100-Proof Blogging by Randle Aubrey

Thursday, August 31, 2017

DIVIDE AND CONQUER

It's becoming increasingly clear with every passing day that Donald Trump does not give a flying fuck through a rolling doughnut about being president* beyond the office's ability to satisfy his thirst for publicity. And maaaaan, is he one thirsty motherfucker:
"By his own lights, Trump is behaving rationally. He knows people hate the Democrats – and they hate the Republicans. Their specific reasons for hating each only interest him insofar as they direct his exploitation of each.

He shows his opposition to the Democrats by appealing to white voters' racism and uneducated voters' resentment of the professional class – and by stirring the Democrats to show their opposition to him. He distances himself from the Republicans by publicly insulting them – and by stirring their opposition as well, wimpy though it may be. (Whatever you think of Sheetcake Tina Fey, she's right about Paul Ryan and everyone knows it.)

That way, no matter whom the voter despises, there's a good chance he or she will remember that Trump despises them too and, if they're dumb enough, count it as a point in his favor.

What about blowback? The Democrats Trump doesn't have to worry about. The Republicans do have the power to harm him, but they're not idiots. His harsh words mean nothing to them. They just want their agenda passed.

So this Trump does lavishly: He supports every feature of the conservative agenda – from tax breaks from the wealthy to persecution of the underprivileged – and enables the looting of the federal government by Republican donors to an unprecedented degree.

As with his gross properties, he lays it on absurdly thick. Trump is not a traditional politician who horse-trades on a per-horse basis; he doesn't withhold some little bauble as a way of tempting his adversary to put up an equally modest bauble of his own. The ideal situation for most dealmakers is to come out ahead on a trade, but Trump's ideal to get something without paying for it. And he gets things without paying for them by giving the impression of endless largesse available to you if you play ball. He runs his White House grift like a luxury hotel. He keeps the goodies coming – room service, dry cleaning, concierge perks, etc., all comped – and leaves it to you to decide whether you want to risk having it all taken away."
The only thing more repugnant than dealing with Trump's orange monkey-ass is the bullshit "damned if you do, damned if you don't" attitude of Republican strategists about the whole thing. I've seen more spine in a banana slug.
"Of all the aggrieved elites disoriented by Trump, none face a trickier calculation than the dark artists of the right, whose conspiratorial powers have always been oversold. Trump wouldn’t be president today if political operatives had a scintilla of the pull imagined by the commander-in-chief. It is true, however, that they don’t like the president all that much. They’re worried about his tweeting; his tone; his behavior; his character (or lack thereof)—ill will reinforced by his widely condemned response to an uprising of white supremacists and anti-Semites in Charlottesville, Virginia, that left one counter-demonstrator dead. They fret about Trump’s long-term impact on the Republican Party, on the country, and what his rise means for America’s international standing as the leader of the free world. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen them lower.

Yet in meeting after meeting, Republican consultants have had one consistent message for clients and prospective clients running for office in 2018. It’s a message they tell me will not change, even after the avalanche of criticism directed at Trump by fellow Republicans for his failure to immediately condemn the racists who gathered in Charlottesville and his decision to conflate them with counter-protesters. “Your heart tells you that he’s bad for the country. Your head looks at polling data among Republican primary voters and sees how popular he is,” said one Republican strategist who, like most of the nearly two dozen I interviewed for this story, requested anonymity in order to speak candidly and protect their clients. “It would be malpractice not to advise clients to attach themselves to that popularity."
The whole Republican Party needs to be ridden out of D.C. on a rail. Period. If the American public wants any chance of becoming something other than a third-world country just like the ones we've created in the global South, nothing less will suffice.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

MARK LILLA IS FULL OF CRAP

(PHOTO: CNN)
Mark Lilla is many things. Reasonable isn't one of them. Although he'd love it if you believed otherwise.



Respectability politics are deader than disco. The sort of conciliatory bullshit toward the overly-cherished "white working class" and their enablers in the Republican Party that Lilla is proposing is precisely what put the Democratic Party in the impossibly lousy position it's in today.

Of course maintaining otherwise means Mark Lilla will have a job for life, but that's beside the point, isn't it?

No...it isn't.

Friday, August 25, 2017

CRANK CASE


In the interest of promoting a fake centrist dogpile whenever possible, may I submit the following:

Sam Harris is a cuck fraud.

Don't just take it on my authority; do your research.
  1. Since getting his PhD, he has conducted no scientific research.
  2. Since getting his PhD, he has taught no university/college courses in neuroscience.
  3. Since getting his PhD, he has devoted his efforts to his anti-religious think tank and publishing books, such as the one on using drugs and meditation to discover truths about our reality.
  4. He received his PhD through partial funding from his own atheist organization.
  5. He didn’t do any of the experiments for his own thesis work.
  6. His PhD thesis was about how science can determine what is right and wrong and he turned it into a book for sale.
  7. Since publishing his thesis/book, Harris has yet to use science to resolve a single moral dispute.
Of course, he'll just say that social justice warriors are taking his whole career out of context, and that he really is a scientist, not just one more demagogue with an ax to grind.

And to think, I actually used to respect this guy.

Sad, bigly.

OLIGARCHY: THE GREATEST AMERICAN EXPORT

(PHOTO: Business Insider)
I stumbled across this phenomenal 2009 profile of Vladimir Putin in Esquire while doing some research the other day, outlining his rise to power and just what makes him such a model autocrat for the bullies and thugs that have proceeded him. The following passage in particular I found especially relevant:
"The Kremlin's political apparatus routinely falsified elections. It compelled laborers, students, and government employees to vote for its candidates. It doctored voter lists. It used tax inspectors and police to harass opposition members. It manipulated media coverage and released invented vote results. In the daily administration of government affairs, the state perched atop a sprawling machinery of graft that spirited away money from all manner of public works. And the state's penetration of the strategic industries extended the graft throughout the economy. Although checks and balances existed in the law, in practice they had been subverted. The Kremlin controlled the legislature and courts. Law-enforcement agencies — from the tax police to the successors of the KGB — worked at its bidding. No new face could stand against Putin or his men. "We keep urging them to embrace and practice democracy," the diplomat said. "But actually, when you look at it, the Kremlin has done a pretty good job of copying the state of democracy in American urban machines of the early twentieth century. It's not that far from Tammany Hall."

Put another way, Putin's autocracy is a cunning blend of ruling ideas from the old Soviet regime with many of the material pleasures of capitalist life, a form of government for strongmen who did their homework. And just as they accept that freer markets are more efficient than planned economies, and that pining for foreign goods is not treason, Putin and his circle understand that Russia's people can say what they wish in their kitchens without endangering the state. This allows for democratic pretenses with centralized rule and insider access to the profits of governing. The Kremlin today does not control everything. It does not try to. Putin's circle exerts control over the profits of the most lucrative industries, and bares its teeth at actual threats to power. Repression is no longer total. It is precise, and its weight is brought down, often publicly, on the few who stand up to the state."
Sound familiar? Like Hitler did with America's miscegenation and Jim Crow laws, so has Putin done with post-Cold War capitalism: emulated the practice, and with terrible effectiveness. It's a perfect authoritarian solution, so far as such a thing can exist. What makes Russia's brand of oligarchy particularly dangerous - possibly more than our own - is Putin himself, an autocrat of exceptional skill and cunning who has learned from America's mistakes in implementing such a system, in a nation where moral compunctions involving the "consent of the governed" have long since eroded from within and without.

We should consider ourselves fortunate that our president* is an absolute simpleton by comparison; in their eagerness to no longer top from the bottom, the Republican Party left themselves wide open for a stooge just like them to beat them at their own game, who now threatens to completely upset the apple cart.

It seems pretty clear in hindsight that Trump wasn't the only one who never expected to win the 2016 POTUS election; the whole Republican Party appeared to be playing to lose, having apparently learned nothing after shitting all over themselves in the 2012 race. They have no plan, no strategy other than to pursue the same thing they always have: dismantling the welfare and regulatory state to clear the way for more tax cuts for billionaires.

The GOP's "saving grace," if you could call it that, is that the engines of capital Putin has emulated continue to grind people to powder quite capably despite their lack of competent operators, having been built to withstand the vagaries of institutional inbreeding by people better and smarter than they.

As long as there's still plenty of room to stuff the Cheetocracy into the Memory Hole, right next to George Bush and the Iraq War and the Tea Party and Slick Willy's impeachment and every atrocity every committed by the Republican Party, we should expect an American Putin in our lifetime. And believe me, there's plenty of room. They're even doing renovations.

IMPEACHMENT-LEVEL EVENT?

Hurricane Harvey. (PHOTO: NASA/MSFC Earth Science Branch, c/o New Republic)
Hmmm….I wonder how well the president* will “weather” this patricular crisis?
The irony here is that while Trump urges residents in the path of the storm to prepare themselves, he has failed to follow his own advice. He is greeting this storm without key administrators in place. This could very likely be the first major natural disaster of Trump’s presidency, and with agencies like the Department of Homeland Security, NOAA, and NASA still without leaders more than seven months into the presidency, the least he could do is offer some reassurance that he is moving quickly to fill those positions. As former American Meteorological Society president Marshall Shepherd wrote for Forbes in April, there is a “strong working relationship between the weather community and emergency managers” during disasters. And while Trump’s FEMA administrator has extensive experience in emergency management and the other agencies have interim chiefs, “strong and decisive leadership is always vital when our nation faces tragedies,” Shepherd wrote.

What’s more, it’s terrifying to think that Trump will be handling this crisis while he continues to deny the existence of human-caused climate change, which makes heavy rainfall events like this one more likely. “Climate change is definitely impacting the maximum intensity of rainfall,” Nielsen-Gammon told me, explaining how the warmer atmosphere is able to hold more moisture and therefore release more rainfall during storms. It’s clear Trump doesn’t accept this reality, or any concept of preparation for any climate change-fueled disaster. He recently rolled back flood standards that required new federal infrastructure be built with sea-level-rise in mind. He’s not exactly inspiring confidence that he knows how to prepare for natural disasters.
Stay safe, Texas. Sadly, help really isn’t on the way this time.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

ICYMI: CENTRISM IS BULLS**T

File under “Better Late Than Never”:
Your average Sunday-show or nonpartisan pundit paints a tidy political reality that’s governed by a set of fundamental laws:

1) The electorate is divided, almost evenly, between liberals and conservatives, with moderate swing voters marooned between them.

2) The ideological range of American public opinion is mirrored by that of the nation’s elected officials.

3) Thus, the more each party can move its platform in the direction of the other’s — without alienating its base of support — the better its chances of capturing the center, and with it, political power.

To be sure, most political commentary at highbrow publications offers a more nuanced portrait than this. But the spatial model of the electorate favored by the lowest common bloviator remains ubiquitous. The idea that there is an inherent tension between winning elections and moving away from the midpoint between the two parties’ ideological preferences continues to frame analyses of the Democratic Party’s future in the mainstream press.

But this idea has little basis in reality. It is contradicted not only by the developments of the past year, but by decades of political science research and much of recent American history. The political center’s reputed importance is a dangerous myth — one that obscures the genuine obstacles parties face when deviating from status quo policy norms; how those norms came into being; and the electoral benefits that parties might enjoy by willfully violating them.
Seriously, I’m glad that mainstream liberal media publications are finally getting around to reporting what has been a singularly obvious truth in the liberal peanut gallery for time immemorial: centrism is bullshit, and anyone who believes otherwise is trying to sell you something.

More importantly, the lengths that have been undertaken to maintain the lie that “Both Sides Do It” serve as one of the most important political stories of the last thirty years, along with the most underreported. To do so would have the mainstream press indicting itself for enabling decades of Republican malfeasance that have rotted our country from within, leading to the election of one of the planet’s worst human beings to the highest office in the land. A man who openly blows kisses to the unholiest elements of our society, secure in the knowledge that the party of bigots and zealots and abject toadies who installed him have zero interest in unseating him, because he’s lending them cover to do pretty much whatever the fuck they damned well please.

Trump’s election to the presidency could not, would not have happened if we had a mainstream “liberal” press with even a modicum of dignity, or integrity. This goes far beyond Hillary’s e-mails, and Trump’s pussy-grabbing; the Iraq war would not have happened were it not for every major newspaper and teevee news outlet banging the drum for war on the flimsiest of evidence. The Tea Party would not have happened were it not for the collective shame of the conservative commentariat in the wake of the Iraq debacle, who shoved that entire imperial project into a memory hole where not a shred of evidence has leaked from since. Only an endless supply of tricorne hats and Koch-sponsored astrotruf.

There isn’t a single major Republican disaster in the last twenty-plus years that the corporate media hasn’t aided and abetted in some way, whether intentionally or otherwise. Fake Centrism is the biggest, most profitable, most terrible lie in political media, the lie that makes all of the other lies possible. But until it is no longer “difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on him not understanding it,” the laws of centrist physics will remain firmly in place, no matter how much or how long the country burns.

STRANGER THAN FICTION

Michelle Carter. (PHOTO: Boston.com)
Michelle Carter’s manslaughter trial for convincing her boy/friend Conrad Roy to commit suicide would probably have been one of the more compelling stories of 2016 were it not for Darth Cheeto’s insurgent presidential race sucking what oxygen remained in the news cycle after the Standing Rock Rebellion and a thousand dead celebrities. Thankfully, Esquire had the foresight to keep someone on the trial beat until the bitter end; and Jesse Barron’s definitive account of the whole affair, innocuously titled “The Girl From Plainville,” is as compelling as it is heartbreaking:
In the winter of 2014, Conrad was suspended from school. They accused him of fighting. Thinking it might help to be around someone close to him, Conrad went to visit Tom Gammell at Fitchburg State. The boys were tight, but their relationship followed narrow lines: They were baseball teammates and played Madden together.

The visit was a bust. "I haven't slept good," he texted Lynn. "I'm feeling anxious I'm feeling down. I don't know why I can't just be normal." He texted Michelle: "I wasn't comfortable and I'm feeling depressed again, and feels like everythings switched around."

That June, Michelle went to McLean Hospital in Belmont to be treated for anorexia. She told Conrad that he should join her, to get help for his depression. Being admitted to McLean, she said, "would be so good for you and we would get thru our issues together. Think about it. You aren't gonna get better on your own, you know it no matter how many times you tell yourself you are. You need professional help like me, people who know how to treat it and fix it."

Conrad didn't take her up on it. Three weeks later, he told her he was suicidal.

"We should be like Romeo and Juliet," he said.

"I'd love to be your Juliet."

"But you know what happens at the end."

"OH YEAH FUCK NO!" Michelle wrote back. "WE ARE NOT DYING. That's not funny. I thought you were trying to be romantic."

"I know I tricked ya," Conrad said.

On June 29, Michelle began to conspire with him. "What about hanging yourself or stabbing yourself?" she said. The next day, she asked: "Why don't you just drink bleach?" Conrad eagerly participated. He found websites that gave you the odds on different methods. "Carbon monoxide or helium gas. I want to deprive myself of oxygen," he said. "I WANT TO DIE." He worried about leaving his family. Michelle said that if her kid sister died, she would be "extremely upset for a week or two" but would get over it. "Are you gonna leave a note for me?" she asked.

On July 3, Conrad told Michelle that he was going to do it. Then he was awake the next morning. She was furious; she thought he was jerking her around. "YOU KEEP PUSHING IT OFF!" She gave him other ideas. A gunshot to the head had a 99 percent chance of working. Hanging, 89 percent. "Carbon monoxide is the best option," she told him, "if you fall asleep in your car while it's running." Conrad worried that rescuers might inhale the CO and get sick. Michelle said it wasn't a problem. Conrad said he was doing circles in his mind about where to go. What if someone found him before he died?

"You better not be bullshitting me and saying you're gonna do this and then purposely get caught," Michelle said. She asked whether, when he died, she could say she was his girlfriend. Conrad said okay.

On the evening of July 12, he pulled his truck out of Lynn's driveway with a water pump he'd collected from his grandfather's shed. He pulled into the lot behind Kmart. It was dusk. He spoke to Michelle on the phone twice. Late the next afternoon, Conrad II called Lynn. "There's yellow tape around our son's truck," he said.

No recordings of either call between Michelle and Conrad existed, but the detective located an account of them, in Michelle's own words. Two months after Conrad's death, she sent her friend Samantha Boardman what looked like a confession. "I could have stopped him," the text read. "I was on the phone with him and he got out of the car because it was working and he got scared and I fucking told him to get back in. I could of stopped him but I fucking didn’t. All I had to say was I love you."
The piece is morbidly fascinating, full of moral ambiguity and a series of competing narratives that all fail to account for Michelle Carter’s motives. Was she trying to kill him as a desperate ploy for attention? Was she just trying to help him in the only way she knew how? How serious was any of this for either of them, really? The whole story asks more questions than it answers, about everything from morality to literal case law.

If there’s was ever a story tailor-made for a true crime docuseries like Serial or Making A Murderer, it’s this one. At this risk of sounding grotesquely voyeuristic, I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

TODAY IN BAD IDEAS


What's next: fake subpoenas? Seriously...I can't. Get your shit together, DNC. Seriously.


Tuesday, August 22, 2017

HOUSEKEEPING!




Every few months, I reach a saturation point with just how much news media I can absorb without being able to channel it into something constructive. It’s already happened twice this year, a testament to the astonishing speed and ferocity with which the Republican shitzkrieg has been conducted since President* Trump was elected. Tearing things down is always easier than building them up, but I don’t think anyone was quite ready, myself included, for what that was actually going to look like on a national political scale. It almost makes me feel sympathetic to Tina Fey’s need to gorge on white cake in the pursuit of (poorly executed) satire. Almost.

In times like these, it’s understandable to want to change the subject, or at least approach it from another angle. It’s almost impossible to not find yourself staring nose-to-nose with the ills of the nation (and the world) at some point every day on social media, with dubious effects. But doing so is quite literally like what your mom told you staring too long at the television was; bad for your health. Never mind your morale; “all the news that’s fit to print” these days amounts to a full-frontal assault of nothing but images of death and destruction. Or at the very least, a whole lot of sanctimonious bitch and moral grandstanding. It’s nauseating, I never wanted to be a part of it.

Running social commentary is only valuable if I had something to add to the conversation that others don’t. More often lately, I’m finding that this isn’t the case; the commentariat is chugging along quite capably without my help, helmed by a great many people who are much smarter and more capable and more insightful than I. Which brings me around to something I’ve been wanting to do for a very long time, and am finally about to embark upon: a shiny new podcast.

Some of you may remember that I spent a fair portion of last year co-hosting a podcast called “Face For Radio” with a couple of friends of mine, where we talked about nerdy, pop-culture-related stuff. The show ultimately didn’t pan out, but I was hooked. Since then, I’ve been slowly gathering the resources and the skillset to launch my own show, and I’ve finally got my t’s crossed and my i’s dotted to begin developing my show in earnest.

I’ll be using this show not so much as an opportunity to share my own ideas, but to amplify the voices of others in my area who are doing the important work of making our city, our country, and our world a better place. The Silicon Valley is more than just a hotbed of technocratic disruption; it’s a real place full of real people, with real problems and real solutions that are often lost in the shadows of the industry titans that have overrun the place. I’ll be interviewing as many of them as I can, and attending as many rallies and events as possible to capture the spirit of activism and resistance that still suffuses my home.

My production schedule is still being sorted out, along with a few slight kinks and logistical issues. But I should hopefully be up and running with my first couple of episodes in a few months. In the meantime, I’ll still be posting here from time to time, albeit not as frequently and probably in longer format. I’ll also make with the periodic podcast updates, so you’ll know what’s going on. I’m really excited about this; it’s been a long time coming, and I hope I’ll do you proud.

To kick things off, here’s my new podcast logo. Cheers!

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

WAXING DYSTOPIC

Urs Fischer, “Yes!” (PHOTO: Brian Forrest)
When you were a kid, did anyone ever ask you what you wanted to be when you grow up?

Stupid question: of course they did. Adults asking kids what they want to be when they grow up is a fundamental part of the human experience. If it wasn’t your parents, it was your relatives. If it wasn’t your relatives, it was your teachers. Or maybe it was the checkout girl at the supermarket when you were six; I don’t know. It doesn’t matter who it was. The point is, somebody asked you at least once, if not a whole bunch people, a whole bunch of times.

And I bet every time someone asked you what you wanted to be when you grew up, you always had a real good answer for them. Maybe you wanted to be a doctor, or an astronaut. A rock n’ roll star. All of the above, even. Whatever it was – even if it was never the same thing twice, which it probably never was, because kids are mercurial as fuck – didn’t matter, because it was more than just what you wanted to be; it was who you wanted to be, a perfect being in a perfect world that no one had the heart to tell you doesn’t exist.

Despite the inevitable setbacks reality provides, this idea never really goes away. We just keeping moving the goalpost nearer or farther afield as necessary to keep things interesting. Or maybe it’s more like going to the eye doctor, and having your vision periodically adjusted to make sure that whatever your future self looks like, you can always see it with just the right amount of clarity. But no matter what, it’s always there, watching, waiting, a block of clay whose exact shape is limited only by the scope of your imagination.

At some point along the way, my goalpost became too heavy to move, and strange as it sounds, I think I actually managed to clear it. I suppose I should be proud of that. Were it not for my having done so revealing just how ill-formed and dystopic my idea of a future self was, I think I would be. It’s difficult to picture a future that isn’t a portrait of instability, deprivation, and turmoil, centered around a misshapen, incomplete, rendition of my future self, a wax sculpture abandoned under a desert sun. And I’m still not even sure how I got here. But I’m beginning to figure it out.

There were a lot of things I wanted to be when I grew up. First, it was an astronaut. No surprise there. Every little boy who grew up in the Space Age wants to be an astronaut, if only for a minute. Calligraphy was next. My grandparents used to jibe me all the way through my twenties about wanting to be a “Chinese artist” when I was six or seven, after learning how to draw a few hànzì in grade school school one afternoon. That turned into a penchant for art and design in middle school, primarily of the comic book variety. But as much as I tried, I could never rise above the level of glorified tracing. When high school came along, I eventually abandoned art for writing, then theatre and finally music, where I remained until just a few years ago, when I found myself firmly camped behind a word processor once again.

My parents were good people; they supported me in everything I wanted to do. They couldn’t afford to send me to Space Camp, but they bought me chemistry sets and Star Wars toys let me make many spectacular messes before I had a clue what the hell I was doing with any of it. I can’t count how many calligraphy sets they bought me, or how long they sat in that deflated stack on the bottom of my bookshelf after my southpaw ass gave up when I couldn’t stop smearing ink all over the page. Lord knows how much they spent on that drafting table and all the equipment for when I was in the seventh grade, only to have me move on after a year when there were no more drafting classes to be had beyond the seventh grade. At least it made for a good writing desk, if I wasn’t typing up my homework on my computer. But you don’t need a desk to write in a journal, or to play the bass guitar, which made it easy to give the thing up when my father sold our house to rent a smaller one after my mom left us.

Never once did they complain when I would give up on something because it was too hard, or lose interest if and when I got bored with it. Never once did they push back on my frustrations, even for banal reasons like money or space. Frankly, they rarely ever noticed when I gave up on anything. As a hyperactive, sensitive kid, my parents always valued structure over discipline as a guiding principle for raising me. “We just want you to be happy,” they always told me. “Just keep your grades up.”

In other words: school is the only success we’re interested in the responsibility for managing.

Believe me, it’s not like they didn’t care about me, or didn’t try to relate. They came to the opening night of every show I did in high school, and after graduating from WWF wrestling and Top Ramen on Saturday mornings when I was a kid, my father and I never missed an episode of Ren & Stimpy or Liquid Television or Beavis & Butthead together. Really, it was the only time we ever hung out, and I cherished it. Meanwhile, my mother and I went on about a gazillion hiking and biking trips all over California together, practically from the moment I learned to walk; along the way, we would always sing along to every goddamned song on the radio we heard no matter what it was, regardless of whether we knew the words.

But outside of subversive teevee shows, there was little else my dad and I could really relate over; even today, he’s still as much as mystery to me as he ever was. And my mom? Well, it turns out that all of those trips and all of those sing-alongs were just as much about having her escapist cake in an increasingly loveless relationship and eating it, too. As her pretext for seeing the world I learned a great deal, including how to maintain pretense where none exists. It didn’t serve her then, and it doesn’t serve me now. But that hasn’t stopped either of us from practicing it, with each other as much as with everyone else.

It’s difficult at this point for me to not acknowledge exactly how pathetic this all might sound. My formative years were ones of relative privilege, and I know there are many in this world who would love to have the luxury of flitting around from hobby to hobby on someone else’s dime without the slightest trace of remorse or regret. My parents were incredibly generous, and their ability to provide me with so many different means of expressing myself is something I’ve always appreciated. But in truth, that’s more or less where their support ended. When it came to this idea of exploring my future self – the person I wanted to be when I grew up – I was essentially left to my own devices.

It never seemed to matter how weird or queer or outspoken I got; as long as I didn’t invite any disciplinary problems into our household, nothing was off the table. I didn’t know what they wanted me to be any more than I knew what I wanted to be. And with a ton of ambition but no real direction, I just wanted to make art and be happy. By doing so, I believed everything would sort itself out, and I would lead, if not a wealthy life, at least a fulfilling one.

Much of that began to come crashing down around me when my parents divorced, and my parents either lost or relinquished what little remaining authority they had over me. My mother soon discovered that, having absconded from her family leaving nothing more than a note on my father’s bedstand, I could no longer serve as both her punching bag and a civics experiment. It’s worth mentioning that the increasing contention in her relationship with my father was reflected in her relationship with me, especially as I began to approach puberty. By the time I was eleven, our disputes had reached Crawfordian proportions, with her shoving me over my bed or into the closet, face contorted and snarling, yanking my pants around my ankles and mercilessly beating me wire coat hangers as I screamed for help that would not come.

I don’t remember how long this went on for, or how many times it happened. All I have is a story that my father tells me of the night he found my mother’s letter, of coming home from the night shift at the ceramics plant and finding me curled up on the couch under my mother’s favorite blanket – the white one with the red and yellow sneakers on it, and the red satin trim – wide-eyed, shaking, ghostly pale, clutching a baseball bat and swearing that she was going to sneak into the house and kill me. I do not remember any of this, but not in that way like it didn’t happen; more like a scene clipped from the film reel of my memory. I roll the tape in my head and I know it’s supposed to be there, but the footage is gone, and I’m the one who cut it out.

My father tried to bridge the parenting gap, Lord knows he did. That first year that we were on our own together, I genuinely thought we were going to be all right. I don’t know how it ever occurred to me that he wouldn’t start dating again, or that his doing so might prove disastrous for our budding new relationship.

I was sixteen when his new girlfriend moved in with us. My father was used to my mother playing Bad Cop, and it wasn’t long before he slipped into his old role once again, essentially leaving me to my own devices as long as I didn’t get out of line. Only this time, the Bad Cop wasn’t my mother, who I can see now meant well even in her worst moments; it was a vile, mendacious, awful woman who hated me with a fiery passion for reasons I could never begin to understand.

She drove a titanic wedge between my father and I, who had become something of a recluse in our new home. He rarely left his bedroom other than to go to work, and when we would occasionally cross paths, the only emotion I seemed to be able to evoke in him was ire, usually over some trivial thing I had either done or not done to throw his succubus into conniptions. Even getting kicked out of high school on drug charges did little to inspire any real sense of disciplinary duty in my father, either with academia or my burgeoning meth addiction. Every time I watched him disappear behind that bedroom door after some awkward, stilted interaction, I could feel her empty, piercing eyes glaring malevolently at me from within its darkened confines, it felt as if it was the last time I would ever see him again.

After getting kicked out of high school, I would often disappear from home for weeks at a time, only stopping in during the hours when no one was home to shower, eat, and grab clothes. I followed my bliss with no resistance, and with no one to advise me differently. It’s a miracle that I managed to get a diploma through that alternative schooling program, and that smoking crystal meth turned out to just be a phase. But for quite a long time – years, I think – I seriously don’t believe my father noticed that I was a ghost in my own house. And when he finally did, pounding on the door of that house on Cherry Lane one early Sunday morning, it was hard not to laugh in his face when he demanded I come “home.” It wasn’t until she withdrew her feeding tubes from his heart and cerebral cortex and crawled off into a hole somewhere in the American Southwest nearly two decades later that we were able to have something approaching a “normal” relationship again.

Things got better when I met my future ex-wife; there’s nothing like a good woman to straighten a young man out. My future self started to get a little clearer, especially after eight months in a twelve-step program. But it didn’t take long after a failed stint in vocational school for me to start following my bliss again, this time diving deep into music and art after we moved to the Silicon Valley. And for a while, it was enough to tow the line, and tow it well. Be happy; just keep your grades up. Everything will work out all right. And so it did, for a long time.

But along came irreconcilable differences, a love affair (mine), a nervous breakdown (also mine), job loss (yeah…mine, too), and divorce. That was one hell of a six months.

That belief carried me through several painful, empty post-divorce years, lonely night after agonizingly lonely night; it carried me through the most abusive and traumatic relationship I’ve ever had in my life, one fraught with emotional abuse, flashbacks of childhood sexual assault, multiple near-overdoses, even a robbery; it carried me through the most ambitious musical experiences I’ve ever undertaken, and my rebirth into wordsmithing, a craft which has taken more me places than I’ve ever dreamed in less time than I ever would have thought was possible.

I guess there’s a certain freedom in knowing that I’ve “succeeded” in living up to my future self, even with as low as that bar was to clear. Most people haven’t by the time they approach their forties. It frees up my goalpost again, leaving me secure in the knowledge that there’s still time to sculpt something magnificent out of so much melted wax. There’s nothing I’ve ever wanted to take responsibility for managing more. I just wish I knew what that something was.

Is it too late to go to Space Camp?

Monday, August 14, 2017

PAPER TIGER POLITICS, CON'T.


Recent criticism of Kamala Harris, Corey Booker, and Deval Patrick for having spottier records than advertised has been greeted by accusations of a desire to erase people of color from the Democratic Party, an assault which their defenders seem to be claiming is on a scale of reprehensibility comparable with what happened in Charlottesville, Virginia this past weekend: namely, an angry, racist, torch-wielding, social media mob. 

Admittedly, the optics in taking on three rising Democratic stars at once who all happen to be African-American aren't good. And I won't deny that they have plenty of detractors out there who are saying some seriously ignorant shit, either. The scale and the immediacy of their threat seems grossly inflated, if not largely manufactured to provoke sufficient outrage in exchange for mindshare. In other words, there seem to be far more people on the left defending Harris, Booker, and Patrick from criticism than there are people actually criticizing them.

Meanwhile, the DNC literally barred a contingent of the progressive caucus headed by a woman of color - Nina Turner's Our Revolution - from their headquarters last month when they tried to submit their manifesto for consideration in selecting 2018 candidates. Last time I checked, Kamala Harris, Corey Booker, and Deval Patrick haven't been denied a platform, well...anywhere in quite some time. Oh, but DNC staffers did leave donuts out for Our Revolution. Are they not generous?

This whole situation reminds me in many respects of the antagonism against so-called "Bernie Bros" during the 2016 primary. At the time, I wasn't interested in wading too deeply into the electoral muck; the electoral season was breaking precedent after precedent with unthinkable speed, and it struck me very early on that staking a claim on any one Democratic candidate too soon would prove to be exceptionally unwise. So I mostly sat on the sidelines and watch the family food fight with a mixture of amusement and horror.

Like with Harris et al, I did see plenty of Bernie supporters/Hillary detractors out there who were saying some seriously ignorant shit, but again, nowhere near the scale or the immediacy that what was being described. To hear #TeamHillary describe it at the time, a "Bernie Bro" essentially amounted to any Bernie supporter who happened to say something racist/sexist/et cetera, an argument which, if you believe no one is exempt from participating in white supremacy, creates a bar low enough to discount nearly the entire Sanders movement.

But to what end? Obviously, many "Bernie Bro" detractors were genuine Hillary supporters for whatever reason, and many others were just people who didn't like seeing other people talk ignorant shit about women/people of color. But if the primary defense of Hillary amounted to "her opponent's supporters say ignorant shit on the Internet sometimes," just what where her supporters defending? Her policies? Her rhetoric? The fact that they wanted to see the first woman elected president in their lifetime? These are all laudable reasons, but they were lost in the din of "just look how shitty the other guys and their fans are!"

You're only as good as your last argument, and that turned out to be a terrible one. What's worse, the same argument is at play in this debate over the electoral merits of Kamala Harris, Corey Booker, and Deval Patrick, which also strikes me as yet another opportunity for Hillary supporters to relitigate the primary. And With greater impunity because of the shitty optics, no less. 

Why the progressive movement choose to take on all three senators at once, I'll never know. Why either wing of the party is even talking about 2020 candidates at all when a super-important mid-term is coming up in less than eighteen months, I'll also never know. What I do know is this: all candidates need to be properly and publicly vetted no matter the color of their skin, and their vetting needs to be conducted tactfully, respectfully, and with a concern for public opinion. Failing to do both will prevent the Democratic Party from mustering up the necessary energy required to win the political war of attrition against the Republicans they've only just begun to realize they're involved in.

Monday, August 7, 2017

BANANA REPUBLICANISM

(PHOTO: New York Magazine)
My web traffic has been flagging a bit as of late, a fact easily attributed to the fact that I haven’t been posting as much lately. I’ll not apologize for it; my life as of late has been, if not a total mess, then a Force 5 clusterfuck. Bandwidth is limited; spoons are in short supply. Yet he persisted, enough to realize that the occasional peaks on a flattened EKG mean something, especially when they correspond to posts about the same subject.

I’m glad to know I’m not alone in my thinking that there’s every possibility of President* Trump declaring as an independent in 2020, and building a voting coalition large enough that could finally, formally split the Republican Party in two. It’s unprecedented, but not illegal; and since when has The Donald ever given a shit about protocol?

Whatever you may think about the extinction-level dumbfuckery taking place in the White House at the moment, one thing is for certain: Trump is giving the people exactly what they want, with the “people” being the roughly 63 million paranoid, racist meatheads and theocratic zealots who voted for him.

And what do they want, he asks rhetorically?

Legitimacy. Validation. Redemption. A chance to stick it to a “gubmint” they feel took away everything they ever loved, and gave it to undeserving black and brown poor people. And boy, have they ever done just that.

I know it’s too soon to tell, even though it sure as hell doesn’t feel like it. But there’s no way Trump is going to quit, and there’s no way the Republicans will either impeach or 25A the guy, short of him diddling Ivanka in the Rose Garden on a YouTube live stream. Like it or not, he’s here to stay, and he may not be “your” president*, but he sure is theirs. And they’re ready, willing, and able to follow him right down the slippery slope into authoritarian, fascist rule with hardly a second thought.

In fact, it’s all they’ve ever wanted. And this is the way it’s always gone, with the only difference the United States doing it to everyone else, and not the other way around. Time and investigation will undoubtedly reveal what every instinct screamingly points to: the president* is a puppet of Russian oil and real estate interests, with Vladimir Putin pulling the strings. If Milton Friedman were alive, you wouldn’t be able to pull his dick out of his hand over the whole thing.

We’re transforming into a banana republic in real time, and the only people who have any real chance of stopping it – the Democratic Party – still can’t seem to agree over how to settle the check from the 2016 primary. Meanwhile, every last toady and footstool of the mainstream press is frantically trying to pretend that this is just “business as usual,” and shove the whole thing down the Memory Hole as fast as humanly possible on behalf of their sponsors and shareholders. The conditions for a massive Republican defection have never been so ripe. Never have such tiny hands held such a great responsibility.

A lot can happen between then and now, certainly. But cults of personality don’t survive by playing nice with apostates, and without unseating a colossal number of Trump’s acolytes in the legislature during the 2018 mid-terms (preferably with staunch progressive leaders), the Republican Party stands little chance of remaining intact beyond 2020. Regardless of whomever decides to peel off at that point, I can tell you one thing: they won’t be wearing tricorne hats. Good thing for them that Fred Perry never goes out of style.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

MIND THE GAP

Artist's rendition of the 2020 Republican primary season.
The fissure developing between the Trump Organization and McConnell’s Republican Stooge Brigade may not be happening by anyone’s design, but that doesn't mean it's happening by mistake. This is kind of a long pull quote, but definitely worth the read.
“Mr. Trump has strained relations with a lot of people these days — members of his own party in Congress, the 55-plus percent of Americans who say they disapprove of his performance, his attorney general, his recently ousted communications director and chief of staff. But through all the drama and dismay, one group has never really wavered: the leaders of the conservative movement.

This is no accident. Mr. Trump and members of his administration have spent their first six months in office cultivating and strengthening ties to the movement’s key groups and players with a level of attention and care that stands out for a White House that often struggles with the most elementary tasks of politics and governing.

Their outreach extends to groups across the ideological spectrum — small government, tax-averse Tea Party followers; gun owners; abortion opponents; evangelical Christians and other culturally traditional voters. And it reflects the importance that Mr. Trump and his aides have placed on the movement politics of the right, which they recognize as the one base of support they cannot afford to alienate since conservatives, according to Gallup, are 36 percent of the electorate.

“You want the structures that deliver people, votes and enthusiasm — and he understands that,” said Grover Norquist, the veteran anti-tax activist who has been working with White House officials as they develop a tax legislation package.

[…]

Despite his failure to push any of his major agenda items like getting the Affordable Care Act repeal through Congress, the president has remained largely insulated from conservative backlash. His approval rating among conservative Republicans nationally is 89 percent, according to Gallup — almost exactly what it was on Inauguration Day.

Republican strategists who have been looking at private polling in states where Mr. Trump won in November say he continues to outperform his national average among right-leaning voters.

“If you’re a conservative Republican voter, who are you more likely to blame, Trump or Mitch McConnell?” asked Frank Cannon, a Republican who advises conservative groups and candidates. “I think that question answers itself.”

Kellyanne Conway, the president’s counselor who was a pollster and strategist for conservative causes for two decades before joining the Trump campaign last summer, said the goal of the administration has been to bring the movement inside after years in the political wilderness.

“So many of them look at this administration as a rescue mission years in the making,” she said. "It’s not just about policy but respect. And they just haven’t felt respected.”

[…]

Every Friday afternoon the White House sends an email to movement leaders called “The Trumpet,” which lists the latest events and achievements that conservatives might find of interest and asks for their help in promoting the president’s policies.

“Please publicly push for tax reform that is simpler and fairer, that provides middle-class tax relief,” one email implored last month.

There are small Oval Office gatherings, dinners with the president at the White House, regular strategy sessions with his senior staff, meetings with Vice President Mike Pence in his office and at his Naval Observatory residence.

Mr. Trump does not spare the hyperbole.”
As I mentioned the other day, orthodox v. evangelical conservatism is standard-issue movement Republican politics. The tension between the two lies at the heart of the Southern Strategy, and every other bit of Republican chicanery designed to convince the rubes to slit their own throats in the name of fucking over black people “freedom.”

But the evangelical side is winning out, as liberals always knew they would, because there’s no stopping an army of glassy-eyed zealots once you’ve funneled billions of dollars into their war chest for a generation or two. Especially after they’ve managed to elect* one of their own as the Leader Of The Free World.
“Trump might have frosty relations with the Republican Party, but he is, and will continue to be, an ideological Republican for as long as he's in the White House. I keep telling you the reasons: Fox News has colonized his brain; he loves fighting, and Fox News/interest-group Republicanism is about perpetual combat; and, of course, rank-and-file wingnuts give him the love for which he has junkie cravings.

Think of the Republican Party as the Catholic Church – it reserves to itself the right to manage the faith of believers. Trump is more of an evangelical – he has a personal relationship with wingnuttery. He doesn't need to practice this through an old-line church. But he still fervently professes the faith.”
Make no mistake: this debate is like arguing over who’s the smartest kind in remedial school. But as long as Trump can continue to convince the thought leaders of the conservative hate brigade that their movement is being failed by old guard Republicans and not by the Keystone Cops that make up his administration, he can continue to drink McConnell and Ryan’s milkshake for as long as he damned well pleases. And as long as McConnell and Ryan’s bucket list of bullshit remains unfulfilled, there’s not a damned thing they can really do about it, or him.

If Trump doesn’t decide to run for reelection as an independent in 2020, I’ll be very surprised.


Wednesday, August 2, 2017

DOG-AND-PONY-SHIT-SHOW

There are few things more soul-crushing in this world than job hunting, except for maybe dating. Both are total dog-and-pony-shit-shows, where rejection and indifference are omnipresent and approval is so rare as to take on mythological proportions.

Based on what I know of my area’s job market at the moment, I’m unmarketable by just about every conceivable metric for anything worthwhile: no college, no driver’s license, no specialties, and too old to work for peanuts.

I’m sitting here, trying to compose a new cover letter for myself, and the question keeps popping into my head: how do you pitch yourself as being worth something, when you’ve spent a sizable portion of your life feeling like you’re not worth anything, and you have the data to back it up?

Sure, I’ve been able to spin my shit into sugar periodically, mostly with innovative resume design and a bit of smooth talk. It’s enough to get me through the door as often as not, but the problem is, everything falls apart under scrutiny; in addition to my aforementioned underqualifications, I’ve been fired from four out of the last jobs I’ve had, including the one I have now. There’s just no way to euphemize that. Believe me, I’ve tried.

Getting my current job at all was a fucking miracle, due mostly to the fact that my boss was either too preoccupied or too lazy to ask too many questions, or to search for additional candidates. It’s something I’ve been able to exploit to considerable effect, much to my chagrin. I don’t like taking advantage of people, especially when doing so leaves me feeling as if I’m about to constantly be exposed as a complete charlatan. As if I didn’t constantly have that problem anyway.

The only things I’m “good” at don’t make any money, like writing. And I don’t even know how good I am it, only that I do it a whole fucking lot and that the voice I put on paper is sounding more and more like the one inside my head with every essay, article, or blog post. I certainly don’t feel prepared to freelance or submit my work to publications, for the same reasons why I hate looking for work: how many times can you throw yourself at the feet of someone’s mercy before your will to power runs out? What happens if you don’t really have any in the first place?

My shit might be good enough for prime time, but good luck convincing me of that. I can’t even get you to pay me for it. Why should anyone else? 

Yeah, that's a fucking hint. Take it, already.

Maybe if anything I’ve done for work actually made a difference in someone’s life, rather than sucking on an endless series of corporate teats with nothing to show for it for the last couple of decades, I might feel more encouraged to muster the necessary pluck required to be beaten about the head and neck with rejection and apathy. Even the modest accomplishments I’ve made at my current job aren’t leaving me with much in the way of optimism, given my “slash and burn” employment record of the last several years.

Such is the way of things when you spend most of your adult life denying and/or ignoring and/or being unable to afford to deal with the mental illnesses that plague you. They wind their icy, entropic fingers through every aspect of your existence, slowly impairing and then degrading your ability to live a “normal” life. Meanwhile, the world continues to turn, becoming more oppressive, more hostile, and more unforgiving with every passing year. Those who seem otherwise able-bodied (like myself) are often greeted with suspicion for failing to “bootstrap” our way out of the messes we make. But the only difference between me and a fuck-up like, say, one of Donald Trump’s kids is the fact that their wealth and privilege exempt them from ever having to own their dysfunction, or the damage it creates. There’s definitely something wrong with those kids, but being fantastically rich means never having to say you’re sorry.

So here I sit, examining the litany of professional failures that have attended my soon-to-be thirty-nine years on this planet, seriously entertaining the notion as I have for years that this about as good as it gets. I might be wrong; Lord knows I hope so. With freshly-subscribed-health insurance, I’ve been able to re-enter the medical system, and begin the necessary psychiatric evaluations for diagnosing my issue set. Never mind the arthritis and blood pressure problems I’ve begun to develop. I’ve shifted on from “spring chicken” to “perpetually exhausted, middle-aged pigeon,” and I don’t like it. Not at all.

Getting old sucks. Getting old with contending with increasing levels of mental instability, no future prospects, and no financial security in a world that doesn’t give two shits about you sucks even more. And having to swallow all of that time and again, so as to appear bright and positive and hopeful as I approach prospective corporate teat after prospective corporate teat?

Frankly, gouging out an eye with a grapefruit spoon sounds more appealing.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

BROKEN CLOCK SYNDROME, CON'T.

"What do taxes and your skirt have in common? I'm gonna hike 'em both up before this day is over! AYYYY!!!"


Reporting from the Washington, D.C. Bureau of the Department of the Division of Good Ideas, it’s…gasp!

Steve Bannon?!?!?
“Top White House adviser Steve Bannon is pushing for tax reform to include a new 44 percent top marginal tax rate, hitting people who earn more than $5 million a year, with the revenue paying for tax cuts for the rest, according to three people who’ve spoken to him recently. […]

Axios previously reported that Bannon was looking to raise the top marginal rate to “something with a four in front of it,” but the 44 percent bracket for those making $5 million and above is a more fleshed out proposal. Bannon has described himself as an “economic nationalist” and has pushed a populist agenda both through his previous outlet Breitbart News and as an adviser to Trump. That contrasts with what Bannon calls the “globalist” wing of the party, made up by people like economic adviser Gary Cohn (though both Cohn and Bannon come from Goldman Sachs).”
There is no need to adjust your Internet tubes; your lying eyes are not deceiving you, not this time. The Gin Blossom King actually proposed a smart, reasonable, and immensely beneficial policy initiative that would provide a great deal of tax relief to an increasingly overburdened middle-class. Never mind that it doesn’t go nearly far enough to compensate for the massive levels of inequality of nation is experience, which would require something, to paraphrase Bannon himself, “with a nine in front of it”; it’s a good idea, coming from the Party Of Bad Ideas. Which is precisely why it was DOA the moment it slurred forth from that puckery, spittle-flecked mouth of his.
“This has not come up,” said Jason Pye, vice president for legislative affairs at the libertarian group FreedomWorks, which opposes all income tax hikes. Pye said the group has been in “regular contact with the White House,” but “we didn’t bring [Bannon’s tax hike proposal] up because we didn’t see it gaining any traction.” […]

In an interview with The Daily Beast, Norquist added that he hadn’t seen the White House float the idea with any vigor. Bannon’s proposal “is not part of the debate at present,” he said. “I don’t see that this one has gotten any bounce or pickup.” He noted that the proposal would violate an ATR pledge to oppose tax hikes signed by hundreds of state and federal officials, including Trump.

Norquist said he hadn’t brought up the issue directly in discussions with the White House. “It’s embarrassing when you ask somebody about a very silly idea they put forward,” he said. “It’s up there with, ‘Was that you that farted?’”
And for that, you should be relieved.

Weird, right?

Here’s the thing: there are few things that could be more immediately damaging to our governmental system than if the Trump Organization were to suddenly develop a competency streak. Everyone – and I mean, everyone – is looking for any and every way they can to either distance themselves from the president* or normalize his country-wrecking shenanigans. Pushing a narrative about tax reform, even just for show, would give Republicans and their media enablers much-needed traction in issuing Trump the required mediocrity merit badges to remain credible, helping them to pushing false equivalence between him and the imaginary liberal bogeymen they continue to cook up, each one more outrageous than the last in order to compensate for his ridiculousness.

There’s just one problem: the Prime Directive of the Republican Party will not be betrayed so easily.
“Herein lies the problem with conquering a political party because the multitudes of establishment candidates they put up were easily stuffed in lockers: The rest of the party apparatus is still there after the fact. Bannon might want to raise taxes on the rich. Trump might even be open to it; he said he was, for what that's worth, as recently as last week.

But the network of donors and large corporations and interest groups and lobbying outfits who pay the campaign bills don't want that. So the congressmen and senators beholden to them don't want that. Paul Ryan doesn't want that, and neither will basically anyone in his caucus, from the unhinged fundamentalists in the Freedom Caucus to the apocryphal moderates. They are all devoted priests in the Church of Supply-Side Economics, lighting a candle for Saint Reagan as they whisper, over and over, that tax cuts for the rich stimulate growth and pay for themselves. That's why the "deficit hawks" in the passage above won't consider raising taxes in any way, shape, or form, despite the fact that increasing revenues is one of just two ways to close a deficit. The other is cutting programs and services, usually for people who don't pay campaign bills.”
Nothing is more important to the Republican Party than gutting the treasury and burning D.C. to ashes in exchange for tax cuts for their neo-feudal puppet masters. Period. They would rather let Donald Trump wipe his ass with the American flag and then set it on fire live on network television than support even the suggestion of any policy that doesn’t adhere to this objective. It matters not whether the party has their dick dragged through the dirt for the next four or eight years or not; the corporate media Memory Hole may be showing signs of strain after shoving the entire Bush regime in there, but they’ve got room for plenty more Trumpistas to be unpersoned as needed. Does anyone remember Michael Flynn anymore? Yeah...that was fucking February.

We’re not out of the woods yet. Hell, we just got here…