Not Really a Shock

to anyone who's talked with me in the last two months, but I've been hanging out in increasingly paranoid parts of the web. I think I've developed reasonably good bullshit filters, but maybe not. Regardless, there is some pretty cool shit:
There's one problem with hybrid vehicles: They require internal combustion engines. This fact doesn't go unnoticed by many of the people who purchase hybrid vehicles. Since major auto companies refuse to manufacture electric vehicles, individuals are trying to restore and improve the capabilities of the intentionally crippled hybrids that are available to us.

The work done by calcars.org and Energy CS is proof (to me) that the inexcusable state of vehicle efficiency is pre-meditated, on-purpose, by-design and done-with-forethought and malice.

How else do you explain the fact that a few people with cordless tools and off the shelf batteries increased the mileage of a 2004 Toyota Hybrid vehicle up to 180MPG? Yes, they plug the thing into grid power to top off the batteries.
From the Christian Science Monitor:

"One guy I know plugs his Honda hybrid into a windmill for power," Kroushl says. "It costs him practically nothing to drive."


Joel makes me laugh:
Not long ago, I got an e-mail from a humorless reader that ended with a message for me and my children: "Shame on them -- and shame on you." Never mind the context: This person simply loved reprimanding me, and her final burst of reproach -- the double use of "shame" -- gave her a climactic jolt of joy. I bet you anything that when she and her husband got together that night she attacked him like a wolverine.
Proper use of similes. Yes.


Exsqueeze me? Baking powder?

Rob Walker, scribe of consumer identity, with a rather remarkable catch:
Klein-Becker describes itself as a maker of ''weight-control and life-enhancement products.'' As it happens, the Federal Trade Commission suggested that the company was making misleading marketing claims about some of its weight-loss products, including one called Anorex.
Um...that ain't right.



GoogleNews captures the gestalt:

U.S. To Sell F-16 Jets to Pakistan
The United States has agreed to sell about two dozen sophisticated F-16 fighter planes to Pakistan, a diplomatically sensitive move that rewards Pakistan for its help in fighting the war on terror, but has angered next-door rival India.

Marburg Virus Outbreak Spreads to Angolan Capital
In Angola, a deadly outbreak of a rare hemorrhagic fever has spread to the capital, Luanda. The Marburg virus epidemic first erupted in the north of the country and has already killed at least 113 people.


Gore Vidal - Depressingly Correct

But also hilariously:
Nothing important gets said. There used to be all those talk shows back in the '50s and '60s, when I was on television a great deal. People would talk about many important things, and you had some very good talkers. They're not allowed on now. Or they're set loose in the Fox Zoo, in which you have a number of people who pretend to be journalists but are really like animals. Each one has his own noise--there's the donkey who brays, there's the pig who squeals. Each one is a different animal in a zoo, making a characteristic noise. The result is chaos, which is what is intended. They don't want the people to know anything, and the people don't.
That's fucking funny! And terrigying! But funny!
Play along - Chris Matthews is the little squealing piggy, sighing with delight every time Uncle Dick Cheney comes around for one of his midnight visits; Bill O'Reilly the crazily yowling mutt with the mange that went after the wrong possum - and now is going to have to go for a long walk with Daddy and his shotgun.

Vidal's interview is a good companion piece to the Rude Pundit's musings of the other day:
Karl Rove is a frustrated fat man; no matter how much he works, he can't train his male leather slave to take a fisting. Oh, he's tried, Lord, how he's tried to get that sphincter loose enough. He's used butt plugs, anal beads, ben-wah balls, strap-ons, dildos smoothed and cock-shaped, ketchup bottles, everything he can thing of, but for some reason, for some anatomical quirk, perhaps, Rove just can't manage to get his whole hamhock hand into his leather slave's anus.

Rove keeps his leather slave chained in the basement of the White House, right next to James Buchanan's hand-crank vibrator and Richard Nixon's Saigon whore blow-up doll (with real sucking action). Rove has been working on the fisting since the second inauguration -- it's the one thing his leather slave hasn't done, having gladly taken the tax cut golden showers, the Patriot Act scat treatment, not even yelling the safe word, "Impeach," when Rove branded him with the word "Iraq." But this, this one thing, a fisting, that would bring Master Rove so much pleasure, the leather slave has denied Rove.
Back in the White House basement, Karl Rove grunts, sweats, and squeals in concupiscent rage at not getting that pudgy hand into that ass, at not turning his leather slave into his meat puppet. He know, though, he knows that if he has to, he'll ignore all the safe words and force fist that fucker until his ass is good and bleeding. And then Karl Rove will take his forever damaged leather slave in his arms and hold him, feeding him sweet Iranian figs, telling him not to worry about the blood and pain, that it'll all be okay.
This is America today - squealing pigs on FoxNews, grunting Karl Rove anally fisting his leather slave. It is of the utmost importance to laugh at it all, because we are well past the point of "it'd be funny if it weren't so damn serious." It's funny because it's so damn serious.

This doesn't mean stop caring, or fighting. But c'mon - these guys are fucking absurd. Karl Rove fisting his leather slave is hilarious. Chris Matthews really, really, really looks like a little piggy.



I was in a rut yesterday, so I watched Fight Club. I long ago lost track of how many times I've seen that film - what's amazing is that it continues to affect me, every time I see it, in largely the same way.

No, I don't want to blow up credit card buildings.

Every time I watch the film, I find myself having an internal debate of just where it is that Tyler's vision goes awry. I still don't have the answer; I know that I'm still too much of a consumerist, but I also know that walking around chanting "His name is Robert Paulson" is not exactly a productive or enlightened approach to life.

But one thing that always resonates is Tyler's first profundity - "The things you own, end up owning you."

Appropriate, then, that I stumbled on this diary at dKos today:
My "stuff" makes claims on me daily. And my stuff, and your stuff, is in danger of destroying the world as we know it.
She later quotes an article that I had not read, previously, but that also grooves nicely on this and other things I've been thinking on, recently:
In this article I wish to make a simple claim: 20th century advertising is the most powerful and sustained system of propaganda in human history and its cumulative cultural effects, unless quickly checked, will be responsible for destroying the world as we know it. As it achieves this it will be responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of non-western peoples and will prevent the peoples of the world from achieving true happiness. Simply stated, our survival as a species is dependent upon minimizing the threat from advertising and the commercial culture that has spawned it.
Right. Or, in any case, not wrong - this is a part of right. I think the author of this piece, Sut Jhally, perhaps overstates the case for advertising and consumerism being hideous mutations of capitalism rather than intensely designed systems of control. That's what a quick read of the whole piece suggested, but I'll go back and read more thoroughly later.

But what this really all heads toward is the long-form essay I keep not writing, about contemporary consumer identity . Basically - today you can decide to be anything you want to be - a Lutheran kick-ball-playing Converse-wearing reader of McSweeney's - but none of it means anything. Actually, not, "not anything", but worse than that, these customized identities are actually malign, as they cut people off from identies that have histories attached to them. Religion. Community. Family. Not that those are all good in and of themselves - but they're what you are, and the struggle of life is a struggle for meaning within what you are. If you're constantly changing those terms, there can be no search that means anything; there can be no meaning. This is the anxiety of our age, I think.


Sound of Hand Slapping...

NEW HAVEN, Conn. -- Teens who pledge to remain virgins until marriage are more likely to take chances with other kinds of sex that increase the risk of sexually transmitted diseases, a study of 12,000 adolescents suggests.

The report by Yale and Columbia University researchers could help explain their earlier findings that teens who pledged abstinence are just as likely to have STDs as their peers.

The latest study, published in the April issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health, found that teens pledging virginity until marriage are more likely to have oral and anal sex than other teens who have not had intercourse. That behavior, however, "puts you at risk," said Hannah Brueckner, assistant professor of sociology at Yale and one of the study's authors.

Among virgins, boys who have pledged abstinence were four times more likely to have had anal sex, according to the study. Overall, pledgers were six times more likely to have oral sex than teens who have remained abstinent but not as part of a pledge.

Damn, so if only I'd pledged virginity...


New Tactic - "You Don't Exist"

The next time you're in an argument with an intractable conservative, who spouts Fox talking points like a mother bird feeding her young, take a different tack. Say, "You don't exist." This will baffle them, and probably shut them up, at least temporarily. At the most, they'll say, "What the hell-", but this still gives you an opening. Begin talking about art. Or music. Art is best, though. Not because it's liberal elitist blah blah - because it's beautiful.

Feel free to remind them as many times as is necessary that art is beautiful, to keep talking about art, and, if they continue not to understand, that they don't exist.

This will infuriate them. Or it will result in a good conversation about art. Either is better than the alternative (i.e., your being infuriated).

It doesn't matter how much you know about art. I guarantee you know enough - you know enough, you know what you like. Talk about it.

This is really not so difficult. Try it out!


Not Getting It

John Kerry still doesn't understand:
Kerry considers himself to be a national-security-oriented Democrat—Holbrooke, too, puts him in that camp—and appeared to take no particular offense at Biden’s criticisms. “I’m not going to dissect the campaign,” he said. But he seemed displeased when I asked whether the Democrats had a credibility problem on defense issues, and he finally said, “Look, the answer is, we have to do an unbranding.” By this he meant that the Democrats had to do a better job of selling to the American people what he believes is already true—that the Democrats are every bit as serious on the issue as Republicans. “We have to brand more effectively. It’s marketing.”
It's marketing.

No, it's not. John Kerry lost because he doesn't stand for anything, and people saw right through that. They saw right through that to the "D" after his name, and you know what? The Democratic Party doesn't stand for anything right now.

A lot of people who voted for George W. Bush didn't agree with him on a whole range of issues, but they knew where he stood (or thought they did; for our purposes, it doesn't matter). Enough people didn't vote for John Kerry - choosing instead to vote for the least popular president in history - because they had no idea what he stood for.

It's not fucking marketing. It's called "belief."


More of This

Color me pleased:
Kweisi Mfume, a former Maryland congressman and national NAACP president, today became the first Democrat to make official his bid to succeed Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes (D-Maryland).

"My goal is to give a new voice to the issues that affect every-day working men and working women and the families that they are a part of," Mfume said during a late morning press conference in a lounge at Camden Yards, where he was joined by five of his six sons.

We'll see how this race shapes up, but I, for one, would be pretty damn psyched to live in a United States with a Sen. Kweisi Mfume.


Looking Forward, Looking Back

Time was, all manner of people would get involved in politics. Politics was about the polis, about all citizens being able to relate to the state and the instruments of policy and government.

Sure, it was never really like that, quite, but it's a beautiful thought, and a wonderful idea that our representatives be the best and the brightest among us, not lifetime schemers and climbers.

Which is why this story makes me smile, and gives me some hope:
A Russian citizen, Kasparov has emerged as an outspoken critic of President Vladimir Putin and is playing a leading role in the Committee 2008: Free Choice, a group formed by liberal opposition leaders.
"As a chess player, I did everything I could, even more. Now, I want to use my intellect and strategic thinking in Russian politics," Kasparov said Friday in a statement cited by the Interfax news agency."I will do everything in my power to resist Putin's dictatorship," he said. "My opinion is that the country is headed down the wrong path now."
I like that. I like that a lot. Putin can't just kill Kasparov, or destroy him, like some other liberal politician. He's already a larger-than-life personality, known for his specific kind of genius. And it's a kind of genius (chess-playing) that is more trenchant and respected in Russia than here.

Some hope.


Fuckin' Grumpy

A bad day. I covered the awfulness that is the bankruptcy bill yesterday. Today, it passed; all the gory details (did your Senator sell out hard-working single mothers, disabled veterans and cancer patients? Find out!) here. I won't belabor that point, nor will I go into the laundry-list of other Awful Shit that now comprises a day's GoogleNews (try it right now - I guarantee you'll be disgusted). Motherfuckin'-ugh.

So, in the efforts of, well, not making it worse, let's focus on things (events, consumer products, concepts, etc.) whose mere existence actually make me happy, such as that is.
I feel better already.


Red Meat

While everyone is looking the other way, or (as usual for most) not looking at all, the Republican Party is finding some old-time religion. No, it's not the Hating Gays Amendment, or anything to do with abortion - I'm talking about the real religion of the elected Republican Party, and that's greed. The Rude Pundit puts it best:
The bankruptcy bill is class warfare in its purest form: it states that the poor and middle class are bad and that the rich are good. And maybe it's time to start considering how we respond to such blatant, intentionally barbarous acts by those in power.
I'd submit that it's long past time. The Rude Pundit's further suggestion that,
MBNA, Capitol One, Citibank, all of those wads of fuck, are depraved assholes who prey on the innocent and desperate. They are filled with criminals who should be the first rich ones to be eaten when the time comes.
is tempting, but the time has not come, quite yet. Thank God.

This bill is going to destroy people, pure and simple, destroy hard-working Americans who happen to have a husband killed in Iraq or a wife with cervical cancer. Or who're just down on their luck. No second chances. Count the names on the wall, on this one, because it's a bright-line test of whether your favorite elected representative is a human or a whorish ghoul. Things aren't looking so good for Joe Biden on that front, not that I'm ultimately very surprised by that fact.

Look, crackerjacks, Paul Wellstone knew where these people stood, and he called them out for the greedheads that they are. Don't get me wrong - almost all the Democrats are on the right side of this bill. They're just not yelling about it, and yelling is what they should be doing. Who the fuck cares if Cal Thomas calls you shrill? He's gonna do it anyways - howzabout screaming at the top of your lungs the obvious truth that most Americans know already, but for some reason, sometimes forget -

And we don't. We like them, and we want them to have a fair shot, because they work hard, and deserve a chance to succeed. However, it's tough for that to happen when Republicans are in power because

I know you guys know this, but don't be shy about pointing it out. This bankruptcy bill, in particular, is yet another piece of evidence that


How to Use Your Life

Oh, so I bet you thought that the Internet Movie Database was the absolutely perfect way to suck up endless hours of your life in a pleasurable trance - that there wasn't really anything else you needed from the internets, except maybe checking the Craigslist Missed Connections once in a while (you know, because it's just so fascinating to, like, see the hopelessness and alienation of people out there...) - right?
Well, you were right.
But now, there is another.
Thanks to Salon's Patrick Smith (the Pilot of the Ask the Pilot column), I have now become totally and hopelessly addicted to the Great Circle Mapper.
Yes, shut up, thank you.


Say What?

Robert Byrd said,
"We, unlike Nazi Germany or Mussolini's Italy, have never stopped being a nation of laws, not of men. But witness how men with motives and a majority can manipulate law to cruel and unjust ends."

Byrd then quoted historian Alan Bullock, saying Hitler "turned the law inside out and made illegality legal."

Byrd added, "That is what the nuclear option seeks to do."

Two of the responses were as follows:

a) "Senator Byrd's inappropriate remarks comparing...Republican[s]...with Nazis are inexcusable. He should retract his statement and ask for pardon."
b) "It is hideous, outrageous and offensive for Senator Byrd to suggest that the Republican Party's tactics could in any way resemble those of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party."
One was Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League.
One was Rick "Man on Dog" Santorum (R-PA).
Can you tell which is which?
Link here for the answer.
The ADL's website says they fight "anti-Semitism, Bigotry and Extremism."
Rick Santorum says,
...if the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery. You have the right to anything. ...Whether it's polygamy, whether it's adultery, where it's sodomy, all of those things, are antithetical to a healthy, stable, traditional family. Every society in the history of man has upheld the institution of marriage as a bond between a man and a woman. Why? Because society is based on one thing: that society is based on the future of the society. And that's what? Children. Monogamous relationships. In every society, the definition of marriage has not ever to my knowledge included homosexuality. That's not to pick on homosexuality. It's not, you know, man on child, man on dog, or whatever the case may be.

Right. I tend to have fairly regular beef with the ADL, but they're really, really, really on the wrong side of this one.

Look, Godwin is dead. The way this administration has governed this country these past two years has historical parallels - and they ain't from parlamentary democracies. Byrd has pointed this out before:

...the bubble burst when an innocent child loudly exclaimed, for the whole kingdom to hear, that the Emperor had nothing on at all. He had no clothes.

That tale seems to me very like the way this nation was led to war.

We were told that we were threatened by weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, but they have not been seen.

We were told that the throngs of Iraqi's would welcome our troops with flowers, but no throngs or flowers appeared.

We were led to believe that Saddam Hussein was connected to the attack on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, but no evidence has ever been produced.

We were told in 16 words that Saddam Hussein tried to buy "yellow cake" from Africa for production of nuclear weapons, but the story has turned into empty air.

We were frightened with visions of mushroom clouds, but they turned out to be only vapors of the mind.

I began my remarks with a fairy tale. I shall close my remarks with a horror story, in the form of a quote from the book Nuremberg Diaries, written by G.M. Gilbert, in which the author interviews Hermann Goering.

"We got around to the subject of war again and I said that, contrary to his attitude, I did not think that the common people are very thankful for leaders who bring them war and destruction.

". . . But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship.

"There is one difference," I pointed out. "In a democracy the people have some say in the matter through their elected representatives, and in the United States only Congress can declare wars."

"Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

I don't mean to belabor this. But c'mon, Abe - is parroting Rick Santorum really a particularly anti-fascist thing to be doing in this country right now?

Right, back to The Man in the High Castle for me.



...but...AAAAUGGHH....David Brooks actually made a good point today. Granted - it's a pretty obvious point, but one that doesn't get made enough. And, it's in service of an altogether idiotic central bone that he's picking with society - separate checking accounts for spouses. Basically, this is another fork in his "women should be barefoot, pregnant and ignorant, and thank me for telling them so" charm offensive -
A Texas woman celebrated her family's separate accounts, remarking, "It's so freeing to be your own person, and not feel like someone is looking over your shoulder." It's not clear whether she's talking about a marriage or a real estate partnership.
But that's the standard Brooksian claptrap. Which, incredibly, doesn't work to diminish (much) the payoff. Here:
It's so easy for the powerful force of individualism to wash over and transform institutions - like family, religion and the military - that are supposed to be based on self-sacrifice, loyalty and love.
He's...right. He actually doesn't go far enough - individualism and consumable identity already have transformed/destroyed many of our important social institutions (though including the military therein is a pretty crude cudgel...not that I'm surprised). And this is kind of obvioustown; duh, modern society with its intense focus on the individual is awful and alienating.

But something else is going on here.

David Brooks, it can be widely agreed, has become an entirely reprehensible hack, a soul-less, loathesome shill for the current administration. But it was not always thus - once, Brooks was a fairly conscientious reporter with an entertaining pen, which served as a good skewer of both traditional and current American values and mores. He wrote, it seemed, because he cared - and, more precisely, was a small-c conservative, in that he saw things in our nation's cultural history that were worth conserving.

Once upon a time - before the current kulturekampf - conservatives were actually concerned primarily with conserving the traditional institutions of society: family, church, community.

They failed.

It's all gone ker-blowey in the last generation or two, and to much of it I say, good riddance to bad trash. The repressive, patriarchal nature of small-town and "traditional" American culture was bad news for most involved, less'n you were a white man. And even then, it wasn't always a good deal.

But what has replaced those institutions? The individual - your decisions, your choices, your identity, it is all you, entirely up to you. Don't like where you were born? Move. Don't like your parents' church? Get another (or not). Don't like your neighbors? Move. Don't like your job? Quit (well, you'll get laid off anyways...).

You see my point - associations today are voluntary things, not rooted in any greater historial/cultural context. You are what you choose to be, and this can be alienating. For many, it is.

For many others, it's liberating, and they are finally able to form communities that they feel a part of, after generations upon generations of being second-class citizens, or not citizens at all. Over the last generation, gay communities have flourished as "traditional" communities have withered. Women are freer by being able to have their own bank accounts - the unnamed "someone looking over your shoulder" of the Texas woman's comment is the previously all-controlling husband.

The white man.

David Brooks.

Of course he'd mock, demean, attempt to disempower her - it's his power she's free from.

So what are conservatives talking about when they talk about
...individualism...wash[ing] over and transform[ing] institutions - like family, religion and the military - that are supposed to be based on self-sacrifice, loyalty and love.
? They are not talking about the destruction of "traditional" forms of social organization. They are talking about the rise of new ones - the ability of women to order their own lives; gay people allowed to be gay; black people allowed to just go about their business. Conservatives are no longer concerned with conserving, but with destroying - specifically, destroying the forms of social organization and individual choice that have sprung up in the wake of their total power over others' lives waning. Destroying the ability of those they formerly oppressed - and those who they now politically oppose - to make their own choices.

It is a shame that conservatives have framed the issue so narrowly and negatively because, as my original point noted, there have been things lost, in the destruction of previous forms of social conditioning and societal relations, that have not been properly replaced. Things of value - the idea that one's own life is not of value simply for its own sake; that one can and should derive meaning from one's place in a family, church, community - have been lost.

And it's a damn shame that David Brooks spends his time bitching about how wimmen can have their own bank accounts, when he's so close to asking the really important questions. But - as we've covered before - he is a loathesome hack, so this should really not be of any surprise to anyone.

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