Monday, May 31, 2010

Auld Lang Syne

It's not often that one sees cliché redeemed as perfectlly as the fabulous singer Susan McKeown does in this version of Auld Lang Syne, which she renders in the Scottish dialect (lyrics and translation here). She accomplishes this redemption by 'going deeper' (as the method directors and writing instructors tend to say) into the original elegiac conceit, making, with the sparest of accompaniment something haunting out of what has been otherwise been reduced to utter crap, on the order of Happy Birthday.
The transcendent in life, best we can do, is just such a reclaiming of memory and meaning from Entropy -- who would fence it all to Oblivion for pesos on the dollar.
Update: Perhaps apropos Memorial day, it occurred to me after the fact that a similar, even congruent reclamation from the deserved oblivion of cliché was Hendrix's Woodstock anthem.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

WPA Style Gulf-Cleanup Army

It's just an idea, but it's got real possibilities. Why not create a WPA-style army to clean up the Gulf of Mexico beaches and marshlands? There are millions of able-bodied folks crying for work, and here's a hell of a lot of work that will basically need to get done by hand, with shovels, bags, wheelbarrows et cetera. This is work that can't be outsourced to Inda. It'll be hot, hard, buggy, smelly work so even if we pay a real wage, (like, say $20 an hour) nobody will be said to be getting a handout. I envision a real corps, with barracks or trailer camp bases being thrown up quickly. Recruits, should be by quota drawn from all over (with some allowance for relief of those directly affected, fishermen etc) to maiximize support for the program.

If we can keep griftshops like Halliburton and Blackwater away from the trough, there might be many real benefits from such a program: cash in the pockets of people who need it most and who are most likely to return it quickly to the economy (putting more cash in pockets of people who need it badly); a restored sense, for those who serve and are served by the project, of what government for the people, by the people, can and ought to do; hands-on experience for additional tens or hundreds of thousands of people from all over, of what the real cost of drill-baby-drill has been and will be.

The one thing we must not do here is entrust this to the free-enterprise system, or the wisdom of the market. The sociopaths of private industry, and the regulators' capture by them, got us into this mess; they must not be allowed to profit from its remediation.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Canned Derbyshire

When you untether words from their usual, traditional, agreed-upon (and to that degree fixed) meanings, you eliminate their capacity to express anything true. Words then become just noises, tribal identifiers or notes in a spiel. Starting, appropriately, with its most treasured shibboleth, the term"conservative," the Conservative movement shows itself determined to reduced English to Advertese. The evidence of this is endless but here's one more quintessential piece anyway: the hacktackular yet unbelievably smug John Derbyshire admits at NRO that he himself wrote a blurb for his own book, and attributed it to one of his betters. Derbyshire says that the putative author of the blurb declined to read his book but gave him permission to attribute a fake blurb to himself -- and now the fellow is safely dead so he can't very well contradict Derbyshire's version. The salient thing here is that Derbyshire, one of the putative "thinkers" of the Right doesn't feel the slightest compuntion about this. It's just commerce , the way these things are done. There's no dishonor, as far as he's concerned.

These Free Marketeers think we all speak advertese, a dialect which cannot be used to express truth. In it there is no truth or falsity of a statement; a statement is merely efficacious sales pitch, or it's not. That is the only question. This is certainly a way to do business, alas. But it doesn't admit the slighest possibility of honor. These people are blithely and completely without honor. Derbyshire, like virtually all of the ilk is a moral child, the development of his conscience arrested about age eight.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Girls Gone Wild, etc

Somewhere I saw a headline to the effect of 'Sorority Girls Have Public Sex, Cause Thousands in Damage.' This reminded me of my undergraduate days, so I had to click on the story. Shocking. The Pi Phis of Ohio got some 'splainin' to do. Oh to be young again....

Here's an actual quote from the new GOP Website (Values Section) that is half bigot chat-room and half snarky send-up. Not sure which inflection this has:


Pedo-bears, if you will. I would pay to see that movie!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Jackboot on the other Foot

Again, via Mark Kleiman, this view of what Fascism looks like on the ground. There is a political context here, of course, and as always in Jerusalem, it's tortured. But all that aside, what's depicted here is cowards bullying the defenseless because they can -- this is the corruptive aspiration, the life force, the raison, d'etre of Fascism everywhere. Fascism isn't a political posture or philosophy; it's a fashion, a style, a group neurosis.

Why Rand Is a Racist

I've got to admit that Rachel Maddow does some good work. But she doesn't really nail it very often, and it seems like it's sometimes because the tough questions don't occur to her or because she's afraid to ask them. I watched her chat with Rand Paul the other night and while I liked the way she kept after him, it seems to me that she didn't really get to the essence. As Mark Kleiman points out, she should have asked him, "Well, enough about public accomodations; do you think a private employer should be able to turn down qualified applicants because they're black? Should they be able to pay black people less for the same work?"

And beyond that, she should have asked, "Isn't your stance really just a racist dog-whistle, another in the long-standing Republican tradition of coded signals, signals to bigots that you'll work to keep power in white hands? Otherwise why tilt at a matter of settled law?"
Regardless of your own subjective attitude towards other ethnicities, if you exploit racism you're a racist -- period.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

"Small Government" = Police State

I watched a few minutes of Olberman's mash-up of GlennBeck speeches at "Liberty"... um... "University" in the appropriately named Lynchburg, Va., and at the New Reich Association convention (no guns allowed!) and while I could only stand so much of it, I really did enjoy the Hitler like histrionics, especially when he was raging about being called a Nazi. Fairly quivering with indignation, stalking the stage like the Furhrer overmedicated, he roars, "The right in this country is small government. Nazism is Nationalist Socialist Workers Union."
Well actually it's 'worker's party' (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei) but don't expect Glenn to let the facts get in the way of a talking point, especially when it smears lefty institutions like unions.

But -- I digress. Elsewhere in the speech Glenn says the only things we can trust in today's society are "each other, the troops and the police." I'm not quite sure why we need so many police if we can trust each other (but perhaps he just means the white folks in the audience), nor am I so sure it's a good idea to trust the troops or the police, given the propensity of the former for shooting up innocent folks, and of the latter for tasing, beating, framing, bribe-taking and shooting up innocent folks. But anyway, that's it, in essence: the mantra of the small government Republicans and "Libertarians". When Beck and his ilk talk about small government they mean 'Cut everything that doesn't benefit me directly -- except armed forces , police forces, and prisons.' They don't really seem to grasp somehow that force is inimical to freedom. But they don't really understand or care about freedom anyway. Freedom to them is convenience, cheap gasoline, the remote control.
Those too stupid to understand the past will re-enact its atrocities.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

News and Non-News

What a wonderfully wacky world we live in: a smoking hot Lebanese immigrant becomes Miss USA and the wingnuts have infarctions. You would think they'd be happy to see a self described Muslim gal packaging herself up as sexist commodity. If becoming Miss USA isn't wholehearted embrace of the American Way (god help us), I dunno what is.

In other non-news: Mark Souder, a family-values Republican has gotten caught with his pecker in the cookie jar. The new wrinkle is the pro-abstinence video he made with his mistress -- who's kinda cute in a naughty-librarian way. So what does she see in the tubby Souder, a man with no detectible charisma? It must really be tough for a single gal in this town.

In still more non-news, a front running Democrat has shot himself in the foot by issuing some bullshit about his service in Vietnam -- when he never went there! Kinda like Hillary and her Bosnian snipers.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Why Aren't Conservatives Funny?

I read in FDL that some really zany "conservatives" are starting a web thing called Richochet that promises to be like a "cocktail party" with about 40 different right-wing voices. Well, more like a circle-jerk I suppose than any cocktail party I would ever attend -- except perhaps in the spirit of field anthropology. The idea is that it will be fun and funny apparently, completely ignoring the fact that self-styled "conservatives" are virtually never funny. True, they can sometimes get a bully's laugh at the expense of the defenseless from their fellow sociopaths, but they are as incapable of wit as snakes are of opera.

I'm not quite sure why self-described "conservatives" are so unwitty, but perhaps it has to do with the fact that they can never transcend their own affectation of wisdom and uprightness. Armored within their own fundamental pretentions, they lack the nimbleness to skewer the pretentions of others. It may also have to do with the fact that wit involves a considerable, if ironic, reverence for the truth, and right-wingers universally prefer dogma, superstition, legend, prejudice and romance to the truth. For instance, one of the honchos at Richochet (you gotta love the NRA cachet of this) says this kinda thing:

"At a time when the country is being dragged to the left by Washington and mainstream media, this is another way to fight back," says Robinson.

Now, the idea that the country is being "dragged to the left" seems about as ass-backwards as the notion that the sun goes around the moon, but it's about as universally accepted as geocentrism once was. I suspect that it's mighty difficult to intuit le mot juste when your reality detector is so earnestly overridden. You must have a basic impulse to conform your understanding to the real events, properties and propensities of the world, before you can distort these to good satirical effect.

Finally, the death of wit among the brownshirts may have to do with the inherent levelling function of wit. A joke upward, had at the expense of powerful and/or sanctimonious pretense works, whereas a joke had at the expense of one less entitled seems gratuitous. It may be a matter of moral authority. Just as one's heroic claims about one's self are discordant though one's similar claims about another may be poetic, it may well be that people with all the power can't really kick downward with any aesthetic distinction -- especially when they're preoccupied with whining about what victims they are, as John Yoo, VD Hanson, Mark Steyn and some of the other fun-filled folks at Richochet seem to be.

It reminds me of the Tea Party Woodstocks we keep being promised. Woodstock is perhaps not the best metaphor for the reincarnated Klan. It ought to remind people, that whatever the failures and excesses of the "hippie movement" were, it consisted in a snowballing creativity (Beatles, Stones, Kinks, Hendrix, Hunter Thompson, Michael Herr, R. Crumb, Saturday Night Live) that really did change the world briefly, and the arts enduringly.

The Tea Party, which is really just the logical extension of Republicanism since Nixon, epitomizes what happens to wit when divorced from art's anarchic life forces, from its moral, subversive purpose: it dwindles to a husk of it's obligatory and rightful self. We get, say Richard Pryor or Dave Chapelle, they get nigger jokes.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

I Used To Be Disgusted

I am slightly surprised by my continuing capacity to be appalled these days, but as Elvis Costello says, I try to be amused. Still the thing that gets me right now is how very seriously my credulous countrymen take the obvious buffoons of the Right. It stikes me, that besides being dishonest, self-deluded, and inauthentic, conservatives are above all pretentious. It's not so much that that they put on airs of aristocracy or scholarship, though many do that too, it's that they credit themselves with the traditional wisdom, moderation, morality of the Conservative, while whirling about in a tizzy of hypcritical judgment. Not that we need any fresh proofs of this, but we're getting them anyway recently, in two blatant assclowns of the Reich.

One is Elizabeth Hasselbeck, giving blondes everywhere a bad name, ragging on a fellow mannekin for her immodest dress on Dancing with the Stars, then crying about it when people called her an asshole. This of course is utterly trivial, real Lady Booby sort of stuff, but it actually captures the gravitas of Conservatism perfecly.

The other example is George Alan Rekers, quack and homophobe, recently filmed returning from a ten-day vaction with a fellw who literally advertises himself as a rent-boy.

God is a bad novelist, otherwise he'd make at least some of these moralizing pricks fundamentally decent, just misguided. Alas, in reality they are invariably monsters who, if there were any justice should be put down by horse doctors or dog catchers.

A good novelist, Henry Fielding, had this to say about their ilk:

The only source of the true Ridiculous (as it appears to me) is affectation. But tho’ it arises from one spring only, when we consider the infinite streams into which this one branches, we shall presently cease to admire at the copious field it affords to an observer. Now affectation proceeds from one of these two causes; vanity, or hypocrisy: for as vanity puts us on affecting false characters, in order to purchase applause; so hypocrisy sets us on an endeavour to avoid censure by concealing our vices under an appearance of their opposite virtues. and tho’ these two causes are often confounded, (for they require some distinguishing;) yet, as they proceed from very different motives, so they are as clearly distinct in their operations: for indeed, the affectation which arises from vanity is nearer to truth than the other; as it hath not that violent repugnancy of nature to struggle with, which that of the hypocrite hath