Sunday, April 27, 2014

This Week... No, This Year... Hold On, This Ongoing Timeline In Racism

It's telling that some of the major news stories of this past week (actually, the past year, no wait the past decade, wait wait let's take this all the way back to 1963, but if we do that might as well drag it out to 1877...) has been about racism in America.

We had a Supreme Court led by a Justice in Roberts - who openly operates on the idea that the way "to end discrimination is to stop discriminating", as though not focusing on the problem will make it go away - issuing a recent ruling in favor of states that vote to end affirmative action policies for colleges.

The big news story of the week started off with a Nevada rancher, who spent years (decades) refusing to pay grazing fees for his cattle on public lands, stirring up an armed showdown against the feds that quickly turned Cliven Bundy into a Far Right, Tea Party, anti-government hero... who just as quickly got caught on tape making disparaging remarks about "the Negro" and claiming Blacks were better off being "happier" as slaves, to where most of the big-name Republicans who were cheering him on found themselves denouncing Bundy as fast as they could (with a few hardliners doing their best to defend the rancher or at least publicly tell him to keep his mouth shut before he digs a deeper hole).

And just this weekend, the sports world is aflame with reports and captured audio of a prominent basketball team owner - Donald Sterling of the Clippers - telling his mistress (oh by the by Sterling's still married, the adulterous lout) to stop bringing Black people to his Clippers' games (the argument apparently started over the girlfriend posting pics of her posing with Magic Johnson).  (P.S.: the mistress is part-Black, which adds a whole different layer of loathing to Sterling's issues)  The shocking element to this story is how Sterling's had the reputation of being a jerkass on racial issues for decades, ranging from unflattering dealings with basketball coaches and players to his mistreatment and disregard for the people who rent from his property holdings.  There'd been talk about doing something to slap some sense into Sterling... going back to 2006.  And only now almost 8 years later there are enough people honestly talking about it.

It just all piled up this one week, didn't it?  I mean, all this ignorance and hate.

Except it's been floating out there (I almost typed "flouted", but in some respects that word fits too) for years now...

Roberts' and the conservative SCOTUS Justices have just last year struck down the enforcement methods that kept the needed Voting Rights Act of 1965 functioning.  Roberts' reasoning seems to keep going back to his insistence on being literally color-blind - that pro-active efforts to fight discrimination were actually perpetuating that same discrimination - and therefore striking down enforcement provisions wherever possible.

Except that fellow Justice Sotomayor isn't having any of it, and has called Roberts out on his willful blindness:

...Sotomayor is not content to belittle Roberts’ formulation that racism will end when we stop helping minorities. She tells him that the act of ignoring pervasive structural racism is an abdication of judicial responsibility: “As members of the judiciary tasked with intervening to carry out the guarantee of equal protection, we ought not sit back and wish away, rather than confront, the racial inequality that exists in our society. It is this view that works harm, by perpetuating the facile notion that what makes race matter is acknowledging the simple truth that race does matter...”
...Roberts makes a substantive point in his rebuke of Sotomayor: Racial preferences may lead minority students to suffer shame and self doubt from racial preferences and that it is not “out of touch” to suggest that affirmative action doesn’t remedy race problems. But his deeper, sharper, point is that it is bad for the national dialogue about race for jurists to accuse one another of bad faith and lack of candor. His defensiveness at having someone explaining the limits of his own understanding of racism is palpable. He feels that he has been called out, shamed, and silenced. It is not clear whether or not he understands that his horror at being condescended to, his opinion disregarded, is among the very experiences of racial injustice that Sotomayor is describing...
Justice Antonin Scalia goes even further in his concurrence, describing Sotomayor’s logic in analogizing the Michigan anti-affirmative initiative to Jim Crow as “shameful.” In his view, she has crossed the line of poor taste by suggesting that racism in America today is as pervasive and toxic as it was in the 1950s...

With all due respect to Justices Roberts and Scalia... it IS still as pervasive and toxic as it was in the 1950s. It's as though Roberts and Scalia haven't noticed the high number of black youth getting shot at with Stand Your Ground laws in effect, or the indefensible policy of "Stop and Frisk" that overwhelmingly targeted Blacks and Hispanics over Whites. These Justices seem to think racism ended open discrimination Jim Crow laws were struck down in the Sixties and Seventies... little realizing that while those laws are gone the sentiment behind them is still out there wreaking havoc on our society.

And then you've got Rancher Bundy, Far Right Hero of April 22 2014.  The link here is to Ta-Nehisi Coates, who opens his essay with this point: "I've been laughing my way through the Cliven Bundy fiasco because, as Jamelle Bouie suggests, there may be no better example of racist privilege than the right to flout the government's authority and then back its agents down at gunpoint. Bouie asks, hypothetically, how we'd respond if Bundy were black..."

On the moment when Bundy's video got out to the media, Coates had more to say:

A couple days ago Jonathan Chait asserted that modern conservatism is "doomed" because it is "rooted in white supremacy." The first claim may or may not be true, but there's little doubt about the second. Whether it's the Senate minority leader claiming that America should have remained legally segregated, a beloved cultural figure fondly recalling how happy black people were living under lynch law, a presidential candidate calling Barack Obama a "food-stamp president," or a campaign surrogate calling Barack Obama "a subhuman mongrel," the preponderance of evidence shows that modern conservatism just can't quit white supremacy...
This is unsurprising. White supremacy is one of the most dominant forces in the history of American politics. In a democracy, it would be silly to expect it to go unexpressed. Thus anyone with a sense of American history should be equally unsurprised to discover that rugged individualist Cliven Bundy is the bearer of some very interesting theories...
It wasn't too surprising to others - like New Republic's Beutler - not just that Bundy was saying this stuff but that there's been an environment among conservatives for this ignorance for years:

...And now there's the lawless, mooching Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, who takes things further than Robertson and argues that slavery, not segregation, was truly the golden age for "the negroes." Better to be enslaved than subsidized—unless your subsidy comes in the form of the public land upon which your cattle graze for free.
The right's special pleading for Robertson outstripped its special pleading for Bundy. Some conservatives have been willing to admit that Bundy's just an opportunist, not a tribune for individual liberty. But he nevertheless became a folk hero to high-profile conservatives like Sean Hannity and even some national GOP figures.
Today, most of them are either in full retreat from him, or pretending he never existed. Conservative radio host Dana Loesch is one exception. She isn't willing to throw him under the bus just yet, arguing that Bundy's problem may be a lack of polish rather than a rotten core: "I hope no one is surprised that an old man rancher isn’t media trained to express himself perfectly."
Bundy's either a hideous aberration, or another misunderstood soul. But he can't be representative of a subculture, because that would entail acknowledging that safety-net opposition and voting-rights opposition and other conservative policies draw political sustenance from sources other than heady libertarianism....
Same goes for (Duck Dynasty's) Robertson. And the Southern Avenger. And Chris McDaniel's surprisingly robust Senate candidacy in Mississippi. It's all just a weird coincidence...
The Daily Beast's Tomasky is clear on the whole coincidence point as well:

Come on, fellow liberals. Calm down. I guess maybe it’s fair to call Cliven Bundy a racist. That “picking cotton” business put it over the top, and wondering whether they were better off under slavery... 
OK, so Bundy’s a racist. It’s fine to point that out. But point up the fact that he’s a registered Republican? That’s where I draw the line, friends. I mean, come on. That’s just a coincidence. Total cosmic coincidence. Just like it’s a coincidence that that one black comic, a Barack Obama impersonator, was yanked offstage at an official Republican Party meeting in 2011 for telling a series of racially themed jokes. I mean, that could easily have happened at a Democratic—well, maybe not. But still. A coincidence. 
Just like it’s a coincidence that one federal judge who sent an email around to friends saying that Obama’s father was a dog happened to be a Republican. Complete and utter accident of fate, the puny matter of his voter enrollment.
Those rancidly racist T-shirts and posters one sometimes sees at Tea Party rallies? They’re just a coincidence, too. I mean, Tea Party people might not be Republican, strictly speaking, and it’s totally unfair to assume that! OK, Tea Party candidates run in Republican primaries, not Democratic ones, and the Tea Party caucus in the House doesn’t include one Democrat. But still. Guilt by association!
Bundy has a broad libertarian streak, too. But please, let’s not suggest that libertarian-leaning Republicans might be a little racist, too. I mean, again, what’s the evidence for such a statement? What—the fact that Ron Paul’s ghostwriter(s) of his newsletters in the 1990s had very clear Confederate sympathies? If I were you, I would be careful about drawing any inferences from that. It was a long time ago. And a sentence like this one: “Order was only restored in L.A. when it came time for the blacks to pick up their welfare checks three days after rioting began” ...well, admit it. It’s open to ambiguity. Can be interpreted in any number of ways. What’s that? You counter by telling me that all that was two decades ago? OK. You’re right. And you’re right that it’s also a coincidence that his son Rand’s ghostwriter—that’s Rand Paul, the current Republican front-runner to be the party’s presidential nominee in 2016—on his book also has expressed sympathetic views about the Confederacy? Remember this guy—called himself the Southern Avenger, was photographed wearing a stars and bars superhero kind of mask? It’s just a coincidence that he ended up in Rand Paul’s orbit...
And it's just a coincidence that it's been Republican-nominated Justices like Roberts and Scalia talking about how racism isn't the problem like it used to be in the 1950s...

Topping this all off has been the cherry of a sports owner who's been known for years to be a total dick: not just a racist but also a sexist and a penny-pinching miser of a team owner who kept his Clippers franchise a joke for years just out of sheer spite half the time.

This is a guy in Donald Sterling whose outside means of income of being a team owner is property rentals.  And has a bad history of that to boot: he's been sued multiple times for discriminatory practices, either banning certain ethnic types from renting or using dirty tactics to force those ethnic types out.

With regards to Sterling's behavior towards his rental tenants, that problem has been a major racial issue for decades itself: Coates' biggest discussions lately have revolved around poverty, race, and a policy of neighborhood segregation that kept minorities - Blacks above all - trapped in impoverished conditions regardless of their income.  Sterling's pretty much a poster boy for how those racial policies work in today's America.

So here we are, in Roberts' color-blind America: where Black kids get frisked for the crime of WWB or worse shot at by gun-toting angry guys; where the voting rights of minorities can get legislated out by the states where Republicans fear they'd lose in fair elections; where college admission guidelines can ignore maintaining any semblance of ethnic diversity without requirement to create alternative means of keeping minority enrollment up; where rental costs and neighborhoods suffer at the whims of landlords who express the worst about the very people trying to live under their roofs; where white guys get all the public support they need to break the law but whenever blacks rise up they get arrested or worse...

I'm with Sotomayor.  Racism isn't going to end by turning a blind eye to it.  Racism ends when you get in its' collective goddamn face and tell it you "dare to care."  You fight racism by calling it when you see it, and pointing out the flaws of logic that fear and hate bring to the issue.  You work to end it, you work to find solutions to the segregation we inflict on our communities, you work to get the kids to break the cycle of fear and keep them engaged with each other as friends, as allies against corruption and hate...

Meanwhile, the clock ticks and with it another day of stupid to defeat... sigh.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Schadenfreude In Florida Episode 37: Tee-Hee Over The Pee-Pee

I wanted the subtitle to read "Losing the Pissing Match" but it's not exactly language that's Safe For Work and all...

That said, here's what the Supreme Court said to Rick "Medicare Fraud" Scott when he petitioned them to overturn the lower court rulings striking down his efforts to make state employees undergo "suspicion-less" mandatory drug testing: Piss off.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday rejected Florida Gov. Rick Scott's petition to review a ruling that his random drug testing policy for state employees is unconstitutional, the latest in a series of legal battles facing the governor.
The decision leaves in place a May 2013 appeals court ruling against Scott's 2011 executive order making consent to suspicionless drug testing a condition of employment. A judge had previously concluded that the program, covering up to 85,000 state workers, violated Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable searches.
The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals did grant Scott some leeway, saying drug testing without suspicion could be used in "certain safety-sensitive categories of employees — for instance, employees who operate or pilot large vehicles, or law enforcement officers who carry firearms in the course of duty..."

Getting tested the one time you're getting hired - I've had to do that with each of the county and city library jobs I was hired to - may be questionable, but it's a one-time deal and an argument can be made then for doing it (part of making sure the applicant is fit to begin work).

But Scott and his ilk were pushing for ongoing testing even after getting hired, arguing they wanted "clean safe workplaces."  While testing someone who is clearly under-performing and showing the signs of drug abuse may be warranted, constantly testing everybody ignoring actual innocence becomes a form of harassment.  It's a violation of the Fourth Amendment protection from warrantless searches.  (It also runs the risk of tagging a clean person with a "false positive" result, and that's a nightmare nobody deserves to suffer)

There may be an argument for drug testing in the workplace (the courts did leave wiggle room to test high-risk employees like cops and drivers), but not when a crook like Rick "Kickbacks From My Chain of Clinics" Scott is making that argument.  This is a guy whose wife oversees the trust that Scott's business holdings were placed under - including a clinics chain Solantic that profits from Scott's efforts to privatize Medicaid programs - and who'll expect to make even more money pushing drug-testing programs - his push to drug-test welfare recipients is another bag of bad ignorance and unjustified punishment - that would have to use his clinics.  Putting his businesses into a "blind trust" isn't going to stop Scott from making decisions that will still profit himself and his family at the expense of the state.

Dear Floridians: this is why we don't vote Medicare Frauds into high office.  Please for the Love of God get the damn vote out this year and vote this crook out of the governor's office before he causes any more self-serving damage.

Monday, April 21, 2014

#LibJobShadowFL Today (Update)

Let me Tweet to Mah Peoples!

Follow me on Twitter @PaulWartenberg, and keep up with the hashtags #LibJobShadowFL and #NLW (or #NLW14) and with anything librarianship today!  Support your libraries!

@FLA (Florida Library Association) too.

And I'll find out about why our Bartow Public Library driveway was blockaded over the Easter Weekend by abandoned RV Campers!  #DefendTheLibrary

UPDATE: I finished my run today on tweeting about working at the Bartow Library.  You can check it out on Twitter via this link here.

That said, some documentation is in order...
For some reason over Easter weekend, a pair of free-range RV Campers were abandoned on the driveway into the library and city civic center (the grassy area where the tents are is Mosaic Park).  Someone wanted to blockade the library.  The RVs were moved eventually, but the mystery surrounding this event remains unsolved...
On Monday afternoons I teach computer class.  Basic computing skills for the community of Bartow and surrounding cities.  Today was Teh Intertubes!  Many thanks to the attendees for being patient while I tweeted a few time during class (got to teach them Twitter in the process).

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Current Status 04/20/14

Just to note a few things:

1) Still working at the library.  I will be part of an all-day Twitter posting this Monday Apr. 21st to promote librarianship for Florida Library Association.  It's called @LibJobShadowFL and we have librarians who update their ongoing duties: working Check Out desks, cataloging, ordering new materials, and hosting / teaching events.  Hashtag is #libjobshadowFL and don't be surprised to see #NLW for National Library Week (which technically was last week but this jobs events is a two-week deal).

2) When I updated my XLibris account (publisher of my short story anthology Last of the Grapefruit Wars) due to my recent move, I realized I still had on order a purchased book publication.  So two things now: A) finish writing SOMETHING in book format to use up the purchase, and B) FINISH WRITING SOMETHING /headdesk

I tried getting something typed up this Good Friday/Easter weekend but... gah, too many distractions., that's not fair.  Shouldn't blame the lack of time.  Should blame meself: half the time I'm sitting here at a keyboard yelling at myself for trying to write a story and yet the story just... doesn't seem right... the ideas in my head are one thing, but the words don't seem right on the screen.  I'm lacking the confidence to get something writ wrote righted.

3) Gotta keep reminding folks to GET THE DAMN VOTE OUT.  Well, gotta remain consistent about this stuff somewhere...

So, if anything, keep track of me this Monday!  My Twitter handle is @PaulWartenberg and the hashtags are #libjobshadowFL, #nlw, #libraries, #Floridalibraries, #ILikeCheese, #TheNorthRemembers, #FireSchiano (wait, that's been done) and #RickScottIsACrook.  ...what?  Okay, okay, I'll tweet the anti-Scott stuff later... sheesh...

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Some Tips On Surviving Heartbleed

With the latest news that a particular bug in OpenSSL has pretty much made everyone's passwords to every registration-based website vulnerable, I felt it was necessary to use my computer-training skills to provide some helpful tips to all.

First off: Don't Panic.  Heartbleed has been out there for two years, so everyone's pretty much f-cked already.  If you're worried about the government or any private corporate entity getting into your emails and personal stuff, it's too late especially since the NSA has been exploiting this bug for all that time, and stressing about it now isn't going to change that.  Those cosplay photos of you hanging out at the Furry Con has already been passed around the NSA and Booz Allen offices and openly mocked.

Second: You're Gonna Need To Change Your Passwords and Security Questions to All Affected Services.  Which means you gotta change every security detail for your Yahoo!, your Google/Gmail, your Windows, your iTunes, your Blogger pages, your Facebook, your MySpace, your Twitter, Flickr, Tumblr, Bumblr, your online banking, Amazon, Barnes&Noble, Costco, Sams Club, Fight Club, Wikipedia, TV Tropes, Transformers Wikia,, that strip club on Dale Mabry that offered a good VIP membership deal...

You'll need to make sure the fix/patch for Heartbleed has been verified before you go changing those passwords though.

Third: Come Up With a Decent Password That's Easy To Remember But Difficult For The NSA To Guess.  This is always hard to explain to library patrons when they come in asking for help creating their first email accounts (yes, it still happens after 20 years of free Hotmail and Yahoo! Mail services.  Not everyone got an email account back in 1998...).

The rules for passwords are pretty simple: letters and numbers and special keystrokes like exclamations, asterisks, parentheses, percent signs, pound signs, and umlat.  Hope that's not too confusing...

Okay, let's make it a little easier.  The letters (a-z) can be lower case OR Upper Case (A-Z) when you create the password: passwords are Case Sensitive.  One or more letters cAn be upPer caSe.

NEVER use a common word out of a dictionary - Esoteric, for example - and especially NEVER use a name associated to yourself - say, Aunt Jessificiantia's middle maiden name Frank.  Hackers use social gathering info through other researched resources and they'll know about Aunt Jessificiantia, oh yeah...

Try not to use numbers that relate to yourself personally, such as: Year of birth, year of high school graduation, year of getting married, year of getting divorced, year of getting hacked by the NSA, etc.  Last four digits of your Social Security is WAY WRONG do not do that (last four of your SSN tends to get used for other things... oops).  A lucky number could work as long as no one else knows how unlucky that lucky number is to you.

The best tricks involve using abbreviations you can remember - nobody's gonna know what WDTSHTM stands for - and then a combination of numbers mixed in.  To make it harder, follow off the last number in the password with another smaller (two or three-character) abbreviation.

Oh, and the password is usually a minimum of 8 characters and a maximum of 14, maybe 16 chars.

A decent password is gonna look like this Wdts7htM601Ga.  Some sites will insist on throwing in a special keystroke character so Wdts7thM6Ga# is a workable variation.

Fourth: Do NOT Use the Same Password for EVERY Site that requires a password.  Yes, it may be simple to remember just the one password, but if someone hacks into your Facebook account they can use the same hack on your online banking records.  Mix 'em up.  You could try variations of a base password - changing numbers and/or abbreviated letters around, using different keystroke characters, etc. - but make the variation hard to guess.  Most sites WILL lock down an account after three failed tries, so don't make the passwords something that's just one character change between each other.

On that note, you can write down the different passwords you're using, but that sheet has GOT to be in a secured location and unavailable for anyone else to look at.  Best tip: don't write the password itself down, but write down a memory clue / hint that will make your remember "oooooooooh that's what my password is".

Fifth: Get the VOTE OUT and vote into office candidates sworn to make the NSA answer for their evil hackery.  Make the candidates swear on a copy of Orwell's 1984 for good measure.

Now.  Don't you feel better?

Friday, April 04, 2014

Anniversary: My Generation, And The One Who Fell Behind

No I don't have a gun/
No I don't have a gun/
No I don't have a gun...
- Kurt Cobain and Nirvana's lyrics to Come As You Are

Cobain, you goddamn liar...
- Paul Wartenberg, after finding out on April 8 1994 along with everyone else what happened to the guy

Friends, Americans, Culturists, lend me your media feeds.  I come to praise Generation X, not to bury it.

And no, I'm not talking about the punk band or the Marvel graphic series.  I'm talking about the boys and girls who were born roughly between 1965 - the year Dylan went electric - and 1980 - when Lennon was assassinated - so that they had to be three years old at least when Return of the Jedi was out and Reagan was in the White House.  I'm from 1970 - Year of the Dog - so me and the Class of 1988 (Go Spongers) are right in the middle of it.

We were the following generation of the Baby Boomers, the genealogical anomaly of a birthing group (1945 to 1963) that came after the Depression / War generation.  Where the War generation was defined by sacrifice, blood sweat and tears, and superhero comics, and where the Baby Boomer set defined by middle class affluence, reactionary rebellion, and rock n roll, the Generation X was defined by the X.  A random elusive variable...

Gen Xers were the generation that grew up in the wake of the national malaise post-Vietnam and post-Watergate, when our political and social institutions were beset with scandals.  We were the generation that was the first to be mostly self-raised as our parents both went to work (Latchkey kids), where divorce was common compared to previous generations or where single parents were becoming a norm.  We had to cope with the consequences of the burgeoning War on Drugs, the spread of sexual diseases in the aftermath of the Sexual Revolution, and the disaster that was New Coke.

But it wasn't all bad.  Ours was the generation that grew up to Star Wars, a cultural milestone akin to the Beatles.  We had the benefit of cable TV bringing us more Sports (ESPN), more news (CNN), more weather.  We got our MTV.  We gamed to Dungeons & Dragons despite the moral outrage, we danced to Prince and Madonna despite the moral outrage, we permed our hair and wore mullets despite the moral outrage.

We are, were, still will be, a generation rather schizophrenic to the core: both jaded and optimistic, sarcastic and sincere, conspiracy-minded and complacent.  We were the generation doomed to barely survive as the Boomers sucked all the oxygen out of the room as they came of age of political and economic power in the Nineties (when they all turned 40 and became CEOs and Presidents).

And we had our heroes and icons, the ones who spoke to us, spoke for us, on the national media stage.

1991 was a major turning point in our culture.  The Cold War of the last 25 years was ending as the Soviet Union literally withered on the vine.  The Berlin Wall had already fallen and the political threats were no longer coming from Asia but from the Middle East.  Movies were about to turn into special-effects behemoths as CGI effects in Terminator II showed that anything was visually possible.

Music was also changing as the decades changed.  The video-driven 80s pop and hair metal bands that dominated MTV and radio were getting stale.  Rap was still having a problem getting outside of the ghettos of L.A. and New York.  Michael Jackson was making a major media campaign to prove himself relevant in the 90s as he had been the previous decade, but was doing so in a heavy-handed, self-defeating way.

But it was a little-heralded band out of Washington state - part of the Seattle music scene that soon became known as "grunge" - called Nirvana that blew the speakers out of every teenager and college student's sound systems that year.  A song - "Smells Like Teen Spirit" - that was part Ramones up-tempo rock, part metal, part protest - just hit the right damn notes with the Gen X age group.  From epic opening riff to the fading scream of singer Kurt Cobain shouting "A denial...", it spoke to a generational apathy of teens and college students who wanted to unplug from a crazy world, couldn't, and just had to cope.

Nirvana went from a garage band that traveled to shows in beat-up vans to a headlining act filling packed arenas and stadiums.  Cobain became the iconic grunge rocker: dressing in hand-me-down flannels, with shaggy hair and three-day beard growth, walking about with a dazed look in the eyes and a knowing grin.  Everyone thought it was cool.

Except for Cobain.  He never asked to be a hero or a rock star.  He wanted to be a rocker, sure, but someone who plugged in, played a few chords, moved on.  He had his own heroes - other post-punk and college radio bands that he eagerly talked up in interviews, which gave them brief bumps in popularity - but he also had his own demons.

Like a good number of other Gen Xers, Cobain grew up in a broken home in an economically-depressed town.  He grew up as an artist (his family had a history of musical talent and his grandmother encouraged his drawing), which made him a target for a good amount of school bullying by the jock clique (it didn't help that Cobain's father tried to get him to play sports).  It got worse when Cobain befriended a gay student which made those jocks think Cobain was gay as well (Cobain eventually made many pro-gay gestures around town in order to piss off the homophobes, and later opined he was bisexual despite all the girlfriends he lived with).

After getting thrown out of his mother's home - having dropped out of high school, having problems finding work - Cobain lived the struggling artist life, finding part-time work where he could, going to music shows across the Northwest, starting up his own attempts at music, hooking up with girls in the scene, and making his way onto the stage with one band line-up after another.  Teaming up with Krist Novoselic to form Nirvana in 1987, they went through a series of drummers until they tabbed Dave Grohl for the job in 1990.  Then they went in to a major studio to record the album Nevermind...

Cobain's work as a musician and lyricist focused on dynamic contrasts: the lyrics themselves would have a stanza of meaningful incoherence followed by a repetitive chorus back to another stanza before closing out with a repetitive chorus that underscored a melancholic dread or a resigned fate.  "Smells Like Teen Spirit" worked that way, as did "Come As You Are", "Lithium", "Polly", later songs like "Heart-Shaped Box" and "Rape Me"...  The songs were tinged with political rage and social despair, but sung in a light-hearted disconnected tone.

Cobain didn't expect so many people to get into what he was doing, and was dismayed a lot of his work was getting overplayed... or worse played out of context.  One of the things that haunted him was finding out his song "Polly" - a disturbing tale of an unconcerned man raping a girl, based on a real-life serial rapist who haunted the Pacific Northwest - was being sung by two rapists assaulting their own victim.  Cobain got disgusted finding out that as Nirvana got more popular they were attracting the same jerk jocks and frat-boy bullies that made his teen years a living hell, many of them not even getting the fact that a lot of Cobain's own songs were raging against them.

Not helping matters were Cobain's history of drug use - some of it psychiatric, some of it to cope with a chronic stomach ailment, some of it recreational with the hardest of them being heroin - and getting into a volatile relationship with Courtney Love.  Due to the couple's drug use, they temporarily lost custody of their daughter Frances Bean and he continued to live under the fear of losing her again.  In this environment, a handful of drug-using moments seem to turn into suicide attempts.

By the end of March 1994, Cobain was confronted with an intervention and convinced to put himself in detox/rehab in Los Angeles.  He only stayed for about a day, then hopped the clinic's six-foot wall and fled.  By April 2nd, he was spotted in a few places around his stomping ground Seattle.  By April 5th, he ended up at his big secluded home.  His body was found April 8th, shotgun to the head, body pumped of heroin, a suicide note nearby.

There's been the conspiracy theories, of course: Generation X grew up with Roswell and the Kennedys and King getting shot and the CIA MK/Ultra stories and the FBI Conintelpro scandals.  The idea that Courtney Love had Kurt killed for some reason or another.  But the sad truth is that everything we know about Kurt Cobain, the pains and the addictions, the fact he fled on his own, that he wandered (wondered) about town his last few days, by himself for the most part, alienated and disconnected... the suicide has all the markings of the bliss of a man who'd decided to unplug for good...

This was all twenty years ago.  I was working as a part-time librarian in Clearwater at the time - St. Pete (then Junior) College - and I came home to my mom telling me the kids in her classroom were talking about Kurt.  I turned on the news, to MTV, and watched.  It was a kick in the gut.

Cobain was 27 when we died.  Same age as my older brother.  He was three years ahead of me.  He could have been my brother, or someone I knew at school.  Like him, I had to deal with bullies and not fitting in, and coping with a world that seemed so painful.  Still I got some of the lyrics he sang, not all of them, but I got them.  I felt the tempo of the music, understood the mood.  Like Cobain and millions of other Gen Xers I had depression, but I coped.

And I hated Cobain for what he did.  He chickened out.  He had more going for him, more to live for (a daughter for God's sake), than I would ever know.  Not just the money or the fame.  He had friends despite the disconnect that seemed to be there.  He had the ability to enjoy the world on his terms - with wry bemusement - that I can only barely do on my own.  And still he couldn't cope.

Cobain fell.

It's 2014.  On Facebook recently I saw a shared photo of famous dead artists with the poster asking which of these artists would you like to see perform one more time?  For me, that poster isn't asking about whether we'd want to see them perform, it's if we want to see them... meet them, before the moment those talented souls fell to their fate, to drugs or illness or madness or worse.  Warn them, save them somehow, so that they'd still be here in the real world rather than in our fading memories.

Generation X are now in our 40s, mostly.  We're well within the age of being parents, raising our own kids, coping as always only now we're on the older side of things bearing witness to this new generation - the Millennials - learning to cope on their own with their hopes and fears and cultural touchstones ("Call Me Maybe"?  Sigh...).  We're about the age of becoming CEOs and Presidents ourselves, although the Boomer generation hasn't ungripped the reins of power just yet and we're suffering - much like our own kids among the Millenial crowd - from the short-sighted Boomer self-indulgences...

Except for Cobain, who fell behind, stuck at 27 forever.  Stuck as a reminder that not all of us got out of the Nineties alive.  Stuck on the same last repeating lyric.

A denial... 
A denial... 
A denial... 
(bemused grin that quickly disappears as the video ends)

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

The Game Is Rigged

If Citizens United weakened campaign laws into a mass lump of jelly, the current McCutcheon decision from the Supreme Court pretty much kills off the rules altogether.
The remarkable story of how we have come to privatize political corruption in this country reached another milestone today as the Supreme Court, John Roberts presiding, handed down its decision in McCutcheon v. FEC, effectively demolishing the aggregate, two-year limit on contributions by individuals, and taking a big chunk out of Buckley v. Valeo, the misbegotten 1976 decision that got the ball rolling in the first place. It was a 5-4 vote, with the court split exactly as it had in the Citizens United case...
...Roberts writes: Significant First Amendment interests are implicated here. Contributing money to a candidate is an exercise of an individual's right to participate in the electoral process through both political expression and political association... The Government may no more restrict how many candidates or causes a donor may support than it may tell a newspaper how many candidates it may endorse... The aggregate limits do not further the permissible governmental interest in preventing Quid Pro Quo corruption or its appearance...
The thinking from Roberts and his fellow conservative Justices (the vote split 5-4 between Republican-chosen Justices and Democratic ones) seems to be that since they don't see any specific instances of Quid Pro Quo (Latin for I Scratch Your Back If You Scratch Mine) then there's no corruption at play here, ergo campaign money is not bribery.  They WANT to think money (which isn't free) is equal to free speech (which you shouldn't pay for).

But here's what happens in the real world now: a billionaire can cough up a sizable amount of money - say, $10 million, which is freaking pocket change to a billionaire - and put a lot of that into a SuperPAC... and now a good amount of those millions towards direct contributions that the political candidate for office needs to run an election campaign.  That billionaire is coughing up that $10 million with the expectation that the person(s) the billionaire is(are) backing will win... and will represent that billionaire's interests when the time comes to vote on key legislation.  The politicians know who it was that brought 'em to the dance floor, so they'll play ball and make their vote count for that billionaire... despite the possibility that vote goes against the interests of the 150,000 people from their district or the 18 million people from their own state.

It's one of the reasons why West Virginia is so f-cked up with its waters getting polluted by the coal industry owners: the politicians (both Republican and Democrat) are so beholden to those company owners that they've deregulated every safety guideline in the books... and ended up with polluted drinking water that's STILL making thousands of residents sick.  With long-term effects - cancer especially - still a huge factor.

As Pierce notes in his Esquire article: Four days after almost every Republican candidate danced the hootchie-koo in Vegas to try and gain the support of a single, skeevy casino gazillionnaire, the (SCOTUS) majority tells us that there is no "appearance of corruption" in this unless somebody gets caught putting a slot machine in the Lincoln Bedroom on behalf of Sheldon Adelson.

Sheldon Adelson has about a hundred politicians knocking at his door and sucking up to his political wants.  He's got billions of dollars.  Me?  There is no one knocking at my door and listening to my political wants (a jobs stimulus bill and fair wages, plus cheaper and faster Internet), because I'm making under $35,000.00 a year.  The most I get is the constant emails from Obama's OFA begging for another round of $50.00 I try to pass on every other year (and something that I can't even afford to donate right now).  See the difference, Justice Roberts?  I may have the free-speech ability to say what I want here on this blog and elsewhere on Facebook and on Ta-Nehisi Coates' open threads, but nobody in Congress even knows I'm here because I'm not waving a $20,000.00 check at their campaign handler.  This isn't fair or equal.  What's my $50 compared to Adelson's $10 million?

Molly Ivins kept warning us "It's not what's illegal that's the problem, it's what legal that should scare you."  She quoted that line once discussing how it was common in her Texas legislature (it might STILL BE) for businessmen to walk on the floor during a vote handing out blank checks to legislators voting on something those businessmen wanted.  What the Supreme Court has done has been to make it legal for the rich - the billionaire trust-funders, the megacorporations - to pay for easier access to the elected officials on the floor of the US House and Senate who will be indebted to the ones who paid their way.  And that easy access dictates how the government addresses its issues.  If a billionaire wants the politicians he gave money to promoting the cutting of taxes on the uber-rich, we're gonna see those politicians promoting the cutting of taxes on the uber-rich despite the majority of voters from those politicians' districts screaming "hey, we NEED you to tax the rich.  They're the only ones who can afford it anymore."

The Supreme Court is not seeing any corruptive Quid Pro Quo because they're not using goddamn common sense to see it.  Roberts and his Right-leaning cohorts are sticking to a narrow definition of corruption that doesn't apply to what's really going on. They can't see that Congress isn't focusing on the issues that the voters want - JOBS AND MORE JOBS AT BETTER WAGES - and they can't see that Congress is focusing on what the uber-rich want - TAX CUTS AND DEREGULATIONS that we've seen over the last 20 years don't effing work.

Elections are not a non-partisan, democratic process anymore in the United States.  Elections now are a billion-dollar industry, lacking any regulation or protection from corruption.  It's become legalized bribery all because the Supreme Court majority doesn't want to see it.

The only thing that can save us now is voting out the politicians most likely in the pocket of the uber-rich (hint: they tend to have an R bracketed between their name and their district/state).  But with gerrymandering and voter restriction attempts, that's not likely.  And with dismal Democratic voter turnouts in midterms... well...

This is why I keep screaming at you Dems to GET THE DAMN VOTE OUT.  And I'm not the only one screaming, I know.  So will you, Democrats?  WILL YOU FOR THE LOVE OF GOD GET THE DAMN VOTE OUT?  It is the only way to defeat the Roberts Court's intent to make this nation a kleptocracy.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

You Were Warned This Was Coming

With all due respect to my seven readers, you knew this day would come.  Just not this day.

In order to counter the growing talk of having Jeb "Yet Another" Bush being the prospective Republican nominee for 2016, I have decided to jump ahead of schedule and make my candidacy for President of the United States official.

Yes, I may be starting too early.  Yes, this goes against my constant argument for keeping all electioneering within the actual year of the election itself.  But if my throwing of the tinfoil hat into the ring has the effect of convincing Jeb Bush that Florida is MINE, it should stop this insidious crazy talk about his nomination once and for all.

Now, the process itself still requires a few things... such as filing paperwork in all 50 states I need the vote (plus DC), getting petitions signed and notarized, and oh about maybe $2.4 billion in loose change to pay for the whole damn thing.

I expect to raise most of that through merchandising, such as getting t-shirts and postcards printed out via CafePress.  A lot of money should be rolling in via my upcoming political biography Always Sober Never Sane. (due on the thirteenth day of the thirteenth month)

As the excerpt from my epic memoir makes clear:

These are the thymes that dry men's underwear. The summer hammock and the sunshine parrot will, in this crisis, shrink from too much drying on High heat; but he that strands by it know, deserves the love and thanks of that guy over there and a couple other hangers-on. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily tropified although the editing process on that site is easy; yet we have this constellation with us, that the harder the armpit, the more glorious the deodorant. What we obscure too cheap, we esteem too brightly: it is doe a dearness a female dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods, usually at a fair market rate depending on the Dow; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated by Moody or Standards & Poor.

I figure on getting a seven-figure deal from a major publisher for it. Hell, I'm hoping for the FILM RIGHTS. (with George Clooney as the beleaguered campaign manager, Alexandra Daddario as the Secret Service agent assigned to protect me, and myself played by a CGI-created Yog-Soggoth)

And so, to the easy part: getting 50 million Americans to vote for me.


Why is everyone pointing at the date stamp on this blog entry and laughing their asses off?