There’s been a bit of buzz about a NYT piece by Jake DeSantis.  DeSantis is one of the infamous AIG-FP folks who worked under world class supervillain Joseph Cassano—these people are at the eye of the storm.  DeSantis reminds readers that not everyone who worked in his unit is a bad guy, and that he and others toiled away, not doing anything wrong, and therefore it’s unfair not only to bully them, but also to take away their compensation.  My reaction:  what Digby, et al said.

It’s not as if DeSantis is wrong:  what he’s experiencing seems pretty unfair.  But really, cry me a river:  he is still infinitely better off than millions of Americans.  Let’s also face facts:  you can make it in this country if you work hard and do things right, but you also had better be pretty lucky (or at least, avoid really terrible luck), and the most lucky thing you can do is be born white, male, and at least middle class or better.  But you know, beyond that it’s all you (note:  sarcasm).

 The point here is not so much that we should be hunting down rich people and making them feel real pain (economic or otherwise).  The point is that the oligopolistic and kleptocratic tendencies of our government (whose incestuous relationship with big businesses of all stripes makes fascism look positively quaint and charmingly idealistic) has resulted in everyone other than the super elite being shat on, and the people who have been lucky and manage to actually succeed (or at least, get by just fine) despite all of this should at least do the rest of us a courtesy and shut the fuck up.  In the meantime, why don’t you use your position of influence and capital and join us plebes who would prefer to reverse this trend in government-abetted corporatism?

Or,  Jake, how about this for a bit of perspective:  as a result of the head of your unit and a few other mucky-mucks in the know taking your company right down the toilet, being merely the largest firm among many to do so, the entire world economy is now in turmoil.  People will die because of this—many moreso than might have otherwise.  But leaving that aside, let’s be a little less alarmist.  You aren’t getting your compensation, and this is unfair.  You know what is also unfair?  Thousands of people won’t be getting their retirement pensions, on which they were relying as their primary source of income (some of whom now face the prospect of leaping into the tightest job market in decades, amidst an environment of what might be widespread ageism).  And you know what?  At least your company went to bat for you.  As you point out, for several months AIG appeared to have every intention of paying you.  The same can not be said of everyone else:  that money was never considered anything but gone, by everyone—by AIG, by Congress, by the White House, and undoubtedly on more cynical terms by the people themselves.  

So really, just take your righteous indignation somewhere else, Jake.  This isn’t a contest to see who has it worst:  it’s a test to see whether you have the appropriate perspective on how to right future wrongs.  You just failed.

Finally, not to be missed among Digby’s links is this fine quote:  

Meanwhile American teenagers are getting shot at in Iraq because maybe the Army will help pay their college tuition?

“Death threats?” Seriously?


See, THAT is perspective.  It also neatly summarizes just one facet of how we’ve gone awry in this country.

Posted by: coloradokiwi | March 26, 2009

Legalization: Some intended and unintended consequences

Amidst turmoil in Mexico and despite President Obama doing his best “punch a hippie” impression to appease the Villagers, the issue of marijuana legalization is experiencing a bit of a surge in urgency and popularity.  Like man, I’m pretty much all for legalizing marijuana, for the following reasons:

* Legalization will ensure that fewer people are busted for a substance that’s arguable less dangerous than alcohol, and which is very nearly as widely consumed, anyway

* This is one more thing we can cross off the list of unnecessary expenditures in the drug war, and should help to reduce violent crime associated with its trafficking

* Legalization means we can tax and regulate it:  safe weed for people to consume (not cut with chemicals or laced with PCP), a cash crop that people can openly produce, and we can use the taxes to pay for expensive items like health care.

* Legal wrangling over health benefits is completely eliminated.

* Prices will probably come down, because part of the premium anyone pays on it now is of course related to keeping it away from the authorities.

* Law enforcement excuses about keeping hemp illegal because they have a hard time distinguishing it from weed will be rendered moot.  Therefore the real reason we cannot currently grow hemp, which is an astoundingly efficiently grown and highly useful plant, will come to the fore:  the intransigence of the cotton lobby.

And so on.  But let’s also be clear about some of the other potential consequences that are decidedly more mixed.  First of all, you can bet your ass that if marijuana is legalized, large companies are going to want in on the action, and they will be in a superb position to take advantage of their production facilities and distribution networks in order to bring their product to the market in a cheap, timely and apparently “safe” way that may undermine the efforts of Moonflower Rodriguez to hook you up.  Between efforts to regulate marijuana so as to ensure quality and safety (which will probably come under FDA guidelines), and the lobbying efforts of large companies to force out the “mom and pop” operations, I’d be willing to be that marijuana legalization would probably mean that your average grower/dealer will be out of a job, unless they wish to continue to do things illegally.  And of course, since marijuana itself would be legal, their illegal activity would now be about safety rules violations and the like, meaning probably lesser jail time but much higher fines.  It will come under the rubric of big business and back room deals, making it safer for the average consumer but also somewhat more impersonal and insidious.   

In short:  marijuana will become commodified and commercialized in pretty much the same way as liquor and tobacco.  Although this may be better for society as a whole, the downside is that in order to actually produce and sell the stuff in the future, it will probably take a fairly significant amount of capital, as well as the legal acumen to be able to fill out the necessary paper work (licensing will no doubt also become quite a racket).

This trend will undoubtedly affect ancillary businesses, too:  makers of hookahs, bongs, and various other smoking apparatuses will undoubtedly have to adhere to stricter regulations about how their products are constructed and what they’re made of, which may drive up prices, or at least may change the way that head shops do business.  This is particularly the case if head shops in general are unable to acquire licenses to sell marijuana itself, while tobacconists or possibly even supermarket chains probably will, meaning that privately owned head shops will be unable to compete.  This may be particularly so if the new regs on paraphernalia are written so as to favor bulk, mass produced items via economies of scale, and made/distributed by nationwide or international brands that produce cheap containers, like Glad, Ziploc, etc.  It will be in the interests of businesses who sell these items to secure exclusive contracts with their suppliers—which if successful would be the final nail in the coffin of individual head shops. This could be bad not only for the thousands of small businesses that thrive on these ancillary products, but it may also result in a bit of a cultural shift:  part of the charm of going to a head shop is the cultural associations with weed, a vibe that I don’t think King Soopers is likely to be able to reproduce.

Also, one can only imagine the crassness that comes with marketing all the new and exciting marijuana related products, and given the newness of regulation and potential for shenanigans that already transpires in the gaming of food labels (since undoubtedly people will be selling THC-laced snacks, gum, whatever, as well), there are bound to be a number of products on the market which will make us pray for the days of mild danger and small time transactions between “entrepreneurs.”  (Jesus, just imagining the bullshit-marketed, weak-ass crap that will show up at Whole Foods is enough to make me want to claw out my eyes already: “organic” marijuana energy bars with wheatgrass and vitamin fortification—kill me now.)

So let’s be clear about the future into which we tread if one day marijuana legalization actually happens:  our justice system will be better off, we’ll get more tax revenues, and in some other arcane ways society as a whole may be better off.  But the days of the counterculture of toking will be long gone, replaced by what could be the worst of the tobacco and food industries’ status quo.

Supervillains do exist.  In this case, it is in the form of an English professor, who is also a pedophile, who is also radioactive…who is also on the lamb.  Yes, you read that right:  a very real, and very dangerous,  radioactive pedophile professor.  My citizen-self, who is appalled, is currently battling for inner supremacy with my dork-self, who could not be more enthralled with these developments.  (h/t Children of the Blog).

Posted by: coloradokiwi | March 24, 2009

Tuesday Errata

* There is quite a lot of lore surrounding the creation of the classic Queen single Bohemian Rhapsody.  Naturally there is some disagreement about the “real” meaning of the lyrics.  I have always thought that the lyrics could be coming from a young man who has contracted AIDS through unprotected gay sex, and is regretful not only about the mistakes he’s made, but apologizing to his mother for causing her heartbreak.  This seems particularly poignant in light of the fact that Freddie Mercury was apparently a bit of a tortured soul and died of AIDS.  Of course, this is a completely ahistorical interpretation, since the song was written and released in 1975.  But listen—it’s still a valid interpretation of what the song could be about.

* There’s an ad on television right now that starts out as being highly suggestive….and sure enough delivers on the suggested premise.  The part that really intrigues me, though, is the two guys on the beach.  Metaphorically speaking, are they looking at two separate entities, or both admiring the woman’s beaver?  If the former, who gets which?  Is the ad implying there will be a threesome (maybe with some DP action)?  

* Apparently my old rep from years ago, Scott McInnis (R), will be throwing his hat in the ring to run for Colorado governor.  Obviously I would prefer Ritter be re-elected, because McInnis is a Republican, and holds a number of odious positions on the issues.  However McInnis’ legacy is much more about managing resources in the area (not completely selling out to energy firms), and for helping to create two new national parks, as well as being among the few Republicans in the original Gingrich revolution to take seriously the notion that Congressmen should serve the electorate frugally, not enrich themselves through favors and contacts. He is still well respected on the Western Slope.  He is also by all accounts a pretty nice guy.  My point is that liberals and blue dog Dems in Colorado underestimate him at their peril. 

* I’m looking forward to getting old for one reason:  not needing to sleep as much.  It seems I do best early in the morning and late at night.  I find myself (right now, in fact) not really ready to go to sleep, mainly because the very thought bores me—it’s not that I’m not tired, I am, there’s just other stuff I’d rather be doing.

Posted by: coloradokiwi | March 22, 2009

Big Dog Beta: The Reckoning

On the heels of Big Dog, (which I earlier blogged about here and here), comes the upgrade.  A friend of mine alerted me to this with the subject heading “ohshit!”  Now, I understand his concern, but actually this is small potatoes.  It’s nowhere near time to go “ohshit” (which really is just the more fully realized and circumspect form of “fuckin’ awesome!”).  To wit:

First, I’ll be more impressed when Big Dog is actually kitted out like a predator drone, only moreso, probably I’m thinking with some sort of flamethrower.  Really the only trick with the flamethrower, though, is that suddenly this makes Big Dog a bit vulnerable, what with all that inflammable material.  Nonetheless that seems like a practical application, right?  But ultimately, Big Dog’s biggest liability is that it needs power, and putting this thing in the field long enough to do its job will almost certainly be a challenge from that standpoint (if you want it to function like a real combat weapon, an internal combustion engine is just too noisy and still makes Big Dog very dependent on vulnerable supply chains).  The only logical solution is for Big Dog to find a way to constantly recharge itself.  Some of this can no doubt be done through some form of unfolding solar panels or something, but I wonder whether that will be reliable enough:  if the weather’s bad for too long, then Big Dog will die a slow death out in the field.  

No, the best solution, really, is to rely on existing, proven technology.  

There is an obvious added bonus to this elegant solution in combat terms:  it is pants-shittingly terrifying.  So, we have the ultimate all terrain robot, which can deliver weapons and surveillance by remote, reacts to its environment, and is self-powered, at least in part, BY CONSUMING FLESH, probably that of its vanquished foes.

When flesh-eating, Big Dog Delta comes out—that is the appropriate time to say “ohshit!”

If you think you’ve basically become jaded and used to just how badly the incestuous elites in our government and finance industry have fucked up the economy, I challenge you to read the latest from the brilliant Matt Taibbi.  

Okay, now that you’re done vomiting or possibly polishing your weapons, I have another question for you:  how good are you at farming?  No?  How about carpentry or chopping down trees?  Okay, well I’m sure you’ll learn as you go.  You at least know how to whittle, right?  Okay, great!  I’m going to need someone to fashion the ends of these large logs into points.  It’s no good having a palisade if just anyone can climb right over.  

Yeah, I’m not sure how we’ll manage the sewage without electricity, either.  Might have to cart it out.  Don’t worry, if we can find some hedge fund managers “after” then we’ll have them do it.

Posted by: coloradokiwi | March 18, 2009

Life At Ground Level

Speaking of the pastoral life:  the other day I was outside playing around on the grass with my daughter.  She has learned to recognize and hold court on the existence of bees, flowers, rocks and “wet” things.  However the overwhelming majority of her landscape is completely unutterable and mysterious to her, and dwelling on this, I began to look at my environment a little more carefully.  Specifically, since she had managed to pin me to the grass face down, while we giggled away I noticed that really I wasn’t on grass at all, but rather a verdant forest of different kinds of weeds, clover, and various other plant life—although grass dominates the lawn, on my particular patch there was none.  I began to see flowers everywhere that I hadn’t really noticed.  There were of course daisies nearby (which, I’m not sure if I ever knew, have magenta tinting just at the very tips), but I also noticed that there was a particular patch of grass-like stuff that wasn’t grass but which had an upper layer, a sort of canopy, on which tiny purple-green flower buds were sprouting.  From only a foot away you would never be able to spot them.  Woven throughout some of the clover were teensy vines of some sort, which had spurs on them that resembled individual broccoli buds, or perhaps miniature leaves.  There was also bountiful wildlife:  tiny spiders, mites, a slug, itty bitty little bugs that were slender, black, and sort of tear-shaped, the sort you can see at the center of sunflowers.  Right under foot (or rather, under face) there was an entire ecology thriving, where on any given day I would look out and note, if at all, the utter banality of “the lawn”:  an unremarkable patch of green like any other.

It occurred to me that I could not remember the last time that I actually looked carefully at what the ground actually contained.  I feel foolish and profligate that, had I not been rolling around on the grass and thinking about it from my daughter’s point of view, how many more years would have passed (or maybe my entire lifetime) without taking the time to notice.  There is so much of the world that I take for granted in far more stark ways than I realize.

I won’t try to dress this up to be any more profound than it is, and the implications are obvious (anyway, if you’d rather cultivate fond memories of Honey, I Shrunk The Kids rather than ponder the deeper meaning of life, that’s okay, too).  Nonetheless, lesson learned:  take the time to live life at ground level now and then.  If a bit of ground won’t do, then a fence line, a nook at the corner of the house, a secluded part of the park…whatever.  Just really look at all the tiny stuff happening—like really stick your face in there and see as small as you can see.  You will undoubtedly be treated with a dramatic little world.  As we’re only given one life on this planet, it should be spent at least in part soaking up the dizzying splendor it has to offer.

Posted by: coloradokiwi | March 15, 2009

Sunday Errata

* Does anyone get the feeling that the U.S. government has basically just become Lloyd Christmas?  And I don’t mean in the obvious “dumb” sense.  I meant in the sense that in order to finance their stay in Aspen, Lloyd and Harry basically just use the ransom cash in the suitcase.  Near the end of the film, Lloyd admits this to Mary Swanson, who seems appalled but resigned when he says something along the lines of, “But don’t worry, we didn’t just spend all that money, we kept track by putting I.O.U.’s in there, which we’re totally good for.”  In this metaphor, Lloyd is the Treasury Department and Mary Swanson is China.

* If society were to collapse, I’d want to be just a little bit younger, I think (clearly I’m assuming I am not purged or starved or whatever).  I’d want to be able to live long enough to enjoy a reversion back to how things ought to be in terms of every day living, once the inevitable wars have ebbed:  you are a part of an interdependent community, everyone naps in the early afternoon, and everyone works hard at a meaningful job to which they see can see and access the fruit of their labors, and so on.  I mean, on the downside, no internet, possibly really medieval medical care, and we might even live in a Hobbesian nightmare not unlike that depicted in Xena:  Warrior Princess.  Still, though:  there’s something to be said for that more pastoral pace of life, which is how I think we’re meant to live.  Perhaps the trick instead is to apply that pace of life to modern society.  Greater freedom, equality and limitless, free energy may be the only way.  So here’s to my future of anarcho-syndicalism powered by cold fusion!

* WTF is it with this trend in pop music of overtly distorting the voice?  I just don’t get it, because aside from pure electronica masquerading as singing, it just doesn’t sound that cool (I have no problem with the lack of authenticity, per se—they’re not trying to pretend this is a natural voice or about talent, it’s that it stands in for the human voice).  Does T-Pain have a discernible talent other than looking cool in an eccentric hat?  

* I just watched a Tui do its thing on the tree outside my window for about fifteen minutes.  Unfortunately my camcorder is still without a power converter for Down Under.  God dammit.

* There really is nothing more pleasant than a Sunday afternoon in a park or botanic gardens with perfectly clear, warm weather.  Runner-up:  a lap full of sleeping kitty and/or baby, hot cocoa, and either a book or fave movie (bonus if it’s snowing outside).

Posted by: coloradokiwi | March 8, 2009

Whither Conservatism? Wither, Conservatism!

Quite a lot has been made recently out of the fate of the Republican party, and by extension conservatism more generally.  On the heels of a bad electoral defeat, we have a series of aggravating and hilarious miscalculations, stemming mainly, it would seem, from Republicans not quite understanding the problem isn’t just branding, it’s the product.  In the mean time, a civil war is brewing between the Palinite crazies and the “thinking” conservatives who, it’s fair to say, have a clearer idea of why they’re getting pasted right now.

Others have analyzed that whole thing more eloquently, so far be it for me to pile on there.  I would prefer instead to work through the problem of the way in which conservatism’s branching out into the electorate via populist rhetoric has finally come back to kill whatever it is “conservatism” was initially supposed to be, at least as a coherent platform.  Basically, the inherent problems with conservatism are the mismatch between who conservative ideas tend to benefit the most and who the “party faithful” turn out to be.  This is no shocker, but it is worthwhile to examine how we got here.  

First, some parsing is I think in order, as there are different kinds of conservatives/conservatism we’re talking about here: 

1.  Conservatives who see the world as rendered in talk radio by the likes of Hannity and Limbaugh.

2.  Conservatives who may or may not see the world in these terms, but could  very well just be carrying the water of the truly powerful (Limbaugh; I think it’s fair to say Hannity is far too stupid to differentiate between what he says and what he believes). 

3.  Conservatives who wield considerable power and who capitalize on the  “unscholarly” aspects of conservative thought in order to pursue policy 
agendas  which would otherwise be unacceptable to most people (probably Cheney, although it’s worth asking:  to what extent does he believe what he says, and to what extent is he really a duplicitous Sith Lord?). 

4.  Conservatives in terms of philosophical, social and economic theorists, who  are just as academically rigorous and powerfully-minded as their ideological  opposites, who are likely appalled by the likes of Limbaugh, even if they recognize that such figures help instill acceptance of some conservative principles, however twisted the stated reasons might be.  

To cite a specific issue, some people oppose things like welfare out of 
ignorance and fear (I don’t want to subsidize lazy people), while others oppose it because they believe it to be a form of economic apartheid whereby poor people are kept poor and become dependent on the state, so that they will/must support the expansion of state bureaucracy.  Both could be considered “conservative,” but for vastly different reasons.  To channel Yogi Berra:  conservatism is not 
the same thing as conservatism.  

Back to the main thrust here:  once upon a time, the social and economic ideas that are ostensibly “conservative” were based on or derived from serious intellectual labor. This is the “conservatism” of Rand, Plato, Heidegger (to some extent), early  Fukuyama, Hume, Burke, Mundel, Laffer, and to some extent the Austrian School of economic theory, among others.   (There’s a considerable amount of difference between these in terms of what their objects of study are and how much intellectual merit each may have—the point is that these sources are regularly mined by conservatives.)

So much for that, eh?  Well, perhaps:

It’s easy in the current climate to dismiss “conservatism” as a list of mental afflictions incompatible with critical thinking, or as rooted primarily in fear, selfishness and psychological projection, or as inhabiting a space of pronounced cognitive dissonance, or of a crassly implemented means of false  consciousness.  It is/has been all of these things.  But it is also an array of principles that have considerable heft and influence, which can be defended on substantial philosophical and empirical grounds, or at least have an entirely different set of values on which they base their assumptions.  

Over the last several years, we have been treated to an avalanche of asinine reasons to support conservatives and/or conservative causes, through which “real” conservatism (as well as mere cronyism and kleptocracy) have stormed in to our governmental policies.  Now with “conservatives” out of power and in civil war, this has effectively ended for the time being, but it’s a marriage that could be renewed.

Or so it would be.  But “serious” conservatism is of course at the moment out in the cold.  The dittoheads have mounted a coup, and it certainly appears as if the party elite are held hostage (willingly or otherwise) to “movement conservatism” which is grounded in nothing more intellectual than the musings of Joe the Plumber.  These are people who in some instances deny humanity’s hand in global warming, refute evolution, refute cosmology, etc.  This is not because they are “unscientific,” it’s because they understand research to be merely the extension of politics, its authority to be used as a cudgel in policy debates.  Whether or not they realize it, they are the ultimate postmodernists in a sense, seeing all Knowledge as (political) discourse.  Knowledge in their view is not what we know, it’s who has the authority to articulate what is “true”.  It’s the application of power.  And no matter the reason for most academics leaning left (I happen to think some of it is a rational reaction to the anti-intellectualism that dominates one side of the political spectrum right now), it’s evidence to them of the power and authority that rests with knowledge-creators.  Reality itself is contested territory, which is subject to a “higher order” truth than mere facts (this is something I’ve already touched on, but it bears repeating here).

So let’s diagram this more simply:  Step One:  there are intellectual critiques put forth which are ostensibly “conservative”.  Step Two:  there are also quasi-intellectuals like Buckley who combine these notions with more pedestrian cultural and ideological concerns, to articulate “conservatism”.  Step Three:  with Reagan as president, and thereafter with the rise of talk radio, “conservative” policy ideas are articulated on largely intellectually empty grounds, but which have a broad appeal to “average” Americans, whether this is because it is cynically marketed this way for the benefit of the elite, or because the elite legitimately believe what’s best for them is best for everyone.  Step Four:  people vote for “conservatives” who enact ostensibly conservative policies, and yet these people can’t understand why their lives aren’t getting better; since they have been convinced that it is the fault of everything other than conservatism, they lurch further to the right, while treating ideas which were originally intellectual positions as mere dogma, something that everyone “knows”.  Step Five:  “average” Americans with no experience or credentials, whose main qualifications consist of dogmatic belief in “conservative” values and principles, ascend to places of power and influence by appealing to other average Americans (see Sarah Palin).  

Just like with Rush Limbaugh himself, movement conservatives have essentially taken over, to where even in places where they don’t hold office, they effectively organize at the grassroots level.  And movement conservatism is inherently anti-intellectual—even against conservative intellectuals.  The contradiction between conservatism as an intellectual movement which (for the most part) props up the elites, and those elites’ appeals to non-elites’ most base fears and prejudices, has finally collapsed in on itself.  Although capitalism has yet to really sew the seeds of its own destruction, conservatism may just be at this point.  We can only hope.


***Closing note:  I just want to make clear that I am not decrying the ascendancy of the non-elites.  The problem is that these particular non-elites seem to have a problem with “elite” things like facts, logic, and the fundamentals of argumentation—a contempt which has been ingrained in them by elites for decades now.***

Posted by: coloradokiwi | March 8, 2009

Socialism, ho!

Obviously the constant caterwauling about “socialism” in the Obama budget is, to put it mildly, quite farcical.  By world standards, Obama’s plans to monkey around with taxes and universalize health care are fairly meager.  In terms of policies, Obama himself would probably fit in nicely in a center-right party throughout most of Europe and Australasia, although he seems to have the temperament of a world class liberal.  Socialism, this ain’t (gosh, if only).  

I do begin to wonder whether all the wingnut oogedy-boogedy will be yet another instance in which the right will paint itself into a corner.  We are already seeing the fruits of their earlier labors:  like the boy who cried wolf, the right wing pundits have lost all credibility in terms of little things like “principles” in their dogged fealty to the Bush administration.  Currently, figures like Hannity would have you believe that Obama is basically some kind of cross between Mao and the Swedes, whereby the entire economy will be nationalized, nanny-stateism will run amok, and everyone will be paying crushing taxes, thereby strangling free enterprise altogether and forcing us all to be servants to (man, this should be his theme song).

Hannity, et al clearly do not want Obama to succeed in bringing about his agenda.  However, something Hannity and his ilk seem not to really consider (or possibly this is what they fear most), is that they will succeed in labeling a successful Obama agenda as “socialist.”  If this agenda is a “socialist” one, and it works, aren’t people going to start saying, “Oh hey, more socialism, please”?  What the wingnuts have effectively done, then, is rob “socialism” of its power as something to be feared.

This may be related to other sectors:  if “free enterprise” got us into this banking mess and “nationalization” gets us out of it, and so on.  Not only does this completely alter the landscape of what sorts of policies are applicable to the American context, it also effectively makes the wingnuts barometers of a different sort:  if they object to it, it must be a good idea.

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