Attn: Mr. Elvis Cat, Standing On The Shoulders Of Giant Midgets; Re: Performance review

>> Friday, September 30, 2011

Dear Mr. E. Cat,

As you are no doubt aware, the dire state of the economy has forced many institutions to re-evaluate their fiscal situations and consider whether or not their current policies and practices carry long-term sustainability over the expected forecasts of continued reduced economic growth or even possible recession. Accordingly, one of the initiatives we are implementing here at Standing On The Shoulders Of Giant Midgets is a mandatory performance review of all employees to determine whether or not they need to be retained or demobilized as negative assets as a reduction-of-costs policy.

The major question is whether every member of the team is a producing member. A good employee of Standing On The Shoulders Of Giant Midgets is one who every day asks, "How have I increased shareholder value in this blog?" Such a valued employee considers not only mandated policies for increasing revenue and reducing expenses, but thinks outside the box in seeking innovative new ways to do so. At the end of the day, a valued employee should be able to point to at least one specific task performed during the course of the day by which the value of this blog was increased.

In conducting your performance review, due consideration was given to your years with the company, your experience and education, your interactions with customers and with other members of the Giant Midgets team.

I regret to inform you, Mr. Cat, that your performance was found to be sub-satisfactory along several axis of evaluation. Co-workers indicated that you do not appear to understand the premise that there is no "I" in "team", though, to be perfectly fair, it isn't clear that you understand that there are in fact an "e" and an "a", or that you have any comprehension of alphanumeric characters whatsoever.

Along similar lines, while it is clear that you have received company memos (as you have been observed sitting on them and/or pawing at their edges, producing an irritating rasping sound), there has never been any indication that you've ever read any of them, including those memos specifically relevant to your position in the company.

An appraisal of your indifference to the written word has not led to a satisfactory conclusion as to whether you are an indifferent employee who does not believe the rules applicable to everyone else are also applicable to himself, or whether it is indicative of gross deficiencies in your formal education. As you ought to be aware, some college education is almost mandatory in highly-technical fields such as Internet communication and multimedia; yet there is no evidence in your file that you even have a high school diploma, much less any sort of collegiate degree appropriate to this venture's expectations! If you are in possession of documentation verifying your educational attainments, degrees held, papers published, seminars attended, classes taught, etc., it is incumbent upon you to produce such proofs at once. (In the meantime, you should be advised that an audit is taking place in HR to determine how your file is missing this crucial documentation in the first place.)

Concerns have also been raised as to what, exactly, it is you do around here. You have been observed eating, sitting around, sleeping, just lying around, running around in small circles, looking intently out of a window, hiding beneath furniture, zipping across a room at full tilt with no apparent provocation, and other activities with no obvious application to the mission of this blog. Your food consumption deserves particular notice, as we were surprised to discover that while other employees are expected to purchase their own food or bring their lunches to work, your meals have apparently been compensated by the company and appear as a regular line-item on the monthly budget!

As if all of this wasn't bad enough, you have furthermore been observed interfering with the work of more productive employees. It has been reported that upon several occasions an (anonymous) employee was trying to work productively at his terminal, increasing shareholder value, whereupon you came over (uninvited), stood on your hind legs with your front paws on the employee's thigh or waist (digging your claws in, nearly necessitating a worker's compensation review for the employee in question), and making a sound characterized as a "meeping" or "mewling" until the employee stopped increasing shareholder value and picked you up and cradled you on his shoulder as if you were a small child and not a fully-grown adult. It has also been reported that upon one occasion you engaged in similar behavior with a (anonymous) female employee, which our lawyers suggest could be construed as creating a hostile workplace environment or direct sexual harassment of this employee. There are also repeated reports of an (anonymous) employee attempting to take a phone call, whereupon you suddenly appeared from whatever other part of the premises you were occupying (hopefully working to increase shareholder value, although there is circumstantial evidence you may have been napping), and proceeded to interfere with the phone call by making noises, running between the employee's legs if he was walking around with the phone, and digging your claws into his thigh if he was standing or sitting while taking the call; ironically, it appears that in every single reported incident, as soon as the call was finished you ran into another room and refused to interact with the employee at all even when he asked you what you wanted and attempted to assist you with whatever effort you were purportedly making to increase shareholder value.

It is also believed that you have a recurring problem with throwing up while at work. We are reluctant to harp on this point too greatly, as we have no direct evidence of alcoholism or an eating disorder which may be covered by the employee health plan and/or may place you in a protected disability class. All we would do is mention that (a) vomiting on a co-worker's workspace is considered poor etiquette, especially when there is a fully-accessible restroom nearby and (b) you know better than we do if there are any issues which you might want to discuss with HR or one of the service providers covered by the employee healthcare plan.

Any of these issues, with the likely exception of the digestive concerns mentioned in the previous paragraph, supra, might be considered cause for termination. In an effort to be fair, however, we have made what we hope is a thorough attempt to quantify any positive assets you've brought to your position in the company when you weren't procrastinating, interfering with other employees' work, or damaging company property.

Notwithstanding criticisms of your work ethic, refusal to be a team player, lax standards, and bad habits, your co-workers mostly speak highly of you. Adjectives frequently used to describe you include "cute", "adorable", "sweet", "handsome", "good" and "precious". While many of these adjectives are clearly referring to your physical presentation and have little or no bearing on your work or on increased shareholder value, we will concede that your co-workers clearly think highly of you. Unexpectedly, many of your least-productive and most-destructive behaviors have been met with expressions of sympathy, although it is hard to imagine acts such as putting holes in a co-worker's shirt or vomiting near his feet would be tolerated from any of your peers in the company.

It is the effect your presence clearly has on company morale that has saved you from being listed as a negative asset and being demobilized from the company payroll. You should know that discussion was extremely heated and produced a split vote regarding your retention until a compromise resolution was reached.

Therefore, you are hereby notified that you have been placed on probationary employment, effective immediately. Your performance will be subjected to routine review over the course of the next ninety days, and a failure to discern efforts on your part to increase shareholder value will result in your immediate termination from the company with severance to be provided according to the contract you signed upon commencing your employment with Standing On The Shoulders Of Giant Midgets. No immediate action is being taken with regard to your company-compensated meals until a full audit has been performed and we are able to determine how it has come to pass that you are the sole employee receiving this benefit, and you are hereby notified that you may be required to reimburse the company for the meals you've enjoyed at company expense if a proper accounting of the costs to the company can be arrived at. You are hereby put on notice that continued interference with the efforts of your more responsible co-workers to increase shareholder value will not be tolerated. Should the terms and conditions of your probation be unacceptable, you are certainly welcome to seek employment elsewhere.





Cc: Human Resources
Cc: Legal Department
Cc: The Entire Internet



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The Walkmen, "In The New Year"

>> Thursday, September 29, 2011

Well, crap. Never did get a blog post written today. Do you mind if I just proffer some Walkmen instead? "In The New Year":





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A little from column A, a little from column B

>> Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Over at Slate, Jessica Grose wants to know why Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann are supposedly treated differently by critics. The rap on Perry, see, is that he's dumb and the rap on Bachmann is that she's crazy, and maybe it's somehow sexist to make that distinction between them for some vaguely unspecified reason, although Grose herself notes:

Of course, it's just as easy to make the argument that Perry is crazy and Bachmann is stupid. As Rebecca Traister, the author of Big Girls Don't Cry: The Election that Changed Everything for American Women, points out, a lot of Bachmann's early gaffes—that the Revolutionary War started in New Hampshire (that would be Massachusetts), that John Wayne was born in Waterloo, Iowa, (that would be serial killer John Wayne Gacy)—were more "stupid" than "crazy." Conversely, to many secular Americans, Perry's ties to religious groups that claim that Texas is "the prophet state" sound, well, crazy.


...well, yeah.

I think I've mostly gone with "crazy" because I think Michele Bachmann is crazy, not because she's a chick. And, in fact, I'd even go so far as to say that notwithstanding some of the crazydumb things that come out of her mouth, I'm more inclined to say that Bachmann is crazy than stupid because she's at least shown some indicia of some kind of intelligence: I suspect you're not getting an LL.M. from William & Mary without having some kind of intellectual ability.

You know, this is where we have to step back, though, and agree that "dumb" comes in flavors, just like smart does. There are probably definitions of "dumb" that you could apply to Michele Bachmann, it's just not something I'd be inclined to do, because I don't think getting specific with your definition of "dumb" just so you can use the word as a general descriptor of the Congresswoman sheds more light than heat; that is, it's one thing to specifically allude to a particular thing Bachmann said that was a dumb thing to say, or to a specific belief she holds that's a pretty dumb belief, than it is to just say in general, "She's dumb," a statement that's pithier but inaccurate and probably misleading in that it antagonizes some people (although they perhaps deserve being antagonized) and doesn't really get at the heart of how Bachmann's beliefs fit together into a crazy, misinformed, disingenuous, skewered, dangerous, rather paranoid picture of the world. When Bachmann says something dumb along the lines of "HPV vaccine made a girl mentally retarded," for instance, there's an interesting mix of cagey calculation and cynical indifference to truth that calling Bachmann "dumb" doesn't really do justice to.1

I'm trying to remember if I ever misspoke and called George W. Bush "dumb". He wasn't dumb. Being a legacy at an Ivy League school only gets you so far, at some point you have to do well enough in class to make it through the rest of the way, and being a legacy doesn't get you an MBA. What I think about Bush is that he wasn't necessarily a deep thinker, that he had an insistent certainty about a lot of matters that a more perceptive person would have asked questions about. That makes him susceptible to bad advice from people who ought to know better and inflexible when a course of action isn't really working out, but I don't think that's the same as "dumb". Maybe you think it is; your mileage might vary. But all that calling him "dumb" ever did, really, was rile some people up without offering much of an explanation for why he made so many lousy decisions, and what did you mean by "dumb", anyway? He went to good schools and read a lot; showed clearly discernible political cunning on his journey from business failure to governor to President; and for all his questionable malapropisms had a knack for understanding the character his core audience wanted him to play and thereby managed (mostly) to come off as the archetype of the folksy-but-smarter-than-he-looks country boy (despite being, in fact, an Ivy League-educated Connecticut native) whose wily folk wisdom and common sense regularly shows up those educated fools with their book learnin'.2

Is Rick Perry dumb? I have no idea. Is he also crazy? Ask someone from neighboring Arkansas, maybe.3 He certainly shares a lot of the crazy views that Bachmann has expressed--I think that's why Bachmann has slipped in the polls, at least in part: Perry has sucked a lot of the air out of her room, much as I suspect Bachmann herself may end up being the reason Sarah Palin doesn't run (if she doesn't run); there's only so much room on a stage for somebody who says weird things for the benefit of the least-rational, most-misinformed section of the peanut gallery. Seems like a lot of people who have been following Perry's career think he's both more authentically Texan and more authentically clueless than George W. Bush.4

Like I was saying, I call Bachmann crazy because I think she's crazy. I went back through some of the things I've written mentioning Rick Perry over the past few years, and I think I've implied that he was cynical and hypocritical, but I don't think I've ever gotten around to coming to a conclusion about his intellect or lack thereof. I can't speak for anybody else: maybe some folks call Bachmann "crazy" when they mean "dumb", but they don't want to be accused of demeaning a woman's intelligence, and so there is some kind of sexism at work and Ms. Grose has some kind of point. Might be that it's okay to call a man dumb, but not a woman. Except that I don't quite see how "crazy" would be immune to that, when there's actually a synonym for "crazy" that's specifically named after a woman's internal fiddly bits because ancient sexists thought only women got crazy that way for reasons somehow connected to the referenced internal fiddly bits. Calling a woman "crazy" might be seen as being just as disparaging as calling her "dumb" for more-or-less-the-same historical reasons, though it seems to me that if a woman appears to be crazy, you probably ought to just go ahead and acknowledge it instead of trying to be cleverly vague and euphemistic: "I don't want to say Michele Bachmann is crazy because that word was used historically to marginalize women, let's just say there is a peculiar disorganization of her logical thought-processes such that characterizing her as 'sane' or with similar synonymous terms would be extremely inaccurate, flat-out wrong, in fact." No, I think I'll stick with "crazy", but thanks for bringing this to my attention.








1Let me break that down a little: I think what Bachmann did here was a mix of knowing exactly what she was saying and not caring what came out of her mouth. First, she's deliberately and cynically trying to exploit people's fear of vaccination and her audience's paranoia about Naziesque government trespasses against citizens (see also: "government death panels" and "reeducation camps"), paranoia that Bachmann may indeed share, but that she's also willing to exploit; beliefs that may be a lot of things--crazy, paranoid, conspiranoiac, illogical--but "dumb" seems like the wrong word for them, and (in any case) Bachmann's conscious and knowing demagogic pander to that fear is smart. Second, Bachmann is probably conflating mental retardation with autism--and that is pretty dumb. Third, she's doubling down on her statement instead of retracting it, which is... well, this is where it gets complicated.

If she realizes she misspoke and she cynically doesn't care about facts, and thinks that she made her point with the paranoid and miseducated people she was speaking to with the attack on Perry's HPV program and they won't care if she had her facts straight, well, that's probably a pretty smart assessment of her audience and the news cycle, actually. On the other hand, if she's coming up with this story about the mother telling her that HPV vaccine made her kid retarded because she's feeling cornered and is basically trying to chew her leg off to get out of a mostly-imaginary trap (see the first sentence in this paragraph), that would be pretty dumb. Gods only know what's going on in that crazy head of hers.

My personal guess, though, is that it's mostly the first of those: that she's doubling down because she thinks she can get away with it that way, and she's probably right; it's worked for her before, at least, and will probably work for her again.

I guess what I'm really trying to get at is that saying dumb things isn't necessarily a sign of stupidity if you're saying dumb things because they advance your position and you're cynical and indifferent at least to the extent that you don't care how you go about getting what you want so long as you get it. Bear in mind that you could be a cynical idealist, you could be saying the first thing that comes into your head and not caring if it's true or not because you think you're on the side of the angels and any sins you're committing will be forgiven because you're only taking them for the team. And most people who do horrible things, naturally, think they're doing them for the right reason, there's nothing rare or special in that.

It may be dumb to not know what you're talking about, but smart not to care that you don't know what you're talking about so long as you're mostly getting what you want anyway.

2You know, smooth city slickers like that Al Gore, who never learned the things ordinary, salt-of-the-Earth country folks learn back on the family farm.

Hrm. You know, I don't want to tilt too far in the other direction just to make a point. Let's be fair: after G.W. Bush was born in the North, his parents moved south to Midland, Texas, where G.W. spent much of his childhood until he was shipped off to prep schools. And while Bush's 2000 Presidential rival spent more time on a farm as a boy than Bush ever did (Midland being an oil town, and oil being his father's sideline when H.W. wasn't employed as a professional politician and bureaucrat), the truth is that the childhood backgrounds of both men really had more in common than they did to distinguish them: Gore and Bush were the sons of political families who were raised in private prep schools until their inevitable and obligatory attendance at the top two Ivy League schools in the nation.

But that really gets at my real point with this, actually, which is that G.W. Bush's public image as a down-home, folksy, hard-working country boy was largely a smartly cultivated image. Al Gore, who certainly is a better policy wonk than Bush and has a better grasp of subjects like science and technology than Bush, never seemed to understand his avocation, politics, as well as Bush: who's the smart guy, the transplanted Yankee fourth-generation member of the American wealthy elite who successfully impersonates a country boy millions of Americans think they could just have a beer with, or the son of a rural teacher's-school graduate who somehow comes off as... well, as if he's the fourth-generation elitist, basically? Do you see what I'm getting at? "Dumb" old G.W. Bush outsmarted Al Gore, John Kerry, the Democratic Party, all the people who "misunderestimated" him and all the people who actually voted for him, and because he was smart enough to win two national elections but not wise enough to lead, the whole nation (forgive the blunt and vulgar phrasing) took it in the ass.

3Okay, so that line is mostly there as an excuse to link to one of my favorite Rick Perry pieces, and because Gene Lyons is awesome.

4Please see FN2 and the paragraph in the main text it accompanies, supra.




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Quote of the day--honest douchebag edition

>> Tuesday, September 27, 2011

This is something else:






Well, no, a lot of us can't make money off of an economic collapse for all sorts of reasons, including one of those pesky "conscience" things you hear about now and again.

People don't seem to maybe remember, but the '30s depression, the depression in your '30s, wasn't just about a market crash: it was also about labor riots and a rise in organized crime in the United States, Britain and France; Germany and Italy becoming failed states until ultra-right-wing, totalitarian fascist regimes rose to power through a combination of street violence and subversion of democratic processes, setting the stage for the Second World War in Europe; a militarily adventurous Japan that attempted to compensate for the home islands' resource-poverty by aggressively invading neighbors, setting the stage for the Pacific War; the complete and final implosion of democratic China; etc. But, you know, there were some people who were prepared to make money from all that--people who owned munitions plants, f'r'instance.

Okay, look, I don't want to be overly-reductionist and simplistic here: the violence of the 1930s had a lot of different causes, some of them global and systematic and others very place-and-time specific. But The Great Depression didn't help, to say the very least. States like China and Spain that were already well along on their way to failing failed harder while historically more prosperous states like the U.S., U.K. and France staggered through a series of political and economic crises driven by things like high unemployment and devaluation of the currency. The economic crisis in Germany paved a path straight from Munich to Berlin for the NSDAP to goosestep down.

It's possible that the glib Mr. Rastani of the above video clip ought to recall that much of the localized violence in the years preceding WWII was directed at the profiteers, or those who were perceived as profiteers. In the United States, thank goodness, it hardly got beyond blood and smoke in the streets and people who held up banks at gunpoint becoming revered local heroes; at the other extreme, the Germans decided the only way to be sure they hadn't missed rounding up any Jewish financiers was to gas every last Jew they could get their hands on. In much of the western world, at least, the crisis ultimately drove liberal reforms: in the United States, f'r'instance, the Democrats seized the opportunity to reinvent themselves, transforming almost overnight from the rural farmers' party to the working-schlub-just-trying-to-get-by party (whether that was driven by idealism, some kind of snooty noblesse oblige or sheer cynical calculation hardly matters); i.e. for better or worse we didn't end up in a multi-faction civil war between a corrupt, ineffectual "legitimate" government, armed warlords, and countryside communist guerrillas fond of shooting landlords (and make no mistake: "we shoot landlords" was an enormously popular campaign plank for the Chinese Communist Party).

Yeah, I mean, I don't think Rastani needs to worry about the armed mob yet. Or the Third World War, though violence certainly burns and bleeds its way through much of the impoverished world and the United States appears to be in the awkward position of having that good ol' liberal bogeyman, the military-industrial complex, remain one of our strongest growth sectors.1

David Atkins, who posted this clip where I first saw it, does a great job drubbing Rastani for his sociopathy while damning him with faint praise for his honesty. Rastani isn't saying anything anybody didn't already know about how commerce operates if they thought about it. The market is relentlessly amoral, rewarding good and bad behavior just alike so long as it's profitable to do so (and only punishing bad--or good--behavior when it's profitable to do that instead). But the thing that also needs to be understood is that Rastani's views are also thoughtless and ignorant, and deserve to be drubbed for that: the nihilistic just-make-sure-you-get-yours ethos he merrily advocates isn't just cruel, it's also stupid, unless you like the prospect of finding yourself first with your back against the wall when the revolution comes. If empathy isn't enough to make you virtuous, why don't you try reason? It doesn't really do anyone any good to have blood running in the streets, buildings on fire, mere anarchy loosed upon the world (to borrow a felicitous phrase). You know I don't want a bunch of Goldman Sachs guys driven naked and torn down the streets by the angry mob not because they're such nice guys and not just because inflicting suffering on a person is simply wrong, okay, but also because the next scene in the tragedy is riot cops sweeping in to rescue the GS guys and the scene after that is somebody throwing something and the scene after that, maybe the guns come out. And all that is before things get really barbaric.

Nobody ought to want that.




UPDATE 2011-09-27, 10:30 P.M.: Mr. Rastani may, in fact, be nothing more than a bullshit artist. Ah, well. I don't know that it changes the main point, but I figured I ought to acknowledge the fact.









1It's hard for me to even write the phrase "military-industrial complex" without rolling my eyes, you know, because of the way the phrase conjures images of seedy-looking hippies shaking petulant fists at The Man, or of Kevin Costner doing his best (i.e. not-very-good) Jimmy Stewart impression in JFK. But look, the one area where practically no conservatives will blink at the Federal government forking out billions of dollars is when those billions are going to military contractors and subcontractors. There are few small-government, pork-cutting Representatives in Congress who will actually volunteer to have the military bases in their home districts shut down, no matter how antiquated or strategically unnecessary those facilities might be; military bases produce their own vibrant artificial economies. And firing drones at targets scattered across the Middle East may be the depressing postmodern version of that Keynesian cliché, the one man hired to dig a ditch which another man is hired to fill in; we hire people to manufacture components and people to assemble the components and people to transport the assembled thing and men to point and shoot this device that destroys itself digging a hole, necessitating continued employment of all these people to replace the disposable hole-digging-machine so long as additional holes need to be dug in the desert and mountains of southwest Asia and north Africa. And this is what I'm using MIC as shorthand for, not meaning to suggest some sort of grand conspiracy that most likely exceeds the competence of most of the people who'd have to be involved in it, who I think are probably mostly idiots and jackasses scrambling for a buck.





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Quote of the day--department of dubious comparisons edition

>> Monday, September 26, 2011

President Obama has experienced a swift and steep decline in support among white Americans—from 61 percent in 2009 to 33 percent now. I believe much of that decline can be attributed to their disappointment that choosing a black man for president did not prove to be salvific for them or the nation. His record is, at the very least, comparable to that of President Clinton, who was enthusiastically re-elected. The 2012 election is a test of whether Obama will be held to standards never before imposed on an incumbent. If he is, it may be possible to read that result as the triumph of a more subtle form of racism.
-Melissa Harris-Perry, "Black President, Double Standard:
Why White Liberals Are Abandoning Obama"
,
The Nation, September 21st, 2011


There's a bit more in that vein at the link. And there's pretty solid demolishment of Harris-Perry's arguments from the obnoxious (but right this time) David Sirota here and the generally wonderful Joan Walsh here, both at Salon. Basically, in short: Harris-Perry says that white liberals are abandoning the President because they unfairly hold a black liberal leader to a higher standard than they'd hold a white liberal leader and uses Bill Clinton as a basis for comparison; Sirota points out that Harris-Perry's analysis of Clinton's reelection numbers is dubious and lots of liberals (including most of the ones at The Nation) were roasting Clinton alive for his centrist policies; Walsh wonders where Harris-Perry is getting her numbers on white liberals (as opposed to whites generally) from, and points out the many respects in which progressive politics, organization and media these days are quite different from the way they were ca. 1996 (particularly salient is Walsh's point that disappointment in Bill Clinton's presidency is in fact a likely reason progressives are less-willing to settle for less these days).

What I'd add is something that none of the three talk about but is, I think, also relevant, and that is the idea that the 2000 presidential election was, to a great degree, a referendum on the Clinton presidency, and to the extent that Ralph Nader was able to supposedly siphon votes away from Al Gore in places where it could supposedly have made a difference, Nader's success was very much due to liberals seeking a progressive alternative to the Clinton/Gore/Democratic Leadership Council corporatist, neoconservative agenda.

Truth is, I really don't remember who I voted for in 1996. I have to make a confession: in '96 I was bogged down in law school and all over the place in terms of residency and so on, and I'm not sure if I voted at all in 1996. But if I voted for Bill Clinton that year, and not some write-in or third-party candidate, it wasn't "enthusiastically"; if I voted and if I voted for Bill Clinton, it was only because Bob Dole was, sorry, kind of a creep.

(I do remember that in '96 I used to amuse myself doing an impersonation of Bob Dole at a Shoney's: "Bob Dole wants the Big Boy Burger. Bob Dole wants fries. Bob Dole doesn't want pickles on his burger. Bob Dole wants to know if he can get extra special sauce on the side. Bob Dole." Sometimes I'd make it calling a pizza place, instead: "Bob Dole doesn't want anchovies. Bob Dole likes pepperonis, but Bob Dole wants to know if he can get them only on half and Bob Dole would like sausage on the other half." What was up with that son-of-a-bitch and always talking in the third-person, anyway?)

What I also remember is that I spent much of the late '90s telling conservative friends and coworkers that I didn't give a rat's ass about who Bill Clinton got blowjobs from, but I wasn't happy that he sold out the gays and fucked up healthcare reform. I remember getting into an argument with my Dad over the timing of the administration's cruise missile strikes in Afghanistan and Sudan which (I thought at the time) had a wag-the-doggish quality, considering the events going on in the President's emerging sex scandal; in retrospect, I agree the timing was almost certainly coincidental, but at the time it bugged the hell out of me. Times when I had to defend Clinton from relatively irrelevant charges of sexual misfeasance and financial shadiness tended to annoy the hell out of me, because all-in-all I thought they were distractions from much worse things President Clinton could have been accused of doing. Ironically, about the only thing I can think of that President Clinton actually accomplished that I supported at the time was NAFTA, and I was wrong about that, so pffft (hey, I grew up on Star Trek and anything that brings countries together politically and economically so we're one step closer to being One Big Earth will always touch a soft spot in my globalist, one world is enough heart).

Clinton, for all the insane vitriol he inspired in the American right, was practically a Republican-in-all-but-name; he was Nelson Rockefeller with a zipper problem

In 2000, voting for Ralph Nader had a lot to do with being sick of the Clintons and Clintonism. To be fair, Al Gore had tried in this really weird, ineffectual way to distance himself from the Clintons even when that meant distancing himself from things the Clinton administration could consider laurels--the smashingly good economy, for instance. Under Clinton's leadership, anyway, the Democrats had distanced themselves from the progressive politics of Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson to such a degree that asking whether there was a substantive difference between George W. Bush and Al Gore seemed a reasonable enough question at the time. In retrospect, of course, that seems pretty silly.

And I would go so far as to say that Clinton exhaustion was a factor in the 2008 Democratic primaries. Maybe it isn't fair to saddle Hillary Clinton with her husband's transgressions against liberal politics and all the rest of the baggage Bill ended up carrying, but I can't be the only one in America who, right or wrong, tended to view Hillary Clinton as a suspect leftist, yet another product of the DLC style her husband blazed trails for: pro-business; soft on liberal touchstones like the environment, equal rights for minority groups, freedom of reproductive choice, and welfare; slightly hostile to organized labor; hawkish on foreign policy. While I, as an independent, didn't vote in the primaries, I was the kind of liberal who created electability problems for Mrs. Clinton if she faced the general election; I was the kind of independent showing support for Obama as he emerged as the most viable not-a-Clinton candidate. (By the way, Clinton has been an excellent Secretary Of State so far, and much is forgiven: I could probably support a 2016 presidential bid from her at this point in time if she were so inclined.)

Now, there is this: that I'm less hostile about Bill Clinton's performance as President than I was when he was actually in office, making gay people's lives miserable, screwing up healthcare reform, shooting rockets into southwest Asia and ruining women's clothing. The reason? It took George W. Bush to rehabilitate Bill Clinton. Best thing that ever happened to Clinton, seriously: Bush made Bill Clinton look like Teddy Freakin' Roosevelt by comparison. Hell, George W. Bush made his dad look like Abraham Lincoln by comparison, and I remember when the Elder Bush had to pick a pointless fight with a TV news anchor before he could engage in the act of sweet, rough coitus with the Bush Matron (or something along those lines). Basically, Dana Carvey and Phil Hartman were well on their way to being more memorable and beloved American presidents than H.W. and Bill Clinton, until G.W. post-9/11 administration made the two of 'em look like historical titans whose visages ought to be blown into the living rock of Mount Rushmore, a fact which may prove to be a slide in any future historian's Power Point demonstration that G.W. Bush was the worst President in American history. (For the record, I think James Buchanan still has G.W. beat and always will, but time will tell, won't it?)

Finally, this: that dwindling liberal support for Obama doesn't necessarily translate into dwindling liberal support for Obama, if you know what I mean, and this is a further reason for a raised eyebrow over any kind of assertions about liberals fleeing Obama (including Harris-Perry's). If you ask me if I'm happy with the President, the honest answer is that I'm ambivalent about Obama for many of the same reasons I disliked Bill Clinton; that I'm ambivalent and not hostile has much to do with a changed political climate in which the Republican party has largely gotten younger and stupider than it was in the 1990s--we're talking about a party in which the incorrigible, unchanged and unrepentant Newt Gingrich is now a relatively meek fringe candidate in comparison to the people in his party who have somehow managed to out-goon him, by which I mean that Newt does not drag his knuckles (as often) and has less drool on his shoes than some of his fellow-Republicans. At any rate, I'm disappointed in Obama as a liberal, and I don't imagine there will be any bumper stickers on my car, nor will I be putting any of my hard-earned money in his war chest; but I'll be voting for him in 2012 because, you know, what the hell kind of choice am I being given?

Anyway, I could be wrong about myself, but I don't think I'm applying a different standard to President Obama than I would to any other ostensibly, roughly, more-or-less liberal-ish Democrat. Maybe I'm deluding myself. But comparing my feelings about Bill Clinton to my feelings about President Obama doesn't make the case Ms. Harris-Perry might think.


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Metric, "Black Sheep"

>> Sunday, September 25, 2011

Maybe it's somehow thematically-linked to yesterday's Garbage post, but here's Metric with "Black Sheep":







It somehow seems both obligatory and completely unnecessary to mention that this is the song given to evil-ex Envy Adams' band, The Clash At Demonhead, in Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, which is one of those unbelievably awesome movies that you can't actually recommend to anyone because the sort of people you'd recommend it to have already seen it or at least have already been meaning to. That was actually the worst thing about seeing that movie with friends in a sparsely-inhabited theatre back when it originally came out: I thought, "Wow, what a great fucking movie, I can't wait to tell people about it," and then I looked to my left and right and realized everybody I'd want to tell about it who would actually get it was sitting in my aisle right at that very moment, possibly thinking the same thing. I wasn't surprised when it was a box-office flop, needless to say, but I'm still tickled they went to the trouble of making it and lavishing some love and money on it when they did.

Metric, meanwhile, was and is made of awesome, and if you're not a fan: well, you ought to be.


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Garbage, "Push It"

>> Saturday, September 24, 2011

Found myself on a bit of a Garbage kick the other day. Here's "Push It" from Version 2.0:





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Troy Davis

>> Friday, September 23, 2011

The other day, when Troy Davis was still alive, a friend at the D.A.'s office asked me what I thought of the case; it was sort of apropos of nothing, just small talk unrelated to the juvenile case we were actually going over at the time. Anyway, I had to admit it was a subject I'd sort of been avoiding. I'd been getting some e-mails from Amnesty International about it, and was aware of some controversy, but I hadn't looked into it and didn't feel very well informed; then, I'd read a few more things about it this week and agreed it didn't look like a strong state case with the witness recantations, accusations of coerced testimony, and lack of physical evidence, but then all that's a part of a lot of capital cases (it would be irresponsible speculation if I said most, but I have my suspicions)... and even with those weaknesses, I was reluctant to say very much.

And I still am, I have to admit.

Let me tell you a dark, dirty, inside-baseball secret about our legal system: the problems in the Troy Davis case aren't unusual issues in any sort of case. Witnesses are bullied into making statements more often than you probably think, and it's not merely allowed, but expected: however much it may stink to the heavens, there is nothing illegal about an officer threatening to charge a witness if he doesn't say anything, and if anything, it's considered routine policework. A lack of physical evidence at an outdoor, public crime scene, exposed to the elements and the comings-and-goings of first responders and gawkers (and frequented by gods-know-who before the event) is exactly what you'd expect if you gave it any thought at all. Unforced errors in witness testimony and identification, without any deliberate prompting or coercion, are not only consistent with contemporary research in psychology and neurology, but are what you would probably have predicted had someone asked you a question along the lines of, "What kind of performance would you expect from eyes and a brain evolved in a mostly diurnal, plains-dwelling, social primate tasked with recognizing rapidly occurring events in a parking lot under streetlamps, from a distance?" Oh, and of course racism remains an endemic problem in the courts, not just in the South, but across the United States; it's a live, stripped wire and there's no way to reasonably deny the reality, however much we may pine for a better future.

These issues come up in cases where someone is completely innocent and they come up in cases where somebody is guilty as the devil himself. Was Troy Davis an innocent man? A jury said he wasn't. From what you might call a social or cultural perspective--the point of view that says we're a civilization of laws and that the determinations of our institutions are to be accorded some kind of respect or at least acknowledgment lest we're reduced to braining each other with the animal bones we've adapted as crude murder tools for stealing food and sex--from that point of view, Troy Davis had due process under the laws and was convicted, the convictions upheld, the law followed to its bitter end. Whether the determinations of our hallowed social institutions resembled whatever actually happened in a Georgia Burger King parking lot on August 19th, 1989... does it ever?

I'm going through all this because a lot of thoughtful people are wrong about something. There are a lot of people who are talking about the execution of Troy Davis as a question of whether or not the state of Georgia killed an innocent man. (See, e.g. this Dahlia Lithwick piece at Slate, or this Steve Kornacki entry at Salon.) And if you want to speak in legal terms, the answer is "no, the state killed a man adjudicated guilty by a jury of his peers", and if you want to speak in factual terms, the answer is "who the hell knows?". Prosecutors and the family of Mark MacPhail, the off-duty cop Davis was convicted of shooting and killing, will always be able to fall back on the first of those, and people who think Davis was wrongly convicted will never be able to do better than the latter. You know what? "Maybe" is weak sauce. "Maybe" is even weaker juice than "he had his day in court and he lost", because however weak and callous "he had his day in court" may come off, it's the best any of us will ever get (and we could do a lot worse--the jury trial, for all its faults, is still a better system than trial by combat or ordeal). And anyway, isn't the rebuttal to "maybe" built right into the argument itself: maybe the jury that tried Troy Davis got it wrong... and maybe it didn't.

I think I've been pretty clear how I feel about capital punishment. It's barbaric and cruel, a relic of bygone ages when we were too stupid and bloody-minded to even attempt to treat the worst offenders against civilization with an iota of rationality or compassion. "An eye for an eye" is primitive, crude, it's the credo of bronze age shepherds who had to be told what not to eat.

The possibility of innocence is sort-of a reason to get rid of the death penalty, sure. But it's the suckiest sort-of reason, because the implication is that maybe Troy Davis deserved to die. You can sit there and say, "He shouldn't have been killed because we'll never know," but what if you did know? If you did know, would it be all right, then? What about the guy in the next cell? If you know about the guy in the next cell but you don't know about Troy Davis, is that a sufficient distinction? And you can answer that in the affirmative, you know: you can say, "Yes, if I knew for sure that Troy Davis was guilty, it would be alright to kill him, and the next guy, and every other guy, if we knew for sure." I have a problem with that. My problem is that the reason it wasn't right to kill Troy Davis was because he was a human being and we can do better than barbarism.

I am pragmatic and opportunistic, and I have probably acquiesced or even promoted the doubt argument if I thought it was more persuasive than the moral argument to a particular audience. Well, I'm a heel, and don't you forget it. But this seems to me the wrong argument at the wrong time right now. A lot of my fellow death penalty opponents are trying to climb on board this one because it's more-obviously a shitty case for the state than some of them. I think that's a bad call and bound to backfire.

Troy Davis didn't deserve to die because nobody does, or all of us do, and either way nobody ought to be trusted with the making these distinctions.




POSTSCRIPT: After writing this, I found Salon's Alex Pareene covered much of the same turf and rather well. This is worth a quick read if you have the time; I think I agree with everything he says.




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Quote of the day--I ♥ Elizabeth Warren edition

>> Thursday, September 22, 2011



I hear all this, you know, "Well, this is class warfare, this is whatever." No! There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody. You built a factory out there--good for you! But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory, and hire someone to protect against this, because of the work the rest of us did. Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea--God bless. Keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.
-Elizabeth Warren


I think I'm in love.




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Rick, give me a call and we can chat about it, eh?

>> Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A Google spokesperson responded to Santorum by advising that users who want "content removed from the Internet should contact the webmaster of the page directly."

"Google’s search results are a reflection of the content and information that is available on the web. Users who want content removed from the Internet should contact the webmaster of the page directly," the spokesperson said. "Once the webmaster takes the page down from the web, it will be removed from Google’s search results through our usual crawling process."
-Alexander Burns, "Rick Santorum contacted
Google, says company spreads 'filth'"
,
Politico, September 20th, 2011.


Isn't this fun? Every time political has-been and third-tier GOP presidential aspirant Rick Santorum complains about the Googlebomb campaign that made his name synonymous online with a foul, frothy substance, we get yet another excuse to talk about it, adding yet another strand to the web.

What do you say? Dan Savage's campaign to come up with a dirty definition for "Santorum" was successful primarily because Rick Santorum was acting like a homophobic prick, something which is evidently still the case.

"I suspect if something was up there like that about Joe Biden, they’d get rid of it," Santorum said. "If you're a responsible business, you don't let things like that happen in your business that have an impact on the country."


Yeah, uhm, no. See, there's the crux of it, right there: the reason that nobody's putting forth a whole lot of effort to get Joe Biden's name redefined as some kind of anal intercourse aftermath, while Santorum's is getting reamed by having his name synonymized with post-coital anal seepage is that Joe Biden's basically a nice guy who says stupid but mostly-harmless things, while Rick Santorum's a guy with a history of opportunistically singling out a minority to score political points with a base of reactionary followers whose insecure and increasingly-obsolete prejudices have continued to turn individuals' personal lives into public injustices. Well, that and the fact that the people who dislike Joe Biden just that much lack the popularity, know-how and imagination to do very much with their adorable little stuck-in-the-'90s message boards; there is that.

If Santorum had been the least bit sympathetic, there's no way the spreading Santorum campaign would have gotten any mileage at all. This is part of what Santorum doesn't understand about the Internet, actually: that things move quickly here (the charitable version) and everybody has a really short attention span (the more critical version). We're all very easily distracted, what with our multi-tab browsers and proclivity for randomness and chaos. If Dan Savage's appeal for a foul synonym and Googlebombing hadn't struck a nerve, is what I'm saying, there would have been a collective "meh", or perhaps a flurry of interest followed by an abrupt turn towards pictures of kittens doing cute things captioned with lines from The Matrix or movie posters Photoshopped to include Samuel L. Jackson cameos or something, anything, I dunno.

And then, of course, we have the scab-picking angle on this. What I mean is, part of the reason spreading Santorum has the longevity it does is that Santorum keeps talking about it. I mean, I concede the thing has gotten such momentum that it's hard for him to ignore it, but if he gave it that proverbial good ol' college try instead of whining about how unfair it is that things he's said and done have had consequences for him, at the very least, it wouldn't be popping up in Politico and elsewhere on a semi-regular basis. Sure, asstards like me might periodically bring it up because we don't like Santorum or Santorum's supporters and we're kind of inclined to be dicks about it because we think Santorum's earned it, but who the hell are we, we obscure bloggers in our little online lairs grumping and snarking? Let's be honest and appropriately self-deprecating here: if Rick Santorum has the time to read my blog and get offended when I say mean things about him, he's unqualified to be President. Well. What I mean is, that's yet another reason he's unqualified to be President.

Which brings up one last thing that Alex Pareene aptly laughs at over at Salon:

But can I just ask what this means: "If you're a responsible business, you don't let things like that happen in your business that have an impact on the country." Google is hurting the country by not censoring Rick Santorum's search results? Does Rick Santorum really think he'd be a front-runner if Dan Savage hadn't made his name a funny sex joke?


I love that, too: Rick Santorum's "Google problem" is having an impact on the country, I had no idea. Everybody, slow down a minute! Forget about unemployment and marginal tax rates, this is important! Somebody is being mean to Rick Santorum on the Internet! This, ladies and gentlemen, is a crisis of unprecedented proportion, the greatest threat to face this country since cannon were aimed at the Union garrison at Fort Sumter! Yes, greater, even, than Pearl Harbor or September 11th, forget about the sinking of the Maine or the Lusitania! Cuban Missile "Crisis", hah! Don't you people understand, can't you see?! Are you fools so blind as that? Soylent Green is people! Peeeeeeeeople! People can't do a Google search for washed-out former Congressman Rick Santorum without seeing links to pages referring to a frothy mix of lube and fecal matter generated during anal sex! What if they click on the wrong link and make a campaign contribution to the bubbly buttsauce by mistake! This is the worst thing that has ever.






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Dumb quote of the day--going Galt edition

>> Tuesday, September 20, 2011

This is precious:


But if you tax achievement, some of the achievers are going to pack it in. Again, let’s take me. My corporations employ scores of people. They depend on me to do what I do so they can make a nice salary. If Barack Obama begins taxing me more than 50 percent, which is very possible, I don’t know how much longer I’m going to do this. I like my job but there comes a point when taxation becomes oppressive. Is the country really entitled to half a person’s income?
-Fox News entertainer Bill O'Reilly,
as quoted by Steve Benen,
"If top rates return to Reagan era, O’Reilly might quit",
Washington Monthly, September 20th, 2011.


Benen goes on to point out three things wrong with O'Reilly's blather--that we don't know if the President would propose a fifty percent marginal rate (and it wouldn't pass if he did); that marginal income tax rates just don't work the way O'Reilly seems to think they do; that historically the marginal tax top rate was fifty percent under Reagan and ninety-one percent under that commie, Eisenhower--but of course the funniest part of the whole thing (as Digby points out) is that this whining is coming from Bill O'Reilly, a media personality, not some genius entrepreneur.

You know, this guy:




I'm not going to say it doesn't take talent to do what Bill O'Reilly does--no, seriously. But the reason you probably laughed at the previous sentence is that while it really does take talent to do what O'Reilly does, it's not like there aren't several million professional radio and television news casters all over America who can't do the same exact thing O'Reilly does; it's quite likely, actually, that a number of them can do it better. Talking heads like O'Reilly are disposable, they're fungible goods. Hell, ask Glenn Beck.

Digby mocks O'Reilly with, "He may be irreplaceable to curmudgeonly old FOX News, but it won't make a bit of difference to the economy," but this is only half true: O'Reilly isn't even irreplaceable to the network. There's guys like him in newsrooms and behind microphones all over America, guys with radio voices and smooth hair and reassuringly plain names who deliver weather reports or get into on-air fights with long-time-listener-first-time-callers. Young guys, old guys, white guys, black guys; and that's assuming Fox wants a guy, I mean you open it up to the bubble-headed bleach blondes who can tell you about plane crashes with gleams in their eyes and you double the competition. Hell, guest hosts on The O'Reilly Factor have included Laura Ingraham, Mike Huckabee and Juan Williams, among others: Bill O'Reilly isn't even irreplaceable on his own show.

O'Reilly says he employs "scores" of people: forty, eighty, who knows? Most people would say they employ more than a hundred if they employ more than a hundred people, but maybe O'Reilly thinks counting by twenties is classier than counting by dozens. I'd hate to see eighty people lose their jobs because Bill O'Reilly doesn't want to to pay the kind of abusive, socialist taxes he would've paid under that old fellow-traveler and class warrior, Ronald Reagan, but I also can't help wondering how many jobs would be created if Fox News had to replace Bill O'Reilly; it's actually conceivable that if Fox decided to replace The Factor with a couple of new shows in the wake of O'Reilly's Galting that it could have a net job creating effect, I'm just sayin'. I don't know exactly how that works economically, though: what has a more positive economic effect, giving 85% of Bill O'Reilly's former salary to three or four new guys (for instance) or Bill O'Reilly remaining on the job and getting the same salary, which he presumably spends on throat lozenges or falafel or whatever?

I know, I know: this is all just idle chatter, because Bill O'Reilly's threat is as hollow as his sense of decency. Which is the other funny thing about this, it's not just O'Reilly's obviously misplaced sense of self-importance, but also the fact that we all know the gasbag isn't going anywhere. Truth is, he'd do what he's doing for free, if he really had to, because he needs the attention and he needs the forum. He'd be posting webcam clips on YouTube if it was the only place he could get foamy about pinheads. I'm sure his salary is horribly inflated because he and Fox do this whole dance every time his contract comes up for renewal--how much advertising does he bring in, how well is The Factor performing in its time slot, blah-blah-blah--and power to O'Reilly's agent for convincing Fox that O'Reilly is a vital and necessary talent who adds value to their programming schedule and reliably reels in however-many-viewers in whatever-essential-demographic; that dude is really earning his commission and fees, y'know, and I'm not begrudging O'Reilly or his agent whatever they can chisel out of the network bosses. But I'm reminded of that great old Gillian Welch song where she confesses she'd still play and write songs even if everybody stole them and the best she could make was tips at some dive or even had to go back to working straight jobs--because she's an artist, and that's what you do when you're cursed by the creative demon; it's more than a little unfortunate that Bill O'Reilly's artistic passion is for acting like a total prat in public, instead of something intrinsically awesome like writing gorgeous songs and trading sweet guitar licks with someone like Dave Rawlings, but I guess we creative types all find ourselves called in different ways.



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TMBG: "Ana Ng"

>> Monday, September 19, 2011

Stuck in my head at the moment, and nothing else striking me as worth posting today. You could do worse than They Might Be Giants. And how are you today?





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Billy Bragg, "There Is Power In A Union"

>> Sunday, September 18, 2011

Went out for an excellent dinner last night with the Significant Other and her parents, then back to their place for dessert and an excellent conversation. One of the conversational turns involved jobs and the economy and so forth and left me in a Billy Bragg mood, really.




Let's stipulate that the unions have been compromised and corrupted to a large degree. Fine. But I don't have a better idea for making sure large employers don't screw their workers than allowing labor to organize. Unless you want the government to do it through increased employment regulation, which strikes me as inefficient even if government was willing to go about it in a more-than-ineffectual way; that is, there's certainly a role for government in monitoring things like workplace safety--areas in which civil or criminal litigation is a necessary check and deterrent, in my view--but who is in a better position to know what working hours are appropriate on a factory floor or what pension plans employees deserve than the employees themselves?

The S.O. and I are getting ready to have brunch with some of my family members and I doubt I'll be around here much today to engage in very much discussion 'round here (y'all are welcome, and indeed, please share your thoughts if you have any). We're out the door in a few minutes and I don't have much time to put too many more thoughts together and taptaptap them down on the netbook's keyboard. But I'm frustrated because the more I think about think about things, the more I feel like we're witnessing early stages of a systematic failure of the United States; restoring the unions to a proper role as a fifth estate in our society would be part of a solution, but I fear only alongside of a massive restructuring of our culture and economy that involves hiked taxes, price increases, openly socialistic provision of utilities, changes in the goals of education and how it's provided, import tariffs, changes in immigration policy, and this is just off the top of my head and much of it just won't happen in my lifetime if it could ever happen at all; which is a problem, because the way things are now, the center simply cannot hold and the whole thing is going to continue to derail. It really does seem dire to me.




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The National, "Mistaken For Strangers"

>> Saturday, September 17, 2011

Old song, but I'm so in love with this band. The National:






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Talking Heads, "Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On)"

>> Friday, September 16, 2011

An appropriately jittery and claustrophobic live take on the first track from the Heads' Remain In Light






I'm trying to remember: was this the first Talking Heads album I ever acquired. I say "acquired" because I think my first copy was a cassette tape bootlegged from a copy of the CD checked out from the public library. But, that being the case, it's possible I already had 77 on vinyl. If that sounds horribly after-the-fact and behind the curve, it was; you have to understand that I was a kid who largely grew up on Classic Rawk and was slow to get on board with the College/Alternative stuff that was current, much less be as acquainted as I ought to have been with the Crazy Ivans some of the best acts of the early '80s had been making to shake off the '70s and the '60s, or even (in the case of acts like Talking Heads and David Bowie) their own ghosts.

It's possible, when I think about it, that I came to Remain In Light in a completely backwards way, that I'd rented the VHS of Stop Making Sense and taped the soundtrack--my parents had the VCR routed through the hi-fi, so the tape deck was getting a really nice, really clean stereo analog signal if you wanted the soundtrack from The Wall (with its alternate versions of several songs, including "Mother", and its un-/limited-release cuts like "What Shall We Do Now?" and "When The Tigers Broke Free") or were a Spalding Gray obsessive who liked listening to Swimming To Cambodia repeatedly.

So this Talking Heads album was my favorite for a while. Mostly in high school, which may have had something to do with being an unhappy person at the time and therefore liking unhappy things. Eventually, the ass-shaking Speaking In Tongues would supersede it because ass-shaking is a happiness and that album will not tolerate a listener sitting still for it, even if you can restrain yourself to a tapping toe (this will merely placate the implacable dance-monster bound by funky sorcery to the record's grooves or its pits or bits if you're more modernly inclined). Remain In Light is (ironically, given the title) just a dark album, possibly darker than its predecessor, because the sampled grooves are just so tightly welded together and Byrne's deliberate, unconscious lyrics (composed via a mix of free-associative techniques and modeling non-lyrical speech) are really kind of frightening to me. ("As we watch him digging his own grave/It is important to know that was where he's at"; "And you may say to yourself, my God, what have I done?"; "All I want is to breathe".) Byrne sounds like a fucking numbers station on Light, his antennae vibrating in sympathy to some dislocated, alienated voice, chanting meaningful gibberish. Well of course I liked that when I was a kid, that sums up exactly how I usually felt when I didn't feel sad or angry (or, thinking back, that's how I sometimes felt at the same time I was feeling sad and angry).

All of which may be why I haven't listened to this record in a while, although it's a great fucking record.



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Stephanie Nilles, "Overeasy Eggs":

>> Thursday, September 15, 2011

Another performer the S.O. and I saw this last weekend (at the same show where we saw Matrimony), Stephanie Nilles, and another digital purchase standing in the aisles, and another album getting a lot of play around Chez Giant Midgets (or Le Bureau des Giant Midgets or L'automobile des Giant Midgets, p'raps). Check this out and love it--it's "Overeasy Eggs" from The Off-White Album And Waltzes In The Key Of Gypsy McGee:





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An open letter to "greenbudda9783"

>> Wednesday, September 14, 2011



Microsoft® respects your privacy. Please read Carefully.

Dear Account Owner,

We encountered a problem with our database and a lot of records were lost, we are restoring our database to enable us serve you better. Your Windows Live! Account details are required so as to restore in our database to keep your account active. Failure to do this might cause us to deactivate your account permanently.



* Full Name:..............................
* User Name:............................
* Password:..............................
* Date of Birth:.........................
* Country Or Territory:.........


After following the above instructions your account will not be interrupted and will continue as normal. Thanks for your attention to this effect. We apologize for any inconveniences.

Warning!!! Account owner's that refuses to update there account after three days of receiving
this warning will lose the account permanently.


Sincerely,

Steve Craddock


Dear greenbudda9783,

Sigh.

Okay, first of all? First of all, it's really unlikely that Microsoft would send an e-mail from a Hotmail account belonging to someone called "greenbudda9783". For one thing, though I admit I'm just wildly guessing here, Microsoft probably knows how to spell "Buddha".

Second of all? Second of all....

Sigh.

Second of all:

  • "carefully" doesn't need to be capitalized;
  • neither does "account";
  • "...details are required so as to restore in our database"--really? Seriously? That phrase needs to be taken out back and beaten to death with a farm tool;
  • "Thanks for your attention to this effect." What the hell are you talking about? The contrast between blue and yellow? The awkward diction? The clumsy way you assembled the various elements you borrowed to try to make the message look vaguely official? The effect created by your failure to even come close to matching the font you used for your phishing text to any of Microsoft's official shop fonts despite the fact they're probably preinstalled on the computer you used to create the e-mail or their fonts (and/or reasonably good clones thereof) are widely available online? Again: really?
  • "inconveniences" should probably be singular;
  • triple exclamation points look kinda gauche;
  • "...owner's that refuses to update there account after three days of receiving this warning": I'm pretty sure you mean, "owners who refuse to update their accounts three days after receiving...."


I recently exchanged e-mails with a friend who was bemoaning the fact that I seem to get awesome spam while he gets half-assed spam from scammers who are barely trying. There's a selection bias in play, however, in that I usually respond to the funniest or most inspiring scam e-mails I get, so you only see the good stuff up here. I, too, get a lot of half-assed junk in my spam folder. It just gets deleted most of the time.

But you, "greenbudda", you take the cake. I have spent more time writing this blog post pointing out the various obvious mistakes you made with your lazy, pathetic, indifferent attempt to suck personal info out of me than you put into actually making the damn thing in the first place. I realize you have very little incentive to try harder--if even half-a-percent of the people you hit with this mass-mailing respond, your fifteen minutes of typing and hitting Ctrl-C/Ctrl-V will have paid off quite well--but have some pride, man. How do you look at yourself in the mirror in the morning knowing (you have to know) that you are the laziest criminal in your timezone. There are people who violate ordinances about sleeping on park benches who put more time and thought into their criminal adventures than you did. How does that make you feel?

So, some would ask me why I'm bothering, then? Well, okay, it's kind of fun and the lazy-ass piece of spam did amuse me with its prolific errors (especially with the irony of the "New Ways To Correct" caption up top, part of an image file that looks like it belongs to another product, not Microsoft Live). But there's also this: when you Google "Steve Craddock" to see if he's a real person, you don't find any such person affiliated with Microsoft (though there are a few Steve Craddocks in the computer industry, along with a guitar player named "Steve Cradock" with one "d"); you do, however, find lots of people asking if this very same piece of junkmail (or any of its ancestors) is legitimate. Well, it obviously isn't, and while the question has been answered all over the place (including various Microsoft help/advice boards), here's one more answer. As something of a public service announcement, I'm happy to post what might be a helpful blog entry: if you got an e-mail full of spelling and grammar errors, it probably did not come from the major corporation it's pretending to represent.

Oh, and one more tip from the Microsoft boards: Microsoft won't ask you for account information. I think it's safe to say Yahoo and Google won't, either. Nor will anyone else. If you get an e-mail like this and are in doubt, approach it logically: if they've lost your account information, how did they send you the e-mail? And how were you able to log in to check your own e-mail if they've supposedly lost your password? It's safe to assume that if they really lost your information, you would have had a hell of a time logging in to find out they lost your information. Right?



Sincerely,
R. Eric VanNewkirk
Standing On The Shoulder Of Giant Midgets


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Matrimony, "Flee Or Fight"

>> Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The significant other and I had the privilege of seeing Matrimony play a couple of songs this weekend. Wonders of the Internet age: I bought their EP, "The Storm & The Eye" with my phone in the auditorium, though I felt a little guilty about doing it that way and hope they didn't need the cash I didn't have for a CD in the lobby in order to put gas in the van to get wherever they were hieing to for their next gig.







Jimmy Brown hails from Belfast and Ashlee Hardee Brown turns out to be a local girl from my hometown; live, their sound is filled out by Hardee Brown's brothers and drummer Alex Watson. CJ Hardee is particularly worth mentioning for his wonderfully aggressive banjo picking (who needs an electric guitar?) but the band's live sound is worth checking out if they're ever in your area, even if the clip above doesn't sell you on buying the record (you should totally buy the record); live, they have a bit of folk-punk thrash that reminds me a little of The Builders And The Butchers, while the EP (although excellent--did I mention you should buy it?) has a few tender moments where it sounds like they were afraid of knocking over one of those expensive pieces of studio gear. The bio at the website says they're working on new music: I look forward to it, but do hope they cut loose a little more.


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Ike Reilly, "Good Work (If You Can Get It)"

>> Monday, September 12, 2011

I likes me some Ike Reilly:






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Today

>> Sunday, September 11, 2011

I don't really have any sort of public comment on the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks that killed 2,977 victims in New York City, Washington D.C. and Somerset County, PA. And it doesn't seem appropriate to post anything else. Feel free to treat this as an open thread (or not) or come back later (or not).



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Pink Floyd, "Careful With That Axe, Eugene"

>> Saturday, September 10, 2011

I expect to be out and about today, mostly with wonderful personal stuff, so here's some more filler. The Floyd, today, with a '73 performance of one of their live staples, "Careful With That Axe, Eugene" (also recorded and performed under other guises, e.g. "Come In Number 51, Your Time Is Up").







A personal inversion that I may or may not have remarked on in the past: when I was young, my favorite Floyd stuff probably tended towards the later Waters stuff (e.g. The Wall) while in my old age I increasingly go back to those core performances from the early '70s when The Floyd were really in their prime.

While "CWTAE" (as it's frequently labeled on boots) goes back to the late '60s, '73 (when this version was apparently filmed) was a good year for the band: the year previous, they'd recorded a tossed-off soundtrack for Barbet Schroeder that remains one of my personal top-three Floyd records and just a few months before this was apparently filmed they'd released another one of my top three faves and (arguably) their masterpiece. As much as I love Wish You Were Here (easily my favorite Floyd album) and really, really like Animals, it probably didn't get much better than 1973 for these guys: Dark Side Of The Moon was a hit but it hadn't ruined their lives yet, they'd just renegotiated or were in the process of renegotiating their record deals (Dark Side would be the last Floyd album to be originally distributed in the U.S. on Capitol's struggling Harvest subsidiary; Floyd was in the process of working out a much better American distribution deal with Columbia even while they recorded Dark Side), the boys were still getting along and weren't yet dealing with the personal difficulties that would begin to flare up during the "Household Objects"/Wish You Were Here sessions. It makes for good music, is the important thing.

I could go on and on like that, you know. Hope everybody's enjoying their Saturday!

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The Kinks, "Misfits"

>> Friday, September 09, 2011

I don't have anything in particular for today, and I expect to be busy through the weekend, so I think we'll be posting some music here for the next few days, and feel free to treat these as open threads, too.

Start with some klassik Kinks, shall we?




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1 to 234

>> Thursday, September 08, 2011

When Brian Williams of NBC mentioned that 234 people had been executed in Texas, the audience applauded—which they did not do when [Texas Governor Rick] Perry credited Obama with ordering the operation to kill Bin Laden.
-John Dickerson, "The Duel"
Slate, September 8th, 2011


I didn't applaud or cheer or gloat when Navy SEALs took down Osama bin Laden, but I wasn't the least bit sorry the bastard was gone and I understood why some people were inclined to celebrate. I would even go so far as to say I was kind of glad he was dead, even if my personal preference would have been for a trial; hell, I'm not as stupid as some people may have think--I even acknowledge that a trial probably would have been impractical and just shooting the son of a bitch in the head was for the best, my bleeding-heart principles notwithstanding.

I am opposed to the death penalty and philosophically inclined towards pacifism, and I'm not inclined to celebrate anybody's death; that's just the way I am. But you're damn straight that I can be blasé about Osama bin Laden's death and even consider it justified because I am satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt by evidence presented to the public--including evidence in the form of gloating and threatening video and audio recordings of bin Laden that have been released by al Qaeda over the past decade--that the man was complicit in the premeditated murders of 2,977 victims, along with however many other deaths he orchestrated in the course of his terrorist career. My civilized brain is unsympathetic towards bin Laden and my savage heart feels, I confess, a certain grim satisfaction, the kind of quiet, fierce sense of placation one feels when an ugly but necessary job has been finished well. He was guilty, and while I'm loathe to say any human being deserves to die, there is no rational case to be made that bin Laden deserved to live.

President Barack Obama signed off on the death of a guilty mass murderer. Governor Rick Perry signed off on the death of an innocent man.

If you haven't heard of Cameron Todd Willingham, I'll be blunt: you are grossly uninformed and need to know. Willingam was a Texas man accused of killing his children in a fire; and was convicted almost entirely by testimony from arson investigators that has subsequently been deemed pseudoscience, conjecture and folklore--and to have violated even those fragile principles (i.e. not just pseudoscience, but badly-conducted pseudoscience to boot). The only evidence that wasn't woo consisted of a jailhouse snitch's recanted claims that Willingham had confessed to the crime (in fact, Willingham turned down a plea for a life sentence and continued to protest his innocence even while strapped to the gurney to receive his lethal injection) and prejudiced speculative testimony from eyewitnesses (witnesses who initially described Willingham as a hysterical father who tried to run, half-naked, back inside a burning house to rescue the children, later--after prosecutors had charged Willingham with murder--decided he must have been acting or was seemingly unconcerned about their fates), along with psychiatric testimony from the notorious and oft-criticized James "Dr. Death" Grigson (Grigson, who provided psychiatric testimony for prosecutors all over the United States, has been expelled from the American Psychiatric Association for ethics violations, for what it's worth). There is a long and well-known article by David Grann that appeared in The New Yorker in 2009 that goes into detail and has to be read to be unbelieved, that ought to be required reading for any citizen in this country.

State Governors, of course, generally have the power to issue stays, commutations and pardons. Governor Perry, however, appears to have done both more and less than that. Prior to Willingham's execution, the Governor not only denied a stay of execution until questions about the case were cleared up or commutation of the sentence to life, but it also appears the governor's office and parole commission ignored a report questioning the "scientific" testimony produced at Willingham's trial. As bad as this was, it appears that Governor Perry has subsequently interfered with the proceedings of a forensic science review panel which almost certainly would have exonerated Willingham; too late to save the man's life, but dubiously better than nothing and an honest acknowledgment of the need to review capital punishment procedures (or to review the legitimacy of the death penalty entirely). Perry is accused of improperly using his position to remove members of the panel, forcing the cancellation of a scheduled review of the Willingam case forty-eight hours before the commission was to meet. A lengthy discussion of the machinations that derailed the review of the Willingham case, and Governor Perry's role therein, recently appeared in a long (and also very much worth reading) piece by Jason Linkins at The Huffington Post.

That Governor Perry seems to have allowed the state of Texas to kill an innocent man and then used his position to try to perpetrate a cover-up of that state-sanctioned murder isn't likely to derail his presidential aspirations. Audiences don't just applaud that sort of thing; Politico reported:

Veterans of Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison’s unsuccessful 2010 primary challenge to Perry recalled being stunned at the way attacks bounced off the governor in a strongly conservative state gripped by tea party fever. Multiple former Hutchison advisers recalled asking a focus group about the charge that Perry may have presided over the execution of an innocent man--Cameron Todd Willingham--and got this response from a primary voter: "It takes balls to execute an innocent man."


It certainly does--if by "balls" one in fact means a cold-blooded, sociopathic indifference to human life and an utterly amoral disregard for justice, however belated and useless. If that's how one is defining "balls", it's possible that Governor Rick Perry's balls require special pants and a custom-tailored shoulder harness that keeps them from dragging along the ground and getting caught in automatic doors. If that's how we're defining "balls" these days, Rick Perry may very well be the first presidential candidate who is entirely nothing but balls.

I am reluctant to embrace the right's concept of a "culture war" but am willing to admit I may have been mistaken: if there are people in this country who will cheer the executions of 234 people, at least one of whom was almost certainly innocent; and people who think it takes balls to kill the innocent; but these same people won't express the same enthusiasm for the death of a confessed and undeniable mass-murderer or give credit where it's due to the successful elimination of a persistent threat to Western democracies, then we do, indeed, have a culture war. We have, in fact, a war between civilization and barbarism, between culture and a grunting ritualized pantomime of culture. One might not expect applause for the death of an actual mass-murderer any more than one might expect applause for the removal of garbage from one's curbside or applause for the flushing of a toilet; but to applaud the news of 234 executions while silently ignoring the death of one man because you have some irrational hatred of the man ultimately responsible for his death seems well beyond the pale of hypocrisy, into territory exclusive to grunting and hooting primates armed with animal bones and cowering ignorantly in their cold, hearthless caves. One steeped in liberalism is revolted and conflicted: at the heart of liberalism is (amongst other things) an urge to understand The Other, but who wants to understand this crude and alien mentality? May any gods lurking out there in the universe have pity on us for harboring such in our midst, and judge us gently for our failure to spread civilization's light to all corners of humanity's collective heart.




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Hole, "Violet"

>> Wednesday, September 07, 2011

I just got nothin' today. No politics, no pop culture, no Wookie humor (well, okay, maybe a little Wookie humor1). So, y'know, here's Hole performing "Violet" on SNL in '94, with a segue into a classic Goffin/King number:







People are always claiming "He Hit Me (It Felt Like A Kiss)" was meant ironically. I don't know that I'm buying. Might have something to do with the fact that Phil Spector gave the tune to The Crystals, and the gods know that while Spector may have been one of the best fucking producers in music history and one of the implacable forces shaping modern pop, dude doesn't seem to have met a woman he wouldn't hit... or shoot in the face. Then again, I'm not sure I buy the idea that led to the song being widely banned: that it's an endorsement of domestic violence. I think there's a middle ground somewhere in there, where a song can be horrible and tasteless and poorly thought out and just kind of reprehensibly clueless, and that's the ground occupied by "He Hit Me". It's just an awful, fucked-up song that doesn't educate, illustrate, provoke or accomplish anything that justifies the vague sugary vileness of it; here's where Courtney Love's various approaches to it actually get to the essence of the song, the real heart of it: that it's just ugly and awful (and, in the present instance, a fitting coda to a song that screeches, "You should learn how to say no.... Go on, take everything, take everything, I dare you to," with implied sexual violence/victimization). But this feels like déjà vu all over again.






1

Hrronh hrronh!

Who's there?

Hrrrrrrooonnnah!

Hrrrrrrooonnnah who?

Hrrrrrrooonnnah rrrrrrohhhnhnhn!




A Wookie walks into a bar with a duck under his arm. The bartender says, "Hey, you can't bring a duck in here!" So the Wookie puts the duck down, rips off the bartender's left arm and beats him with it while the bartender passes out from blood loss!




One morning, a man answered a knock on his door and found a Wookie on his doorstep. So he asked the Wookie what she wanted and the Wookie said, "Hrraahhnahhhhhhhhhhh!" So the man said he'd pay the Wookie fifty dollars to paint his porch. Well, an hour later, the Wookie knocks at the door again, and the man says, "Did you finish the porch already?" And the Wookie says, "Hrrrrronh hrrrrrraaaaanh rrrrrrronh! Hrrrranhnhhh rrronh hraaaaaaah!"




A priest, a rabbi and a protestant minister walk into a bar, and the Wookie tending the bar says, "Hrrrrnh?"



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Another proud member of the UCF...

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...Frank Gorshin-obsessed bikers.

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