Saturday, January 10, 2009


Blogging will be light to moderate over the next week as a low pressure system moves in over Simply Left Behind, meaning basically that I'll be on vacation starting, well, in an hour or so.

Enjoy! I'll catch as catch can.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Nobody Asked Me, But....

1) Barack Obama has now named three alumni of the high school I graduated from to his administration. Beat THAT, Bronx Science!

2) I think Joe Klein nails it. I think this was the worst from the worst President in history.

3) Starving people for profit. Nice.

4) There's dumb, and then there's dumber. First of all, it would occur to terrorists to do this before the cops could. One of the most notable events of 9/11 in New York was that cell phones stopped working, as the tower on top of the Trade Center shut down, forcing all that traffic onto alternate towers, which resulted in a cascading failure and spotty coverage in cell service. Next, NYC has precious few payphones left simply because so many people use cell phones now. Take away cell service, and you're going to cause even MORE panic.

5) If you bet 500,000 or fewer, YOU LOST!

6) Wait a minute...Sarah Palin thinks Caroline Kennedy is getting sympathetic treatment???? Maybe it's because her kid isn't the town tramp!

7) "Hey Barack Obama! You've just been inaugurated President! What are you going to do now?" "I'm going to DISNEYWORLD!"

8) Is The Big One finally here, California?

9) Errrrrr, squirrel-flavored potato chips? It must be in the water. That's why they're yellow!

10) Now, is this the Abominable Monster or the Loch Ness Snowman? Whatever, it's fucking COLD in Aberdeen, Scotland!

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Thursday, January 08, 2009

Heads I Win, Tails You Lose

I had a curious discussion with a friend of mine the other evening, and I'm stunned to think that someone as intelligent as he held such a ludicrous opinion.

I proposed that life is a zero sum game: I win, you lose, that's the end of it.

See, life itself is the ultimate zero sum game. A body dies, and is reabsorbed into the collective resources of the world, to create other life. But that body doesn't reanimate...except in zombie movies and maybe the Republican party's Reagan wing. That creature loses. Full stop. It's done.

The entire system is closed, so ultimately there are no win-win scenarios. That can only happen in open systems, where the totality of resources available can increase. If you and I agree to team up and improve our lot, by definition we improve our lot at the expense of someone (or something) else. Symbiosis only works at a tiny micro level, and then only at the expense of something outside the combination.

Take the shark and the pilot fish. The pilot fish never gets eaten by the shark because it cleans the shark of parasites and scraps from its teeth, which benefits the shark. The pilot fish gets protection from predators, because who'd be dumb enough to get that close to a shark? Pretty symbiotic. They're protecting each other's life. The shark even gets free dental care.

Note, tho, that this supports the shark in his feeding on other fish.

Life is quantitative. Life holds no emotion. Life is chaotic and random.

"No, no," my friend says, and puts forth the following scenario.

A man gets home from work. He has a choice to make: spend time with his family or go bike riding. He can choose to postpone his quality time and go bike riding, since the kids will be there when he returns and there's limited amounts of daylight. Too, the bike ride will make him healthier and give him more time to spend with his kids as the years pass.

I had to admit, this wasn't a bad example of a win-win...until I thought about it.

This is a qualitative decision, not quantitative. I'll get back to that, but first let me analyze this from a quantitative position.

First, the bike: unless it's built of bamboo and the tires are hemp, we're talking about something that was manufactured out of some non-sustainable natural resource, which means that natural resource was now unavailable for other uses.

This friend (he had a specific person in mind) happens to be an avid biker, so I can guess at the bike and what is was made of. It was not bamboo and hemp.

A factory made it, a factory which had to spew an incremental amount of waste into the environment, the same environment that my friend is riding his bike to have less of an impact on.

A factory that had to use an incremental amount of energy, which was probably (altho I can't be certain of this) not renewable.

The tires are petroleum based, so there's the oil extracted from the ground to make that. And what is oil? Dead dinosaurs. One could jokingly make the claim that a dinosaur had to die for my friend to ride his bike (but that would be extremist), and that's before we get to the necessary lubricants to keep the bike moving smoothly.

Now, none of this is to judge bike riding or my friends' value judgements. I applaud and support those. Indeed, I have a pretty hot ride myself and enjoy pedaling around. It's healthy, makes me feel better and gets me off my ass.

The decision to postpone family time for the bike ride is a zero-sum equation too, altho of a far more subtle and benign nature: until someone can clone me, I can't be in two places at once. If I'm not at home with my kids, I'm riding. Full stop. It doesn't matter if I can do one later, this is an either/or choice right now.

Life is quantitative. It is humans who make it qualitative. And there rises a dilemma.

Imposing a new layer on top of life is going to impose conflict as well. By placing value judgements on things we do and things others do is denying life its essential randomness.

I'm not saying this is a bad thing. I, for one, applaud that someone else is legally prohibited from killing me, so long as they abide to our laws, even if physically they can and that there might indeed be some value to them in doing so.

Here's the oddity, tho. By layering our values on top of this quantitative system, we insist that we are doing it out of some motivation of making things "fair," that we are maintaining order.

Order on chaos. I suppose there's something to that when you deal with sentient beings. After all, I may want to take (not steal) your food and eat it for myself, but if I do that often enough, you die and then I have to find some other food source. And your dead. Neither of us really wins, but if we work together, growing and preparing the food, we can survive. Neither of us really loses in the short term.

But in the background, there's life and as we all know, life is not fair. Both of us will die.

Life is unfair. Bollocks. In fact, life is the ONLY fair game in town. The events that happen in life, earthquakes, fires, floods, weather, disease, and so on, can hit you, they can hit me, they can hit Donald Trump, and there's no logic or order to them. Life levels the playing field that man's "order" works so hard to preserve.

If you look superficially at the positions of the two major political parties in this country, you'd be tempted to think that conservatives recognize this subtlety, while liberals do not. After all, life is hard and the conservatives want to acknowledge that in their positions: those who have, get more, those who don't, lose. The liberals attempt to impose a sort of "fairness" to the world, to shift resources around, ignoring the basic fairness of life.

In truth, it's just the opposite. The more conservative Republican party tries to impose order and discipline on an essentially chaotic system, while the more liberal Democratic party acknowledges that life is fair, and that each of us has to live it, so why make your life more miserable in order to make my life incrementally better?

Liberals live in a world where we recognize that to prevent chaos is not going to work all the time, so the best we can hope to do is to mitigate its effects. Conservatives want to try to keep the wolf from the door, while forgetting there are no walls.

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Wednesday, January 07, 2009

A Handshake Deal Is Reached Around The Table

Now, I'm against most bailouts, but this industry is in hard times:
WASHINGTON (CNN) — Another major American industry is asking for assistance as the global financial crisis continues: Hustler publisher Larry Flynt and Girls Gone Wild CEO Joe Francis said Wednesday they will request that Congress allocate $5 billion for a bailout of the adult entertainment industry.

“The take here is that everyone and their mother want to be bailed out from the banks to the big three,” said Owen Moogan, spokesman for Larry Flynt. “The porn industry has been hurt by the downturn like everyone else and they are going to ask for the $5 billion. Is it the most serious thing in the world? Is it going to make the lives of Americans better if it happens? It is not for them to determine.”

Francis said in a statement that “the US government should actively support the adult industry's survival and growth, just as it feels the need to support any other industry cherished by the American people."
Look, boob jobs ain't cheap. This is clearly an industry that is desperate for assistance. It needs to be firmed up and a hard injection of capital is probably just what the doctor ordered after his examination.

Sales reports do seem to indicate that things are sagging in porn. Market penetration is way off, and their assets simply aren't what they used to be. Of course, prior years' results could have been artificially inflated, but my suspicion is we're just seeing the tip of the iceberg.

The hole is deep, my friends. I've studied reams of data which suggest that at least half the adult stars blew their chances to sock away a little for retirement and will have to press their noses to the grindstones in order to make ends meat.

In the true spirit of American capitalism, these pioneers of prurience have opened wide and bared their assets for the shot, just the shot, at a peak market.

But as we all know, markets have their ups and downs, and no doubt right now, porn is at its bottom. However, with a brief respite, and this stimulus package, I have no doubt that as interest rises, this market too shall begin to swell and grow.

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(showing Memeorandum the luv)

A Day In The Life

There's a man I see at the subway station where I exit the system to go to my office.

Let me describe the station: annexed to the Grand Central Terminal is a platform for the 42 Street Shuttle. It's an open air station, in that the token booths...I guess I have to call them Metrocard machines now, c'est dommage...are on a mezzanine, and there are four open stairways leading down to the train platform.

This mezzanine is shaped like an "H" and overhangs the platforms on one end. Along these corridors are office buildings with stairways that lead to the subway, one of New York's many hidden attractions.

One corridor leads to two buildings, and is lightly travelled, so lightly that the shops along this walkway have shuttered. There was a locksmith and a shoe store, both long gone and gated now.

Down this corridor, dimly lit with greying grimy walls, stands a emaciated man with an unkempt fro and the wisp of a beard. Usually, he's wearing some bizarre combination of clothing. Today, it was a pair of running tights, and a hoodie sweatshirt.

I understand why he wears what he wears: he gets these clothes donated by the overpriced clothing stores in the terminal itself, who probably throw clothes at him, rather than have him linger in their stores with the high priced running shoes and the double-mark-up shirts. Even his shoes speak of high end, albeit leftovers.

Sometimes I see him practicing karate katas, waving his hands with force and purpose, kicking high over his head, but nearly silently.

I'm sure the cops have warned him. There's usually a cop or three on the platform or on the mezzanine. You could say this is ground zero for the anti-terror forces of the NYPD.

Maybe he practices these forms because in his head he imagines kicking bin Laden in the teeth when he shows up wired and strapped with explosives.

Maybe he feels he needs to keep in shape because down in the subway, when things get tough in the city, is where death happens. Certainly, the number of homeless, which has crept steadily upward since the 90s, is beginning an inexorable geometry of expansion.

Maybe he's just insane.

Sometimes he just stands there. In the summer, he wears worn jeans cutoff at the knees and held up with a rope like Lon Chaney's Wolfman.

Sometimes he sings, but not very often and not very loud.

Sometimes, he's scary, screaming and ranting at everyone and everything, including me when I need to walk past him to get to the bank. I ignore it, of course. I've seen how high he kicks.

He holds court in this corridor, this dingy remnant of better days in corporate America. The fence that separates the mezzanine from the platform is embedded in a concrete knee wall, tiled with, well, white ceramic tile laid in the subway pattern.

A long banquette for his imaginary court.

He never harasses anyone who walks by, apart from the occasional angry running commentary. He never asks or demands spare change, which sets him apart from his homeless brethren and their imitators. He never accepts a handout. I know. I've tried.

And he never looks lost. He always seems to know that he is precisely where he needs to be, when he needs to be there, even when I've seen him patrolling the vaulted main room of the terminal, rummaging through the bins for leftover food.

This is his home, his castle, his palace, this grand and glorious monument to man's inability to remain in one place for very long.

Ironic, ain't it? He tolerates we many, we unhappy many, we band of bummers, because we cook for him, we clean for him, and we entertain him; hundreds of thousands of jesters a day, regaling in our finery. What must he make of us?

The station nominally closes its doors at 2AM for cleaning, but I know, I mean, I know, he's found a spot where he can't be seen and watches his staff cleaning his mansion.

Or maybe he doesn't care to hide himself. Maybe he's allowed by the MTA to wander freely, picking up the leftovers of the food court, sleeping on a bench somewhere because it's warm. I'd like to think so. I'd like to think that this man, whom we might pity, has been allowed the dignity by the bureaucrats and governance to remain in his home.

And yet, I can't help but feel that he deserves better than this Fisher King-like life he leads. Yes, he seems happy enough, and yes, he's refused help from me, but how can we know for sure that he isn't simply overly suspicious? How can we know he doesn't know how to ask for help? Indeed, how can we be certain that anyone's ever been able to ask him properly?

In a country overseen by Republicans for six of the past eight years, in a state run until recently by Republicans, in a city run by Republicans for decades until one finally had the sense to say basta! and became an independent, this man stands as his own monument to the torment and torture of the poorest of the poor, the meekest of the meek, the most trod-upon of our society.

A shining example of Republic-tude. Mental health be damned! We have wars to fight and cronies to enrich! Economic royalists, we say!

For this man's sake, and for the sake of others like him who have no voice, who hold no seat at the table of American politics but who have to live with our laws and our government, I truly pray that the new hope that Obama promises will include him.

By Jove, I am not covetous for gold,
Nor care I who doth feed upon my cost;
It yearns me not if men my garments wear;
Such outward things dwell not in my desires.
But if it be a sin to covet honour,
I am the most offending soul alive.

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Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Dumb And Dumberer

I had a feeling this might happen:
Weeks before President-elect Barack Obama chose New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson to head the Commerce Department, a small group of volunteers with ethics, tax and investigative expertise -- most of them lawyers -- scoured his background looking for embarrassing facts or political problems.

[...]Sources within the transition and the Justice Department said that Richardson had played down the importance of the probe and did not reveal that his office and staff could be at risk. The seriousness of the matter became apparent after the FBI began its own background check on Dec. 2. But Richardson's longtime aides defended his disclosures, noting that subjects under examination by a grand jury are rarely aware of its secret deliberations.

[...]But a source with the Obama transition said Richardson's disclosures to the team were incomplete.
My first reaction when I heard the BillR was considering taking the Commerce job was "WTF?"

Not that he's a bad choice, but as career moves go, this was a no-brainer: stay governor of New Mexico or go be a minor Cabinet official in the Obama administration, when you had already been UN Ambassador and Energy Secretary.

I'd pick governor in a heartbeat, screw the "pleasure of the President" service stuff.

Too, he would have had to deal with Hillary, whom he knifed in the back at the earliest opportunity. Imagine trying to keep her in front of you for two or four years.

If you're going to accept a plum for beating up your old boss' wife, I would think an assignment as ambassador to a nice tropical island nation that has no extradition treaty with the US would be in order. You're 60. You deserve it. You've earned it.

But Commerce Secretary?

And to think, I gave this moron a contribution for governor!

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(showing Memeorandum da luv)

The Sins Of Wages

Four weeks ago, I developed a really nasty sinus infection. The mother of all sinus infections, if you will.

For the past month or so, I've suffered from insomnia of the worst kind, the kind where you are fast and deeply asleep, only to be roused by a coughing jag. Kind of like electing a Bush after eight years of peace and prosperity.

I finally went to a doctor last week ahead of a trip I am taking at the end of this week (which is why I haven't been lobbying hard for the Weblog Awards for Simply Left Behind, but please do vote!), was given antibiotics and sent home to heal.

Heal I have, to a degree. And yet, here I am this morning, awake at 2:30 after three hours of sleep. My thoughts are racing, flitting like fireflies about me. This thought lights up, dims, and another flashes off in the corner of my other eye.

I hate nature.

I woke to a vague recollection of a dream about this contest. At first, I thought I was disturbed by my casual attitude towards it. I cannot deny there is a hypercompetitive part of me that simply will not allow me to fail. This being the slack time in between the election and the inauguration, I thought I'd explore this a little.

As I lay there in the dark, the cat watching me through one eyelid, I let my mind wander. This was not about the contest, to be sure, although I did manage to stroke that part of my id into relaxation.

There's something more. I'm disturbed by what I have allowed myself, and by extension this blog, to become.

Each morning, I sit at a PC, either in my office or at home, and I search for a story to write about. Recklessly disregarding the fact that I really don't care about half the stuff I read online, I choose a topic.

Usually, I search Memeorandum and see what other bloggers are talking about. I admit to a frisson of excitement and satisfaction when I see my name, with SLB attached to it, listed as commenting on a story. If an orgasm is la petite morte in French, then this is the cigarette afterwards.

Bollocks. That's what's pissing me off about life. I'm tying myself to what other people think and see. I'm letting the world set my agenda for me. I'm taking myself way too fucking seriously.

Now, the practice of writing a blog every day has its charm and its advantages. For one, by forcing myself to write daily, I'm forcing myself to be a better writer, to learn what mistakes I'm capable of and to prevent them. For another, it usually kills about 30 minutes at work, and probably stops me from playing FreeCell.

In 2008, it was too easy to write a blog, and I suspect that by the end of this year, an awful lot of blogs that popped up during the Bush administration will close down. And why not? People aren't as angry. Obama seems to be a decent sort who is committed to turning America around again. It's going to be hard to find something to take umbrage at and write a 3,000 word screed, mixing humour and anger, rage and fear.

Fear. Yes, that's what I want to talk about today. It's odd, but each year around this time, sins and emotions seem to be the backdrop to our lives.

Most sins can be understood in context of satisfying a need: envy, for example, keeps us up to date with what people around us have, and so we increase our odds of breeding by "keeping up with the Joneses," lust provides us with a motivation to collect genetic material from as many mates as possible, and so on.

Underlying all these, I think, is fear. Fear is the mind-killer, as Frank Herbert put it, by way of Huxley.

Fear is, I believe the yan to the yin of love, which I think is the underlying emotion behind all happiness. Blend fear and love, and you pretty cover the emotional gamut of humanity.

Anger, jealousy, hatred, all involve some element of love, even if that element is self-love and not the love for another person. We can delude and rationalize our anger at our spouse or child as "being good for them," but in reality, it's more about us taking care of ourselves than caring for someone else.

But notice also there's an element of fear to that love: by lashing out at those around you, you are warning them that they are scaring you, threatening you in some way. And it doesn't even have to manifest in rage: anger expressed in the most gentle way is still anger and still about fear.

On the flipside, you see joy, openess, and giving, which while all perfectly self-loving, involve far greater blends of love for someone else, and much less fear.

Even in these emotions, there's some fear involved. When you first tell someone you love them, there's always the chance they'll reject you.

Which brings me back to my original message, my original thought, my insomniatic stream of consciousness: what do I fear, by manipulating my energies and thoughts so they conform with what the rest of Blogtopia (© Skippy) is talking about?

Does it really matter to me that my hit counter is ringing every day? Does it make a difference in my life, apart from making me feel a little better about myself?

No, not really. So the question becomes, is that feeling worth it? Is the self-esteem tied up in that stupid little ticker worth the effort of being topical?

I'm not earning a single dime off this thing, yet I write more here in a week than I have in a month in the book I'm supposedly working on to sell.

I'm communicating and yes, that's important to me. I have thoughts and ideas and they need to be expressed, but not on the world's terms.

On my terms.

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Monday, January 05, 2009

Weblog Awards Voting Begins Today

I'll have a separate post that will allow you to vote from here at SLB, rather than shlepping over to the Awards page up on Monday, when voting is scheduled to begin.

I'm asking for your vote. Vote daily (cookies are recorded and IPs logged, so you can't vote twice in a 24 hour period), and vote from as many computers as you can. No reason you can't vote from home, work and a laptop or two. If you can access a computer, you can vote once more. And of course, please lobby your friends to vote, as well.

Also, I'd ask you to take a moment and vote in the other categories listed below. These are my recommendations:

Best Blog - Huffington Post, altho they really don't need the support, I suspect.

Best New Blog - Uppity Woman

Best Humour Blog - Jon Swift, who fashions the single funniest posts in the entire of Blogtopia (© Skippy), who's writing, infrequent tho it may be, is of the highest quality and caliber always.

Best Individual Blogger - Lindsay Beyerstein/Majikthise

Best Liberal Blog - Blue Gal. I had a hard time in this category. I love Sadly, No! and Wonkette as well, but I feel they are more humour than political, even if their humour IS political.

Best Political Coverage - FiveThirtyEight. They turned out to be the place to go for polling info during the election cycle.

Best Technology Blog - Geeks Are Sexy. MissCellania blogs here, along with many other places, and this is sort of a sop to her in case I decide....well, you'll see.

Best Diarist - Blue Girl In A Red Blue State. It's the closest I'm going to get to voting for my friend, Lance Mannion. This is a vote I strongly urge.

Best Major Blog - The Moderate Voice

Best Very Large Blog - Jesus' General

Best Large Blog -OK...this category has me hurting. One the one hand, MissCellania is one of my close blogging friends. On the other hand, Skippy, The Bush Kangaroo is also one of my close blogging friends. You're on your own on this one. As for me, well, that's the beauty of the secret ballot, isn't it? Fortunately, I can vote more than once, so....

Best Hidden Gem - Pajama Pundit. The name might remind you of Pajamas Media and Instapundit, two obnoxious and odious foully stenched blogs, but the politics will not.

My opponents in this contest are as follows:

If Mom Says OK
The Stupid Shall Be Punished (this is a rematch, I think)
Daled Amos
McClatchy Watch
Savage Politics
The Sundries Shack
The Colossus of Rhodey
Connecting the Dots (sorry, Bob!)
Phoenix Arizona East Valley Living

Visit them all. Play nice! You'll disagree with at least two of these folks and Connecting The Dots' Bob Stein is a friend, so throw him a visit or a dozen and check out his place. His writing makes mine look like, well, a right-winger's!

Silence Is Golden?

Maybe. And maybe not:

"If I were Obama, I wouldn't want to talk about it either. Frankly, it's a lot more comfortable to let this one hang on the president," said Edward Walker Jr., who served as U.S. ambassador to Israel from 1997 to 1999.

"I don't think he wants to be tagged at this point with either advocating the Israeli response or condemning it because our (U.S.) interests are sort of torn on this one," added Walker, an analyst with the Middle East Institute think tank.

Pro-Israeli comments by Obama risk upsetting the Arab world even before he takes office. Comments that seem critical of Israel would anger its American supporters.

Rock, meet hard place. It's not that Obama doesn't care about what's going on in the region, or that he doesn't have an opinion. Indeed, he's voiced foreign policy opinions before this (specifically on the Mumbai attacks) but these have hardly been statements of ongoing policy or binding opinions. In Israel, he would be held accountable after he takes office. Silence seems to be golden.
Presumably, the uptick in violence in the Gaza region is deliberate. Israelis and Palestinians both have a reason to test Obama's foreign policy from day one, given the crazy rumours that abounded when Obama was a candidate: Obama is secretly Muslim, will take the oath on the Koran, that sort of stuff.
You see, the problem with the Big Lie (via Goebbels) is that someone will believe it, no matter how insane the rumour is, and usually that someone is insane enough to take innocent people with him. In a situation as incendiary as Israel and Palestine, it only takes one crackpot to set off the entire region. Ask Ariel Sharon.
Right now, on this issue as on so many issues that Obama is faced with, his demeanor must be that of the horseshoe crab: apparent immobility from above, but if you flip one over the feet are scurrying like mad. My guess is Obama has people in the Middle East on fact-finding missions to try to determine the extent of the problem and that he is receiving the same daily briefings that Commanderguy is getting.
Which leads to silence NOT being golden. I also get the sense, given Obama's desire to hit the ground running, that he has people not only finding fact, but expressing reassurances and leaving impressions of precisely what he plans to do. I would not want to start my Presidency with this hanging over my head and have to play catch up with the Israeli and Palestinian governments, such as it is.
One can only guess at what Obama's thoughts are, and he's been shrewd to show his hand only to those who really need to see it.
Personally, my solution would probably be as simple as the following: Reassure Israel that America stands ready to defend her interests, however, make it perfectly clear that readiness is predicated on Israel finding the strength within her to begin negotiations in earnest with the Palestinians and other antagonistic parties. I would suggest this was precisely the stance that Bill Clinton took and he came as close to finding peace in the Middle East as any president.
You see, it's been decades since American interests were aligned completely with Israeli interests. Indeed, the OPEC embargoes of 1973 and 1979 were in large part retaliations against America for her support of Israel. The Arabic world couldn't beat Israel on the field of battle, so the battle was bought into the oilfields.
That America resisted the urge to jump ship and take our economic interests with us has never really been properly appreciated by Israel or her champions here in America, I think. Nonetheless, as it turns out, support for Israel has other facets to it, from a strategic point of view, that make having Israel a firm ally important. One very important reason is stability. Imagine if we had jumped ship and sided with Egypt under Nasser, or Syria. Or Iran. Or Iraq, for that matter.
The violence must stop. The slaughters on both sides of civilians must end. Now. One can only hope that Barack Obama will be the President to do just this.