Saturday, December 30, 2006

Are we having fun yet?

So they hung Sadaam. So are we happy? Yes of course he fucking deserved it, and it was by the laws of his country (yes he got a shitty trial, but probably better than most people there are getting now, if they get one). But does it makes us feel good? Sure, there are some bug-eyed right wingers all twitching and agog with excitement and jizz now. But aside from them, do we feel good? I mean, we shouldn't. The first precept of Buddhism is "do no harm." So we should never feel GOOD about killing someone else. It may be warranted, it may be necessary, it may even bring relief, but we should never enjoy it. And personally, I feel shame and disgust took part in such an obviously unnecessary and staged bloodletting.

This will be a low point in history. Sadly, I don't think it will be the lowest.

Friday, December 29, 2006

I can't get up no more

Unlike Roy, whose great post on James Brown I will not try to emulate, I don't have any personal connection with the Man in a Man's World (aside from interviewing brother-of-Maceo Kellis Parker, who played with him). I do think I was at the same show at the Lone Star in 1978 Roy was at, with that tiny-ass little stage so tight the musicians had to clear off so JB could do the splits, and although impressive, the show didn't change mylife. What did was playing James' 17 minute live version of Sex Machine ten (or maybe fourteen, we lost count) times in a row drunk at a party, and once the funk was in your bones, it wouldn't leave. At a later party, after JB had shot up that car and was doin' time, we would play Sex Machine and chant "Free James Brown" until the Almighty himself could hear our cries.

James' funeral was of a piece with his life. JB was sincerely loved by his community, which was all the African-American community of a certain age, and they showed it, unlike the parallel ceremony of a deceased President for all of 2.5 years, which will be stately and reverant, but seriously, who really LOVED Gerald Ford? They loved James despite the intensely public mess he made of his life. In fact, they may have loved him more because of that - since doing time in the white man's system is so much a part of the black experience, it only made them bond more closely.

I am treading on very thin ice (I don't care, no one reads my blog anyhow) but I am always amazed how the black community is much more willing than the white community to embrace their heroes despite sometimes quite egregious offenses (Mike Tyson, Marion Berry, Don King, the list goes on). One could posit all kinds of reasons for this (e.g., my half-assed attempt above), but it is remarkable. When Rev. Al goes, I suspect his mourners will be no less adulatory (perhaps less numerous) and little things like Tawanna Brawley will cloud the affection being put forth. Book the horse drawn carriage now!

Thursday, November 23, 2006

What was it all about, man?

I recently saw the first part of the Scorsese documentary on Bob Dylan, No Direction Home, which my sister blog about quite eloquently, here. It helped her rediscover her love for Dylan and the role he played in her life. It was a bit different for me. I was a huge Dylan freak up until I was about 16 (I still know all the songs from his first six albums, although verses 11 and 14 of Desolation Row will elude from time to time), and he will always be a big part of my musical DNA. For me it was more an understanding of how Dylan the chimera (what comes across plainly in the film is how unconnected Dylan felt from Hibbing, MN - probably not hard to do - and how easily he slipped into whatever role served him best) merged with the times he was in. Would Dylan have been as successful in any other period? My guess is not. He claims that he never felt a part of any movement, but when you see him, Pete Seeger, Joan Baez and a whole gospel choir (largely black) do a flat-out soulful version of "Blowin' in the Wind", it is easy to see how the movement embraced him, a mysterious but sincere kid with a genius for a phrase. And the Scorsese doc is extremely good (though painstaking) at capturing what a time that was.

At least in Greenwich Village, the early sixties were this time when things kind of exploded and everything seemed possible. It is popular to rag on the sixties now, the usual complaints being that the hippie movement never translated into a political movement (only partially true, see below) and that the "anything goes" philosophy lead to evils like multiculturalism, rising divorce rates, excessive drug use, lax educational standards, more abortions and homosexuals. The purveyors of these accusations (esp. the last few) are often hard core conservatives who resent the whole idea the Sixties happened (Karl Rove is said to have been motivated by feeling left out of things in the Sixties), but even good liberal types say these things, often while at the same time espousing New Agey type philosophies and lifestyles that come straight out of the Haight @ 1967 (veganism, yoga, crystals, Goddess worship, they were all there).

Someone said that were are perpetually reacting to the Sixties, either good or bad. Yes of course for every Woodstock there was an Altamont (yin-yang, man) but there was a feeling of openness then, of possibilities that we have been retreating from ever since. Disclaimer: I was nine years old in 1968 when hippies first starting appearing in the parks in Portland, OR., my mother (and as a consequence, I) worked for Eugene McCarthy, I was ten when we went to some outdoor rock concerts near Portland, and then I was twelve when American Pie came out and declared the whole thing over. So even as a youngster who was not doing drugs or free love (damn! damn!) the sense of excitement at what could be was obvious.

So it is important to understand what happened then. Certainly, as pointed out above, many of the cultural changes that happened then are a part of mainstream American now, and no amount of regressive thumping by the hard right is going to undo that*. As for raising political consciouness and forming an effective political movement, well first of all, that's a pretty tall demand (how many political sea changes have there been in the US, total? Two? Three? It doesn't happen that often.) It also ignores the fact that there was a little thing called the Civil Rights movement then which did change the political face of the country irrevocably, and for the better (sorry, Trent and Strom). Critics of the Sixties often claim the Civil Rights movement had nothing to do with the white counter culture, but as the Scorsese makes clear, they were clsely linked, esp. in the early days. All those folkies were going down to Mississippi to work for the Freedom Fighters (as did my rather conservative father, surprisingly), and there is a great clip in the film of Dylan singing in Greenwood in front of an all-black crowd.

The other major charge against the Sixities is that it lead to multi-culturalism which as we have heard many times is destroying American education, and single-issue politics, which is gumming up our political system (sort of conflicts with the charge that there were no lasting political consequences, but let's ignore that). While I often have had problems in my academic career with the need for separate treatment of any particular sub-group (e.g. women's studies, black studies, gay studies, disabled studies), the notion that they are ruining academia is absurd. If the scholarly process is followed honestly, it is independent of the particulars of the subject matter. So what if dissertations on Angela Davis might not seem as prima facie worthy as those on Pericles, I am a firm believer that more knowledge is good and good knowledge will drive out bad. Further, the shift of emphasis from the hoary Dead White Men to more marinalized groups was a needed corrective, even though, like most corrections in our unbalanced society, it over-corrected. What is needed is not and over-over-correction (elimination of specialized stuides in favor of more Dead White Men) but a renewed commitment to following the academic process properly and being scurpulous about which contributions are a real contribution and those which are not.

The response to critics of single-issue political entities (e.g. NARAL, Greenpeace) is the same. While there agendae may at times be counter-productive to a more general progressive movement (such as this past election when NARAL endorsed that slimebag Lieberman) they were needed to bring attention to fairly complex and neglected issue to the fore. The main problems with groups like NARAL and the Sierra Club (although to a lesser extent) is that they have been institutionalized and like any institution, their main goal is to preserve their status. So they lost the ability to discern when their particular concerns should take a backseat in the short term to more long-term issues of coalition building.

Well, I've drifted a bit away from Dylan here, but I would encourae everyone to see the movie and tell me if you don't also feel the headiness of the time and a tinge of regret that it was lost.

*There was recently a brief attempt at a "Crunchy conservative movement" by a writer who claimed to be both a vegan-yoga-practicing-laternaitve lifetsyle follower and a hardcore Christian Bush supporter, but that quickly collapsed under the weight of its own absurdity (when your icon is Ned Flanders, you've got problems).

Friday, November 10, 2006

OK, my election post-mortem (not that you were asking for)

As they say, hope for the worst and you are never disappointed. I was fully prepared for another drubbing of the Dems by the GOP, more rumors of stolen elections, more gloating by the Vultures in Charge (actually, that's an insult to vultures, who do perform a needed function). Instead, this does seem to be one of the rare events in life where things do actually work out the way they are supposed to (the 1986 World Series being another, unless you're a Red Sox fan). Once again, I contributed far beyond my means and hit the pavement trying to get votes. This time it was for Jerry McNerny, who miraculously ousted Dick Pombo, one of the worst sleazebags in the House (and it's not just me who's saying that).

But seriously, I had the feeling things were different this time. Usually precinct walking is an effort in banging your head against the wall. People don't want to talk to you, or commit to anything. This time the support for McNerny (or more likely, the digust with Pombo, which is just as good) was palpable, people were open, friendly and supportive. Will this last? Probably not. If this was indeed an expression of disappointment in the GOP, the bloom will be off the rose when partisan squabbling rears its head again (as it will) and nothing much gets accomplished.

And let's face it, we are Americans, and it is still much more chic and cool to be cynical about politics than optimistic. Some hard core right wing bloggers I have read seem to have been turned cynical by the underperformance of their guys and are vowing to give up on politics and hope that the government sinks itself.

Take from me guys, that doesn't help. Two years ago, after Kerry's loss, I vowed to leave the US since it was becoming an unlivable country in my estimation. And I did, I went to Austria
for a year and half, returning just in late September in time to get caught up in all the fervor (OK, I never really stopped following US politics). In two years the mo' has changed 180 degrees, but as the Detroit Tigers found out, momentum is what you have until you don't have it anymore (I didn't make that one up, sadly). So things can change dramatically by the next election cycle but they won't if you hide your heads in the sand.

"Brian, are you actually encouraging right wingers to get out and get involved again? I can't believe it! Ukkkk!"

Sure, we've seen what happens over the past few years when one ideology rules and there is no counterpoint. And I am not so starry eyed as to believe the Dems are not capable of the same Neanderthal behaviors (sorry again: an insult to the Neanderthals who were in all likelihood good moral, bipartisan proto-people who could jam a mammoth bone up my ass). The only way the system can be kept honest is through checks and balances.

So yes, I am enjoying winning (as Nuke Lalosh said "It's like, better than losing!") but I realize any more such victorious could be Pyrrhic at best

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Know Thine Enemy

Want to know which Repugnantcans we hope to be rid of in, oh, about 15 days? Here they are. The one of most concern to me is Richard "I said Dick!" Pombo. I will be phone banking for his opponent, McNerny tomorrow and possibly volunteering this weekend. Of course, having lived in Indiana in the District of John "dimmest bulb in DC for twelve years now!" Hostettler, I am tickled pink that he may be on his way out.

Click on them if you dare!

--AZ-Sen: Jon Kyl

--AZ-01: Rick Renzi

--AZ-05: J.D. Hayworth

--CA-04: John Doolittle

--CA-11: Richard Pombo

--CA-50: Brian Bilbray

--CO-04: Marilyn Musgrave

--CO-05: Doug Lamborn

--CO-07: Rick O'Donnell

--CT-04: Christopher Shays

--FL-13: Vernon Buchanan

--FL-16: Joe Negron

--FL-22: Clay Shaw

--ID-01: Bill Sali

--IL-06: Peter Roskam

--IL-10: Mark Kirk

--IL-14: Dennis Hastert

--IN-02: Chris Chocola

--IN-08: John Hostettler

--IA-01: Mike Whalen

--KS-02: Jim Ryun

--KY-03: Anne Northup

--KY-04: Geoff Davis

--MD-Sen: Michael Steele

--MN-01: Gil Gutknecht

--MN-06: Michele Bachmann

--MO-Sen: Jim Talent

--MT-Sen: Conrad Burns

--NV-03: Jon Porter

--NH-02: Charlie Bass

--NJ-07: Mike Ferguson

--NM-01: Heather Wilson

--NY-03: Peter King

--NY-20: John Sweeney

--NY-26: Tom Reynolds

--NY-29: Randy Kuhl

--NC-08: Robin Hayes

--NC-11: Charles Taylor

--OH-01: Steve Chabot

--OH-02: Jean Schmidt

--OH-15: Deborah Pryce

--OH-18: Joy Padgett

--PA-04: Melissa Hart

--PA-07: Curt Weldon

--PA-08: Mike Fitzpatrick

--PA-10: Don Sherwood

--RI-Sen: Lincoln Chafee

--TN-Sen: Bob Corker

--VA-Sen: George Allen

--VA-10: Frank Wolf

--WA-Sen: Mike McGavick

--WA-08: Dave Reichert

Monday, July 17, 2006

"Other" thoughts

"We've given the word 'mob' a bad name." - Another Simpsons quote

I want to add a couple of notes to my previous post.

1) The theory that we as humans have an inherent need to demonize an "Other" is not very useful as science, because it is largely untestable from a rigourous standpoint. All the evidence that can put forward either for or against is anecdotal. However, since this is a blog, not a scientific paper, I can write what I want. While I can think of lots of cases in favor of the theory, if you ask me to name stable, multi-ethnic societies with a high degree of cross-group interaction that have not erupted in violence between the groups, my response is "Umm, I'll have to get back to you on that." I'm sure there are some, but the fact that countrary examples come so easily to mind is an argument in favor of the Other theory, even considering the confounding factors that violence is memorable and noted while nonviolence is not, and that a large portion of all ethnic hostilities are not spontaneous but shaped by external forces.

2) Even if it is an inherent behavior in humans (I am not saying "genetic" because purely genetic behaviors and ones that are inculcated in us from an early age are very difficult to unravel from each other) that doesn't mean we should accept it. We put curbs on our inherent behaviours all the time - that's what we call laws. I don't kill someone who wrongs me*, even though that may be my instinctive reaction, because I live in a society which is governed by laws.

Unfortunately, the "if it feels right, it is right" meme has become prevalent even among intelligent people. One of the big setbacks for rational reflective actions was in the 1988 Presidential debates in which Bernanrd Shaw (a supposed liberal) asked Dukakis if his wife and daughter were raped and killed wouldn't he want that man to be executed. The proper response should have been "Yes, I'd be angry as hell, but we are a nation of laws." But Duke didn't say that and so was perceived as a wimp because he didn't want to act on his base instincts. I believe this led inexorably to the belief that Dubya is superior to both Gore and Kerry because he is a man who acts according to his "gut." Even though, as Stephen Colbert pointed, "there are more nerve endings in your gut than in your brain" the gut is not always, or even usually, right, which is why he have laws and brains that can govern our behavior according to those laws.

I think it is telling that while the writers of the Constitution repespected the will of the people, they also didn't trust it. That's why there is the Senate, which origninally was not directly elected by the people, and the Electoral College. Unfortunately, because of various factors, neither of this institutions is actually fulfilling its intended function (as noted in previous post) but it does not mean the intention was flaws, but humans being humans, we can find a way to muck up almost anything.

*Note: I am a liberal who was mugged and remained a liberal.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

people vs People

"The mayor has declared mob rule" - Ken Brockman

The latest Israel-Palestine-other-enemies blowup has inspired a flood of truly insightful writing, I think, on the part of other bloggers, particularly Billmon and Digby, and I don't have anything particularly original to add to their analysis. However, it does bring up an issue that has troubled me so some time, namely the discrepancy that (apparently) most of us carry between dealing with people as people and people as a People.

When I was in the Sudan in the early 80s (during one of the very few periods when the fighting in the South had eased), I was continually struck, as was every other traveler there, with the wonder of the Sudanese people. To a person, they were generous, gentle, funny and generally seemed to enjoy their life despite their crushing poverty. Particularly in the South, the level of interactions between different groups (i.e. the numerous tribes and the northern Arabs, was notable). So it was hard for me to believe, later on, when I read how they were massacring each other. I did not get much insight on this from the Sudanese themselves, because of limited communication, and also possibly because at the time I was there the civil war in the South was fairly low level and fair away from urban centers, so it was easy to dismiss as something happening somewhere else.

Similarly, I was in Israel (earlier on the same long trip) the interaction between Israeleis and Arabs was amazing to me who had been led to believe they were at each other's throats. This was pre-intifada, when you could walk from Jerusalem to Bethleham (not very far at all, as it turns out) but post-Jenine massacre so there was a lot of tension between the groups. But in an Arab-run hostel I worked at, Israelei soldiers would come by and hang out (bringing lots of hash they had seized in Lebanon), I had an Israelei friend who worked at an Arab-run car wash, I knew mixed couples, all the things one thinks would not happen in such a divided society.

We all like to think that individual human relations trump in-group out-group dynamics (as in the Simpsons episode where Homer joins an anti-immigrant crusade until he realizes that Apu would be deported) but the history of the world shows otherwise. This was really outlined in stark relief for me when I read about the Rwandan woman who had helped organized the Hutu massacre of the Tutsis (and mass rape of Tutsi women) who was half-Tutsi herself.

Now I am not a social psychologist (I had a Ph.D. in Psychology, but in Sensory Process, so I can talk with some authority about stimulus thresholds, but I have never even taken a class in social Psych), but it seems to me that all theories I can come up don't really work.

1) Hatred of others is really inspired by self-hatred. This is plausible in the case of Hitler (who may have had some Jewish ancestry) or perhaps in the case of the Tutsi woman mentioned above, but I believe that the number of cases for which this is applicable are severely limited. I think most people in the world do not hate themselves - most of them, on the brink of poverty, don't have time to think about such things.

2) People are easily swayed by extreme opinions of a few, particularly when those few are people in power. This Machiavellian "bad apples leading a lot of sheep" theory does have some support. When I was in Jaipur, India, I fell in wih a group of taxi drivers, which included a Brahmin (upper caste Hindu) and a Muslim who would embrace each other and call each other brother. At one point I asked them about the religious conflicts in Jaipur in the 70s (which killed about 15,000 people, a large number for anywhere else but India). Their response was "Well that was just some bad people causing trouble." In the Sudan one of the few comments I elected from a Southerner regarding the nothern Arabs was that "They are fine, but when their government starts talking, it becomes bad."

But to me this smacks of more of a post hoc excuse than actual motivator. It certainly does not seem to explain the intensity of the venom with which people turn on other people who have shared their lives for many years (see Bosnia, and now Iraq with the Sunnis and Shiites). Anyone who was ever seen Triumph of the Will is struck by how much the German people truly believed this, really bought into the mythos Hitler was peddling. I do think that no government could convince their people to brutally kill their nedighbors unless at some level the people really wanted it.

Which brings us to:

3) As humans, we always need an "other" to define ourselves against, and to blame for our problems. Perhaps it is an innate aspect of our humanity. The documentary "Paris is Burning" is a remarkable portrait of gay blacks who dress up as women and compete in fashion shows, a sub-sub-sub-culture if there ever was one. But even within this small, highly oppressed, enclave, there were rifts between groups that actually erupted into physical fights (seeing two guys dressed as showgirls slugging it out is quite something). So perhaps we are inherently clannistic, and our loyalty to our clan trumps even our loyalty to friends and family. That attitude certainly had survival value when were in our "first act of 2001" phase, but is distinctly counterproductive in a highly interconnected world with lots of very efficient ways of killing each other, individuals willing to exploit this tendency of ours, and very fast mass communication to spread the hysteria more quickly than ever.

How to break this cycle is difficult. The checks that political systems are supposed to have to put brakes on public hysteria are being increasingly bypassed - the Senate, which was designed to be removed from public opinion, is hysterically debating anti-flag burning measures, anti-gay-marriage measures, anti-late-term abortion measures, and other nonpressing social issues.

But the link we as bloggers can attack is the role of mass media in perpetuating cycles of misinformation. Sadly, the mainstream has fallen flat on its face in this role, particularly in the US. Perhaps bloggers can will pick up the slack, but since blogs are written by humans, they show the same tendency towards herd behavior as the public in general.

So you can see I am not optimistic. Maybe evolution is slow, and eventually we will come to appreciate that the ties that bind us are more important than the divisions between us. But a lot of people will have to die first and a lot of progress undone before than will happen, I fear.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Jeff Herles December 27, 1959 - May 7, 2006

So, my friend died May 7. I haven't written anything here yet, because I have been a bit numb, but gradually I have opened up enough. One major issue has been that his death was too reminiscent of my father's, a bright talented individual who also drank himself to death. My sister has a blog in which she has written much more eloquently about him than I ever could (even though I look like him, am his same height, weight and have the terrible singing voice). Like him, Jeff was the type you would never suspect of having a deep self-loathing, because outwardly they projected incredible confidence. I rarely ever saw Jeff be down - he was pretty cynical, but hey in New York that's almost in the drinking water.

I first met Jeff in summer 1984 when I moved back to New York (coincidentally when my father died hmmm). He was the upstairs neighbor of my sister and her boyfriend in an utterly unromantic section of Long Island City that was incredibly cheap but made up for up by having the tiniest rooms I saw in New York, which is really saying something. Although prepossessing, the neighborhood was far from uninteresting. There was a revival church across the street, a motel/whorehouse down the street, a mafia hangout around the block, Greek restaurants a trundle away, and down by the river were the Isamo Noguchi museum, Socrates sculpture park and Steinway piano factory. And that apartment provided me with the closest proximity to musical success I've ever had: Nicky Skopelitis, a guitarist who played among things, with the Talking Heads, livied downstairs.

Jeff was an incredibly ingratiating guy, very funny, very interested in all things political cultural musical sexual, full of himself, but generous and loyal. Jeff and I used to hang out a lot, drink a lot, go out to clubs, and invariably he would sleep with all the women I wanted to. At one point I stop talking to him for months because he slept with a friend of the family who was staying in my apartment for a while. I should point out that not everyone liked Jeff, and there were numerous people he rubbed the wrong way, but his circle of friends dwarfed that group.
Jeff was one of the few people I knew who managed to straddle a bohemian lifestyle with being a successful corporate finance officer. He was the "Chapter 11" guy that corporations were never happy to see because he would audit their possessions and say what needed to be sold off. Because of his work he went to Costa Rica (for Maidenform Bra), Hackensack and other exotic places. Along the way he had a series of wonderful. attractive caring girlfriends (one or two psychos in the bunch, but that's to be expected).

One of the few times I saw was really lay beneath his confidence and braggadacio was one year when I was back in NY around Xmas time and a bunch of us were supposed to get together to celebrate his birthday. I was the only one that showed up, and Jeff was in kind of a bad way. In fact, he was crying and saying things like "I'm so scared" and regretting breaking up with past grilfriends. I found myself in the unusual position of comforting and reassuring someone I had been insanely jealous of for a number of years.

All along I knew Jeff was a big drinker but like most of them he hid it well (in fact at one point we both quite drinking for two months - it shocked everyone). After I moved from NY I would see him onc a year or so, but we still managed top do things like a trip to Mexico for New Years 2000, where heavy drinking would scarcely have been noticed. I first started to get some hints that things were going wrong was in ?1999? when after a particularly wild weekend involving a wedding and a trip to Provincetown he ended up in the hospital, supposedly because of dehydration.

Around that time his brother Chris, with whom he had always had a close but conpetitive relationship, stopped talking to him, because of his drinking. Despite this, everytime I saw him he was the same old Jeff. He met and moved in with a very normal woman, Stephanie, who I thought would be good for him. One of the few pictures I have of him is from this period. He moved out to New Mexico with Stephanie, for various, none of which involved drying out as far as I know. The last time I saw him was on a visit there. Here is a picture of him on a hike I went on with Beth, my doctor friend from there, and her Labs (my Lab is somewhere out of the frame). Beth would at the end of his life be incredibly caring and attentive towards him.

So I couldn't decide if this blog was going to be a tribute to Jeff or my feelings at his passing. It has kind of ended up being neither. To be a tribute to Jeff I would have to include some of his musical work, which ranged between the brilliant and the unlistenable. I will say that Jeff was kind, warm, arrogant, self-centered, generous, creative, fun,aggravating and goddamn you, why did you have to kill yourself off.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Coming back to what?

It looks likely that I will return to the US in September sometime. And to what will I return? A dysfunctional country, about to become the next Afghanistan (theocratically), Argentina (economically) or Weimar Republic Germany (politically), or all three? A country where the sense of the body politic has become so skewed and twisted that mere involvement has become dirty, like getting caught a la Pee Wee in a porn house? I lov eAmerica and Americans, but some tendencies we have are definitely counter productive, such as the tendency to give up on society when things get tough and stock your basement with canned goods and pack away the extra ammo.

Of course there are the usual contraindicators: the economy is still growing, although it still is not up to where it was in the late 90s. Yes, real wages have remained stagnant, the deficeit is bigger than Rush Limbaugh's medicine cabinet, and let's face it, we don't *make* anything anymore, still it could be worse. As long as we can keep China buying our T-notes, we're golden! Furhter, based on recent events (the immigrant demonstrations, mostly) it seems that some people are waking up to the fact the administration isn't going to do a damn thing for them, and so they must do for themselves. And of course there's Bush's sterling 33% approval rating. So is there enough right in the US to overcome all the wrong that has wound it's way into our rugs, our clothes, the lint between our toes?

Doesn't become easier with repetition

I have a good friend who is dying (imminently) of alcoholic hepatitis. I have had friends hang themselves, OD, get AIDS, crash cars, get cancer, but this one seems more senseless somehow. The person in this case had almost everything going for him: bright, creative, funny, good with ladies, well educated, high powered career. But I saw only in a few instances (usually when drunk) how thoroughly he loathed himself, thought he was a fraud, and was scared of life. In many ways he reminded of my father who had all the above positive attributes and also drank himself to death. I keep thinking of the line from "Needle and the Damage Done":

Every junkie's like a setting sun

That to me captures the whole feeling I have now. Of watching something beautiful flare out and fade, and all you can do is watch and be sad. And in this case there will be no sunrise.

Now of course alcohol and heroin are not equivalent: alcohol is legal. So you can't even count on the abuser being busted to save them from themselves. I know there is a fair amount of romanticism attached to destroying yourself: I have not seen Leaving Las Vegas but I have read Under the Volcano. And I have certainly argued for that point (I once wrote an article questioning the inherent goodness of sobriety). But to knowingly kill yourself this way (and my friend knew he was killing himself) is an incredibly selfish act, because unless you truly are an island, you leave behind a raft of heartbroken friends and relatives, wondering what they could have done to change the outcome, even though the answer is: Nothing.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Beneath the radar

For some reason, the article by Celia Farber in this months Harper's on the failure of neperavine (sp) trials and questioning the whole HIV-AIDS connection doesn't seem to have caused quite the shitstorm I thought it would, aside from this rather virtuperative discussion in the Nation blog. (Note, I somehow managed to get a pdf of the article, but can't seem to find the link anymore. If I can, I'll repost. Or just go buy the magzine, tightass.) Other than that, no mentions in the big blogs, Kos, Atrios, Daoureport, HuffingtonPost, Slate, Salon.

Maybe it's overshadowed by the other crap going on. Perhaps it has become a third rail issue that no one wants to touch except the passionate on each side. I think it's good Harper's published this piece and not just because I am highly dubious about the HIV-AIDS connection (disclaimer: I had a big crush on Celia Farber when she used to play drums for a band called the Headless Horsemen) . The point of the piece has unfortunately been lost in conflict, namely how the drug companies fudged trials and have foisted extremely dangerous drugs on people. Duh, is anyone really surprised by this? What's really unfortunate is that dips like Dean Esmay are also dissdents, which makes it easy for the glip to dismiss (among whom, I'm sad to say, is the Poorman, otherwise a bastion of clarity).

But props to Dean: he did link to this post by a mathematical modeler who worked for years modeling the transmission of AIDS by HIV and quit because it didn't make any sense.

Commenters (if there are any): please refrain from ad hominem attacks. It's hard, I know, but do. And BTW, (sp) means I'm sure I misspelled neperavine, but am too busy pounding this out to look up the right one. Will fix later.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Port left, uh, right, uh...

Well, the whole Portgate thing (I prefer the term Portmanteau, but that's me) seems to have temporarily united the divergent wings of American politics, although they each have different reasons to be against it (Extreme gloss: the lefties suspect Bush of being up to no good, the righties suspect the Arabs of being up to no good). By all rights, it should be one of these one-day new stories, except, like the Dick-go-blam affair, it seems to encapsulate well most of the major failings of this administration, which I call NISCE (Neglect, Incompetence, Secrecy, Cronyism and Eminence) *

Neglect - The revelations about the port situation have forced the news media to acknowledge just how little the Bush administration has actually done to secure the ports since 9/11, something they refused to do when Kerry was hammering on it during the 2004 campaign.

Incompetence - No one major in the Bush administration seems to have known about this (not Bush, not Rumsfeld, not the Pentagon). Whoever did know seems not to have realized that some people might object to this if not the Bush-hating lefties then the Arab-hating righties. Further, they didn't even bother to have the legally mandated 45-day waiting period

Secrecy - Secrecy and incompetence kind of blend in this administration, as one feeds the other (see above, and add Congress to the list of people that didn't know about this). However, I'm sure there are many interesting facets not being revealed now, e.g., why is Bush so adamant about going forward with this (see below for Eminence)

Cronyism. - In this case, Treasury Secretary Snow and ?David Sanborn? (who obviously didn't find playing mellow jazz fulfilling enough)

Eminence - When the going gets tough, Bush asserts his prerogative as President to do whatever the hell he wants. In this case, his threats to veto any Congressional action on the matter are somewhat confusing. One would think he would resort to his usual modus operandi: withdraw it and then quietly sneak it in the back door somehow (I hear Executive orders on Friday afternoons in August are great for that). His stubborness, while not unusual for him, has two likely causes:
a) There is much much more to this than we know right now; or

b) He wants to show Congress that he's the President still, and he can do whatever the hell he pleases.

Occam's Razor compels us at this point to chose option b. However, if there are hearings and all of a sudden scads of information is classified and/or withheld, we may be compelled to pick a)

*Hey, if you have a better acronym, leave it in the comments

Monday, February 20, 2006

Look how well it worked in um, Nicaragua

They've got to be protected,
All their rights respected,
Until somebody we like can be elected!
-Tom Lehrer, "Send the Marines"

Regarding the reports in the Times that the Bush adminstration has decided to try and destabilize Hamas and hope that the government falls and there is a new election...

Is this the kind of thing we really want to be doing? Aren't we supposed to be supporting democratically elected governments? You really want to make the people in Mideast resent us?

If we cause (or allow Israel to cause) Hamas to fall, why on earth does anyone think they would automatically elect someone more sympathetic to the neocon ideals? What is Condi smoking? Or maybe what isn't she?*

*A touch of the old hippie ideal that "if every world leader got stoned together, there would be no wars" sneaking through. Hey, it worked in the movie Dick, right?

There was up and there was no down

Several bloggers have written about the "down is up"-ism of this administration, in which "wiretapping" becomes "defending our liberty", "deficits" become "fiscal conservatism", "judicial activism" becomes " "judicial restraint" etc. In my reading, these are just manifestations of the ability of the Bush spinners to make everything into a positive for the President, i.e., not just down is up, everything is up! There is no down! To me this reached its absurb pinnacle when bin Laden released his videotape right before the election and for some reason everyone seemed to think this was a plus for the President. I mean, shouldn't it remind everyone that HE IS STILL OUT THERE?
So it has gone with the NSA wiretape story - Rove, followed by all the administration mouthpieces on the chat shows and in the rightie blogs, have been saying this will actually help the President and the GOP. However, Glenn Greenwald wrote a well-researched piece showing how, behind the scene, they were desperately working to avoid letting this thing get out of hand. The interesting thing to me is why they seem to be trying so hard to change the law now when they seem to have decided before that no one would go along with it. Like, what's different now? Perhaps they figure that now the issue has become one of those "make or break" ones, like "you're either with the Preznit on this one or you're for the turrurists", enough Repub sheep will fall into line to pass it (Bah bah Olympia, fleece as white as Snowe?).
Maybe they needn't have worried so. "Up is Up"-ism only works when the press is willing to go along with it, and so far they have never let me down in terms of how far they are willing to bend over to make the GOP overlords happy. Everytime I think something (WMD, Katrina, global warming, I better stop now) has to make the MSM realize what saps they've been played for, they just take it like another clunk in an increasingly clunky car, but they just smile and keep driving.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Always Lookin' fer dat ol' Silver Lining

One possible beneficial effects of these difficult political times may be, somewhat ironically, the return of the relevance of political life. As deToqueville and numerous other writers have pointed out, Americans have always been uneasy about admitting politics into their personalives, partially because many Americans were immigrants fleeing nasty political situations, and partially because of our frontier, individualist mythos. But when I grew up in the late sixties and early seventies I believe it was one of those unusual periods when there was the sense that the politics of the time were inextricably bound up with all the other changes that were taking place in the arts and in personal lifestyles.
Now of course some one will jump all over me pointing out that a) whatever changes took place were cultural, and that the political landscape was unaffected; and b) those changes were all bad anyway. Those issues are not what I am talking about here. I am talking about how politics is perceived to fit in with people's lives. And while there is always danger in surmising how a disparate body of people "feel" about something, that doesn't seem to bother most bloggers and pundits who in fact have made a cottage industry out of declaring how the American people "feel". So if Ken Mehlman can declare without any evidence that Americans don't want to vote for Hillary Clinton because they think she's angry, I can say that there was a change sometime in late seventies and early eighties in how people felt about politics. The causes are many and can be debated: Watergate, the realization that indeed the political landscape was largly unchanged and the increasing emphasis on personal liberation and alternative lifestyles. Some will credit Ronald Reagan and his cronies with this, but I think they merely rode the wave of this trend (or as Hunter S. Thompson put it, the breaking of the wave of the sixties) and then cleverly diverted it to further their own ends. Under Reagan, politics wasn't just not relevant to one's life, it was actually malicious, full of corrupt folks using it to no good ends (which of course he set out to make true).
And that sense has persisted to this day. Witness the squeamishness most liberals will have with declaring themselves in agreement with the tenets of liberalism, that government can be a force for good, that average people need to feel connected with their political life, and that they can have an effect on the way they are governed. Even when the federal government is intruding on people lives more than ever, the conservatives still manage to somehow trumpet this notion that government is should be reduced (cue Grover Norquist at this point).
Is that changing? Again, it is nothing but speculative to probe Americans collective psyche, if indeed we have one, but positive signs abound, in particular the aftermath of Katrina. Several writers have noted that Katrina brought home in a major way the things people depend on government for, and what happens when the government screws up royally in delivering them. That Bush's Social Security proposal went nowhere (although he snuck it into his budget) and the Medicare reforms are universally perceived to be a disaster are others. Of course, "you don't know what you've got till it's gone" so it unfortunately make take further extreme disenfranchisements to make people realize that political developments do affects them perosnally. That is why the Bush adminstration is desperately trying to portray the NSA wiretapping as something that won't affect most people, because the surest way to rile up Americans is to make them think the government is spying on them (as opposed to most conservative writers and bloggers, for whom it is all hunky dory). And why, in private, the Republican leaders fear a repeal of Roe v Wade more than they welcome it.
So stay tuned. While I do not like the idea that we have had to have essential services obliterated and our rights drastically curtailed to make Americans realize that yes, politics do matter, it seems that is what is going to happen, so one can hope for some good out of it. To paraphrase Arlo Guthrie, it's when things are really rotten that it's easiest to make a positive change.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Like when I was seven

Getting a blog (and this is my first) is like getting the 128 box of Crayola crayons and a sheet of paper. What do I do with it? I can do anything? Gee...that's kind of intimidating. It's kind of scary that the first thing that comes to mind is navel gazing, but that's the nature of the medium I guess. Well, hi, anyone who stumbles by.

As my slogan says, I am a void unless observed, so don't just observe, criticize, rant, but here's a whacky thought:

Try to rant on a subject you don't really believe in.

So if you believe in evolution, try to rant like a creationist. If you think that we're winning the Iraq War, try to imagine what you would say if you didn't. At the least, it might get us out of our heads for a bit.