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

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AIG Commercials: Resurrected and Spoofed

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

Russ and I have spent the better part of the last 24 hours at it again. We unearthed secret archived videos from the good old days of AIG and are sharing them with the world. Better yet, we are spoofing some of our favorites directly. For example:

Before:

After:

Here’s another spoof we didn’t include the new one of:

And a whole bunch of old ones:

Enjoy.

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The Stock Market Hates You

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

It’s becoming a well-documented fact that the US stock market these days is rallying on bad news and crashing on good news. But nowhere is this more evident than on days when unemployment figures are announced.

Yesterday, the market rallied 217 points on the back of the worst employment report in a quarter-century. Though the more compelling fact is this: “The loss since November is the biggest 3-month drop since immediately after the end of World War II, when the defense industry was shutting down for conversion to civilian production.” (CNN)

We have never seen a faster unraveling of an employment market in United States history. And despite that everyone expects it to get worse in the months ahead, each month still manages to “beat expectations” in terms of how quickly jobs are disappearing. Not only that, but each past month’s figures are quietly getting revised upwards as well, meaning that things now are even worse than you’re being told – you’ll just find out later.

Combine this with the fact that unemployment is around 18% using the methodology used during the Great Depression, and that at this temporal stage in the Depression (if we equate the 2008 crash with the 1929 crash), unemployment was around 10%, and we have an existential crisis the likes of which no one can really comprehend.

But the market likes it. Big-time.

Part of this, no doubt, is because devastating employment figures increase the likelihood of further bailouts. And Wall Street likes bailouts because free money is fun. Arguments have been circulating on financial message boards and even some articles about bailouts being the next great American economic bubble. Just tank your performance, qualify for a bailout, then watch the free money flow in. Sometimes this backfires, as with AIG, Fannie/Freddie, and others whose stock value went to near-zero as the price of a bailout. Yet Wall Street continues to have faith that future bailouts will be the old no-strings no-national control style, with free cash and blind eyes for all.

The larger concern, of course, is that it’s not in business’ best interest to have jobs. Since the advent of Reaganomics, we’ve bought into this myth that somehow business is “on our side”, that they’re interested in creating jobs and putting America to work. It’s not true. Business is all about profit, and during the last 20 years, profit has been driven more than any other factor by cutting American payroll. The real, fundamental reason that Wall Street loves skyrocketing unemployment is that it means the businesses still left are becoming more profitable, at the direct expense of the American worker.

But the market has found an insidious way to prevent the obvious reversal of their disinterest in the fate of workers. One would expect that workers would just throw the middle-finger back to the market and there would be an all-out struggle. But with the infiltration of IRA’s, 401k’s, and the propaganda that the stock market is just like a savings account, only better, the market has embedded itself in the psychology of the American worker. American workers have to care about the market, because their future is tied up in it. Thirty years ago, this wouldn’t have been the case and we could jettison the market like so much chaff. But now, the first bailout passed the House almost entirely on the back of the argument that saving Wall Street would be the most efficient way to save American workers because their savings were tied up in Wall Street.

Eventually, of course, this vicious cycle of Wall Street reveling in the destruction of jobs will hit a wall. But almost certainly not before it’s too late to reverse the predominant trends and save what we currently think of as being this country.

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Public Service Announcement: Please Stop Killing Your Children Over Your Employment Situation

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

This one is only the latest in what is becoming just about the fastest growing trend of the last 7 months. People lose their jobs, go home, and slaughter their family.

Sometimes they spend a couple frustrating weeks or even months looking for a job first.

In a couple conversations three months ago, I predicted that these would be the big news story of 2009 – self-defined (or society-mandated) “providers” feeling so overwhelmed at the burdens of being unable to provide that they decided to eliminate the need for provision altogether. All of them killing themselves directly afterwards.

It’s not that things like this haven’t happened in America since the dawn of the nation. But now we have a wider proliferation of firearms, more acceptance and awareness of these types of crimes (I would imagine they would’ve been considered hideously deviant and unspeakable in the 1930’s, whereas they seem sort of quietly understandable and unfortunate now), and of course the impending Depression II (aka the Greatest Depression). Thus the extensive spread of pater familias execution sprees.

I’m not here to tell you that the life of clients we serve at my work (or any similar location) is glamorous. I’m not going to say that living on the government dole or even the street is the best situation ever.

But compared to being shot by one’s father?

Have we really created a set of male adults so enamored with their standard of living and their self-image that any major break from that reality manifests in gunning down the 3-6 people they most love?

We need a public re-education program, and quick. Talking about the programs available, the way to subsist in a modest, humble, government-sponsored life when one no longer has viable employment as an option. We need the AdCouncil going on the airwaves talking about free after-school programs and free clothes and free everything for kids of the unemployed, overleveraged, and flat broke. We need people to understand that losing a job is not the end of the world, any world, certainly not the world of those who have not yet reached the age where they’re expected to take a job at all.

I’m not trying to minimize the pressures and weightiness that these individuals face – I am blessed to be in an entirely different financial category than the patriarchs I am addressing here. But right now, a notable portion of the population believes that losing their job without much hope of being rehired somewhere soon is literally the end of the world. Think about that for a second. They are so convinced it’s the end that they cannot imagine a future of anything but pain for any of their children or their spouse. To the point where they are willing to effectuate an end to pain, despite how blindingly painful the act of doing so must be.

Maybe if less energy were spent in this country defining “hope” as “everything will magically turn around tomorrow for no reason” and instead turning it toward “this country might be able to get accustomed to not being so unsustainably greedy and abundant” – maybe then we could reduce the number of job-loss-related filicides.

Until then, I have only this personal appeal. Stop. Think. Realize that most people in the world raise children on less money per lifetime than the government gives US citizens in your situation in a year. Even if you think it’s the end for you, let your children decide for themselves.

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Most Babies Chronically Depressed, New Study Warns

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

Groundbreaking research out of the University of Iowa today has confirmed what many have long suspected: most babies are clinically depressed.

A shocking 83% of babies have been found to have the hallmark symptoms of a newly identified strain of depression. The numbers may be even higher among infants.

“When you think about it, it makes sense,” noted Steven Bernard, MD, part of a team that led the study. “Most people are able to cope with the struggles of life without breaking down crying multiple times a day. Babies are notorious for being unable to demonstrate these coping skills.”

In the study, to be published in the February issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, Bernard and his team explain that most parents miss the critical warnings that their baby is depressed. “Parents assume their baby is simply crying, when it may actually be a cry for help. Crying more than once a day is a sign of a serious inability to integrate with the expectations of normal, healthy life in society.”

While the causes of the disorder are unclear, the symptoms are not. Crying, incontinence, and low attention span are hallmarks of extreme and chronic depression. One theory about the causes of the disorder prompted researchers to tentatively dub this strain of depression Womb Exit Trauma Disorder, or WET-D.

The solution? Medication.

“Babies are notoriously undercommunicative about their feelings,” Bernard says. “They are unlikely to respond to talk therapy as they tend to have underdeveloped language skills.” Resistance to the development of language skills may, itself, be a further complication of depressive disorder. “When people don’t want to talk about their feelings, that’s a warning sign. Having to act out on emotions instead of using words is a red flag.”

Tragically, many parents may not get many warnings before it’s too late. New research is attempting to link this disorder to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). “Babies may actually be exhibiting a form of suicide,” Bernard warns. “Further study is needed to demonstrate a causal link between WET-D and SIDS, but it looks promising.”

In the meantime, parents can watch for the warning signs and request a battery of new drugs just approved by the FDA. Bernard and his team urge parents to be patient when trying medication. “Babies may not always react right away. That’s not a sign that medication doesn’t work, but that the dosage may have to be increased.

“The worst thing you can do for your baby is let the symptoms of WET-D go unchecked. If your baby continues to cry repeatedly, it’s a sign that more medication is required.”


(Cross-posted at The Mep Report.)

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2008

Categories: A Day in the Life, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Pre-Trip Posts, Tags: , , ,

Somewhere along the way, Time Magazine lost its way. Maybe it was the influence of AOL, long nicknamed “A-O-Hell” by my generation, which itself is somewhere between the nickname of “Generation Y” and “The Millennial Generation”. I’ll take either one, but I’ve always preferred “Generation Why” (this is probably the third or fourth time I’ve made this observation on this blog alone).

AOL killed my computer in the transition from high school to college. This was the computer that was a present from my parents to take to college, was exciting and new. It came with a trial AOL account that I used to connect with other fellow “pre-frosh” en route to Brandeis, few of whom were worth meeting in person. I got it in July and by the time it landed with me in Waltham, it was rapidly becoming cursed. Two weeks into school, it went off the deep end entirely, prompting Compaq to send a series of head-scratching techs to the remote ends of campus searching for Scheffres Hall. Their confusion only began in looking for a third-floor dorm room on a locked hall and ended with wondering why Compaq felt their time (probably $100-300/hour) was worth more than Compaq just replacing or refunding a computer that two of the three techs literally labeled as “possessed” on the work order form. Two people with hundreds of dollars an hour’s technical training using the word “possessed”. So much for technology, progress, experts, us being in a place beyond medieval witch doctors. The writing on the cinder-block wall, or at least on three sheets of carbon copied paper. Somewhere in a “box of doom”, I still have a yellow sheet, now even more yellowed, in papers I just refuse to throw away. Like the 16,000+ e-mails I’ve sent at work, they’re records and it all counts.

Or maybe none of it does. Just ask Time.

Time’s selection of Barack Obama as 2008 Person of the Year is hardly egregious, especially in comparison to some of their past picks. The original mandate from Henry Luce, who was at least a journalist despite myriad other problems (do we have anyone we can call a journalist anymore?) was to pick the person who had influenced things most, for good or for ill. Who was an emblem of the change that is innate to a year. Somewhere along the line, as with so much of America, an interest in true depiction got replaced by an interest in happy-talk. George (HW) Bush won in 1990 instead of Saddam Hussein. Rudy Giuliani won in 2001 instead of Osama bin Laden. You won in 2006, prompting the ire of nearly everyone and my supposition that everyone should start putting “2006 Person of the Year, Time Magazine” under their “Awards and Accomplishments” section of their resume, if only to ridicule the selection. End of history indeed.

So much for the legacy of a notoriety that had the guts to pick Gandhi 17 years before the Nobel Peace Prize had failed to do so (and it was too late as they tried to make up for it with their lame posthumous recognition). For a group that picked Hitler in ’38 and Stalin in ’39, demonstrating a foresight in recognizing the two most devastating and influential figures of the twentieth century before each had done much of their killing. And maybe 1941 is where it turned, picking FDR instead of Hideki Tojo.

Of course, there’s a part of me that says maybe Time knows too much. Maybe there’s a reason Tojo was passed over in 1941 and bin Laden in 2001. And it’s not just about wanting to be patriotic. But this is not the post for such conjecture, until maybe later.

Which brings us to Barack Obama. Clearly the second I clicked the revealing link into the Time Magazine article, I was expecting to see Obama’s tall grin looking back at me. Having been surprised and disappointed by so many picks in the past, I was almost surprised to find that my supposition had been correct. And yet, upon reflection, it became clear that this was not the right pick.

Think this is a special nod to the wave of change that seems to be coming with Obama-mania? Think again. This pick in an American election year has become a knee-jerk reaction for Time. W won in 2000, Clinton in 1992, Reagan in 1980, Carter in 1976. So really, this was the President-Elect’s award to lose all along. They probably had penciled it in for whoever won in Time board room meetings in January and moved on.

And seemingly more than any previous pick, Obama seems to have changed the landscape of how people think they’re looking at America. (After all, wasn’t Katherine Harris really the influential force in 2000, while W was just the beneficiary bystander?) Obama is an agent of action, a force for change, the first great rhetorical leader to hit the political scene since JFK. How could you pick anyone else?

And yet, my temptation is to say that 2009 is really the year for Obama. Not that people can’t win multiple times or, indeed, even back-to-back years (only previous back-to-back winner: Nixon in 1971-1972). Time even seems to acknowledge the fact that they’re jumping the gun, setting themselves behind the eight-ball with a title “Why History Can’t Wait”. And of course, a la my thoughts about 1941 and 2001 and even JFK, maybe they’re ensuring that they literally jump the gun. An assassination of Obama in the next year would be the most expected, telegraphed, universally anticipated assassination in world history. It seems painfully ironic that such cynical fear follows an individual known for inspiring hope and disparaging attitudes of terror. And yet I haven’t spoken to a single person about the historic Bryant Park rally on November 4th who wasn’t mentally scanning the crowd for firearms from the moment he and his family hit the platform.

So maybe Time’s hedging their bets, knowing that they can document the innocence and hope and anticipation that comes with Obama now, either on the precipice of its horrific fall or at the base camp of its tremendous climb to the future. Either way, it’s about the safest pick in history.

And yet, I doubt 2008 will be remembered for Obama. 2009, yes, whatever happens, but not 2008. 2008 will be about the melting of America’s economic standing. 2008 will be about the clash of hubris and reality, the tormented battle between those clinging to the Titanic’s decks and those packing up banquet food into lifeboats.

Time’s Person of the Year (then Man of the Year) was started in 1927, just in time to make an amazing pick in 1929. While they didn’t select anyone directly related to the collapse of the stock market and the American economy, they chose Owen D. Young for his “Young Plan”, a desperate effort to offset the German reparations payment schedule. What a prescient selection in determining how history would look back on the 1920’s! The Young Plan failed, of course, and the rest is profound history. But Time knew what it was doing back then.

So who really represents 2008’s influence on the coming years? The obvious road seems lined with some combination of Ben Bernanke and Henry Paulson. The team that will be remembered for destroying the greenback dollar, plunging it into unprecedented worthlessness. With a mutual effort of eliminating interest rates and ratcheting up the printing of money, Bernanke & Paulson are the duo that are setting the dollar to its destiny as just another failed idol in the story of human belief.

So they’re the obvious pick, the real safe picks, the clear standouts. But for symbolic flair, neither of them, nor the pair, are my selection. My pick for 2008 Person of the Year is Bernard Madoff.

He’s a late entry to the contest and maybe disproportionately influential because the selection is made in December. He probably became important after the story on Obama had already gone to bed. But he is the single clearest embodiment of the attitude of 2008 and what this year means to history.

Can you imagine any other time in history, save maybe the late 1920’s, when the profit rates of a pyramid scheme would be able to pass themselves off as the realistic results of sound investing? When there would be so little oversight and investigation that a charlatan of this magnitude could be appointed to run the NASDAQ? Is there any more profound human embodiment of American greed, faith in money, reverence for capitalism, belief in the systems it invented, and total trust in the infinite upward spiral of wealth? Bernie, you really hit this one out of the park, and just in time. If only you could maintain the defiant refusal to face facts that we see in Rod Blagojevich, you’d be beyond perfect. Reading about the board room meeting you called where you admitted what happened, followed by turning yourself in, revealed that you have shreds of accountability that don’t really resonate with the America I know. Maybe you’ll have to share it with the still-clinging Illinois Governor.

But sure, Obama’s fine too. A hat-tip to the future, as even the great picks in ’29, ’30, ’38, ’39 were. Up near the top of the article, Obama admits his own fears, despite the image he’s projected to the nation. He outlines four scary priorities for the nation:
1. Economy
2. Afghanistan
3. Nuclear Proliferation
4. Climate Change

Oh boy. While I agree that no one could deny the precision of #1, it’s #2-4 that make me roll my eyes. Escalating a war may be his hidden solution to #1 (indeed, this picture hit me like a ton of bricks as the explanation of why government policy has so thoroughly greased the wheels of the economy’s slide, especially on the employment front… in an era where the all-volunteer military and lots of wars are big priorities, you have to de facto draft people by giving them no alternative jobs), but it offers nothing to a pacifist who has come to realize that we are in a post-conquest era in history. Nuclear proliferation? I posted over a year ago about how Iran will get toasters. It’s not that I don’t believe the world would be better off without nukes spreading further, but frankly, the worst nations in the world already have nukes and trying to maintain peace by keeping a stranglehold on science and technology is about as futile as shutting down the Internet by cutting physical cords, one at a time. And don’t even get me started on climate change. If you really think climate change is a third of the threat that most people seem to, then total, unrecoverable economic collapse is your only hope.

My hopes this season are pretty scant. I hope to get to New Mexico so I can bury myself in warmth, friends, family, green chile, and a part of the world that has managed to inspire me through some of the darkest times. I hope for a little snow, a bit of cheer, a lot of thought and reflection. I hope to find the energy to light at least one candle, to buy at least one gift, to make at least one wish for the year to come.

May God be with you.

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Sign Post Revisited

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

People are looking for places to put their anger these days. I don’t know who is responsible for the above depicted action on our front lawn any more than I know who is responsible for skyrocketing the stock market toward the 9,000 stratosphere when unemployment is a runaway train. But people don’t really understand trains in America anymore – only cars, trucks, and vans. And how to bail things out.

I did the American Community Survey last night – with our residence “randomly” selected by the Census Bureau as one to represent the many. At times it didn’t feel so random; it felt random as a security screening at an airport with my long hair and my lack of a flag pin. At other times it felt less random because maybe everyone in America is filling on of these out. But I can be reassured that it was random because America rarely likes direct democracy or the true enfranchisement of everyone. We’re a republic – we like Electoral Colleges and Congressional Districts and ways of putting a thick layer of money-motivated corruption between ourselves and our political outcomes.

Maybe it wasn’t random because of our income, because we’re doing okay, because they have our tax return and maybe if they can only survey houses like ours, there won’t be any proof of a depression (see below comic).

I saw the movie “Milk” on Friday. It’s not quite in the rare air of the two Important Movies I mentioned last week, but I think it’s worth seeing. It’s about a lot of things, but perhaps mostly anger. Anger at being personally left out of the picture and the steps, through anger, that people take to reestablish themselves. And, ultimately, how all anger is personal and nothing hurts quite so much as the sting of losing one’s job.

Actually, an incredible amount of the movie, as I re-ponder again, is about the pain of losing employment. Heck, maybe it is an Important Movie after all.

I don’t know where all the people losing their jobs are going, but I don’t think they’re buying stocks. I don’t think they’re looking at the 401k or the IRA balance and thinking how they won’t need that money till they’re 65. I don’t think they’re looking for ways to make Christmas a bigger splash than the year before. A major city (like, top-fifty in the US) is losing their job every month. An entire major city. At an escalating rate.

The anger is coming.

And, obligatorily, because not all of my posts can be downers, here’s something to brighten your day. Also, because it’s the only thing keeping my job-related anger at simmer instead of boil.

Officially reported as “two people in the diamond”:

There’s no truth in Pravda, even online.

Shoot – that makes this a downer again, huh?

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Words of the Prophets

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

Transcript of a conversation between a Homeless Guy (HG) and myself (SC) on a sidewalk in Berkeley this morning, between 24-Hour Fitness and the Downtown Berkeley BART station entrance at Shattuck & Addison. Given that I was rushing to BART to head to work, the conversation was sort of shouted over shoulders and at no point was either participant at rest. He started walking ahead of me and I ended up well ahead of him because of our relative natural paces.

HG: What they all working out for? We’re all gonna die!
SC: Maybe some later than others!
HG: Maybe so. We’re all gonna die soon, though!
SC: You think so?
HG: That Obama. He’s gonna ruin everything!
SC: You think so?
HG: He’s a crook!
SC: They’re all crooks!
HG: Yeah, but he’s the worst! He’s the Antichrist!
SC: I don’t agree with you there!
HG: You’ll see!
SC: We’ll all see soon enough!
HG: You got that right!

It is probably worth noting, though I do so cringing, that “Homeless Guy” quoted above is African-American/Black. Though I think that such observations make me slightly racist, they at least reassure the reader that his raving about Obama as Antichrist is not racism. Or at least not simple outsider-based racism with which such overt opposition to Obama is generally associated.

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Sign Post

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

Buddy, can you spare three-quarter mil?

I am gradually coming to terms with the fact that our house may never sell. This is not the worry that most people saying that sentence have – we of course don’t own our house, but just live here. Still, it does seem at least somewhat disconcerting to be in this kind of flux.

Berkeley’s renter-protection laws are perhaps the best (strongest) in the nation. We have strict rent control that only accelerates with cost of living (so I guess we’re in for a 25% hike this year). We are mandated to receive an annual interest payment on our deposit. We cannot be evicted for much of anything, certainly not for the sale of the house where we reside.

(I say “house” by the way, because the building is a house. But there are four one-bedroom apartments herein. Lest you get the idea that we somehow occupy a whole house.)

I don’t even remember exactly when the house went on the market, but it was sometime in late spring or early summer. It was before the Winnebago showed up and thus well before it disappeared. It was long enough ago to feel like a lifetime, or at least like life was comprised of different time. Like a house priced so cheaply in such a neighborhood might sell quickly and easily and there would still be markets for such things.

There are liabilities, to be sure. While two of the apartments have been vacant since a month or so after our arrival here (March ’06), one has been occupied since the mid-1970’s. The rent controlled rates on that kind of longevity are not exactly commensurate with the current market rates. And then we’re in decently below market as well, since the same factors keeping the other two apartments vacant almost kept us from renting the place. Let’s not spend a lot of time on this, but suffice it to say that our landlord crew (it’s a whole family and its patriarch’s passage is the catalyst for the sale) is “eccentric” and “interesting”.

All this crew wants is to be rid of this house. One can’t divide a house amongst bickering parties (or one could, but that’s generally best left to reality television). One can’t eat a house (with dental work intact). One can’t turn a house into cool, liquid cash, thus applying it to whatever one’s personal vices (or virtues) or taste.

All over America, people are facing this issue. And not just people who would be eligible to play Family Feud against themselves. People are wrestling with the permanence and stability of owning a house when all they want is a little flexibility and freedom. People are dealing with the finality of equity in a world where there are more diverse financial concepts than leverage. People are crying foul in every direction, talking about how they only did what they were told, what they assumed, what every knucklehead was doing because it was free money.

It’s unclear to me whether the sign out front (pictured up top) will be fixed or not. And while it may seem obvious what I’m talking about fixing, it’s noteworthy to mention that the sign lacks any reference to the word sale. It is, in the best postmodern spirit, a “for sale” sign without the words “for” or “sale”. I’m still struggling with the implications here, but they seem multitudinous. We have come to a point in society where such signs are so ubiquitous and self-evident that they need no label or declaration. They are transcendent of their own intentions. Or, perhaps contrarily, maybe there was never any hope of sale in the first place. It’s just a marking of territory, a notice of whose responsibility it is to fix the sign. Goodness knows the landlord crew forsook their already paltry commitment to fixing things as soon as the sign went up.

It may be a little early to predict the universal presence of these signs at every domicile or piece of property in North America. For one thing, the budget for upkeep would need some work. But what happens when we get to a point where 50% of the population is unhappy with where they live? 60%? 75%? Americans take freedom of movement as their birthright and interest in moving as their unique proud tradition. When this is compromised, what will make people feel American? Certainly not the lack of credit cards and shopping malls.

This occupant is starting to feel a little disturbed.

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Walking on Broken Glass: Kristallnacht and Thanksgiving

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

Today is the 70th anniversary of the infamous Kristallnacht, the pogrom that history remembers as the opening salvo of the Holocaust. It was a gargantuan riot that killed 91, hauled 30,000 into concentration camps, and left thousands of synagogues and Jewish-owned buildings damaged or destroyed. To my surprise, Germany is commemorating Kristallnacht with a sobering day of reflection. Maybe they do this every year; maybe it’s only on the ten-year anniversary cycles.

In Germany, as in much of the world, they write the dates in a sensible chronological order: 9 November 2008. Day, then month, then year, units of time going smaller to larger. Sometimes they shorten the dates to all numbers: 9/11/08.

Kristallnacht was the original 9/11.

Kristallnacht was 63 years (less a couple months) before 9/11/01, what we traditionally call “9/11”. Thanksgiving was declared in 1863, in November, by a wartime President who’d suspended habeas corpus and declared half the nation as enemy combatants. Sure, there had been a couple original Days of Thanksgiving to start the tradition, under Washington and Adams, but the idea didn’t annually stick until Lincoln got it going with these words:

In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle, or the ship; the axe had enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years, with large increase of freedom.

Maybe the principles of our Presidents have never changed. Maybe the issue of change is especially pertinent as we have another tall eloquent Illinois politician coming to power in a time of war, fear, and the threat of dissolution.

And maybe it’s time to change Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving has changed plenty already… the declaration of President Lincoln goes on to make clear that this is not a secular holiday (“I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.”) And yet it’s become overtly secular despite such a foundation. The day has also, though initially seemingly mostly about the Civil War, become integrally about one of our founding self-perceptions and America’s own opening salvo with its own genocide.

This salvo began on 12/11/20 (1620), when Europeans landed on Plymouth Rock. They nearly starved to death, but 91 (yes, 91) Native Americans came to live with them and teach them how to survive in the New World. As the story goes, they celebrated their first winter of survival with a great feast of thanksgiving in 1621. And the rest of the Native Americans were history, all but completely wiped out in a three-century span of deliberate and conscious ethnic extermination.

To say that Thanksgiving (the apocryphal “First Thanksgiving”) is Kristallnacht for the North American Holocaust is perhaps slightly exaggerative. But the symbolism and parallels are evident. Kristallnacht at least served as a clear warning for all those who remained in Germany that it was time to leave. Thanksgiving deceived those who were hosting into believing they’d always have reason to stay.

One of the people who didn’t leave Germany was Joseph Ratzinger, who went on to become the current standing Pope. Instead of leaving, he joined the Hitler Youth. No joke – read the article linked above. While much has been made lately of whether the Holocaust-era Pope collaborated with the Nazis, turned a blind eye to them, or secretly worked against them, there can be no doubt about Benedict’s stance. He signed up.

And yet in just two more days, the US will honor another day set aside for those who also just signed up in feeling of solidarity with their country, right or wrong. People who signed up to exterminate Native Americans, people who signed up to kill Nazis, people who signed up to wipe out enemy combatant Americans. People who chose to go where they were assigned instead of standing, resisting, refusing, running. 11/11, no nines about it. Ninety years ago on Tuesday, the war to end all wars. Twenty years later (less two days), Kristallnacht.

Those of you still reading at this point may find this post a lithely macabre version of one of those e-mail chains that went around in the early days of e-mail (the late ’90’s) about the links between Lincoln and Kennedy. Assassins leaving warehouses and being caught in theaters, secretaries named each other and such. Maybe so, maybe so. But it seems, for all my talk about October, that there is something charged and malignant about November, especially (perhaps) Novembers ending in 8’s. After all, November 1918 led to the Treaty of Versailles which, in most historians’ opinion, led directly to Kristallnacht. There’s only so much debt and guilt one can heap upon a people before they find a scapegoat and start massacring people. Maybe.

As I talked about last year, I love the idea of Thanksgiving and despise its origins. I adore the idea of setting aside time where everyone humbly admits that they don’t deserve the incredible blessings granted them, that they are in debt (a real debt, of gratitude and not money) to others for their standing and situation, however meager it may be. The origins, however, are a little like a hypothetically victorious Nazi Germany setting aside today to celebrate what riches they were able to steal from the Jews before slaughtering them wholesale. Think about it. Think about the land on which you live, the territory you occupy, the buildings and the society and the continuous peaceful transfer of power from one regime to the next manifestation thereof. Think.

And yet Thanksgiving has an element of forgiveness. In an irony nearly as equal to the foundational irony, Thanksgiving’s major event with the President each year involves pardoning a turkey. The irony being that Americans slaughter 45,000,000 turkeys while one (or apparently, more recently, two named) turkey(s) is(/are) pardoned. Those are worse odds than a Jew or Native American surviving their respective genocides.

But what role forgiveness, mercy, looking past the sins of the past? Forgiveness remains the triumphal (and perhaps only) virtue that is widely espoused to which I simply cannot relate. It’s not that I don’t believe those wronged by others should refrain from acts of revenge and violence. This belief is foundational to my perception of the world. But forgiveness is something far greater than refraining from acts – it is a deep-down, soul-clenching release of ill will for past wrongs. I don’t get it. I don’t think I’ve ever felt it, not for a wrong that really felt injurious. It remains widely perceived by others as my glaring moral blindspot.

And yet I may not be alone – Ehud Olmert discussing Kristallnacht last week, addressing his Cabinet: “We will never forgive or forget.”

And perhaps it’s the implicit link between forgiveness and forgetting that I cannot stand, that blinds me to any possible merits of forgiveness conceptually. For forgetting, it can widely be acknowledged, is never the solution. Jumbling the old numbers, burning the history books, shoveling heaps of smoke and ash and mirrors on the past is simply not the answer. Surely we need fresh thinking and fresh beginnings, but only if they are informed by our past mistakes can we truly hope to make something new and viable for next time.

And even America, amnesiac of the world, realizes this. It’s why we do commemorate 11/11/18 and 9/11/01 and even 12/7/41. It’s why I wouldn’t have to explain any of those dates to you even if I hadn’t referenced them earlier in this post. If you’re an American, you know them. You feel them. You do not forgive.

But what of 8/6/45? Or 2/13/45? Or yes, even 12/21/20? The United States of America does not embark on the somber reflection of Angela Merkel’s Germany, even now. We do not apologize. It is hard to imagine that Barack Obama will not finally break the Presidential streak on refusing to apologize for slavery. But what bizarre symbolism would that moment be, someone who is African American and yet not descended from slaves, someone whose generational lineage includes Cherokee, being the one who will stand up and say America was wrong. It is easy to imagine Obama apologizing for a great many number of ills, turning America’s arrogance on its head in a wave of sobering regret. It is also easy to imagine Obama labeling such actions as dwelling in a mired past, as a waste of time, as something that he is (perhaps arrogantly) different enough to not have to own. Such is the reality of having elected what one CNN anchor on election night aptly called “The National Rorschach Test”: everyone looks at him and sees what they want to see, what they see in the back of their own troubled mind.

President Obama is related to both George Bush and Dick Cheney. And yet he is also a first generation American on his father’s side. These are the paradoxes and quandaries of a man who embodies contradiction and potential. The real excitement of the election is not a week past on the eve of the decision (which was a foregone conclusion), the real excitement is two months hence, when we discover with each pronouncement and policy, which side this man favors. Which way he goes. Which chances he takes. The odds, of course, are best that he does both and all and is awash in compromise.

But President Obama, I call on you this year, before you’ve made any official plans, to think about next Thanksgiving. November 2009 is dreamily impossible for me to imagine… something akin to imagining 2008 from the perspective of 1938, or maybe even from 1620. It is hard to contemplate what will have transpired and changed, what kind of America we’ll be facing, if indeed there is really an America left at all. Mr. Obama, consider proclaiming a change in the way we handle Thanksgiving. It doesn’t have to be a day of mourning, it doesn’t have to be exactly like today in Germany. But this quote, from Angela Merkel, seems to have a ring to it: “We must not be silent.”

It’s because forgetting is connected to forgiving, and vice versa. It’s because those who have had the most courage are always the ones who are willing to buck the trends of their own nation, to point the accusing finger in the mirror or across the street. Not to sign up for the Hitler Youth, not to register with the SS (Selective Service). Not to sign up for a credit card or a draft card or to sew the yellow star on your clothing or march toward the reservation. To resist, to buck, to stand against.

America may be newly in love with itself, so proud to be able to elect someone of mixed skin tone. President Obama, it is up to you to remind us that we have much more to be ashamed for. And that this shame compels us to change everything.

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There’s No Truth in Pravda; There’s No News in Izvestiya

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

Today, my workplace sent me this article about the impact of the economy on the services that we offer.

At first I was excited because my work actually contributed to the article. It was a real manifestation of “letting the data tell the story,” my self-proclaimed mission in my fourth job title at the organization. I had gotten a frantic call from one of the interviewees shortly before the interview asking for clarification on some of the numbers. Direct contribution of my work! And numbers!

And then… the one distinctive sound number that appears in the piece is wrong. By 25%.

It’s a relatively innocent mistake, since the number quoted (56,851) is the in-house meals number, a far cry from total meals served (69,904). And the first number does appear on the report I created, though clearly labeled as distinct from total meals. But still. The article goes on to mix apples and oranges all over the place, and it’s hard to say how much of that is on the interviewee and how much on the interviewer.

It doesn’t really matter. I was bugged for a bit, but I’ve gotten over it. The essence of the article and its message got through. And insane Internet commentary (redundant) notwithstanding, it’s all good.

The problem is that it almost immediately occurred to me that this always happens with newspaper articles. I can’t remember the last time a newspaper article got everything right. A key standout in memory from earlier this decade is this article (p. 2 under “People in the News”) in which, in May 2002, the Brandeis Reporter labeled both Drew Tirrell and I as recent successes from the class of 2001 in the recent 2002 college national championships.

It’s like news media exists, at its very centrifugal function, to get facts wrong. Sometimes the facts are essential (sufficiently to warrant a correction), but this is almost never the case. They are usually the second or fourth or sixth most important facet of a longish article about many things. Never critical enough to bother correcting or bringing up; just off enough to spoil the whole experience for the subject of the article without being changed for any of the readers.

In isolation, any given instance of this wouldn’t be such a big deal. The problem enters the picture when seemingly every single report can be assured to have at least one key fact incorrect. The whole fabric of the presentation on the world thus takes on an aspect of fabrication… and readers (or viewers or other consumers of media) are then absorbing the misleading presentation whole cloth. It’s like a pseudo-reality is being spun, through neglect and oversight, out of thin air.

I would say “no wonder the newspapers are dying”, but that would of course overlook the fact that the link is online and may recorded in the ether longer than any shred of the original paper it was printed on may last. For all I know, mistaken numbers about our meals program are being beamed into space as part of the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence as we speak. Aliens will soon land, wearily stretching, disembarking, and expecting a set of facts wholly inconsistent with the reality they witness.

Of course I’m exaggerating, letting little details get carried away with the whole picture. But a day after Election Day, with my observation of all the problems that come with an unchecked, unvetted system of recording key information, I’m keenly attuned to the problems that can result from constant misrepresentation. And maybe it’s not the misrepresentation I care about so much as the casual carelessness of it, leading to an inevitable acceptance of such. It’s surely better than some sort of malignant intentional deception (and there’s plenty of that to be upset about), but the carelessness strikes me tonight as nearly as damning.

I grew up on my father’s retellings of one of his father’s pivotal stories, that of the horseshoe-nail that lost the kingdom. I didn’t grow up with horses and their shoes and their shoes’ nails like my Dad did in Carson City; the story was initially foreign and strange to me. The story is one of these classic snowball-type stories, where one small issue becomes cataclysmic… a careless stable boy forgets one horseshoe-nail, because of which the horse loses its shoes, resulting in the person riding it being unable to reach the castle, resulting in the message not get through to the king about an invading force, resulting in the king not readying the force that would defend the kingdom. The kingdom is lost because of the horseshoe-nail – attention to detail is key. There were small variations, I’m sure, but this is the version I remember. Ironically, of course, the details of the precise twists in the story matter very little.

And maybe that’s the point. People don’t have time for detail and nuance when they’re busy watching the big stuff (and perhaps creating their own realities anyway). People wanted desperately to be unabashedly happy today – even though Prop 8 wasn’t defeated, most of my co-workers refused to show anything but jubilation in the wake of Obama’s election. There was no time for muted response, little demonstration of the sobering reality that Obama will be facing massive challenges and is likely to start making decisions that will alienate many of his starry-eyed supporters. There was only that victory-lap kind of swagger. And I admit – it will be nice to not have to automatically cringe when the President of the United States speaks. So far, this is by far my favorite President of my conscious lifetime (Carter’s still probably winning for my technical lifetime, until Obama proves otherwise). But favorites amongst a terrible crowd are a far cry from euphoria.

Not surprisingly, I’m having a hard time distilling my message down to a succinct point. This post feels disjointed and rambly, maybe in part because the television has been competing with my brain in the background (someone else is watching, so I’m not just being an idiot for failing to shut it off). The TV is talking about sustaining the momentum of Obama’s euphoric supporters. The TV is also drawing comparison’s between Obama’s election in ’08 to Nixon’s election in ’68.

Who says the media can’t reconcile subtlety and nuance? They crash discordant things that make no sense together with blunt force! That’s almost the same thing.

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My Public Ballot

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

Ever since the American political disaster known as the year 2000 (who knew the real Y2K glitch would be in a voting booth at the end of the year instead of everywhere at the beginning?), I’ve been a staunch advocate for public-record balloting. I’m not really a believer in democracy and I’m certainly no fan of the plutocratic republic we’ve assembled in modern America. But if the experiment is to have any value or worth, it absolutely demands public-record balloting at this juncture in history.

What 2000 taught us is that the only time any given individual vote may actually count (because things are close enough to be decided by a handful of votes) is the only time that we can be absolutely certain that randomly selected votes will not count or be counted at all. Thus the absolutely fundamental foundational principle of the most avidly cherished right in American society is bunk. Every vote counts? More like “only landslides count” or “if you’re beating the margin of error, your majority vote counts”.

Somehow this wasn’t as disheartening to the rest of the country as it was to me – and I didn’t even vote in 2000! (I didn’t vote until the seven-year statute of limitations on prosecution for my non-registration for the Selective Service [SS] had lapsed, being an actual believer in social contract theory… I really wanted to vote for Nader, but being moral is often about suspending one’s wants for what’s right.) The rest of the country got really upset about Supreme Court decisions and started casting aspersions on computers and all sorts of efficient technology. But no one had a plan to, y’know, do something to fix the problem. So much for the power of politics to change the world.

The problem with every method of “fixing” the voting process in America is that they are all still subject to fixing. As in, the fix is in. No matter what system you use to vote today, be it carving into stone tablet, the absolutely obnoxious Alameda County “fill in the arrow”, a butterfly ballot, hanging chads, computer, or other, you get to leave the polling station with absolutely 0% confidence that your vote counted. It could be lost, stolen, or damaged, and the country is not responsible. It could be miscounted, double-counted, not counted. Why so many people trust an overtired biased individual volunteer who is probably pushing 75 more than a computer is beyond me. But both of these systems are flawed flawed flawed. There is only one foolproof solution: public-record ballot.

Here’s how it would work:
1. You go to your polling place and vote on a computer.
2. The computer auto-submits your vote to the main database, attached to your personal information.
3. The computer prints out an official and detailed voting card with all of your selections.
4. Before you leave the polling place, you double-check every single one of your selections on the printed card.
5. If there is an error (or you have changed your mind at the last second), you go see a polling station attendant who takes your card, calls up your record in the database on a voting computer, and shreds your old card.
6. You make whatever changes you like.
7. You get a new card.
8. Repeat steps 4-7 as necessary (though you might want to cap the number of re-do’s at 5 or something, just to prevent deliberate fraud-clogging of the system to lengthen lines and deter turnout).
9. Upon leaving the polling place with your accurate, actual card of selections, you get the card stamped by the person at the exit, indicating that this is an official, final ballot that counts.
10. You go home and watch election returns with newly buoyed confidence.
11. When polls report, records of the vote, line by line, with name of voter and selections, are published online. They are also printed in the next day’s newspaper and available at the library.
12. Through any of these public media, you go double-check that your vote was accurately counted.
13. If there is any discrepancy between the vote printed and your actual vote (on your official card), you have 60 days to go to one of several public offices and indicate this problem. If the vote doesn’t match what’s on your card, they are legally obligated to change it and update the record.
14. 60 days after the election, final results are certified and republished.

The only reasons we don’t enact the 14 steps above are (a) tradition and (b) arguments about reprisal and punishment for votes.

Tradition is stupid.

Reprisal and punishment arguments are sorely outdated. Do you know what is currently a matter of public record with regards to voting? If you’ve ever donated money to a candidate, that is publicly available and searchable information. These days, trust me, donating $100 to a candidate is a much more powerful and effective support of them than voting for them. Millions of people donate billions of dollars to candidates and there is no documented instance of reprisal for this behavior. Hm.

Also publicly disseminated is information about whether or not you voted (probably more likely to spur reprisal in today’s era than who one voted for), what your party registration is (which is sadly a pretty darn good predictor of who you’ll vote for anyway), and where to knock on your door to talk to you about these things.

And yet, no society of mass-reprisal for donations, voting registration and frequency, etc. Do we really think that people who aren’t intimidated out of donating money to candidates are going to be intimidated out of voting for who they want? (Also, do we really think people could possibly be more sheepy in their voting tendencies in this country anyway?)

It makes you wonder what the real reasons are for us not having public-record balloting.

So, to do my very small part for this cause, I’m going to print my selections below for the whole world to critique, search, and so forth. I doubt anyone will agree with all of them, and I want to hear about it. Putting one’s name behind one’s vote adds a layer of conviction and openness to discussion that we often currently lack in our society as well. It spurs more debate, more discourse, more thought. All things which the same people who want us to privately vote and go quietly home don’t want.

It’s insidious, isn’t it? Our system is most trapped by the very “safeguard” that is seen as the most obvious and important element of the system itself. You can never see the prison from the inside, especially when all the propaganda tells you it’s those bars that are the only thing keeping you safe, secure, happy, well fed.

Anyway, to the ballot. Sadly, while this is what I will fill in with my ridiculous ballpoint ink arrows in about an hour, I have absolutely no confidence that these votes will be counted on anything but this blog. And at least half as much because of chance and human or mechanical error as because of nefarious dealings. Imagine if we did bank deposits this way… no receipts, no double-checking or verifying, no place to ensure that what you intended was what came out. Just trust… and one day, after millions of deposits, your card doesn’t work and you’re broke for no reason. Imagine we did anything the way we handle voting! And this is supposed to be the most important thing we do.

Ha.

Storey Clayton’s 2008 General Election Ballot:

United States of America Offices
President/Vice President: Ralph Nader/Matt Gonzalez (Peace & Freedom)
Representative, CA 9th District: [no vote – protesting Barbara Lee’s support of the bailout]

California Offices
State Senator, 9th District: Marsha Feinland (Peace & Freedom)
State Assembly, 14th District: (write-in) Tony Thurmond
Superior Court Judge, Office #9: Dennis Hayashi

California Measures
Prop 1A (High-Speed Rail): Yes
Prop 2 (Farm Animal Rights): Yes
Prop 3 (Children’s Hospital Bond): No
Prop 4 (Parental Notification for Minor Abortion): Yes
Prop 5 (Rehabilitation Instead of Jail for Non-Violent Drug Crimes): Yes
Prop 6 (Increased Law Enforcement for Gang Crimes): No
Prop 7 (Renewable Energy Standards): No
Prop 8 (Banning Gay Marriage): No
Prop 9 (Victim’s Rights): No
Prop 10 (Bonds for Natural Gas Cars): No
Prop 11 (Redistricting): Yes
Prop 12 (Bonds for Veterans): No

District Offices
AC Transit District Director at Large: Joyce Roy
East Bay Regional Park District Director, Ward 1: Norman La Force

District Measures
Prop VV (Expanding Public Transit): Yes
Prop WW (East Bay Regional Parks Bonds): Yes

Berkeley Offices
Mayor: (write-in) Kahlil Jacobs-Fantauzzi
City Council, District 4: Jesse Arreguin
Rent Stabilization Board: Judy E. Shelton, Jack Harrison, Nicole Drake, Igor Tregub, Jesse Townley
School Directors: John T. Selawsky, Beatriz Leyva-Cutler

Berkeley Measures:
Prop FF (Library Bonds): Yes
Prop GG (Fire, EMS, Disaster Response Bonds): Yes
Prop HH (Confirming Spending Over Gann Limit): Yes
Prop II (3 Years After Census to Adjust Districts): Yes
Prop JJ (Medical Marijuana Dispensaries): [no vote]
Prop KK (Requiring Specific Voter Approval Before Expanding Public Transit): No
Prop LL (Repealing Landmark Preservation): No

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Why I’m Not Voting for Obama

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

For weeks now, I’ve been one of those people that the media and the Daily Show love to both covet and scorn, demonstrating a clear fascination with their every move. I have been an Undecided Voter.

And yet, it’s not really me they’re after. Because John McCain never once entered my consideration as anything other than a worst-case scenario. I am wholly convinced that a McCain administration would make people yearn for the days of George W. Bush… he was the only candidate I was more afraid of in 2000 than Bush. And he’s gotten, if anything, more militant and crazy since then.

No, it’s been between Obama and Nader. After the first debate, as Obama discussed at length how he would kill this person and that person, I was pretty sure I’d made up my mind and set out for a viable third party alternative. I knew I was in trouble already, having voted in the California Green Primary and seen the selection. The choices were so bad that I had to give Bob Barr a look.

This year is a perfect storm for a voter like me (ha! – there probably aren’t any others). An actual major party candidate with a lot of potential combined with the worst imaginable choices from the third parties.

I’m registered Green, but Cynthia McKinney is a joke. She doesn’t even take her own candidacy seriously, much less have the ability to inspire anyone else to join the cause. Maybe some of her thunder was stolen by being up against a Black major party candidate, but she might not have brought it against a woman either. You may recall McKinney from being escorted out of the Capitol as a Democrat. This is the only reason she’s gone Green. Major party cast-offs don’t really inspire change I can believe in.

Then there’s Bob Barr, who was worth exactly one look. I find a lot of Libertarianism kind of abhorrent, even though the society I advocate is kind of a flipped Libertarianism, where the only thing they use government for (violence, war, law enforcement) are the only things I don’t use government for. Yeah, our common ground is being complete opposites. Anyway, Barr’s got a little too much “build a wall around America” in him for me, for this time.

Which leaves me with Nader, someone I desperately hoped wouldn’t run again. He’s transformed himself from a viable voice into Lyndon LaRouche, a perennial candidate who no one takes the slightest bit seriously. I know a lot of people think that ship sailed in 2004, when I ardently supported him, but absolutely no one was else was standing up to provide a good choice against John Freaking Kerry. I mean, seriously. Nader had to run then.

But 2008 is not 2004 and Barack Obama is thankfully not John Kerry. And not just because he has a pulse and can speak. He has not spent the entire election cycle desperately trying to be a Republican, to endorse the Iraq War, to out-hawk the hawks and out-conserve the conservatives. He has actually advocated some small amounts of progression. He shows signs of being capable of having an actually productive administration.

The problem is, as I’ve noted before, that nobody really knows what Obama would do as President. I wrote the last post about this in January, and we don’t know a whole lot more now. He’s focused on his tax policy, which I agree with, and some vague notions of “an army of new teachers” and “line by line budgeting”. He has deliberately kept things to platitudes and grandiose vision… mostly because it’s strategically brilliant. The more one relies on platitudes and universals, the more universal the appeal one has as a candidate (especially if one is already young, attractive, and articulate). When things get specific, people tend to get bored or militantly opposed.

McCain has tried to exploit this fact, but to little avail. Mostly because he wants people to believe such extreme things about Obama that he’s covering up. Maybe he thinks the people will more easily fall victim to a big lie than a small one, but things like “palling around with terrorists” are awfully absurd. I think McCain would’ve done well to just nail the low-hanging fruit on this one. Not that it would’ve given him a chance, but it would’ve made things a little interesting.

So this makes an Obama Presidency a vastly unknown quantity, ranging from a Clintonian nothing-fest on one side to a truly historic and groundbreaking Presidency that I mostly agree with on the other side. That’s a huge swing of possibility. There’s all this upside, but just as much potential that Obama doesn’t want to make waves or take risks, or worse, that he never had any substance lurking and held back in the first place, but is just a pretty guy with pretty words. He may actually be more like Bill Clinton than Hillary is.

So while I’m excited about the upside possibilities, I have to decide based on what I can be confident Obama will actually do. He will surround himself with people like Joe Biden. Disaster. He will move troops from Iraq to Afghanistan and accelerate hostilities there. Disaster. He will attempt to enact tax policy that is exactly right for this time. Good. He will support measures like the $700 billion bailout that passed Congress earlier this month. Disaster. He will increase the amount of healthcare coverage in this country, though he may use mandates to do so. Toss-up. He will talk about hope and change and sacrifice and be aware of the times we are engaging in, as much as most any politician could. Good. He will talk to foreign leaders. Good. He will not commit to ending the war in Iraq. Disaster.

That’s a lot of disaster. I could be accused of being close to a one-issue voter in many ways… war and violence are pretty much the only thing I care about at the end of the day. I think tax policy is somewhat important, and certain social issues here and there (gay marriage, for example). And there’s an increasing issue about who will have the dignity to allow America to step down from its throne of arrogance and superpowerism to gracefully withdraw without pressing red buttons and going nuts. On that last front, Obama clearly beats McCain, though there’s little confidence I have that any American politician can really do that.

Ultimately, I can’t end up supporting someone who has made one of their only concrete policy articulations a description of exactly how many Afghans they want to kill. You can say all you want about him having to say that to get elected and that he’ll actually end both wars, but I need to see that happen before I have any reason to believe it.

You know who I’d really like the opportunity to vote for? The person that John McCain wants you to think Barack Obama is. That’s someone I would’ve devoted the last few weekends to going out and campaigning for. I’d be in Nevada right now. I wish he were a Socialist. I wish he were a Muslim. I wish he did believe what Rev. Jeremiah Wright preaches (speaking of people I’d vote for). I wish he did want to talk and negotiate instead of going to war. I wish he did want to raise taxes.

I know, I know, he wouldn’t have any chance of winning. You know what? Winning is going to get a lot less important to America in the next 25 years. Like Henry Clay, I’d rather be right than President.

So I’m left with Ralph Nader, someone I know I agree with about 95%. And Matt Gonzalez, the person I most want to vote for, a San Francisco Green who should’ve been Mayor and I can actually be enthusiastic about voting for. He’s really the only person of the 10 people on either half of all the tickets that I can demonstrate commitment to. That alone would be good reason to vote for him, and may have more to do with the ultimate vote than anything. If Nader had picked David Cobb as his running mate, I might have to skip the President question altogether on my ballot.

But you know what, Barack? You have four years to earn my vote. Everyone knows you’re going to be President, probably elected by a very wide margin. You’ll have one of the largest friendly majorities in Congressional history, lofting you to a groundswell of support not seen since FDR. They’ll be desperate to prop you up and make you look good, regardless of what they actually feel like doing.

Then, I hope you prove me wrong. I hope you make me eat my words and regret not voting for you. I hope you make sweeping changes that turn the country upside-down for the better. I hope you end wars and don’t start new ones. I hope you get as close to Socialism as the US has seen since FDR. I hope.

If you do that, Barack, even a good chunk of that (a lot will hinge on the wars, of course), then I’ll pre-commit to you in 2012.

Seems like a long way away, huh?

Oh, and Barack. Can you maybe ditch Biden in the re-election campaign?

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The Ides of October

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

There is a man who lives in front of the building where I work. He has been living there for well over a year. I don’t mean he’s living in a neighboring building or he lives down the block or that he lives even in something so luxurious as a cardboard box. He lives, nestled under a particular window, in front of our building.

Before we found out his real name, we had nicknamed him the Random Number Generator. He spends most of his life standing under our window and calling out various numbers. There’s really little telling if they’re actually random or not. They are staccato and orderly seeming enough, usually interspersed with the names of cities, famous personages, and government officials. The numbers may well be ZIP codes, birthdays, social security numbers, phone numbers. When working with numbers all day, this is not the most helpful auditory experience.

The man was wearing a shirt today – it was warm enough that this might be in question, though he usually has many layers on. He was napping when I saw him on my way home from work, but the blue-green logo on his shirt was unmistakable. It was a Wachovia shirt.

He’s not the kind to ask for change (indeed, very few people do within earshot of Glide since we have so many free services), but he’d only need about six bucks to get a whole share of what he was advertising. Tomorrow, it might be four and a half.

It is a symptom of the homeless that, among many other indignities, they must suffer to wear absurdity. It’s a hand-me-down lifestyle to some sort of ridiculous extreme. A waft of shirts advertising some sort of discredited diet scheme filtered through the Tenderloin a while back… it was unsettling to see peppy shirts saying “Ask me about the ____ Diet!!” on thinning homeless men. Another version wanted you to ask the wearer how they lost so many pounds.

How indeed.

The Random Number Generator is clearly intelligent, perhaps a bit of a conspiracy theorist, perhaps a bit of a savant. It is hard to imagine that he’s totally unaware of the state of the globe at large, or at least what the pundits believe is same. Perhaps he takes a special sweet triumphant satisfaction in wearing Wachovia’s banner on his torso, a signal of a giant Goliaths felled by the coming Davids of the poor and previously forgotten. Were he to wander down to the Financial District (he never leaves), he might give several high-class brokers a fright. Here is the harbinger of their own future. There but for the grace of luck go I.

And luck is changing.

The focus of the media during the Columbus Day Rally was not on the previous times that the market had bolted up such steep percentage precipices. It was merely on the unprecedented height of the point climb, the towering reach for four digits of movement. In the margins, it was noted that the last time this happened (percentage-wise) was in 1933. 1933 notably not known for its economic recovery and triumphant financial hope. Followed, of course, by gains in 1931, 1928, and 1932. And then Monday. What good company for projecting a joyous financial future.

No wonder it’s only taken 48 hours to give all those miraculous gains back, while keeping just a little interest. By tomorrow, it’ll all be gone again.

Last night was the full moon; tonight the Ides of October. Tomorrow it seems the hurricane’s eye will finally leave us and the storm will resume. Already the inner bands of rain have started to creep in.

A deluge of sorts is also descending on the Blue Pyramid, with the most one-day traffic since May. While parallels could be drawn to the markets see-saw peaks and valleys (and indeed, it has been a mostly down year), I’m taking it while it lasts.

Wachovia’s merging with my bank, Wells Fargo. My bank wasn’t always Wells Fargo – it used to be called Norwest. Then Wells Fargo bought Norwest and said they’d still say I’d had a checking account with them since 1997, which sounded fine to me. I liked Norwest’s color scheme better, but Wells Fargo does have a strong, rich history in the West.

Norwest’s color scheme was just like Wachovia’s, come to think of it.

Sleep well, children of the Tenderloin. All this nonsense will be over soon. Or at least different.

by

Eye of the Storm

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

“Eye of a hurricane, listen to yourself churn
world serves its own needs, regardless of your own needs.
Feed it up a knock, speed, grunt no, strength no.
Ladder structure clatter with fear of height, down height.
Wire in a fire, represent the seven games in a government for hire and a combat site.
Left her, wasn’t coming in a hurry with the furies breathing down your neck.
Team by team reporters baffled, trump, tethered crop.
Look at that low plane! Fine then.
Uh oh, overflow, population, common group, but it’ll do.
Save yourself, serve yourself. World serves its own needs,
listen to your heart bleed.
Tell me with the rapture and the reverent in the right – right.
You vitriolic, patriotic, slam, fight, bright light, feeling pretty psyched.

It’s the end of the world as we know it.
It’s the end of the world as we know it.
It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine.”
-R.E.M., “It’s the End of the World as We Know It”

Even the four horsemen have to take a breather now and then.

Today was a waste of a day, a day spent in purgatory, a day that was just like September, except the direction is already well established. It’s almost like everyone forgot what was happening, wanted to pretend otherwise, wanted to return to business as usual.

But Monday looms like a towering monolith in the distance. And everyone with a job knows that Sunday night can be worse than Monday morning.

Of course, much of America won’t be working on Monday. The literal markets will be open, but the proverbial markets may be closed. Or perhaps it’s the other way around. The only reason the market didn’t lose 1,000 points on Friday was the rumor of a weekend retreat by the G-7 financial leaders being sure to yield results.

Today, the managing director of the IMF announced that the last couple weeks “had pushed the global financial system to the brink of systemic meltdown.”

Sounds like you should just keep holding on to your 401k and hope for the best, just like the media tells you.

There is no news, there is no progress, there are no ideas. Capitalism is broken and no amount of fooling seems to be able to fix it, in no small part because people are starting to realize just how transparently empty the whole thing is. Money is just an idea that we all agree to. Once we stop agreeing, the idea seems pretty silly, doesn’t it?

I mean, think about it. Think how ridiculous it is that financial booms and crises exist. How utterly absurd. It’s not because people have more things or fewer. It’s not because there are wars and plagues or an absence thereof. It’s because of machinations in this fabricated concept of money that declare that some people own things and others don’t, that some people can hold sway over thousands of others and others cannot.

It’s laughable. Sit down and contemplate this idea in your own words and thoughts for twenty minutes… you’ll be mindblown after ten. People talk about financial crises like hurricanes that can’t be predicted, like pestilence that can’t be cured. It’s all in your mind. Or in six billion minds.

Which makes it all the more silly when the media comes back and tries to say that irrationality is overfeeding the panic or back when Greenspan chided the market for “irrational exuberance” in the dot-com bubble. As though made-up money had something other than irrational collective action to it. As though it’s perfectly rational to stand at the altar of small green pieces of paper and commit your whole life to their acquisition. As though it makes all the sense in the world that everything can be built or destroyed on the back of such little pieces of paper (or promises to send you such pieces, or electronic records thereof).

For a world that believes so fervently in science, it seems like an awful lot of blind faith to me.

Which is why, I suppose, I don’t fear that the end of the world will come with the end of capitalism. Which is why I’m so convinced that people will just look back and shake their heads that such media of exchange were so dominant for such a long period of time. It will have the same nostalgic tinge as Norse gods or the Greco-Roman pantheon. Couldn’t they see the seepage of their own individual human flaws into this godlike attribution? Couldn’t the realize they were merely playing their own fears out and calling them holy?

It’s hard to know what to do in the eye of the storm. The calm is unnerving, the quiet disquieting. The air doesn’t feel like truly undisturbed air. It carries an electrical charge, a current, it’s aswirl with its storm-tossed past and future. It knows what’s in store and it whispers like a warning that this is mere deception.

Does one give into the temptation to come up above ground, furiously batten the hatches, recognizing that any second the second half of the maelstrom could hit? Does one hang tight in the basement, ignoring the opportunity on the surface, insisting on playing it safest?

Weekends are just another idea we humans have created and agreed to. Most times, they make a lot more sense than money. But this time ’round, it just feels like over-simulation of a hurricane. I’m ready to get the storm over with already. There’s a new world to build on the other side.

by

Atonement

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

When I was young, my teeth were trying to teach me a lesson in peaceful coexistence. My adult teeth didn’t want to replace most of my baby teeth, forcing them out by coming straight down over the top of them. They wanted to live side-by-side, like shark teeth.

I lost a couple teeth the conventional way here and there, but most of them had to be pulled. Two rows of coexistent teeth just do not combine for the look most people find aesthetically pleasing, and I had plans to open my mouth regularly as I got older. It’s hard to imagine using such a tool for anything other than random and irrelevant intimidation prior to a debate round.

I had teeth pulled in several cities over several years. Visalia, Portland, Washington DC. I had gas and novocaine and at least one visit that felt like there was no anesthetic at all (the gas was the worst of the three). But the standout dental appointment, the one that has stuck in my memory the strongest, was on Monday, October 19, 1987.

It was a midmorning appointment at the Georgetown University Medical Center. I remember my Dad mentioning it being cheaper because a student dentist would be performing the procedure – pulling, as I recall, 2 teeth that day. Prior to meeting the student dentist, I had visions of him being roughly my age and equally competent to perform dentistry. I was just a little bit anxious.

However, he turned out to be in that age group of people that one knows intellectually is much younger than one’s parents, but seems, from the vantage of childhood, to somehow be older because of their general remoteness and distance from one’s own age. The connection of family seems to bridge age gaps much more than connections with intimidating sixth graders or graduate school students. And frankly, he ended up being perhaps the most competent dentist to ever peer into my maw.

It was as he was starting to work on the second tooth that I remember discussion starting about events outside that room. The room was strangely like a room full of cubicles, looking nothing like any other medical facility I’d ever been in. And my father started talking with the dentist about stocks and the market and what was going on. It wasn’t until the next few days, discussions at Roy Rogers’ after school on sore teeth, that I really started to comprehend the magnitude of the change that had taken place. 1987 proved to be a slightly volatile year. (And yes, I followed politics when I was 7. I don’t know how one could live in DC that year and not follow politics.)

I have a dental appointment today.

Yesterday was Yom Kippur. In an almost precise tie with Good Friday, Yom Kippur is one of my two favorite holidays to come out of the Judeo-Christian tradition, one of the only two I’d keep. I believe I’ve talked about this before, right around last Good Friday, so I’ll spare the full details here again. But a full day to fast, reflect, and take personal responsibility for one’s actions? That I can get down with. And what good timing to boot.

I won’t plunge into detail about the Yom Kippur that is the emotional standout comparable to the dental appointment describe above. But it was around the same season, nine years later, and involved waiting in the Advocate office, just sitting and waiting. A time for my own reflection. A time wherein I was about to embark on something I would come to regret and be overwhelmed in efforts to take responsibility for. A time that brought me to the very brink of issues of forgiveness and guilt, responsibility and atonement.

Sometime shortly after the outbreak of the Iraq War, my father coined the phrase “America will not be forgiven.” There was brief discussion of putting it on bumper stickers and banners, starting a movement that, like so many my father and I discuss, raises concerns about being disappeared or openly removed from society. We didn’t start the presses, we kept it to ourselves. But even then, with the extreme harshness of the phrase and the mood, I don’t think anyone anticipated the tsunami that is lurching over the coastline right now.

As I type this, the answer to yesterday’s question has bobbed from 4 to 8 to 1 to 2 to 3. I learned the word “volatility” in 1987 when talking to my Dad about the stock market and the association is still good today. When I typed yesterday’s post, the market was down about 50, then up a handful, yet it still managed to answer yesterday’s question with a 6.

I have started openly talking to people in daily life about the impending Depression. The quantity of denial abroad is astounding. Many are still unwilling to believe there’s a recession underway (or even to come), many still want to think that an America of plenty and excess is the way of the future, the way of all things. Despite humanity’s incredible innate adaptability, I will never fail to be stunned by each individual human’s ability to take what they have known for a very short time and assume it will carry on forever, without interruption.

Can we be forgiven for this indiscretion, this incredible lack of foresight? I grew up on lessons of the Holocaust and World War II, discussion of 1930’s Germany and the writing that was increasingly bold and red on the wall. The vantage of history was not terribly kind to those who stayed in Germany as the ’30’s progressed. Many critiqued how anyone could just stand by, continue going to their job or running their shop, hope for the best, be sure that the zealots were going to calm down, that things would turn around, that militarization was just a precaution. By the time that many realized what was really afoot, it was far too late to talk about crossing borders or bailing out. And the price was unfathomably, unforgivably high.

Surely no one can be blamed for being hopeful in a time of crisis. But there is a line between hope and delusion that is critical and can literally differentiate between life and death. I do not think the situation locally parallels 1930’s Germany precisely for several reasons. Not the least of which is that I can’t think of a place to go right now.

But as I consider that, this can’t be all that dissimilar from then. The whole world was immersed in a Depression then. Everyone was electing dynamic dictators to navigate out of the crisis. America’s breadlines could not have been beckoning from across the shore, whispering of the opportunity for a better life outside of Germany. Indeed, the outlook was so globally bleak the Germany’s machinations of progress might have looked the most stabilizing, the most hopeful. One could almost be forgiven for bailing from another country and sneaking into Germany.

But like the move for those who rode out of the dustbowl into California, only to find that opportunity was dead across the land, this would have been a poor decision. Being wise in an era of panic is difficult and sometimes requires an amount of forethought that humans are simply not equipped to exercise. No wonder so many people just burrow – dig in and entrench in their current environment, pretending that nothing is going to change.

I once said, working on a project where I was obliged to defend Robespierre, that “paranoia is healthy in paranoid times”. I don’t think Robespierre can be forgiven on these grounds, but it occurs to me that I might ask others to forgive me along these lines. I have been compared, recently and by more than one, to the guys on the street with signs about the end being near. The irony, of course, being that we work with street people every day and I haven’t seen a sign like that in 2.5 years of life in the Tenderloin.

Forgive me if I’m right. Forgive me if I’m wrong. And I will try to find a way to forgive those who, through denial, misrepresentation, and greed, have created the maelstrom that could drown the whole world.

If you’re looking for hope, there’s a rainbow after the flood. But first, we must survive the flood.

by

Ho-Ho, Hey-Hey, How Many Hundreds Down Today?

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

“Sitting on a sofa on a Sunday afternoon,
Going to the candidates’ debate
Laugh about it, shout about it, when you’ve got to choose
Every way you look at it, you lose.
Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio,
A nation turns its lonely eyes to you.
Woo woo woo.
What’s that you say, Mrs. Robinson?
Joltin’ Joe has left and gone away.
Hey hey hey.
Hey hey hey.”
-Simon & Garfunkel, “Mrs. Robinson”

They say that in the past, toward the end of the last Depression, when baseball was America and people needed a hero, people had only one question for each other in the spring of 1941: “Did he get one today?”

The question was about Joe DiMaggio and whether he had extended his hitting streak.

In the future, if we ever get there, I have long maintained that those in my generation will have only one question for each other in our twilight years. “How many have you had?”

The question will be about the number of cancers we’ve each survived.

In this interim period, somewhere between 1941 and 2041, we are in the midst of the slowest, most methodical stock market crash in world history. No one is out in the streets marching to the titular chant, but the only question of note for those financially inclined, aware, or concerned, should be as it says: “How many hundreds down today?”

I’ve read a lot in the last week about “market analysis”. A co-worker walked in yesterday morning with a freshly printed oversize sheet from her retirement planners displaying full-color charts of how the market always goes up, forever and ever Amen, despite dips and splutters just like this one. Everyone’s just chomping at the bit to “call a bottom”, “get in on the ground floor”, and “buy low”.

There’s another element of the discussion, one that revolves around so-called “capitulation”. That when everyone gets enough fear in them, enough panic selling occurs, and enough people call their broker screaming “sell it all!”, we can finally transition back into the slow, steady, stair-climbing growth that supposedly defines stock markets. Because there will be no one left who wants to sell.

I humbly submit that the two paragraphs above are in diametric conflict with each other, and together they combine to be the complete illustration of the anatomy of a slow crash, or perhaps even a Permanent Crash State. Every morning, CNN runs the headline “Stocks Set to Rebound”. Every morning, for the past week. Every morning, stocks are up for a few minutes, even an hour or two. Every afternoon, in the half-hour before the closing bell, people panic sell like Wall Street is closing forever.

But every morning, through the help of Fed actions, punditry about bottoms and ground floors and capitulation, and good ol’ fashioned American optimism and can-do spirit, the next day has Stocks Set to Rebound! Everything’s going to be fine. And it’s this buying, consumerist, happy-go-lucky attitude that leads to a repetition of the pattern and ensures that as long as there’s capitalism in America, there will be no capitulation.

In 1929, people had no such assurances and hubris about their markets and their financial systems. There was no FDIC, no unemployment insurance, no guarantee that money would be there when things went wrong. People felt the need to provide their own financial security, not just trust that everyone was on the same page with get-rich-quick schemes that don’t require anything other than blind faith and fiat.

So when things went south, they did so in a hurry. Everyone gave up quickly. There was massive, widespread, almost universal capitulation. No one was looking to get in on a ground floor or find a buying opportunity. No pundits said that maybe the market was ripe for bargain purchases as it was careening to the ground, carrying so many investors (and their portfolios) with it.

And thus, it could be over (more or less) in 48 hours. One big crash to rule them all. And then, as my co-worker’s handy chart reminds me, it would be 16 years before levels at the outset of those 48 hours had been reclaimed.

The Permanent Crash State looks completely different. There’s a sucker looking to buy every minute, ensuring endless volatility and false hope. No one wants to capitulate because they just know this market is ripe for getting into any second. It’s just the right number they need to spot, the right falling knife they need to grab by the handle. 9,000? 8,000? 7,6,5? It’s somewhere, here, I promise, the perfect opportunity to get in.

Meanwhile, of course, people will peel off on the sidelines. My moment of capitulation was Monday, but your mileage may vary. Maybe it’ll be at the third bailout. Or the nationalization of the airlines or the banking system. Maybe it’ll be when the government cancels its debts and the press conference from a missile silo in North Dakota announces that anyone wanting to appeal this decision can file their complaint with the full force and vigor of the United States military.

But even then, I promise, CNN and CNBC will be telling you how oversold defense stocks are, how people have been dreaming for generations at getting in on the Dow Jones at today’s price of 1,700, how you would be a fool not to think that everything was going to be great from here on out.

Many hundred-point chunks between here and there, though. How many today?

If you need me, I’ll be watching baseball.

by

The End of Capitalism

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

It wasn’t long ago that I was talking to whoever would listen about a world without money. A world after money. I got the blank stares and befuddled looks of a generation that grew up in the Reagan years. Who could even conceive of a world without money? (I could.) Hasn’t there always been money? (There hasn’t.) What are you even talking about?

Apparently, I was talking about 2009.

My third novel (yes, #2 is unwritten, so you can guess about the status of #3) was about the natural outcome of capitalism, or one of them. This, apparently, is another. The outcomes all have one thing in common – ultimately the profit motive (or “greed” as people aware of their souls like to call it) eats the system. Think Cookie Monster eating the plate on which the cookies were served-style eating the system. Nom nom nom, it’s time for greed.

It may take a century or two or three. Proponents of the free market in its purist form don’t realize that it’s all the government regulation that keeps the sham of capitalism going as long as it does in the first place. The market will solve nothing unchecked, because ultimately it becomes about fraud and manipulation and finally out and out theft. The only difference between the free market and the black market is that one is endorsed and one is condemned. Much like the only difference between intoxicants on one or the other. They all produce the same results and they all end in toxicity.

The problem with even regulated markets is that, much like the saga of computer hackers and computer security (or, one could argue, the history of crime in the human era), the crooks are always going to be a half-step ahead of the law. And when there are trillions of dollars on the line, and these trillions can be used to bring the law over to the side of the crooks, that’s pretty much ballgame.

In my lifetime, should I be fortunate enough to live to the life expectancy of my generation in this country, I will live to see younger people write history books ridiculing the philosophies that were Gospel truth in an America hooked on greed. And I’ll be loving every minute, because those philosophies are ridiculous. Capitalism’s only virtue over Stalinist Communism is that it managed to keep itself in check for 17 more years. Congratulations, Capitalism. You get an extra micro-dot on the geologic landscape of the human experience.

To say that I am wide-eyed with the first authentic hope for society at large that I have felt in many years would be an understatement. Again, I must disclaim that I’m not a fan of the suffering that will be associated with this. Watching people actually starve or fight as the absurd fantasies of their faulty assumptions come crashing down around them is no fun. But the end result is necessary and overdue. It’s time to learn to live without money.

It’s early yet (indeed, most of you are blinking at me and saying far too early), but it’s good to think about things before the pundits on TV are talking about it. A few months ago, I was talking (at least in person, probably not on this blog) about the Greatest Depression. And that’s finally on the TV, though I should’ve trademarked the term, since no one’s using it yet. Trademarks, however, will probably be another casualty of said Depression. So it goes. And if not, who wants to be the bastard living high on the hog because he coined the phrase for what we’re all suffering through? Now really, that’s just impolite.

But see, that’s the kind of mentality that even socialists get into in this kind of society. I see in myself so much that needs to be cleansed of the filthy touch of the invisible hand. I play poker, hoping to take others’ money. I played the stock market for a while, mercifully liquidating on Monday morning (if it had been last Monday, but there I go again…). I go to a day job for goodness’ sake, a real sacrifice in the interest of money. I even have advertising on my website. I think of schemes and projects, often with a financial angle in mind.

I attribute two major factors, both of which I’ll forgive myself for (though, like violence, everyone has their own reasons that, in the end, are all unjustifiable, right?). One is the fact that I don’t want a house or multiple cars or really anything out of all these schemes, save the ability to liberate my time on this planet. I don’t feel I was put here for day jobs and as long as I’m anchored to one, I’ll feel the need to find a way to disengage. Though without money, that comes sooner than later. The second factor is probably good old genetics, as I inherit an entrepreneurial streak from my ever-planful father. I grew up in the ’80’s and it was a time for entrepreneurs, but I can’t remember how many conversations led to an angle on a project. And even more amazing are how many we actually pursued.

Ultimately, my father’s curse in entrepreneurship is much like my ultimate curse in poker: making just enough money to have paid for the passage of time. Functionally breaking even.

I’m not going to appeal to some grand karmic restriction on my father making a lasting profit on his projects, but I’m sure he’d argue it’s possible. As for me, I’m still checking into the day job, and still actually finding ways to enjoy it. But yearning to write. This weekend’s crash-project (The Bailout Betrayal Quiz, if you haven’t taken it) reminded me just how quickly I can be creative if I want to. Part of the joys of manic depression.

Hey speaking of which, this article, written as much about David Foster Wallace as about anything else, strikes me much like 1990’s economics will strike people in twenty years. Absurd. Not that thinking there exists a link between creativity and what some label “mood disorders” is absurd, but thinking that they are somehow not inextricably tied and that this might (shock of all shocks) indicate that “mood disorders” are not 100% negative. I mean, come on.

Things this article lists as negative:
-“reflectiveness”
-“kind of ruminating”
-“sensitivity to a large extent”
-“If you think about stuff in your life and you start thinking about it again, and again, and again”

That’s my favorite, that last one. Don’t think too much, kids, because the more you think about things, the more depressed you’ll get!

Could this possibly be because, I don’t know, things aren’t good?!?!

No, that couldn’t be the explanation. Thinking must somehow make things bad. Imbalanced mortgages, mountains of debt, and 20-to-1 leveraging aren’t bad. It’s just thinking about them too much that makes them bad.

Good thing no one bothered to do that.

Maybe if “bipolar” (again, I must stress: one is supposed to have two poles, see also planets) people were running financial firms instead of writing books, we could look forward to another century of propped-up capitalism that looked like it functioned better than Stalinism, feudalism, or anything else we’ve tried.

Whew.

Though it looks like I’m down a book idea, unless somehow this thing finds a way to get salvaged. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from the last 7 years, though, it’s that people’s fear will override any other emotion they could possibly manifest. Even, thankfully, faith in the almighty dollar. Maybe if we hadn’t spent the last two terms of Presidency getting fear beaten into us like an enforced mantra, there’d be an escape hatch for the world of money. It’s almost like someone planned it this way.

But whoever did, if they did, was counting on their money counting for something. Here’s the problem with that – money is just an idea. It’s no more real than hope or fear or depression or joy. It’s a widely held collective agreement to suspend disbelief. We could hand out utility tokens or joy tickets or anything else and start believing in those, refusing to be happy unless we had the requisite joy ticket. It would make just as much sense and have just as much behind it. The willingness of everyone to agree to something.

And while there’s something to be said for a gigantic exercise in collective action, I think this one has done enough harm for now. We can use the same principle to create many new, much better forms of collective action and belief. Seriously, what an opportunity is unfolding before us.

But we’re going to have to learn about choices again. That we all have free will and are not just indentured servants of our mistakes and obligations.

I mean, look:
“Just as heart disease sometimes presents itself for the first time as a fatal heart attack, mental illness sometimes presents itself for the first time as a suicide.”

I’m sorry, but this is the most broken description of suicide in human history. Suicide is not a random side effect of mental illness. It is a choice. One does not have to be mentally ill to commit suicide. One has to make the decision that death outweighs life. This may be a difficult decision, or a sad one, but hardly so illogical in all cases that even those who believe in mental illness would render it universally mentally ill.

Kids, if we’re going to make it as a species, we have to reject this specious notion that we’re not making choices. Every day, you make decisions. You choose how to spend your 24 hours. You. Only you. Everything you do is really, truly, up to you.

Maybe you don’t see it yet. Maybe you’ll see it better when the Dow Jones hits 5,000 points, or 2,000. Maybe you’ll see it better when there’s no more treadmill job to attend. Maybe you’ll see it better when everyone’s eating the same thing every day and it’s all there is. Maybe you’ll see it better when there’s no more internet, no more TV, no more people like me telling you what to think or consider. Just you and your thoughts. To ruminate on. Over and over and over.

Until you… decide.

People, this is an exciting time to be alive.

by

The Winnebago Drove with its Propane Stove

Categories: A Day in the Life, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Upcoming Projects, Tags: , , ,

“He lost his money in a geyser bank,
Ho ho ho ho ho,
First it floated and then it sank,
Ho ho ho ho ho.”
-Traditional Clayton Family Song, c. 1987 trip to Yellowstone

My family used to write songs in the old folk tradition, through oral telling that was created impromptu and then sung and resung. Sometimes the lyrics would change every time and sometimes they would be solidified and codified into one set of lyrics to be passed on through the ages. Occasionally, as with the epic spoof “Santa Shark”, the lyrics were written down entirely for future generations.

Of course, there were only ever two generations (three people total) and they stand today. I did have grandparents then, but they have moved on and probably never would have appreciated songs like “Hooray for U-Haul Trucks”. That may have been my favorite song of the old travels, a telling anthem for an unstable period in our lives that was all the more exciting to me because I didn’t fully understand the financial implications of our nomadic and volatile lifestyle. And yet I was the one who came up with the only lines of the song:

“Hooray for U-Haul trucks,
They take you away from bad places,
Hooray for U-Haul trucks,
They take you into bad places.”

There were many ironies to this song, not the least of which was that we were using our blue Saab that already had close to 100,000 miles on its record as our own “U-Haul truck” to take us from one bad place (Visalia, CA) to another (Washington, DC). The protocol, of course, was that this song was to be sung whenever passing any sort of brand-name moving truck, and adapt to the one being seen on the roadway. “Ryder trucks”, “Hertz-Penske trucks”, and “Mayflower trucks” were most often referred, though U-Hauls were dominant. If we were lucky, they would be the U-Hauls with exciting illustrations of another state that we would visit, had just passed through, or would some day live in.

It’s the geyser bank song (actually one of two – the other was relatively lyric-less and peppy) that sticks in my head of late, for a variety of reasons. Not the least of which is that a Winnebago has decided to spend the last week parked in front of our house, and occasionally in a non-parking-spot down the block on the corner. It perfunctorily moves every 48 hours or so, but it’s clear that life in Berkeley got too expensive for someone, so they decided to “go RVing” in front of the Nation’s by the campus. Parking tickets sure make great rent when compared to an adjustable rate mortgage.

This is particularly poignant for two reasons. One, in a conversation foreshadowing just this kind of reality two months ago, my father and I argued profusely about the legality of just such an RV-type vehicle parking on the streets of Berkeley over even one night without being towed. I predicted that it wouldn’t get towed for ages. Well, Dad (yes he’s blogging again), we’re on day six in the neighborhood and the Winnebago hasn’t gone anywhere (and I’ve only seen one actual ticket). The other poignancy is the titular line of this post, which was another lyric in the somewhat melancholy ode, “He Lost His Money in a Geyser Bank”.

I have spent the entire day writing what will probably be the fastest-written and most completely ad hoc quiz in the history of the Blue Pyramid efforts, tentatively dubbed the Bailout Betrayal Quiz. In it, you’ll get a slightly in-depth look at the 59 Congresspeople who changed their mind between Monday and Friday of last week, plus 5 of our favorite folks who lobbied so hard for the bailout in the first place. I have vacillated greatly on what I want to get out of such a quiz, and how vengeful to make it (especially since I agree with many other stands these people took besides turning their coats on the bailout), and whether I should offer alternatives and promote opponents, many of whom would’ve voted for the bailout even earlier. I am still working out these compromises and the quiz won’t be up till this time tomorrow at the earliest, since I still have 40-some answers to write. But I’ve done nearly everything else that makes up a quiz since about this time yesterday, if you can believe it.

I am sitting here, wired and tired, unshaven and unbathed, overwhelmed and just beginning. I have expended tremendous energy on a project that leaves me ambivalent. Sometimes I think I’m just like the people I’m railing against – taking action because I can, when perhaps inaction would be more sober. Yet at the same time, I can’t just let this moment in history go unmarked. The US is careening, faster than even I imagined, for the Greatest Depression. Everything I ever was concerned about, speculated wildly about, thought may be happening, is beyond true. It’s here, already, and to stay. Everything up till now has just been prelude to what’s upon us.

The decisions we make, going forward, count double. It feels like one of those signs on the highway: “Traffic fines doubled in construction zone.” That’s what we’re in, except it’s a deconstruction zone. Everything’s coming apart and people are grabbing what they can on the way down. Friday’s vote was a public looting of stores that no one was bothering to guard. There will be more and faster and there will never be any bounce or payoff, just more looting.

I am reading Camus’ The Plague this week. I watched “Blindness” on Friday. I can’t imagine two more fitting pieces of media experience for what is coming.

No one can say they weren’t warned. And coming from America, no one can say they don’t deserve it. The world makes remarkably more sense than we give it credit for.

There’s that word, credit. Heh.

“He Lost His Money in a Geyser Bank” was initially the product of a pun, as were so many Clayton family tunes. But on a day that is about to dawn with “real” banks seeming comparably safe to geyser banks, it begs all kinds of questions. Questions whose answers may be in another 64-answer quiz. Or in nothing at all.

What’s your interest?

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A Snowball’s Chance on Mars

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

Well, I was wrong. The market didn’t go up 900 points today; only 485. (Third largest point total gain ever.) Even dead cats can only bounce so high. Or maybe it’s just waiting for official October.

I woke up late this morning, but inspired. Not in recognition of the ancient new year so much as yet another new project, another “chapter one” for me. I plunked down my ten ethernet dollars and picked up a domain name that seemed resonant. This may yield, in short order, an incredibly prolific and time-consuming “next big thing”. Or it may pan into nothing, a product of me being realistic, for once, about my time constraints and expenditures. At this point, I’m squarely 50-50.

If I decide not to do it, I’ll at least post some of the prototype stuff somewhere on the BP. And if I decide to do it, you won’t be able to stop hearing about it for a while.

These times have been labeled interesting, trying, unprecedented. Somehow, in the shuffle, we’ve lost sight of the fact that it’s becoming more and more obvious that there’s some sort of life on Mars. I know I’ve already been over this, but snow? Snow?! I feel like the next article will talk about the Martian radio broadcast that some linguist in a lab is working on translating, only to be met with similar lack of fanfare in a world so self-absorbed as to believe it is alone in living at all.

Maybe they’ll have to cart the Mars Rover into their underground lair before we really start to see it.

Maintaining a lasting feeling of relevance is difficult in a period like this. I feel as fickle as the market is volatile, as uncertain as everyone else. What inspires me in the morning seems blasé by the afternoon. What depresses me one day seems almost okay the next. I know I have unstable moods, but this is just getting silly. Is everyone feeling this way? Is everyone’s world this inconsistent, unstable, murky?

This isn’t exactly something people are prone to sharing. Like so many widely held perceptions, people assume that it’s “just me” or “something only I’m going through”. We are trained to be independent, to be scientific, to be immune to larger growing understandings that border on the universal. We are given inoculations of isolation and uncommunicativeness from birth, in the hopes of eradicating the virus of our humanity.

But there is power in the viral, a term the web has started to turn on its head. There is seemingly impossible potential in people, both alone and in groups, working toward common purpose. I would never have believed that the bailout, even if it’s just a first round, could be defeated by a populous united in opposition to their politicians. Couldn’t even conceive of the possibility. And now, in the face of it, it seems like anything is similarly probable. We could be on the verge of something very real.

And yet I have despair, debilitation, almost no energy to get anything done. I want my recreation, rest, distraction. Once more unto a breach of working overtime on top of a day job just seems… sigh.

But what if this is the one? What if the next mountain is the one we have to get over to find the valley below? What if this door is the exit?

Someone show me a sign.

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On Certain Tuesdays in October

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

Ah, you say, but it’s not October yet.

Sure.

I don’t know of any site that sorts stock market activity by days of the week, but I have a guess that Tuesdays are running at a substantial net loss. Not that Mondays have a great recent record either.

And the crashes of ’29 and ’87 were both October phenomena. And I don’t think the rest of the years’ worth of Octobers have done all that well either. I once read a few things about why October is a witchy month for the markets, stuck between anticipation of the holidays and everything else. All kinds of things seem to come due in October. And I’m hardly just talking about the market.

I guess that it’s not considered good manners to be gleeful on the day of a record stock market drop in America. I could make lots of arguments for you, ranging from the fact that I have enough invested in the market myself to keep me honest and sincere, to the fact that I really believe in my heart of hearts that more good can come from stock market crashes than almost anything I can imagine right now. Really. But I guess I’ll sum up my defense with this: today will probably only be a record for one day.

Yeah. I would, uh, suggest getting your money out.*

*Of course, there’s a decent likelihood that everything will bounce tomorrow, higher than it’s ever been before. October is nothing if not volatile, and the market is a haven of volatility and tumult these days. Could I rule out a 900-point jump tomorrow followed by an 1100-point collapse on Wednesday, perhaps culminating in a flat week? Of course not. In fact, that may be the most probable outcome of all.

But for one day, at the very least, I can say I’m happy and, more than that, hopeful. I remember telling Fish in Chicago in April that there was a big part of me that felt that the United States had a decent chance of collapsing in the next 20 years and that its doing so, and doing so sooner than later, was the best thing that could happen to the planet. Now it’s feeling a little more like 20 minutes. To which I must say: bring it on.

Too harsh? Too cavalier? Yes, people’s lives are at stake. But the more humbled this country gets, the more everyone will have to understand what it is to be a citizen of the world, not just one privileged spoiled nation. The more equalized the playing field gets here, and between here and everywhere else, the more reasonable everyone’s expectations will become.

For too long, the United States has been touting itself as an example, a model, evidence of what innate, unchecked greed and ambition can do for you. Inspiring the worst of hopes in everyone, that they too can get rich quick rather than helping their neighbor.

Kids, you always get what you give. It just might be The End of Capitalism. The snake chomping its tail may have finally swallowed itself whole, never to return.

I’m getting ahead of myself. But hope is, after all, a dangerous thing.

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