Categotry Archives: Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading


Thursday Thoughts

Categories: A Day in the Life, Let's Go M's, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Tags: , ,

1. It is looking increasingly likely that the Mariners starting rotation down the stretch (and into the playoffs, if applicable), will be headlined by these three starters:

I mean, I know about counting chickens and all that, but still. Assuming Bedard gets signed and is healthy (two enormous assumptions, I’ll grant), this may be the best starting trio the Majors have seen in decades. You can keep your Sabathia/Pettitte/Burnett. I’ll take Hernandez/Lee/Bedard any day.

2. It is startling how much more productive one can be when one is neither sick nor has to deal with insurance companies. I didn’t even notice how much spare energy I was expending trying to get healthy and/or deal with the fallout of 2009’s various accidents until I spent a full afternoon without either task. Very liberating and bodes well for all future projects.

3. The Dow has seen five digits for the last time in a good long while. Prepare accordingly.


I’m Alive (Breaking a Long Silence, on the Occasion of the Passing of J.D. Salinger)

Categories: A Day in the Life, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, Duck and Cover, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Read it and Weep, Telling Stories, Tags: , , , , ,

It will either happen today or February 14, 1958 when I am sixteen. It is ridiculous to mention even.

When people in my generation haven’t been in contact for a long time, or haven’t posted to their webpage or other expected forms of social media/communication, they tend to break the silence with the phrase “I’m alive” or, less frequently, “I’m not dead.” Where this custom originated is hard to trace, like any viral meme of our culture, but it is surely prevalent. When my father took a long absence from posting on his page, a relative wrote in fear that something had happened. It’s hard to argue that this is the frequent concern of people when a long absence is experienced, but our society tends to “go there” pretty quickly. J.D. Salinger is probably about as far from a social media type person as I can imagine living into the twenty-first century.

On November 22, 1963, Aldous Huxley and C.S. Lewis died. No one particularly noticed because John F. Kennedy was shot that day as well.

In a discussion of next steps for my new novel American Dream On, my father purported that the fifty best books written in the last hundred years were never published. I told him that if I believed that, I would give up all hope. And while part of my disproof for his theory is The Catcher in the Rye, part of his rebuttal might include the unpublished works Salinger has famously kept in a safe for much of the last few decades. My excitement for the release of these works is perhaps the only heartening element of the developments of Wednesday.

I want them to have a nice time while they’re alive, because they like having a nice time… But they don’t love me and Booper – that’s my sister – that way. I mean they don’t seem able to love us just the way we are. They don’t seem able to love us unless they can keep changing us a little bit. They love their reasons for loving us almost as much as they love us, and most of the time more. It’s not so good, that way.

When I was 18, I compiled a list of the hundred best books of all-time. All Salinger’s four published works made the cut, ranging from 10th (Catcher) to 61st (Franny and Zooey). Catcher had slipped to 12th on my list by 2002, but checks in at 5th on the composite list of 73 Blue Pyramid friends and visitors. Franny and Zooey is 69th. In 2008, I finally got around to compiling my favorite 17 short stories of all-time. They were bookended by Salinger works from Nine Stories, with “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” checking in 17th and “Teddy” 1st.

J.D. Salinger was born in 1919. Ray Bradbury was born in 1920. Richard Adams was born in 1920. Kurt Vonnegut was born in 1922. Howard Zinn was born in 1922.

Salinger’s obituaries were coated with accounts of his life as a recluse. These overshadowed any particular discussion of his works and their enormous qualities. His life was discussed as the story of potential gone bad, of talent gone crazy, of a light of the world snuffed out by his own misanthropy. There were the isolation and the lawsuits and the affairs and the urine-drinking rumors and everything beneath tepid notes about Catcher that still couldn’t resist citing the man who shot John Lennon. And censorship. Outcry. Controversy.

But I wouldn’t have had to get incarnated in an American body if I hadn’t met that lady. I mean it’s very hard to meditate and live a spiritual life in America. People think you’re a freak if you try to.

I haven’t been posting Duck and Covers lately because my scanner is broken. It used to have trouble, but now it seems completely ka-put. My phone line has been out for days, too, if you’ve been trying to get ahold of me. It keeps saying the line is in use and when I pick it up, the dialtone is replaced by a noise that sounds like someone is on the other line, but has set the phone down for a bit. I’d imagine it generates a perpetual busy-signal to anyone who tries to call. It’s had trouble like that before, where it hangs up on anyone calling in, but with this problem I can’t call out either.

Ray Bradbury and Richard Adams are still alive. They are hoping to turn 90 this year.

Salinger had allegedly promised the release of all his unpublished works upon his death, though it’s unlikely his estate will grant the right of others to hijack Holden Caulfield for use in an examination of what he’d think of being alive at 70. My suspicion was always that he didn’t want someone to write that book because he’d already written it, but that remains to be seen. Unfortunately, it remains to be seen over a devastatingly long period of time to come. Were there any justice in the publishing industry, all 15-20 tomes would be released in quick succession, maybe one a month, a cavalcade of Salinger’s views on the world we’ve lived through for the last half-century. But at their pace, we’ll be lucky to live long enough to read all of Salinger’s already written work. Hell, they haven’t even released The Pale King yet… nor do they plan to for 15 months.

My sister was only a very tiny child then, and she was drinking her milk, and all of a sudden I saw that she was God and the milk was God. I mean, all she was doing was pouring God into God, if you know what I mean.

On January 7, 2010, I sent American Dream On to twenty-two volunteer readers. Five more have since added themselves to the list. As of today (January 29, 2010), only three have finished reading the book. None of them have full-time jobs or are attending school.

On January 27, 2010, Howard Zinn and J.D. Salinger died. Between these two events, President Barack Obama addressed the nation on its State for the first official time in his tenure. He noted that “it’s tempting to look back on these moments and assume that our progress was inevitable – that America was always destined to succeed.” He seemed to be warning against impending calamity. He went on to conclude that “We can do what’s necessary to keep our poll numbers high, and get through the next election instead of doing what’s best for the next generation. But I also know this: If people had made that decision 50 years ago, or 100 years ago, or 200 years ago, we wouldn’t be here tonight. The only reason we are here is because generations of Americans were unafraid to do what was hard; to do what was needed even when success was uncertain; to do what it took to keep the dream of this nation alive for their children and their grandchildren.” His dire tone about America’s future was belied by his eternal affable smile, made somehow more Bushlike by its inappropriateness while trying to empathize with unemployed families or explaining why US soldiers will continue to kill Afghans after a decade of doing so. Bush at least kept the smile to the corners of his mouth, always on the verge of an inappropriate grin. Obama’s grin seems to crest, convincing you that he’s really enjoying himself up there despite the calamity he portends.

Salinger’s reclusion begs the question of why one is writing at all. He insisted that he enjoyed writing for himself, noting notedly in 1974 that “There’s a marvelous peace in not publishing. Publishing is a terrible invasion of my privacy. I like to write. I live to write. But I write just for myself and my own pleasure.” With all appropriate apologies, Jerome, this is phony. You were being a phony when you said this. People who believe that do not write. They sit around and think their own thoughts. And if they do write, if they do find some pathological urge to put their thoughts to paper because they love the artisanship of crafting the idea despite not wanting to share it, they insist their works get burned upon their death. Or they burn them themselves, just to make sure. (You’ll note Kafka, who was not born in the early 1920’s, never did this.) Certainly they do not insist their works are published upon their death. People who do that cannot live with the repercussions of their misunderstanding, Jerome, but they also cannot live without trying to be understood. Without trying to share what they have to share with the world. So I see that. I see you. I see that you could not face the same tribulation and misunderstanding that plagued Catcher, that plagued Holden. But you had to try anyway. You had to try to get out a message, to be understood. Which is what we will wait for, obnoxious greedy publishers’ delay or no.

For example, I have a swimming lesson in about five minutes. I could go downstairs to the pool, and there might not be any water in it. This might be the day they change the water or something. What might happen, though, I might walk to the edge of it, just to have a look at the bottom, for instance, and my sister might come up and sort of push me in. I could fracture my skull and die instantaneously.

In February, Emily will return to classes and I will start writing Good God and the Rutgers team will start debating again and I will buy a new scanner/printer and get my phone fixed and I will turn thirty years old. In February. Which is still three days hence.

J.D. Salinger, Kurt Vonnegut, and Howard Zinn fought in World War II. Richard Adams was in the British Army for the duration of the war, but did not fight in it. Ray Bradbury was writing science fiction stories.

We write to be understood. No matter how hard that is, how long the odds are, how impossible it might seem. His literary agent said “Salinger had remarked that he was in this world but not of it.” It is hard to imagine a more fitting epitaph for this writer, for any writer. But being in creates an obligation, an obligation to try to be understood. He tried. His works will try. The only reason to write, really, is to make contact with other human beings. He was a coward, perhaps, or made a desperate failed attempt not to let personality overshadow works which he wanted to speak for themselves. But he wanted, wants, will want, to be understood.

Halfway down the passage, a stewardess was sitting on a chair outside the galleyway, reading a magazine and smoking a cigarette. Nicholson went down to her, consulted her briefly, thanked her, then took a few additional steps forwardship and opened a heavy metal door that read: TO THE POOL. It opened onto a narrow, uncarpeted staircase. He was little more than halfway down the staircase when he heard an all-piercing, sustained scream – clearly coming from a small, female child. It was highly acoustical, as though it were reverberating within four tiled walls.


Compassion Complacency: On Haiti

Categories: A Day in the Life, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Tags: ,

Before I even begin this post, I feel the need to disclaim it in some way. I expect this to be controversial and difficult and that some people might get offended. Please don’t get offended. I’m exploring an idea here, something real that I feel. Don’t jump to conclusions or rush to judgment or do all those other things that people often do about emotionally charged issues. And keep in mind that you read this voluntarily.

With that out of the way, I have something to say: I am, overall, saddened by the tremendous outpouring of attention being given to Haiti.

It’s not that I’m a fan of earthquakes or human suffering or that I like chaos or people dying in the streets. Quite the opposite of all that is true. I want nothing more for this world and its people than for everyone to be free from violence, have access to life-sustaining items (food, clothing shelter), be equal, and find meaning in their lives. Obviously this earthquake impedes all those things and as such, I am against it.

Nor am I against compassion. Almost everyone in America has gone nuts over this thing, especially in my generation, plastering Facebook and (presumably – I don’t Twitter) Twitter and all manner of social media with widespread appeals for Haiti. Donate donate donate. Get involved. Show your support. It may be the first thing that’s actually eclipsed the troops in terms of universal sentiment in this country. Everybody – everybody – loves and/or feels bad for Haiti. And I agree. I also feel bad for Haiti, though perhaps not as much or in the same way as others, for reasons I will soon explain.

Indeed, one could make the argument (and I expect it) that such an overwhelming demonstration of heartfelt mourning and sympathy is one of the best things to come out of America in years. It demonstrates that we can overcome proclivities to racism, imperialism, and just general indifference to come out of the woodwork to show our support and fork over our cash. That Americans are fundamentally selfless, volunteerist, the most generous people on Earth showing up to once again offer their benevolence to a wounded world less fortunate than ourselves. And there’s a grain of truth to all of this, to be sure. I guess I’d have even more to complain about if this earthquake had happened and no one noticed at all.

The problem, though, is that the suffering of the people of Haiti is not particularly special. It’s not unique. It’s not all that different from the ongoing daily suffering of hundreds of millions of people worldwide. What it is, if not unique, is sudden. And close.

The closeness argument is a little weak, I’ll grant in advance, because there was admittedly a pretty big outpouring of donations and support for the tsunami in southeast Asia a few years back, although Facebook and Twitter weren’t really revved up then. Although there are devastating earthquakes in rural Iran all the time that don’t exactly get America’s juices flowing. But sure, Iran is hardly as poor as Haiti, so maybe it’s fair.

But the suddenness is what I want to focus on. Most of why people in America feel compassion for what happened is because people were going on living their (admittedly pretty miserable) lives one day, and then suddenly the world caved in and everything was much much worse. And unlike a hurricane with advance notice and evacuations, unlike anything predictable, there was nothing anyone could do to get out of the way. They were just there and then the next minute, everything fell over.

There is something very particular in the American psyche that I believe this kind of event triggers. Not only do people subconsciously link it to something like 9/11 in their mind – the day they remember the world falling over – but it’s something that can happen to literally anyone. It’s something that not the remotest Republican (okay, well maybe there are some people who believe that earthquakes are God’s wrathful judgment, but let’s leave out the Pat Robertsons of the world) could say was the fault of the people left victim by it. It is utterly blameless, utterly unavoidable. And this makes our compassion go crazy.

Great, right? We should have compassion for people whose world falls over through no fault of their own, who could have done nothing to predict or avoid the calamity. Right?

Yes, absolutely. But there’s also something insidious about this particular kind of compassion, especially when contrasted with its glaring absence in other equally warranted circumstances. Because it implies a particular worldview about dessert and outcomes and how much control we perceive to have over our life conditions. Very few people were spamming Facebook and Twitter with calls for aid to Haiti the day before the earthquake. Even though Haiti is the poorest country in the Hemisphere, is extremely close to the US, was even the site of US military involvement not so long ago. Haiti features 80% poverty and 50% illiteracy. Some estimates say a quarter of a million children have functionally been sold into slavery to combat the poverty of their families. By any measure, Haiti was in nearly as bad straits before the earthquake as after.

Okay, sure, this is perhaps a slight exaggeration. And I understand the argument that this kind of tragedy striking a place already in such dire circumstances is what makes this situation special. But the magnitude of the difference between conditions there before and after the earthquake is dwarfed by the magnitude of the difference in American perceptions before and after.

And I think it’s because we all fear earthquakes and think they could happen to us, but we don’t fear becoming an impoverished nation. Even after the housing crisis and the stock market plunge, I couldn’t find a single person who thought the US would lose control of its top-drawer economy to the point where poverty would be considered a widespread issue. And even though many Americans made great strides in the last 18 months in understanding they had less control over their economic circumstances than they thought before, almost no one was to the point of feeling like their standing was really legitimately in jeopardy, let alone the country’s.

Earthquakes don’t discriminate. They aren’t attached in people’s minds to moral worth or work ethic or financial holdings. They just hit and knock things over. Although, of course, the reason an earthquake like this kills so many people in Haiti and not in, say, San Francisco is because of all the disproportionate wealth accumulated in the latter and not the former. But people aren’t calling for aid to all the other poor countries where an earthquake might hit, anticipating that this could save millions of lives yet untaken. They’re calling for aid as a mental insurance policy, because they fear natural disasters themselves and want someone else to help them if they’re in that situation.

But because we get only one life each on this planet, it’s much harder to see that one could’ve been in the situation of being born in Somalia or Bangladesh, let alone Iraq or Afghanistan. Because one wasn’t born there, so it seems unrelatable. I haven’t even touched the issue of relating to the earthquake-like devastation that the US has itself caused in these countries with direct military action, let alone the de facto devastation of exporting imperialistic corporate kleptocracy. Yes, people talk about all these things. But in isolated pockets, as quiet outliers. Not in the kind of mainstream full-force universality currently being bolstered for Haiti.

And there’s the argument that this will set the precedent, that this kind of compassion will get a whole bunch of people eventually looking at the causes, the poverty, and applying these arguments to other countries. No argument – the compassionate outpouring will ultimately do a great deal of good for America’s understanding of others. But when it’s offered only (or vastly disproportionately) to victims of natural disasters and not of poverty or human violence, I think it also does a lot of harm. It reinforces our conceit that we’re above most of the human concerns, that we’ve somehow evolved beyond them or overcome them merely by greedily accumulating wealth and entrenching poverty elsewhere. It blinds us to the fact that we are largely creating the problem by being immune to it.

Not only are we not immune, but our immunity (to the extent that it exists) is an accident. The accident of birth. Which is every bit as accidental as an earthquake. An earthquake can hit anywhere, but you could have been born anywhere. And when people start generating compassion for everyone born in a bad situation, for everyone whose devastation is no less severe but was wrought by systems of violence and impoverishment, then we’ll really be getting somewhere.


Butterfly Wings

Categories: A Day in the Life, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Tags: ,

It’s been a strange day.

Last night proved to be a thoroughly redemptive exercise in basketball, as my streaky shooting caught fire and I played the way I always want to play, ever the more grateful for the opportunity to play ball the way I used to when I had 9 consecutive years of unfettered access to a gym. Overnight, I struggled a bit with the writing but managed to crank out the requisite short chapter, #50 of 60 overall. Ten to go in eleven days – still not much margin for error.

But today I decided to continue tearing up the promotional charts for the Book Quiz II, both because it’s a relaxing counterpoint to creative writing and it seems to have made some traction with parts of the blogging community that enjoyed the Book Quiz. But it’s also led me to at least three profound interactions with how said quiz has impacted people.

The first was not a direct impact at all, but made the most stirring impression. This individual posted his Book Quiz results (Ulysses) under the titular banner of “No One Understands Meeeeeeee” in August 2007. Less than a year later, he took his own life. The events are unrelated, of course, other than the obvious cry for help in a blog post about a silly Internet quiz. But it was one of those things that prompted reflection on quizzes as a Rorschach test – there’s nothing particularly isolating or crazy about the Ulysses description (it’s not like he got One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest), but he chose to focus on said feelings in relating his titling his post. Given the background color, the blog URL, the general demeanor of all the posts, there were plenty of signs. But it still made me think. And a bit sad that someone who had taken the Quiz was dead in such a manner. Which is silly, because so many people take the quiz and so many people die. But it still felt like something.

The second post to grab my attention was considerably lighter in tone and effect. This was a piece of fanfiction in which the author had envisioned his two chosen characters driving while taking the Book Quiz on the passenger’s laptop. I really enjoyed it, not because of any abiding love of fanfic, but because the depiction of online quiz-taking was so realistic. Well, leaving aside the spottiness of wifi in a moving vehicle. I guess there are those catch-signal-anywhere cards like Brandzy uses.

But the final post was most directly related to the process and mindset of quizzes, their creation, and impact. It was this serious meditation on the impact that the Book Quiz had had on the husband of the blogger who had really enjoyed said quiz. Her husband, a diagnosed sex addict, had gotten Lolita on his second try and was deeply disturbed by the description and its echoes to misperceptions of his disorder. The blogger duly noted my disclaimer (something I had actually considered dropping from the BQ2 because it seemed sort of superfluous when I’m not making fun of countries or states), even to the point of titling the whole post “The Fine Print”. I was pretty moved by the whole narrative, ranging from she and her friends spending much of a hike discussing their BQ results to her husband’s torment at what felt like another rejection of his misunderstood problems. And she comes to a pretty salient conclusion: “When one takes a silly quiz, one agrees to step into the rabbit hole of the mind of the creator and play by the rules of his Wonderland. Taking someone else’s quiz requires that you suspend your disbelief for a few minutes and listen to the advice of the Hookah Smoking Caterpillar.”

Which of course is no small part of the point and something I’ve taken flak for in the past. People have written me upset by the political nature of a given answer or the clearly biased perspective I’m bringing to the table. Some have gone so far as to say that Duck and Cover should just be about cute animals and not have a political message or disagreeable content. Yet I wouldn’t be doing any of these things were it not for their political potential. All meaningful speech, like all meaningful art, is political – and here I mean “political” in the broadest possible sense of that which attempts to change others minds about society or its implications, not the petty squabbling of factions or status quo powers. I remember someone getting infuriated at me for saying that too, but I don’t see how any other perspective is coherent. Everything is trying to change someone’s mind about something. That’s the point of us all being here together instead of on our own individual planets.

Which is not to say that I wanted the blogger’s husband to feel bad about himself or the suicidal person to feel more alone. So maybe I’m failing in my political aims. Though it must be said that no small part of the aim of the quizzes is to bring lightness into people’s day, or just to stir up thought and reflection. Which I think all three examples achieved, in some way, to say nothing of the countless mundane posts celebrating the accuracy or decrying the randomness of the quiz just taken. If nothing else, the quizzes seem to have a remarkable ability to prompt introspection, which is maybe the most political aim I’ll ever espouse.

The more we think, especially about our own attitudes, perspectives, and approaches, the more hope we have.


Mo Mentum

Categories: A Day in the Life, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Telling Stories, The Agony of the Wait is the Agony of Debate, Tags: , , , ,

The sample size is only 41 hours, but December’s been awfully good so far.

I wrote another 16 pages last night (early this morning), bringing December to a startling 8,149 word count (~32.5 pages) in just two overnight sessions, or 45% of the total from the entire last month combined. It appears I’m prepared to take this deadline seriously. Eleven chapters remain in twelve days, so this is no time to get complacent, but I’m feeling quite good about the whole picture as it’s shaping up for the home stretch. For what it’s worth, last night really felt like work, too, which most of this book hasn’t. So maybe the writing will seem forced (though I doubt it from a quick review), but if nothing else it’s a sign I can struggle through not feeling 100% motivated (which I felt the night before). I know I’ve been going on about the writing process a lot lately, but it feels something like a sport… and this month I appear ready to play through any pain that might arise.

Speaking of sports and pain, I turned in perhaps my worst session of basketball in my life on the last night of November, but am looking for a shot at redemption in tonight’s closing game of the end-of-year 3-on-3 IM season. Our team’s 5-2 and tied for second (with the team we play tonight) and I am ready to not overthink my shots, which I’ve concluded was responsible for my something like 0-8 performance on Monday. Nevertheless, the night of crappy basketball led to an overnight of amazing writing, so I’m prepared to make that trade again if need be.

Last night rounded out the first of four debate semesters in my tenure as Rutgers coach, though the team may scrounge together the funds to send a team down to UMBC this weekend while I pound away furiously on the keyboard in the office here. The team made me a card and debated a joke-round about me possibly regretting my decision to coach at Rutgers that kept the mood light and hopefully optimistic at the end. I am, in sum, quite satisfied with the success of the team after one term, recognizing that the first semester was always going to be the hardest and it being among the most successful semesters Rutgers has ever had on APDA is a promising sign.

The Book Quiz II is starting make the rounds, fueled in part by a campaign I’ve launched to contact a bunch of people who posted the original and get them to take the sequel. I really should have done this with the Country Quiz II when it launched, but you may recall that November/December 2007 was among the most intense times of my life, probably the hardest two-month period of my day job career outside of April/May 2005. It’s interesting to note that said quiz also was launched around Thanksgiving, though I failed to make the strategic decision to hold it till after the holiday, instead choosing to launch it on the Wednesday before.

Okay, that’s creepy – I just realized that both quiz sequels were completed precisely on the day before Thanksgiving. Bizarre.

Anyway, it appears most people (at least those taking it so far) consider themselves more “old school” than “with it”, as books from the older chain off the first question are vastly outpacing the latter. So far the leaders are Much Ado About Nothing, Jane Eyre, The Scarlet Letter, Romeo and Juliet, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, The Importance of Being Earnest, The Good Earth, Little Women, Treasure Island, The Canterbury Tales, and The Life and Opinions of Tristam Shandy, Gentleman. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, at twelfth overall, is the top answer linked from the second answer to the first question.

This may be unsurprising, however, given a Facebook/blogging gap that seems to be opening up. After perusing so many blogs that were initially taken in by the Book Quiz, it seems that the surviving blogs from the last five years belong disproportionately to older Internet users, consisting roughly of people my age or older. Meanwhile, the people currently in compulsory education seem not to have picked up on the blogging habit, preferring instead to focus on shorter media like the endlessly discussed Facebook and Twitter. Mesco has urged relentlessly that I create a Facebook application for the quizzes, something I’ve long aspired to do, but my options now are mortgage all my time learning how to code one or use a cookie-cutter application machine that doesn’t even know how to process the BP quiz format. So it goes. Someday, maybe after I bank two or three books, you’ll be able to get my quizzes on Facebook too. And then everyone will be all Infinite Jest and Freakonomics.

An interesting byproduct of the BQ2’s popularity has also been a bit of a revival in the book-referral-ads that are in the corner of the answer pages, exhorting people to buy the book they were just associated with on Amazon. I haven’t sold a book in a long time through one of these, but someone just bought not one, not two, but three copies of Sarah Palin’s Going Rogue through one such link, in what I can only assume was complete fulfillment of their Christmas shopping. So just in case you think I’m not doing any good with my website, I’ll have you know I just pocketed $1.74 of what is rightfully Sarah Palin’s money. Not quite inspiring Michael Steele to condemn her, but it’s not my fault if he doesn’t take his cues from APDA demo rounds.

Man, I really meant to get around to talking about my fabulous Thanksgiving break down in DC, but I was on too much of an Internet moratorium to write about it at the time and I’m too caught up in the heady present to write about it now. I may flesh out the details, but suffice it to say that there were great friends, a fabulous view of the stormy city, lively debates, spicy corn soup, Settlers, a scorching Ticket to Ride victory, more than a hundred pages of War and Peace, an unexpected meet-up with Anna, Chipotle, the Smithsonian Natural History Museum, and Waffle House. Yeah. It was like my birthday for four days or something.

If only two-years-ago me could see me now.


(Less Than 2,000) Socialists of New Jersey Unite!

Categories: A Day in the Life, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Tags: ,

Today, I had the rather surreal experience of voting in a New Jersey voting booth. It was surreal because I felt like I was at John King’s touchscreen on CNN, pressing things on an oversized board to make them light up. It was fun.

It sure beats the heck out of Alameda County’s old fill-in-the-blank-with-a-pen-till-you-run-out-of-ink system. The green lights were very clear and made it obvious where and how to vote. Em said she worried that her big board display may have been misaligned or just gone off into the ether, but I think it’s just as easy to burn or discard paper as it is to fail to count something.

My vote really counted, today, though, because I was more than 0.05% of a movement! At current tallies, with 99% reporting, only 1,987 others joined me in voting for Gregory Pason for Governor of the great state of New Jersey. It looks like he’ll finish 9th (of 12 candidates).

I considered voting for Chris Daggett, the independent candidate you’ve heard of in the race. Despite poll numbers topping out at around 18-20%, being widely regarded as the aggregate winner of the debates, and the endorsement of the largest NJ-based paper, Daggett’s running a disappointing 5%+. He still beat Pason by a margin of about 66:1.

I liked Daggett as an independent vote, as a third party (rather than, say, a ninth party), as the man who won the endorsement of the Sierra Club and supports a lot of reasonably progressive things. But ultimately his focus on tax reduction and reshifting burdens to regressive methods was just too onerous for me to sign on to. While I liked his impact on the campaign, I wasn’t really convinced that I’d like him as Governor, and thus voting for him would just be piling on to someone who people had heard of the same way most voters pile on to someone they think has a chance of winning. Not the way I prefer to vote.

So I supported Pason, a man whose portion of the overall vote count was almost as small as my vote was a portion of his total support. There are about two-thousand people who would prefer socialism at this time in New Jersey, at least of those voting and bothering to show up for something like this, and those not choosing to compromise their vote or voice in some way or another.

It seems to bear recognizing at this juncture in history. I’m not saying Jersey will change or anything will, but it’s worth at least recording how things stand tonight. But the next time you hear anyone accused of socialism, it might bear noting how many people are actually supporting socialism, real socialism, these days.

And then you can tell them that you know a real socialist. If you don’t mind not speaking to them again.


Peace is Dead.

Categories: A Day in the Life, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Tags: ,

“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
-Inigo Montoya, “The Princess Bride” (movie)

At this rate, Inigo Montoya is the leading candidate to win the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize. Sure, he’s fictional and is known primarily for making death threats. But the way things are going, that looks like an improvement.

As a nearly lifelong pacifist, I know a thing or two about peace. I know how rare my set of beliefs about the world and human interaction are. I know the joys of explaining to people why one wouldn’t kill the person whose finger was on the button to destroy the world or why killing in self-defense is still just murder you thought of after the guy who you’re killing. I know what an uphill battle the very concept of peace has in this world and how counter-intuitive it is to most people.

This is why it has always been great comfort and solace to me that a world so beleaguered and prone to violence has created (and recently) an award designed to honor my belief structure and those espousing it. Has recognized, with the prestige of the world stage, that peace is and should be a universal human goal and that making strides in achieving it is no more a pipe dream than progressing in medicine or scientific pursuits.

The history of the Nobel Peace Prize is certainly not perfect. They failed to recognize the world’s greatest pacifist of all time, only posthumously offering him acknowledgment once he’d been killed. They have a long history of giving pretty notorious killers the prize for either reforming (see most of the Israelis and Palestinians who have won it) or doing one thing out of the ordinary that’s peaceful (see Teddy Roosevelt and Henry Kissinger). While this isn’t my favorite practice in the world, there has always been a concrete step in the direction of peace, actual peace, that has justified the awarding of the prize.

Then in 2006, a funny thing happened. The Nobel Peace Prize committee completely abdicated their mandate and decided that the spread of capitalism was somehow a peaceful aim, justifying the awarding of the Prize to someone whose only life achievement was setting up a microfinance bank. The link between this and peace is sort of like a bad loose-link resolution extrapolation in a parliamentary debate round: “Well, when I think of peace, I think of pieces of things, like pieces of eight, which is money, which leads me to microfinance.” Okay, that’s a bit of a straw-man, admittedly – the real link is that if we all are democratic capitalists, then some people believe in democratic peace theory and then, someday in the vast unforeseeable future and ignoring the wealth disparity and rampant inequalities of capitalist systems, we might have peace.

It’s pretty weak and it doesn’t make sense. The Peace Prize is supposed to be about direct peace work, work that ends a conflict or prevents a war or replaces a violent movement with a nonviolent one. Muhammad Yunus may, arguably, be a good guy, but he has nothing to do with these goals. Even if you believe in microfinance, believe that it really builds up the poor in a way that doesn’t ultimately destroy their rights, it has nothing to do with questions of violence and non-, unless you believe that everyone receiving a loan would have committed armed robbery and assault instead of running their business. Given the gender statistics on the loan recipients, if nothing else, this is just facially inaccurate.

But 2006’s gaffe was nothing compared to the subsequent year, where the Peace Prize decided to sub in “Environmentalism” for “Peace”. While the co-opting of the peace movement by environmentalists is nothing new, to have it recognized and codified on an institutional level was profoundly disheartening. The fact is that while environmentalism is a good cause (although I have long-stated qualms with the whole global warming obsession, but that’s for another time), it is completely tangential to issues of war and peace. Human violence and natural disasters are on opposite ends of the spectrum – one can argue that humans have the will and capacity to prevent the latter in this age, but the former is clearly preventable and always has been. The sheer preventability and self-inflicted nature of the harm is one of the factors that has made pacifism and the peace movement so powerful. All we are trying to do is prevent man’s inhumanity to man.

But Al Gore’s selection was also appalling because he hasn’t accomplished anything. It’s not like his power-point and movie crusade has led to the adoption of new strict standards on greenhouse gas emissions and power plant methodology shifts. And his personal hypocrisy in having an enormous carbon footprint is a little akin to a pacifist slaughtering people who shout him down while he gives speeches because they are impeding his message. Pacifism is means-based, so the method matters as much as the message. Al Gore may get a prize for effort in a compromising role, but certainly not for achievement in a consistent way.

But all that gets away from the larger point: none of his work is about peace. It’s just not. Even if you believe global warming is the greatest threat to humanity that exists, it’s not a violent threat. It may, very slowly, change the way that some people live their lives by forcing them to move from the coasts or changing what they farm or what animals they surround themselves with. It may even increased the number of natural calamities, though predictions of doom after 2005 have been met with a series of record-settingly light hurricane seasons. But it doesn’t matter: peace is about the violence that people do to each other, not that acts of God inflict on people.

It’s like giving a firefighter an award for being a good police officer. You can say their interests are sort of vaguely aligned, you can say that there’s a common interest in some ways, you can draw tangential links between the two offices. But in the end, it’s a total flub. Firefighting is not police work. It’s just a tautologically false move.

Last year was fine, a refocusing of the prize on the actual work Alfred Nobel charged his committee with enacting. But this year, oh this year. Disaster has struck again, possibly even worse than in ’06 and ’07.

Barack Obama has talked an interesting game about peace. On the one hand, he has created a compelling smokescreen of arguments about hope and change and a new day and we being the people we have been waiting for, one that has swept most of my generation away with starry-eyed idealism and the promise of tomorrow. At the same time, his presidential rhetoric has actually closely mirrored George W. Bush on practical matters of the prosecution of wars. This might be a good time to remind everyone that Barack Obama is currently prosecuting two full-scale wars (three if you count the amorphous drone-bombing “War on Terror”) and, despite vague promises, has done nothing to limit the scope or scale of any of them.

I’m going to repeat that. Barack Obama is currently prosecuting more wars than any other standing government official in any nation and has done nothing tangible to bring any of them to a close.

The idea that he was even nominated is insulting to the very concept of peace. It’s like giving it to Kissinger or Peres or Arafat before they turned their policies from killing to conflict resolution. But, you may say, his rhetoric has changed the tone of discourse about peace.

Really? The problem is that, in running against John McCain and then running the country, his rhetoric has actually been remarkably hawkish. He’s made it clear that one of the main goals of the government is to hunt down and kill people who disagree with us in other countries. He’s advocated crossing any border and violating any agreement to do so. He’s said that while the Iraq War may eventually end, the War in Afghanistan is just getting started, taking concrete steps to expand that conflict and widen the violence. He’s continued to advocate a policy of war without end, war without limit, war without definition in the most powerful country on the planet.

Yes, he’s not George W. Bush. He probably wouldn’t have started the Iraq War, even though he’s not in any hurry to end it. Yes, he’s a symbol of greater cooperation and openness. I understand that much of the world just feels better about the planet and this country because the US was capable of electing an African American. But one does not give awards to symbols, especially when what they symbolize is belied by their actual record of action. Not only is it ill fitting of the mandate of the Peace Prize, but it sets a terrible precedent. The message is that warlike leaders can win awards if only they talk a good game, go make a couple speeches that seem to extend an olive branch while directing bombings and troop movements in the back room. This is precisely the kind of message the Peace Prize was created to counteract, to thwart, to pre-empt.

What’s so personally disheartening about watching the crumbling integrity of this award is that I have to question whether I even want to win it anymore. Winning the Nobel Peace Prize has been the highest aspiration of my last two decades and now the company I would be keeping is questionable to the point of absurdity. This is not Time Man of the Year or some similarly meaningless appellation that’s a popularity contest intended to sell magazines or stir controversy. This is a (perhaps until recently) respected, dignified award with lasting consequences. And now it seems to have abdicated its purpose, content to honor people for not being other people or for accomplishments in economics or the environment.

I know there aren’t a lot of true peace advocates in today’s world, that most people are content to urge the killing of all sorts of people. But they are out there. And if you can’t find them, heck, not awarding the prize sends a stronger message than just picking some approximation out of a hat. The Peace Prize has the power to call great attention to a particular injustice, conflict, or method.

Instead, this Prize only calls attention to how far the committee has strayed while endorsing policies belligerent enough to make most world leaders blush. My only hope is that in his press conference in seven minutes, Obama recognizes all these facts and declines the award.


Home-Field Reporting

Categories: Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Tags:

Yesterday’s jobs report for the last week in September was really bad. But you’d be hard pressed to find it on the major financial websites, since it was getting buried under more neutral news about mergers and GM becoming more efficient (by ditching Saturn) and such. And while today’s news of unexpected (!) rises in unemployment and job losses did top a lot of headlines, it didn’t stay there all day. In fact, as of this writing, CNBC’s homepage isn’t even carrying an article directly about the jobs numbers!

So what’s the deal? Certainly every glimmer of green shoot, however fabled or trumped-up (like the clunkers numbers that are unsurprisingly now crashing, just as predicted) gets top billing in the hopes it will send the market surging. So why is there no equal play for the downside of reality when it comes in?

The answer is simple and probably obvious. The people doing the reporting are biased. They are rooting for an economic recovery just as hard as the embedded reporters in the early days of the Iraq War were rooting for American victory. This bias, the real bias innate to our modern system of journalism, is far more insidious than alleged left-right political spectrum claims or even less visible Democratic-Republican differences. For this bias actually manages to separate us from the reality of what’s happening and is all the more costly for it.

While I have posted before about the ills of exaggeration in partisan bickering and its proclivity to make people think larger-than-life differences exist, I find this type of bias to be far worse. For one thing, there’s no presentation of an alternate viewpoint. Because everyone in the mainstream media is personally invested in a 401k and/or personally says the pledge of allegiance, there’s no one to present the other side of the debate, to take a contrarian viewpoint. This is exceedingly dangerous, because it allows us to delude ourselves into thinking that everything is fine because all our “objective” arbiters are actually propagandists in fedoras.

This is precisely how messes like the Iraq War were crammed down the throats of what would have otherwise been a questioning populous. The role of the New York Times and other trusted media outlets in making bogus claims of the Bush administration seem credible is well documented. Their role in failing to follow-up on the dangers of the initial subprime housing bubble is also at issue. But their current role in making things seem way better than they are on the economic front is clear yet undocumented. For who would document it? Who reports on the reporters? Only similarly invested other reporters.

This is not a call to arms for bloggers against the mainstream media per se, even though I’m clearly writing this on a blog and railing against the “MSM”. For I doubt there are a lot of mainstream bloggers out there (yes, this heralded “independent” media of personal internet reporting has now developed a mainstream of its own) calling for a deeper examination of the current economic numbers and asking why no one is reporting them accurately. After all, most of these bloggers also have 401k’s and such. Which begs an important question: who got us all invested in these 401k’s in the first place?

This ends up relating back to my most recent Mep Report post as well, indicating that everyone’s investment in the money system and its entailing rat race ends up blinding us to the real ills of the world and how we could spend time solving them. And while I doubt money was invented by the Mesopotamians specifically as part of a vast distraction conspiracy, the modern impact of money has mostly been to get us to obsess about our own personal financial standing at the expense of worrying about larger communal goals.

Of course, since every major country in the world, encompassing every developed press, is on the same page about the direction they’d like to see the economy go, there’s no one minding the store anywhere. Sure, the BBC is better at reporting generally than CNBC, but the BBC’s reporters are surely pro-economy as well, damn the reality. (Though I guess it’s worth nothing that the BBC’s economic headline right now is the stark “More US jobs lost than expected”, in high contrast to American news outlets’ relative denial.)

Everyone’s mostly convinced that the economy is largely psychological, that if we can just say and think enough good things, then everything will turn out okay. But as my Dad would say, the problem is that there’s a real reality out there somewhere. And in that reality, the numbers don’t add up. A few people getting tired of selling stocks does not a recovery make. A 70% consumer-based economy with no jobs and no consumer spending does not function. A society obsessed with buying houses and having mobility does not work when home values continue to plummet and everyone feels stuck. And throwing fiat currency at the problem in big heaps is not going to instill any lasting value in anything.

The problem is that the only difference between right now and the nadir of the market in March is that people irrationally think something is better now. We employ journalists to wake us up from perceptual snafus like this. But they are just as deluded as the rest of us.

If you’re wondering how whole societies in history could have seemed to go crazy, could have put their faith in insanity, could have made self-defeating decisions, this is how it starts. It starts when no one in the society has an incentive to point out the Emperor’s nudity. And right here in River City, it’s long underway.


The 20th Century: All About the Soviets

Categories: A Day in the Life, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, The Agony of the Wait is the Agony of Debate, Tags: , , ,

Part 5 in an 8-part series regressing through the Stanford 2002 APDA tournament.

Last week: Round 5 (re: Native American Reparations)

Today’s round features one of the best cases I ever hit in my tenure on APDA, run by a future National Champion and his wacky then-partner.

The case was one of the few “infinite opp-choice” style cases that were generally reserved for final rounds. While not technically infinite, the round involves picking something out of a list so long that it might as well be infinite, then having Gov pick another side. Or, as in the 42-way opp-choice on the seven deadly sins that Jeff “Crack” Nelson and I ran in Fairfield finals, having Opp pick both sides.

These cases can be deceptive, however, because they don’t necessarily require a Gov team to prep an infinite number of possibilities, just two (a first choice and a backup). And in this particular round, we didn’t grab their first choice (Lenin), but came close by picking Stalin. The question was who the Man of the Century should be in terms of influence, leaving out moral or perceptual considerations.

So heat up some canned borscht and potatoes and enjoy the round:

Stanford 2002 APDA Round 4 from Storey Clayton on Vimeo.


Why I’m Against the Current Incarnation of Health Care “Reform”

Categories: Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Tags:

I should know better than to listen to political speeches hoping to hear anything inspiring, exciting, or new. What I get out of political speeches tends to be exemplified by my experience last night: I listened to Barack Obama outline his healthcare “reform” plan and realized that I am against it. In fact, I am convinced that it is a step in a worse direction from the status quo. Yes, that’s right, it would be better to do nothing to the current system than to enact this policy. I realize many of you will find this statement to be outlandish, so allow me to elaborate:

0. Demise of the Public Option
I’m going to make a slight assumption here that Barack Obama’s speech technically left vague, but I believe made very clear between the lines. I’m going to assume that the public option is dead. Obama spent more time in his speech telling progressives why they should support a bill without a public option than he did defending the potential merits of said option to anyone else. From the beginning, Obama has vested zero commitment to the concept of a public option. Given the penchant of Democrats to compromise pretty much everything when “negotiating”, I think the writing is on the wall. Many of my arguments hereon will assume that the final version of the plan will be devoid of a public option. The presence of a robust public option, pending a miracle, would mitigate some (but by no means all) of my objections.

1. Public Goods for Profit by Private Industry
A recurring theme of what I find most objectionable about the plan proposed is the individual mandate to purchase health insurance. Any plan with an individual mandate, regardless of other provisions, is going to draw scorn from me.

What’s so problematic about the individual mandate is that it’s a recognition that health insurance (or healthcare coverage of some kind, at least) is a public good. Anything so fundamental to citizenship that we would make failing to do it illegal is sort of the ultimate public good. Passing this bill would state that we have determined access to health insurance to be of maximal public value to society as a whole.

Now this is all well and good, right up till the point where only private insurers are enabled to offer this public good. Let’s consider other things we think of as public goods: fire protection, police protection, the military, highways, primary and secondary education, etc. In all but the last example, private groups are disallowed from offering services. The goods are considered simply too important to even let the private sector in the door. In the last example, education, the public option is considered the most vital aspect of the system, though competition is begrudgingly allowed from the private sector. Nevertheless, almost none of the private sector groups involved run on a principle of profit. They are non-profit organizations run as charities, often losing money on the fees they charge directly for student admission.

There is only one instance of anything remotely like a public good only being offered by private groups: car insurance. Indeed, car insurance seems to be the “inspiration” for much of this plan as it is manifesting, despite its obvious flaws. The function of the car insurance system in modern America is to serve as a regressive tax on car owners to funnel money into the hands of private for-profit insurance companies. Rather than institute a progressive tax throughout society to pay for financial liability coverage in case of a car accident, the government mandates the added expense of profit margins and the added inequality of variable coverage that requires people to bet against themselves. If you’re wondering how much profit (i.e. inefficiency) there is in the system, just look to what proportion of current advertising comes from auto insurance companies. You can think briefly about how many of these commercials you can recall from memory – Geico, Progressive, State Farm, All State, and realize how much margin there is in this industry.

The tax is regressive because people pay on a per-car basis and, often, because of the way insurance “risks” are calculated, those on the margins of society are forced to pay the most. Using this system as a model for any kind of coverage is devastatingly unfair.

But with health insurance, it’s even worse than car insurance, because at least someone can choose not to have a car. It’s very difficult in some circumstances, but it is an option. Choosing to not have a body is not an option, and thus everyone in society is swept up in the dragnet of the insurance-industry bailout known as “healthcare reform”. This is literally unprecedented in our society – never in our history has something been enacted that requires 100% participation. Not taxes (only those who are employed or make purchases in certain states), not ID cards, not voting (certainly not voting!), not conscription (only males), not education (only children), absolutely nothing has ever been mandated for everyone. And we are planning on breaking this precedent with… paying private insurers to offer you healthcare coverage?

What would be next? Saying everyone has to buy oranges because they’re healthy? Everyone has an individual mandate to buy ten oranges a day. How about mortgage-backed securities? Everyone must help the economy by buying one toxic asset from a bank per month. This is an insane way of achieving what is clearly observed to be a public good.

2. Lack of Cost Controls
You’ll note that, aside from a token mention of tort reform, Obama said nothing about keeping costs in check. Apparently, competition is supposed to be the magic force that keeps escalating healthcare costs in line, even though we’ve ostensibly had a system of competition for the last century, which has brought us onto this runaway train in the first place.

Now, there is some confusion about how the “marketplace of insurers” exchange system would work. Obama said both that the entire block of people in the exchange would act as one big group to negotiate and gain leverage AND that individuals and businesses could “shop” among options. These can’t both be true. Either the whole group negotiates as one, which would drive down price but also mean that everyone in the negotiating pool can only go with the insurer with the best bid OR the group is every person for themselves, navigating bids offered them as individuals, like a for health insurance. I’ll take these issues one at a time.

If it’s Option A, where people have one choice of insurer only that’s the result of pooled negotiation, this insurer immediately becomes extremely powerful. They can raise their rates later, especially once they’ve driven many competitors out of business. They functionally become a stand-in for the public option, only motivated by private profit-driven aims.

But if it’s Option B, where people are all on their own, then there is no collective bargaining advantage to be gained, and one will have exactly the price conditions present in the status quo. The only difference is that the companies will have the leverage that buyers HAVE to buy one of the options offered, so if they all raise rates they know the customers can’t rebel and go elsewhere.

Either of these scenarios ends up actually escalating healthcare costs, because there’s no incentive to keep prices down. Right now, the only market force keeping prices down at all (and it’s not doing much) is the idea that someone can choose not to buy coverage. Once everyone has to buy, the market is a captive audience.

3. People Out in the Cold
Obviously the mandate is most troubling for the people at the very bottom levels of society – the homeless, the very poor, the Wal-Mart employees. Obama tries to allay fears about the impact of a mandate on these individuals, but my concerns are not even slightly allayed.

The first line of defense is “tax credits”, which is laughable on face. A great deal of the people who can’t afford insurance aren’t employed in the first place, either because they’re one of the one in five Americans who want a job and can’t get one, or because they’re homeless, or because they’re facing a personal health barrier to getting a job in the first place. Tax credits do absolutely zip for people not earning income. They only help people making a good income but still managing to squander money, perhaps on the clunker trade-in and the new house they were also conned into buying based on tax credits. In any event, it is extremely unlikely that a tax credit of any size will be large enough to flip the switch from insurance being unaffordable to affordable for any sizable number of Americans. This only seems to really move the needle for profitable small businesses who can then get their accountants working on exploiting this new tax loophole. Again, this plan manifests as a business bailout.

For all those not earning income, the second line of defense is a “hardship waiver”. But what does this mean? Does it mean a waiver from the mandate? Because in that case, these people are guaranteed to not have coverage, to be alone in this fact, and this plan then amounts to some sort of economic eugenics program. The only alternative is that this means people will be given health insurance coverage for free. But who’s going to pay for that without a public option? What sucker insurance company is going to be told to hold the bag on all the truly uninsured, especially given that their lack of income makes them proportionally worse bets in our society-wide game of Sickness Roulette.

There seems to be no evidence or implementation behind the idea that a waiver would enable free coverage – indeed the word “waiver” seems to imply avoiding debtor’s prison from failing the mandate far more than getting a handout. So these people are doomed… not only do they continue to not receive healthcare, but they are in an even smaller and less powerful minority of same than they were before.

CONCLUSION: Advancement of Corporate Kleptocracy
Ultimately, the end result of this plan would be to make more money for private for-profit insurance companies who are in the business of selling fear to an already terrified American public. It would further acclimate people to the idea that their public goods are only available from profit-hungry sources and that government is primarily in the business of propping up private industry.

Yes, the plan would eliminate some of the most despicable practices of the insurance industry right now in its use of pre-existing conditions and coverage cancellation. But the insurance companies would then have to recoup the profits lost from such practices by raising premiums on everyone, just in case. This would further fuel runaway costs, with the only check on this being some sort of theoretical competition that doesn’t work and has been further hamstrung by this plan. Or people would make cuts the other way (see also car insurance), by offering cut-rate plans that are the functional equivalent of not having insurance at all, but still have a daily cost. Then the medical bankruptcies and inability to pay for treatment can continue, but under the guide of a system that falsely touts its universality.

Needless to say, with Obama’s declaration that he intends to be the last President to work on healthcare reform, this plan would also be the permanent deathknell of the public option, let alone single payer. The hope of real change would be buried forever by a man who ran on exactly that platform. Even if this plan were roughly equivalent to the status quo (it’s worse), it would be worth it to have it fail to maintain the possibility of a real improvement in the future.


Get Your Bubble On

Categories: Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Tags:

Consider this a brief follow-up to last week’s examination of existing home sales figures

Good news! (Again.) New home sales are soaring, exceeding expectations, and signaling that despite people not having jobs, money, or much credit, everyone’s buying a home. Yes, that may have had something to do with the problem in the first place, but let’s not worry about this. New home sales were up almost 10% in July!!

But I’m not going to need to run a statistical analysis of whether this rate really indicates growth or not. Because not only are the year-over-year sales prices down 11.5%, negating the month-over-month 9.6% rise in total sales, but the year-over-year total sales figures are down 13.4%.

Surely I don’t need to draw a graph showing why a 13.4% reduction in sales combines poorly with an 11.5% reduction in price. This is a sign that the housing market is recovering!

Of course, it’s actually just another sign of the bubble being created by the temporary tax break for new homes. One anomalous month that is only good in comparison to surrounding months and still represents total regression on an annual basis does not a recovery make. In fact, it should make you dread the fall numbers that will drop so sharply that it will likely crush this inflated optimism harder than it would had the numbers never started to look artificially good.

The only actual positive indicator in this whole report is that the supply of new homes is starting to dry up, to its lowest level in a decade and a half. I’m no fan of American capitalism, but I’ve been saying for months that if your really wanted to save it, you’d put in a five-year home-building moratorium nationwide. If you combined this with a bunch of WPA-type programs, then the construction industry wouldn’t fold completely and it would keep the supply of houses in check long enough for the existing homes to start to recover some of their value. But as long as people are building new homes, an already over-glutted market will continue to deteriorate further and this will never lead to the recovery of the market.

Unless, I guess, you just open the borders completely, which I’d also support. Then there might be enough demand for American houses to counteract the extreme bubbilicious glut we’re facing now.

I can’t wait to see what good news comes out next!


Housing Recovery: Really?

Categories: Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Tags:

Today’s headlines have been overwhelmed with dancing in the streets. No, not the dancing in Libya, though that’s there too, but the dancing over the incredible housing recovery that now has cold, hard data to back it up.

Now, I like data as much as the next person – probably much more, in fact – and I miss aspects of my old job at Glide where I got to play with numbers and charts and such. So let’s look at this alleged data and see what kind of exciting housing recovery is already underway!

First, go here and read the brief article about the July home sales data. Please note the screaming headline about the 7% jump in existing home sales. Also, note that it’s an AP story, so it’s not Boston-centric despite being on… it was just the first place the story with raw numbers popped up on Google News.

If you’re scoring at home, the key stats therein are that sales totals were up 7.2% and sale prices were down (yes, down) 15.1%. Is this the economic model of recovery? Let’s run some numbers and find out.

But wait! Hold the phone! These numbers are apples and oranges. 7.2% is a month-over-month rate, from June 2009 to July 2009, while -15.1% is a year-over-year rate, from July 2008 to July 2009. So to do a real comparison, we have to find the year-over-year rate (much more stable, accurate, and revealing than monthly fluctuations) for home sales.

Ah, here we go. Hm. Only 5.0% year-over-year. That’s not 7.2%, but it’s still pretty good.

So, back to our experiment. We can run the actual house-price numbers in a minute, but I’m curious to see how it plays out in a simple economic model with nice round numbers:

Lets say you sell widgets. Rather expensive widgets, with a target price of $100. And since they’re expensive, you’re only looking to sell 100 of these a month. Keep in mind that in actual America, instead of our model, you’re actually looking to sell many more widgets and for a much higher price, since 2008 numbers are really depressed in both metrics from where you want to be. But we’re running a simple model to see if the current pace is growth/recovery or not, so let’s leave that on the side for a moment.

2008 – 100 widgets for $100 each

Great. Now, let’s run the sales growth rate of 5.0% units sold and the sales price declination of 15.1% and see what happens over time.

2009 – 105 widgets for $84.90 each
2010 – 110.3 widgets for $72.08 each
2011 – 115.8 widgets for $61.20 each
2012 – 121.6 widgets for $51.96 each
2013 – 127.6 widgets for $44.11 each
2014 – 134 widgets for $37.45 each
2015 – 140.7 widgets for $31.80 each
2016 – 147.7 widgets for $27.00 each
2017 – 155.1 widgets for $22.92 each

Great news! You increased sales by 55% in 10 years. The only trouble is that, over the same time period, your sales price declined by, uh, 77%. So unless you were making an 80%+ margin to begin with (who does this?), this is very bad, because you are now losing money on each widget and thus selling more widgets is actually a bad thing. And even if your margin was 80%, your margin has now shrunk to just under 3%, which means the odds are you aren’t really supporting your business anymore.

But this probably doesn’t make it clear enough. Let’s look at your gross revenue over time:

2008 – $10,000.00
2009 – $8,914.50
2010 – $7,950.42
2011 – $7,086.96
2012 – $6,318.34
2013 – $5,628.44
2014 – $5,018.30
2015 – $4,474.26
2016 – $3,987.90
2017 – $3,554.89

Yeah. That should put it as starkly as it needs to be seen. Gross revenue is down more than 64% in a decade with steady declines throughout. Certainly looks like a winning business model to me. Try walking into a venture capitalist’s office with this ten-year revenue trajectory (even in this economy) and see how quickly you get kicked out the door.

If you’re wondering what this looks like against the actual housing numbers, it’s going into July 2017 with an annual pace of 8.15 million existing home sales at a median price of $40,889 each.

Think about that for a second. That’s not a recovery, that’s a fire sale. A full-fledged housing panic.

How many of you paying $178,000 for houses right now would be heartened to hear that you can flip it in ten years for $41,000 in a market glutted with 55% more homes?

But the numbers are actually even worse than this. Because the July 2009 numbers, by their own admission, have been massively propped up by the $8,000 tax credit that’s set to expire in the fall. Left to their own devices, market forces would have led to far fewer sales and probably at an even lower price, since people don’t negotiate as hard for a deal when they know they’re getting a fat rebate (see also: Cash for Clunkers).

The indicator that this new report isn’t really good news is also buried in the story, that despite the increase in the number of sales, the stockpile of existing homes sitting on the market actually increased 7.9% (more than the 7.2% sales jump!) from 3.8 million to 4.1 million. They cover this by saying it’s a 9.4 month supply at the current sales rates, which is unchanged, but that fact alone should show you that the increase in sales isn’t outpacing the increase in market glut. Which may be part of why prices are down 15%.

But the largest problem of all these is not that the numbers are inflated by the incentive deals like tax rebates or Cash for Clunkers, it’s that such incentive programs actually create unsustainable bubbles which will crash even harder than the market would have by itself. This summer, everyone who was even thinking about buying a house or a new car is doing so, because of all the super-bonus incentives. Once those incentives expire, absolutely no one will buy a house or a car for some time, because it looks like an even worse deal than it would have otherwise, because people have come to expect a super incentive to buy. So the rebound effect of these programs is to create a quick brief spike that falls even further on the back-end.

I know the principle is to fool people into thinking that everything’s better with the spike so that stocks go up and people just start believin’ again and somehow we’re on an upward spiral. But when the super spiked data still has you on a pace to get to a median existing home sale price of $41,000 in ten years, somehow I don’t think the goal has been fulfilled. So go get your party hats and streamers if you want to, but I’m going to pass on this parade just yet.


Why “We” Fight: Palling Around with Death Panels Before We Move to Canada

Categories: Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Tags:

Americans love hard-nosed binary conflict. Football has wholly eclipsed baseball as the nation’s pastime, replacing one contentious battle of grit and will with another more grueling, violent one. We were all raised on Disney movies that pit vile, monstrous, heartless villains against flawless, kindly, generous heroes (with two can’t-miss codes to determine the difference: dark and ugly is evil; light and pretty is good). Find me an American who doesn’t love either sports or Disney movies (or both) and I bet you most anything they love something else: politics.

We can play chicken-and-egg games all day about whether American predilections created the manifestations of binary conflict or whether we were fed binary conflicts to the point where we embraced them. The point is that nowhere can hard-nosed binary conflict be found more strenuously contended than in the arena of American politics. Two parties. Two allegedly diametric viewpoints. Everyone must choose a side and stay unflinchingly, unwaveringly, blindingly loyal to one or the other while spouting that everyone in the other camp is some insane species of self-destructive insect.

Despite dire warnings from the founding fathers about the dangers of factionalism, most Americans believe that the great Democratic-Republican binary choice is a fundamental and immovable part of our democracy. Despite periodic efforts to bridge the divide or do an end-run around it – ranging from the Unity08 movement to H. Ross Perot to Ralph Nader to countless third party candidates who slog through pyrhhic campaigns for a few thousand votes – everyone believes that the two parties are inevitable and impenetrable. After all, a majority of American voters exit polled in 1992 would have voted for Perot “if he’d had a chance of winning”. No greater proof is needed of how innately intractable the two-party system is in the American republic.

The problem (well, the main problem) is, of course, that the parties really aren’t all that different. Both parties have had whatever principles they may claim to espouse hopelessly co-opted by special interests, and almost always the same special interests who savvily play both sides of the coin to assure the steady influx of coin. Both parties are essentially centrist, diving toward the middle of the road on most every issue to ensure the appearance of reasonability and thus electability. (Interesting Firefox spellcheck aside: “reasonability” is not listed as a word, but “electability” is. What a perfect illustration of our society.) And the design of our republic is such as to almost guarantee the necessity of compromise on every issue, allowing the parties to present extremist rhetoric against a backdrop of very mild actual disagreement.

It’s this extremist rhetoric I want to focus on, though, because it’s getting so much attention lately. Obviously the poster-child here is Sarah Palin, who has been able to follow up her “palling around with terrorists” line about Obama with an even more quizzical warning against his impending “death panels” allegedly incumbent in his healthcare proposals. Though by no means is she alone (or is her side alone) in shoveling ridiculousness – countless numbers of my Democratic friends announced unequivocally that they would move to Canada if Bush defeated Kerry in 2004. Not one of them made good on this outlandish promise.

The aim of this rhetoric is to vilify the opposition, yes, but its far more insidious impact is to create the illusion of a wide gulf between parties and leaders who espouse and enact roughly the same policies. To hear the pundits, pollsters, and punters talk about it, one could not imagine two more different political viewpoints than those of George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Indeed, most everyone accused the United States of complete schizophrenia for being able to elect the two back-to-back. But an examination of their actual policies reveals something different: both have supported nearly identical economic approaches to dealing with the recession (throw as much money at everything as possible, print more, repeat), both have taken identical actions regarding foreign policy (wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and “on-terror” all full speed ahead) with admittedly slightly different rhetorical tones in certain contexts (e.g. when in Egypt), both have continually labeled terrorism (the phantom menace) as the biggest threat to society and acted accordingly (when’s Gitmo closing, exactly?), and both want nothing more than the promotion of free-market corporation-based American capitalism and its propagation across the globe. Yes, there seem to be some tangible differences on the environment, although Democrats and Obama talk a much better game about environmental protection than they enact. There are also some allegedly significant differences on abortion (the issue that itself sort of best illustrates these phantom divisions between D and R) that manifest in state-based policies so marginal they almost defy understanding. Bush put in place the Court that was allegedly going to overturn Roe v. Wade. And as was imminently clear to anyone paying attention, such an overturn would never happen, even with nine die-hard Evangelicals on the Court. But that’s elaboration for another post.

And then there’s healthcare. Since stocks are up and everyone’s thus convinced that a lack of jobs, production, demand, or valuation means the economy is fine, healthcare has taken center-stage on the American political scene. And despite Democrats having a super-duper-crazy majority in the Senate and alleged carte blanche to enact whatever policies they see fit, suddenly the public option has disappeared from the radar of “healthcare reform”. Which means that any bill enacted would only serve to bolster and bailout the existing system of private insurance that enables our broken plutocracy to keep on equating money with rights. Not only is the final bill likely to not be a step toward single-payer healthcare (despite repeated polls showing that a majority of Americans are most interested in single-payer), but it’s probably going to be a very Republican-looking sideways step into mediocrity.

But that’s not how they’ll talk about it. No, one side will claim crushing victory while the other warns against impending Apocalypse. Because we rearranged some line-items in a code that ensures that people’s lives and well-being are a for-profit business in a country that claims life is an inalienable right. Sarah Palin will wag her finger and warn about death panels while Joe Biden talks about how he and his friends single-handedly saved the lives of millions of Americans. And nothing will actually change. Except, maybe, some corporations will get richer while those on the margins get further marginalized and wonder why the media is telling them all of their peers’ lives are improving so much.

Now I’m not saying, necessarily, that the Democrats and Republicans are in league together planning the same coordinated policy and then drawing up outlandish ways of making each other look silly while pocketing corporate money and whoring themselves out. However, I can’t imagine what would be different if they were in league. Surely having every President come out of the same two families was starting to look a bit suspect, but the Daily Show was doing a great job (for a while at least, haven’t seen them in a long time) of running Bush speeches about war and terror back-to-back with Obama speeches about same to illustrate that even the rhetoric on that front is virtually indistinguishable. If you poll most Americans, even most citizens of the world, they would have diametric understandings of Bush’s and Obama’s broad foreign policies. And yet when it comes to actually enumerating those differences, to actually making distinctions in actions, I think people would be heavily challenged to name one.

This is hardly a new phenomenon in American politics, but I do think it’s getting worse. September 11th (or, more accurately, American reaction thereto) certainly served to squash together the walls of what acceptable policy decisions could be, convincing both parties overnight that war-without-end was the only way forward for their nation. John Kerry’s inability to distinguish himself from Bush in any meaningful way was probably his second-biggest reason for losing in 2004 (first, of course, being his cardboard charisma), and Hillary certainly seemed Hawkish and Bushish on most every issue. People opted for Obama because they hungered for change, but what change have we truly seen?

The truth is that Obama doesn’t want change. Not real change. He wants to seem visionary, uniting, to claim credit for making changes. But he declines to take policy stands, instead asking Congress to craft change in its own measly watered-down way. He publicly states that the public option is non-essential to reform. Because all he really wants is to win. Like the football team or the Disney hero, what’s really essential in the end is victory at all costs. Being able to claim that your side crushed the other side, even if you’re really the same lousy side.

Because, as Americans, we know the good guys are the good guys because they win. And because we’re Americans and think of ourselves as eternal winners, we don’t move to Canada, we don’t change our policies, and we certainly don’t admit defeat. So as long as the winners and losers take turns enough, they can both be winners. And thus good guys. And thus hide the fact that they are both, all of them, really the bad guys.


The Limits of Humanity

Categories: A Day in the Life, If You're Going to San Francisco, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Tags: , ,

Bonus points for those of you who read today’s title and said to themselves, quietly, “What? About five feet in front of our face?”

Emily and I spent the day at the newly rebuilt Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. It purports to be the “greenest museum on Earth”. When we first walked in, we were propped in front of a green screen, the backdrop for a photo of our choice upon exit. This has become relatively standard procedure at museums and especially aquariums of late, so we thought little of it. Though I wondered why there was no image of a happy whale shark or cartoon character behind me – just all-green. Maybe this is the new “green” message – just an all-green background is all that counts anymore. No wonder we get along with Libya these days.

So, in we went. Predictably, I was immediately captivated by the fish and pretty much anything that swam, taking my time to marvel at the rays and small sharks and something that we thought was a skate but turned out to be a guitarfish of all things – they’re really cool if you want to check them out.

The penguin show was aimed at especially young ones, with an invitation to same to come up and read short passages about my favorite (sorry emus) flightless birds. There was no shortage of reference to March of the Penguins and Happy Feet and it occurred to me how steeped in the lore of global warming these films are; that penguins themselves have become sort of posterbirds for the growing apocalyptic fever gripping those not concerned with a religious apocalypse. It’s hard to keep up with your apocalypses these days. I might consider the fourth book I write, after the three upcoming in the next 12 months, to be “An Illustrated Guide to Recognizing Your Apocalypses”. And people think I’m depressed.

Next up was an apocalyptic line for the rain forest exhibit, clearly the feature entertainment of the day’s program. Housed in a clear sphere, the forest promised to simulate conditions of actual rain forests, minus the need to wade through piranhas. After a half hour of snaking around the dome in anticipation – wherein Emily and I were confronted by people in line whose motivation for being at a museum of any kind we could not, for the life of us, figure out – we were brought into the closed space between the outside world and the rain forest. Having been to butterfly gardens before, I was prepared for the brief pause between doorways. I was not wholly prepared for what followed.

A man, just barely of age and bearing a strong resemblance to Russell of the recent hit film Up, intoned to us: “Welcome, folks, to the rain forest. Now I’m sure you’ve heard all the rules out there before you can enter the forest, but we have just one more thing to go over. Since we have live butterflies flying around inside, you will be sprayed just a couple seconds with a protective spray. It’s not FDA approved just yet, but it will be and it’s to protect the butterflies and it’ll just take a couple seconds.”

The air died in the room.

He was joking, of course, and cracked a quick smile and let us in directly as most of us were scanning the ceiling for shower jets. Even the lugnuts of flesh who we’d trailed in line – beefy, disinterested couples dredged in from suburbia – seemed disconcerted and one of them muttered “I was gonna say – wait a minute” as we were ushered by Russell’s older brother, probably wondering why his joke wasn’t funny. What we were all wondering, even the suburban chaff, was what we would have done had he not been joking. What could we have done?

Homeland Security has made co-conspirators of us all.

Anyway, the rain forest was gorgeous and just starting to grow – an ominous foretelling of a time when exhibits like these might be the only living examples of their ilk. At each level, from ground floor to understory to canopy on up, we were introduced to the diverse rain forest species of a different world region, brought to an understanding that the Amazon and Madagascar and Borneo might as well be three entirely different ecosystems, though they are all varieties of rain forest. While looking past the fallen butterflies and wondering what their expected lifespan was (it always seems a pressing question in butterfly gardens – how does parading hundreds of humans with attention spans shorter than insects’ through their habitat impact their lifespan?), the exhibit was most impressive. I kept looking down to the fish while most looked up to the birds and I even managed to peel some layers, promising Emily that I would wear shorts all the time if we lived in that dome. That’s some climate change I could go for.

But as we headed for the fish – riding an elevator that can only be taken down – I was still thinking about one of my favorite evolutionary theories. There’s a huge blue whale skeleton hanging outside the dome, perhaps only slightly less daunting than the full blue whale replica that so daunted my entrance to the Monterrey Bay Aquarium 23 years ago. And it reveals my favorite fact about marine mammals – that they have fingers. Now why would an animal that lives only underwater and only has flippers develop fingers? Penguins certainly don’t have fingers hiding within their flippers. Nor do sharks within their fins. So what gives?

And then there are these tiny underdeveloped two little bones hanging toward the back of the enormous spine, dangling just below. What are those about, evolutioneers?

Well I’ll tell you – they’re feet. Because marine mammals – or at least cetaceans (lest you think I’m including otters and seals) – came from the land. They used to walk around up here. And dollars to donuts, anything that figured out how to enter the sea and use sonar to communicate was sentient a long time before that. And I don’t mean Ben Brandzel’s weird use of the word that anything seeking to survive is sentient – I mean Sentient. Like we think of ourselves.

Last time they faced an apocalypse, they figured out the only place to go was going to be underwater. Maybe we could learn a thing or two from those guys. I mean, I’m not going to say they built the Pyramids, but I certainly wouldn’t rule it out either. It makes a lot more sense than aliens.

And you thought all those beachings were confusion. Not some sort of protest or suicide because conditions in the ocean had gotten so unlivable. Wait till the blues start beaching.

Anyway, these thoughts were rattling the back of my mind, somehow throwing humanity’s own position into some kind of stark relief. The fascinating fish, the familiar collection, the reef – almost identical to Georgia’s – and the frequently proffered seafood guides, advising which kinds of fish the flesh-hungry audience were permitted to eat and still get to count themselves as “green”.

Which just got me going all over again. I mean, when is a global warming advocate or an animal curator just going to come out and say that the visitors have a moral obligation to become vegetarian or they might as well not show up? I know, I know – it’s offputting, it’s bad press, it’s not what the visitors want with their bread and circus. Any five-year-old sitting in the audience can make the connection between the fluffy penguins in the exhibit and the chicken fingers in the cafeteria; between the beautiful fish in front of them and the dead fish on the plate. So why can’t the twenty-five-year-olds, much less the fifty-five-year-olds? At what point does habit transcend thought? Ten? Eighteen? Twenty-one?

The literature is all about what incredibly damaging effects fishing has on the oceans, how catastrophic it has been. And unlike global warming, the apocalyptic predictions about this one have already come to pass. We’ll all be joint owners of the world’s largest swimming pool pretty soon – no need for chlorine and just dodge the trash and the occasional corpse. I wonder how the marine mammals are going to sort this one out, especially with sonar that the submarines destroyed.

But the aquarium was filled with signs about “if you love seafood…”, making the pitch that you can only continue to love seafood if the oceans survive. Nonsense. You can only have the oceans survive if everyone sacrifices their love of seafood. You’ll never catch anyone saying it, but I would bet a vast portion of the aquarium’s staff don’t eat fish. And probably not much other flesh either.

I wonder how many kids leave places like the Academy of Sciences pledging to become vegetarians. And how many of their families wear them down before the month is out.

But the show was cool, with the live diver taking questions from inside the coral reef tank that had a strange flavor of CNN interviews to them – I think it was more about how contrived CNN has gotten than any particular insincerity in the tank. After all, the Q&A was pretty clearly scripted right up till kids got to ask questions, and that’s probably about the speed CNN’s running on, minus the kids.

By the time we’d waded through all the fish, and up to spy on the albino alligator (crocodile?) resting on the rocks before an enthralled audience, we realized it was time to book it to the planetarium show, “Fragile Planet”. Having already gotten my blood up about the global warming stuff and the contradictions (Why isn’t vegetarianism the very first “action step” you can take to fend off global warming, anyway? Because that would make too much of a difference?), I was certainly leery of the show’s title. But I’m a sucker for a planetarium show, and this one was housed in the ominously opaque dome that served as counterpoint to the rain forest exhibit. Once again, we joined a circumnavigatory line, but this one was really moving. No need to joke about sprays, I guess.

We took our seats, noticed the pleasantly eerie ambiance of the blank dome-screen and the echoey music as everyone leaned back and Emily almost immediately started drifting off. (She didn’t fall asleep till the show actually began.) As we all were seated and the doors closed, one of the ushers began to explain what we were witnessing – the largest digital planetarium screen on the planet, with no giant star projecting unit in the center to obstruct views. Only the invisible digital display units on the rim of the dome, creating a wholly immersive experience. As my mind often wonders at such types of things (or maybe it was the spray joke again), I started to contemplate how much power one could wield with such a realistic and overwhelming display. By the time they were warning about motion sickness, I realized just how much one could terrify or thrill someone with something so captivating as a dome larger than the extent of one’s peripheral vision.

The show’s visual power lived up to my fantasizing – it was wholly overwhelming. Nothing scary about it (though for some reason I kept thinking they were going to plunge us from the Earth’s surface into the depths of an ocean, which would certainly have given me a start) as they whisked us from the interior of the very museum we were in, zooming out to the planetary level, observing the planet, and then out to the stars.

The film’s content was intriguing – it was a basic study of the components for life and what makes Earth so special. The discovery of water(-like-stuff) on Mars has done wonders for the scientific community having to backtrack from Earth being unique in the universe. Already this show was ready to say that not only could there be remnants of life under Mars’ surface, but also on a moon of Jupiter and another moon of Saturn. This despite Earth seeming to be at the ideal epicenter of the so-called “habitable zone”, neatly illustrated in green. Leaving this paradox unresolved is a big step forward from the days of science books declaring that Earth held the only life in the universe and that we were so desperately alone. I was truly heartened.

The problem was that the movie had a larger paradox to wrestle with – it wanted to both deeply explore the real possibilities (I’d call them realities) of life on other planets and simultaneously tow the party line about Earth being the only known locale of life and thus being so desperately important to preserve. I understand the need to beat the drum of global warming and desperation (though not actual desperation that would compel someone to stop eating meat or anything drastic to stave off apocalypse), but I still think you have a compelling message to Earthbound humans that their planet is important without making it the last hope of life in the universe. Is microbial life on Mars really solace to this species if it gets wiped out? I mean, it is to me, but I was never all that big on my species. I think the suburban lugnuts disagree.

Regardless of which, we started zooming beyond Saturn’s moons and into nearby solar systems, exploring a case study of another planet the size of Jupiter that seems to ellipse through an equally magical “habitable zone” around its sun. Exciting stuff, truly. The number of qualifiers and equivocation used seemed wholly unnecessary, but the message was still clear, if filtered: we ain’t alone, kids. Not that anyone brought up the sentience question, but … baby steps.

And then, as though there were any question about the odds, we zoomed out of the Milky Way and started counting galaxies and the numbers started to swim and dance like Ben Bernanke conducting an auction. As though to leave behind any doubt whatsoever that the universe is positively teeming with life, life to fill a billion science fiction novels of all shapes and sizes.

Though there was the cautionary note about light-years and distance and how even the idea of traveling at lightspeed (fully accepted in the Ender’s books I’m reading right now, by the way) is still mega-theoretical and would still take pretty much forever. And then it was back to Earth and how we might (really?) be alone and so we’d best not destroy ourselves, The End.

As we rubbed our eyes and I woke Emily up and we stumbled out into the gallery filled with beautiful posters of these infinitely distant galaxies, it occurred to me (again again again) to wonder why no one stops to think whether light-year distances were put there as deliberate boundaries on travel. And then of course the recollection that the idea of purpose (beyond the evolutionary deity of SURVIVAL AT ALL COSTS) is forbidden from scientific study. That presuming things are the way they are for a reason that isn’t chaotic, while implicitly assumed every day, can never go to a place where it is spoken or understood. Because that would bring God into science and then 1 would equal 2 and all hell would break loose. Or something.

Also, why can no one reconcile that evolution’s progeny worshipping only survival seems somehow at odds with an intelligent species hellbent on self-destruction? Doesn’t something have to give there?

But seriously, kids… there’s a reason everything is so flipping far away and it seems totally incomprehensible to travel there, no matter how cool science someday gets. Because we’re not supposed to go there! BUT (and this is big) we are supposed to know that it’s there. And be amazed by just how much life is out there.

And then (THEN!) we can think about what all that life would be doing, what it would mean, and why it would be very important that we don’t interact with it. And then we might be getting somewhere.

Out onto the roof, to contemplate the “living roof” – a rooftop garden concept run totally amok and made wild instead of edible. Emily informs me about all these sustainable things they’re doing with the roof and it hits me how quickly and overwhelmingly an idea can catch on if enough people think it’s important. This is somehow very reassuring, though I can’t help but be nagged by how few seem to be asking the right questions. But it’ll pass, it’ll pass.

Then down to the final unseen exhibit, the one I’ve been putting off, the Global Warming Propaganda Special. To my pleasant surprise, they do have an exhibit about food and your diet’s large impact on your carbon footprint, though the meat doesn’t seem to carry as high a penalty as it should and this seems like another tool of watering everyone down into thinking it’s all about trade-offs and as long as you recycle two out of three times, you’ll probably stave off TOTAL APOCALYPSE.

This is funny (to me, at least) because it’s totally how these things are marketed. I mean, I don’t believe in global warming (clearly), but if I did, I’d have enough sense to realize that me doing the green things or not (most of which, by the way, consist of buying some new consumer item to replace an old consumer item, which seems remarkably unsustainable in practice) would not make the difference on the unimaginable upward spike that the graph of carbon has allegedly taken. I mean, really. Do you know what’s really creating that, kids? It’s called Capitalism. You can chart the spread of the concept against the carbon graph and find a perfect fit. With the consumer reality and disposable culture have come an unending rise in demand. We demand stuff. We demand the ability to create trash. We demand an unending stream of stuff that we can have only to trash it.

And now, hurrah! Capitalism is available in almost every country in the world! No wonder all those countries are ripping down their rainforests to build stripmalls or materials for someone else’s stripmall. They have to be just like us (US!).

But does the Global Warming Propaganda Machine tell me that we need immediate eco-socialist revolution? Or just to do everything possible to make sure this recession becomes the depression that permanently defeats capitalism and everything that even rhymes with a “consumer”? No. It says to buy a tote bag.

Do you know how many tote bags we have? It’s getting to the point where there are almost as many tote bags as paper bags. Because we have a new marketable brand – green. And we just need to produce the everliving stuffing out of this new brand. When is someone going to realize that if you produce as many reusable items as one-use items, there’s no point? When is someone going to understand that being truly green means not buying anything ever again, especially anything new?

But our exit brought the piece de la resistance, a moment so colossally insane as to undo much of the joy (yes, I had thoroughly enjoyed the experience despite some misgivings) of the visit to the Academy in the first place. Remember that photo taken so many hours before, upon our heady entrance to the greenest museum in the world? Well it was ready for us! I supplied my little card to the guy standing under three big digital screens advertising the photos and waited for our image to pop up on one of them. I could even see that there were different backgrounds being advertised and this was the clear reason for the green screen – choice! We could pick whatever our favorite part of the visit was and this would increase our likelihood of plunking down an insane amount of money for a picture we could have gotten a nice family to take of us on our own digital camera for free.

But the screen didn’t change. Where was the guy with our ticket? Oh, it couldn’t be! But it was… he was bringing us set of fully developed photos – glossy printing, glossy paper, all irreparably used – that had been waiting for us since we entered.

My mind boggled.

Every entrant, every ticket – thousands of people crossing through the doors every day, and every single one of them was having full-color digital glossy printouts of their photos being prepared for them in the hopes that they would buy it at the end.

It was more than I could bear. The guilt tugged on the heartstrings, my mind full of all the wasteful propaganda of my carbon footprint. And then a second welling of rage came up – this was deliberate. Insidious. They didn’t create the waste out of thoughtless irony, but out of a planned assault on the wallet. They were hitting people below the belt with a newly informed important decision – do you want to force us to create waste? As though the decision were somehow yours instead of the people who had already destroyed the paper and ink, below three perfectly good digital screens.

The $20 was laughable, but I think I would have refused to take the picture off their hands had it been flawless and available for 50 cents. I was so incensed. I burn thinking about it. Thinking about how many people they’ve coerced into buying an exorbitant picture they don’t want and can’t afford out of a new leaden guilt they carry about every scrap of paper they waste. And what blatant waste the Academy creates in a Machiavellian sacrifice for their bottom line.

Just thinking about it, hours later, makes me seethe. I can’t stand it. And I know, as I just articulated a few paragraphs ago, that each individual piece of paper is nothing in the scheme of it. But the whole philosophy of the propaganda is that every bit counts. And the reason it’s hard for me to get into it (even if I believed) is that I know how much institutional waste and greed and power dwarfs that of the individual. And here’s the institution, the very institution trying to make me a believer, demonstrating the very scale of waste that I couldn’t hope to compete with if I wanted to. In the name of green.

It’s green, all right. But not the green you may be thinking. There’s a war on, kids, and it’s not the one you think or the sides you believe you’re choosing. It’s between the greenback dollar and the real green left on the earth, that grows from the ground. When they say green, they mean the former, no matter what it sounds like. When there’s none of the former left, none of it at all, that’s the only true hope for the latter.


Out Here in the Fields

Categories: A Day in the Life, Awareness is Never Enough - It Must Always Be Wonder, From the Road, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Tags: , , ,

There is a quiet communion about the world as it is meant to be. I write this while sitting in a pasture, llamas in the distance, gentle winds overwhelming the wheaty grasses of the Central Valley of California. Not connected to anything, even the Internet (I will upload this later), my back against a metal fence that is just the right balance of sturdy and sufficiently comfortable. There are bird sounds and trees reacting to winds, the sun bearing down under mixed clouds that threaten an eventual sullying of this dried landscape. Bugs hover and dive amongst the grasses, perhaps subtly aware that they have just a few hours until rains will temper fulfillment of their tasks.

Today, they tell us that the oceans are so full of garbage that there are spare airplane seats in the flight-paths of missing jets that are not from those jets. That it’s perfectly reasonable to expect all kinds of discarded material to show up in the sea, since we’ve been leaving it there as long as we can remember. Our species has so blatantly disregarded the gifts we have been given that we don’t consider them gifts anymore – the only gifts we can accept are those we give ourselves. We have lost a sense of perspective, of balance, of harmony. We don’t sit in pastures anymore, trying to describe what we’re missing. We think everything we’re missing is on the Internet.

And yes, I’m aware of how both (1) unoriginal my comments are and (2) how ironic it is that they are appearing on the Internet. The Internet offers us wonderful things as well, like the ability to connect with others from a field with just the minimum of time-delay.

Nonetheless, I have to think that we lost our way, collectively, when science split from religion. Or vice versa. Surely there were crimes committed on both sides, as there always are in human disputes. Conflict is nothing if not mutually assured on my home planet. But when the scientists stopped being interested in God and the religious stopped being interested in solving mysteries, then surely something was irrevocably torn asunder. How anyone can accept the answers offered by one group in total ignorance of the other eludes me daily.

(As though to taunt me, a wireless network has just been found by this laptop. Or maybe a metaphor about ability to make connections from remoteness or the seeming lack of connection? You decide.)

In any event, we can all look to extreme examples and see the absurdity. Science reducing all human existence to a collapse of uncontrolled synapses, eliminating free will and indicating that all human existence and creation is a lie, while pleading endless randomness in the face of the most wondrously perfect system ever built or discovered. Religion claiming that God will decide all and answer all, that those who die are meant to, while those who are afflicted should not fight but simply resign themselves to a fate larger than themself. A similar abdication of free will, a similar destruction of meaning, a similar breakdown in the purpose that ought drive human existence, both on a macro scale and the individual level. How are these examples not sufficient to get everyone to attempt to strike a middle-ground? Even atheist scientist friends are uncomfortable with the elimination of free will altogether, and certainly don’t live their lives like they believe it’s true. Even religious zealots seem to assert themselves as though they have the ability to change something around them. So why all the trouble seeing across the divide?

Surely the closest society to holding these interests in balance was the first society to settle on my home continent. Or series of societies. There was wide-scale recognition of higher powers behind every aspect of the universe they saw, as well as interest in developing and advancing to higher levels of understanding of that universe. The respect that was afforded each of these concepts led to the development of a minimally invasive culture, with much time for contemplation and communion.

But it was not a culture designed to particularly assert control or dominion, and it is a telling lesson about my species that this is one of the few cultures upon which an all-but-complete genocide has been visited in recorded history. The very idea of trying to learn more from the land than one was taught was so reprehensible that its adherants were forced to either change or die.

My wife, Emily, is not particularly spiritual, not much of a believer. About half of our conflicts for the more recent half of our marriage so far have evolved from some sort of discussion about this topic. I struggle with reconciling my love of Emily and my respect for her intellect with the fact that she not only doesn’t overtly believe in God, but finds the question to not be fundamental to existence on the planet. It should be noted that most of my friends feel this way as well, and while this also concerns me, one’s identity is far more wrapped up in a spouse than a friend. It feels like more of a reflection of oneself when one’s own life partner rejects something so fundamental to one’s own perspective.

And yet, Emily says that she feels something whenever she is isolated out in nature. That connecting with animals, with the basic forces of the natural world (wind, water, flora), simply being “out there” is enough to get her thinking about the bigger picture and often feeling some conviction that there is something greater afoot. She often remarks, either in nature or when confronted by amazing constructions of human hand that she finds less impressive, that she has never seen something made by humanity that can measure up to the lowliest product of nature. While this sometimes surprises me, grandson of an engineer who learned about bridge-building and to differentiate styles of columns before most anything, I think she has a telling route map to those who are otherwise disinclined to believe. What makes us (collectively, as a species) think we’re so great? Why do we even bother scarring the Earth’s surface with our contributions when nearly everything impressive is already there?

It’s a competition, in part, or even an offering as an aprentice. That we have something to contribute which can hope to allude to the grandeur and beauty of what we already found when we first opened our eyes. Look ma, no nature. I did it all by myself. Like a crude reflection of the world around us for taping on the refrigerator with a quietly pitying love. And just as high-quality, just as worthwhile in the face of the real thing, as a four-year-old’s lazy finger-painting.

Which is not to say that there’s nothing worthwhile in the Pyramids, the Internet, language, or art. But compared to the systems and understanding implicit in your average field, your average patch of non-garbage-infested ocean, your average rainforest? I think the metaphor flies.

Part of what I’ve never understood about the pitched battle between science and religion is the respect that each have for order. Science even calls the discoveries it makes about the universe’s order of operations “laws”, the same word religion uses to indicate its principles and guidelines for living. Science interprets the world around it with a presumption towards order, towards compacting what it finds into a series of laws that are never abridged, or at least never contravened except where another identifiable law overrides. And indeed this bears out – we hardly see gravity working some of the time in Iowa and then failing to at random times. But somehow, science is disinterested in a source of all this order and law and perfectly behaved matter, insisting that all order came from one moment of complete chaos. This theory itself fails to stand up to science’s own presumptions and policies of rigorous study – were it about anything other than something in impenetrable pre-history, it would be rejected on face. But because there’s no other explanation available without resorting to the three-letter no-no, it is offered as fact. How can science not feel that every additional law that holds up, every extra consistency and element of order that is found, how are these not evidence for God?

The only explanation is that religion has mangled God into seeming arbitrary, somehow the opposite of order. Because in its rejection of scientific practice, many religions have tried to ascribe unending magic and mystery to the figure of God. Mysterious ways, inexplicable methods, something that cannot and should not be known. This idea is just as dangerous and worthless as atheism. Perhaps moreso, for it rends people’s conception of the most important aspect of the universe from the reality of that aspect, thus nullifying it for the interpreter far more thoroughly than mere denial would. This resorting to inexplicability is just as senseless as resorting to the Big Bang – for wont of explanations, those who expect themselves to seamlessly explain everything appeal to something wholly inconsistent with the rest of their theory. And then wave the crutch of paradox or the rest of their intellect about to try to fend off naysayers.

The truth, of course, is that science can prove God with all of its order, and thus God is knowable. God is not mysterious and inaccessible and hopelessly oblique – God is in the systems that work every day to maintain life in its countless manifestations. God is the laws and rules and policies and structures that keep it all just so in ways that humanity fails laughably to imitate. How is it that humans have never made a computer that can’t break down, and yet life on the planet persists from well before humanity to (likely) long after it?

But perhaps this would rend the people who pursue science and religion from what they’re really after – power. If they were not maintaining some sort of supremacy in their ability to properly interpret God or the laws of the universe (truly the same thing), what use would there be in the respect they are accorded in our hierarchies? And if they did not do battle, how could they build their power by tearing each other’s down, by fighting for followers, by bringing the urgency of a following and extreme loyalty out because of the urgency of a false conflict? You think nation-states are the only ones that can raise a false-flag to ask unthinkable sacrifices of their minions? No, only by mystifying and cloaking the fundamental and simple realities of their alleged domains can scienctists and religious leaders exert their authority over those they attempt to mislead.

Perhaps not always with such a nefarious intent, I’ll grant. But certainly with that level of nefarious effect.

So what is to be done? How do we get to a place where people recognize the order in the universe as the signifier of something greater than themselves rather than the converse? How do we make peace between scientist and religious leader before it is too late to fish the garbage from the ocean, or worse, before it is after anyone cares about such things? Like all of the important realizations, it cannot be forced or likely even persuaded. It must be found within each person, of their own volition.

In the meantime, I spend time in the pasture, contemplating a day I have long dubbed Mortality Day, a reflection of a larger scientific/religious order I find in the planet’s course of movement through the same space every 365 days. A day laden with symbols (6), the memory of an unbelievably significant mass-murder (D-Day), the steady approach of a day when the planet is held in balanced opposition to itself. It is vital to neither dwell in the anticipation of death nor to ignore its daily possibility, but for me, setting aside a holiday of sorts to recognize the mortality of myself and others, has worked well. Eighteen years to the day after the death of my mother’s father, I continue this personal tradition, sometimes to the fear of those around me. But fear not for me in the context of death, for I have conviction that it would be merely a step, and probably ultimately a relieving one. I have not felt less that way than now for some time (about the relief), and yet I still can recognize that no matter how much I personally desire to cling to this planet and help it out, there are wonders beyond my imagining ahead, other planets and other learning to be had.

And whenever this faith wavers in the slightest, as it sometimes trembles like the trees in the wind, bending with the difficulty of a given circumstance or a cold black fear, I come back out to nature. And the wind itself reassures me, reminds me of what I know even in the worst challenging moments. How can you look upon the world, upon an “ecosystem” or a “valley” (whichever you prefer to call the same thing) and not be awed by the presence of God? How can you understand the depths of human understanding and think this is all for the purpose of one isolated planet, 60 or 80 years only?

Go out into the fields. Walk. And then come tell me it’s all random, happened for no reason, that there’s no purpose to anything we do or try or contemplate. Tell me all these rules are either figments or coincidence. And tell me that, somehow, the pursuit of a means of exchange or sheer hubris is worth destroying it all.

A plane tears through the sky, close enough to hear but not to see. Through the clouds that are darkening the sky and escalating the threat of rain. Rain that will not be enough to wash it all away.


Ups and Downs

Categories: A Day in the Life, If You're Going to San Francisco, Let's Go M's, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Tags: , , ,

It’s been a crazy week on my home planet, one that presses the line of credibility to an extent. It seems all the books have major crises one after another, piling into one great crescendo that’s either cataclysm or triumph. But that’s not supposed to be real. That’s supposed to be Ender’s Game or its sequels (which I’m devouring at present), not 2009.

But every once in a while, there are years like this. 1968. 1987. Years that just sort of transcend everything and usher in a series of changes that seemed like it would take decades or even centuries, in a grand swoop.

It’s weird to be in a gentle transition and a soft landing against the backdrop of such a year. Although, I can anticipate the incredible bulwark of changes about to be breached. 1987 made so much sense, because my own life was in crazy upheaval and it reflected well. Indeed, maybe 1989 was really the year, far more than 1987, but things for me were calmer in 1989. Maybe it’s all just the personal filter one puts on things and maybe there’s nothing really going on at all.

Somehow, I doubt it.

But I’ve been in limbo nonetheless. A fantastic trip to Seattle, with lots of baseball and hanging out by the water and soaring to great heights (planes, Space Needle). A subsequent return to an apartment full of boxes that need weeding, resorting, unpacking toward repacking toward a ship date that looms ever closer, now looking like 7/7/9.

Yesterday, after chasing sold-out showings around the East Bay for much of the week prior, Emily and I went to see “Up”. My conclusion was that the only reason they give you 3-D glasses is that most people are self-conscious about crying around other people, even in a dark room. The substantial plastic glasses are a great cover for a movie where one spends most of the time weeping. To keep the kids happy, ever shorter of attention span (presumably, and if the youngin’s at the 10:25 PM showing were any indication), there’s a discordant chase-filled plot that even ends in a rare Pixar death (spoiler alert), but it’s bookended by tragedy worthy of Hans Christian Andersen. Seriously.

Today I went to lunch with a friend in the City (which means SF for only a few more weeks, and then I guess will mean… what, gulp, New York? Wow). She works at the San Francisco Food Bank, this huge airplane hangar of a building in the hills overlooking the freeway. As we approached the building, a pigeon flew into the glass side of the building, made a horrendous thudding sound, and fell to the sidewalk, dead.

At least it looked dead. It wasn’t even twitching – the wind gave its feathers a deceptively eerie sense of movement. But it was very much dead. Cue the Monty Python parrot sketch.

It was a horrific sight. I hadn’t seen the actual impact with the glass, but I’d heard it and seen the bird hit the ground. Its legs were curled up under itself as a last dying act, falling from the side of the building. Coming in as fast as it had, it was little wonder that it had killed itself with the impact.

The receptionist called Facilities to take the bird away, and just before I left, they informed us that the bird had been shot. It had a pellet in it and this had caused the death. Had we actually seen the bird hit the glass? Well no, I had to admit, but I had heard it. Maybe the bird was flying out of control because it already knew it was dying. Or it was hit where its ability to control its movement was, and had no choice but to fulfill a building-bound trajectory after being shot. Or it was shot just before hitting the building? But that would have to mean the shooter was far closer than we realized. And who shoots pigeons anyway? In the City of San Francisco?

If I hadn’t already been thinking about Air France flight 447, I sure was now. I couldn’t believe that something like this had happened right in front of me in the same week. Crossing one of the only radio deadzones on my home planet, the plane suddenly falls out of the sky. It was breaking up, but it was whole when hitting the water. It exploded in the sky, but didn’t break apart. We can rule out terrorism, but everyone saw a flash and fire. There was a massive lightning storm, but other planes made it through and every plane on Earth gets struck by lightning every few years. It left a debris trail, but the trail of debris was not from the plane.

It’s all about as crazy as an already shot bird hitting a window with enough force to die.

Suddenly limbo is seeming okay for now. Maybe the problem is just momentum.


Reality Check

Categories: A Day in the Life, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Tags: ,

Statistics, 2002-2008
Domestic US Deaths by Firearm Homicide: over 80,000
Domestic US Deaths by Terrorism: 0

While people enjoy citing the fact that the right to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed under the US Constitution (conveniently dropping the reference to the purpose being a well-armed militia that could actually stand up to the US standing army), no one really likes to mention that there are other rights enumerated in this document. For example, rights against unwarranted search and seizure (even before boarding a plane!). Or, say, the right to not be deprived of life or liberty without due process.

A story recently ran on CNN that said people were actually turning against further restrictions on firearms rather than towards them in the wake of recent upticks in mass-homicides by firearm. I guess people think they can fight gun violence with their own guns and we can turn every subway and mall into the OK Corral. Those were the days.

And even the idiots answering these surveys and fomenting public perception in America know that you can’t fight terrorism with terrorism. Or can you? That certainly seems to be the consensus method picked – seizing and torturing individuals while bombing their society into submission. For the purpose of intimidating all those who might oppose. Hm.

It’s not news to observe that people have been willing to hand their rights over to the fist of fascism as soon as the specter of terrorism is raised once, despite no renewal of the allegedly infinite threat in the last 7.5 years. What is news is that people react utterly irrationally to legitimate threats of violence, such as ubiquitous and seemingly surging shootings.

A while back, I suggested that we start referring to all quantities of deaths in terms of the unit of measure “September 11ths”. Since September 11th, we’ve seen 26 September 11ths worth of shooting deaths. When are we going to wake up to just how profound the real threats are in our society while clearing the smoke and smashing the mirrors?

We have nothing to fear but all this idiocy and obliviousness.



Categories: A Day in the Life, From the Road, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Tags: , ,

We could live beside the ocean
leave them far behind
swim out past the breakers
watch the world die.
-Everclear, “Santa Monica”

Russ and I went down (up? over? out? – I have no sense of direction in LA) to Santa Monica yesterday and wandered around this open-air mall area near the ocean. We had a good time and caught some sun, but I was also sort of overwhelmed with the sense of impervious obliviousness of the people of Southern California. I had a hard time putting a precise finger on what was befuddling me, but I had a strong sense that a meteorite could have landed nearby and no one would particularly pay attention. A combination of intense absorption in one’s own world with general apathy to everything.

This then sparked a debate about LA apathy vs. NY apathy and Russ defending NY as an insider, which contrasts with my general perception of NY as an outsider. Place puts a real filter on the way one perceives what’s going on, though. This is not a new concept, but it can be startling to see (really feel) it in action. If nothing else, the Bay Area feels very raw and exposed. It’s as though there’s a bubble or force-field around LA that shields it from everything, while the Bay Area just feels completely open to whatever’s going on, if not actually having a magnifying glass bear down on it for extra fun.

But watching the stock market revel this morning, I get the sense that my bubbly feeling in Santa Monica was enhanced by a larger denial rippling all over the place. The ostensible reason being proffered for a return to 8,000 on the Dow is the impending demolition of mark-to-market accounting, which you can find under “accountability” in your financial dictionary. Without this rule, the same financial geniuses who created our current economy would be freed to attribute whatever value they wanted to whatever assets they have. Keep in mind that this entire mess is largely attributed to a massive bubble, followed by a period of uncertainty sparked by not knowing how much someone’s holdings are actually worth. Now you’re trying to cement a reality where we bubble up in positive reaction, followed by a world where everything is valued by unconfirmed self-perception? Really?

If you think people lack confidence now, wait till absolutely everything on the balance sheet is measured by optimistic, self-interested accountants! Sure, this house could go for a million if everything transforms tomorrow. I mean, there’s no evidence that this Ken Griffey Jr. rookie card will ever be worth six figures, but if I value it at that price, why not give me credit for same? Don’t you want to invest in my outfit that has access to millions, nay billions, because of a stockpile of baseball cards, used books, and cat litter?

It makes sense as a reaction to a world where currency governs most everyone’s life and currency is manufactured out of whole cloth (literally) by the government at their random and manipulative whim. It is the perfect answer to a country spinning out of control in its own realization that it has no idea what anything is worth, what anything even means anymore. It’s a little like the whole place just became LA. Put on your sunglasses, get gussied up, and let’s go pretend everything’s fine. Bring the credit card and the substances, for tomorrow we die.

This may be a weird time to mention that I won $781 in an online poker tournament the night before last, more than paying for the trip I’m on. Hooray gambling.

Tomorrow morning, unemployment figures will be announced for the US in March. They will be worse than anyone could imagine, probably fueling an even greater rally in the stock market (it’s how they roll). It’s a nice thought that we can value our household appliances and trinkets at millions of dollars to make up for the fact that no one will pay us for anything else anymore. But eventually, an economy based on tying people in the bondage of day jobs and profiting from their enslavement will fail when no one is employed anymore. I promise.

If you need me, I’ll be at the beach or in the casino. Seriously.


Help Promote Making Fun of AIG!

Categories: A Day in the Life, Blue Pyramid News, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Tags: , ,

This is the old straight-up appeal to the masses – if you’re involved in the Digg thing (or can easily sign up), please help us get our new AIG March Madness commercial (Youtube, previously posted about):

Digg It!

Also, the final new (spoof) video we created finally uploaded properly:

Tell your friends!

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