Friday, April 26, 2013

Don't worry, be happy

By the way, because the government no longer works, there's no point in my worrying about climate change, or war, or any of the other things that have consumed my time and energy for decades. Clearly, the asinine behavior of government at all levels in the United States shows that humankind is too goddamned stupid to survive in the long run, so fuck the future: I'm living for today. Got kids? Sorry, I don't give a shit. No one else seems to, judging by what goes on in D.C.

I'm getting mine. With any luck, I'll eat myself into a fatal coronary before the shit really does hit the fan.

D.C. makes me sick

Congress wants air traffic to flow unimpeded in spite of sequestration.

I'm not going to plod through the details of why this was a massively stupid and irresponsible bit of bandaging; the article does a good enough job of that and I'm frankly too pissed to concentrate (in spite of being crazy 'bout the blues, as previously noted). Coming a week after Congress refused to countenance expanded background checks for gun ownership, I don't have the energy to argue rationally. I'm just going to vent, briefly.

Democrats, you caved. Your best leverage to get Congressional Republicans to bargain in anything close to good faith, and you fucking gave it away. I don't know what craven political considerations drove your decision, and at this point I don't care. You make me sick.

Republicans — well, what can I say that will make the least difference to you? As a party, you are beyond the pale. You long ago abandoned your responsibilities, adopting a philosophy that elevates not just reluctance to govern, but positive incompetence at the job, as the ideal for your elected officials. It's appalling and heartbreaking to watch your toxic brand of ignorance- and fear-based demagoguery corrode not just the machinery of governance, but the trust of the public in government. You, too, make me sick. The only difference between you and Democrats is, you've been making me sick longer.

President Obama, if you sign this bill (as seems likely), you will make me sick, too. But hey, you don't make me as sick as you would have a few years ago. I've had time to readjust my expectations much lower.

Congratulations, Congress (and Mr. President), you succeeded where al-Qaeda failed. I have given up. I have no governmental representation. I can only choose from among knaves and fools who don't give a shit about me or the country.

To quote from my earlier post: fuck all y'all.

Crazy 'bout the blues

... on Friday nights, anyway, when Kathleen Lawton or Greg Bridges is spinning them on 91.1, KCSM-FM.

Crazy 'bout the Blues has been running on Fridays from 9-midnight (Pacific) for decades now — though I can't be sure since I used to tune into Bridges' blues show at the same time on the sadly defunct commercial jazz station, KJAZ. (Darned if I can remember the name of his KJAZ blues show. Maybe "All Blues"?) It's a hell of a way to wind up the week.

Just tonight, for instance, Big Joe Turner electrified me with "The Chill is On", then the Queen of the Blues herself, Koko Taylor, about ripped me open with her buzzsaw of a voice on "I Got What It Takes". Talk about a one-two punch! It left me reeling in delirious happiness.

Whoa. The Slide Brothers' "Catch That Train", a gospel-tinged call-and-response number, captivated me so, I forgot to post this....

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Rethinking our relationship with Israel

It's time for the U.S. to conduct a long-term reasseessment of our relationship with Israel.

No U.S. politician, except perhaps Ron Paul, can say that out loud. Nevertheless, it's true. I only hope the Obama administration, or at least some progressive think tank, is quietly conducting such a reassessment.

The conventional wisdom is, Israel is an — no, the — indispensable U.S. ally in the Middle East. It's the only true democracy in the area. If you hold that Islamic-leaning populations are inherently unfriendly to the U.S., Israel is also the only nation in the Middle East that isn't inherently unfriendly to the U.S.

However, the rise of deeply religious ultra-Orthodox Judaism in Israel represents a long-term challenge to the nation's fundamental nature. As David Remnick wrote in The New Yorker earlier this year, right-wing politicians in Israel have surged in popularity, perhaps helped by the tendency of ultra-religious Israeli Jews to have large families, and are saying out loud things that would have been unimaginable even ten years ago.

Early last year, Benny Katzover, a leader in the settlement of Elon Moreh, told a Chabad paper, Beit Mashiach, “I would say that today Israeli democracy has one central mission, and that is to disappear. Israeli democracy has finished its historical role, and it must be dismantled and bow before Judaism.”
Translation: theocracy, here we come!

Granted that this piece came out before the most recent Israeli elections, which produced a far-right victory that was a lot less resounding than anyone expected. Even so, demographics and the current mood in Israel don't bode well for the future.

If we're lucky, all the U.S. will lose is a reliable ally. Not that I'm counting on our being lucky: it's just that it would be too depressing to enumerate the possible bad outcomes right now.

A Jewish theocracy would be no more conducive to U.S. policy than an Islamic one like Iran. Jewish fundamentalism is no easier to live with than Islamic fundamentalism. If you think otherwise, either you are a Jewish fundamentalist, or you're a Christian fundamentalist looking for the road to the Rapture.

(Christian fundamentalism is no better, by the way. Religious fundamentalism is fundamentally bad.)

I don't know how the U.S. could handle the disaster that would be a theocratic Israel, but the odds are disturbingly high that sooner or later, that's exactly what we'll face. We'd better have a game plan ready.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Our finger-pointing pols

I just saw Sen. Lindsey Graham claim that "the ball was dropped" in the investigation of suspected Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev: either the F.B.I. failed to detect signs of his disaffection, or the Bureau wasn't allowed to follow him closely enough. (Here's a HuffPost article on the subject.) There was something in his demeanor that was so insufferably sanctimonious, I almost wanted to punch him. Sen. Graham, what makes you think you know how to do the F.B.I.'s job better than the Bureau does?

Rep. Peter King, R-NY, also flapped his gums on the subject: "If you know a threat is coming from a certain community, you have to go after that." He said he knew of five other cases "where the FBI has failed to stop someone". Really, Rep. King? Wow, the F.B.I. isn't perfect? Huh. Hey, shall we start issuing public statements criticizing your failures, too? I'm sure there are many more than five to which we could point.

It's striking that these lawmakers are so fixated on perfection. It's the same kind of asinine "standard" to which Second Amendment fanatics want to hold any and all measures to reduce gun violence.

Y'know what? Human beings aren't perfect. And if you blowhard politicians want to start pointing fingers, you are just inviting turnabout, which you wouldn't like. You are a lot worse at your jobs than most civil servants, and I'm not sure you're as useful as, let's say, the DMV.

Why are you lawmakers so quick to find fault with everyone else? Why don't you spend more of your time looking at how you and your fellow politicians do your jobs? The jobs that you reelection-obsessed politicians have been doing so spectacularly badly that you couldn't arrive at a deal to avoid sequestration?

Maybe you are so crappy at your jobs, Senator Graham and Rep. King, because you're too goddamned busy criticizing everybody else. Why don't you just shut your pieholes and earn your goddamned salaries by working on legislation?

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Kim Jong-un didn't listen to me

The other day I wrote that North Korean strongman Kim Jong-un should take the opportunity provided by recent events in the U.S. to step back from the precipice and restore what passes for normal relations with the U.S., South Korea and the rest of the world.

Apparently he's ignoring my advice.

He's not as smart as his father or grandfather. That's too bad. The North Korean people are going to suffer for his mistakes.

Possibly the most asinine response so far

Per a New York Times article, here's what "Sunny McDonough, 34, a hairstylist and accountant who lives in Watertown", MA, had to say in the aftermath of the day and night of insanity that thrust the town into tne national spotlight:
I think our property values are going to go up by 10 percent. Everyone knows where we are now, and they might be more inclined to visit and go to the diner and the stores.
Way to turn lemons into lemonade, Ms. McDonough — or rather, blood into blood sausage.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Can we stop speculating for a moment?

The Boston Marathon bombers are now believed to be two ethnically Chechen brothers who emigrated to the Boston area from Kyrgystan. That tidbit, lamentably if perhaps unsurprisingly, led Good Morning America to run a piece by Colleen Curry entitled, "Why Would Chechens Want to Bomb Boston?"

Oh for crying out loud.

None of the news accounts I've read so far indicate that either brother has been interrogated by police. (The elder died last night of injuries he received during an apparent firefight with police; no one has said whether he spoke to police before he died.) None of the family or friends who have been interviewed has said anything to indicate the brothers were likely to have let their ethnic heritage lead them to commit these acts. (The father, though, apparently believes that if his second son dies at the hands of police, it will be proof of a conspiracy — by whom and for what purpose, I have no idea. Incidentally, he believes his sons did not carry out the bombings, but whether he has evidence to back him up, I don't know.)

The article asks "Christopher Swift, a professor of National Security at Georgetown University", whether the bombings could have had something to do with the independence movement in Chechnya that has been going on since 1994 (or 1999, depending on how you look at things). Prof. Swift essentially said it was possible, but he couldn't be sure.

That's right, he can't be sure. No one can be — not unless police can talk to the surviving brother. Prof. Swift, like everyone else, has no answers at this point.

So what's GMA's excuse for running its story?

If it were CNN or Fox "News" or MSNBC running this story, I'd say it was all about filling hours. The 24-hour news networks are insatiable (and indiscriminate) beasts. But GMA is a morning show. It's not ABC News. And ABC News doesn't need to fill 24 hours a day anyway. So again, why run a story that contains a little bit of tangential factual content (a very brief history of the recent Chechen wars for independence) but no connection to the main story? And why, especially, give it such a provocative headline?

I think it's pretty clear: GMA's producers want to stoke fear and anxiety. "Oh my God, gotta watch out for those crazy Chechen separatists!" It's good for ratings.

Despicable.

I'm sorry I clicked on the story and added to its perceived popularity. But I'm even angrier at GMA and ABC for running it in the first place. It's empty, useless speculation that divides us as a nation. It reflects an instinct for sleaze that is repugnant. And it's fearmongering at a time when the last thing we need is more to fear.

Whoever commissioned this story is an irresponsible jackass at best. More likely, he or she is simply a jackal who has no business pretending to be a journalist.

Ignore the guessing and give a figurative middle finger to this kind of emptyheaded speculation.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

What's Kim Jong-un thinking these days?

Last week, the world was nervously eyeing North Korea. This week, in the U.S., if you mention "North Korea", odds are the response will be a distracted, "Huh? Was there an explosion in North Carolina??" And who could blame us? The Boston Marathon bombings, the jaw-dropping fertilizer plant explosion in West, TX, and just tonight gunfire and perhaps even an explosion in two Boston suburbs, Cambridge and Watertown — our plates are full of our own problems right now. North Korea isn't even a footnote in the news any more. Man, who'da thunk?

The swift and sudden shift of the U.S. public's attention inward, though, might provide everyone with just the breathing space needed.

Kim Jong-un's government had painted itself and everyone else into a corner. It had ratcheted up tensions so alarmingly that it could not have avoided doing something to back up its belligerence. You don't issue such incendiary rhetoric as the North Korean government did and then just stand there: you look like a barking chihuahua, an irritating but basically harmless noisemaker. If you want people to take your barking seriously, you have to sink your teeth into somebody's leg.

The U.S. public's memory is short, though. Given a week or two of other, seemingly more pressing business at home — perhaps another disappointing development in the increasingly pointless gun "control" debate in Congress; maybe a controversial Supreme Court decision; or, heaven help us, another major explosion somewhere — the U.S., China and the two Koreas can quietly go about resetting their relations to the former status quo: uneasy, but calm.

Kim Jong-un couldn't possibly have imagined he would be able to step back from the brink. He's had a stroke of incredibly good fortune. If he has any of his father's or grandfather's brains, he'll take that step back and count his blessings. Then he and his advisers can figure out how to rattle the U.S.'s cage again down the line — but without getting so close to a fight that would destroy them.

That's what I hope he's thinking, anyway. If he, or whoever's advising him, is determined to press on, to create a crisis, we're all in a lot of trouble.

Prove you're at least as smart as your father, Kim Jong-un. It's your life that's hanging in the balance.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Gun owner background checks DOA

I am stupefied. According to the New York Times, expanded background checks for gun sales is an all-but-dead idea in the Senate. (The headline, for some reason, is that Harry Reid will vote for an assault weapons ban.)

I thought that expanded background checks were the least we could all agree was necessary. Really. What is the fucking harm in checking who can buy a machine whose only purpose is to kill?

What the fuck is the matter with those of you who are opposed to such checks? And I'm not (just) talking to the senators who are opposed: I'm talking to those of you who have sided with the increasingly psychotic N.R.A.

What the fuck is your problem with wanting to know whether the person buying a device whose only purpose is to kill is possibly unfit to own that device?

What paranoid delusional dystopia are you imagining could come about from a background check, for Christ's sake?

And oh, by the way, where the fuck is your concern with the potential victims of gun violence?

I could see some merit in objections to an "assault weapons" ban, "what is an assault weapon?" being the thorniest and most salient objection. But what the fuck is the objection to a background check, especially after Manchin and Toomey went out of their way to remove the much-dreaded national registry of gun owners?

Not that the likely defeat of expanded background checks is the worst that might come out of the fiasco that is "gun control" (ha!) legislation debate in D.C. Oh, no:

... Republicans, increasingly confident that they will be able to sustain a filibuster on expanded background checks, have turned their attention to their own priorities, especially a conceal-and-carry measure being drafted by Senator John Cornyn of Texas.

Under that measure, any state with a conceal-and-carry rule would have to recognize the permit of any other state. Only Illinois and Washington, D.C., prohibit concealed weapons.

...

Advocates see no difference between that rule and regulations that make each state recognize driver’s licenses from all other states, and it will almost certainly be backed by a number of Democrats.

It would be the most tragic of black ironies if any "gun control" (increasingly embittered "ha!") legislation coming out of this Congressional session actually was more permissive, and deferential to the fanatical N.R.A., than existing law. Yet that's the way things are shaping up.

Color me disgusted.

Fuck all y'all who oppose tightening up background checks. And fuck all y'all who are in favor of expanded concealed-carry legislation. You are fucking over me and everybody else who just want greater sanity and an evolution away from the mythologized ideal of the movie Western, where everybody is packing and everybody is his own law.

[UPDATE: It's official, according to the Times: as of 4:33 PM ET, "Senate Rejects Bipartisan Amendment to Expand Gun Background Checks".]

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Remember the sequester?

It seems people are upset that the Blue Angels won't be performing at the Bay Area's Fleet Week as a result of the federal budget sequestration.

I guess it's good that the media has remembered sequestration — from all the recent coverage you'd never know it's in effect — but ... really? This is what warrants coverage?

And for that matter, of all the substantive programs that have been cut back, of all the painful reductions that have been made, this is what upsets people about sequestration — the freaking Blue Angels not showing up?

Really?

Monday, April 1, 2013

What is North Korea to China?

"A well-known editor of an influential [mainland Chinese] Communist Party journal" has been silenced, at least temporarily, following his audacious suggestion in a Financial Times article that the PRC should abandon the DPRK — or, setting aside the acronyms, that mainland China should stop supporting North Korea.

The article prompted me to wonder yet again what endgame China sees for North Korea.

The conventional wisdom says that China props up North Korea for two reasons: it serves as a buffer against South Korea, which is allied with the United States; and the Chinese government fears the chaos that could be unleashed in China itself by a flood of North Korean refugees fleeing a failed nation-state that can no longer feed them.

If you look at the CIA Factbook's map of China and its environs, it seems at first glance absurd for China to worry so much about either Korea. While I doubt any of the other countries that immediately border China are in as shaky a condition as North Korea, both Russia and India share not only as long or longer a border with China, but also a history of uneasy relations. Not that North Korea has maintained a blissful partnership with China, either. The sole real basis for the two countries' alliance has been their mutual suspicion of the U.S.

China, though, is an actor on the world stage now, with the multitude of sometimes contradictory interests that implies. While maintaining a reliably Communist neighbor as a bulwark against a U.S.-backed capitalist regime hanging off China's east coast was probably a very good idea during the Cold War, that ideologically driven rationale doesn't make a lot of sense today. In terms of the primary battleground between China and the U.S. right now — economic hegemony — North Korea is a positive drag on China.

Yet while China might want North Korea to be less of a burden and distraction, it is curiously lacking in leverage over its neighbor. It provides billions of dollars of aid, yet cutting back on that aid is not in the cards because it would destabilize the North Korean government. Moreover, the situation is more dire these days than it was even ten years ago because North Korea's nuclear technologies and materials, released "into the wild", could become a threat to Chinese security. North Korea, not China, is the hostage-holder.

North Korea's stability depends on factors outside China's direct control, notably, how well — or badly — North Korea manages to produce food for itself, and how effectively Kim Jong-un is able to maintain his political control of the military. Missteps in either of those areas could leave the government flailing — and the country failing.

North Korea looks metastable to me, that is, it wouldn't take much to knock it off its axis and send it plummeting into chaos. Even keeping the status quo will require a lot of effort. China can probably continue its current level of support for a while, but to what end? We know why it doesn't want North Korea to implode, but what advantage does propping it up bring? North Korea is a festering sore and an embarrassment to China. Containing the infection and preventing it from getting much worse is all well and good, but what about curing it? Or to use a different analogy, China is keeping the North Korean plane airborne, but at some point it will return to earth. Does China see a glide-path to a soft landing, or is North Korea doomed to crash and burn?

There are precedents for simply waiting things out. The largely peaceful collapse of the Soviet Union, for instance, was a lucky break (the more so because Gorbachev was at the helm; it could easily have been a Stalinesque megalomaniac instead). Cuba is slowly opening itself up and will likely renormalize relations with the U.S. after Fidel Castro dies. Both cases argue for allowing internal popular forces to work their will upon the government. However, you could instead argue that both cases uniquely depended on the inability of the Soviet Union to maintain itself and its client states. China's not going the way of the U.S.S.R. anytime soon, so the odds of internal popular forces changing North Korean policy are next to nil.

Letting North Korea survive has done little, save to give the country time to develop more effective ways of threatening others. If China doesn't see a way to rescue North Korea from its leaders' incompetence, corruption and megalomania, why not amputate the problem now, before the North Koreans make the inevitable chaos and misery even worse?

I get the distinct impression that the Chinese government, like the rest of us, is waiting for a miracle in North Korea. Maybe it's right; maybe the country does have a wise leader in waiting somewhere that will find that elusive glide-path to a soft landing that the rest of us can't envision. That sure as hell seems like the only way North Korea will have a happy ending.