Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Looking For The Silver Lining

It’s become clear that the Wall Street insiders (Paulson, Kashkari, etc.) who are working diligently to alleviate this crisis that was caused (primarily) by Wall Street insiders don’t know what they are doing and don’t have any actual coherent plan. What they do have is hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars and the latitude to operate from a make it up as they go approach. It seems a little experimental. This is a $700 billion to $1 trillion experiment that may or may not work as intended, which again begs the question of whether we should be doing it at all. The only known in this experiment is that we will be roughly a trillion dollars more in debt when it’s over. Assuming it’s ever over.

There are two distinct perspectives through which to view this debacle and I vacillate between them depending on whatever mood I happen to be in at the moment. The optimistic outlook is that these guys are making the best decisions they can based on the information they have. I’m all for having a plan but there has to be flexibility sufficient to meet the demands of changing information. I prefer to give people the benefit of the doubt because in my experience it makes for a more amicable existence as a human being.

The other view is that this bailout is just one of the final steps in a satanic-zionist-illuminati-men-in-black scheme to enslave the American public by creating a massive peasant class. The wealth of Middle America is tied up in 401Ks and home equity and values there are plummeting faster than a chili cheese dog sliding down Rush Limbaugh’s gullet. There is a monumental transfer of wealth going on and at this point it is unclear as to who is benefiting although it’s safe to say that Joe Six Pack is screwed as ever at the moment.

A case could be made for either of these two perspectives. One of the weaknesses of the more sinister of the two is that it is not only the middle and lower classes that are having their savings evaporated. There are some obscenely wealthy individuals – old money aristocrats - who are also having their asses handed to them right now. But I guess it could be argued that the elite losers just aren’t in the inner circle or whatever.

Paulson’s more recent talk has revolved around consumer credit, the implication being that more credit needs to be made available to the American public so that we can borrow to buy cars, plasma tvs, breast implants, etc. I’m no economic expert, but this is crazy talk.
Granted, greed on Wall Street and the lack of some common sense regulation on these hocus pocus derivatives are the primary cause of our economic ills. But they aren’t the only cause. And it bears taking a good hard look at the environment which allowed this unbridled greed to flourish in such a destructive way.

America did not get into this mess because we couldn’t get our hands on enough credit. We got into this mess, in large part, because it was too easy to get too much credit. We evolved into a society that is addicted to credit. It was a seeming win-win situation but it shouldn’t have been that hard to see that it was a disaster waiting to happen. Is an economy that depends on excessive consumer credit really a sustainable economy?

The savings rate of Americans is something like -1%. I’d submit that an economy that requires the masses to spend more than they make is an illegitimate and unsustainable economy. In addition to the greed on Wall Street, some of the blame falls squarely on the American public and a culture of instant gratification and rampant, pathological consumerism.

Also, I’d posit that the economic fallout is just an outward symptom of a deeper problem that pervades our society. Whether that problem is a philosophical, spiritual, or psychological one is something the reader can decide based on their particular disposition but what is happening now should be a clear indicator that our value system as a society has finally gotten so out of whack that living in denial is no longer an option.

It could be possible that what we are seeing now is a forced rebalancing process where there is a shift away from crass materialism and conspicuous consumption and towards a more balanced and responsible way of living. Since it is obvious that society would not willingly make this change for the better (the forces working against such a positive change are formidable) it could very well be that the Universe, Fate, God, Karma, or whatever, is making the decision for us. It might be a little painful at first, but growing up always is.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Well Pluck Me Running

Republicans, buy a f#%&*ing clue! Or rent one. Or put one on layaway. Hell, pretend you’re Jack Abramoff, Tom Delay, or Ted Stevens and steal one. I won’t say a word. I should let this go but...I…just…can’t. The election is over but the insanity lingers. As I type this, right wingers throughout the land are having night terrors about socialism and God knows what else. They’re buying guns. They’re hanging their flags upside down. They’re pouting and thrashing about.

And I’m scratching my head.

They are killing me with this socialism thing. Really, I don’t think it’s a stretch to point out that most of these people (like “Joe The Plumber” and “Bob the know-nothing-right-wing-radio-enthusiast”) that are shrieking like rabid pterodactyls about the big “S” word, have little to no understanding about their own government and how socialistic it already is. More importantly, they are either in denial or –more likely – just flat out don’t know the role that their own party has played in enacting socialistic type policies.

Maybe they should read this article by George Will. He’s a conservative but different than your garden variety because he actually gives these things more than half a second’s worth of thought. Garden variety conservatism considers ‘thought’ elitist, anti-American even. Don't get me wrong, republicanism does have its virtues but they’ve been pretty much snuffed out by the cult of culture war whack-jobs and the drum beat of those who believe the Christian thing to do is ‘spread democracy’ (read: bomb the shit out of Muslims).

There’s talk of Sarah Palin being the future of the GOP. Folks if that ain’t batshit crazy, I don’t know what is. By now we should have learned our lesson about electing officials who can’t manage to wrap their head around the English language and speak in coherent sentences. Sarah Palin shouldn’t be allowed outside of Alaska and it would be preferable to keep her confined to the tiny town of Wasilla. But hey, that’s just my opinion (and several dozen million of my closest friends).

Anyway, the comedy continues. I hate to keep going on about politics but watching some of our locals here mope around like the Grinch has just stolen Christmas is amusing and perplexing to me. Apparently I live around and work with some of that 2% (or whatever it is) who approve of the direction the country has been going in.

It hurtses us. Oh yesssss, it hurtses ussss.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Blow V8

I’d like to take this opportunity to discourse at length in a pompous and boastful manner. In other words, I’d like to bloviate. What a wonderful word. Sounds like the bastard offspring of ‘bloated’ and ‘ruminate’. In my recent internet wanderings I’ve noticed an increased prevalence of the term bloviate. Why just yesterday I saw it three separate times at The Best of the Fray and it occurred to me that this is a new addition to my own verbal accoutrement. Yay.

With the ending of such a contentious election season it’s surprising that I haven’t noticed anyone busting out with this epithet until recently. I hear bloviate and I think of Rush Limbaugh. The guy is pompous if not bloated, boastful if not ignorant; a slovenly, bile spewing embodiment of a lifetime of bad eating, oxycontin abuse, multiple divorces, and general mean spiritedness. I wouldn’t pick on Rush but generally when someone gets publically exposed for such brazen hypocrisy you’d think it would ratchet them down a few notches on the pomposity scale, but not this pontificating jack-ass. All these years later he is vile as ever and still deified by throngs of his fellow hypocrites; hate the sin but love the sinner…as long as that sinner isn’t a democrat.

What was meant to be a quick commentary on the term bloviating has digressed into Rush-bashing but he encapsulates the mental image conjured up in my mind’s eye when I see this word. So here’s to you Rush, you bloated, bloviating blowhard.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Some Wicked Jowl Butt This Way Comes

If you’re like me, nothing gets your mouth watering like some good salted cured pork jowl butt.

Mmm, mmm…

Well of course I’m kidding. I’d never recommend adding salt to cured pork jowl butt. Why waste your time? (Or the salt?) Pork jowl butt pretty much stands on it’s own. Shit, in some circles salting a jowl butt is akin to culinary heresy. The important thing is that its cured. Jowl butt can be cured and not salted but never salted and not cured. Woe unto the bowels of he who does not heed that little bit of jowl butt wisdom. A fine line it is between basking in the savory glory of jowl butt and wallowing in the intestinal fury of trichinosis. You can take that to the piggy bank.

If one must salt the butt, the question arises: sea salt or regular salt? Connoisseurs agree that sea salt is the preferred additive for those with a pallet sensitive to the subtle nuances of jowl butt. For the jowl butt layperson, regular salt should be fine.

As you can probably tell, one could plumb the depths of salted cured pork jowl butt for eons and only scratch the surface; the subject is simply too vast and few have the requisite disposition and presence of mind to embark on such an epic undertaking. Well don’t beat yourselves up for it. Salted cured pork jowl butt can be enjoyed by anyone, from the erudite jowl butt aficionado, to the uncultivated but curious neophyte.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Choosing To Be Blind

God am I ready for the election to be over with already. Unfortunately politics won’t go away just because the election is over but the hostility and divisiveness has reached a fevered pitch that has become tiresome and counterproductive. I am by nature an optimist but some of what I have encountered during this election season has indicated the potential of a grim prospect for our future.

Oh sure, for me personally things are good and seem to only be getting better but this is about more than just me and mine. All of humanity is connected. That’s not some meaningless and lofty platitude; it is a matter of true fact. Religious fundamentalists and blind adherents to any form of ideology miss this completely and their very sense of identity and existence demand it’s negation but nonetheless, we really are all one. For any of us to gain at someone else’s loss is a non-sustainable mode of living. It’s not a zero sum game but that flies in the face of a ‘greed is good’ philosophy and this constant idea of ‘us’ versus ‘them’. There is no “them”. It’s all “us” and we are in trouble if we fail to recognize this and act accordingly.

Election season arrives and we all choose sides. For a good number of us, our sides were chosen for us long before we had any say so in the matter and we completely missed the point where we might have decided the issue for ourselves but that’s how it goes. It’s much easier to just go with the flow and buy into whatever group think pervades your environment. Why not just be honest and admit that for most Americans, this is how it is. How many of us could actually admit to falling into this category?

Throughout my debates and discussions I’ve noticed one particularly troubling phenomenon that for me goes a long way towards explaining why things are the way they are. Before going any further I need to point out that I don’t know who might be reading this and what I’m saying may or may not apply to you but it most certainly does not apply to everyone who is laying eyes on this. Okay? Just bear with me, that disclaimer felt like a necessary thing to do.

I’ve been struck by how alarmingly common it is for otherwise intelligent people to be so attached to their point of view that they are absolutely closed off and unwilling to acknowledge or confront facts that conflict with their pre-determined beliefs, however compelling and obvious those facts may be.

I can hear the various reactions to that statement now. “Well gee Ben, no shit. You’re just now figuring this out?” or maybe “Well gee Ben, don’t you think this might be the pot calling the kettle black and that’s why you are so attached to your point of view?”

That’s fair enough but allow me to explain. Yes, I know we all think we are right and the other guy is wrong and we all have a tendency to filter information so that it conforms to what we already believe. I won’t dispute that and I’m probably just as guilty as the next guy. And yes, I’m somewhat confident and steadfast when it comes to conclusions I’ve reached on the various political issues at hand.

But here’s the difference that I’ll claim when it comes to my own perspective: I am willing to consider and take fully into account new information and another point of view, even if it happens to be contrary to my way of thinking. I’m willing to be proven wrong and if I am wrong, I’ll change my point of view so that it aligns with reality as opposed to clinging rigidly to some long held but misguided position. I’m not going to shut someone off and discount anything they may present simply because they are a conservative or a liberal or whatever other label that I may have some personal aversion to. I have learned so much more from people that I disagree with than those who already think just like me and I would have missed out on a wealth of knowledge had I closed myself to anyone who might challenge or offend me on some level.

I’m not saying any of this to sound self-righteous, even if it does. I’m saying it because I’ve been truly amazed at the unashamed closed-mindedness of some otherwise intelligent and reasonable people that I have butted heads with when discussing politics. I have been told point blank “there is nothing anyone can say that is going to change my position or beliefs on this/these issues”. Really? How fucking sad and pathetic. Think about the implications of that kind of a statement. And even in some cases where it wasn’t explicitly said to me, that same point was made clear enough.

Now it’s true that there are some philosophical arguments that people can debate all day long and there is really no right or wrong, or no way to factually prove a right or wrong. But some of this stuff really is black and white. Some of it just pure fact versus fantasy and if otherwise smart people would rather cling to fantasy than confront fact and base their decisions according to reality…well people, we are on the fast track to self-destruction and I am absolutely convinced that that kind of blind and willing ignorance and refusal to change is largely responsible for the various debacles which we are now in.

I’m not talking about religion here or the moral implications of legal abortion, etc. You can’t really prove anything on those kinds of issues and we can argue idiotically over those things until we are blue in the face and never reach any kind of conclusion. But other disputes can be solved by virtue of empirical data. Take the issue of the Community Reinvestment Act which I made a point on recently. The right wing media and others have repeatedly made the claim that that was the cause of the subprime mortgage crisis. But when we look at the actual real life data that claim just is simply not true. It can be proven untrue with facts and figures that aren’t subject to interpretation. Any reasonable human being should be able to see the data and acknowledge the erroneous nature of that claim. But I have been firsthand witness to the attitude of “no, I won’t look at the data because you aren’t going to change my mind, and that’s how it is goddamnit”. And this wasn’t coming from some backwoods, trailer park, snake handling inbred.

There are dozens of other examples like this that I have encountered and I’ve seen bizarre rationalization and explaining away of simple cut and dry facts when they conflict with someone’s cherished opinions. In a sense, for way too many people, factual data is completely irrelevant. This is a given for some percentage of the population but for most of us, it shouldn’t be. When your mind is completely closed off to opposing information you are incapable of learning anything new and are essentially stuck in an ideological rut. Perhaps my own naivety is to blame but I’ve been stunned at how common this is when discussing the election. The utter inability or unwillingness to accept reality, admit when one is wrong, and change when reality calls for it is a threat to freedom and human progress.