Wednesday, September 28, 2011

There's Crazy and then There's...

There are today three levels of crazy represented by the American Political Right and it’s mainstream political organization, the Republican Party.  In order of increasing derangement, they can be summarized thussly:

1.  Denial of scientific findings, norms of behavior, established facts and methodologies, false victimhood and perceived bias

2.  Belief in outright impossibilities, a few examples being “Expansionary Austerity” or increasing government revenues by reducing taxation or thirty years of offering only tax cuts and reduced regulation as the preferred solution to every domestic political and economic problem faced by the US

3.  Bitten-by-a-Bat, spittle - spewing paranoid schizophrenic sweating and trembling ought to be medicated mental illness.

We’ve been fortunate that the vast majority of the outbreak of insanity and delusion that has subsumed a significant portion of the American population in recent years has been mostly limited to the first two types.  But political movements are a big tent, and there’s always a few who come by their crazy in the old fashioned way.

Yesterday we got two classic examples of that third level of crazed delusion.  When these dark fantasies go this far over the edge of reason, it simply has to be assumed that they are not manipulative fear mongering, but an actual glimpse inside the mind of a madman (and, in this case, a madwoman too).

You’re probably familiar with Wayne LaPierre.  He’s the obsessive extremist Executive Vice President of the National Rifle Association.  Under LaPierre, the NRA doesn’t merely support the 2nd Amendment right to firearms ownership, but espouses a particularly virulent kind of unrestricted right to own any weapon up to and including field artillery and tactical air power.  But for people like Wayne LaPierre, and by that I mean people who probably should be institutionalized for their mental and emotional disorders, it’s not enough to affirmatively support those specific rights granted to Americans under the 2nd Amendment.  Because he can see people all around, notably ‘liberals’, ‘leftists’ and ‘communists’, constantly plotting to abrogate those rights, confiscate the guns and put good American firearms owners and enthusiasts in concentration camps.  Sometimes these plots are somewhat harder to see than others, but when that’s the case then Mr. LaPierre will help you see just exactly what you’re up against.

As you’ve probably noticed, even with a Democratic President, the gun lobby has been pretty much unchallenged, not just in the realm of effective, reasonable controls on the availability and accessibility of increasingly lethal firearms, even to the most vulnerable inner-city children, but in pushing the envelope of what might be deemed prudent handgun and concealed carry regulations to the point of absurdity.  Do we really need to pass a law allowing handguns to be carried in BARS?

But where you and I see utter political capitulation, our steadfast Executive Vice President sees connivance afoot:

LAPIERRE: They’ll say gun owners — they’ll say they left them alone…In public, the president will remind us that he’s put off calls from his party to renew the old Clinton ban, that he hasn’t pushed for new gun control laws…The president will offer the Second Amendment lip service and hit the campaign trail saying he’s actually been good for the Second Amendment. But it’s a big fat stinking lie!…It’s all part of a massive Obama conspiracy to deceive voters and hide his true intentions to destroy the Second Amendment in our country…Before the president was even sworn into office, they met and they hatched a conspiracy of public deception to try to guarantee his re-election in 2012.

That’s right!  By doing nothing other than mildly enabling the gun lobby, that socialist President has tipped his hand.  His nefarious plan becomes clear, starkly defined in his apparent unwillingness to take even the minimal political risk of addressing the issue.

Besides the deeply paranoid quality of this kind of analysis, it can also be useful in virtually any other political argument.  Because if the utter lack of political action on an issue is a sure sign of an extreme agenda, than there is virtually no limit to the things we can expect out of President Obama’s second term.  We can certainly expect him to construct those concentration camps on the moon, because, as we have seen, he can go before the voters and say his administration has done nothing to advance the cause of further manned travel to the moon.  QED.

Of course, there are also our regular standbys for blithering insanity, people we can count on to regularly spew something so bizarre and unexpected that we find ourselves transfixed in a kind of awe.  Not just that there are some poor souls who have these kind of mental delusions, but at their ability to acquire an audience eager to accept their demented ramblings and, in most cases, tremble in fear at the risks contained in such hallucinatory threats.

And so, once again, I give you Congresswoman Michele Bachman (R-Some Other Planet), who apparently once read that there was another superpower that challenged the US for global hegemony.  To the extent that she is aware that there is no more Soviet Union, she is certain that just about any other nation on earth could fill those godless shoes, and if you don’t have a sufficiently scary nation, there’s always small political parties halfway around the world.

BACHMANN:  "There are reports that have come out that Cuba has been working with another terrorist organization called Hezbollah. And Hezbollah is looking at wanting to be part of missile sites in Iran and, of course, when you are 90 miles offshore from Florida, you don't want to entertain the prospect of hosting bases or sites where Hezbollah
could have training camps or perhaps have missile sites or weapons sites in Cuba. This would be foolish."

Well, in Congresswoman Bachmann’s defense, Hezbollah HAS been known to shoot missiles.  Little bitty ones.  From Lebanon.  Where they are part of the coalition government.  It always fascinates me when I see a lunatic construct like this and, inevitably, the issue of why Hezbollah would want to put missiles in Cuba is left unaddressed.  Obviously, the underlying assumption is that they just hate us Americans so damn much they want to find a way to, you know, kill us.  In this case, it requires the further logical leap that even now, in 2011, the Castro regime hates us Americans so much to allow a political party dedicated to armed resistance against Israel to threaten the US with missiles because, well, ok, it’s complicated.

If you wonder at the gross unfairness of it all, why they get the likes of Michele Bachmann and Wayne LaPierre and Ron Paul while the best we can do is Dennis Kucinich and the guy from New York now out of politics and spending quality time with his penis, I think it’s a very simple matter of looking at the question from the other side.  In most cases, people like us, the well - known reality based community, would be deeply uncomfortable having an unhinged lunatic arguing for our political agenda on the basis of paranoid hallucinations.  But across that aisle, there is that stubborn thirty-odd percent who actively seek out the mentally unstable and embrace them without hesitation.

Sure, under present circumstances it probably means an accelerated implosion for the grand American experiment, but at least we’re guaranteed a few laughs on our way down...

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Shooting Bears*

I don't come here today with the specific intention of transforming 'Consider the Source' into the default go-to Bear Blog, but this story appeals to me on a number of levels, from its "Rain on your Wedding Day" characteristics to its contribution to the whole "Hunting is TOO a sport" argument to the always piquant reminder that while there are those that say alcohol and firearms don't mix, the truly toxic combination is incompetence and firearms.

First of all, we can't help but notice that, as is so often the case, at the very root of the sequence of catastrophic events that followed was a simple case of target mis-identification.  It's Black Bear season.  Blacks are smaller than Grizzlies, and if you are hunting a specific species, one of the key skills one would expect you to have mastered before loading weapons and pulling on camos is the ability to identify that species in the wild.  That just doesn't seem like raising the bar unreasonably.  But even so, if you are on a Black Bear hunt and you DO shoot a Grizzly in error, there are a number of compelling reasons to do nothing but run away immediately - think of it as the Venn Diagram of bad outcomes.  First, the only thing more dangerous in the American wilderness than a Grizzly Bear is a wounded Grizzly Bear.  If you are going back-country in Montana, this is one of the primary things you should be aware of, along with the terrain and the weather.  But if that's not enough, Grizzly Bears are endangered.  It is illegal to shoot them.  Now, sure, anything can happen, but let's recognize the demands of pragmatism here, and agree that if you DO shoot a Grizz in error the thing to NOT do is allow yourself to be associated with that shooting by the nice men at Fish and Game.

But OK, let's all assume that even after the shot went downrange there is complete consensus that it's a wounded Black Bear that we're tracking.  A wounded Black Bear is not a Care Bear, or even that obnoxious little Charmin Bear that lacks the skills to wipe himself after he, trite though it may be, shits in the woods.  If you are going to approach a wounded bear, even if you think it's dead, you do so with extreme caution, with a clear view from a significant distance.  If you go into dense cover after a wounded bear, it will very likely kill you.  The right answer in this case would have been to go back to camp and track the bear tomorrow, after it has bled out.

Finally, if a bear is chewing on your friend and you are going to attempt to discourage it from further dining adventures with a firearm, take a moment to consider your tactical approach.  On the range a very common exercise involves shooting a target in close spatial or temporal proximity to a "no-shoot", that is, a target that represents a friendly or innocent bystander.  Essentially, what you're working with is seventh grade geometry, or, for those of us who mis-spent our youth, shooting pool.  Angles and vectors.  You set up your shot in such a manner that a large portion of the target is exposed as opposed to a small portion of your friend.  Your goal is not so much to immediately kill the bear as it is to encourage him to have something else for lunch.  You err on the side of a clean miss rather than a dirty one, and you shoot chunks off the bear rather than looking for a heart/lung/liver shot.

Hey, I'm all about your right to arm bears, but sometimes that very common insouciant American arrogance just strikes me as a cautionary tale.  One of those 'teachable moments', like when you have ten thousand spoons, and all you need is a .300 Win Mag.

* This amuses me because this was my mom's euphemism for farting.  I never heard another human being on the planet use it in that fashion, and to this day it cracks me up with it's eloquent non sequitur...

Update:  Oooopppppsss.  Just discovered that the incomperable Bouffant has already covered the nuts and the bolts.  Think of this as Op Ed.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Apropos of Nothing

In recognition of the coming of Autumn, I give you...

Bears With Pumpkins!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Fleeting Moments

I had a roommate and friend back in 1980.  He sold cocaine to enhance his income.  Geoff didn’t particularly like cocaine, which made him unusually well suited to sell it, as he absorbed very little if any of his profits.  We worked at a lumber yard, toiling for hourly income, a paycheck on Friday.  Geoff was fearless, he spent big, dressed well and never thought about tomorrow.  I was more cautious - I knew there was that particular week when rent came due.  One of those early lessons in resource management.  While I spent my paycheck carefully, Geoff invested his.

Geoff’s dealer lived in the hills above Mill Valley.  It was a small collection of people, family, friends, hangers on, I never got the chance to grasp who was part of the house and who was part of the marketplace.  But I can tell you this.  To this day, I have never known a place so filled with peace.  We’d go up there on Fridays after work.  It was a dirt road off a rutted asphalt track, the kind you know if you know Mill Valley, but this one was even deeper in the tall trees on Tamalpais' flank.  The house was always, in my experience, under construction. There was the smell of framing lumber and drywall compound, doors framed without their constituent parts, or with prehung doors leaning next to their designated opening.  Geoff and his dealer would disappear to the back of the house to do their business, but everyone treated me with kindness and dignity.  They all had tasks (I always wondered who designated and delegated the work, but it never seemed to matter that much), and I always tried to get them to let me help out.  Paper cups of rich Napa Valley red wine and 2x4 Douglas Fir.

Later, Geoff and his dealer would reappear, and his dealer, the predictably big, bearded blond with long hair and a denim shirt, would take a moment to offer me a hit of the purest China white heroin, the kind of thousand dollar per gram indulgence he and I both knew was eternally out of reach to me.  And then I’d walk out on the half-finished redwood deck, with the evening fog already dripping off the overhanging trees, the sweet smell of the framing lumber twisting together with the crackle of the woodstoves smoke.

It was a moment, a mere tick of the clock, but I remember it to this day.  I often wonder what ever happened to those people.  I hope it all worked out, but of course I fear for them.  The chances are they’re dead or in prison, that house either torn down and rebuilt or finished and occupied by the kind of clean fingernails financial professional who will never understand what it felt like when it was full of love and promise.

Life is a slog, a slow trudge into an increasingly drab and uninteresting future.  But there are moments, brief moments that often mean nothing, yet nonetheless capture everything we ever hoped to be in one fleeting moment that cannot be forgotten.  Just a few magic, timeless interludes when we understood what we wanted, even as we understood how unlikely it was we’d ever actually have a chance to find it.  We live nigh a hundred years, and if we’re lucky, we’ll know an hour or two of true happiness, of peace, of belonging.  Looking back, I feel like the world was trying to teach me something there in that house, to guide me in a particular direction, to make me understand that there were things worth taking a risk to persue.  And typically, I stood back and observed, I cataloged the moment and went looking for another sensation.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Fourteen Months

The President has announced his 'Jobs Plan'.  It's essentially a half a trillion dollars in fiscal stimulus, divided about evenly between government spending and tax cuts.  On the spending side, the plan is well targeted, providing infrastructure spending along with aid to state and local governments and an extension of the federal unemployment benefits that will expire in December.  That's all good, although the amount of spending is quite meager in comparison with the output gap it is intended to (at least partially) fill.  As to the tax cuts, out here where real people live, the only tax cuts that have ANY value are those, like payroll tax cuts, that result in larger paychecks.  Everything else simply disappears into the background noise of bills, debts and living expenses.

So, in general, good policy, delivered in deeply insufficient volume.  But there is policy, and there is politics, and it's the politics here where it all goes pear shaped.  In the current composition of the American Congress, with all its veto points, delays and friction, this bill would require a non-trivial amount of Republican support to pass.  And the Republicans are very good at keeping their voting bloc together.  There is some minimal possibility that Obama's plan would pass the Senate, although even that is unlikely, and there is simply no hope whatsoever that it will pass the House.  It's true that Obama, and for that matter the Democratic party, will have the opportunity to exploit the political fallout from the Republican party's ideological intransigence, but that merely serves to point out the sickening reality.

It's not a policy argument.  It's purely a political argument, with every player doing nothing more than positioning for November, 2012.  That's fourteen months from now.  With 26 million people unable to find full time work.  With the economy in recession again, whether or not the economists of record are willing to assign it that official designation.  And it's worse than that.  Because even if you assume the best possible electoral outcome in the upcoming General Election (whatever that best case scenario might look like to you), it will still be another 90 days at least before the new office - holders are sworn in, the new bills are written and passed, and then more time before implementation.  So the BEST we can hope for is something close to TWO YEARS of this - the toxic status quo, helpless in the face of any crisis, unable and even worse, unwilling to even begin to seriously address the overwhelming systemic problems facing the United States.

This is plainly outrageous, and ought to be utterly unacceptable to the American people, no matter what their ideological stripe.  Our highest elected officials are essentially going to take a couple years off from governance, the job we hired them to do, to run a campaign.  We're going to sit here, mired in an economic recession, teetering on the brink of a depression, and watch them do nothing but strut and preen, trying to gain some minimal political advantage in an election well over a year away.  Certainly, there has always been a fairly strong bias to the status quo in American governance - the system was built from the ground up to be resistant to change - but here we're acknowledging a very serious set of problems and agreeing that we'll do absolutely nothing about them for a couple more years.  At least.

Because there's the rest of this problem.  The jockeying is for the only political advantage that can matter in a system so thoroughly broken as ours.  The way our system has been co-opted by the wealthy and powerful, the only way to assure accomplishing your ideological objectives is to occupy the executive while simultaneously holding a veto-proof majority in both houses.  In a very real sense, we have learned over the last few years that it really doesn't matter who wins the Presidency - without a large enough majority in Congress, the President's governing agenda is stillborn.  If, at the end of this long, corrupt campaign cycle we end up with another divided government, toxically focused only on derailing the other party's agenda and concentrated wholly on the next election, it's hard to imagine how this nation as currently conceived can survive...

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Small (Air)Craft Advisories

The frighteningly totalitarian sounding Homeland Security Department has issued a nationwide warning that al Quaeda terrorists might be plotting to use small airplanes something bad to us.  Or something.  Now, they readily admit they have no “specific or actionable intelligence” that these plots are taking place, but they couldn't see any reason why that should prevent them from demanding that all Americans across the country, all 300 million of us, cower in terror before another nonexistent small-bore plot to harm a few people.

How many Americans will die at the hands of drunk drivers this long holiday weekend?  Why should we not fear that, as those horrific deaths and maimings will actually happen?  Instead, we are breathlessly warned about a bizarre itty-bitty version of the 9/11 attacks, starring a small single engine airplane and a couple hundred pounds of fertilizer.  Frankly, if any American has both the imagination and the mental and emotional bandwidth to actually find it within their capacity to work up any real concern over a plot like that, they probably should find something to do.  Like watch TeeVee.  Or take a nap.

Think about this.  They’re hyping a threat they have no reason to believe is taking place, and that threatens approximately the same number of American lives as a particularly bad house fire.  Who actually believes this serves the public good in some way?  If it was a serious threat, it would be pointless, because there’s nothing an individual can do to mitigate his or her risk.  Stay out of buildings that small planes fly over?  Sorry, I don’t have access to Dick Cheney’s bunker.  It’s the kind of mindless cowering in fear of big, bad al Quaeda that the American government has been doing since before the first tower fell ten years ago, and it benefits no one as much as it does al Quaeda themselves.

Of course, we know why they make these ridiculous announcements.  Fear of the political exposure if something bad happens over the Labor Day or 9/11 weekends - this way they could say they were on top of the threats.  Sadly, it continues to be the political calculation that they take less political fallout for stupid, pointless fear-mongering like this than they would if they had been silent before an attack.  It’s simple, and stupid, and endless.

Imagine how much healthier our society would be if the amount of day-to-day thought we American citizens put into international terrorism was proportional to the amount we actually suffer from it.  If our national law enforcement organizations worked quietly with international counter-terror community to disrupt plots and prevent violence, without undue fanfare or visibility.  If the face we presented to the world was one of fearless confidence, going about our business undeterred by the feverish machinations of extremists and madmen.

That would be what a victory in the “War on Terror” might begin to look like.