Saturday, November 29, 2014

180 degrees of victimhood, part I

Way way back in 2010 Tom Junod wrote a fascinating piece for Esquire about Barack Obama's political style.  The gist of the piece was that Obama, as a firm believer in the parenting movement called Positive Discipline, was applying the rules he and his wife used to raise their daughters, to the government of the United States. 

Post-Racial America. Except for the Scots-Irish.

What is pretty clear now, is that after the Civil War, the Jim Crow laws, the lynchings, beatings, shootings and bombings, the civil rights movement and all the laws passed by legislatures of both parties in all fifty states, and all the advantages and opportunities they've been given, that some White Americans are just genetically incapable of being fair to Black people.

Despite the fact that its both the law and its the right thing to do, some White Americans are just basically violent racists. They just can't be trusted not to shoot Black people for no good reason, or abuse the law and take advantage of it to harm Black people.

And they certainly shouldn't be allowed to be cops. I mean, we hold cops to a much higher standard than gangs, but lately it seems like every week some white racist is shooting a black teenager just because the kid is acting like a teenager.

Maybe its the Scottish heritage. I'm part Scots myself and proud of it. But those people are pretty intolerant. Its a shame they can't be trusted, but they certainly don't seem to be able to treat Black people fairly.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

No Country For Old Men

I was struck this morning by the image of the putative leader of the Old White Guy faction in the US Senate, Mitch McConnell, telling his followers that it was time to turn this country around.

He promises a 180 degree shift: that's what his campaign was about; that's what his party's message was; that's what his comrade's messages were; that's what's wanted by the evil billionaires who poured money into their coffers and their supporters.

And so I'm reminded of the comic's routine, popular during the 80s among comedians who'd grown up on Bill Cosby and then pushed away from him - people like Eddie Murphy and Richard Pryor - of the dad who threatens to turn the car around and go home because the kids are misbehaving.  And then antics ensue, because the punchline was some variation of "dad just wanted to go home and drink beer on the couch in front of the football game and only took us out because we pestered him."  Now, its funny because its true.  At least it was funny the first dozen or so times I heard it.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Time Has Come Today

I've done six posts this year and its already October.  Quite a feat.

I've been involved in work-related things, none of which panned out.  So I'm passing on from one employer to another, once again hoping that meaningful work is just around the corner.  I'm still just intellectual migrant labor, but this new gig will hopefully require less handholding and soft cooing and babysitting, and more actual intellectual work.  And as a result, more posts.

Update: My editor informs me the actual count is nine (9) posts this year, counting this one.  Somewhat less of a feat, roughly 50% less, but still almost one a month.

Why We Can't Have Nice Things, Part II

Consider, if you will, the implications of the following two stories:

Why India's Mars mission is so cheap - and thrilling

First U.S. Stealth Jet Attack on Syria Cost More Than Indian Mission to Mars


I'm a big fan of Obama's "Don't do stupid stuff" foreign policy.  Its the same principle you find in medicine - "First, do no harm" - and it applies to pretty much any attempt to develop solutions to problems.  When it comes to relationships with other countries and regions, you really ought to avoid doing something stupid.

Friday, September 19, 2014


Quick and nearly meaningless observation that may be of some use to some of you.

Bars in small towns or super-suburban neighborhoods usually have an apostrophe in their name, a possessive to indicate that the owner has a cool, hip name and has seen a lot of the world and will sell you a kicky multi-colored cocktail and maybe you can dance.  So you get bars named "Hollywood's" or "O'Reilly's" or "Chance's."

Bars in actual cool hip places don't use the apostrophe.  The possessive isn't there.  The bar is named after a state of being and not a person.  The most famous of these is Cheers, which was actually a TV show: but note its not named Cheer's, as in There's a guy named Cheer and this is his bar, but Cheers, just the toast you give when you're drinking. 

A long time ago I used to frequent a bar in San Francisco in what's now probably called the "upper-to-mid-Market" neighborhood (or Umm) called The Lucky 13.  Great bar.  I practically lived in another bar called The Armadillo, which effectively killed my hopes of being a great graduate student.  No possessive on either, and that is, I'm now convinced, what made them great bars to drink in. 

Because here's an easy test to see whether you'll like a bar.  The test requires some time, so its not going to resolved right away.  But go into the bar's neighborhood, and listen to people talk about it.  If they use the possessive, as in "Are we going to Lucky 13's?" or "How about Armadillo's for a beer?" then they're the kind of people who drink their Bud lite with a lime and there will be a lot of popped collars in the clique. The blondes will not be dirty; the tattoos will be pretty butterflies.  Those people should go the nearest O'Reilly's or Bing's and commence to mixing.  That may be what you prefer. 

But if people put the definite article in front of the bars name - and no one ever said "The Lucky 13's", because that's just obviously dumb - then the bar shows promise.  If they shorten and use The, as in The Dillo, then they're talking about a place to go because its cool and not because the owner is some kind of goofy loser who accommodates the wealthy riff-raff.  Those are definitely stops.

One exception to this rule is the bar Rudy's, at the tale end of University Avenue in Palo Alto right next to the train station.  Rudy's is dark, malevolent and existential, a red-hued entrance to the Hell under those innocuous Venetian-style villas housing shadowy government-funded institutes on the Stanford campus, where they pass out heroin on the first day and lock you into the basement until they've sucked your soul into an intelligent dissident surveillance system.  Rudy's is just pretending to be the kind of place frat boys go to drink, in the way the funhouse entrance is often painted to look like a clown's mouth.

Otherwise, I think the theory holds. 

Monday, June 02, 2014

Deja Vu vs. Reality

In the morning I like to watch the local NBC affiliate while I read the NYTimes.  My daughter will often ask me questions about what's on the news, such as "why is everyone so happy this Bowe guy got out of prison?  His parents should be ashamed of him!"  It helps to be there to gently clear up her misconceptions.

But I've had this nagging thought for weeks now: How much of what I'm reading in the Times or seeing on TV is caused by conservatives flailing around demanding their irrational prejudices be enforced as the law of the land and universally respected as truth?  On any given day it seems like 80% or more.  Even the weather isn't immune.

Perhaps its time for a media diet.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Clipper Chip

The Donald Sterling affair is an excellent example of how race gets dealt with in the US.

Sterling is the owner of the LA Clippers, a basketball team in the NBA with a black coach and mostly black players, who was recently recorded saying he doesn't want his mistress - or someone he wanted to be his mistress - hanging out with black people.  He was fined and banned from the NBA in a rather surprising turn of events, and its likely he'll lose the team.  Prior to the recording being made public Sterling was famous for (a) maintaining a very public image as a sugar daddy and (b) making his money as a slum lord in downtown LA, who was convicted of discriminating against Hispanic and African-American renters after another, earlier recording detailed his antediluvian attitudes.

You may have heard about it; it was in all the papers.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Godwin's Law

"He was expressing the fact that he needed to send in troops to protect those in Crimea of Russian ancestry and Russian language and certain religious groups," he said. "And what the President made clear to Putin was, this was unacceptable."

Someone pointed out in a NYTimes story today, a Ukrainian citizen in fact, that the claim that you need to invade a country to protect ethnic Russians and Russian speakers from their government has just got Nazism written all over it.  Not just fascism; we're talking about a very specific set of ethnocentric claims about the identification of a group of people with a state, and that the state itself is an expression of the ethnic composition and identity of that group.

There are people who, by virtue of colonial histories, happen to find themselves "left behind" when the colonizers depart.  For those people to demand the colonizing country come in and protect them, indeed invade and run the damn thing, is the height of entitlement.  The UK left people all over the globe and spent many years using slights to Englishness as a pretext for invasion; thankfully that's a policy Her Majesty's government no longer pursues.  During the 60s various former European colonial powers would send in rapid-reaction forces to get their citizens to safety; that's one of the benefits of a passport, that there's a Marine regiment waiting somewhere to keep you safe.  (This is true of Belgium, France, Holland, the US and the UK, for instance.  Canada has no such policy and, in fact, much of the populace and the better editorial pages will happily blame you for any trouble you might find yourself in - for Canadians, once you leave you're on your own.)  Algeria comes to mind, as does northern Ireland, of instances where it gets more complex: a whole group of people and a significant portion of the population born in the colonized territory who identify as colonizers and aren't willing to give up the colonial project.  Israel, through certain lenses, looks similar.

Monday, March 03, 2014


I bought myself a rifle recently so I could go hunting for larger mammals, a spiffy little Marlin in the Winchester .270 caliber.  I was inspired by Hank Shaw's blog and a couple of others; I'm at an age where I'm looking back on the things I really liked to do when I was younger, the things that didn't involve sitting in a bar arguing Foucault, and wondering why it is that I stopped doing them.  In an earlier age that might have driven men like me to buy a Porsche and a pretty young girlfriend.  But practically, as Plato once noted, you don't really become a man until your forties.  The "mid-life crisis" was always more about marketing lifestyle shifts, sub-dividing consumer categories to make it easier to slot people in and sell them stuff, and it was a co-optation of an actual, honest-to-god milestone in one's life.  So now, having spent far more of my time arguing Foucault in bars than I'd really have liked to, I'm beginning to do the things I like.  Like go trail-running, and hunt, and play music.  This is good for my mental health - building new skills keeps the brain humming along - and my physical health, and my family, and if we ignore all the mass-market bourgeoisie bubble culture built up since the 30s, a necessary part of what it is to be a round, solid, useful human being.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Value of Comfort Food

Pacific Standard just published a piece on the Toast craze.

I didn't know there was a magazine called Pacific Standard until today, when Chris Hayes tweeted a link to the story.  It looks like an excellent magazine and as I read through the titles of the online pieces I thought "I should subscribe to this": It looks like exactly the sort of magazine smart, thoughtful, with-it people such as myself read, a west-coast version of The New Yorker.  I have a subscription to The New Yorker and have for years.  Also, I haven't opened a copy in probably three months.  I read half a piece then and left it folded on the coffee table so I could pick it up again, but I believe its been recycled, as we have a rule in my house, more or less by default, that any magazine older than three months gets recycled, even if Dad has left it folded open, but especially if its then covered with subsequent issues of various other magazines.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

The recent history of the 2nd Amendment in a nutshell

1 in 5 Americans suffers from some form of mental illness, some 60 million-plus people.  Tens of millions of those people suffer from paranoid delusions, which often take the form of a specific fear that marauding gangs of dusky-hued drug dealers and rapists and disrespectful teenagers will break into their suburban houses or local Starbucks or simply park next to them, and then outright kill them or rob them of property and perhaps just self-respect.