fixyourcoffee

Ostensibly affable older man…

… uses political cunning to consolidate power and convert a lavish democracy into a sinister, pro-military regime, only to bring said regime low by sinking crippling amounts of resources into two large military projects dogged by insurgencies.

Death Star

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Epic science fiction story or history of the ’00s? You decide!

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Madonna on Letterman

This video, of Madonna’s appearance on The Late Show in March, 1994, is currently one of my favorite things. I posted it to f’book and one of my friends asked me to explain what I loved about it. This is what I said:

Here’s what I see. Some of it might be projection, but I don’t think that it is.

Madonna is sincerely attracted to David Letterman, and I think that attraction has a lot to do with how they, in their respective ways, are innocents. I think there’s something really sweet about it. She’s also clearly angry with him because he’s made jokes at her expense and it seems that the jokes have hurt her feelings. She’s angry, but it doesn’t mean that she doesn’t still like him. She doesn’t seem to have a fully integrated opinion, except that she likes him.

I love everything she says with her eyes. In a lot of ways, the whole interview seems like one big flirt. It’s not acrimonious. There’s no way that he could be pulling on that list underneath her that way if it were acrimonious.

Dave, for his part, seems to get some of this, sort of, and like it, sort of, but to mainly have no idea what to do with her. He doesn’t seem able to register that she might find him romantically interesting–which I think she really does.

She’s so feline and poised. There’s a million things I could say about that persona, and about this interaction. Maybe literally a million. But it seems to me that the interview isn’t purely show business–or isn’t even mainly show business. It seems to me, that at bottom Madonna feels very personally engaged with Dave, very safe with him, and very affectionate. It carries over in their other interviews, too.

She seems over the years to have really watched him and thought about him.

The 2009 interview, where they end up in the pizza place, is kind of heartbreaking to me. She seems to still feel open with him, but she seems to think it’s a shame that he has evolved in some of the ways he has. She looks at him as though he’s lost some of what was initially so great, and as though she view his growing bitterness as a choice.

But that’s what I like. I like that [in 1994] she’s being so outrageous but that it seems to me to be coming from this totally pure interest to be in relationship with him (in the broader sense, not simply that she wants to date him–though not *not* that, either). I just love it. It’s like those videos where a cat and a duck are totally taken with each other–only it’s between these two moguls who, in their ways, are such masters of personality and moment. Watching it makes me feel really good.

How to Fix Your Coffee Maker

Presenting Problem: Coffee maker time reads incorrectly because the cockroach that has taken residence inside likes to stand on the red bars that compose the digits.

Solution:
Step 1: Unplug coffee maker, remove thermal carafe and clean all exposed surfaces.

Step 2: Examine bottom of coffee maker and discover that it has no visible fasteners whatsoever, except for two tabs on the base which latch into two holes on the upright housing. With a flathead screwdriver, gently unlock these tabs.

Step 3: Carefully scoop around the gap between housing and base to discover that somehow, somewhere, the base is still attached to the upright housing by something. After sufficient scooping, determine that the base is fastened to the upright housing by screws that are hidden behind the rubber “feet” of the base.

Step 4: While prying the rubber feet free in order to get at the deeply embedded screws, contemplate the fine line between elegant design and planned obsolescence. Plan in head a Facebook status update addressing this.

Step 5: Once rubber “feet” are pried out, discover that the heads of the screws are specially designed so as to require a specialized fork-like tool which, presumably, is not sold.

Step 6: Resolve debate begun in Step 5 vis. elegance and planned obsolescence. Finish final draft of Facebook status update.

Step 7: Once thwarted by inaccessible screws, attempt to seal the base back into its original relationship with the upright housing by snapping the tabs back into their holes. Discover that by a very subtle distortion of parts involved, this has been rendered impossible.

Step 8: After much gentle and persistent effort, find best case scenario configuration of upright housing and base. Return coffee maker to its original spot on the counter, and plug in.

Step 9: Wait 1-2 minutes before noticing that coffee maker has begun to smoke.

Step 10: Quickly unplug coffee maker. Revise original conclusion re: elegance vs. planned obsolescence according to new possibility that design is intended to prevent consumer from working on his appliances in order to save him from himself.

Step 11: As coffee maker continues to smoke, observe that cockroach, apparently in a panic, runs out of coffee maker followed by previously unseen little buddy.

Step 12: Switch to tea.

"Something Dark and Undeniable Shifing in Our Cultural Mood…"

Today Salon.com ran an article by Dr. Charles Barber entitled “Are We Really That Miserable?” which cites that a staggering ten percent of Americans now take antidepressants. It meanders around the ideas that people are afraid to feel real feelings and that drug advertising is involved and that “there is something dark and undeniable shifting in our cultural mood,” without being particularly specific, I thought — though I found it to be a step in the right direction. The article has the tag line: “Antidepressant use has doubled, and anxiety is at a troubling high. Blame TV, Big Pharma — and possibly yourself,” which prompted the following response from me:

Wait, blame who?

I think the American way of life itself, in its broad strokes, is unsustainable. Not the “golden era” way of life that is touted and defended by reactionaries and conservatives (and no longer really exists), but the one that actually exists today.

I agree with those who say that Americans lead lonely lives, and that the social network is breaking down. I see it in my own life, and just as dramatically when I am with my fellow citizens in public places. I see people that are agitated, unnecessarily defensive, or pushy, or oblivious. Normal behavior of average people seems to fall on several diagnostic spectra these days: paranoid, oppositional, autistic, narcissistic, catatonic.

The quality of our food, and the equity of our labor are both in trouble. Corn-fed beef (which, in America, just means “beef”) is sixty percent fat, and is a staple in the diet of many. Seventy percent of the antibiotics in the US are consumed BY THE LIVESTOCK WE EAT.

The average CEO now makes 344 times as much as the average worker when, between 1960 and 1990 that ratio was more like 30 or 40 to one. Between 1955 and the 2000s, the corporate income tax rate has dropped from 33% to less than 8%. (These and other statistics are well-presented in the article “Wealth Inequality Destroys US Ideals,” by Don Monkerud, available online through The Baltimore Chronicle & Sentinel.) The rich, the powerful, and the COMPANIES AS ENTITIES THEMSELVES all win out more than ever over the average individual.

We are lonely; the food we eat is unhealthy; the income we earn goes disproportionately to the chosen few, and increasingly so.

And more: It was myopic AMERICAN financiers crashed the global financial system. William Black, who was among the appointees to investigate the S&L scandal, spoke of this with Bill Moyers NOT as a failure of regulation, but as a failure of MORALS, pointing out that it has been, up until now, a combination of regulation and personal ethical limits which had prevented crashes such as the current crisis, not regulation alone. To repeat: one of the key failures (in addition to deregulation, and in addition to a failure to support the FBI’s attempts at oversight), was that of personal moral codes of the greedy few. The world entire paid the price, and the culprits go unconsequenced. Some reaped tremendous rewards within a year of the disaster.

In this jacked-up, unjust, amoral, wealth-chasing, shallow-thinking environment, America has become, at best, a place that elevates those who are SOMEWHAT smart, SOMEWHAT globally and politically aware, SOMEWHAT ethical, somewhat INsensitive, and VERY driven. At worst, of course, it also rewards the greedy, the ruthlessly ambitious and the corrupt. But even in the best case, these quasi-virtues, plus an increasingly aggressive drive, cannot alone uphold civil society; yet these are what is rewarded, and we see the result. Bill O’Reilly rises to the top and Bill Moyers is marginalized. Sarah Palin becomes a serious contender for the Republican Presidential nomination and Nobel-Prize winning Al Gore goes practically unheard in the mainstream. In fact, when we need clear, practical leadership the most, cadres of elected officials are developing a tradition of relying on the most egregious demagoguery to accomplish their goals.

Americans seem to aspire to be little more than what they already are — except sexier — when, held against the moral, social and intellectual templates of past eras, what they are really isn’t particularly marvelous. But still, they seem to carry themselves with a radiant ostensible pride that is either accompanied by a host of hidden shames, or an utter tone-deafness to their own shortcomings. Consequently, we are awash in one another’s strident, arrogant shabbiness with less compulsion to be upright, decent human beings than perhaps ever before in our history.

Meanwhile, ten percent of the country goes on anti-depressants. Which is perhaps the most serious part, insofar as it is emblematic of the poor half-measures we apply to address our problems.

Our ways of life are, from all corners, plainly unsustainable; the consequence of their pursuit is our slow creep toward a new barbarism, but we are not yet galvanized to preventive action truly commensurate with the scale of the difficulties. I think Dr. Barber is right that people are not feeling the natural pain that is appropriate to the circumstances, but I also think the depressed people are the canaries in our coal mine; we’re all suffocating.

What can we do?

Cheney

More and more I ask myself, “Don’t I have something better to do on a Saturday morning?” The truth is no, but that doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t be looking for something better to do instead of doing this.

To that end, I have taken the step of creating a “bookmark” folder entitled “to f’book post,” in which to store articles of a political nature that I discover over the weekend. Now I can empty that folder on Mondays, instead of posting a hail of stuff over the weekend. This folder currently includes Glenn Greenwald’s cogent run-down of the reasons Obama’s indefinite detention policy is bad, bad, bad, and why it’s important for people to speak up about it (because it seems like Obama listens). This folder is some kind of progress.

But in the meantime, I felt I had to post this now. Thursday, David Brooks, writing in The New York Times, echoed Lawrence Wilkerson’s idea that the so-called Bush/Cheney detention and interrogation policies were in play only until 2003 or 2004. The article is here.

The truth of the matter seems to be that the Bush/Cheney approach proved to be politically impractical some five or six years ago. But on Thursday both Cheney and Obama codified something else in the minds of Americans. Officially, it is Obama who is loosening the reins, and not people like Condoleezza Rice, Stephen Hadley, Jack Goldsmith and John Bellinger. Therefore, if any sort of successful attack occurs on American soil it will be Obama’s fault, and the Democrats’ fault, and the unpopular Cheney will be vindicated, along with whosoever is left of the GOP fear mongerers — even though many within the Bush administration worked to mediate Cheney’s policies for years.

Who knows why Obama is willing to open himself to this culpability when he doesn’t have to (my guess is he’s just too busy to see it, and doesn’t tend to think primarily in terms of this kind of partisan chess in the first place). But I can’t see how Cheney’s intentions are anything but nefarious. Even from outside the electoral process, he is showing a capacity to powerfully manipulate the truth, and unlike Rush Limbaugh, he reaches more than the ultra-conservative eddy of the GOP.

That’s bad.

Surplus Facebook Status Updates

I was working on a post recently, but I haven’t had time to come back to it. In the meantime, I thought it might be worthwhile to at least keep the cobwebs off this blog, so I am posting pertinent unused facebook status updates here, which seem to have been coming to me in excess as of late.

Here’s one that I found time to post on f’book, and but I’ll re-post here:

Matt was reminded this weekend that Einstein, Freud, Picasso and T. S. Eliot were contemporaries.

And here is a bona fide surplus item:

Matt still loves Barack Obama, but man he sure does seem to be spending a hell of a lot of money…

Fraud. Plain and Simple.

So says Bill Black, author of The Best Way to Rob a Bank is to Own One. The current financial crisis is not just the result of rampant greed, but fraud — a fundamental “moral crisis” within the most elite American financial institutions.

In the video linked below, Black, formerly a federal regulator whose investigations helped bring successful convictions during the S & L scandal tells Bill Moyers:

a) The collapse of the market, brought about by bad loans, was a deliberate result of criminal fraud by banks’ CEOs and the rating system.

b) The FBI has known for years. In 2004, the FBI publicly announced an epidemic of mortgage fraud and vowed to respond but was unable, largely because the Bush administration had allocated 500 FBI investigators to national terrorism efforts and not replaced them.

c) Taxpayer money has already gone to banks fined for fraudulent activity.

d) Tim Geithner is denying the insolvency of many large banks, in violation of the law, which requires that these banks be closed. The cover-up is motivated by fear of a total collapse beyond the scope of the current crisis, but it is also helping those guilty of fraud to find protection from the rule of law.

e) Conflicts of interest abound. Larry Sommers, who advises Obama, is near the center of the trouble. And under Bush, Henry Paulson appointed Goldman Sachs to the panel recommending the fate of AIG, while AIG was in charge of bailing out Goldman Sachs (which Paulson himself had recently served as CEO). Black notes, “in most stages in American history, that would be a scandal of such proportions that he wouldn’t be allowed in civilized society.”

I think the twenty-seven minutes of this presentation, and the article Bill Moyers and Michael Winship ran in Salon today are both worth understanding clearly by all Americans. This is at least as big as the spin that got us into Iraq. Bigger, in important ways.

Bill Black speaking on Bill Moyers (with transcript)

“Obama: Stop protecting Wall Street bankers from Main Street” by Bill Moyers and Michael Winship

Stanley Fish on free markets and social responsibility, and me on what I saw on the metro.

Stanley Fish discusses “neoliberalism” and its effect on higher education with a nod to some effects on society as a whole. In short, in the neoliberal model, profit alone is esteemed as the one measure of good, and any other concern such as ethics, social responsibility, or even happiness are extraneous measures — sometimes labeled, in the austere purity of the model, as “market distortions.”

He notes that this philosophy is potently at work now, and traces its effects. It’s been observed that:

“Short-term transactions-for-profit replace long-term planning designed to produce a more just and equitable society. Everyone is always running around doing and acquiring things, but the things done and acquired provide only momentary and empty pleasures (shopping, trophy houses, designer clothing and jewelry), which in the end amount to nothing. Neoliberalism, David Harvey explains, delivers a ‘world of pseudo-satisfactions that is superficially exciting but hollow at its core.’ ”

I spent part of the weekend people-watching, and one of the things I noticed was that I felt as though I observed, in virtually everyone I encountered, a great paucity of concern for the well-being of others. This was punctuated, of course, by occasional demonstrations of out-and-out offensive rudeness, as one is conditioned to expect in cities, but what struck me more was the pervasive indifference and preoccupation with self and small social unit.

I could comfortably summarize what I saw as a whole lot of people who I would not say were “bad,” but who I would not say were actually, pro-actively, “good,” either — nor did they seem to care to be.

And if people seek success and fulfillment through the mores of our society alone, what else should be expected? I think few, if any, of the strongest forces at work in the mainstream suggest a way of life that accords to any great degree with true satisfaction and happiness, let alone any true indicator of what may be good and right human behavior, either universally or at this particular (and I think crucial) time in our history.

Instead, it seems to me that what’s extolled is, really, in fact, the pursuit of hollow pleasures. Furthermore, most people still seem to remain hypnotized by this pursuit even as what seems to me a cacophonous call to change thunders out from, basically, every observable circumstance. Most people seem to still be seeking either the pleasures themselves, or seeking to assert an ego identity that fits one of the archetypes in various tiers of the pleasure-seeking system. Again, I feel I so often see, for example, the middle-class royal who, having punched out of work, is utterly sovereign in his or her world, striding around thinking only of personal satisfaction and nothing, once off the clock, about contribution to any sort of greater social welfare whatsoever. This, across age-ranges and cultures. And those who don’t have it want it.

The reformist sub-cultures are not immune. There are plenty of radicals who can’t actually think, or whose heart would be in the right place except for the fact that they themselves are lost in an ego identity, who seek the quick pleasure in their efforts, resist contemplation, and who remain products of the very society to which they react: shallow, bawdy and callous.

Even in intimate couples you might see shallow, socially prescribed self-interests predominate. (And accompanied by confusion as to why relationships are empty, and lacking the passion you see in the movies.)

I have no doubt: Directly or indirectly, it affects EVERYONE.

In rushing off these observations, I have in no way protected myself from the embarrassment of having to retract from overstatement. But the funny thing is, I think most people would agree with me to some degree, and yet that remains the world we co-create. But really what I mainly wanted to do was point to Fish’s article, which I think is well worth the read (once your reading stamina is recharged from this lengthy and introduction). And also, I wanted to toss out an idea which has been on my mind for the past month or so:

If we *don’t* make it past the current crises, if the economic downturn becomes some kind of real collapse, if it destabilizes countries to the point of violence and that spirals, or if it prohibits enough responsible action on climate change to prevent a runaway disaster of some sort — in short, if civilization were to completely come apart for one reason or another, I think that whatever organized societies arose after us might look back and say, with the benefit of hindsight, “that civilization which came before us, and fell [ours], was corrupt and morally bankrupt.”

It actually has, I believe, something of Biblical proportions to it.

I have no doubt that it can be changed to something better. But not without effort, nor without intelligence, nor heart — and not through abiding the social status quo, in any of its current iterations, I suspect.

Think Again: Neoliberalism and Higher Education

Out of the Past

I received an e-mail today quoting Jon Stewart on Larry King Live:

In Larry King’s interview with Jon Stewart, Larry brought up the subject of the primaries and asked him if America was ready for a woman or a black president.

Jon looked at him quizzically and said “This is such a non-question. Did anyone ask us in 2000 if Americans were ready for a moron?”

It reminded me of another Jon Stewart moment, which I went and looked up, and was so affected watching it again that I thought I’d post it below. Then I got all itchy about fair use — since it’s a fourteen minute clip — that I decided to post a link to the transcript instead. If you want more, you know where to find it. You’ve perhaps already seen it, but I think it’s worth a second look. Especially now, in with the New York Times breaking a new scandal about cable pseudo-news.

If you’ve never seen the Jon Stewart clip, or never seen the whole thing, I can’t recommend it enough. It’s one thing to have heard about it, it’s quite another to see the way it played out.

Four months after the broadcast, the CNN show Crossfire was canceled, and the network ended its professional relationship with the bowtie-wearing Tucker Carlson. The new CNN President, Jonathan Klein, said the night before the announcement, “I agree wholeheartedly with Jon Stewart’s overall ‘premise.'”

The premise was, of course. “I’m here to confront you, because we need help from the media, and they’re hurting us.”

I find this no less astonishing four years after its event, and perhaps more. The Quakers have an injunction, “speak truth to power.” It’s a rousing thought, and the need for it has not gone away.


Transcript of Jon Stewart’s Crossfire Interview

“And there is no trade or employment but the young man following it may become a hero.”

— Walt Whitman

Update: Deadly Asteroid Aimed Toward White House; Will It Be Stopped?

New York Times:
“Senator John McCain of Arizona frequently uses the shorthand ‘Al Qaeda’ to describe the enemy in Iraq in pressing to stay the course in the war there.”

Which tempts the author to refer to his own earlier post, of March 31 (and humbly, and since you’re here anyway.)

Meanwhile some analysts approve of McCain’s usage. They say McCain is more detailed when he has the time, but according to Kenneth M. Pollack, research director at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution:

“[The campaign trail] does not lend itself to long-winded explanations of what we really are facing.”

Which daunts not Juan Cole, author of Sacred Space and Holy War: The Politics, Culture and History of Shi’ite Islam, who boldly risks boring America to tears with the epic:

“The U.S. has not been fighting Al Qaeda, it’s been fighting Iraqis.”


Meanwhile…

…chimes in Bruce Hoffman, terrorism and counterinsurgency expert at Georgetown University:

“This is much more fractionated than most people could imagine…”

Which is not only terse, but gives English-speakers worldwide a whole new word: fractionated.

McCain, Iraq War and the Threat of ‘Al Qaeda’

MEANWHILE…
…up comes Cliff Schecter’s new book, The Real McCain:


Three reporters from Arizona, on the condition of anonymity, also let me in on another incident involving McCain’s intemperateness. In his 1992 Senate bid, McCain was joined on the campaign trail by his wife, Cindy, as well as campaign aide Doug Cole and consultant Wes Gullett. At one point, Cindy playfully twirled McCain’s hair and said, “You’re getting a little thin up there.” McCain’s face reddened, and he responded, “At least I don’t plaster on the makeup like a trollop, you cunt.” McCain’s excuse was that it had been a long day. If elected president of the United States, McCain would have many long days.

(Well-discussed here, at The Raw Story.)

and Wonkette, a DC blogger offers, and I hope resoundingly:

“But yeah for real he can’t be president.”

Lastly, yours truly considers stepping further in the fray with:

…the above being a custom bumper sticker he has created on a site online, and is tempted to order, but reluctant to affix, fearing that he will thereby forfeit the “I’m a high school teacher” cred he currently enjoys with Northern Virginia traffic police.