Archive for December, 2009

Breaking: Rush Limbaugh admitted to hospital for chest pains.

Yeah, I know this is crass as hell.   It’s a terrible joke, and I pretty much regret it already.  For what it is worth, I think Rush is a genius at what he does, and I wish him good health, but just like when he got back from his cochlear implants, and his drug addiction, and his weight loss attempts, I kept hoping he’d somehow find it in himself to gain just the slightest bit of humanitarian spirit: a small but definite acknowledgment, that hey, life actually can be unfair, that sometimes no matter how awesome you think you are, no matter how hard you try to work hard to avoid bad turns in life, sometimes fate can still drag it all down to shit.  This is the philosophical axis beneath which the progressive outlook turns, if I might be so humble as to try to define it thus.  But alas and alack, none of these things happened, though i wasn’t exactly hoping for a christmas miracle: just a little added perspective on things.  So sure, I do not question his influence and genius, and all those things that cause admiration among men, but why’d he have to go and be an evil genius, of all of the other paths he could have picked, with all the privilege that comes packaged along with all the ultimately meaningless riches he has acquired? (Meaningless in the sense that in the end you can’t take it with you, and that, indeed, it can’t even preserve you, not in any real sense.)

So if it’s all the same to you, I’ll hope for his recovery while also hoping that at the end of this thing, he might have a inclination to retire, if he’s going to keep being the bait man for the rathole that currently substitutes for our national political dialogue.

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I heard the news today, oh boy.

I made the mistake of watching cable news today.  It’s not something which happens very often, and I plan on keeping it that way, since I don’t have cable.   The topic du jour was the usual:  is this weak-ass healthcare bill a sign of the apocalypse or a sign that the universally limp-wristed and worthless democrats are on their way out the door? And if things do go well for Congress, how will this result completely undermine Barack Obama and hopefully lead to his expulsion from the US and perhaps even the solar system, if the soon-to-be-Republican majority can get the last-minute Low-Regarded President Launched Permanently Into Outer Space Act of 2010 passed before the summer recess?

So from this momentary excursion into TV news, I am almost totally convinced that a national polity based on good faith is no longer feasible in this country. I mean to say: it’s dead. Unfortunately, this means that we should probably all be backing the Village Media (the drive-bys, for all you Dittoheads out there)  as they continue to spout the Common Wisdom of the day, supporting them somewhat like a terrified audience member listening to the string quartet playing on the Titanic as it slowly sinks into the northern Atlantic. I don’t see how it gets better from here, unless the internet evaporates or is blown to hell by some furrin terrist. This nation of thousands of tiny subcultures is simply too striated at this point. Admit it, my fair & liberal friends: 99 percent of you here don’t read RedState or New Majority, even though YOU SHOULD READ IT and you damn well know it. Sure, you might give David Frum a chance when he’s taking down his own party, but that’s it. Now, take that selection bias and multiply it ten times, and that’s the kind of intentional segregation you find on the right. I can tell you from my thousands of hours of experience “behind enemy lines” as a southern US resident that they don’t even give your philosophy the time of day. They wouldn’t even take the trouble to piss on you to put your fire out, as they would say.

It’s an odd dichotomy, this country, because I still think that, although it’s far too late to put the genie back into the bottle (meaning, to go back to a time before the internet and on-demand cable), that doesn’t that I’m totally convinced that the nation is doomed, although I do think that on the whole, a thousand years from now, historians will be looking at the post-Vietnam era as the time when things started to slowly fall apart for the American Experiment (but that is a long-road scenario – I’m not some idiot know-nothing who honestly thinks that America will last forever, though I don’t think it has to end ignominiously, either.) Clearly there is still a dominant cultural influence that, at the moment, still works very much in our favor. The liberals OWN Hollywood, and probably always will. Turn on any show besides COPS or any thing on FoxNews, and you will find at least a lukewarm liberal worldview behind it. So that to me is a little cheering, although what would be even more cheering is to know that there is a place on the internet that EVERYONE could feel comfortable going to in order to discuss, to discover, and to have a break from the normal insular experience of the internet. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: going to Balloon Juice is a fucking blast, I love John Cole like a long-lost brother (ok, second cousin) and I sorely wish I still lived in Morgantown just so I could buy him a beer sometime, and all of that friendly partisanship is great and vital to the overall health of “Team D”, as it were, but we’ve got to get out from behind this leftist shield and the right needs to do the same. If we want to preserve the Republic (and I do) we have no choice but to break bread together.

Alright, so bring me some arguments.

PS: I know the Republican Right is an unserious party right now, and I also know that the Left is under the paralyzing influence of corporate power, which all congressional majorities must face in order to do anything in Washington. The question is, how do we engage each other such that some form of reasonable discourse becomes possible again? I thought the Common Wisdom dictated that the Right were due for some “time in the wilderness”, but they apparently took this to mean a twenty-minute play-period outside the schoolyard before going right back to stealing our lunch money.

Thoughts?

Fear of a Black Superstore, II

To continue where we left off: our hero was at the precipice of great changiness and preparing for a small but significant new experience in leaf-turning, and had decided to set foot in a Wal-Mart for the first time in……..a long time (perhaps two years?).

I had some things to do anyway on a random Wednesday, and not much work to speak of, so I headed out to Portman’s Music to try that place out, as I’d heard they have a great selection of musical equipment.  This is certainly true: they had everything from Martin Backpackers, to banjos and pedal steel guitars, to slide trombones and Suzuki-method violin training materials.  Pretty great, really, for a backwater burgh like Augusta.  What they apparently didn’t have there was anyone at all willing to help me or even to grant the bare acknowledgment of my shared existence in their Billy Badass universe.  I thus really hated it, uselessly gave all of them a look of withering contempt which left me feeling basically like a noseless leper, and left after about ten minutes.  I’m not much for musical snobbery these days, and it’s never really been a game I’ve played to win. So I left and then traversed all of two miles to get to the next shop on my list, Center Stage Music.  It was a smaller place by about a factor of two, but still more than large enough.  Upon my arrival I was greeted by two very disarming guys, one of whom had a gray ponytail: he immediately set me at ease, and we talked at length about different guitars he had in stock, and I got to play a couple of 3500-dollar Taylors.  While fun, I really didn’t get why they were so expensive.  My little Martin D-15 has got a great sound and cost a quarter of the price.  (That was a really great purchase, I doubt I’ll do better anytime soon.)  The takeaway from this man-on-the-street test is simple: a bad music store can be the equivalent of the old-school record store (may they rest in peace): everybody there knows more than you, and even if they don’t, they certainly claim to.   So it’s a very great thing to finally find one and feel comfortable.  Anyhow, after we talked some more about things I really have no technical knowledge of (at some point he said the word “rectifier” in relation to an amplifier I was fondling, and I just had to leave it there), I picked up some strings for my new classical Yamaha CG201S, thanked him for his help, and moved on to my Primary Target.   Operation Piss In Boots was in effect, and soon enough Wal-Mart was looming large in my windshield.

I got as far as Customer Service, which is all I really expected anyway.

It’s hard to complain: I did what I set out to do, didn’t I?  But I left feeling slightly tail-tucked all the same.  I’m determined to make this a weekly adventure, though the exact store I visit probably should change: getting comfortable at one store really doesn’t really grease the wheel of my hangups, though at this point anything I can call progress will be something on which to hang my hat.  Mixed metaphors aside, I am trying to sincerely adapt to a rather unfortunately and unnecessary issue that has seemingly randomly presented itself.

Part of me still believes the old school wisdom of behavioral psychology, which would probably suggest that there must be some underlying reason for this dilemma, the rooting out of which would presumably lead me to a neat and tidy resolution, the denoument probably consisting of a jolly exclamation (So, it was really the Vietcong that did this to me? Ha!) followed by a hearty belly laugh and the subsequent purchase of a Magnavox VCR for absolutely no reason.  But after years of trying to mentally formulate a logical source of the problem, I’ve finally had to just throw up my hands and call it fate, or a random accident springing from a set of complex experiences that even I cannot piece together.  So now my quest, insofar as I can call it that, is to somehow build a new set of experiences which will lead me to the emotional response I seek, which will bring me mentally from this place:

WALMART = SOMEONE SET UP US THE BOMB!

to this place:

WALMART = meh, let’s go somewhere else already.

More later on this, I am sure.

Fear of a Black Superstore

Yeah, so there’s really no easy way to bring this up.

I’ve finally gotten around the point in this blog where I, reluctantly and with much consternaton against what I consider to be the necessary upkeep of a fragile sense of personal dignity, finally talk about SOMETHING PERSONAL.  And let’s not pussy-foot around the issues, here, because everyone has demons and everyone has their weaknesses.  I have chosen to shine a light on mine: call it a whiff of hopenchange syndrome if you like, though the manly men among me, insomuch as they even bother to read this blog (or anything else at all) would probably beat me about the face and neck for revealing, reveling, and altogether casually admitting beyond all shadow of doubt, that yes indeedy-do, I’ve got some ISSUES that need the light shone upon them.

My principal fears these days do not revolve around my imminent death.  It is not the utter horror of commercialism and crass convenience that afflicts us all on a daily basis, though both of these things (death and Circle K, respectively) do indeed send my liberal self down with the vapors every so often.  No, my greatest viscereal fear is fairly simple but mighty perplexing:

I fear Wal-Mart.

Of course, it’s not quite so simple as that.  I could walk into a Wal-Mart circa 1995 with no problem at all.  I do have a problem, though – and when I say problem, I mean cold-sweat inducing fear – with the superstore as it has evolved since 1995: Super Wal-Mart, Target, Costco, Sam’s Club, even the new Mega Kroger grocery complexes.  You can probably already imagine the type I mean: you come for groceries, you stay to buy a large-screen TV, and get a haircut, and an oil change while you wait for the anonymous pharmacist to ring up your latest Amoxicillin presciption.

Of course it isn’t the fact that being able to do all these things in themselves is what scares me.  No, what irks me is the gargantuan warehouses that these places now require in order to offer such a huge range of service.  If you’ve ever seen the movie Idiocracy by Mike Judge, then you know immediately the sort of vibe I am hinting at:

But even this, as tasteless as it is, is not what makes me cringe.  I am, after all, an American: we make tacky into cool on a daily basis.  This is part of our collective charm, soulless though it might be.

No, the fact of the matter is that I am no longer comfortable in large spaces like Wal-Mart, and you can toss aside any moral objections I might have once had to such places;  I did indeed avoid Wal-Mart like the black plague for many years, but it is only in the last two years or so that I really just can’t even consider walking into such a place for fear of “losing my shit”, to put it as scientifically as possible.

It feels like a kind of agoraphobia, although I know that doesn’t really get at it, since I can enter an open field of any other kind and be completely at ease, even comforted by it.   But it is a KIND of agoraphobia, I suppose, since it is certainly true that when you enter a place the size of four large-scale airplane hangars and one is expected to navigate one’s way to the Electronics section, one is immediately forced to reckon with something MUCH bigger than one’s self.

I simply feel very small in these places, and totally unprepared for the challenge of having to make my way along the mazelike corridors of modern commerce.   I also feel small looking at the sky at night, though, as I’m sure most thinking people do, but I’d much prefer to be stranded on a starship in the middle of the Kuyper Belt than to be caught unawares in a Target, and this strange dichotomy between what SHOULD freak me out and what in fact DOES freak me out is really, well, freaking me out.

I could go on and on about the minor details of the things that have occurred to me when I am in these places: the forced anonymity, the cultural black hole of the shopping experience; I could even expound on the piss-poor lighting, which really turns me off.  But at the end of the day, what drives me away from Superstores is something I just simply cannot explain, though I’d like to get to the bottom of it.

So the question for me is simple: what is it going to take to get me over this naked fear?  I currently have no answer I’m ready to contemplate, though I have an idea.  Like most other things in life, sometimes you just have to suck it up and work through it.  I feel this is basically inevitable: since I work in IT, one day a job is going to come my which requires the leap into one of these places, and I cannot jeopardize my work just to get out of facing what is turning into bigtime baggage.  So to be proactive, I’m going to set a foot into a Wal-Mart this week.  I probably won’t get too far past the food court or the hair cuttery, but nonetheless I’m going to give it a shot.

If it merits a mention, I’ll be sure to explain what happened when the situation demands it.  But it’s not going to be fun, or easy, or even bearable.  What it is, is necessary, and that is all I need to concentrate on in order to begin to get over it.

I realize this is so silly to whoever will read this, but it’s real to me, and it feels like a real burden at this point.  Like I said, everyone has their weaknesses: mine happen to reside in the realm of  the inexplicable and ridiculous.  But as of yet, I’ve not been able to make much headway in facing it down, and I think it’s something I’ve put off way too long.  So wish me luck, would you, and I’ll promise not to tell everyone how scared you are of spiders.  Oops.

Voodoo Economists, Assemble!

I don’t usually link to Firedoglake, because I sorta despise Jane Hamsher’s online persona (for completely silly reasons, but whatever), but this little doozie about financial regulatory reform really, well, I won’t say surprised me, but at least made me feel like I’m sure some Republicans felt when W came up with Medicare Part D.  (h/t to Balloon Juice, as usual)

Yeah, this is news, see, because at least this time it’s Dems who are screwing over the Dems, instead of Republicans doing the deed.

…Wha? Dems eat their own all the time, you say? Well then, nothing to see here, I guess.

I am starting to really believe that, even though we just barely got ourselves up out of Greatest Depression 2: The Quickening, the end result is just going to be some very specific measures which may prevent the same exact fiscal emergency (or may not, as everybody I’m reading lately is already pulling back on CDS regulation reform). Slap a band-aid on it and let the beatings begin, I guess.

But what of all these “systemic causes” that noone seems to agree on? Is there no such animal as an unbiased economist who can perhaps steer the country the right way? I was almost happy when all this happened, if for no other reason than this: I thought it would ultimately strengthen the economy and perhaps give liberal fiscal policy people a new lease on life, but I can see that this is not going to happen, although there are some people out there trying very hard to be heard. You know, GHW Bush was half-right when he castigated against Reagan’s BS as “voodoo economics”, but he didn’t go far enough.

All. Economics. Is. Voodoo.

Because if economists such as Mankiw and Krugman can both be considered masters of their field and be so far off from each other in their conclusions (and this happens all the time), then the only thing keeping a nobody like me from breaking in with my own “genius” ideas is a paper-thin veneer of plausibility which one can easily acquire at any reasonably well-regarded University. Fuck all these assholes. If the Republicans are in any way correct in their assessment that we have too many “experts” and not enough “deciders”, economics would be the single field of study on which Republicans and I can find agreement.

I wanted to find a cool quote about persistence, but I gave up.

So, Dragon Age is done.  Seventy hours over about three weeks, and it’s finally over.  I have to say, it was a great game, I recommend it if you know what you are getting into, but it’s a long game, and if you are a completist like me, you are going to want to keep on truckin’ til you’ve gotten your mitts on every last piece of loot in the game…and believe me when I say this: there’s a lot of loot.

Oh hold up, you think I’m posting this to gloat about how tenaciously I labored through a feckin’ video game, don’t you?  Well, Mr. Fancy Pants adult-like person, that’s not it at all.  I’m actually relieved that game is over, because my reward for completing the game was that I would immediately fall back into line, finish up my University application, and study up to take my final MCSA test.  Sorry, did I say reward?  I meant “reward”:

Ironic Eyebrow in Effect

Ironic Eyebrow in Effect

Now that my time in the game is over, I actually did what I said I was going to do: I put in my University app, and I bought the official Microsoft Press study guide so that I could get some studying done at work and leave the book there.

What else has been going on is a lot of work on the personal front: primarily, a new diet and exercise regime that is slowly but surely killing my soul leading me to good looks, fitness, and a new happiness that I never thought possible. Thanks be to Richard Simmons (for he is mighty indeed!), I have managed to lose more than 25 pounds and I actually am in much better shape than I’ve been in years.

“Two free internets to you, good sir” I hear you say, “But how do you manage all this bad-ass progress without spontaneously shattering the egos of everyone you meet?”

And, you know, I really have no answer to that.

So things are going well.  My wife might be getting gainfully employed soon, I’m going back to school (still not entirely trusting that possibility, since I still currently have no way to pay for it), and my ass looks better than it has in years, darlings.

One little thing that happened which was not so great (if indirectly) was that my neighbors got their Christmas stash stolen, along with a new computer and some other swag that was dear to them.  Fortunately, I was able (and more than willing, as it was a particularly slow day at work that day) to do a couple of things to help them out.  For one, I knew a way to get in touch with one of our local TV reporters by the name of Barclay Bishop, and they did a great little story on their plight, so hopefully they will be able to salvage some kind of holiday out of the mess that currently exists.  Here is that story, if you care to see it.

The other thing is that I was able  to get them a replacement PC, thanks to luck and my boss, who kinda pleasantly surprised me by being very cool about the whole thing.  It’s used, but not a bad beater system overall, and anyway, one can’t be without a computer these days.  One thing which is weird is that they insist that I only let them borrow the system, when I thought I was being quite clear that it was a gift.  Of course, I don’t expect them to use the thing forever.  Hell, they could sell it for parts tomorrow and that would be fine with me: the point was that I was saying here, take this shit and run with it, chuck it out the window, whatever, but it’s a gift, not a rental.

Anyway, that been the rundown for the past few months.  Notice the conspicuous absence of music talk.  The truth is, I’ve been playing a good bit in my bedroom, in between extensive sessions of sitting around all gothed-up underneath all my Robert Smith posters and daydreaming of being a rock star, but I just haven’t been feeling confident enough to sell myself into recording a new song, even though I’ve been playing with a few ideas.  I think it’s finally dawning on me that my method for constructing material relies mostly on madness and a sort of nonchalance (egoists call this confidence) that I find hard to muster up.  Plus, I just don’t think I’m as good as I used to be, and this is saddening. of course, deep down, I know it’s really all about self-perception (not that this knowledge helps in any way, mind).  I may not be Mozart, but I can beat the pants off a lot of people who make shit-tons of money just by talking about their preferred brand of Champagne.  The fact that I don’t really feel like a precocious genius anymore doesn’t preclude me from participating in something fun like music composition, but it is something I’ve got to be cool with to actually press that pesky “record” button, because, to paraphrase William Shakespeare and therefore slyly prove how goddamed smart I am, posterity is a bitch to a perfectionist.

Tasteless Joke of the Decade

An older gentleman walks into the doctor’s office.  The doctor sits him down, and says “I’m sorry but I have some bad news.   You have cancer…and alzheimers.”

The guy looks forlorn for a moment, but then looks up brightly and says, “Well, at least I dont have cancer!”


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Currently Reading:

Burning in Water, Drowning in Flame - Charles Bukowski

Currently Listening:

Mr. Bungle - California

Why, yes, I am cool as a cucumber in a bowl of hot sauce.

You lika de juice????