lousy way to choose a president.

Competence should have favored John Huntsman in the primaries.

Probably, if competence had triumphed, we’d be looking at a second term for Hilary Clinton today.

But in fairness, just how are we to judge competence when we collectively know so little about what the job entails?  People vote for the candidate they think will be “on their side” and the only way to pick that is to go with gut reactions.  We “like” one or the other.

That could be partly rectified by simply paying more attention.  But that’s the other problem with us, collectively—frankly, my dear, outside whatever issue adrenalizes us at the moment, we don’t give a damn.  And that’s why we keep getting representatives who in the end don’t really represent us.

How do you like that?

…And Another Observation…

I’m listening to the Republican strategists trying to figure out what happened and can’t help but feel that they’re still missing something.

Several of them are claiming that they lost because their candidate was “not conservative enough.”  That this “betrayed” their values and led to a failure to bring off the electoral coup they’d hoped for.

I’m shaking my head. “Not conservative enough?”  Please. You had a couple of those and your own base chose someone else.  If those “values” of which you speak mattered that much, Rick Santorum would have been your man.  Maybe Michele Bachman, but, if I’m reading your values correctly, she has a major flaw—she’s female.  The fact is, your own primary season selected against the more conservative candidate.  (Given that by and large only the true Party faithful vote in primaries, in either Party, we can properly say that this represents your base.)  The more consistently conservative choices were weeded out.  Santorum on one end, Johnson on the other.  They chose Romney because he represented the desires of the Party faithful.

Which brings us to the problem.  Which Party?

The reason the GOP lost this time (and frankly it wasn’t much of a loss, popular-vote-wise) is because it is made up of two very different kinds of Americans.

On the one hand, you have those Republican voters who are all about the money.  They don’t want taxes going up and they don’t want the government spending what money it does have on things they find wasteful.  These folks are borderline Libertarian in many ways.  They believe they are the only arbiters of their destiny and know better than the government how to manage their own lives.  They believe in the independent American.

On the other side, you have a solid group of people who, if you forgive the language, are all about stopping people from fucking.  When you look at all the things they want stopped—gay marriage, abortion, access to contraception, banning of pornography—and all the things they support—traditional marriage, a resurgent religiosity—it is obvious that they are terribly concerned about what other people are doing in bed.  Never mind how you feel about this as an issue, this is what it boils down to.

These two groups are not natural allies.

The first group to a large extent believes the individual has the right to determine his or her own life choices and they want the government to step back.  They believe they are the arbiters of their own fate.

The second group believes in binding everyone to a single fate.

Or at least into a standard model of conformity.

They are bound together only by the single point of convergence that neither group likes the way things currently are being run.

But the “fiscal” conservatives do not necessarily find the “social” conservatives, at least not in their extremes, particularly appealing.

So the GOP has a fundamental tension in its belly.

That is why they lost.

At least nationally.  In the congressional districts, where incessant redistricting has created enclaves where one or the other of these two groups have come to dominate, congressional elections went well for them—not so much the senate, which is from a much wider base.

Anyway, it’s amusing to listen to these folks opine that they need to find someone more conservative next time.  What did they think would have happened if Rick Santorum had gotten the nomination this time?  He’s only slightly less—what’s the phrase?—“out of the mainstream” than Todd Akin.

They need to do something about the worm in their belly.

_________________________________________________

Addendum: in my own state, Missouri, talk about why we’ve gotten so much Redder led one analyst to opine that it’s the result of the fact that we have fewer Latinos, that we’ve fallen behind the national shift in diversity.  While that may be true, I think it misses the point: it says nothing about the mindset of the people who do live here, and that’s the relevant question.

2016

As usual, Florida is still undecided, a mess. According to NPR, though, it is leaning heavily toward Obama, despite the shenanigans of the state GOP in suppressing the vote.

I didn’t watch last night.  Couldn’t.  We went to bed early.

But then Donna got up around midnight and woke me by a whoop of joy that I briefly mistook for anguish.

To my small surprise and relief, Obama won.

I will not miss the constant electioneering, the radio ads, the tv spots, the slick mailers.  I will not miss keeping still in mixed groups about my politics (something I am not good at, but this election cycle it feels more like holy war than an election).  I will not miss wincing everytime some politician opens his or her mouth and nonsense spills out.  (This is, of course, normal, but during presidential years it gets much, much worse.)  I will not miss…

Anyway, the election came out partially the way I expected, in those moments when I felt calm enough to think rationally.  Rationality seemed in short supply this year and mine was sorely tasked. So now, I sit here sorting through my reactions, trying to come up with something cogent to say.

I am disappointed the House is still Republican, but it seems a number of the Tea Party robots from 2010 lost their seats, so maybe the temperature in chambers will drop a degree or two and some business may get done.

Gary Johnson, running as a Libertarian, pulled 350,000 votes as of nine last night.  Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate, got around 100,000.  (Randall Terry received 8700 votes, a fact that both reassures me and gives me shivers—there are people who will actually vote for him?)

Combined, the independent candidates made virtually no difference nationally.  Which is a shame, really.  I’ve read both Stein’s and Johnson’s platforms and both of them are willing to address the problems in the system.  Johnson is the least realistic of the two and I like a lot of the Green Party platform.

But the Greens are going about it bass-ackward.  Vying for the presidency when you can’t even get elected dog catcher in most states is hardly the way to go about it.  What would she do if by some weirdness she got elected?  I think it fair to say a Green presidency this morning would guarantee both major parties working together for the foreseeable future against her.  No, what they need to do is start winning local elections.  Start with city councils and school boards, work up to state legislatures, then a governor or three, and finally Congress.  Yes, that will take time, maybe far more time than anyone has the patience for, but for goodness sake, start.

Which leaves me feeling mixed about the next four years.

Here is what I would like to see happen.  Obviously, Joe Biden is not going to run for office in 2016.  Even if he did, I doubt he’d win, but I think he’s V.P. the same way Dick Cheney was.  An ace in the hole if something happens to the Pres, but not a threat in the next election.  Therefore, the House Republicans have no excuse but to work with the Democrats to get something done.  However you spin it, the last four years have been, in my view, a criminal abdication of responsibility on the part of the GOP, all to “make sure Obama is a one-term president.”  They have squandered the People’s confidence and time and treasure in a party feud that frankly has no real basis other than on the fringes.

That said, the next four years should give them permission to get something done for the country.  They don’t have to work to defeat Obama in 2016, he’s not running then.  Anything that gets done, they can take credit for.  Whoever runs for the Democratic nomination in 2016, it will be a repeat of 2008—two brand-spanking new candidates.  (Romney has said he won’t run again.  We’ll see.)  So there is no reason other than the meanest kind of pettiness to keep blocking.

It is time we got over this artificial divide about capitalism vs. socialism.  We are supposed to be grown-ups here, labels shouldn’t scare us.  The best antidote for that kind of fear is to actually learn something about what scares you, and as far as I can see most of the people who are so terrified that Obama is some kind of socialist (or communist!) are exercising the same kind of intelligence on the subject as those who believe he’s a Muslim or is not a citizen.  (They are exemplified by the sign carrier demanding “Keep your government out of my MediCare!”)  For pity’s sake, people, read a book!

I’ve said this before, probably to little effect, but I will say it again, Capitalism is a system, not some kind of organic natural law thing.  As such, we determine its shape and how it should be used, not the other way around, and it is the same with any other system (like Socialism).  After the Great Depression this country put in place a number of socialist ideas and whether certain folks wish it to be true or not, they have worked well for us as a nation.

Here are a few things that people should consider.  One, any economic system is, at its simplest, simply a method for organizing latent wealth.  By latent wealth I mean the potential product in a given community.  (You can live on a mountain of diamonds but if some kind of organizing principle is not applied to take advantage of those diamonds, they just sit there.  The system you use organizes the work needed to exploit the resource.  But let’s be clear—the person or corporation that brings that system into that community does not by dint of that fact own the labor, the land, or the total product.  The community living there has to give permission, cooperate, and assist in implementing the organizing system, and therefore when Elizabeth Warren made her famous statement that “you didn’t build that all by yourself” that is what she meant, and anyone who claims not to understand that I think is being deliberately obtuse.)  Therefore, we should be willing to apply the methodology best suited to solve specific problems.  We are a polyglot nation, we already use a variety of methodologies depending on region and circumstance, we need to stop being knee-jerk reactionary about this subject.

Consequently, we need to understand a couple of things in slightly different ways.  Currently, we have a problem with large businesses extracting latent wealth from communities and shifting it away from those communities, in fact away from our national borders altogether.  One of the chief tools to counter that is taxes.  Tax dollars drain off a portion of that wealth and return it to the community.  Taxes fix the location of a certain proportion of generated wealth.  Bitch about government spending all you want, the fact remains that money gets spent, in the main, here and therefore helps sustain the community.

To a lesser extent, this fight over minimum wage and Right To Work is misguided.  Requiring businesses to pay a fair wage to their employees also serves to keep that wealth local.  You don’t build a business in Idaho and then, because shareholders are complaining that their dividends are too low, shift those jobs out of the country to increase bottomline.  It should be illegal for businesses to take advantage of location for fiscal purposes while utilizing outsourcing in order to extract money that then does not return to that community.  Right To Work is merely a tactic to suppress local ability to retain local wealth.  We need to start looking at these two things this way or we will see ourselves the richest Third World nation on the planet.

I want to see the military-industrial complex curtailed if not shut down.  Eisenhower warned us of this, but his warning was not based on something that hadn’t happened.  The Spanish-American War is our most famous example of a war begun by private industry for the sole purpose of increasing profits.  We are locked in a cycle of perpetual preparedness and in order to justify the expenditures, we engage in constant military conflict.  We have provided the United Nations with the backbone of its policing power for decades, and while this made sense in the aftermath of WWII when most of the world was devastated, it no longer does—the world has recovered, they can afford to pony up soldiers and materiél.  I support the idea of the United Nations, but the United States has been shouldering a disproportionate share for decades.  I suspect the main reason we have not stopped has entirely to do with the money-making of the defense contractor sector.

Along with that, we must pull back from the blatantly unConstitutional internal security and intelligence practices that have become worse since 9/11.  I was sorely upset when Obama reauthorized the defense authorization act.

But worse than the standing military, that act, along with others, has allowed us to do an end-run around Posse Commitatus by militarizing local police forces.  Our police have become more and more akin to the Stazi in make-up and outlook and this has to stop before we are so inured to it that we can’t recognize loss of civil rights until the cop is knocking on our door for a warrantless search of our home.

A large step to undoing this would be to do something about this absurd war on drugs.  I am not a fan of drugs—hell, I never even smoked a joint—but our response has been distorting of our courts and our police and our national priorities.  The only thing that keeps us from doing something rational is the huge amounts of money involved at all levels.  This has to stop.  We can’t afford to keep doing this, not so much from a fiscal point of view but from the effect it has on all of us, a coarsening of our national psyché, a desensitization to individual circumstance.

Lastly, I would like to see an effort made to address the pathetic state of our educational priorities.  We are becoming a severely divided nation, not so much along class lines (although that is true, too, and I suspect the two are linked), but along the lines of the Knows and the Know Nothings.

Todd Akin sat on the House subcommittee for science.  Need I say more?  (Yes, I probably do.)  All right.  Akin is a supporter of creationism.  I don’t have any problem with someone espousing that view—what I have a problem with is someone with that view serving on what should be a science committee, and with people being okay with that.  If that were not enough, his statements about women’s biology demonstrated that he knows little—or doesn’t care—about actual science (never mind what his views on women’s rights are), and this is a very serious problem, not so much that an elected official should be ignorant along these lines, but that he is representative of people who are even more ignorant.  That goes to education.

No Child Left Behind was one in a string of legislative actions that turned schooling into a horse race.  Getting the scores up are all that matter, so our “ranking” doesn’t fall.  This has nothing to do with what it actually taught or what kids really know when they get out of school.  We need a serious reform lest we keep producing people who, through no real fault of their own, believe the Earth is only six thousand years old and understand next to nothing about biology, never mind evolution.

And I’m sorry—just because you have decided in advance that you don’t believe something doesn’t make it either not true or give you the right to keep others from learning about it.  Nor does it let you off the hook from knowing enough about it to make an informed decision about rejecting it.

I am not by disposition an isolationist, but I do believe this country has been engaging the rest of the world in the wrong way.  We have been—always—very proactive when it comes to defending our business interests overseas, and the overwhelming amount of our foreign policy is less individual-oriented as it is corporation-oriented.  Granted, this simplifies things—but it also distorts things and leads us to make bad choices in places where we don’t know the culture.  We’re paying a heavy price for that from the Fifties.  Our priorities need to change from corporatocracy to our oft-stated and seldom-deployed belief in the individual.

There are other things on my mind, but that’s enough for now.

That’s what I would like to see happen.

What do I expect?

We have been engaged, at street level, in a battle over what it means to be an American, and the ingredients have gotten bizarre.  We have forgotten somewhere along the way that our right to have that battle is our chief defining national characteristic, that winning it is both impossible and beside the point.  Being able to disagree and still have barbecue together has always been the American miracle, and we’ve been losing that.

But I expect it to continue.  Both parties, plus the corporate backing of both parties, have been feeding that conflict because, well, it’s been good for business.  In the crossfire we have forgotten what is genuinely important and started handing over our liberties like good soldiers in an endless war.  So in truth, I expect any real progress to happen on the margins, at times and in places where national attention is elsewhere, under conditions of exhaustion, when no one is paying much notice.  The bread and circuses will continue—well, the circuses, anyway, I’m not so sure about the bread.

The world chimed in recently in polls that asked who other countries wished to see win the election.  In the run up, surveys in over 20 countries indicated a vast preference for Obama—the only two that favored Romney were Israel and Pakistan.  Hm.

But for now, what I’m looking forward to is a few weeks with considerably less politicking.  I’m a bit frazzled from concern.  I have some fiction to write and Christmas to prepare for.

The thing I’m most pleased about?  Tammy Baldwin and Elizabeth Warren.  I’ll leave you to figure out why.

Have a good day.