Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Less Than a Blessed Week

You can't entirely give up on PBS and NPR. I know some of the folks at our local NPR affiliate, WUNC. They're really great people, they do a dedicated job with terrific professionalism, and before there was a home computer in my life, I used to wake up every morning to their voices, informing me in advance of the things that mattered in the upcoming day. These days I have a classical station on the radio alarm. It goes off and I'm up and cutting it off in less than a minute. Then I make coffee, and feed the Houdahenians (who are up to three packets of Whiskahs now, and big as panthers when they decide to jump off a perch onto my chest). If I'm lucky at that point I'll get some puter time, reading the events of the day via good bloggers, doing a bit of writing, whatever. When it starts to get light I'll look out the kitchen door and usually find Momma looking up at me. Pops, the old reprobate, is also hanging around these days, and will steal Momma's food if I don't give him some dry bits to keep him interested in what's in front of his nose. I can't believe we now have, more or less depending on how you term the two wild ones, 5 cats. Lordy. We'd done fine with just one, our little Yoey. Life has changed. Last night Libby said it was my childhood dream to keep them all. I don't remember that dream.

Nonetheless, the pernicious and on going task David Brooks has set himself--to make the increasing vile and grotesque politics generated by the Republican Party palatable to the general public by explaining that the Democrats are the cause, and do "it" too--is greatly abetted by Brooks' presence on the Jim Lehrer News Hour, and I refuse to abet it further by sending PBS any more money. And now the same is going to be true for NPR. Mara Liasson, who now works for Fox, did the trick yesterday afternoon on the way home from work. She offered up a seemingly centrist analysis of the campaign so far. According to her, the decisive moment was the Denver debate. That would be the first one, the one Mr. Obama "lost." According to Ms Liasson, who delivered her verdict in the tones of a scholar, and was joined on the segment by the forever amiable Doris Kerns Goodwin, who predictably invoked FDR (although I had my money on a Kennedy ref), Mr. Obama was brought to earth by that first debate, which proved that he had taken Mr. Romney lightly and, even more shockingly, did not really like politics all that much. Was of "two minds" was I think the phrase.

The goal of all these "centrists" is to find "reasons" sufficient to justify a vote for Romney amongst the mysterious undecided voters who apparently lurk in the shadows of the electorate and end up deciding every election, or at least the ones not stolen by frauds, repressions, and the Supreme Court. So it comes down again to arguments by Mr. Brooks and now Ms Liasson, which essentially conclude that "really" there's not all that much to be concerned about with Mr. Romney, if you're just bored with Mr. Obama and want a "change."

Charlie Pierce does not go so quietly into that dark night. As usual, he's absolutely right:

This is the choice. Authoritarian bullshit, v. somebody who does have a reasonable perception of reality. If the authoritarians really get a good foothold, I expect their complete contempt for democracy will eventually wend itself into political action even more than it is already--see, e.g., the internal sonogram government rape laws, and the assorted voter suppression i.d. laws. Mr. Romney represents the forces of repressive authority. That is what a vote for him amounts to. And here's how authoritarian thinking works, just as example:

They will come for you next, my friend. Unless, of course, the next big storm doesn't arrive first.

[photo from ]

Saturday, October 27, 2012

'Til I Get Back

I've got a whole lot of stuff to do today. Here's a piece from Driftglass that gets at a great deal of the deep problem that America has with it's operation of democracy and rational choice:

Most of us do have the innate ability to make rational choices. Yes, in some cases a piece of information or misinformation will so distort the process that wrong choices are the result. Republicans, for example, have played the so called "right to life" issue to the extent that many sensible, rational people have entirely forgotten that we used to have nothing but dangerous, illegal abortions, which killed and maimed young women caught in life-circumstances and desperate for some solution that wasn't going to destroy their relationships and their futures.

As Driftglass points out here, the daily disinformation is so rampant as to be unremarkable. It is on all the newscasts, pretty much daily. People who are not intensely focused on an election just soak up the muddle, pretty much without a clue that they're doing it. Their prejudices are massaged, their fears enhanced, and Republicans are willing to lie with breathtaking audacity, not only in ads, but in face-to-face conversations such as what we witnessed last week with Romney and Obama.

It should not be the case that after this election we will say, AT BEST, "whew, we just dodged a bullet." This is not the way to have a democracy.

But this might help:

Wednesday, October 24, 2012


I ran into this fine piece via James Wolcott today:

As for Pauline Kael, well I read every review she wrote in the New Yorker, and rushed to most of the theaters where the movies she'd reviewed were playing, this being back in the day when most people I knew then did that--there was at that time no video tape not to mention no CDs or DVDs or BluRays or home computers or cell phones. All we had was Vietnam, the movies, Jesse Helms, and the atom bomb.

So when Kael told me about how great "The Wild Bunch" was, I had to go check it out. And it was better than she said, a western that was about Vietnam, the movies, Jesse Helms, and the atom bomb. (And as it turned out, it formed the template for most of the movies Tony Scott made, which he admitted in an interview when he said he never could think up endings.)

The misquote? That's the text for the great problem we have in the body politic. Which is amnesia. Someone said on MSNBC this week that the worst thing about a Romney victory will be that it will teach both parties that wholesale lying is an effective strategy for victory. But of course one of the things the subliminal right wing fascist 24/7 radio machine teaches the millions of folks who unthinkingly use it as their background entertainment as they work is this very lesson. Everything is couched in the parentheses of winning/losing.

This fallacy, indeed, is why we now have these absurd "debates" as a cultural pivot point, as solid and everlasting as the next Olympics, the World Series (starts tonight!), Xmas and New Years Day. We're putting a person behind the controls of the most devastating war machine ever created, which includes on that big control panel full of lights and dials and buttons and joy sticks implements capable of literally destroying countries or even the whole world, and we're making this incredible decision on the basis of a reality show which showcases nothing about the candidates which is particularly relevant to the position one of them will be given (or re-given) in a couple of weeks.

The more rational question is: given the stakes, why in the world would one ever vote for the challenger, unless the current occupant of the seat had already made such a mess of his decisions that another four years was obviously not a good plan. And this way of looking at it has nothing to do with the "debates," but everything to do with looking at events.

Ahhh, but this involves memory. And so we circle back to the big problem. Given that Mr. Obama has done a reasonable job, from day one, all the opponents can do is mischaracterize the history we've all lived through. Indeed, Mr. Romney has presumed that we can't even remember what he said last month, last week, yesterday, or even a paragraph or so back. But MSNBC is wrong about politicians needing the outcome of this election to reinforce the strategy Mr. Romney is employing. That strategy was already proven by Herr Goebbels, and analysed by George Orwell. In the real world it took the deus ex machina of Joe Stalin and George Patton to prove Goebbels wrong. If the Nazis had just been content to keep the hell they built within their own borders, they'd probably still be running things in the Reich.

Or maybe some nihilist heroes, some Viking Wild Bunch, would ride into Berlin and turn the whole apple cart over. That might have happened by now. (I base this analysis of "The Bunch" on Borgnine's line: "No Mr. Pike, we ain't at all like them. We don't hang nobody.")

Consider that this is happening, today, in the fascist regime of Assad in Syria:

[photo (c) Rick Findler for The Politics Blog, Esquire]

Meanwhile in the real world, Mitt Romney continues to endorse, and stands by his endorsement, of Richard Mourdock, candidate for Senate, Republican, Indiana. Mr. Mourdock, well, let me just steer you to Juan Cole, who knows of which he speaks:

The Wild Bunch warn't so good on the wimmen subject matters. There was a joke about Warren Oates and his two Hondo whores in tandem, which was a word he didn't know. And just before the apocalypse that ends the movie, Bishop Pike does shoot a women who shoots him first. That's about it for the wimmens. Just sayin'. Aristophanes was writing over 2,000 years ago.


Further update on the amnesia problem. (Mr. Obama's sorta humorous Ann Richards impression, viz, "Romnesia," somewhat muddies the waters of what is actually a much more serious problem for the United States Democracy of America.) Possibly readers here will actually remember how the Bengazi story went down, in real time. I do. If you don't, or if the ceaseless Fox and fascist counterspin big lie tactic aimed at creating some kind of equivalence between Iran/1979 and Libya/2012 in the "mind" of the typical voter has been making you wonder if you actually remember correctly the events of five and six weeks ago (how long ago they seem now, can it be the Yankees were still in the pennant race, that A-Rod got a hit now and then...), just read this and be reassured:

After which, take a deep breath. Your keys are on the dresser. And, after this election, you might want to even go back and take a look at the actual factual details of Tehran, 1979. It's really odd that the Republican lie machine wants to bring Tehran, '79, up, since it gives the lie to another piece of their alternative history of America, which Mr. Romney asserted in the last debate with great vehemence. Remember when he said that America never instituted tyranny, or supported it? Well in Iran we supported the overthrow of an elected leader, and then supported a royal despot for nearly 30 years. This was why in 1979 Iranian revolutionaries overran the American Embassy in Tehran and held over 50 Americans hostage until the very day Mr. Reagan was sworn into office. It would have been a blow for our collective mental health had Mr. Obama corrected Mr. Romney on this vapid point of rose-glasses faux history, but of course a Final Debate wouldn't be the proper place for truth to crop up.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Within the Margin of Theft

It's been obvious to anyone who cares to think about it that elections in the US can be affected, and results even altered, by a strategic manipulation of various mundane factors which are rarely of newsworthy interest, and so rarely get covered by the media. Nonetheless, last night on MSNBC this story was briefly noted:

This fine piece of reportage by FireDogLake does much more justice to the facts than the brief MSNBC mention. Here in NC, the local media reports that the Romney people have stopped spending money on ads here. The implication is, they think NC is now in their bag. Possibly it went into the dumpster first? Who knows.

I voted on Thursday. Libby voted Friday. Here in NC, judges are on the ballot as "nonpartisan." (Why this is true given the obvious partisan character of even the Supreme Court is beyond me. I'd much rather know who I'm voting for--maybe that's exactly the point.) Anyways, there was a little tent set up across the street from the voting station with a big banner that read "get your conservative and Republican slate here," and so I went over to it and got a nice list of the judges to vote AGAINST.

I'm still hopeful that the nation will not find itself, in early November, with a cipher who seems to have no ability to empathize with anyone who's not a millionaire, who is advised by the Bush foreign policy team that brought us the wars in Iraq and Afganistan, and the economic team that brought on the financial collapse of 2008. A guy who's Party has worked tireless since January, '09, to defeat every policy the Administration has attempted to employ to bring the economy back, no matter what the consequences for the actual citizenry--this is our next President if Obama loses.

At the same time, I will not be at all surprised if Obama does lose. He's tired. I can see it. Another four years might wear him plumb out, and it might be his personal blessing to be defeated by our appalling national ignorance. And, too, it's pretty much what we all deserve, a Romney Presidency. The US has gotten away with murder for longer than O.J. Simpson. Charles Pierce might be right:

I used to tell friends to always keep in mind that we're in the belly of the beast. In here it's pretty easy, the food's good, the gasoline remains plentiful and relatively cheap, and this fall it still hasn't come a frost. My famous cats are as sanguine as I. One of 'em even opened the bag of cat food on his own yesterday. And I know which one, too, even if he doesn't know that I know.

It concerns me, however, that with Romney we get five sons. A party with no interest in democracy beyond how to thwart it, with a titular head who brings with him heirs and more, and a queenly wife who already talks frequently about "you people."

It was a great relief to get voting out of the way.


Sunday Update. Maybe I should have said I "voted." There's this in the news:

WTF! Here's the money quote from the Ungar piece at Forbes, rather unfortunately buried three clicks in:

Numerous media sources, including Truthout, are reporting that Solamere Capital—the investment firm run by Mitt Romney’s son, Tagg, and the home of money put into the closely held firm by Tagg’s uncle Scott, mother Anne and, of course, the dad who might just be the next President of the United States—depending upon how the vote count turns out, in our little tale, in the State of Ohio—have shared business interests with H.I.G. including a reported investment in H.I.G. by Solamere.

So Tagg, the son who wanted to take a sock at Obama at the end of the last debate, own's a chunk of the company that builds voting machines for a chunk of Ohio and some other crucial swing states, as does Tagg's mother Anne. Ain't that a coinkedink. Nothing to see here, move along.

You'd think maybe these Romney folks would at least realize that this connection doesn't look right. Maybe it depends on who's looking though. In the room full of millionaires to whom Mr. Romney is willing to bare his soul, it probably looks just fine.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Inside Straights

When the Benghazi embassy attack happened, Mr. Romney was making reckless and unfounded statements about the events while they were still occurring, in the literal sense that the buildings were still smoking. The implication--obvously false--that he had better intelligence information at hand than did Mr. Obama, has never been directly challenged, even during last night's 2nd Presidential slugfest. Nonetheless, even with the huge benefit of hindsight, Mr. Romney keeps tossing away his nice pair for the chance at an inside straight. It's pitiful, and an indication of how incompetent he would be at the actual job he's trying to get us to hire him for. Even a month after the Beghazi attack, Mr. Romney still did not know that Mr. Obama had termed the event terrorism at a news conference the next day. This leaves Romney's backers arguing that Mr. Obama didn't say "terrorism," when the plain fact of the transcript shows otherwise. This is laughable.

A lot of people will draw to an inside straight of course. It's certainly gambling, and in the context of gambling, well, gambling kinda makes sense in a way. But it's always, even in that context, a mistake. Unless of course you have already counted the cards. In which case then it becomes sorta like when General Norman did that flanking move around the Iraqi Army in Kuwait. Mr. Romney proves himself, in this "debate," to be a victim of his own propaganda, and a man willing to use the deaths of good people for his own ends. Romney's backers continue in full bluster about this non-event even when the survivors of the victims ask them to leave it alone.

And then, of course, there's this:

Monday, October 15, 2012

Strategies, Southern and Otherwise

There's no doubt that being President of this United States is not a job that is capable of actually transforming the country into something more akin to the ideal place we like to imagine it is, when we're standing up at a sporting event singing the Star Spangled Banner and watching the jets fly overhead. That fact was just as much a fact when Mr. Obama came into office as it was when Reagan arrived. It will always be a fact. An atom bomb is not totally transformative of a society. The culture that changed the most at the end of World War Two was Japan. It did not change utterly.

So, then, Mr. Obama did not roll back the offenses to jurisprudence and morality embodied in the Patriot Act and our general warlike stance towards the world which the Bush Administration crafted with the assistance of a blind national outrage concerning 9/11. He moderated some of them, to be sure, such as in particular example, our approach to unexpected people's revolutions in Egypt, Tunisia, and most particularly Libya. But he did expand the drone operation, and he does OK assassinating even US citizens who go "too far," and he accepts collateral damage, e.g., the slaughter of entirely innocent people including children who happen to be in drone's way. And of course--from a Democratic Party point of view now fading into the mists of history--he has been his whole first term willing to compromise with Republican neanderthals (all that's left of that Party) on issues of profound importance to all Americans who manage to age beyond their ability to earn a living day-to-day.

But of course the Republicans have already shown all of us what they're willing to do for power. All the way back in the late 1960s, the Republican Party chose to invite the disgruntled racists who had been pretty much entirely defeated by the Civil Rights Movement into their house. They still play that flute. See, e.g.:

This minor chord is so insistent and constant in the Republican affect that it tends to be almost inaudible to those not aiming to listen for it. It's like the buzz of an old florescent light fixture, or the murmur of the refrigerator. And to make it worse, Republicans and even a lot of Democrats have learned to lie to themselves so well that they can actually achieve a state true suspension of disbelief. "Racist," they say. "You're the one playing the 'race card.'" They believe what they're saying!

The Republicans played the same game with Roe V. Wade. There was bipartisan agreement about the Constitutional judgement of the Supreme Court until strategists backing the so-called Reagan Revolution realized that if they made an issue of the Decision, they'd create galvanized single-issue voters by the millions who would vote for them. That's the back story of the misnamed "Right to Life Movement." The collateral damage of this political strategy? Well, it's mostly invisible, since Republicans and other Baptists and Catholics who need abortions can go to doctors who perform "procedures" same as always, both here and of course abroad, in countries which have blessedly not allowed jingoists and fantasists to achieve power to the extent they have here. Yeah, a sixteen year old girl in the Dominican Republic died last week because no hospital there would perform any procedure that might threaten the life of her fetus. She will only be remembered by her weeping mother.

It might be that if we're going to decide this election on the basis of who "wins" and "loses" the Presidential Debates, we're going to end up with Romney. Mr. Obama has several anchors around his neck already: as well as being black, he has to do the job that exists, not the one we like to pretend is about to come open yet again.

At the Romney rallies you can get photos like this one, from Lancaster, Ohio, big swing state.

America, the real one I mean, put up with Bull Connor and fire hosing civil rights marchers. Today there'd be Republicans in Congress explaining that it was all necessary because private business was being interfered with, and Birmingham's small businesses had a right to operate as they saw fit. Anyways, they'd continue, those German Shepherds are highly trained police dogs and apply only necessary force. Just relax and enjoy it.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Tony Scott

I've been watching Tony Scott movies lately. This movie, by his brother, was shot in 1965. Tony is the actor in the movie.

Found the link at

This past week I watched The Last Boy Scout. I've also seen Domino, and of course True Romance, which is wonderful. I've not found a klinker yet. I'm expecting Deja Vu shortly from the Netflixs. Mr. Scott's suicide must have been a symptom of clinical depression. I'm sorry he couldn't find an answer. He was having so much fun, it's very hard to imagine there wasn't one available.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

A Little Rain Must Fall in Houdahenianvilleland

The Fall we have down here is first and foremost a blessed relief from the new Summer, the one we seem to have been issued straight from Austin, Texas, where it used to reside. Folks told me down in Austin, ten years ago, "good thing you came to visit now, early April. This is the last of it. Don't come back till November." I thought they were kidding, but I believed them.

Here it's finally gotten time to have a bit of a wood fire in the stove. I spent a lot of weekends last winter dropping trees, sawing and splitting and stacking. I've got the best wood setup for a coming winter I've ever had, living in these Piedmont woods since 1979. I don't need to do any wood at all this winter. And of course that's what I will be doing anyway, because there's always the next winter. Anyways, this past week there finally came a cool rainy afternoon when it would feel good to have a fire, and Libby put one a'goin' in the stove before I got home from work. I could smell the hint of it driving in down the driveway.

Now the three boys have been using the stove as a perch and jumping point for months, since they moved in with us last April. For most of the summer I'd had a little writing desk of my mother's sitting near the stove, and they liked to sit on that desk, and got on it either by a straight spring from the floor, or a double hop from floor to stove to desk. (In the process they'd covered the desk with black footprints from the stove polish.) My daughter took the desk to her house last week. I'd figured that would help in the transition, since the point of jumping on the stove was mostly to get on the desk. But one of the boys had another use of the stove.

'Mokey, the grey one, formerly known in his kittenhood as "Bruiser," but now the smallest of the three brothers, the worrier, the one who learns where danger is first, who keeps an eye out, who keeps a bit of distance, who tends to get brushed away from his food dish because he eats with all those principles in mind whereas his two brothers and most particularly Puzzle, the biggest, believes that what am etable should be et, pronto, just in case. 'Mokey therefore had learned during the summer that if he lept from the floor to the little bed on the table by the couch that he really liked to sleep in in the evening while we watched the teevee, sometimes he'd instead of curling up in softness pull the bed right off the table onto the floor, on top of him. 'Mokey learned forthwith that if he jumped onto the stove first, then he'd be able to launch himself like a nice long arching jump shot swish straight into the middle of that favorite bed, and it wouldn't move a bit, and he'd then just curl up, cozy and comfy, for a few winks.

So then, you can imagine I'm afraid. It was something neither Libby nor I had foreseen entirely. The stove seemed as it was. The bed seemed as it was. This is all theory and presumption, because neither of us saw the actual event. What we saw, later, was that 'Mokey was favoring his front paws. He'd burned them, and the kind of burn one gets when one touches something hot that one doesn't already know is hot. I was back at work the next day, and Libby looked up this problem on the google, because of course we are not the only people to have cats and a wood stove. Right away, or anyways after a time, she found the solution we might have thought up ourselves but didn't. Put a cinderblock on the top of the stove. Actually, since I'm a stone mason I'm thinking of putting a piece of flat stone on the top of the stove, with some spacers under it for air flow. Who knows, we may end up having the boys sleeping on top of the stove on this stone when winter actually comes. We'll see. Project for today, set up the stone top.

'Mokey's pretty much ok now, by the way. We have been giving him a round of antibiotics just in case, since kitties do use their paws for some activities which might cause infections in open wounds. He's also taken a bit of painkiller. Both the meds are about done. He's on his feed. He's not much the worse for wear that I can tell, although perhaps his first-born sense of responsibility and caution has been reinforced, which is exactly how things go in the human world as well you know. Worry and you will find the objects of worry around every turn. Or, conversely, and as someone said about my late departed bandmate Tommy Thompson, "he's lived on luck his whole life, and now he's shit out of luck." Which didn't particularly worry Tommy I don't think, because he'd come down with Alzsheimer's and his daughter was keeping an eye on him, she being the first born worrier in that family.

Meanwhile, Momma still appears on the kitchen stoop most mornings asking for food. Also, her ex, the big big yellow Tom who's still wild and free, slinks around now and then looking for handouts, and will get her food if we don't intervene. So we put out a bit of dry food for him to be distracted by. Yesterday the routine was entirely engaged. First I feed the boys so's they don't rush the door after Momma's food when I open it to give it to her. Turning around, there she is, looking in, big yellow eyes. I fix her a nice bowl of food, put it out there. Kitties are still chomping away across the kitchen, 'Mokey up on the table so he has a bit of peace to eat in the more refined style, inspecting the smell of each bit for signs of, something. Momma's bowl is out, she's eating. But, I remember the Tom, so I fix a platter of dry food for him, go back out and put it down further out towards the yard. Momma of course runs away under the house, as she's still afraid of people, if not as afraid as Tom, or as she used to be. I go back in, just barely keeping the two black boys, who have of course finished their plates up, from sneaking past me to the new food they know I've put out there. I watch. Momma comes back out from under the house. She goes directly to the far plate of dry bits and digs in, ignoring her nice bowl of juicy wet food mixed with dry.


It's time for me to go to work. I can do no more, but put it out of my mind, the whole complexity of these critters. I was of course a first born worrier myself.


In the "real world," of course other things continue to happen. Charlie Pierce noted one of them. He is exactly, 100% correct:

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Broken Chimney Pots

It might have in the long run been a bad thing when John F. Kennedy debated Richard Nixon. Oh, it seemed like a good idea at the time. I was a senior in high school. The Presidents I'd had any experience of were first Truman, a man in a hat making speeches now and then on the news reels at the movies, who had something to do with the war going on in Korea. And then Ike,an elderly gent who made speeches on the news reels at the movies, played golf, seemed more and more unengaged in a vague way. Everyone in my family revered FDR, and in the personal vein, as in he saved us during the Depression. Not that I was particularly engaged in anything much during the 1950s beyond the world of home and school. The days and years flowed past. I'd read the box scores, following Mickey Mantle's remarkable homer totals, and the terrific string of World Series Championships. There was the 32-0 season the Heels put up in '57, defeating Wilt Chamberlain's great Kansas team to cap it off. I remember Larsen's perfect game. Delivering papers on my bicycle and getting pretty good at tossing 'em on porches on the fly. The headlines? Whatever.

There was one fall a "paper drive." The Raleigh Times had all its delivery boys get into a contest to see who could get the most new subscriptions. I wasn't really interested in selling, but I was paired for some reason with a serious salesman kid. He knew how to press and close. Wandering around my route with him in the early evening, we rang doorbells on all the houses that didn't subscribe. Damn if he didn't score about twenty or so new subscriptions. He got the credit, and maybe even won the prize. I delivered his new subscriptions. After about two months, almost all of them had dropped off. His method was to get people to give up. Anything to get him out of the living room.

When I was a senior, Kennedy debated Nixon. When Kennedy won, a lot of people breathed a sign of relief. Then it turned out it was pretty neat to have a President who was engaged with America, who had a vision, who wanted to do things. In a vague sort of way, Kennedy's energy and optimism merged with the spirit of the Civil Rights struggle and seemed to give the dream of finally equal rights and treatment some possibility. And after Nixon finally did win, and after the promise of the Civil Rights victories was swirled into the ghastly horror of Vietnam, all to the soundtrack of the Stones and the Beatles and Bob Dylan, it looked even more like the Presidential Debates of 1960 were some how a grand solution to the grand problem America has every four years, of finding someone capable of doing this absurd job of being President, of getting behind the wheel and driving this gigantic engine that's been running away down the tracks. Looking at Nixon as President, you had to say that the Debates had saved us from him once at least.

But these debates are in fact a singularity. They seem, today, like many other familiar things, like sports contests, like a chess game, like Jerry Springer. They are some sort of special Olympic reality show. The media which carries them treats them as a singularity. Every channel brings with it a panel of oracles trying to explain what happened to the people who just watched. And, as in the Kennedy/Nixon template, it becomes mostly about performance and affect. Romney was animated, engaged. His eyes were wide. There was sweat on his lip. Obama came walking in with a bounce, but tended more and more to look down, to look away. Obama seemed to have no real closing statement, just a crumpled piece of paper that looked too much like an apology. Romney, therefore, "won."

The viewers know what "won" and "lost" mean. For the past week now, leading up to tomorrow's debate of the stand-ins, every oracle has told the viewers that Romney won. Polls are now showing him leading Obama, or about to lead the President. The polls reflect the reaction to what the media told the viewers about the debate, who won and lost, and of course the polls also reflect whatever else aggregates in the viewers minds and emotions. NC State won, Florida State lost.

As we elevate the debates to the level of myth, all the obvious facts already available concerning each candidate tend more and more to be eclipsed. Romney has a long record as a businessman, as a governor, as a master prevaricator who has taken vivid and vehement positions on every side of every issue. Obama has been President for nearly four years. Does historical record, factual decision-making, matter in the least? Core beliefs, including religious convictions? Apparently the Debate has spoken, at least for today, and a trend is developing, possibly a tide. We might be seeing a moment when a man who is better at whatever this thing, this "debate," really is, wins over a man who is better at actually doing the job this "debate" is supposed to help us decide. How strange is that?

In a month one of these guys will get back behind the wheel of the biggest locomotive humans have ever constructed. It's already going faster than anybody who turned a wrench on it had any idea was possible.

[photo by John Carr, ]

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Preaching to the Choir

Our little gig went very nicely yesterday
. The rain that always accompanies Shakori Hills, The Festival, came much later, in the late evening. I was at home watching NC State break Florida State's heart sixteen seconds before the end of the game. We had one little glitch--my fiddle pickup didn't work. This was disconcerting as it is really brand new, but fortunately there was a microphone to play into, as well as sing into. It all worked out. We had fun. If you're in the vacinity, try to make it to Shakori next year. It's like a little Wheatlands. That's high praise.


I saw this fine post this morning:

Wouldn't that have been nice! I told a friend of mine yesterday, as we sat watching the Unknown Tongues (before I mounted the podium for my small bit), I wished Mr. Obama would come out for the next "debate" and after about ten minutes, shake his head, causing an afro the size of Ben Wallace's to suddenly pop out. Simultaneously, heavy gold bling would spring out from his collar and pendulate down across his chest. After which, Mr. Obama would announce, imperiously, that Mr. Romney and his minions, most particularly Messers Ryan, Gingrich, McConnell, Cantor, Hannity, Colter, and Limbaugh, are taking a long night train to Guantanamo. Oh I know, how dreadfully undemocratic. Next he'll be arresting people for making tapes containing "The theatre's on fire" in shout mode and distributing them to unsuspecting theatre sound systems around the country. Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Speech. And while you're at it, all those folks in those theatres need Glocks in their pockets to deal with the turmoil of the 47% who'd snuck in anyways. It would be like all the insane racist predictions of the past four years actually come true. But gawd wouldn't it feel so damn good. It would be a moment up there with "Look ahere, Lon, warn't no bullets."

Well, we'll have to be satisfied with the sensible and leave the insanity to the insane. Romney's glittering "triumph" the other night is tarnishing before our eyes. Even a lot of the uninformed are starting to say, at least to themselves, "Hey. This here is pot metal." Voting starts sorta early here in NC, and I plan to get 'er done as soon as I can. Yesterday on NPR some pundit presented an "argument" for waiting until actual Election Day to vote. "For one thing," he said, the "evidence" won't be all in till Election Day. Also, Election Day is like a national celebration of our democracy. It's something we should all participate in and savor, like Christmas, on the actual day it occurs. Early voters, he said, miss out on that.

I get tired of discovering more "balance" on NPR. It's bad enough every where else. This argument against early voting is, at best, romantic drivel. It ignores the plain reality that many people simply do not have the time to spare for long lines that will be the certain result of limiting voting to one day. In Florida the ballot is six pages long. And if this argument were sound, wouldn't folks voting early on the Day be making the same mistake, of not waiting till all the evidence is in? Perhaps at least Democrats should wait till, oh, 4:45 pm or so. Just in case. Rethugs and other known quantities, not so much.

It would be nice if NPR wouldn't leave it as a balanced report. I mean, when one side is driving the scale to the floor while the other side is a small pile of feathers.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

While I'm Thinking & Saturday

I've been thinking about this whole debate thing--how we've turned it into magic, which is what we tend to do with stuff, us humans. If I get something written that I like enough, I'll post it. Meanwhile, and apropos the fact/performance chasm that mostly people tend to think on the wrong side of, here's something worth reading:

As for performance, if we're going to make decisions on that, then the President should get a rematch--a serious game of H.O.R.S.E. All that happened was, Romney won at J.A.C.K.A.S.S.


Today, well this afternoon, Libby and I are planning on jumping on stage at Shakori and doing a few numbers with the Unknown Tongues Cajun/Zydeco Circus. We're invited. Amazingly it's not raining. Thank gawd it's not raining. I was able to mow Thursday after work--an early sign of the drying October weather we usually get. There were a few early red leaves, sumac maybe, along the edges of the always encroaching jungle that surrounds the "orchard" that was never planted. The Hudahenians are being delightful. As the weather cools they like to snuggle up. To get us up in the morning, they chirp while jumping around on the bed. Their happiness is a delight. This is typically one of their best features, and why their ancestors made their pact with us long, long ago. Momma is regularly around morning and evening. She eats, then either sits on the race car and surveys the scene from a height, or simply heads out to the rest of her domain. Now and then, maybe twice a week, the big yellow Dad also slinks by. We give him some dry food so he won't steal Momma's. They seem to be pals of some kind. We still may try to capture him and get him neutered too. No doubt the woods doesn't need more cats.

The deer drift in close. The light dapples the tree trunks at 8 AM now. I wish we didn't go back to standard time at all--I don't like that moment when there's no more time after work for anything outside. I miss my outside life, but not the concrete dust. Thus doth October begin in earnest.


If you want to watch a strikingly good movie, check out Another Earth. It is nice to see poetry and myth realized, and the hope that somehow mistakes can be rectified embodied in a literal new planet. It isn't done much. Unsurprisingly, the movie is an independent, small-budget affair. I watched Drive as a companion. Two different studies in isolation I guess one might say. Drive rectifies something too, but in the nihilistic mode. I thought Another Earth was much more joyous, and contained much concerning human emotion--both real grief and real hope. Hope is not something to deny utterly, even if it might be denied ultimately. Drive, on the other hand, clenches its teeth as firmly as Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven, or John Wayne in the Searchers. Still, and in the end, as my late friend Bob Barrett used to quote his elderly aunt whom he cared for in her declining years, "Old age is not for the faint of heart." I'd like to teach a course some day with two texts: The Tractatus and After the Ice Age. This would be an update on a classical education involving Plato and Aristotle, but more in tune with our brief moment.


If it's not a game of H.O.R.S.E. we're talking about:

Thursday, October 4, 2012

News or Entertainment, You Be the Judge

There's endless analysis of the first debate last night. It'll go on for the next few days. Driftglass has a good post up. So does Edroso. You can click my links to see what each of them says. No doubt all the networks will be talking about it starting last night. I have little to add, except a few personal observations, including one Libby made just before she turned the thing off and starting a solitaire game on her computer.

For some reason the national media tends to analysis the debate process as if it were performance art, or at least performance. In some ways this is true. Events in the political process generally--all of which, added together, amount to a kind of running "debate" which is ended with an election, which usually provides a victor and a loser--events have an enormous performance aspect when viewed against the whole voting population. A good example might be Ed Muskie's tears.

This is the "zinger" factor. Mr. Romney tossed at least one into the blah last night. Zingers are not usually decisive points in a conversation. They are memorable lines in a play. The American media is much more focused on the play than on the conversation. It's a long term trend. The stated Republican view about this trend is that conflating the two things is actually correct. Delphic one might say. As has been true way too much over my lifetime, Democrats tend to go along, but drag their heels.

What happened last night was that a well-coached Romney performed. I'll bet he watched a lot of film of Reagan in action. I thought his accent even changed a bit towards Reagan's. Mr. Obama seemed to walk on stage believing that he could easily win on facts. His "zingers" were the rather stale ones he's used for a number of years. They included "I'm a good husband and family man," and "my grandmother and grandfather, who raised me, were lower middle class." Mr. Obama was not mentally prepared to deal directly and confrontationally with Mr. Romney's obvious distortions. He also allowed Mr. Romney to essentially shout him and the moderator down a few times.

As a result, in the realm of "performance," Romney probably "won." Whether that matters in the least is unknowable, or at best poll-able over the next week or so. At which pint the bright and shiny Veep debate will obscure our memories. Mr. Obama could have been much much clearer. He still has all the facts on his side. For one small example, when Mr. Romney said that people over 60 could stop listening as the two of them discussed the future of Medicare and Social Security, Mr. Obama might well have strenuously objected. I know I did. Morally, those of us on the north side of that line had better be concerned about our fellow citizens on the south side of it. As King Lear demonstrated, we all get older.

Libby said she thought Mr. Obama was tired. She said she bet he'd been worrying about the Syria/Turkey thing that's about to blow up. She was probably right. Mr. Obama has some other stuff to do every day besides practice lines for the school play. We ought to all keep that in mind. That's on the side of reality, not performance.

Mr. Pierce has some excellent points re the sport of it all. He's a sports writer, so he would know:


At the same time, qua performance, Mr. Obama does have a competent staff. If Mr. Pierce could think up these points all on his own, then Mr. Obama could have had some of them written on his hand if necessary. The overarching point about the First Debate qua performance is, Mr. Romney was able to avoid all mention of the gigantic negative features of this past year's Republican activities, including his own. Qua performance, what Mr. Obama had better do from now on in is stop trying to communicate with a person who isn't interesting in conversation. This has, in a sense, been Mr. Obama's issue from Day One of his Presidency.