Thursday, January 31, 2013

Stop Playing the Game

Mama's ass is the throne of the male ego.

If you believe as I do that the ego is poison you're going to have to decouple from the feminine for a spell. It's the only way to get a little perspective.

Man builds up his ego to please a woman. The woman holds his ego to please the man.

Let it go. Stop playing the game.

Internet as Great Power Battleground

As more of our life migrates online it's interesting to read today's frontpage story by Nicole Perlroth on how Chinese hackers penetrated the New York Times. The penetration coincided with David Barboza's lengthy, detailed expose on the extraordinary wealth of PRC Premier Wen Jiabao's family published last October. The hackers mo is to cloak their attacks by routing them through computers at American universities.

The future of Great Power conflict is here and it's on the Web. The Bits blog reported Monday that the Pentagon is quadrupling its cybersecurity force.

It seems the term "cyber" is now only used in relation to the Pentagon. And what happened to "virtual reality"? We rarely use the term anymore because "virtual reality" is synonymous with reality. We are all screen-gazers now, even as we walk through a busy intersection at night with the wind howling and the rain pouring down.

The Idea of "Burdens of a Bachelor"

"Burdens of a Bachelor" is the flip side of Reveries of a Bachelor, a tiny volume written by Donald Grant Mitchell under the pseudonym Ik Marvel in 1850; my sister sent me a beautiful 1893 Charles Scribner's Sons edition after I had returned to New York City in a failed attempt to repair my marriage. Upon arriving back in the metropolis my wife had quickly discarded me in favor of an English traveling salesman of pewter animal lapel pins. I think my sister was worried about me and sending me an old book called Reveries of a Bachelor was her way of saying, "Buck up, kid."

Twenty years later I finally read it, or at least the first fifty pages. I turned to it when I realized after nearly four years that my girlfriend was a predator and I was her prey. I was looking for a little guidance. I was in a sticky situation. I wanted out but couldn't break free. I was enmeshed, entangled, "pussy whipped."

I only got fifty pages into Reveries of a Bachelor because it wasn't the medicine I needed. The writing itself is pretty amazing. Very brisk, seemingly spontaneous, with a lot of interesting punctuation that isn't used anymore -- m-dashes after semicolons and commas, for instance. But what Ik Marvel is writing about is the opposite of what I was looking for. Reveries of a Bachelor is about a young single man of means who fantasizes, while attended by a servant, about hooking up with women.

The idea of "Burdens of a Bachelor" is to fantasize not about hooking up but steering clear; that a prime source of reverie is actually being alone. Yes, being alone is burdensome. There are no servants, as in Reveries of a Bachelor, to build one's fire. One has to do everything for himself: grocery shopping, dishes, laundry, ironing, cleaning, cooking. One has to go to work and pay the bills and exercise and be kind and practice filial piety and find time to volunteer. Most importantly one has to carry all of one's own emotional baggage. There is no one onto whom one may offload his suffering and insecurity. But out of these burdens blossoms autonomy, "one who gives oneself his own law" -- the foundation of peace, productivity and rationality.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Kinski's "Semaphore" Escape Velocity

I mentioned that last night I began my run listening to a cut off the Kinski album Airs Above Your Station. This morning making my two-mile walk to work the premiere track off that album, "Semaphore," shuffled on my iPod.

Whenever I hear this song I think of a Captain Marvel comic book I read as a kid.

Captain Marvel's cosmic powers are relatively new when he decides to fly to the moon. It's an open question whether he can reach escape velocity. Rick Jones, former Hulk chaperone and sidekick to Captain America, is Mar-Vell's alter ego -- literally and figuratively because while Captain Marvel is in the regular phenomenal world Rick Jones has to reside in the Negative Zone, and vice versa; but each can communicate with the other, much as we talk to ourselves (Rimbaud's "I is another"); this is always depicted in the comic book frame by the character who is in the Negative Zone having an earnest and bluish-gray face.

Rick isn't convinced that Mar-Vell can make it, and he speaks his mind freely. But Mar-Vell is Mar-Vell, a space-born Kree warrior who possesses cosmic awareness. This is a guy totally non-attached (a state for which every bachelor should tirelessly strive). Forsaken by his home planet, bereft of his beloved Una, he blasts on up through the atmosphere and into outer space and then onto the moon. In listening to Kinski's "Semaphore" I recall my childhood memory of Captain Marvel's moon flight and the physicality of his effort (which is a great tribute to Al Milgrom's pencils).

The Battle Against Mubarak Continues

Two years ago when protests in Tahrir Square led to the ouster of Egyptian despot Hosni Mubarak I was ecstatic. American-Saudi-Israeli domination of the Middle East seemed about to undergo a necessary alteration in order to accommodate democracy over autocracy. I was working at a carpenters local at the the time and there was plenty of hopeful, giddy discussion among the few informed progressive members. 

This morning after catching up on stories from David Kirkpatrick for today, yesterday and Monday I'd argue that Egypt is still showing us the way. There is a lot of tut-tutting about the state being in collapse, about the attack on the Semiramis InterContinental Hotel. But what's happening is the Egyptian people are trying to dislodge the entrenched, repressive Mubarak-holdover police that control the Interior Ministry. Describing the citizenry's battle against the cops in the Suez Canal city of Port Said, Kirkpatrick illuminates us as to the politics involved:
Defending their stations, the police fought back, and in Cairo they battled their own commander, the interior minister.
Brotherhood leaders say Mr. Morsi has been afraid to name an outsider as minister for fear of a police revolt, putting off any meaningful reform of the Mubarak security services. But when Mr. Morsi recently tapped a veteran ministry official, Mohamed Ibrahim, for the job, many in the security services complained that even the appointment of one insider to replace another was undue interference.
In a measure of the low level of the new government’s top-down control over the security forces, officers even cursed and chased away their new interior minister when he tried to attend a funeral on Friday for two members of the security forces killed in the recent clashes.
“What do you mean we won’t be armed? We would be disarmed to die,” one shouted, on a video recording of the event.
In an attempt to placate the rank and file, Mr. Ibrahim issued a statement to police personnel sympathizing with the pressure the protests put on them. Later, he promised them sophisticated weapons.
“That can only be a recipe for future bloodshed,” said Hossam Bahgat, executive director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, which monitors police abuses.
Minus an intervention by the military the war between citizens and the police will continue. So far the military is biding its time. Its calculation is when to risk becoming the target of the Revolution.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Moon Phases + "The Free Design"

I've run precious little this winter compared to last. Last year at this time I went out so often at night after work that I was in tune with the phases of the moon. Though I must admit that the whole waxing crescent, waxing gibbous, waning gibbous, waning crescent nomenclature is a little hard to get a handle on. In any event time spent under a winter moon is better than time spent in front of a video monitor.

My musical selection for tonight's run began with a track, "I Think I Blew It," off Kinski's Airs Above Your Station, followed by the mood-improving "The Free Design" off Stereolab's underappreciated album from 1999, Cobra and Phases Group Play Voltage in the Milky Night.

Bobby Jindal's "Change" Speech

The GOP is in makeover mode. Both yesterday's column by Paul Krugman and today's by David Brooks refer to a recent speech by Bobby Jindal where he criticizes his party for being the captive of the rich; he calls on fellow Republicans to do a better job of wooing the working class. 

The Krugman and Brooks columns are in rare alignment: they both criticize Jindal's speech and the Republican makeover in general as without substance. In fact, Jindal is one of several of Republican governors looking to scrap his state's income tax in favor of increased sales taxes. As Krugman explains,
Meanwhile, back in Louisiana Mr. Jindal is pushing a plan to eliminate the state’s income tax, which falls most heavily on the affluent, and make up for the lost revenue by raising sales taxes, which fall much more heavily on the poor and the middle class. The result would be big gains for the top 1 percent, substantial losses for the bottom 60 percent. Similar plans are being pushed by a number of other Republican governors as well.
Like the new acknowledgment that the perception of being the party of the rich is a problem, this represents a departure for the G.O.P. — but in the opposite direction. In the past, Republicans would justify tax cuts for the rich either by claiming that they would pay for themselves or by claiming that they could make up for lost revenue by cutting wasteful spending. But what we’re seeing now is open, explicit reverse Robin Hoodism: taking from ordinary families and giving to the rich. That is, even as Republicans look for a way to sound more sympathetic and less extreme, their actual policies are taking another sharp right turn.
Brooks points out that the main argument for the working class to vote Republican, that what's good for business is good for America, is now rhetorically flat after decades of productivity increases and cascading corporate wealth failed to trickle down to the 99%:
The next problem with this mentality is that it makes it hard for Republicans to analyze social and economic problems that don’t flow directly from big government. For example, we are now at the end of the era in which a rising tide lifts all boats. Republicans like Mitt Romney can talk about improving the overall business climate with lower taxes and lighter regulation, but regular voters sense that that won’t necessarily help them because wages no longer keep pace with productivity gains.
Eric Cantor is talking about school vouchers. And while that might find a ready audience in Davos, there's no pot of electoral gold at the end of that rainbow; the same goes for Brooks' call for the creation of a second GOP, a moderate Republican Party, based in the mid-Atlantic states, West Coast and upper Midwest.


The album I've listened to the most the past several months is a mix by DJ/rupture called Uproot. Released in 2008 I checked it out from the library after accidentally discovering Solar Life Raft browsing the CD section at Douglass Truth during my lunch hour.

The two back-to-back tracks on Uproot that I enjoy the most are "Capilano Bridge" by Jenny Jones and "Plays John Cassavettes Pt. 2" by Ekkehard Ehlers.

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Pro Bowl

I begin work each day the same way. I stow my shoulder bag under the desk, take off my coat and then head into the break room to get a cup of water from the cooler and scan the headlines of the Seattle Times that's usually on one of the lunch tables. Today top of the fold there was a color photo of Russell Wilson and a few words announcing his standout performance in yesterday's Pro Bowl. Intrigued I skipped to C section and read the first several paragraphs of Oskar Garcia's AP story. Wilson was 8 of 10 passing for 98 yards and three touchdowns. But what caught my eye was the following quote: "Whether the NFL's all-star game will return next season is a something the league will ponder the next few months after the NFC's 62-35 blowout of the AFC on Sunday." I folded the Sports section back into the center of the paper and returned to my desk.

Walking up to the Douglass Truth Library at lunch I thought about the last Pro Bowl that I remember watching, and that was the 1985 Pro Bowl. And the only reason I remember it is because Mark Gastineau delivered a cheap, vicious hit to Joe Montana and it pissed me off. I and my ex-wife, who was my live-in girlfriend at the time, had returned from the grocery store. It was a beautiful, sunny late January day in Berkeley, and I think I had just turned on the TV when Gastineau, no doubt with cocaine and steroids coursing through his veins, blindsided Montana. And I remember that Montana didn't appreciate it.

On leaving work this evening I stopped off in the break room and grabbed the Sports page and put it in my bag to read when I got home. I wanted to finish the story to see if it was in fact a possibility that the Pro Bowl will be eliminated. Upon arriving home after a brief stop at the Capitol Hill library this is what I found out from Oskar Garcia: "Roger Goodell has said the Pro Bowl won't be played again if play didn't improve this year. Last year, fans in Hawaii booed as linemen were clearly not trying."

Don't worry. The Pro Bowl will be around for a long time.

The question that I have is what happened to the old telecasts of the East versus West AFL All-Star Game? The last one was played in January of 1970, prior to the merger with the NFL, in the Astrodome. Were recordings of these games made? Were they saved? Are they accessible? The NFL probably has them under lock and key (like everything else). Last year I was able to stream old episodes of NFL Game of Week on hulu. Now, no more.

Crime in the City

John Tierney has an excellent, substantial story from this past Saturday about the remarkable and thoroughly debated year after year decline in New York City crime. There is a lot of information here, for instance, New York City crime continues to drop even though there have been reductions in the police force whose expansion in the 1990s is credited with creating safer streets in the first place:
Elsewhere, studies have shown that crime drops when more police officers are hired, so it is not surprising that the expansion of New York’s police force in the 1990s by more than a third was accompanied by a drop in crime. But during the past decade, the force has shrunk by 15 percent, and yet crime has mostly continued falling.
The thinking is that if you have a physical police presence at "hot spots" -- areas of high crime -- you see significant decreases in crime citywide. The criminals don't just pack their bags and set up shop in a different neighborhood; in other words, crime is more spatial than characterological.
Nonetheless, the hot-spot strategy was initially met with skepticism by police veterans. 
“We assumed that if we hit one area hard, the crime would just move somewhere else,” said Frank Gajewski, a former police chief of Jersey City, who worked with Dr. Weisburd on the experiments there.
But Dr. Weisburd won over Mr. Gajewski and other skeptics — and also won the 2010 Stockholm Prize, criminology’s version of the Nobel — by showing that crime was not simply being displaced. Moreover, he and his colleagues reported a “spatial diffusion of crime prevention benefits” because crime also declined in adjoining areas, as the police in Jersey City had observed.
“Crime doesn’t move as easily we thought it did,” Mr. Gajewski said. “If I’m a robber, I want to be in a familiar, easily accessible place with certain characteristics. I need targets to rob, but I don’t want people in the neighborhood watching me or challenging me. Maybe I work near a bus stop where there are vacant buildings or empty lots. If the police start focusing there, I can’t just move to the next block and find the same conditions.”
After more than two dozen experiments around the world, criminologists generally agree that hot-spot policing is “an effective crime prevention strategy,” in the words of Anthony Braga, a criminologist at Harvard and Rutgers who led a review of the research literature last year.
There's more in Tierney's story; it's also an argument for rerouting money currently spent on incarceration back to policing. He traces the boom in prison building back to an article published in 1974:
New York, while now an exception to the mass-incarceration trend, also happens to be the place that inspired it. When New York State four decades ago commissioned an evaluation of programs to rehabilitate criminals, the conclusions were so discouraging that the researchers were initially forbidden to publish them.
Eventually one of the criminologists, Robert Martinson, summarized the results in 1974 in the journal Public Interest. His article, “What Works? Questions and Answers About Prison Reform,” was soon known as the “nothing works” thesis. Dr. Martinson concluded that rehabilitation strategies “cannot overcome, or even appreciably reduce, the powerful tendencies of offenders to continue in criminal behavior.”
An outgrowth of the study was a consensus to eliminate parole for many offenders and to mandate long sentences determined by formulas rather than rely on the discretion of judges and parole boards.
Dr. Martinson wrote an article in 1979 recanting his “nothing works” conclusion, but by then it was too late. The trend toward tougher sentences continued, causing prison populations to grow rapidly in the 1980s throughout the country, including in New York. When crime kept rising anyway, sentences often were further lengthened.
My time in New York City, spent predominantly in the 33rd Precinct, was during the last several years prior to the expansion of the police force and the crackdown on petty crimes with the enforcement of a broken windows theory under Giuliani. I suppose what I saw while living in Washington Heights from 1988 until 1993 was the end of era.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Indestructible Hulk #3

Here are two beautiful pages by Leinil Yu from Indestructible Hulk #3, written by Mark Waid. Hulk "hulks out" on AIM re-manufactured Quintronic Man.

Super Bowl XI

I am recovering from yesterday which was spent all day in a Red Lion Hotel banquet hall. The occasion was the biannual membership assembly of my local union. As the day gave way to night I excused myself from the political action committee auction fundraiser that was proceeding at high pitch to hunt down some coffee. Finding none, a hotel attendant guided me to the bar where a young woman offered to put on a fresh pot. I sat down at a circular high table and watched the three large screen TVs playing simultaneously at one end of the room. On the left screen a UFC bout was finishing up by brutal TKO; on the center screen, University of Oregon basketball was about to get underway; on the right, an old-fashioned big screen TV was playing the NFL Films highlights of Super Bowl XI, Oakland versus Minnesota.

What was strange about sitting there in a hotel bar waiting for the coffee to brew surrounded by sullen men eating dinner alone was how old that January day in Pasadena thirty-six years ago looked. I remember exactly where I was when I saw it. I was in seventh grade and I was alone in my friend A.J.'s home. He had been picked up by his father earlier. A.J. and his little brother Nick lived with their mother, who recently had divorced his dad, in a condo across the street from Fisher Junior High in Los Gatos, California. My father was supposed to have picked me up at the same time, but he was a no show. A.J.'s mother waited around for my father to arrive, but she had a place she had to be; so slightly agitated because she didn't want to leave me alone, she too left. By the time the first quarter kicked off I was sitting alone watching the Super Bowl on a small color TV next to the kitchen table.

The condo was new. Marge, A.J.'s mother, was an interior decorator. Everything was new; everything was shiny and suburban 1970s solid. On television the Rose Bowl grass seemed unbelievably brilliant and perfect. It was a beautiful sunny day both outside and on TV. The Raiders and Vikings uniforms looked crisp and cutting edge. I remember Biletnikoff's catches and Clarence Davis' runs; I remember the Vikings getting steamrollered. Those are the images I still hold in my head. Yet there I was four decades later looking at the same images and they looked truly dated, ancient, from another era, buried beneath an ocean of time.

The nice young waitress brought out the fresh pot of coffee and filled my stainless steel travel mug. She insisted there was no charge, but I left two dollars on the table. And then, as Sammy White jogged up to the line of scrimmage, I turned my back on this little happenstance Saturday night collision with Geistesgeschichte.

The Colt 45 Chronicle #2

Puerile. That would be the term to describe the letter below, the second installment from a string-tie folder of letters labeled "summer of 1988 to the spring of 1990." I pulled the folder out of storage, along with another string-tie folder that contained a spontaneous prose document called Shit Stinks that I wrote in 1991, during the second half of the Seahawks loss to the Falcons the weekend before last. Puerile and drunkenly sentimental, the letter is addressed to my friend Mark who was living and teaching English in Madrid. Mark was Bucky to my Captain America in the cruel story of post-university young men trying to actualize a Beat happening in a world based on wage labor. The gist of this epistle is that I am providing Mark comfort by criticizing a woman with whom he had a brief, aborted romance.
Summer 1989 
Mark those letters you wrote were great. Oh man, that condom that you ripped off your pecker after you gave Meredith a little of old what for, oh man, I was there. I was there in the room. Oh man, it was so good. That rubber was besmirched with your sea foam, and you yanked it off, and the floor greeted it -- it was like seeing a white glove tossed out of a car window. I was there. And I think that that's what writing is all about: namely, being put in a place where you're not and where you weren't and where probably won't ever be. 
Your other letter, the one about traveling with your two dude friends, the one about getting drunk and stoned and then getting the ham crispy early in the morning while the others went back to the hotel room to sleep it off, well shit, that letter was like eating chocolate and forking into a bacon omelette and drinking a can of beer and sipping a cup of coffee and smoking a $3 cigar, all at the same time, all while standing on a Wall Street subway platform waiting for the 2 train to come and take me uptown. I really enjoyed them. You're my best friend.
I would've fired one off to you sooner except I thought you might be out here in New York in the first few weeks of August. So I didn't write, thinking that if I wrote you wouldn't get it by the time you left Spain. But I wanted to write you the whole time. Many times I checked myself. Oh well. 
I look forward to your arrival. Jessica has moved out of her place in the East Village. She's up somewhere in the West 80s now. She came over the other day. It was a Saturday and I was getting back from work (I had gone in because we needed the overtime to pay August's rent). I got out of the elevator, walked to our door, opened it, strolled into the living room -- and there she was: sitting on the futon with two hands clasped around a water glass, knees pressed together. And right then it hit me -- something I had felt deep down all along but had never bothered to pump up to the ol' thinking machine -- SHE'S REALLY DAG NASTY. What I mean to say is that she's gross; she's banal and course and portly and cloddish and numb, like a mound of dirt in an orchard of walnut trees. -- It hit me right then and there, that flower that had taken so long to bloom bloomed right then and there and it shot colored petals straight through my brow. What a relief. I had always wondered why it was so difficult to talk to her, to get past all the bullshit and say what it is that had to be said (talking to her is like trying to claw through a plate glass window with your fingernails), and now I know -- she's infantile (if you had to choose one word to do the trick). I don't know where all this coming from. Jessica hasn't done anything to us, never has; in fact, we haven't really seen her in a while. Maybe that was it -- a new perspective after a bit of an absence. Anyway, the realization was spontaneous and benign. This doesn't make her an unworthy person mind you, it just puts things in perspective. Plus, I can now see clearly why she wasn't worth a second night's mounting. She's got very little in the way of sex appeal.
I've been alcohol free for four days now (that's a record, in my recent memory), but tonight it's four quarts and a loud stereo. The reason for this abstinence is that my sister and niece have been visiting for the last week. My sister is very anti-alcohol because of my Dad. But now she is gone.
The first few days they were here. I'd come back home from work with a couple of quarts of malt liquor. I'd slug 'em down pretty fast while she and Ashley were cooking dinner. I'd be talking with her, Shea's her name, swigging the Colt '45 and feeling it crawl and dance in my empty-stomach brain, and I'd have to make sure not to be too enthusiastic for fear that she'd classify me under the heading of demon breathing foolish Maloney drunk. I had to play it very straight, very sweet and understated. Children were about (my niece had brought her girlfriend along on her New York trip; they were playing with the computer in the other room) and my sister kept looking at me, searching my eyes for that telltale craziness, but I kept up the battle, kept pushing the juice down out of my head. -- There was no way I was going to show her what she wanted to see; I was fighting for team alcohol; I was fighting for all that is noble and true about every alcoholic that has ever lived. So I mastered myself -- no trip down to the deli for extra quarts. No way.
Dinner was made and we ate and I put on an album nice and low, and we talked ard I polished off the remnants of the second quart, and then, after about an hour, I walked into the bedrom and flopped down on top of the quilt and fell asleep. -- Drinking without showing that you're drunk, chalk one up for team alcohol.
A couple of weeks ago Ashley went out to Oregon for a vacation. She was gone for eight days. I was left alone in New York for the first time. The only person I had to care for was Snuz the cat. Every night I got fucked up. No hope, no future -- that's what it meant. Rambling around with fat flopping off my gut, sucking down pints of Harp and shots of Johnny Walker, I was a dog kicked in the side and told to get lost. I was looking for any comfort, any home. And the whole time I refused to eat. One night I drank from 5 o'clock to 2 o'clock, and all the time I refused food. I was Christ with a pint glass. What a buffoon.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Jon Spencer Blues Explosion

When the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion gained notoriety on college radio with Orange in 1994 I was conflicted. I liked the pared down Booker T. and the M.G.'s vibe, but I couldn't stomach the whole tongue-in-cheek pseudo-Elvis schlock of Jon Spencer's lead vocals. I bought a cassette of Orange nonetheless, but as it turned out there was an imperfection in the tape which prevented me from listening to all 13 tracks.

As the years ticked off I accumulated most of the Blues Explosion albums secondhand at steep discounts by shopping regularly at Half Price Books. When a coworker introduced me to R.L. Burnside and made me a copy of A Ass Pocket of Whiskey I became more accepting of the Spencer shtick.

An enormous renaissance in my appreciation came when I started to train for road races. I had loaded all my accumulated Jon Spencer compact discs onto my iTunes and randomly programmed a couple albums, Now I Got Worry and Plastic Fang to begin with, to sync with my iPod touch. And what I discovered is that when a Blues Explosion song shuffled on during one of my many runs I always got a boost, a significant leap beyond what most other artist tracks delivered. I think it's the crunchy, distorted lead guitar set against the back beat that's pumped up to ride high in the mix.

Last night walking home from work on my way to do Friday evening bachelor grocery shopping for the upcoming week, "Hold On" from Plastic Fang shuffled on my iPod.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Labor's Decline

Organized labor continues to shrink. We're down to 11.3% of the work force, the lowest since 1916; this according to new information reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. If you read the story yesterday by Steven Greenhouse, you know that the right-to-work law in Indiana and the loss of collective bargaining rights for public sector workers in Wisconsin, both passed by Republican legislatures following Tea-Party fueled triumphs in the 2010 midterm elections, had a lot to do with the significant one-year decline:
Union membership showed sharp drops in Wisconsin, which passed a law in 2011 curbing the collective bargaining rights of many public employees, and in Indiana, which enacted a right-to-work law last February that may have prompted many workers to drop their union membership.
Such laws prohibit requiring employees at unionized workplaces to pay union dues or fees. The bureau’s report showed that union membership fell by 13 percent last year in Wisconsin and by 18 percent in Indiana — both unusually large numbers for a single year.
Barry T. Hirsch, a labor economist at Georgia State University, said an analysis he conducted found that the number of government employees in Wisconsin belonging to a union slid by 48,000 last year, to 139,000 from 187,000, as many public sector workers evidently decided to quit their unions after the Republican-led legislature stripped them of most of their bargaining rights.
Speaking about the nation as a whole, Professor Hirsch said: “I am really surprised that the drop in unionization was as large as it is in a single year, and it was particularly big in the public sector. It does seem you are seeing reductions in some of the states that you might expect.”
For instance, in Indiana, where the right to work law took effect last March, unionization dropped to 9.1 percent from 11.3 percent in 2011. Michigan enacted a similar law last month.
I asked at least four people at the local where I work if they had seen this story. No one had. Not a single person. Greenhouse quotes the chief economist for the AFL-CIO, William Spriggs, who tries to spin the the bleak BLS report by arguing that unionization is up in key states like California, Texas and North Carolina. “'It’s not a simple story that we don’t have our act together,' Mr. Spriggs said. 'I would be more concerned if union membership was down among Latinos and Asian-Americans, because that’s a growing demographic, but it’s up.'”

But it is a simple story that labor doesn't have its act together. Unions have money, at least the internationals and large locals do. Organizers could be employed; things could be turned upside down. But leadership is overwhelming old and overwhelming preoccupied with holding on to the assets it controls. So as the boat sinks the shibboleth for labor is, "Don't rock the boat."

Thursday, January 24, 2013


Evil is all there is. Evil and the extirpation of evil. Personal injury and an unending feeling of loss propel you. This is the world of Marvel Comics' Frank Castle, The Punisher. He is an archetypal American hero. The lone killer. The outsider. The perfect nihilist. John Wayne's Ethan Edwards in The Searchers.

Last year at this time, the work week following the MLK holiday, we enjoyed the unusual bounty of four days of snow closures at the local. I celebrated this windfall by reading the entire run of PunisherMAX. Written by Jason Aaron with art by Steve Dillon and colors by Matt Hollingsworth, I want to call it a masterpiece.

The Punisher doesn't have super-strength or a healing factor; he's not a mutant or a mystic. Frank Castle is an ex-soldier whose family was gunned by the mob. He is a vigilante and a killer; he brings to mind D.H. Lawrence's Studies in Classic American Literature and the ruminations found there on Deerslayer of the Leatherstocking Tales:
But you have there the myth of the essential white America. All the other stuff, the love, the democracy, the floundering into lust, is a sort of by-play. The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic, and a killer. It has never yet melted.
The Punisher's credo is when in doubt subject yourself to more pain. So during the week of heavy snow, despite feeling over-trained and suffering a sore throat, I went out running  four miles in the abandoned, silent, white streets each day except for one.

What really affected me about PunisherMAX is Frank Castle's return to the house he lived in with his family prior to the slaughter of his wife and children; he uses it as a base of operations for his war against the Kingpin. Similarly I find myself forever returning in dream to the apartment in Berkeley I shared with my ex-wife; it's always abandoned and blighted -- sick -- like Frank Castle's old suburban home. Why am I always going back there? Over the years it has become such a familiar pattern that when I find myself there I know I am inhabiting a dream. Is it in The Future of an Illusion that Freud says to be an adult is to be at home with loss?

Frank Castle is a guy without specials powers; a guy without an ounce of levity in his soul; someone who is always injured and exhausted and suffering. Then it dawned on me as I finished the last few issues in the series that what PunisherMAX is about is work. Going to work. Everyday. We got to do it. It's a nasty business that requires a lot of painful compromises. But we got to do it.

Below are three scans from PunisherMAX. The first two are facing pages from PunisherMAX #21. The third is from the last issue in the series, PunisherMAX #22. I selected pages that caught the haunted vibe of his occupation of his old, abandoned house.

GOP Government Shutdown Plan

House Republicans set their extortion calendar. Jonathan Weisman's story today about yesterday's House vote to suspend enforcement of the debt ceiling until May 18 lays out how the government-shutdown thrill ride will proceed in the coming months. The good news is that we will be spared this frontpage-hog for the remainder of the month and all of February. Then March 1 "$110 billion in across-the-board spending cuts to military and domestic programs — known as a sequester — will go into force."
The next real showdown will come by March 27, when the stopgap measure financing the government expires. Republicans have made clear that they are willing to let the government shut down at that time to force deep spending cuts or changes to Medicare and Social Security that would bring down deficits in the long run.
Included in the debt-ceiling suspension is a provision to "withhold the pay of lawmakers in a chamber of Congress that fails to pass a budget blueprint by April 15." This is aimed at Senate Democrats who have not passed a budget since 2009.

The GOP design here is to get the Senate to produce a budget that can be reconciled in conference with the Ryan Plan, a.k.a., "The Path to Prosperity," and inflict as much damage as possible on Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. We're talking about the block granting of Medicaid; the privatizing of Medicare and raising its eligibility age; and while Ryan changed his tune and now calls for no changes in Social Security, Boehner sought a chained CPI in the recent fiscal cliff negotiations, and privatization remains the Republican Holy Grail. And what Boehner is talking about, a balanced budget over the next ten years, is actually much worse than the Ryan Plan, which doesn't balance the budget until 2040. This is from today's lead unsigned editorial in the New York Times:
If the House actually wants to put forth a balanced budget over the next 10 years, as Mr. Boehner vowed to do on Wednesday, let the public see what that really means: unimaginable cuts and changes to Medicare and Medicaid, and the elimination of scores of popular and vital programs that benefit both the poor and the middle class. Up to now, Republicans have been understandably wary of specifying how that would be done without raising taxes. Mitt Romney wouldn’t do it, and even Representative Paul Ryan’s budgets up to now wouldn’t balance the budget until 2040.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013


I have a 16 gigabyte iPod touch that I am usually too lazy to sync with my iTunes. Even though 16 gigabytes is a lot of music I end up listening to songs several times. The last time I programmed the touch was in August. I have an older iPod nano with half the memory that is programmed to sync with whatever is in my iTunes "Recently Added" playlist. I sync the nano regularly and listen to it a little more than half the time.

Part of the problem with repeated plays of the same song on the touch is the poor quality of the shuffle. What I've experienced is that it's not a truly arbitrary shuffle; it keeps shuffling the same tunes over a fairly limited song cycle. But recently I've discovered that rather than selecting "Songs" one selects "Genres," and then selects a particular genre such as "Alternative & Punk," as I did last week; then using the shuffle function at this point one gets a much more "true" shuffle. I've listened to songs the last few days that I haven't heard since I programmed the touch last summer.

Two songs from No Thanks! The '70s Punk Rebellion have surprised me, and I don't know why because I've heard them many times before. On Monday I listened to The Mekons "Where Were You?" as if for the first time. Then today it was "I Love Livin' In The City" by Fear. When I was an undergraduate Lee Ving was a big deal. I had a number of friends from Los Angeles and each seemed to have a copy of The Record. And of course everyone regardless of his or her city of origin had seen The Decline of Western Civilization at least twice.

Non-Capitalist Society Needed

Here's a good quote from Fred Magdoff's latest Monthly Review article, "Global Resource Depletion: Is Population the Problem?":
The comprehensive 2012 report, People and the Planet by the Royal Society of London, included as one of its main conclusions that there is a need “to develop socio-economic systems and institutions that are not dependent on continued material consumption growth” (bold in original). In other words, a non-capitalist society is needed.

The Colt 45 Chronicle #1

Prior to the Internet communication at a distance was for most either telephonic or epistolary. Since coast-to-coast calls were pricey, and because I liked to drink and type, I preferred writing letters.

My ex-wife and I moved to New York City in the summer of 1988 so she could attend medical school. We drove across the continent in a 1971 VW bus, leaving Berkeley at the end of July and stopping off in Reno to get married in a commercial wedding chapel; we did this in order to qualify for the married student housing provided by Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.

While she was in class during the day I worked a series of dead-end clerical jobs downtown. In the evenings she would hit the textbooks sitting at her big metal desk in one corner of the living room and I would sit not too far away in front of an AT&T personal computer and drink beer and type letters (using WordPerfect word-processing software) to friends on the West Coast.

It was an interesting time politically and socially in the city. Mayor Koch held shrill, haranguing press conferences that seemed to be on the TV local news every night. I had never seen anything like it. Crack cocaine, which had started on the West Coast, was beginning to flourish in Upper Manhattan.

The complex of buildings which made up the medical school spread west from Broadway down to Riverside Drive and the Henry Hudson Parkway; it was a relatively safe area compared to other parts of Washington Heights.

There was a large men's shelter on 168th Street across from the Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital emergency room. One evening our first summer in Manhattan when we were returning from downtown with some good friends who were visiting from Berkeley we came upon a guy stretched out flat on his back on the sidewalk in front of the men's shelter a big knot the size of large egg growing out of the top of his forehead just like you see in old Warner Brothers cartoons. His pants pockets were turned inside out and he was moaning. I remember thinking, "Oh, this is what is normal here." I guess it was a Friday, a payday, and this guy, an older black man, had been rolled. Someone ran across the street to the ER to get help.

By the time I typed the epistle below to my friend back in Oakland I had been a year and a half in New York City. I was an old salty dog compared to the newlywed who had arrived with his bride in a beat-up Volkswagen with a "The Strength of the Brave is the Tribe" bumper sticker. Koch was gone, dethroned by David Dinkins in a bitter campaign.

Why post old letters? What's the point? I think there is a historical value, not only to provide social insight into what life was like before the advent of the World Wide Web but also as a project of personal illumination; it was a prime motivator to start a blog in the first place, knowing I had all these heartfelt missives of a young man's first contact with the megalopolis. So bear with me.

I had a bad habit of not dating my letters. When my wife and I split and she got the computer I had the good sense to print hard copies of all my correspondence; I scribbled in pencil on top of each letter the approximate time that it was written. The one below reads "Winter 1990." If my memory serves me it was late January, the week leading up to the Super Bowl in New Orleans. How fitting. As you can see I was enamored, as are most schoolboys and hipsters, with Jack Kerouac.

Winter 1990
Thanks for the parcel! I just polished it off tonight -- plenty good. As it turns out, Ginsberg's introduction to my McGraw-Hill paperback edition of VISIONS OF CODY, entitled "The Great Remember," is a cleaned up cut down and commercialized rendering of THE VISIONS OF THE GREAT REMEMBERER.
I liked the introduction a lot, rereading it twice; but, needless to say, it doesn't come close to doing the things that the Denver-set (early 70s Ginsberg going back to old haunts of the late 40s, all torn down) ampersand-ridden plaintively analytic prosepoesy original does; -- in particular, the last two pages: a discription of the 1967 meeting between Kerouac Cassady Kesey and the Merry Pranksters "all together at last under unofficial mock but real Klieg Lights with microphone reverb feedback wires snaking all over the electrified household living room floor 86th St. upper east side -- An American Flag draped over the couch, on which shocked Jack refused to sit -- Kesey respectful welcoming & silent, fatherly timid host, myself marveling and sad, it was all out of my hands now, History was even out of Jack's hands now, he'd already written it 15 years before, he could only watch hopelessly one of his more magically colored prophecy shows, the Hope Show of Ghost Wisdoms made Modern Chemical & Mechanic, in this Kali Yuga, he knew the worser death gloom to come, already on him in his alcohol ridden trembling no longer sexually tender looking corpus" wow! that says it all. But Ginsberg doesn't stop there; he goes on to talk about the last words of VISIONS OF CODY -- "Adios, King." -- (the ending of VISIONS OF CODY is probably the greatest ending of any book I've ever read; if you'd permit me the last three sentences: "Goodbye Cody -- your lips in your moments of self-possessed thought and new found responsible goodness are as silent, make as least a noise, and mystify with sense in nature like the light of an automobile reflecting from the shiny silverpaint of a sidewalk tank this very instant, as silent and all this, as a bird crossing the dawn in search of the mountain cross and the sea beyond the city at the end of the land. Adios,  you who watched the sun go down, at the rail, by my side, smiling -- Adios, King." Ouch, it makes me cry; it makes me feel proud for having chosen such a true hero to be my hero). And, once again, Ginsberg is right on top of it(he really must've loved him) and says exactly what should be said, namely, "'Adios King!' . . . a nameless highest Perfect wisdom, a humility in the face of 'the necessary blankness of men' in hopeless America or hopeless World, or Hopeless Time Heaven  . . . a compassionate farewell to Love & the Companion" -- yep, that's it. Thanks again Ben.
The letters included in THE VISIONS OF THE GREAT REMEMBERER are pretty good too. Ginsberg's wordy intellectual bitchy 1947 ultimatum love letter to heterosexually-prone Cassady is something else (embarrassing) . Cassady's letters, a total of four, are better -- more informative; a lot of 'em are about
the difficulty he has with writing and about his mind becoming empty from smoking too much weed; in the last letter, written in 1952, he waxes about the sane staid masculine beauty of Kerouac, something I'm not used to, seeing it's usually Kerouac who's saying it about Cassady.
Well, let's see, what's new to report. -- I quit my job two weeks ago, and Colum, who has been around for most of January, left for Guatemala on Monday, and shit I guess the 49ers are buying beers on Bourbon Street. (I wouldn't mind buying a beer for Terry Bradshaw; he's absolutely right -- fuck Elway, he's a fucking shit-assed brat sequestered and protected in Ginsberg's aptly perceived sterile and commercial war-machine Denver (it's true, I've driven through Denver, right through, and you know where I ended up? at the gates of a big military base -- big cyclone barbwire fence -- that borders the suburbs, in fact the suburbs blend into the military base, very scary; I was promptly told by a fatigued and helmeted pimple-faced corporal to turn my Volks around and go back whence I came); and I was thinking last night while watching the 11 o'clock news that if you had to characterize Bradshaw's heart/soul it'd be a football field, while if you had to do the same for Elway it'd be an egg carton -- really, I mean come on, at least Bradshaw, a four-rin€ged hall of famer who has nothing to gain and everything to lose (i.e., his CBS job) by shooting off his mouth, has the juevos to get drunk and speak his honest mind, giving the reporters something real to talk about: that there's no comparison between a Montana and an Elway, that it's all a con job, that Elway is not fit to lace Montana's cleats. 'Nuff said. It'll all be old news by the time you get this anyway. (Niners over Denver 37-12, my prediction; and I'm mailing this tomorrow, the 26th, so it's on the up and up.)
The night of the day after I quit my job I got on the A train at West 4th Street. Colum and I had been at a boring bar on Bleecker Street. Colum had had two beers -- a Molson and a Becks -- I had had a Guinness Stout and a Jack Daniels. I got on the uptown A and Colum was over on the other side of the track getting on the downtown A. At 14th street a guy got on, a kid, probably about 20 years of age, blood spots on his dirty warm-up pants and grease under his fingernails. I thought I recognized him from somewhere before, maybe a long lost cousin: thick brown-blond hair complete with sprinkles of dirt pebbles and crums from the hot dog bun. He sat down next to me, right next to me -- on purpose, I thoug€ht. The train shook uptown. He was right next to me; I felt him there --a young tough, a white hispanic cousin; I loved him.
At 81st street he asked for the time. I told him, coldly. He was warm, but I was cold.
At 125th Street he pulled a thick gold chain out of his parka pocket, a gold pendant was attached to it; he turned and asked me if I thought the pendant was gold. I told him, "I don't know. Is it heavy?"
"Why, is gold supposed to be heavy?"
He moved the necklace up and down in his upturned palm.
"I thought gold was soft and light."
He handed it over to me; it was an ugly barbaric fucking butter yellow rope; I took it and said, "No, soft and
I lifted it a few times and then told him, "The chain's probably gold, but I doubt this is," pointing to the pendant.
"Really? I thought gold was supposed to be light," he repeated.
"I don't think so. But I guess I can't really say for sure."
At that point he dropped his handsome young urban elf jaw down to my left hand and the wedding band thereon. All of sudden I started to worry that he was going to roll me for my ring (ugh, small petty refractory city-dwelling paranoia rearing its knobby head), that the necklace chat was just a set up to get me comfortable so that he could bonk me on the skull and run off with the goods. But I decided that I'd rather do battle with a long lost cousin (I was bigger and feeling surly with bourbon on breath and under brow, though weapons hidden in his parka weren't out of the question) than cower to my own inner illnesses.
So I took off my wedding ring and said, "I don't know; this is gold, but it's too small for me to tell whether it feels heavy for its size."
"How much did it cost you?" 
"Sixty I think."
"Something like that must have a lot of personal value though."
And that was it; we were already at 168th street. Both of us got out. He gave me a respectful "Take care," and I returned him a dutiful "You too."
I loved him because he was me. All that fear and for what? Nothing; it was just me. At least I had given him/myself some hardheart advice though when I admitted that I just didn't know (which is the hardest thing to admit to anyone, anytime, anywhere).
I left the subway station and walked home down deserted inky streets, rats whispering in shadows.
Earlier that evening I had heard a fat woman mumble over a platter of chicken tandoori that "It's not a question of craving, it's a question of time." At first I'd thought that she was discoursing on artistic production or philosophical ontology but then I figured out that what she was really talking about was dieting. Oh my gosh, it's all the same.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

NLRB Ruling on Social Media

Steven Greenhouse, longtime labor reporter for the New York Times, has a frontpage story today about rulings of the National Labor Relations Board striking down overly broad employer restrictions of what workers say using social media. While this is good news for all bloggers and Facebook junkies it is not carte blanche to say anything about the workplace:
The labor board’s rulings, which apply to virtually all private sector employers, generally tell companies that it is illegal to adopt broad social media policies — like bans on “disrespectful” comments or posts that criticize the employer — if those policies discourage workers from exercising their right to communicate with one another with the aim of improving wages, benefits or working conditions.
But the agency has also found that it is permissible for employers to act against a lone worker ranting on the Internet.
The distinction here is between "personal venting" and "concerted activity" to improve wages, benefits or working conditions. To my mind this still gives the employer a lot of leeway to go after someone who is posting critical comments online about his or her job. So be careful.

Monday, January 21, 2013

"Where Were You?"

There are immense sources of power everywhere at hand. What about The Mekons, "Where Were You?" Running back from Volunteer Park, the streets empty and the sky overcast on this holiday, "Where Were You?" shuffled on my iPod.

NFL Season 2012

Dave Zirin has a good blog post today about the irredeemable aspects of the NFL in light of what Martin Luther King Jr. called "the giant triplets of racism, militarism, and economic injustice." Zirin is particularly enlightening on the failure of the League's Rooney Rule:
Finally, there is the issue most closely tied to Dr. King's legacy: the "dream" of living in a colorblind world where people are judged by the content of their character. To say that the NFL's deeply conservative all-white ownership doesn't exercise racial prejudice is like saying Florida doesn't suffer from sunshine. This past off-season, the league had eight head coaching positions to fill. All eight were filled by white hires. Despite the NFL's much-celebrated Rooney Rule, which requires the interviewing of “minority head coaching candidates”, the league is down to four head coaches of color including Latino Ron Rivera. That means only 9% of coaches are African American in a league where 70% of players are African American: the greatest disparity in a decade.
The 2012 NFL regular season opened September 5 with the Cowboys beating the Giants in the Meadowlands. From that point forward until last night when Baltimore beat New England in the AFC Championship Game I calculate that I watched approximately 219 hours of televised NFL action, or over nine days (which will be nine-and-a-half days after the Super Bowl). For the most part all I use my 13-inch TV for anymore is to watch the NFL. I saw almost every snap of every Seahawks game. But the pitiful part of the story is that it could have been worse. I don't have cable. So I didn't have access, unless I wanted to go to a bar, to Monday Night or Thursday Night Football. Minus the two Seahawks games this season played on those nights, and available on broadcast TV to me as a viewer in the home market, this would have added an additional 96 hours, or four more days in front of the idiot box.

What kind of idolatry is this? We spend two weeks of solid worship from the end of summer to the beginning of winter soaking up images of athletes moving quickly in colorful uniforms; images sandwiched between images of smart phones and fried chicken and Mercedes. Do we feel better? I don't know. Sometimes I do. But a lot of the time I feel stressed-out. Mostly I am passive: reclining on my mattress on the floor, a pillow under my head; maybe reading a TomDispatch article I've printed off the web; a solitary figure; a bachelor, alone, staying true to boyhood ghosts.

MLK Day Half a Century After Dallas

Diane McWhorter has a great opinion piece in today's paper. Writing about 1963 Jim Crow Birmingham and the banality of evil she reveals how city fathers commonly endorsed the illegal use of electronic surveillance and hatched assassination plots as a means to achieve "racial peace." McWhorter argues that while we might have moved on from the institutional racism of Jim Crow we need to look again at our "new normal" where "assassination by drone" is official unofficial policy and debates about the effectiveness of torture are routine.

What I particularly appreciate about this piece, published on MLK Day in the fiftieth anniversary year of the JFK assassination, is the level of detail it provides of how political threats were handled by power brokers in a sizable Southern city. In 1963, whether Birmingham or Dallas, public safety officers were criminal co-conspirators used to spy and assassinate.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Ravens Stomp Pats: Super Bowl Should be Good

An unexpected gift this weekend is the 21-0 shellacking the Ravens administered to the Patriots in the second half. Flacco was clearly the better quarterback. Brady, who I think looked old and tired at points this year, was lousy. The Baltimore defense outhit the Patriots all night long. The fumble-causing hit by Bernard Pollard on Stevan Ridley "won the game," as a mic on the field picked up John Harbaugh telling his strong safety.

Now we can look forward in two weeks to an excellent Super Bowl. Allahu Akbar. The Doomsday scenario of Atlanta vs. New England has been averted. Thank you Brothers Harbaugh! Thank you Colin Kaepernick and Joe Flacco! Thank you Frank Gore, LaMichael James, Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce! Thank you Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis!

A Little Love for Jim Harbaugh

Never a big Jim Harbaugh fan, I've got to say I really appreciated his infantile sideline histrionics today in the second half. On the official replay confirmation of the questionable Harry Douglas catch Harbaugh went native. I'm an old 49ers fan going back to the days of Steve DeBerg and Paul Hofer. So I sympathized completely.

The Seahawks deserve a nod though. What they did by hanging tough and working their back into the game in the second half last week against the Falcons provided the blueprint for San Francisco today. The 49ers never showed signs of panic; they were wise to stick with the read option throughout the game. Kaepernick and Frank Gore played well.

Need to Get to Ryan

San Francisco needs to get a pass rush. Ryan has too much time. Maybe the 49ers need to blitz in the second half. At least Turner and Rodgers aren't picking up anything on the ground. Kaepernick looks fine. At halftime, it's anyone's game still.

Coffee Grinder

Why is that certain memories recur? What is it that makes a memory so memorable? Last night when I was grinding coffee for this morning I thought once again of the Saturday night in January of 2005 when Michael Vick demolished the St. Louis Rams in the divisional playoff round and my Braun coffee grinder stopped working.

I've had the same coffee grinder since I was an undergraduate living with my girlfriend in a Berkeley railroad apartment. It has followed me throughout my adult life from West Coast to East Coast to the Lone Star and then back to the West. But that winter's night in January eight years ago it was on the fritz. I had the game on. Michael Vick and Warrick Dunn (a favorite of mine from when he carried the ball in the same Tampa Bay backfield with Mike Alstott) were running wild on the Georgia Dome turf (both ended up with more than a hundred yards). The game was a blow out. So I retired to the kitchen to repair the Braun.

I took the old coffee grinder apart beneath the bright light of a 100-watt incandescent bulb. I saw that a metal contact point had snapped and that's why nothing happened when I plugged it in. I probably broke it by repeatedly for the last twenty years slapping the side of the grinder with my palm to release the oily coffee grounds inside. I folded one contact under the other so they were constantly touching. This meant that the grinder blades would spin as long as the grinder was plugged in; the on-off button on the grinder lid no longer worked. I've used the grinder this way ever since. When I want to grind beans I fill the grinder, close the lid, plug it into the wall, and then unplug it when the beans are ground.

Now whenever I'm in the kitchen at night grinding coffee I always think of Michael Vick and that Atlanta playoff game against the Rams; Marc Bulger, too -- the quarterback who reached 1,000 completions faster than any other in NFL history -- filling consciousness from coast to coast for a moment in time and then forever after a memory recurring.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Avengers #2

What a relief it was to have a Saturday away from the TV. Now that we are in the championship round of the NFL playoffs we're back to a Sunday-only schedule. Kickoff tomorrow for the NFC Championship game is 12:00 PM (PT); 3:30 PM (PT) for the AFC.

After reading the paper I headed out for a run of the Lake Union Loop. Despite the unusual continuation for the last several days of a frigid fog plenty of runners were out on the jogging paths. When I returned to the apartment I indulged in a day of listening to music and reading Marvel Now! comic books. The new Avengers run, written by Jonathan Hickman with art by Jerome Opena, is particularly good. Here are a couple of scans from Avengers #2 to give you the flavor. The storyline is sort of a classic Jim Starlin cosmic epic with a bit of a Doctor Manhattan from the Watchmen vibe tossed in (because the villain Ex Nihilo uses Mars as a home base).

House GOP Quick Kicks Debt Ceiling

House Republicans decide to "punt" on the debt ceiling.  The story by Ashley Parker (she covered the Romney campaign during the past presidential election) in yesterday's paper about the Republican retreat in Williamsburg revealed that Paul Ryan was arguing for a short-term extension of the debt ceiling. I thought that this would take time to play out, like a week, as the Republicans haggled among themselves. But by Friday House Republicans had uncharacteristically reached consensus. Here's how Jonathan Weisman lays it out in today's frontpage story:
The decision represents a victory — at least for now — for Mr. Obama, who has said for months that he will not negotiate budget cuts under the threat of a debt default. By punting that threat into the spring, budget negotiations instead will center on two earlier points of leverage: March 1, when $1 trillion in across-the-board military and domestic cuts are set to begin, and March 27, when a stopgap law financing the government will expire.
Reordering the sequences of those hurdles was central to the delicate Republican deliberations that resulted in the new plan. In the days leading to the Williamsburg retreat, Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, the House Budget Committee chairman and former vice-presidential nominee, had been meeting with the leader and three past chairmen of the conservative House Republican Study Committee to discuss a way through the debt ceiling morass.
Those conversations led into Thursday morning, when Mr. Boehner and Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, the No. 2 House Republican, opened the retreat by going through the timeline for the coming budget fights, according to aides who were there.
They turned the floor over to Representative Dave Camp of Michigan, the House Ways and Means chairman, who delivered a blow-by-blow description of the economic disaster that could be wrought by a government default. Mr. Camp also talked through the notion held by some Republicans that the Treasury Department could manage a debt ceiling breach by channeling the daily in-flow of tax dollars to the most pressing needs, paying government creditors, sending out Social Security checks and financing the military. His message was that it would not work, the aides said.
Then Mr. Ryan stood to talk over the options he had developed with the House conservative leaders. They could do a longer-term debt ceiling extension with specific demands, like converting Medicare into a voucherlike program. Or they could lower expectations, reorder the budget hurdles with a three-month punt, and add the “no budget, no pay” provision.
Persuading Republicans who adamantly oppose raising the debt ceiling took some time, and the ensuing discussion stretched on and on, breaking at noon for lunch on Thursday, resuming at 2:30, until 4 p.m., then concluding Friday.
Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the House majority whip, met with freshmen early Friday to make sure they were on board. Mr. Boehner and Mr. Cantor joined Mr. Ryan for one last meeting with conservative leaders — Representatives Steve Scalise of Louisiana, Jim Jordan of Ohio, Jeb Hensarling of Texas and Tom Price of Georgia — to make sure they were on board. Then the top four leaders sealed the agreement midmorning.
I would call it more of a quick kick than a punt.  Quick kicks are not done anymore in the NFL. Dan Pastorini was the last guy I saw do a quick kick (maybe Danny White did one that I saw, but I don't remember). It's when the quarterback takes the snap from center, usually on third down, and punts it into the secondary. It catches the defense off guard and leads in theory to better field position than running a regular play on third down and then bringing out the punting team on fourth. The quick kick was a third-and-long play. Quick kicks aren't done anymore because passing attacks are much more sophisticated now and picking up long yardage on third down is a regular occurrence; also, passers used to be punters; punting was a skill set expected of your quarterback. No more.

House Republicans quick kicked wisely I believe. They're on more solid footing to extract their social welfare cuts when the sequester kicks in and then after that when the continuing resolution expires. The closer we got to February the greater the chance for another downgrade by one of the rating agencies; Fitch had said as much. When S&P dropped U.S. debt one notch from AAA to AA+ because of the last debt-ceiling standoff it cost taxpayers billions, not to say anything about loses in the markets. If the GOP Mad Mullahs in the House had pressed ahead with a default it would have been insanely destructive to global capitalism, which, as the Monthly Review argues, is largely concentrated in one country, the United States.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Boy vs. Girl

The battle of the sexes is real. It's war all the time. Nature red in tooth and claw. Animality on full display. No summum bonum here. Just the muddled huddle of who on top. As an evolving global capitalism continues to disintegrate traditional gender roles man-woman conflict will get worse.

But let's not forget -- please, let's try to remember -- as Omar Little says, "A man got to have a code."

Conference Championship Game Picks

I’m going with the 49ers this Sunday. I don’t think the Falcons will run the ball on San Francisco the way they did against Seattle. Michael Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers will not rush for a combined 162 yards. This will put the game in the hands of Matt Ryan who threw two interceptions last week despite zero pass rush from the Seahawks. The 49ers will pressure Ryan and there will be turnovers. On defense last week the Falcons looked good in the first half but completely gassed in the second. San Francisco with Kaepernick, Vernon Davis, Michael Crabtree and Frank Gore are just too much for Atlanta even with its big advantage of playing in a noisy home dome. If Kaepernick starts jittery Harbaugh will sooth him on the sidelines and remind him that in due course the Falcons defense will collapse.

The AFC Championship Game has the potential to be a repeat of the disappointment experienced last year by all Ravens fans when Lee Evans failed to secure the winning grab in the end zone.

The soulless Belichik Patriots machine rumbles on year after year. Gronkowski’s absence will hurt. But Belichik’s football philosophy is that players have no spiritual dimension; they’re just replaceable parts. Running backs are a dime a dozen; so you have a new starter every year. On defense you trade away a Mike Vrabel, a Tedy Bruschi retires. No worries. You fish a Rob Ninkovich out of the free agent market. Even when your matinee idol quarterback goes down with a season-ending knee injury Week 1 you just slot in a Matt Cassel, who never really played in college, and he throws for nearly 3,700 yards, over 20 touchdowns and wins 10 games. Football is a product extruded from an industrial press. This is what the baleful Belichik represents. That’s why I'm going with the Ravens and Ray Lewis. Because beneath the suffocating weight of the corporate Leviathan we live day to day not for the bright lights and bags of Doritos but for a little taste of the heroic.

David Brooks, Contortionist

The rhetorical contortions of David Brooks have been something to behold for a long time. As the liberal New York Times' chief apologist for a conservative, plutocratic Weltanschauung he has had a lot to deal with the last decade. When he started as a columnist he had to find ways to justify the Bush-Cheney wars of choice. Fortunately for Brooks he washed his hands of the administration by the time the economy began its collapse. When Obama won in a landslide in 2008 and started actively courting the University of Chicago product I wondered whether Brooks would use his column to support a Democratic president. He did not.

Brooks' pitch is that he is a sensitive, thoughtful, good-government type who cherishes the hard work of compromise. When the GOP hitched its wagon to the Tea Party this put Brooks in a pickle. How to act as an advocate for a Bircher political party while maintaining a Westchester County refinement for all the mythic soccer moms? Brooks has accomplished this the last three years by means of indirection and fence straddling.

This morning's column, "The Next Four Years," is a perfect example. Rather than speak the truth plainly -- that Republicans have shit the bed and it's their own fault -- he blames the Democrats for not helping the Birchers. Brooks then provides an illuminating description of the legislative perils ahead for the GOP -- votes on the debt ceiling, on assault weapons, on immigration reform, on student loans. But rather than sing in it in his own voice he posits a hypothetical Washington D.C. Democrat and puts it in his mouth using quote marks and labels it a "Kill the Wounded" strategy, the wounded being those poor infant House Republicans who just need an understanding legislative partner who will teach them how to crawl.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Posterior Analytics

Women. Women are beautiful. And that's a problem if you're a bachelor who doesn't want to be bothered. Schopenhauer says that it's just the species trying to replicate itself. Beauty is nothing more than the will-to-live of the species shining through.

Exiting my apartment building this morning on my way to work, an icy fog hanging in the air, I looked across the street and there was a young lady, a trim vision of perfection in high boots, yoga-type tight pants and a pea coat. She was unassuming but stunning. There's something about the hip, posterior, thigh region of a healthy, well-formed woman that positively sings. And Schopenhauer is right; it must be all hard-wiring because the same anatomy on post-menopausal women is usually mute.

I also think the weather plays a role. It has been cold and icy the last week and except for one jog around the park last Saturday I have not run. And when this happens I notice that I become more distracted by women.

China's Surge in College Graduates

A lengthy, important story today by Keith Bradsher, a pillar of the New York Times for decades, shines the light on China's huge investment in the mass production of college graduates. I have yet to read the entire piece, but I think the three graphs included in the story sum it up. One shows China's share of worldwide college enrollment climbing while the United States's drops; another one shows the number of Chinese college graduates rocketing off the charts while far below the U.S. nearly flatlines; and the third and final one is a bar chart that shows the enormous year-after-year increase in Chinese educational spending.

Western global dominance since the nineteenth century, one could argue, has been synonymous with its superior university system -- the highest manifestation of its culture. If China is successful and hits its target of educating 195 million college graduates by 2020 -- almost two-thirds of the entire U.S. population -- then a shift will be underway akin, speaking metaphorically, to a geomagnetic reversal. (And it is not out of bounds to link such reversals to mass extinctions.)

This is the second long, important story Bradsher has written in the last month. At the end of December he chronicled the change occurring in China's world-leading powerhouse electronics factories.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Danger Bird

I returned home from work tonight and was dressing to go out for a run when I noticed that my answering machine light was blinking. As I've mentioned in a previous post this is usually an indication that I have a solicitation from a credit card company. But tonight it was a terse message from a friend and former coworker who in a somber voice asked that I call her. I did so at once and learned that the woman who replaced me at the local prior to the one I am at now had just died. Apparently she was at a party with her boyfriend over the weekend when she started to feel ill. She went to the bathroom and locked the door. They found her 45-minutes later unconscious; she had inhaled her own vomit. Comatose, on life support at the hospital since then, they pulled the plug yesterday.

This woman had the reputation for being a party girl. I met her once. Her father, who is a retired union member, I knew well; he spent quite a bit of time at the local. He grew up in a small town in Southern California at a time when old-fashioned derricks still pumped oil next to residential homes. He told me a story one time about a raven that he befriended and how the raven followed him home and became his pet; when he would go out to play around the oil derricks with his buddies the raven would follow.

This guy had a lot of stories. I listened. They were good stories. They usually had a climax where he would beat the shit out of somebody. And it wasn't as if he was posturing and spouting bullshit machismo, though there was some of that; it was more as if he was revealing -- unburdening himself of -- a deep rage, an obsessive hostility, a misanthropy that in his stories would flare up and burn down some unsuspecting fool who had crossed him.

I spoke with the daughter a few times on the phone. Before she took my job she worked for the same union but a different local. I figured out right away that it was best to be polite and steer well clear.

Shall we end the day where we began it, with a quote from Heracleitus? Let's.

Why not one of my favorites, Fragment 60: "The way up and down is one and the same."

End Times

There is a persistent feeling of never having enough time. I am constantly watching my wristwatch. Is this how time ends, with an exhausted, stressed longing for more? It would be nice to quote Heracleitus here but I don't know where my English-translation copy of Fragmente der Vorsokratiker is.

Ah, I found it! It's where I thought it was.

Heracleitus, Fragment 123: "Nature likes to hide."

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Selectric II Style

At my local union's political action committee meeting last night not one person there knew what I was talking about when I said that the look I was going for in our new newsletter was an IBM Selectric II look -- a dark Courier font in 12-point type with only underscoring for emphasis; a pre-digital look, like an old Kiplinger Letter (see below). People looked back at me with empty stares. Granted almost everyone at the table was in his or her twenties or thirties. But there was an organizer who is older than I am and she had no idea what a Selectric II was. How could that be? And in an office workers union! The IBM Selectric and Selectric II were the defining tools of the secretarial trade for a long time. It was the electric typewriter I used at my first paying job, a book retrieval service located on the third floor of U.C. Berkeley's fort-like Doe Library. I was surprised, really, that no one knew what an IBM Selectric II was.

All-New X-Men #5

One of my favorite Marvel writers is Brian Bendis. He and the artist Stuart Immonen have put together a great new comic book, All-New X-men. The storyline is that from out of the 1960s past the original teenage X-Men with all their robust innocence arrive in our dark, conflicted, dissonant present-day world to try to check a radically alienated Cyclops. Good stuff!  Here are two beautiful pages from All-New X-Men #5.

Return of Fiscal Dueling Banjos

News consumers have been enjoying a holiday. For the last several weeks the number of stories originating from the District of Columbia having to do with the budgetary battles of Congress have been minimal. To be sure there have been fiscal cliff postmortems and think pieces about trillion-dollar coins, but very little in the way of sweet noise from the chief antagonists. This has created space for a diversity of big frontpage stories: the impending U.S. escape from Afghanistan; the hottest year on record in the U.S.; France's exercise of its old colonial prerogative by bombing Islamist fighters in Northern Mali (recalling the infamous words of David Lloyd George, "We insisted on reserving the right to bomb niggers"); and Cuomo's leadership on new gun laws.

But yesterday, according to a story by Jackie Calmes and Jonathan Weisman that appears discretely tucked away on page A15 of today's National Edition, Obama called a press conference to reiterate his debt-ceiling arguments:
“They will not collect a ransom in exchange for not crashing the American economy,” Mr. Obama vowed in the East Room, a week before his second inauguration. “The financial well-being of the American people is not leverage to be used. The full faith and credit of the United States of America is not a bargaining chip.” 
House Speaker John A. Boehner, immediately after Mr. Obama’s news conference, said in a statement: “The American people do not support raising the debt ceiling without reducing government spending at the same time. The consequences of failing to increase the debt ceiling are real, but so, too, are the consequences of allowing our spending problem to go unresolved.”
So with about a month to go before the government runs out of money it appears we're back to the nauseating fiscal-cliff theater of dueling banjos. Republicans are going to insist on a bald lie, that their threat to meltdown global financial markets has the popular support of the American people. And while in some tangentially connected way one could argue that most people would agree that it is not wise to spend more money than one has, that's not the case here.  What the debt ceiling is about is paying for spending that has already been approved by the very body that is now threatening -- in a singular display of deadbeat behavior -- not to pay. As Obama says,
And -- and I just want to repeat, because I think sometimes the American people understandably aren’t following all -- all the debates here in Washington, raising the debt ceiling does not authorize us to spend more. All it does is say that America will pay its bills. And we are not a deadbeat nation. And the consequences of us not paying our bills, as I outlined in my opening statement, would be disastrous.
At the end of the Calmes and Weisman story the absurdity of the GOP position is given a two-paragraph airing.  Even if you tally all the cuts House Republicans want to see in exchange for a debt-ceiling increase -- cuts to Medicaid, to food stamps, to children's health insurance, to Meals on Wheels and other anti-poverty programs -- and you combine them with the across-the-board reductions that will take hold once the sequester kicks in at the beginning of March, this comes to a savings of $900 billion over ten years, or enough to raise the debt ceiling for one year. Then the whole dark drama has to be repeated in 2014, an election year.