Saturday, November 07, 2009

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Congressman

Dan Carlin hit another home run in this week’s “Common Sense” show. He’s talking about the role of genius in human endeavor, and how desperately we need geniuses in our society in every field-but especially politics. We need to cultivate them and, in a football vernacular, get our playmakers the ball. And, of course, in our current system, we don’t incentivize the great ones-the gifted ones at forging consensus and synthesizing different types of information-into becoming our leaders. We don’t pay them well(compared to businessmen), we make them leave their families behind, we don’t listen to their arguments for longer than 30 seconds, we fill the airwaves with incendiary speech (some of which, truth be told, I have written here), we essentially force them into a system of organized bribery. We ask them to deliver us services, and scream when they ask that we pay for them. Is it any wonder we don’t get geniuses in Congress? I think it was a PJ O’Rourke or Dave Barry joke-we send them to Congress because we don’t want them around.


I wish I remembered what book it was in,(“Parliament of Whores”, maybe) but in one of O’Rourke’s books, there was a story about a Congressman that O’Rourke spent the day with once. He described all the different things he had to do-phone calls, answering letters(this was the pre-Internet in the home age), fulfilling requests, voting on bills, all that. Near the end of the piece, O’Rourke notes an enormous pile of mail the Congressman had gotten through, noting that the pile contained exactly one thank you.


"Everybody’s tired of something/Round here.”

-Counting Crows


NaNoWriMo Word Count: 10810


Beck’s “Loser” keeps coming up on my IPod. Do you think it is trying to tell me something?


“Humanity is a virus with shoes.”

-Bill Hicks


Friday, November 06, 2009

Fiscally Responsible?

Andrew Sullivan with a quick hit about fiscal responsibility.

A note from his reader:
"According to the treasury department's Bureau of Public Debt, the federal deficit went from $5,728,195,796,181.57 on January 22, 2001 to $10,626,877,048,913.08 on January 20, 2009. Bear in mind that the allegedly fiscally conservative Republican Party ran this government for six of those eight years. Roughly two trillion of that debt was added after Democrats took over Congress in 2007."

Sullivan's take:

"Here's my litmus test for the Tea Party right: when they hold up effigies of Bush and Cheney as socialists, I'll take them seriously. Until then, they're more partisan than principled."


NaNoWriMo Word Count: 6160

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Bill Moyers on Afghanistan and Sacrifice

There has been a horrible shooting incident at Fort Hood in Texas. There isn't much to say about that, other than I hope and pray that the victims and the families (and the perpetrator) can find some peace.

The reports hint that the perpetrator was upset about an impending deployment to Iraq. Who knows whether or not this is true, but whether it is or not, I think it is inarguable that these two wars continue to take an enormous toll on the military and their families.

Bill Moyers on the war:

"Reporting on...attacks that killed eight Americans, CBS turned to animation to depict what no journalists were around to witness. This is about as close to real war as most of us ever get, safely removed from the blood, the mangled bodies, the screams and shouts.

October, as you know, was the bloodiest month for our troops in all eight years of the war. And beyond the human loss, the United States has spent more than 223 billion dollars there. In 2010 we will be spending roughly 65 billion dollars every year. 65 billion dollars a year.

The President is just about ready to send more troops. Maybe 44 thousand, that's the number General McChrystal wants, bringing the total to over 100 thousand. When I read speculation last weekend that the actual number needed might be 600 thousand, I winced.

I can still see President Lyndon Johnson's face when he asked his generals how many years and how many troops it would take to win in Vietnam. One of them answered, "Ten years and one million." He was right on the time and wrong on the number-- two and a half million American soldiers would serve in Vietnam, and we still lost.

Whatever the total for Afghanistan, every additional thousand troops will cost us about a billion dollars a year. At a time when foreclosures are rising, benefits for the unemployed are running out, cities are firing teachers, closing libraries and cutting essential maintenance and services. That sound you hear is the ripping of our social fabric.

Which makes even more perplexing an editorial in THE WASHINGTON POST last week. You'll remember the "Post" was a cheerleader for the invasion of Iraq, often sounding like a megaphone for the Bush-Cheney propaganda machine. Now it's calling for escalating the war in Afghanistan. In a time of historic budget deficits, the paper said, Afghanistan has to take priority over universal health care for Americans. Fixing Afghanistan, it seems, is "a 'necessity'"; fixing America's social contract is not.

But listen to what an Afghan villager recently told a correspondent for the "Economist:" "We need security. But the Americans are just making trouble for us. They cannot bring peace, not if they stay for 50 years."

Listen, too, to Andrew Bacevich, the long-time professional soldier, graduate of West Point, veteran of Vietnam, and now a respected scholar of military and foreign affairs, who was on this program a year ago. He recently told "The Christian Science Monitor," "The notion that fixing Afghanistan will somehow drive a stake through the heart of jihadism is wrong. …If we give General McChrystal everything he wants, the jihadist threat will still exist."

This from a warrior who lost his own soldier son in Iraq, and who doesn't need animated graphics to know what the rest of us never see.

So here's a suggestion. In a week or so, when the president announces he is escalating the war, let's not hide the reality behind eloquence or animation. No more soaring rhetoric, please. No more video games. If our governing class wants more war, let's not allow them to fight it with young men and women who sign up because they don't have jobs here at home, or can't afford college or health care for their families.

Let's share the sacrifice. Spread the suffering. Let's bring back the draft.

Yes, bring back the draft -- for as long as it takes our politicians and pundits to "fix" Afghanistan to their satisfaction.

Bring back the draft, and then watch them dive for cover on Capitol Hill, in the watering holes and think tanks of the Beltway, and in the quiet little offices where editorial writers spin clever phrases justifying other people's sacrifice. Let's insist our governing class show the courage to make this long and dirty war our war, or the guts to end it. "

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Did I Mention I Love Pierre Robert?

Getting into my car to do something unpleasant and unnecessary, I was in a foul mood. My man Pierre Robert, a DJ on WMMR-FM in Philadelphia, as if he was reading my mind for me, had this little gem of a song cued up for me.

If you don't enjoy this song, you don't enjoy life.

Your special World Series Bonus Fact

When FOX starts showing graphics tonight about how Player X is batting .083 in the postseason or something, remember this: Yogi Berra, arguably one of the top three catchers who ever lived and one of the top winners in the history of team sports, batted .140 with two home runs and 5 RBIs in his first 14 postseason games.

(h/t Allen Barra's new book, "Yogi Berra:Eternal Yankee")

Prescient Words from the 33rd President

President Harry S Truman, on socialism, March 29, 1952:

"The real Republican campaign is not going to be fought on the issues. The Republicans are going to wage a campaign of phony propaganda. They are going to try what we might call the "white is black" and the "black is white" strategy...The only chance for the Republicans, therefore, is to make the people think the facts aren't so. The job for the Republicans is to make people believe that white is black and black is white.

This is a pretty difficult way to win an election. It wouldn't appeal to anybody but very desperate Republican politicians. But the Republicans have some reason for thinking it might succeed. They will have the support of... most of the radio commentators... The Republicans, as always, will have a lot of money. They have slick advertising experts. And they don't have too many scruples about how they use them... The Republicans are all set to try this "white is black" technique. And this is the way it will work. First of all, they will try to make people believe that everything the Government has done for the country is socialism. They will go to the people and say: 'Did you see that social security check you received the other day--you thought that was good for you, didn't you? That's just too bad! That's nothing in the world but socialism. Did you see that new flood control dam the Government is building over there for the protection of your property ? Sorry--that's awful socialism! That new hospital that they are building is socialism. Price supports, more socialism for the farmers! Minimum wage laws ? Socialism for labor! Socialism is bad for you, my friend. Everybody knows that. And here you are, with your new car, and your home, and better opportunities for the kids, and a television set--you are just surrounded by socialism!'

Now the Republicans say, 'That's a terrible thing, my friend, and the only way out of this sinkhole of socialism is to vote for the Republican ticket.' "

NaNoWriMo Word Count: Unchanged

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

It's A Struggle

I just noticed that the word count went down in my last post. If this continues, I will be writing negative words pretty soon-not only will I have no words in my entry, I will be taking words away from other authors.

Reminds me of the old Steve Martin joke-when kids are told to say something in their own words, they really are just using the same words the rest of us do.

Day Three of NaBloPoMo, and it's a struggle already.

The World Series did not end last night, despite Charlie Manuel's best efforts. The Phillies took an 8-2 lead, but Manuel left starter Cliff Lee  in the game too long, nearly blowing it before they hung on for the win. The Phillies head to New York for Game Six Wednesday night, trailing in the series 3 games to 2. In a strange way, the Phils almost have an advantage here. They have nothing to lose, obviously-in the old baseball phrase, you have all winter to rest, so everybody's available. The Yankees have unreliable long relief, although their short relief is stellar, so if the Yankee starter in Game Six struggles on short rest, suddenly the nearly dead Phils are in a Game Seven for all the marbles.

Then, of course, we have the psychodrama of Pedro J. Martinez heading to the hill in Yankee Stadium again. The wolves will be out, baying for blood, and, if the Yankees are honest, they have to admit that they are hearing footsteps. This Yankee team was built for a World Series crown, and if they finish with anything less than that, they have to see their season as a failure. Needless to say, I would be ecstatic with such an outcome-the $200 million dreadnought foundering on the shoals.

NaNoWriMo Word Count: 5321

Monday, November 02, 2009

Inside Larry and Sergey's Brain

Just came across an interesting passage in "Inside Larry and Sergey's Brain", a book about the founders of everyone's favorite megalomaniacal corporation, Google.

"It's a cliche to promise that the customer always comes first. Any corporate executive you ask will claim this philosophy as his company's own. But the sad truth is that amazingly few follow it. Ask anyone who has waited for a cable company to get her system running, or wandered the aisle of a superstore looking for the item she wanted to buy, or sat on hold for an hour waiting for a customer support staff that has been cut back because business is slowing in a bad economy. Most retail stores follow a different philosophy. They study what items people tend to buy together...But effectiveness is not measured by how efficiently customers can find the items. It's measured in how long it takes customers to wander the aisles in search of what they want, under the premise that the longer people wander the store, the more likely they are to find and buy something they didn't know they wanted. [Google is] dedicated to a simple idea: making things simple and straightforward."

Word Count: 3529

Sunday, November 01, 2009

OK, Call Me Stupid

So I'm going to do this, too. The rules are even more straightforward-post something every day this month. This, along with NaNoWriMo and my newfound determination to not waste your time, is going to be a challenge.

As my dear friends at WBR Show(@wbrshow) would put it, "Versus....Who Will Win?"

My determination to be relevant vs. A fake rule that says I have to post every day
My desire to write a novel vs. Reality
My desire to write every day vs. There being 24 hours per day.

We shall see.

NaNoWriMo Word Count: 3534 (as of 11pm tonight) 

The Number of the Post shall be a human shall be post 1666

So, it's November.

That means it's National Novel Writing Month! ( Once again, I will be participating in this mad project. Every year since 2005 I have tried and failed to "finish" NaNoWriMo, which involves completing a manuscript of 50000 words or more, which you will then call a novel. That doesn't mean it will get published (although in 2009 anyone who can scrape a couple of dollars together can get something "published") or anything other than the fact that you start November with nothing, and you end November with something. Kind of like a baby, only faster.

So I'm going to try it again. I have the germ of a story idea, and a opening, so we'll see how it goes.

Wish me luck.

And for heaven's sake, if you've always wanted to write a novel, do it. It doesn't cost you anything-just go to the site and sign up.

NaNoWriMo Word Count: Zero.