Monday, August 31, 2009

fight the realer enemy

When an addled Larouchie took mic in hand and asked Barney Frank why he supported 'a Nazi policy' of euthanizing the elderly to balance the Medicare budget, the clip of her subsequent dispatching was a Youtube walk-off. Watching an extended clip of that night's town hall revealed an even stranger trope that has bobbed repeatedly to the surface as the healthcare debate has worn on. How, the next questioner demanded of Frank, could private insurers expect to survive in competition with a federal insurance provider with an endless influx of cash at its disposal? Nevermind Frank's reply that the proposed program would have an initial lump of starter capital and is expected to remain solvent on its own, the oddity here is this humble private citizen taking up the concerns of one of America's highest profiting industries. Her appeal to the archetypal tenacity of the pioneering salesman struggling against the monolith of government elites manages to completely invert the reality of today's healthcare market, and it does so almost wordlessly.

The compulsion to marshal anti-elitist rhetoric in blind defense of corporatism may never appear as nakedly as it does in Charlotte Allen's LA Times op-ed titled 'Keep your self-righteous fingers off my processed food.' While the blindingly dumb headline, and a byline identifying Allen as the keeper of the Minding the Campus section of the Manhattan Institute website may be enough for you to write the author off as an anti-intellectual theocon, braving the full text offers a vivid example of how wrong one can go when searching for elites to rail against. Allen's strategy is to brand as "spending enthusiasts" a disparate brand of social critics arguing for the consumption of more locally-grown food and against the continuing market dominance of discount chainstores. Her reasoning for this begins and ends, it seems, with this: all of these critics advocate patronizing farmer's markets, and everyone knows farmer's markets are too expensive. In Allen's China-made straw man, critics of Wal-mart's low, low prices are simply elitists who don't want the poor to own televisions or afford milk.

Certainly, the 'foodie' culture that has risen alongside the work of legit critics like Michael Pollan and Ellen Ruppel Shell requires some unpacking, with its attendant fetishization of rare edition esoterica, small batch snake oil, and far-flung regional specialization. Such unpacking, ironically, would most likely bring one to Whole Foods, the grocery chain currently run by libertarian and anti-health care reform CEO John Mackey, whose propositions to improve public health in the US included 'shopping at Whole Foods more often.' Unfortunately, and lazily, Allen lumps local food advocates like Pollan together with such Whole Foods 'foodies', but only the farmers come in for the abuse:

Dire economic circumstances don't seem to faze these spending enthusiasts, who scold us for shopping at supermarkets instead of at farmer's markets, where a loaf of "artisanal" (and also "sustainable") rye bread sells for $8, ice cream for $6 a cup and organic tomatoes go for $4 a pound.

To take it from Allen, farmers decide to charge these amounts on a whim. Maybe the number 8 just looked nice and symmetrical that day. Maybe the farmer is just an asshole, out to scam some burgeoning foodie tourists. What clearly doesn't enter into Allen's calculus, however, is any kind of sober look at the true costs of quality food production on a small scale, and the hidden costs of Wal-mart's mass production and distribution. A superstore shopper may be able to get a loaf of bread for $1.50, but if that loaf of bread has a neutral or negative impact on its consumer's health, what exactly makes it a better buy than that loaf of $8 bread? The IKEA shelf she praises for it's affordability may have cost her $25, but when it falls part during her next move and she has to buy another one? Allen refers to her mother's sage maxim, "If you don't care for the quality..., you get what you pay for." What if you can't afford quality? Say, because you live in a small town where an influx of Wal-marts and other big box stores has contributed to an overall stagnation in wages? Allen's answer to this question would undoubtedly contain the word 'artisanal'.

"Meanwhile, Professor Pollan, eat all the "plants" you like -- but don't try to pry me from my Häagen-Dazs dark chocolate ice cream. I bought it at Safeway, and it's sitting on my IKEA kitchen table."

It's always hard to pin down exactly what is so revolting about libertarians, but I think this about does it. Allen rages against those imaginary spendthrifts who would curtail her to two pairs of sneaker purchases a year and take away her Häagen-Dazs as elitist tramplers of liberty seeking to deny her her utterly mediocre existence, but the swarm of Wal-marts metastasizing throughout the land, leveling prices, wages, and innovation in their wake? No problem at all.

While we're keeping track: the last time I checked, a pint of Häagen-Dazs was about $4.50.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

that's what i want

With infidelity - to spouses and to offices - so currently en vogue on the relatively crazier side of the political aisle, one would think the bumblers running the right-wing brain churn would refrain for a moment from the sanctimony they last rubbed raw in the 90s. Not so. When a G8 photo op appeared to show Obama leering at a young girl passing him on the steps, the slumbering grotesques down at Fam'ly Values PD jolted awake (having been alerted by their crack Schadenfreude detail, who have slept in shifts since January).

Perhaps the most embarrassing reaction was that of Ann Althouse, who strung together some pseudo deconstructobabble in a sad attempt to explain Obama's "moment of as-yet-unconstrained pursuit".

The foot closest to the woman, like Sarkozy's, is planted and aimed forward, but the other steps off in the direction of the woman, bending the knee upward into a bit of a crotch-squeeze and forming the base of a dramatic tilt of the entire body into a flexible S-shape that leans toward the woman. ... His neck is craned out and around so that the line of sight is directly at the ass. His mouth is open as if to say: That's what I want.

The video, naturally, absolves Obama in a way in which only Obama could be absolved: not only was he not ogling, he was waiting up to offer another woman a hand. No word from Althouse on what vertices of Obama's torso bent into "crotch squeezes" during this sequence of events. In fact, faced with the video, she sticks to her guns, standing by her "analysis" of the photograph. In a later post, she stubbornly refuses to accept the Zapruder film, preferring to stick to her analysis of the still photograph that shows Jackie killing JFK with a mental deathray.

In their expert dissection of a dossier of soldier's photography from Abu Ghraib, Errol Morris and Philip Gourevitch point up an essential truth about pictures serving in a political context: "The picture transfixes us because it looks like the truth, but, looking at it, we can only imagine what that truth is." Unsure of the truth, we fall back on the crutches of familiar narrative tropes. One blogger referred to the supposed gawking as Obama's first "Clinton moment", that spasm borne of some peculiarly Democratic tendency to womanize. (He failed to mention the incident in which GWBush, unbidden, placed his actual hands on a female head of state; perhaps it slipped his mind.) Sarkozy was in on the ogling too, naturally, for, as anyone who takes their cultural cues from decades-old cartoons knows, that's just the way the French are.

The irony in all this, in case it isn't obvious, is that in pretending to take up the burden of objectified women, all these scolds have truly done is focused the attention of millions on this underage girl's posterior. I could go on pontificating about how the anonymous, faceless female form has long been the blank slate on which the Western male gaze projects its desires, seems that this photograph has already inspired far too much armchair analysis.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

time out of joint

Grand Watchmaker - and New York Times' Holiday Party "Roundest Glasses on Staff" award winner, 8 years running - David Brooks uncorks this magical statement to open his latest column:

Sonia Sotomayor had bad timing. If she’d entered college in the late-1950s or early-1960s, she would have been surrounded by an ethos that encouraged smart young ethnic kids to assimilate. If she’d entered Princeton and Yale in the 1980s, her ethnicity and gender would have been mildly interesting traits among the many she might possibly possess.

Were this a blog in which I posted topical photographs, I'm sure I could come up with a number of photos capturing "young ethnic kids" in the late 1950s "surrounded by an ethos". The Little Rock 9, for example. I'm sure Ms. Sotomayor worries herself to sleep each night, wondering just how different her life would have been we're she brought up in this encouraging era.

Unfortunately, Brooks gives up the game of Choose Your Own Adventure as the column goes on. We don't get to find out what would have become of Sotomayor were she transplanted, say, Twain-like, into 6th century Britain. Would she have adopted such empathetic notions about the sub-human plight of dragons? He doesn't hazard a guess.

He does make another point, though. Multiculturalism = yucky. If only America could have skipped from the 50s, when Latina women thrived at Harvard and Yale, apparently, to the 80s, when all race-, gender- and class-based oppression ceased entirely to exist, slayed ceremoniously by a dragon. Problem solved, and none of that enforced reading of African authors that goes on in public schools to this day.

And surely there's no need for multiculturalism in our society still today. Those who decry Sotomayor's icky "patina" have clearly got the differences between Buddhists, Asians and Hispanics allllll figured out.

Friday, June 5, 2009

i was born in kowloon bay!

Obama has them swooning at a journalist roundtable after his Cairo speech, and there's something familiar in his ability to hit all the right notes, all the time.

"I would be surprised if when I came to Asia I did not stop by my old home town of Jakarta. And I'll go visit Menteng Dalam and have some bakso -- nasi goreng. These are some special dishes here that I used to eat when I was a kid."

Ah, now I get it. He's the Rob Lowe character from Wayne's World.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

running a fever while waiting for my war to end

In America, a culture of forgetting has developed not merely out of the usual avenues of repression, censorship, and distraction; its a forgetfulness of the refresh button (or F5, depending on your platform). Much is made of the internet's rising tide of information; raising all boats, elevating discourse, metastasizing policy debates, and so on. It has also had the effect of burying the recent past, and eliminating the spaces where we would perform reflections on and resolutions toward our hideous deeds.

I am pushed towards this reflection by the Croatian writer Slavenka Drakulic's essay "Why I have not returned to Belgrade," published in the Serbian newspaper Publika in late February to considerable controversy. In it, she ponders the responsibility for the Serbian people to confront their complicity in the state's brutal repression of Bosnian Muslims and Kosovars of the late 90s, and ultimately, if hesitantly, places this burden upon the current generation of Serbian youth. While they are not the torturers and collaborators who performed the deeds of the 90s wars, it is they who must take their parents to task, and they who will bear the brunt of the global community's scorn until some demons are properly exorcised. Drakulic, a Croat who nonetheless identifies with a fragile pan-Yugo consciousness borne, possibly, from years of emigre life in occidental Europe, has faced vigorous criticism from the usual suspects: nationalists who conclude that Serbia must just not be for her, and tell her to keep away.

Their refrain is familiar; let the guilty parties find their punishment, the rest of us will move on. While it's lazy to simply relate the Balkan wars of the 90s to the recently laid-off War on Terror, the post-war situation in both Serbia and America has a few parallels. The War on Terror's central premise, that the American way of life was under assault, is a foundling version of the culture of Serb victimhood, nurtured since the 14th century. Both have some roots in justification but have been wildly manipulated by war-making zealots, both have employed the notion of the preservation of a society as the excuse for the destruction of another.

The greatest danger, Drakulic warns, is that we will resist the lessons afforded by these violent adventures, and indeed, this appears to be unfolding today. Despite the accepted wisdom that the Iraq War was botched in its initial execution, we have allowed the redemptive rhetoric of the Surge to paper over the fact that many urban areas in Iraq are either still held hostage by sectarian conflict or subject to the false pacification of ethnic cleansing. That the war has seen the deaths of nearly 100,000 Iraqis and displaced nearly 5 Million refugees, is underacknowledged into oblivion; the numbers, like bailout figures, simply too large to comprehend. Rather than an honest conversation about the perils of nation building when our own nation is in such rough shape, rather than frank remonstrances against the conflation of noble pursuits abroad with those of empire, and rather than a thorough accounting of the torture policies knowingly adopted by the previous administration, we have instead a new official dialogue on Afghanistan that looks frighteningly similar to the incrementalism of CPA-era Iraq, and endless handwringing over torture memos. Obama's pragmatism is certainly refreshing, but it is not enough to replace a regime that bumbled into quagmires with malign intentions, with one that does the same thing under the auspices of humanitarianism.

The election of Barack Obama was said to have heralded some moment of newness, when our nation's political death sentence would be commuted. It was to be a splash of cold water on the faces of our media elites, a warning that a considerable portion of the populace had acquainted themselves with harsher realities. We were ready to face down the bad news. We no longer had any use for the "let us look forward, not backward" platitudes, or for the condescension from those well-heeled Bush enablers, content for so many years to flout the law, now hiding behind its sacred obligations. It's not clear, unfortunately, that this new position has won out.

Monday, March 9, 2009

mottled in the cosmos

Opening to any randomly chosen page in Tom McCarthy's Remainder is sufficient to capture the novel's excruciatingly pristine depiction of the resonant spaces that dwell in daily life. Following an accident our narrator cannot recall (and a settlement, the details of which he cannot disclose), he goes about methodically re-enacting minor events, repeatedly staging the ephemeral experiences normally catalogued in one's subconscious throughout a day's routine.

My building was in there, being carried along somewhere in the complex interlacings. I caught glimpses of it as it slipped behind another building and was whisked away again to reappear somewhere else. It would show itself to me then slip away again. The belts were like magicians' fingers shuffling cards: they were shuffling the city, flashing my card, my building, at me and then burying it in the deck again. They were challenging me to shout "Stop!" at the exact moment it was showing: if I could do that, I'd win. That was the deal. 

"Stop!" I shouted. Then again: "Stop ...Stop!" But I timed each shout just wrong...

What the novel works at, with its formless protagonist honing in further on these unseen machinations of the urban fabric, is the continuing effort to shout Stop! at just the right moment. He worries at tokens of the ineffable until they are well-worn: small talk with a neighbor in the hall, a pianist neighbor making a mistake, then slowly playing through again, the smell of cooking fat wafting through a window. It is only when these events recur with a certain singular exactitude that our man can feel any pleasure, but this pleasure is pure.

This plot conceit would be a tiresome meddling under the hood of the postmodern psyche were it not for McCarthy's rendering of the protagonist as something of a reborn child. As he recovers from his accident, we watch him enduring physical therapy, relearning actions as simple as eating a carrot as a series of micro-moments; muscles clutch and release, joints tense and flex, limbs move through air. Seemingly scrubbed clean of any self-consciousness, our man experiences these coordinations free of their typical context. He is an outside observer in his own body. As he moves out of the clinic and into the outside world, he continues in this way, acutely aware of everyone around him putting on airs, going through their inauthentic movements. 

But he does not stop here, at this intersection of Sartre's phenomenology of dread, Gombrowicz's playful repurposing of the inanimate,  and the alien body capture narrative of sci-fi. Our man's fixations deepen, his re-enactments incite stronger reveries, he becomes ever more demanding and insistent on his actors getting certain details just right. As Zadie Smith puts it, he "seeks to dominate matter, the better to disembody it." His mind unable, or unwilling, to associate the objects he sees with their everyday usage, they instead become infused with a portentousness. A crack in a plaster wall becomes an evolving cipher, a map; a bit of parking lot tar which cannot be destroyed; a liter of windshield fluid, which, upon disappearing inside his car, becomes a metaphor for transubstantiation; a carpet's wrinkle becomes the axis on which an entire room rotates. Normally heavily relied on by most novelists to supply meanings, people are, on the other hand, interchangeable. Some are so insignificant as to be little more than space occupiers; they are told to say nothing, and wear blank masks. They are hired and arranged, then replaced, or worse.

Monday, March 2, 2009

i hold you like a gun

When the TV has not been commandeered for the purposes of Thomas the Tank Engine, I do my best to put myself off my coffee by watching as many slivers of the Sunday talk shows as I can, sandwiched as they are between golf tourney promos and pharmaceutical ads. It's never been clear to me what the true import these shows have for their audience; they're a holdover, I suppose, from a time in which the political cognoscenti weren't brined in the blogosphere at every possible moment, but rather waited, with some civility, until the Sabbath day to settle the week's scores. They now are little more than an ongoing case study in circular obsequiousness; the hosts forever gracious for their granted access, feigning probity and smiling at each deflection; the guests caffeinated and taciturn, folding their hands across the armrests of an imaginary throne. It's here that SecDef Robert Gates, his presence disturbing not even the particles in the air, can blithely describe the difference between Presidents Bush and Obama as one being "slightly more analytical" than the other, even taking as bold a step as to contrast their methods in calling on colleagues in meetings (the limits of televised discourse being what they are, he did not make it to the wild deviation in the two men's middle names, or that they prefer different aftershaves). Host David Gregory, knowing when to say when, winced into a smile, his furrowed brow and dimpled cheeks forming a sad oval.

And then there is Fox News, in a class by themselves as far as wallering in an invented reality goes. After inviting on a Republican and a Republican to discuss the Obama budget, it was on to the panel for a rousing civics salon. Brit Hume, the basset-toned analyst who has been making A-Rod money since the Clinton era, railed against the normalization of the tax code like a NoDoz'd freshman scribbling a paper on Atlas Shrugged. "I often feel that liberals would rather have everybody equally poor rather than unequally rich." Unequally rich. A coinage so pithy, and yet so vast as to contain the whole world. Hume - apparently unaware that there are people out there who eat cat food, families whose dinner consists of cans of spaghettios, people who would take a bite out of Brit Hume's ass if it came to it - went on to demur that the more equally rich affected by the new plan will just duck the reforms by stashing money in tax shelters and buying gold anyway. How he knew this, he didn't say, but good on him to explain to the rest of us the rules of the game. This discussion had all been for show.

Friday, February 6, 2009

you want it to be one way

"Exiled Dallas Stars' forward Sean Avery is expected to be cleared from the NHL and NHLPA's Behavioral Modification program later this week or sometime early next."

I was going to write about the ongoing absurdity that is the NHL's unwavering effort to scrub any life - unpredictable, troubling, trangressively hilarious - from it's off-ice theatre, but then this was brought to my attention. I suppose the two stories are somehow linked by what I see as one of the defining themes of modern capitalism: the mechanized deceptions of the market sublimated in the simple language of personal responsibility. It's rare that a 21st century organization would be so honest as to use the phrase "behavioral modification" to describe their means of attracting profits, but that is undoubtedly what is afoot when a BoA representative asked Paul Kelleher of his deceased mother's debts: "You mean you're not going to help her out?"

For a year or so, I was a Bank of America customer. For many years after that, I was their prey. Years later, at a Chicago-area bank, I ran into similar problems while trying to skate by, paycheck-to-paycheck. With overdraft fees piling up due to the bank's convenient policy of re-ordering withdrawals, I called the bank to beg for mercy. After talks with the service rep went nowhere, I was transferred to a manager, who proceeded to lecture me about the importance of keeping tabs on my balance at all times. I protested that these fees were the result of their willful manipulation of my account, which resulted in even more condescending blather from the manager. We're charging you these fees, she seemed to be saying, to teach you a lesson, to show you how to be a better, more responsible person. Every word she said was designed to disguise the simple fact that mistakes like mine are her company's bottom line.

We're conditioned to see institutions like banks as monolithic, neutral arbiters of human activity. Experiences like Kelleher's, surely compounded by the thousands in call centers worldwide, bear out exactly how completely and utterly wrong this is. Banks wield this kind of biopower effortlessly, rigging the unseen details of the game while hectoring us about right and wrong. If it were Bank of America's mother, surely it would pay off the debt. We're led to feel shame about these kinds of defaults, as if they are true faults. Everyone else is watching their balance, paying their debts, why can't you? The irony being that, when Bank of America itself took its eye off the ledger last fall, it felt no shame. Just the opposite, in fact. It marshaled the dire straits of the economy in its favor: as just another way to guilt average Americans into cutting them more checks.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

how many fingers

"Of course it affects you. But the lessons are really remarkable and important. Part of the problem is..., slowly but surely, you lose your sense of identity. All the perks that you have become addictive. ...You get isolated from yourself, from your family and who you really are. You forget that it’s transitory; that there is a next chapter. You put aside the important things like, why are you here? and what about your family?"

Sounds like a withering testimonial from the latest Partnership For a Drug-Free America ad, right? You know, the one with all the weird animation and bloopy electronic music that looks like it must have been created by someone stoned out of their mind? Wrong. It's former Time Warner head Jerry Levin on CNBC, explaining the culture of entitlement in our nation's gentle CEO class.

The endless bonus windfalls for these executives and the faulty logic of retention now being employed by apologists for the status quo ante; Daschle and Geithner's glib tax avoidance, and the establishment's brushing off of revolving-door bureaucrats as nothing but "valuable assets" to both corporations and government; all of these are little more than a set of anti-social behaviors, behaviors we have long been told were integral to progress.

It's funny then that, over in the pool, or atop whatever pile of money he sits on when not in a pool, Michael Phelps has been compelled to issue public mea culpas for the dire, dire transgression of smoking marijuana. At a party, at an public institution of higher learning, no less. Still early in his days as a national figure, Phelps must not yet be familiar with the American Sportsman's role as the nation's moral stalking horse. Give him time. All he's done is earn his acclaim through hard work, tireless practice and supreme physical conditioning. In our culture's reverse meritocracy, it is he who must apologize for his indiscretions, while our elected and unelected power brokers publicly pursue their addictions unabated.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

dancing madly backwards

With the unfortunate death of Don Sanderson, the debate is rekindled in some spaces of the hockey media (between those spaces where the debate has never ended) over whether fighting should be banned from the sport. It makes for an uncomfortable spectacle, from this vantage point, in which a sport insecure in the globalized world of sport anxiously questions itself; an uncomfortable and public identity crisis which distracts casual viewers from the beauty of the game with the question of an ugly trifle. The issue presents a peculiar conundrum, where the basic premise that fighting should stay remains unassailable, while most of the arguments in favor of this premise fail.

The idea, for instance, that fighters alone allow the players to police themselves is a flawed one. Hockey is a game unlike any other, in that players are allowed considerable leeway in exacting legal retribution on another player. Other sports institutionalize deviant behavior in minor ways (stealing signs in baseball, the pick and roll in basketball), but hockey players are allotted a wide range of subtle obstructions: sticks to the groin, hands and ankles, facewashes, jabs to the back, sprays of snow, on and on. In a game where the baited often end up penalized, there will always be strategic pests. Having a fighter on hand to punish these types is but one of a number of ways to respond, which belies the truth that most fighters end up fighting other fighters as a kind of proxy, a stand-in for a disagreement between two skill players, or a skill player and a pest.

Another argument holds that banning fighting will lead down a slippery slope in which other perceived dangers are also banned. Zednik had his throat slashed, they crow, so why not ban sharp skates? The difference here is obvious. Hockey games are not periodically interrupted by bouts in which two players swing their feet at eachother's necks. The intent to injure is implicit in any fight, and the extreme, if rare, result of a death is nonetheless a natural one.

The worst argument can be summed up in one word, delivered by Mike Milbury in the 1st intermission of Sunday's Pens-Rangers game on NBC: "pansification". The notion is that hockey players, some of the most inalienably rugged people on earth, will suffer some kind of downgrade in machismo if a few among them are not allowed to punch eachother in the head. Leave aside the regrettably outdated misogyny here (which dripped from every word out of Milbury during the NBC debate, a true embarassment to the game on a nationwide stage). Are we really to believe that hockey - with its tradition of playing through debilitating injury, its playoff schedule which demands nothing short of conditioning perfection, its unspoken code dictating that players take pucks to the face, if necessary, to prevent a goal - is in any danger of losing its status as the world's toughest game?

That leaves us at the doorstep of that hallowed institution, the "culture of hockey." As someone who played a bit in high school, I'm as aware as anyone that fighting attaches itself to the game early; some bastard appendage borne of pent-up after practice frustrations, "boxing" with gloves and helmets on atop a pile of sweaty equipment. We train by fighting our own before we go out and fight the enemy. By the time players have grown up through the ranks of the pros, fighting has become a symbolic event, a show of pride that accomplishes little materially (a practice one finds everywhere, as we watch Israel pummel Gaza with no coherent endgame in mind). Hockey's GMs, mostly grandfathers of the fighting tradition, are unlikely to rule in favor of its removal. I suppose they are right not to attempt some top-down revision of the culture, but its hard to see any other way out.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

not even for a day

On days like yesterday, few actually find themselves at a loss for words while attempting to relate their impressions of the ineffable, and I suppose I am no exception. Just as Barack Obama's campaign demeanor offered comfort to a broad range of ideologues, so his recent utterances have been subject to interpolations myriad as those of the old Kremlin. What it feels like to me - what is so exhilarating about these days - is the notion that a revolution of practicality is at hand. An era in which dogwhistle rhetoric and the drifting redundancies of slogan are put to rest in favor of plain, informed talk.

Eight years ago, I was a college freshman in Washington, DC, where the awakening of my political awareness more or less corresponded with the recount drama and subsequent Supreme Court junta. I had attended the teach-ins about the sanctions against Iraq, I'd voted for Nader in some statement of impassioned aloofness, but these moments in late 2000 jolted me into a frenzied despair. A band of friends stayed up all night drinking and spraypainting slogans on t-shirts to wear to the inauguration, blinded by our rage from realizing that the next day's forecast promised 30 degree weather and driving rain - not exactly t-shirt weather. Many of us mobbed the route, spitting and chanting; Bush's motorcade mercilessly egged. I vaguely recall arguing with a reporter about the city's intentions to deprive protesters of the proper space to jeer. I had no way of knowing that this was merely the seed of frustration being planted, that the compulsion to reason with this Bush would only become more and more futile. I took to the streets against his policies a few more times after that, but eventually grew exhausted by the cops, the competing passions and calcified anger in everyone around me.

And so, eight years later, I spent this inauguration cloistered in a cubicle, surrounded by colleagues who dont appear to have unhooked their Facebook drips for the occasion, struggling with words for what this all means. Every new era in American politics begins with the perception of a righteous cleansing, a throwing off of the violated language of the previous dominion. I feel the urge to resist this just slightly. I'm concerned, for instance, with the idea of the call to sacrifice, which sounds noble enough, and certainly harmonized with the welcome austerity of yesterday's speech. I am one of the majority of Americans recently polled (and I can't for the life of me find the poll) whose income is only enough to cover rent and basic expenses. We've been sacrificing. It's time for Lockheed and Bank of America to sacrifice.

But I digress. It's an exciting time. For once, I feel like I actually want to sit down and read the newspaper, rather than turning to it with a feeling of dread. If anything, Obama's ascendance brings about the self-immolation of outmoded bigots, long overdue. Michelle Malkin and her kin are welcome to begin bashing their heads against the wall whenever they are ready.

Friday, January 16, 2009

tentatively a convenience

The outgoing president addressed the nation's would-be reality TV viewers last night. I couldn't be bothered to watch. (I did attempt to take in Dick Cheney's final interview on Newshour, which literally put me to sleep; the phrase "since 9/11" has acquired a singular somnolence recently.)

It's a struggle to feel for a metaphor to describe this man's continued affrontery to the intelligence of millions of thinking and caring Americans, but I'd liken it to a serial killer who, in the face of otherwise damning evidence, gets off on a technicality, and then lingers in the courtroom to ponder aloud the unimpeachability of his case. I did happen to overhear a snippet of the speech on the local news which I feel sums up the redundance, the utter zero sum of the past eight years:

You may not agree with some of the tough decisions I have made. But I hope you can agree that I was willing to make the tough decisions.

A bit more longwinded than "l'État, c'est moi", but no less banal.

We recently watched the John Adams miniseries which aired on HBO earlier in the year and which, despite its lengthy, aimless denouement, was pretty engrossing. It was hard to ignore a parallel with the present in the story of Adams' son, Charles, who squandered the career capital of his family name, embarassed himself at Harvard, and died in destitution as an alcoholic. One can't help but wonder if a similar fate wouldn't have befallen our current president had he not availed himself of the cheap redemption of born-again Christianity, not available in the harder times of the late 18th century. Thems the breaks.

WH pressbot Scott Stanzel took care to ensure that no practical jokes would be made on the incoming Obama administration. This, of course, is not the first time a Bush press flack has taken a willfully narrow view of the facts. The profound failure of free market ideology, the gross negligence of FEMA, the slaughter across the Middle East, the indignities of the Patriot Act; these things may not have been practical, but surely they rate somewhere up there with the upper-decker.

Monday, January 12, 2009

justice, what a hassle

"It is a hallmark of a sane and moderate society that when it changes leaders and regimes, those left behind should be abandoned to the judgment of history," writes Harvard's Charles Fried in Saturday's NYT op-ed. "It is in savage societies that the defeat of a ruling faction entails its humiliation, exile and murder."

While it remains to be seen if Erik "
Money Folder" Holder will sentence Donald Rumsfeld to death, it does appear that Mr. Fried is protesting a bit too much. He is not the first to trot out the shibboleth that punishing those responsible for the Bush administration's various humiliations of the law would do little more than establish a pattern of retribution against outgoing administrations. Leave aside the obvious point that an exiting Obama team guilty of such egregious assaults on the law would be prosecuted on day one (rightfully, albeit not without sanctimony or a moment's hesitation from the GOP and media). The easily elided point here is that we would need not fear this pattern, were an independent Justice department in existence and already in pursuit of those at the heart of the policies. Those perpetrators would have been put on trial in late '06, rather than the rotten fruit they bore.

Curiously, Fried goes on to imagine the horror of an American populace needlessly exposed to a concept he terms a "trial." Protracted, he claims this would be. He threatens our senses with something called a "stupefying spectacle". Phony legal scholars, merely existing in the hypothetical at present, would appear on TV to bear false witness. Our otherwise upstanding mass media would be distracted from their diligent work parsing the challenges of universal healthcare by something truly alien and strange: a courtroom drama!

Fried is welcome to whichever logical platitude allows him to consider our society sane. He just so happens to be complicit in the Bush administration's clever construct (at work as well in its pretzelly Gitmo endgame, its Katrina overflights, its de-ownership of the Ownership Society, et...alas...cetera) in which their total abdication of responsibility both enables their disastrous policies and precludes their punitive rejection. Also, about that comparison between Stalin and Rumsfeld? Just a small matter of

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

old acquaintance

As a rabid and cable-, center ice-less hockey fan, I was certainly thrilled by the Classic, as i would have been thrilled by any televised hockey on New Year’s Day. The spectacle offered enough novelty for NBC to trot out the A production team (novelty to spare, even: what was with that weatherman?), and for McDonough to bring in all the old familiar faces (familiar to most of us, at least. Billy Williams or Fergie Jenkins? Dave Strader sez: "all look same"). I’m naturally glad for any attention to the league and to the game not directly inspired by wanton blows to the head, even if it means dovetailing the game of hockey's centuries-long outdoor tradition with the Cubs' torrid record of occasional division titles.

However, I have to temper my enthusiasm a bit, as I’ve seen now in my 15 years of fandom a series of short-sighted gimmicks come and go that fail to bring any lasting status boost to the game (Glow-pucks, Alexandre Daigle, The Florida Panthers, OT shoot-outs, I'm googling at all of you). Watching Chris Chelios
ride the bench with the Hancock Tower in the background was a thrill, but it pales in comparison to the heights of a Game 7 in the finals, or any Game 7, for that matter. When you strip away all of the pomp, this was just a regular season game. It did offer some beautiful moments (Datsyuk’s flight to the net, Ben Eager’s retro celebration), but it lacked the passion, suspense, sacrifice, and strategy which are all on display in any playoff game. This is not to mention NBC’s glaring omission of any analysis that would have brought these things to the average viewer’s attention.

If it means increased ratings, ticket and merch sales, by all means continue the Winter Classic, but it wont go too far to increase people’s awareness of what makes the game truly great like more, better playoff coverage would. This is not to say though, that more of these games shouldn't be played whenever possible if teams and venues are able to put them together. Surely, venues exist in cold-weather, hockey-rabid cities (ie, not NHL cities) that can offer a more suitable, even ideal viewing experience compared to Wrigley. Indeed, the most compelling note sounding through the latest Classic was that the notion of the carpet-concoursed luxury arena-as-optimal-viewing-experience had been delegitimized just a tad. More outdoor games would be more than just a revenue generator, restoring a legitmacy to the outdoor game as a preternatural part of hockey and beyond that of a serial gimmick.