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Preview: Ramblings of an Idle Insomniac

Ramblings of an Idle Insomniac



The story of one man's ongoing struggle with sleep and sanity



Updated: 2018-01-24T07:53:16.007-05:00

 



04-15-2013: On the Futility of Terror

2013-05-23T01:54:02.612-04:00

This wasn’t just an attack against the Boston Marathon. It was an attack against the American public and our democratic use of the streets. We have used our public roadways for annual parades, protest marches, presidential inaugurations, marathons, and all manner of other events. The roads belong to us, and their use represents an important part of our free and democratic tradition-- Amby Burfoot, Runner's WorldPatriots Day is a holiday only celebrated in Massachusetts, which commemorates the battles of Lexington and Concord and the start of the American Revolution. We Bostonians are quite proud of our city's role in the foundation of American democracy, but given the extent to which that celebration takes a back seat, you could be forgiven for thinking that the whole thing was just an excuse for us to have the day off so that we can watch the Boston Marathon. Boston being what it is, if the holiday hadn't existed already, we'd probably have invented it.The race was founded in 1897, inspired by the success of an event held at the first modern Olympics. For distance runners around the globe, Boston is the marathon. Tell a marathoner anywhere in the world about making it over Heartbreak Hill, and odds are about even they'll know what you're talking about. Here, Marathon Monday is without any doubt the finest day on the calendar for sports fans. A Sox game begins at Fenway at the odd time of 11:05 so that when the game-- which is often memorable in its own right-- is over, the fans can leave the stadium and watch people finish the race. And they do.It may seem somewhat odd that we let the day commemorating the Shots Heard Round the World be overshadowed by sport, but I'm as proud of that as anything else about the day. The state motto of Massachusetts is Ense petit placidam sub libertate quietem, or "by the sword we seek peace, but peace only under liberty. Having won the war and achieved liberty, the celebration of armed resistance becomes a footnote to another Bostonian acheivement felt the world over, this one placed firmly in the category of peace. An international sporting event devoid of the pseudo-nationalism of team sports or the actual nationalism that creeps into the Olympics.Ezra Klien speaks to this in a blog post titled, "If you are losing faith in humanity, go out and watch a marathon"I've never run the Boston Marathon, but both my parents have, and I grew up watching it every year around the 20 mile marker with family. In a town that eats, drinks, breathes, sleeps, shits and fucks sports-- sometimes to the point of are-you-seriously-chanting-Yankees-Suck-at-a-game-against-the-Royals embarrassment-- the Marathon is a unique experience: a sporting event where everyone in the crowd stands in full-throated support of everyone in the race, whether they be from Boston, New York, Kansas City, or Kenya. The fact that nobody from Massachusetts has won it for over 30 years hasn't put a damper on our enthusiasm for it; all those who run the 26.2 miles from Hopkinton to Boylston Street are Bostonians as far as we're concerned. And the feeling, for some, is mutual; three time winner Cosmas Ndeti of Kenya went so far as to name his son Boston. Uta Pippig, who won it three times for Germany, became a US citizen in 2004 and now sits on the board of directors for MIT's AgeLab.The race is an hours-long-miles-wide outdoor party where distance between spectator and participant is at some spots in the course reduced to the vanishing point. High-fives, cups of water, and words of encouragement are dispensed, more often than not from one stranger to another. When my mother ran Boston, there was nothing stopping me running alongside her to show support as she passed by. By the same token, there would have been nothing to stop me from ruining Ndeti's record-setting performance in '94, but that shit just doesn't happen. Who would fuck with the Boston Marathon?FUCKING WHO?Three people lost their lives yesterday, one of whom was only eight years old. Many lost limbs, and close to two hundred were injured. More stil[...]



If you can make it here... and back again

2012-12-25T19:11:39.879-05:00

A minor god stirred uncomfortably in his sedan bed. The circumstances of his conveyance were well short of expectations, and he hadn't the faintest idea why.He had taken great care in selecting his high priestess and up until now she had been properly attendant to the various rituals required to nourish his divine essence.Well...To be perfectly honest, her efforts at recruiting new followers had been meager at best. There was really only the one, not counting a handful of casual worshippers who would only occasionally show up at the temple on the high holy days. Or what they seemed to think were the high holy days.They did certainly seem enthusiastic, at any rate.The daily sacrifices had been forthcoming, if without the degree of pomp and circumstance one normally expected from that sort of thing.And in truth, his exhaustive search had pretty much begun and ended with her. The gods of rain and thunder were dogging his footsteps, he'd seen her through the window and made a snap decision. Something about the hair and the eyes... but she'd proven herself fluent in the divine tongue, hadn't she?It didn't make any sense. The temple was in disarray-- he had thought that the giant carrying boxes of holy artifacts out the door had been a raider until the high priestess and her consort assisted them-- and here he was being carried in a third-rate carriage to god only knows where.Which god he had no idea, The others whom he had conferred with at the temple upstairs (the nerve of these humans. At least he had one of his own, and it wasn't a walk-up) were of no help.Worse, She continued to refer to him by the name of a far more powerful god of his pantheon. Did they all look the same to her? It scarcely seemed possible. That fellow had longer ears, a ridiculous nose and mouth, and far more important responsibilities. He now sat in a box at the lap of his high priestess, who was sitting on (in?) a rather large specimen of the local metal beasts.And now the beast had begun to lurch back and forthThis wouldn't do at all. The small god let loose his full fury.Aw fuck!What happened?You guys, Anubis just pissed and shat the carrier.FRAMINGHAM, MA--  We had made it 30 of the 225 miles to a chunk of Brooklyn full of barely-converted lofts which will no doubt become the next East Coast hipster Mecca once the final consensus has been reached that Williamsburg is 'over.' For the record, I can more than see the appeal. The residential hub growing on the skeleton of defunct industrial space has the air of an urban coral reef, with quite a bit of impressive use of what was already lying around. And where this is good for artists and entrepreneurs, it's bad for corporate brands. I didn't see any evidence of a national chain the whole time I was there.We had planned to leave two hours prior, and were expected to arrive two hours hence, so that my passengers might pick up their keys and, you know, actually move into their goddamned apartment tonight.Actually pulling over to the rest stop was a somewhat tricky maneuver  because that involved a lot of merging to the right, which meant borrowing the eyes of the crimson-haired witch riding shotgun, as the now-putrid cat carrier on her lap was obstructing my view of the mirror.Forty minutes, some scrubbing, two cigarettes, half a can of deodorizer, and a layer of  kitty litter added to the floor of the cat carrier and we were back on the road, almost certain to be more than an hour late.BROOKLYN, NY"You look like a man who needs a drink."I told him about the drive down, having to pay the toll for the RFK Bridge out of pocket (in fairness, neither of my friends had ever driven in New York City and they more than made it up to me, but that hadn't happened yet), getting yelled at for not mounting the curb in a 14' box truck in order to make a K-turn, the dusty-ass half-finished loft that was being pawned off on them while their actual apartment was being finished, a brief barrage of shouting that belonged to a man who had, it turns out, a faulty defi[...]



Because I can't think of another title that fits this conceit

2012-08-30T05:10:05.701-04:00

The focus of my last two posts have been mostly about things that I did during Firefly, which is an occasional pitfall of how I tend to write about these sort of things, but seems out of keeping with the spirit of the event. There were over thirty theme camps at Firefly, and most of them had at least one thing about them that was positively stunning. Camp Totenkitten featured a torch standing possibly 40 feet tall which delivered a burst of flame from one or more of 9 nozzles facing in different directions when you pressed the arcade buttons on the control panel, and a cuddle-pit filled with pillows featuring a projector and screen which showed prior footage from a webcam pointed at the selfsame pit. Camp Retarded Lions had hammocks hanging one over the other, and a gigantic net suspended up above that people could hang out in. Bring a Cup was a theme camp devoted to delicious homebrew beer.I spent quite a bit of time at Bring a Cup.Many of the camps had outdoor nightclub-ish setups (including ours, though the extent to which we were outclassed in that regard is part of the reason I didn't serve many drinks). Some featured space for object manipulators and firespinners to perform. One camp had a suspension rig set up between two trees.A lot of people experienced things for the first time there, both because there was quite a lot to experience and because we were in a safe space surrounded by people who genuinely wanted every single person they encountered to have a good time. Some of those things were chemicals. You would be surprised by the relative lack of people freaking the fuck out because of this. And the extent to which people were ready to care for the few marginal cases.In addition to group projects, there was quite a bit of individual art that kicked ass. To be quite honest, cataloging any significant portion of it would be beyond the reaches of my memory, but I will share with you my favorite bit of performance art of the week, courtesy of a new friend I made at the Bad Faerie camp.In the wake of the Republican Speaker of Michigan's lower house denying speaking privileges to State Representative Lisa Brown-- a Democrat who took to the floor and give a speech that ended with "I'm very flattered to see how interested you all are in my vagina, but no means no," in response to the latest local skirmish in the Republican War on Women-- this self-described Sparkle Warhorse (a reclamation of "Sparkle Pony," which refers to someone who shows up under-prepared for survival and over-prepared for general fabulousity) decided that this could not be allowed to stand. So she suited up to proselytize about the beauty and wonder of the vagina.After explaining to people what she was on abut, she proceeded to knight those supportive to the cause who swore an oath to uphold and defend the rights and awesomeness of vaginae everywhere. She then bestowed upon them a vaginal name. I was the first person to be so dubbed. I am now Sir Spam Purse of Camberville.There's a reason why I've seen fit to fill three posts about this event. For four days in the woods, I was able to experience what it's like to exist in a space where there are no constraints on expressing oneself except that I not ruin the space or hamper anyone else's self-expression. Does that mean that the person who people met at Firefly, who was often wearing nothing other than underwear, a hat, a pair of black faeire wings, shoes, and stockings is the real me, and way I present myself in public is just a costume? No. Well, not exactly. We take greater advantage of freedoms we don't always have when we have them, which is why at the moment I'm typing this I'm not wearing anything at all.Also, it's not like the limits placed on my behavior and my self-expression here in Somerville, MA are exactly smothering.This is uh, how I dress about 80% of the time that there's a party to go to.When I go out for a walk dressed like that in Cambridge or Somerville, most peop[...]



Because I can't ever just tell a goddamn story in the right order

2012-07-28T00:09:26.275-04:00

This continues the story I started to tell in my previous postFor me, the extent to which I find myself entangled with people I know because of things that happened on the Internet has served as a kind of constant reminder of the forces of chaos constantly at  work in our lives. Hell, the result of the random number generator behind the "Next Blog" button has led to palpable real-world consequences for me. Which, in the scheme of things, is unremarkable. Random events govern what happens on any given day in any given life, but individually they can be easy to miss. On the Internet, however, there are records, and you can find your way back to the literally random input that changed everything with a good enough memory and, of course, Google.As it happens, the story that I kind-of-sort-of started to recount the other day happened because of a hat. More specifically, because I decided to change my profile picture on the dating site that I only ever joined because of a test that Bone posted about on his blog, which Pia also took and posted about on her blog.Did uh, did anyone else do anything with that site besides take the quiz?The photo in question is the one that I've been using for my avatar. As it happens, when you change anything in your profile on OKCupid, its algorithm gives you a bump. One of the people to whom my profile was bumped clicked through specifically because of the hat, the long hair, and the pirate flag. Her name is Emily, and she's a human statue performer, a leatherworker, a filmmaker, and a firespinner. The first time we hung out, about a year or two ago, we spoke for two solid hours sitting atop a 300 year-old crypt. The second time was at Figment Boston, where we sat in a dome littered with rose petals, pedaled to keep the music playing while people danced, and just generally appreciated the fuck out of the various works of guerrilla art taking up temporary residency on the Rose Kennedy Greenway. She told me that there was a sort of bigger, week-long version of Figment that happened every year out in the woods of Vermont called Firefly, and that she'd be going for the first time next month.A month later, it did not take very long at all for her to convince me that I needed to be at the next one. Really all it took was the name drop of the camp I mentioned in the previous post. She and a few others had formed a small sub-camp within it called the Bad Faeries, a concept which she intended to visit upon next years festival in full form. A plan slowly took form over the course of the year, and three art grants were applied for and received. There would be a hookah lounge, a faerie wing creation station, a dj setup, a dance floor, a bar, and a horde of mythological creatures shrunken and suspended in light-reactive liquid hanging in jars all over the camp. The bar was my responsibility.At first, when I thought I'd have funding (or the spare cash to underwrite the project myself), I'd intended on building a machine out of wood, rope, and pulleys that would, from the perspective of the thirsty visitor, pour measured amounts of uncooled booze at the pull of a lever into a bubbling cauldron spewing colored mist, from whereupon a straight-up, undiluted, cold drink would be conjured. It's a marriage of barcraft and stagecraft I had wanted an excuse to build for some time, but which ultimately wasn't in the cards. As plans shifted, it also became clear that there wasn't room for, well, anything else in any of the cars or trucks going up to Vermont. I would be heading up with six buckets, some twine, some duct tape, and twelve pounds of dry ice. I would, presumably, figure it out when I got there. I was riding with Helen, who I would also be bunking with for the trip.Oh, that's right, I haven't introduced you all to Helen. Dear readers, this is Helen. We've been together since November of 08She moved to the Boston area after having traveled to the city the previous September, along with about a thousand other nerds (myse[...]



Because the Heavy Metal Strippers Will Keep the Bears Away

2012-07-23T03:53:48.802-04:00

A SECRET, UNDISCLOSED LOCATION IN THE GREEN MOUNTAINS

And that's the last of it!

The heavyset man behind the camp stove bellowed to all that would hear. He emptied the final bag of uncooked bacon onto the oversized cast-iron pan he was laboring over. Over four days, fully 92 pounds of bacon had been prepared on that stove, in that camp. Cheers went up as people briefly turned away from the firebreather (who had until then been the center of attention) to sample the latest output. Teriyaki bacon, roasted garlic bacon, and Cajun bacon were laid out for any present to consume.

92 pounds? That's about what I weigh!


I looked down to see a pixielike woman standing dressed in tiny black shorts, a scarf, and some bellydancer jewelry.

She put her arm around my midsection. "I hope you don't think this is weird, but I just love tall people. I'm so jealous... do you think you could let me ride on your shoulders?"

Naturally, I obliged. We went back down to the performance pit, where a long-haired man in a black Utilikilt was swinging a flame axe to Aenima by Tool, flanked by a shirtless muscley dude and a tall, skinny woman in a bikini, each of them working a stripper pole. We joined crowd of onlookers gathered at a safe distance wearing varying amounts of clothing who were dancing as they watched the performance.

When the song was over I knelt to let her off of my shoulders. Her feet touched the ground and we were at eye level.

Now you know what the world looks like to me


Actually, I assume this position all the time

Really... do you do partner acrobatics?


Huh? no, I just have a lot of friends who I'm closer to eye level with when I kneel

Oh, because you look like you have the build for it. Put your hands right above my knees for a second


She proceeded to teach me a number of tricks that involved lifting her over my head as she balanced in a pose, and ended by doing a handstand on my shoulders.

You really haven't done this before?

Onlookers did not act as if anything was out of the ordinary, and it wasn't. Not at the Firefly Arts Festival, and certainly not at Camp Heavy Metal Bacon Strippers. Here, 3/4-naked people being casually awesome was expected in very much the same way that, on a normal day, one might expect to drink coffee in the morning. And this in no way detracts from the individual experience of doing awesome things.

The rules of the road of any given burn (the catch-all term for events like Firefly) are designed to create that kind of atmosphere Aside from the ten principles of Burning Man, there are three main rules that govern Firefly:

(1) Leave No Trace (admittedly, one of the ten principles)
(2) Have Fun
(3) Safety Third

This would explain why someone would trust their safety to a complete stranger whose sobriety was never explicitly confermed

When she was done teaching me things, we formally introduced ourselves and parted ways. There was much more adventure to be had, and only a day and a half left to have it.

More to come...




(image)



Spam, Spam, Spam, John Bolton, Spam, Spam and Spam

2012-06-13T16:56:51.960-04:00

I actually find myself partially agreeing with John Bolton about Russia. Not that we should back away from arms control-- Bolton would suggest that on any day ending in -y. But it might be a good idea to push forward on missile defense in Europe so that we have something utterly inconsequential on the table that we can give up so Putin can stop making the situation in Syria and still be able to declare victory when he goes back to the harem of half-tiger dancing girls whom I assume will be waiting for him in Moscow.I am, of course, suspicious of any time I even superficially agree with someone who sees the UN as legitimate only when it serves his neoconservative agenda. Especially since his proscriptions are being offered in the context of there needing to be a fundamental shift in the strategic realities in the Middle East if we are to see peace there (Ok, what he said was "advance legitimate American interests," and he almost certainly meant something else by that, but seeing as peace is the only legitimate American interest in the Middle East, that's what I'm running with.) Seeing as Russia's sociopathic behavior on the world stage more or less stems from concern about the expansion of American geopolitical capital, it's hard to see how we're going to save any lives in Syria by telling them, for instance, that we have no interest in pursuing agreements aimed at preventing the militarization of space.Pounding our chest at Russia and saying "come at me, bro," is many things, but it's not strategic. Where there is a whisper of kinda-maybe truth is that Putin, keen political operator that he is, is likely basing his posture via a vis the US on how the President has dealt with bald faced unprincipled intransigence at home. If that's the case, and this is a matter of Putin crowding the plate, as it were, it's because he doesn't think that Obama has it in him to brush him back. If so, it's possible that it might be  tactically sound to give him some chin music. But all that can possibly do is get him to take half a step back. It isn't going to win the ballgame. The only way to win the ballgame is to ultimately find a way to make peace with Russia and Iran without giving away the store. Honestly? I don't remotely have the policy chops to tell you how that's going to happen (working on it). I am, however, keenly aware of what not to do.On an unrelated note, I would like to ask people who are posting this image on social networks to please fucking stop Congrats, folks! You've found a way to save less than 1% of the deficit whilst giving members of Congress further incentive to seek outside income! You know, the outside income they get by investing on inside information and taking high-paid gigs from the people who were lobbying them while they were supposedly serving our interests. This is no different than Republicans going after foreign aid or funding for the arts. You can fundamentally believe that the people who are receiving this money don't deserve it, but pretending that cutting it off is going to solve any problem is severely fucking delusional. It's the sort of thing that distracts us from, you know, actually solving our numerous problems as a nation.[...]



On this day...

2012-06-01T01:25:11.663-04:00

Twenty-seven years ago today (and three hundred forty-nine days before I would be alive), my dear friend Cooper came into this world.

 Surely, one of the better days for the planet.

 We've shared an overlapping corner of the blogosphere for a little more than seven years now (Holy fuck, Batman!) and  I have been infinitely grateful for it. Cooper has challenged me intellectually, engaged with me (and against me, as it were, in arguments that left many others exhausted. We collaborated on two short lived group blogs of our own and one whose failure had nothing to do with us. Our instant message conversations have made the greatest hits list of one Ms. Pia Savage. Not everyone else got it. There's much, much more to be said, but I'm up against midnight and it's important that this get out on the right day. So let me just say Happy Birthday, Cooper. I hope it's been a great one.(image)



I Just Don't "Get" FB (NASDAQ)

2012-05-22T16:27:21.749-04:00

Before being introduced to the likes of Paul Krugman, I was extremely skeptical that anyone at all who wrote about economics or finance had any clue what they were talking about. This is, mostly, because of my experience growing up during the tech bubble. I had taken to monitoring the movement of the stocks that my grandfather had bought for me when I was a newborn. I owned five shares of AT&T at first, which spun off Lucent Technologies, both of which underwent multiple stock splits and explosive growth that led to me owning, at peak, 15 shares of AT&T, 10 of Lucent, and one or two shares of a couple of other spin-offs. the paper value peaked around $6,000 from an initial investment of $300, if I recall correctly. At the time I wanted to pull out and put the money into a CD, because in my daily price tracking, I saw it tapering off. I was told that it was just the ups and downs of the market. I had, indeed, learned to take the weekly fluctuations with a grain of salt, but the emerging pattern seemed to suggest that after a wild growth streak-- driven quite a bit by the fact that people were just beginning to buy into this whole "Internet" thing, which was a subject I also knew more about than most adults at the time-- that had made a lot of people very rich, whether or not the stock was worth the asking price at the time, it certainly wasn't worth any more. People were beginning to cash out. I was twelve at the time and didn't quite have the language to communicate this to my grandfather, who had in part through wise investing been able to retire early. I was told to hold onto it-- AT&T was a blue chip, they said and it would always grow steadily over time. And there wasn't a person or resource I consulted which wasn't singing the same tune.The other day I got a letter from the Massachusetts State Treasurer telling me that they were holding stock certificates worth about $500 in my name at the abandoned property office for me to claim. If I had been allowed to go with my plan, chances are I would have very likely been able to pay for my first year of college out of pocket.The jury is still out on whether the lesson I learned was worth the money it cost me, but in any case I shall share it: Sometimes the experts don't know what the fuck they're talking about, and it gets more likely the more assured they are of their expertise. Worse, sometimes people know better than the experts and don't speak up, because they stand to make a lot of money off of the suckers who rely on their expertise. I didn't say anything in this space or any other about the Facebook IPO partly because I've been a bit lazy about actually producing content on the Internet lately and partly because I didn't think that anything I had to say was worth mentioning. I remembered reading about IPOs in a book my grandfather had given me about the very basics of smart investing "Buy low, sell high, buy when there's blood in the street, etc." The author strongly cautioned against them, and advised those considering IPOs to do their fucking research, because too often the offerings get marred by insiders who owned chunks of the company before anyone else had gotten the opportunity, had their own secret estimates of its value, and stood to gain. I may follow tech news more than most, but did anyone miss all of the headlines about the series of massive private investments made in Facebook by tech bigwigs, venture capitalists, and celebrities over the past eight years? The people whose investment capital allowed Facebook to pretty much run the table in the social media market? They've owned sizeable chunks of Facebook this whole time, and this was the first opportunity for them to turn those paper gains into real money (they could have sold privately of course, but not for nearly as much return). In the end, that sort of dumping represented more than half of the[...]



Wondering and Dreaming, the Words Have Different Meanings

2012-05-10T06:05:23.549-04:00

BOSTON COLLEGE, 2006I had been drafted at the last minute into acting as a judge for a 24-hour one-act play competition that my best friend from high school was emceeing. A frequent feature of our friendship was that he would often take great initiative--and do an impressive amount of legwork-- to get a project off the ground, only to wind up having a hole in his planning that seemed to be precisely my shape and size. To wit, I've gone undercover to help him investigate a pyramid scheme, held a boom mic for an on-camera interview of a rabbi, rewritten bits of voiceover for his documentary about the anti-Iraq war protests in DC at the time, assisted in writing a sketch to get him into a comedy group, helped set up chairs for any number of improv or sketch performances, and lugged around, cumulatively, quite a lot of shit.  This time, my task was to sit on my ass and have opinions about theater.I'm so good at having opinions, you guys.That one of the contestants was a former classmate of mine and former pupil of my theater sensei, who was also a judge, did not get examined by anyone. He did a one-man-show that I found a bit touching if a little angsty, but sort of disqualified himself by not memorizing it.I posted about it at the time, but left out the most important thing that happened to me that day.There was a contingent of current and former BC High Drama cast and crew in the audience waiting. She was there with a whiteboard, buzzed head and attire that was somehow simultaneously frumpy and somewhat suiting. We'd met only once before, but she greeted me warmly as if we already knew each other well. That is to say, as warmly as one can without speaking. It was Lent, and she had given up talking. Before I left, she scrawled "Do you have IM?" Her name was Katrina Kessler, and this was the day that we first became friends.At the time, having long, meaningful conversations via Instant Messenger was extremely normal for me as there were important people in my life for whom I had no other mode of contact. And as she had a month of no speaking ahead of her, it was her only way of communicating over a distance in real time (She still kept her phone on her, but if you called her, you needed to do all the talking). It was a perfect month to get to know each other, and I'm infinitely grateful for the confluence of events. In a rare twist, Catholic doctrine was factoring into my life positively. We became fast friendsHer relationship with the Church is one that will likely confuse me for the rest of my life. Katrina chose Lucifer as her confirmation name, which  one other friend of mine has gotten away with (the rules are that it has to be the name of a Saint or an angel). She taught Sunday school, and gave things up for Lent, despite being well aware of what the game is with Catholicism. (she would eventually identify as a witch). The self-described "con man" believed in the usefulness of Sunday school as a means of scaring young children, but Lent seemed to be half about performance art and half about an exercise in willpower. The following year she would give up swearing, which she said was far more difficult than giving up speaking altogether.Performance art was, indeed, a large factor in our friendship. Together we were Team Creepy, a dynamic duo which vowed to nudge people out of their comfort zones. We engaged street crazies in philosophical discussions. We staged ridiculously specific fetishes that would have seemed asexual in nature if not for one or both of us responding with what Katrina would call "enthusiastic agreement." We embraced absurdity with a straight face and had many, many adventures in Boston that all seemed to end with us walking about the Common. If walls, park benches could talk... they'd probably have far more scandalous things than us to speak of. But they'd all know our na[...]



Whiskey for Breakfast

2012-03-17T19:43:44.118-04:00

I'm not a huge fan of some St Patrick's Day traditions. Do not offer me a green beer as I'm as likely to throw it in your face as drink it. Don't try and tell me that boiling is a reasonable way to cook meat. And for fuck's sake, hold your booze or don't grab it in the first place. Despite my distaste for a certain extent of affection for the holiday. My love of whiskey and stout are a matter of public record. I appreciate hearing Irish music on the radio, whether it be old-school folk, Thin Lizzy, the Pogues, the Cranberries, or the Dropkick Murphys, who here in Boston are practically an institution.

There are, of course, plenty of people who'd wish to be rid of the holiday, and aside from a general dislike of drunken and rowdy behavior, there tend to be two main arguments against it. One came from my years at a Catholic School, where they told us that St Patrick would have hated St. Patrick's Day. Which is true. St. Patrick's attitude toward the Irish (he was from Roman Britain) was very similar to current Western attitudes towards Africa. The Irish, to him, were a bestial lot, save for those who had already converted. He was appalled by the drinking and revelry and the matriarchal Druidic spiritualism. Getting up at 8 to go to the pub and not coming back home until the night in his his name is the sort of thing that would really piss him off.

My response to that, you may not be surprised to hear, is fuck that guy

Which brings me around to the other criticism, which is that St. Pat's is a celebration of the banishment of paganism from Ireland. Indeed, that is what the whole "chasing out the snakes" story was a metaphor for. Which is true, when you're talking about the holy day of obligation celebrated in Ireland. From where I'm sitting on this side of the Atlantic, the timeline reads a bit different. The ministry of St Patrick was the first wave of social and religious engineering in Ireland coming out of Britain. The second began in the 17th century, only this time with more plunder and exploitation, and was eventually a significant cause of emigration to America.    I've often found it kind of cool that the Irish wound up being a defining feature of Boston, which was founded by the witch-crazed American counterparts of the Puritans who helped drive them out in the first place.

Here in Boston, St Patrick's Day is also known as Evacuation Day, the day in 1776 that the British were repelled from Boston, thanks to freshly installed cannons on Dorchester Heights. Here in America, the British Invasion was turned back, and instead of celebrating the triumph of Catholicism over paganism, we celebrate the Irish. I won't pretend that all or even any Americans who celebrate St Patrick's Day share my narrative of the day, or are even aware of the history or the fact that they are dancing on the grave of the holiday's namesake as they celebrate it. But as a Bostonian Irish-American, a former Christmas and Easter Catholic turned atheist (after a couple years of fairly rigorous theological scholarship at the previously mentioned Catholic school) who occasionally identifies as a Solstice and Equinox witch, celebrating St. Paddy's is a yearly reminder that here in America, St Patrick lost.

You don't need to go out and puke on a stranger to appreciate the victory of merriment over guilt. If that's not your scene, you can do what I'm doing right now. Pour yourself a glass of whiskey (or any Irish libation of your choosing) and read Grace, by James Joyce. Happy St Patrick's Day, motherfuckers.

*mic drop*(image)



The Most Astounding Fact About the Universe

2012-03-08T15:43:20.595-05:00

Explaining the inner workings of the Universe so that all might understand them better is a noble endeavor. Doing so in a manner that excites us and urges us to participate in the process of scientific discovery is a necessity for any society that wishes to continue the march of scientific process. Towards that end, one could do far worse than Neil Degrasse Tyson, whose answer to the question "What is the most astounding fact about the Universe?" has been set to music and images of the cosmos by vimeo user Max Schlickenmeyer. allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="300" mozallowfullscreen="" src="http://player.vimeo.com/video/38101676" webkitallowfullscreen="" width="400">This is nearly identical to the notion which Miley Cyrus has recently been flamed for tweeting as a macro, save for the "forget Jesus" bit. Which was perhaps impolitic for a public figure, but considering the multitudes of exhortations from pulpit I've witnessed by those who hold that people like me who take no solace in the idea that an invisible man (and it is always a man) watching over them lead worthless lives, I offer a hearty fuck you to anyone who refers to the valuation of science over mysticism as "bigotry," while failing to speak up when your fellow Christians declare people like me to be valueless, even if I never said a bad word about their Lord (I would in fact give quite a lot to be able to break bread with the man, even though I'm convinced that he was just a man). The problem is-- and I say this with a heavy heart-- there is a limit to the persuasive power of telling people to go fuck themselves.So where do we go from there?Everybody's concept of the universe is an imperfect model of the one we actually inhabit. Because the people who are most open about this fact are the ones who are trying to build better models for how the Universe works, their efforts are often lost on those who desire the certainty offered by theodicy.Of course, if this was just about how people prefer to live their own lives, that would be one thing. We have known for quite some time now that separation of church and state is not a complete defense against the influence of the church.I'm all for allowing people their comforts up to a point-- we do live in a supremely fucked-up world-- but this fictional asshole who torched a city because they were having too much buttsex, promises eternal punishment for his female creations who refuse to be enslaved by their biology, and demands that one particular method of sucking up to him be enshrined above all others has outgrown his usefulness. Actually, he's been past that mark for quite a while now.Is there a way out?Humanity is capable of witnessing and creating far more truth and beauty than this tyranny is allowing us. We need to find a way to loose this millstone from around our necks. I recognize that any attempt to get the majority of people around the world to eschew divinity is doomed to failure. I do wish, however, that we could find some of them a new God. There does not seem to be a sufficient firewall on offer against the excesses of their current one.As I don't happen to have any gods on me, I would say this, as per the lesson given us by Dr. Tyson. We are the Universe. If you believe that love is the most powerful force in it-- which is, as I understand it, the central tenet of most faiths-- learn to seek and cherish and embolden the love of, by, and for your fellow human beings and you will bring about the realization of your desires. Even if I'm absolutely wrong about everything I hold to be true about the universe (a possibility accepted by every rational thinker), any God worth worshiping would appreciate the effort.[...]



Once again, the gold star goes to the funnyman

2012-02-23T17:15:43.757-05:00

If I were a dude with any kind of media bandwidth, I would be taking credit for Jon Stewart's correct framing of the Virginia government-mandated rape bill.

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I'm actually surprised that Jon Stewart got this as right as he did, as he's often as not the one who makes me want to tear my hair out when he tries to undercut factually based-- if eye-popping-- liberal responses to conservative overreach. He equated, for instance, (accurately) citing President Bush as a war criminal with President Obama a socialist. He decried references to the thuggishness of a man who rides with a white supremacist biker gang and was involved in detainee abuse in Iraq. But here, he landed in pretty much the right spot. Once again, Jon Stewart picks up the slack of the mainstream media. One hopes that they'll catch up one day.(image)



On Consent, Informed and Otherwise

2012-02-21T12:48:55.823-05:00

I've felt a little stuck where this blog is concerned lately. I'm a little bit tired of politics being the only thing that I could think to sit down and write about. I'm more than a little tired hearing myself use that as an excuse (mostly to myself) to not write anything at all when I have something to say about politics. I've been tired of the bullshit-yet-stubbornly-relevant reasons why I haven't felt comfortable writing about what's interesting about my life in this space leaving me with little alternative. But what tires me infinitely more is the cynical refusal to call a spade a spade because it might sound extreme, and the cost we pay as a society and a culture when our discussion of personal liberties is framed by that sensibility.So we go on, once again, to politics.It is truly a relief that the press and the public have come down as hard as they have on the recent skirmishes in the Republican Party's war on women's health, but there's one punch that keeps getting pulled out of what I believe to be a misguided sense of restraint.As I would imagine anyone still reading this blog knows, the Virginia state legislature has taken up a bill that would mandate, as a purported enhancement to laws regarding informed consent (Paging George Orwell!), that they be given a medically unnecessary ultrasound, and that if imaging requires it, that the ultrasound be administered trans-vaginally.The second part is what this post is about primarily, but before I get to that, let me note that as the result of  (a purported) resurgence of small-government conservatism, the Teavangelical power base that capitalized on-- among other things--the under-participation of pro-choice women in 2010 to further their ideological agenda by intruding into the normally sacrosanct relationship between doctor and patient and using the force of law to influence the conditions under which the final decision is made to go through with an abortion or not. It's already pretty unacceptable, but understandably, the focus of the discussion has been on what happens if the abortion is being performed before the point in fetal development at which imaging with an external ultrasound is impossible.So important is it that the views of hypocritical reactionary zealots be reflected in medical procedure that the Republican Party is seeking to coerce those who go in early enough to preclude an ordinary ultrasound into submitting to a forced intrusion that has been described in what often feels like euphemistic language. Let me be clear: the coercive measure by which a pregnant woman is to be made to endure unwanted vaginal penetration by an ultrasound probe is accurately described as rape. And we should call it that.Not out of sensationalism. Not out of a vengeful desire to hurt the GOP, though given the past three years both would be entirely justified. We should call it what it is because this legislation, whatever its original intent, threatens to take the false and dangerous narrative that rape is punishment for sexual promiscuity and codify it into law. Here, in the 21st century. And if you think that that's a maximalist interpretation, the minimalist one would be that the Republican Party is so determined to have its influence felt in the doctor's office they aren't especially concerned if it's necessary to rape the patient in order to exert it.So far, the only person I've seen who has used the word on TV was Anna Sterling of Feministing, who appeared this morning on the debut of Melissa Harris-Perry. I've been told that Keith Olbermann did as well. Others have said things that were certainly intended to , but seemed curiously hesitant to actually use the word, which is unfortunate. You need to say the word to ful[...]



On Dreams

2012-01-17T01:33:04.076-05:00

I think that one of the best Martin Luther King day tributes came from Jon Rosenberg, creator of Scenes from a Multiverse. The premise of the comic is that there are an infinite number of universes inhabited by sentient beings, all of whom are pretty much exactly as fucking stupid as we are.


MLK was assassinated during a push for worker's rights, part of a social justice initiative that went beyond the call for de jure equality and made the case for a more equal society. In today's America, Martin Luther King's name is one embraced by people of all backgrounds, creeds, and political persuasions. But if you share his goals, you get beaten in the streets just the same as his followers did at the time.

Many, on air and off, have asked the question: "What would Martin Luther King Jr. say if he saw today's America." Obviously none of us know, but whatever it is, it would without a doubt be painful to hear.(image)



Requiem

2011-12-21T06:30:34.353-05:00

I would have posted a memorial of the late, great Christopher Hitchens earlier, had I not been wrapped up in reading-- enviously-- the words of those lucky enough to have known him personally. To say that I admired the man is a massive undersell. He was unafraid to challenge any position, however well-accepted, that tripped his keen bullshit detector. He didn't shy away from showing his anger where it was warranted, though he tempered it with humor. He didn't let his work get in the way of his lust for life, nor his fun keep him from producing brilliant work. All of those are qualities that I aspire to embody (and seeing how long it's been since I've last written anything, I have plenty of work to do)  As it happens, Kim Jong Il has fallen now as well. The reflex to check Slate to get Hitch's take was still there when I first heard the news. Luckily, Slate readers were thinking along the same lines and the most recent piece on North Korea was trending.The North Korean regime has been grinding its people to dust for over 60 years now in the service of its military machine, in the hope that one day they may reunite the peninsula by force, and help themselves to the prosperity won by their cousins to the South. Or at least, that's the tale told by those who hold the whips. The real grift lies in leveraging that military might-- combined with legitimate concern that the batshit supervillain calling the shots is just sick enough to like his chances against the combined forces of South Korea and the United States-- into food aid to keep alive the slaves who toil every day to keep the Inner Party in golden waterslides and congac. And we give them food despite knowing the game-- despite knowing that each bag of rice stamped with the stars and stripes is being distributed to the people as it were a tribute paid by a conquered foe. We do this because that's the only fucking thing we can do for those unfortunate enough to be born in what I'm sure Tolkien would recognize as a modern Mordor. If the prison camps where dissidents are sent to work until they die aren't persuasive, the overhead view of the peninsula at night ought to be.It's impossible to know how sincerely the North Korean people are mourning the pathetic, vain, and evil man who they called Dear Leader, or "Highest Incarnation of the Revolutionary Comradely Love," or any of the other 50+ titles his personal army of press flacks came up with for him. For now, the disposition of Kim Jong-un, the nominal Great Successor, or his uncle and probable regent Chang Sung-taek is equally unknowable. If the acts of state terrorism perpetrated on South Korea were the artifact of a regime desperate to show strength as its leader's health deteriorated, then there is much cause for concern in the ascendance of a young novice to the seat of power. But even if no more shells fly in the near future, and even if the North's nuclear capabilities never become a credible threat, the enormity of the regime's grip on its people remains a seemingly immutable fact.Our soft power has been hampered by the feckless self-interest of the Chinese government. Using our hard power would doom millions to the benefit of no-one but those paid to make the bombs and the body bags. There is no Korean Spring in the offing. It is difficult to imagine what the path to a better future for the people of North Korea would look like. But what is certain is that we of the Free World cannot forget their suffering. We cannot allow the world to ignore the plight of the denizens of the dark half of the Korean peninsula, as well as those suffering similarly unforgivable atrocities. And in the absence of[...]



So, that happened

2011-10-28T11:50:30.800-04:00

For many of my generation, the War in Iraq was the catastrophe that catapulted us into political awareness. It has cast a shadow over the entirety of American life for the past eight years, though it seems almost trivial to talk about the impact it's had on the people who didn't go there. 4,468 American troops dead. 150,000 or more Iraqis. Many thousands more wounded. A generation of veterans who feel more detached from the rest of us than any other before them. An effort in Afghanistan that was allowed to deteriorate through neglect, at the cost of who knows how many soldiers and civilians.Even when the last American soldier crosses the border between Iraq and Kuwait at the end of the year (as my badass cousin will be doing, in fact) we won't be done. We still are under great obligation to people of Iraq to ensure that the sacrifices that brave people from both countries have made aren't in vain. We still need to find a responsible way out of Afghanistan. We still need to find work for the thousands of  uniquely qualified people who are nonetheless not getting nearly as much respect as they ought to be, despite how bloody impressive they are.Still, it gave me a profound sense of relief to hear that news the day after Moumarr Ghatafi was probably executed by the Lybian rebels who captured him. In general, I'm with Cooper on the "not really giving a shit about what happened to that guy" front. But it's had me wondering what happens to the legacy of a nation if the messy business of its inception is captured on video.I believe that future generation­s will be embarrasse­d by the way they treated Ghatafi. When the Redcoats massacred our civilians, we put them on trial, and they were defended by a peerless attorney in John Adams, who later said it was the best thing he'd done for his country. It spoke volumes for the ideals upon which we wished to build a nation. The fact that said ideals were inconsistently applied-- to the tune of  innumerable dead and tortured innocents whose only offense was the color of their skin-- is not lost on me. But I believe that there is an enormous benefit to the narrative provided by Adams' example. In Libya, that's a story that they don't get to tell. And with the Ghatafi family now considering filing a war crimes complaint, the narrative suffers even more. I know that the rebels are products of their environmen­t-- an entire generation living under the thumb of a brutal dictator, with no self-determination -- and that they have none of the understand­ing of rules of war that comes with military training. But still, I think that future generation­s of Libyans will be embarrassed by this. Even if it was crossfire that killed Ghatafi, by parading him around the way they did while he was wounded, they killed him just as surely as if the earlier reports about someone shooting him in the forehead with his own pistol were true. Don't get me wrong. What Ghatafi experienced was a very small sliver of what he deserved. But this isn't about him. This is about the Libyan people who have to build a nation from scratch now that the war is over. It's about what they're going to have to tell to their kids when they're old enough to understand this. And by that measure, this was an enormous missed opportunity.All told, we're seeing an end of a war that cost almost 5,000 Americans their lives and will probably wind up costing taxpayers $1.9 trillion dollars, and the end of a war that claimed no American lives and cost  taxpayers about a thousand times less. And oh yeah, they actually like us over there now. Sorry neo-cons, it turns out that it was[...]



In Response to Mr. Hitchens (better late than never)

2011-10-13T20:55:14.779-04:00

Christopher Hitchens argued last Monday that those who are alarmed about the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki are under heavy obligation to say what they would have done instead.It's pretty much just the sort of thing Christopher Hitchens would say. And I sort of agree. I don't necessarily see it as an obligation, but I absolutely am far less likely to take someone seriously if they haven't at least thought about alternatives.If it doesn't bother you at all, you can fuck right the hell off.An American citizen has been killed in our name, with no due process of law. This should be a crisis of conscience for all of us.This isn't to say that I don't think it's utterly appropriate to target an enemy commander during a time of war, regardless of the circumstances of his birth. But this is about precedent, and that means doing the paperwork. And the rationale given for the hit's legality is flimsy at best.For the past 10+ years we have been engaged in a global conflict against a transnational enemy whose troops have no uniforms, who don't amass at the border, who regard success in terms of how many, not how few civilian casualties are inflicted, and who reside in places where they are not the state or of the state but are under some level of protection.The rules of war were not written with this sort of conflict in mind; that much is obvious. The rational response to this realization would be to work with the international community craft new rules that impose limits on the use of military might in accordance with the spirit of existing international law but without the outmoded language.Our response instead has been to do whatever is easiest, and create a post hoc justification for it based on tenuous interpretations of existing law. It's a disgrace, and as Americans we were taught to expect better than this.It should absolutely be legal to take out a man who has betrayed his country to a transnational death cult, and with apparent lethal result, who is holed up someplace inaccessible to any agency  able to capture him.But under current law, it doesn't appear to be. We have only our own laziness to blame for this.What would I have done instead? I'd have worked to establish a judicial process for targeted overseas killings that isn't just a bunch of lawyers putting their heads together to try and find a way to call something legal. I'm going to favor a drone strike over boots on the ground any day, and I'm going to favor a drone strike over an insurgent attack that kills civilians any day. But if people are going to be killed in my name as an American, I want an assurance that they're the right people. This isn't merely a moral concern. Whenever we misfire, whenever we shoot into a crowd, whenever we target the wrong person, we are potentially creating new enemies who see the killing of their loved ones not as collateral damage but as murder. The ethics and the cost-benefit analysis are grey under the best of circumstances. To say that this is distressing is an understatement. But it ought to be distressing, or else we find ourselves as we do today where the ethical implications of covert action are the result of anything but the best of circumstances.This isn't about whether or not it was right to kill that one man. It's about how the justifications used for the killing can be abused in the future. Even if one trusted the Obama administration fully to discharge this newfound (and as of yet unchallenged) power, it's still unconscionable to let it stand when it could one day fall into the hands of, oh, I don't know... a presidential candidate who has all but called for the lynching of Ben Bernan[...]



The Mad Dog of the Near-East Falls

2011-08-28T14:39:20.021-04:00

I wrote, then deleted, a triumphalist piece about Libya, which now that I think about it I never went on the record about in the first place.Because, you know, everyone just needs to hear what I, of the chattering underclass, have to say about it.I'm going to make a confession here. In my heart of hearts, I'm an interventionist.When people are out of work, I want my tax dollars to put them back to work.  When they don't have health insurance, I want to give it to them. And when they're suffering under the yoke of a cruel and repressive dictator, I want to free them, whether they live overseas or in Michigan. Or at least, such is my aspiration. Some undertakings, however noble the intent, can be ignoble in any conceivable attempt at their execution. As such, I was against the war in Iraq, glad the United States didn't intervene in Egypt, and sadly cognizant of the fact that if any moment existed where a nation-building mission in Afghanistan could have worked, it ended when we became occupiers rather than liberators.In Libya I was for intervention the moment it became clear that Moummar Ghatafi was going to slaughter all who opposed him otherwise. There is, as I see it, a moral imperative to act when one has a good-faith basis for believing that one can favorably influence the outcome. Going in with allies, not Americanizing the conflict, and waiting for a UN mandate for action were all evidence that this action would be the closest thing to a responsible use of military power in recent memory.Which is why I was more than a little pissed to hear so many people on the left--some of whom I respect a great deal-- declare American participation in this conflict to be proof that Obama is no different from George W.Bush. And moreover, that those supporting action in Libya who opposed it in Iraq were fascinated solelt by the politics of personality. I'm reminded of a Yakov Smirnov joke: "In America, people are free to go to Washington and tell comrade citizens president of the USA is idiot. In Russia, people are free to go to Red Square in Moscow and tell comrade citizens president of USA is also idiot. Russia is just like America!"I'm used to intellectually dishonest bullshit coming from the likes of Eric Cantor, Michelle Bachmann or  Max Baucus. Getting yourself elected to Congress diminishes one's ability to speak frankly. But to see the left-wing narrative that this President is insufficiently progressive (however true it may be in the general case) overwhelm honest reporting of the facts is infuriating. This wasn't another unwinnable war. It wasn't an enormous waste of resources. It wasn't the United States terrorizing the Middle East with its military might.It was, of course, "hostilities," and while I agree that the Administration did something genuinely dishonest and unfortunate in skirting the War Powers Act without raising any of the very real questions as to its Constitutionality, I have a hard time believing that the people who wanted him to break the law in order to unilaterally raise the debt ceiling are seriously bothered by this. What, from a legal perspective, is the difference between saying that you're not following a law because it isn't Constitutional and saying that it doesn't apply? Anyone looking to challenge the decision would have to go through the same legal channels and the arguments would take the same shape.I find it enormously regrettable, but it seems to me that Obama's motives are clear. He didn't want to deal with the whims of a Congress whose sole purpose for the past year has been to oppose him at every turn[...]



Come On and Grab Your Friends...

2011-08-17T23:11:03.252-04:00

So uh... Rick Perry huh?All I'm saying about him right now is that I'm mortified to share a biographical bullet point with him that I consider to be important-- we're both Eagle Scouts.Though when I got Eagle, I had to demonstrate that I gave a shit about my fellow human beings, and also that I had any clue how America works. But then again, I come from lib'rul Massachusetts, where most people (referred to colloquially as non-subscribers of the Boston Herald) think that we should expect adults to read above a fourth grade level.In any case, one could be forgiven for wanting to talk about cartoons instead of the brutish realities of this foul month in the American experiment.  Lately, it's been impossible for me to get enough Adventure Time.Set after what is known colloquially as the Great Mushroom War, which caused fundamental changes in the rules that govern Earth (now known as the Land of Ooo), it follows the adventures of Finn, a thirteen year-old human believed to be the last of his kind, and Jake, a  28 year-old magic dog whose parents raised Finn as their own.The land is full of lifeforms unlike any on pre-apocalyptic Earth. Sentient candy people, floating purple clouds who speak like androgynous Valley girls, small elephants with faces like Peppermint Pattie, monsters, wizards, flying unicorns who speak Korean, and all manner of anthropods that aren't quite human, but who may have descended from humans. Littered about the landscape are artifacts of the world's previous inhabitants, none of which are fully understood by the current ones. Technology is of the cargo cult variety, as while Finn carries a portable phone, he also carries a sword.The world's operating mechanics are familiar to anyone who's played Dungeons and Dragons.Yeah, big surprise that I watch this show. It's deliciously absurd, playfully disturbing, and above all, smart.And I feel a strange sort of kinship to Finn. He's literally one of a kind, living in a world that doesn't always make sense, with no direction home and few who he can truly relate to. He gets by (gets high; tries) with a little help from his friends, who are many, but few of whom actually get him. Indeed, even his adoptive brother-cum- hetero lifemate Jake sometimes has trouble understanding what it's like to be Finn.He's brave, clever (though not as educated as might be desired), unfailingly loyal, and inexhaustibly curious. Which serves him well in this strange world, which contains monsters and barbarians and dungeons and quests enough to keep the existential angst at bay.He spends a non-trivial portion of his time rescuing princesses from the Ice King, a sorcerer who seems to have gotten the idea that kidnapping and imprisonment in a frozen cage is a normal part of courtship. But even when they aren't in need of rescuing, Finn takes it upon himself to tend to the needs of all princesses, whether that includes throwing a movie night to stave off boredom, or helping them record a new song. Princesses seem to make up about 85% of the female population in the Land of Ooo, and they all love Finn.He's happy to help anyone (even non-Princesses) at any time, but he's the most devoted to Princess Bubblegum, the eighteen year-old ruler of the candy kingdom who seems to have some human DNA but whose biomass is made up of candy. At the end of Season 2, he underwent the struggle of his life in a quest to save her from the grips of an ancient and terrible Lich. He succeeded, but only just, and the wasting sickness that came as a result of her exposure to all of that nastiness reduced her b[...]



I, for one, was rooting for the $4 trillion coin

2011-08-03T11:25:43.119-04:00

The Rev. Al Sharpton may have said back in the day that he won't criticize Obama (which ought to disqualify him from his newfound role at MSNBC as much as I love the man), but he was absolutely right about one thing the other night: the blind cowardice in the Democratic caucuses after passing the ACA made this debt ceiling defeat-- or one like it-- inevitable. However you feel about how the President dealt with the first threat of a government shutdown in this Congress, it came because Congressional Democrats were too scared for their seats to pass a budget. In so dodging, they not only forced a showdown over a continuing resolution, but they also lost the ability to use budget reconciliation for FY 2011, which would have made passing wprogressive deficit reduction measures a walk in the park. Raise top rates? Alright! Get rid of corporate tax loopholes? Sure! Stop subsidizing big oil and big corn? Why not? Carbon tax? OK! Plus, any method of economic stimulus that can pass the Byrd test can come along for the ride.Instead, they went so far as to hand the decision as to whether to take the vote before the 2010 elections to extend only the middle class tax cuts to Senators facing re-election. And when they finally caved and voted to extend them all, nobody (including the President) thought to get a debt ceiling increase along with it. Even though the TPers were telegraphing their punches on pushing that envelope.As a Spartan might have said, may they live forever.What I find positively amazing is that while President Obama has taken quite a bit of flak for his capitulations, there is little mention that the untenable positions he's found himself in have been handed to him directly from blue dogs who didn't do their jobs as legislators and the People who voted in candidates eager to use the debt ceiling as a cudgel.Unfortunately, Beltway media narratives cannot accommodate such truths. Indeed today, the same hacks who chided Austan Goolsbie for decrying the insanity of not raising the debt ceiling (saying that it was irresponsible to speak as if not raising it were something that could plausibly happen) are now saying that Obama didn't properly communicate the risk of default early on. One thing is for certain. The DC press will run ''dog bites man'' on page one before they admit that sometimes its the so-called moderates who fuck it up for everyone.None of this is to say that Obama has been playing his hand especially well. He should have declared that if he didn't get guaranteed revenues, he'd take one of extraordinary measures afforded him by the powers of the executive branch to raise the debt ceiling himself. But it's not like the reasons his advisors gave him for eschewing those options were invalid. Any action the administration took unilaterally would have spooked the hands holding the levers of our economy. This is especially evident given the markets' response to the evidence of government dysfunction shown in the leadup to this shitty deal. Who knows? Maybe it would have been worse.What's clear is that as the remnants of the Blue Dog caucus wither away, we're stuck with the consequences of their failures of conscience and intestinal fortitude. I wonder what Evan Bayh would say. Maybe it would be the same as another imposter in the guise of a public servant once said on an episode of the Simpsons:"The politics of failure have failed. We need to make them work again."[...]



Fuck You, the Economist

2011-07-19T15:36:02.662-04:00

The fact that world news from other countries tends to be better than what we get over here may sometimes lead one to expect that when a foreign publication comments on America, that they'd understand us better than we do them.The Economist has seen fit to remind me that I ought to jettison that expectation just as soon as I can manage.You can tell right away that the author(s)' concepts of political science are stuck in the UK. Despite clearly stating that the crisis is entirely a political one, they continue on to state that the House GOP was acting reasonably within its electoral mandate from 2010 in being the first American majority caucus in history to refuse to raise the debt ceiling.What, pray tell, is this mandate? According to The Economist, it's "to hold the government of Barack Obama to account."Yeah, we get it. They have Parliament where you live and you don't know how a proper democracy works. Here's a hint-- politicians are supposed to be elected to do the will of the People, not to play Thunderdome with other politicians. We don't have a paradigm where there's a coalition whose job is, officially, to oppose the majority. It has to do with the fact that our system of representative government was designed on purpose, not retro-fitted to a constitutional monarchy. And while we've made plenty of our own mistakes, a lot of what we got right are things that we recognized were horribly wrong with the British system, one of which being the fractious nature of the British Parliament.Nowadays, the phrase "Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition" gets floated as a justification for the GOP's chauvinistic obstructionism by American pundits who are too piss-scared of being seen as a part of the Liberal Media to speak honestly about the Republican Party. It's bullshit. That's not how the system was built to work; there are far too many mechanisms built in that grind everything to a halt. Operating our government like it's a Parliamentary system has been nothing short of disastrous for the American People, and the Economist's failure to grasp that basic fact ought to disqualify any commentary it offers on American politics.When we send politicians to Washington, it's to do the job that the prior incumbents aren't doing well enough. And in 2010, that was create jobs. Which the polls confirm. The electorate is concerned overwhelmingly with jobs and the economy.You'll notice that "just fuck with Obama a lot" isn't on that list.The Economist is claiming, essentially, that a populace whose top 6 priories were (in descending order) The Economy, Jobs, Terrorism, Social Security, Education, Medicare, issued a mandate to Republicans to betray five of them in the service of their sixth priority, deficit reduction, while leaving tax cuts--which only 42% rated as a top priority-- aloneIt's pretty easy math, The Economist. Isn't math supposed to be a feature of your discipline?The math gets easier when you consider that those medicare cuts were originally part of a budget plan that also slashed taxes, and only would have significantly reduced the deficit if you assume quite a lot of nonsense. The Ryan plan was quite clearly not about the budget. In order to support the thesis that government is bad, evidence to the contrary must disposed of. It's only natural to target the nation's most popular government program.The thing is, all of this has been available to anyone with a cheapass computer and the ability to find a WiFi hotspot somewhere. Does part of getting[...]



Will You Idiots Please Stop Crying?

2011-07-07T17:50:48.243-04:00

I was on break, stealing wifi from the hotel across the street from the store where I work when the 30-minute warning for the Casey Anthony verdict was issued. I walked back in and told my coworkers that the news was coming, and that there was no way that Casey was going to jail.Nobody believed me, which was hardly surprising, and part of the reason why I bothered to tell them. After the verdict came back I spent a good portion of the rest of my shift explaining the American criminal justice system to the two coworkers of mine who had an excuse, not originally being from this country.Later I took one of them bowling for the first time, cultural ambassador am I.  But I digress.What made me absolutely certain of the not guilty verdict was the short deliberations-- establishing reasonable doubt doesn't take nearly as long as exhausting reasonable doubt. But the only reason I wasn't certain beforehand was because I'm not brimming with trust in my fellow Americans to pull their end of the rope where phrases such as "beyond all reasonable doubt" are concerned, let alone"air of reality"If you watched the news coverage of the Casey Anthony trial, you were bombarded with how many fun things Casey did while her daughter was supposedly missing and what an incalculably cold, evil woman Casey must be. Also, we might kill this one, who's excited? If you watched the trial, you saw the prosecution lean heavily on the above while utterly failing to make its case. Their first boneheaded mistake was not charging involuntary manslaughter as a lesser included for a case where the actual event of the victim's death was never established.  And it didn't get a whole hell of a lot better from there.It was kind of surreal watching the esteemed members of the legal commentariat assembled on MSNBC's live team do Orwellian backflips to explain how the short closing argument by the prosecution had to be some trap so that it fit their Official Casey Anthony Narrative, designed seemingly to entice their viewers into believing that this was a done deal and if they tuned in next week they'd get to see live footage of a young woman discovering that the possibilities for the rest of her life have been narrowed down to the long one or the short one. They were too busy speculating how Jose Baez would react if it were a movie to notice that he'd knocked his closing out of the park without the cheap theatrics they described. He simply explained in clear and uncertain terms that function of the jury wasn't there to solve a mystery. If after the prosecution rests there remains a mystery as to the facts of the case, then the function of the jury is to acquit, no matter what they think might have happened.News is, for most proprietors of it, a revenue-driven enterprise. And you can't help but notice that the outrage that has resulted at least in part from the media's role in shaping expectations is a neat and tidy consolation prize for not being able to use any of the catchy slogans they'd come up with for the death penalty hearings. Here's what you won't hear from many of them: Even if the worst is true about Casey Anthony, it's unequivocally a good thing that she was found not guilty, as any standard of proof that would have lead to her conviction would put many, many innocent people behind bars. Everyone crowing about how justice wasn't served can fuck right the hell off.  Justice was never on the damn menu.Caylee Anthony is dead. Nothing can change that. It may confound th[...]



Piddle, Twiddle, and Resolve- Happy Fourth

2011-07-04T13:06:11.973-04:00

Happy Independence Day, everyone. I don't have much to say, but merely offer this clip as a token display of patriotism, if patriotism tinged by the same familiar horror that afflicted John Adams some 235 years ago

width="425" height="349" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/SSeoi1fE25A" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen>

And from a different Adams soliloquy:

The croakers all say we'll rue the day
There'll be hell to pay in fiery purgatory
Through all the gloom, through all the gloom
I see the rays of ravishing light and glory!

Is anybody there? Does anybody care?
Does anybody see what I see?

I see fireworks! I see the pagaent and
Pomp and parade
I hear the bells ringing out
I hear the cannons roar
I see Americans - all Americans
Free forever more


This Fourth of July we should remember that there was a time in our country's history when we knew how to overcome the forces that bade us be less ambitious. Yes, I'm being partisan as fuck on the Fourth, but only because it has suddenly become partisan to say that rather than sit around talking about how America ought to be building more, innovating more and discovering more, we should actually be doing the things that we know we need to do to bring about that reality. Here's a hint: bankrupting Planet Earth isn't going to help.

More about that later. For now, let's eat tasty food (more on that later as well), get drunk (ditto) and watch some shit blow up.

For Freedom(image)



Is this thing on?

2011-05-28T04:14:51.707-04:00

Apologies for my (unfortunately characteristic) absence. This time it's because I got an almost-full-time job for a company that forbids me from identifying myself as their employee online. They're apparently very sensitive about who knows who touches their flowers.I've been out of my parents' house for about three months now, which has done wonders for my sanity. Not doing wonders for my sanity is the fact that John Ensign may never go to jail.If you only give a shit about one political sex scandal this year, please make it this one.Usually what makes these stories relevant to the political discussion is the extent to which the politician in question gained their status by pimping their morals. Hence the entirely justified disgust at the revelation that at the same time that Arnold Schwarzenegger was decrying the scourge of single-parent minority households, he may have already helped to create one.But seriously, I don't care. The possibility that the Governator's misadventures may suck up what ink may have otherwise been alloted to Ensign's rankles me. Because Ensign is more than your garden-variety Republican hypocrite. He was a made man. Groomed for a future run at the Presidency by a theocratic fundamentalist cult known as The Family that has its hands up more Washington asses than a cross between Vishnu and Jack Abramoff. So in his capacity as a deacon and a gynecologist (or at least, claiming those capacities in order to claim privileged information), Senator Tom Coburn recommended a 1.2 million dollar payout to the Hampton family (wound up being less), and an illegal lobbying gig for the cuckolded husband.That's what we already knew.  What has become clear since the report by the Senate Ethics Committee is that Ensign tricked his parents into committing perjury on his behalf. It has also become clear that at least at first, his advances toward Cindy Hampton were unwanted. Ensign continued them anyway, pressing his leverage over her as her boss and as the man footing the bill for her kids' pricey education.And this is where it's hard for me to continue, because when I describe this behavior I'm not quite sure whether I should be referring to it as sexual harassment or as rape.We haven't come to expect a whole lot out of our politicians lately, and frankly we've come to expect far less from those with an R in front of their name. But this shit is beyond the pale.  And there's an explanation for it. From Jeff Sharlet's reporting on the support system in place for John Ensign at the Family's C Street house:David Coe, Doug Coe's son and heir apparent, calls himself simply a friend to men such as John Ensign, whom he guided through the coverup of his affair. I met the younger Coe when I lived for several weeks as a member of the Family. He's a surprising source of counsel, spiritual or otherwise. Attempting to explain what it means to be chosen for leadership like King David was -- or Mark Sanford, according to his own estimate -- he asked a young man who'd put himself, body and soul, under the Family's authority, "Let's say I hear you raped three little girls. What would I think of you?" The man guessed that Coe would probably think that he was a monster. "No," answered Coe, "I wouldn't." Why? Because, as a member of the Family, he's among what Family leaders refer to as the "new chosen." If you're chosen, the normal rules don't apply.It was David Coe who rang Ensign[...]



PAX East: A Modest Success

2011-03-17T14:00:46.684-04:00

Editor's Note: There is much to say about the disaster in Japan, but as I'm still playing catch-up, I'll wait on that post and give an update on that thing I've been working onI hope that next time [Team Respect] goes to a con, there are more of us to hit up the panels and hand out swag, because for as much fun as I had at PAX East, I do wish I'd gotten the chance to play some more videogames.To that note, I did get the chance to demo the new Mortal Kombat, which was more fun than I've had playing a fighting game in a couple of years (and more fun than I've had playing a Mortal Kombat game since the franchise launched).I also got to demo Twisted Pixel's The Gunstringer, which is truly fucking astounding. Using the Xbox Kinect, you control the story's hero, who just so happens to be a marionette! As you fight your way through the barren landscape, a narration plays that adapts to the action on screen. It is to puppet theater what Rez was to music. allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="311" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/AQ5ZfmXYycw" title="YouTube video player" width="500">None of this is to suggest that I regret the other purposes for which I attended PAX. As it stands, [TR] is garnering still more followers on Twitter, with a major spike since the con. We distributed pink wristbands with our twitter name and our URL, collected business cards from a fair number of developers. I was also approached by a teacher from my high school, who was interested in organizing an event there about ethics and hate speech and wanted to know if I'd be interested in giving a talk.Considering that one of the long-term goals we had from the getgo was doing precisely that sort of thing, I'm pretty fucking psyched.When we started out, we weren't quite sure what we could accomplish at PAX East with such little time to organize and so few resources. The bar we set for ourselves was thus: Make it absolutely fucking clear that at this con, in this city, the people who are interested in helping greatly outnumber the trolls.The douchetrucks behind @teamrape managed to stage a "flashmob" consisting of between 15 and 18 people outside a nearby UNO's.  They also managed to get us to give them handfulls of bracelets before we knew who they were, and get themselves kicked out of the Gender in Games panel. They've been at this for a couple of months longer than we have, and are followed by 60 people on twitter.As of this writing, we've distributed around 2000 wristbands, are followed by 192 twitter users-- including the great and powerful @Themiscyra, who on Sunday became the first woman to take the stage for the final round of the Omegathon, and did so proudly displaying a [Team Respect] wristband-- and have made significant content with the press, the industry, and activists in the community. We also met with the brilliant minds at MIT's Gambit Lab, who in addition to their great work in gaming, created the Hate Speech Project as a reaction to the hostility surrounding the dickwolves debacle. It was put on display at the back of their booth at the expo hall. allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="311" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/6A52sGTUhXU" title="YouTube video player" width="500">A full report will follow over at the Team Respect blog, but in short: [TR] is WINNING. This started as a response to a specific mishap in the gaming community, but it won't end there.As gamers, we're sick of[...]