Saturday, June 17, 2017

The Staycation Blues




Before anyone gets the wrong idea let me go ahead and state that I actively pushed my wife and daughter to take the trip both are currently on right now. This trip was so important to them that I realized anything less than my enthusiastic support would eventually come back and bite me on my own ass. What trip that I knew from the very beginning I wouldn't be going with them am I speaking about?

As of this very moment my lovely wife and daughter are probably sitting in the bizarrely conceived chairs at one of the Washington DC airports waiting to board a flight that will first take them to New York and then another to Edinburgh, Scotland. You know the kind of seat, it has a frame made up of some sort of shiny metal alloy with the actual place you put your butt and lean back on a vinyl/plastic substance. From a distance these seats, long rows of them, look comfortable but since the arm rests are fixed if you have to wait longer than thirty minutes to board your plane the average person begins a stationary dance sliding their butts to one side or the other in an effort to relax.

Once they arrive in Edinburgh they begin a nine day trip which will have them, and the others in the tour group, heading south and catching some of the beautiful sights and interesting places making up the island of Britain. Like I said, I knew from the beginning I wouldn't be going on the trip, so while I didn't selflessly volunteer to stay back, I didn't make a huge stink about the fact that I would, once again, be keeping the home fires burning while they were gone.

While the cost of the trip was overwhelmingly the main reason I stayed back, another big factor was the fact that one of our two dogs is diabetic and requires insulin shots twice a day. Yeah, there are local kennels we could have boarded both dogs and the two cats we own but that would have just raised the already crazy cost of the trip even more. Throw in the usual crap associated with suburban living like cutting the yard and general overwatch of the house it was mandatory that some adult, other than my college age son who has his own things to do, had to stay home.

No, other than maybe a day trip down to the coast there isn't any sort of conciliation prize in the form of a cheap and easy vacation to the Bahamas waiting for me once they return. Truthfully, when my wife and daughter left the house Friday morning I had images of myself as the hapless loser on any number of game shows who totally embarrassed themselves on national television and came away from the experience with a one year supply of Rice-A-Roni. I'm sure Rice-A-Roni is a tasty treat but you've got to wonder that if they readily give away that much of the product who are they really helping, the hapless game show loser or the company?

What this all amounts to is that I am condemned to a “Staycation” this year with me taking a four-day weekend now and another at the end of the next. A situation I find comparable to having to endure one of the less extreme levels of Hell. Think the Rod Serling's Night Gallery episode where a late 1960's/early 1970's West Coast hipster is forced to spend an eternity of punishment listening to a rural Midwest farmer talk about the weather and crop yields. My attitude come from the fact I really don't like the area I live, don't get me wrong it's a perfectly pleasant place filled with sterile examples of America's corporate feudalism, traffic congestion comparable to big cities during rush hour, and my favorite, authoritarian neighbors on the lookout for any sort of infraction. There is also the fact that I'm just far enough away from the coast, and its beaches, that certain logistical issues become a problem, especially with a diabetic dog.

Since I willingly took one for the team this year to make my wife and daughter happy you would think I might get some iota of consideration from them when it comes to enduring this idyllic suburban hell. No, I'm not looking for an inane souvenir nor some special reward upon their safe return home. But given the conversation I had with my wife yesterday they seem oblivious to my vacation sacrifice.

Due to a slight mix-up my wife called me yesterday afternoon to ask me to track down some paperwork she should have taken with her. After finding the items within minutes I was standing at the scanner/copier/fax waiting for the overly complicated machine to do its duty so I could email her the forms. During those minutes she attempted some idle small talk.

“So, how are things going at the house?” she asked. I'll give my wife credit, she's not the best small talker and would have usually walked off to do something else as I scanned the forms.

“Almost exactly the same as you left them a little of ten hours ago.” I replied trying valiantly not to sound like a smartass even though I was slightly miffed that she had already run into an issue. This trip had been in the works for at least nine months and if the shoe was on the other foot I wouldn't left anything behind.

“Well, are you having any fun?” she asked in a way over twenty years of marriage has taught wasn't an attempt at humor.

To say I was dumbfounded at the question would have been an overstatement. But it did make me uncomfortable since she has to know how I would do anything to move not just to another town but at least to a house where the neighbors are far enough away they can't be quite as nosy.

No, I wasn't kidding.


“Having oodles of fun, playing doorman for the animals here at home is awesome!” I said as sarcastically as possible explaining that since she and my daughter had left I had already lost count of the number of times I had let some combination of dogs and cats inside the house or back outside.

“Okay, that's great,” she said with the total absence of mind that suggests I could have instead said something as outrageous as I brought a Craig's List hooker over the minute they left the house. Not that I would ever seriously consider such an action, the neighbors would have a cow.

Instead, I played it cool and kept my mouth shut, emailed her the documents, and went back to my activities such as they are after hanging up the phone. No, this time I've got to take the staycation hit and deal with the abject boredom that comes with being marooned in a place I'm close to despising. Although I did vaguely threaten my wife a few months back that I could take my own credit card and book a trip somewhere with my departure the day they are scheduled to return home. It's a nice fantasy, and right now it will stay that way.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Socrates Understood...



Despite the obvious benefits of democracy, there has always been certain flaws inherent to any government trying to practice that system. According to Plato in his Dialogues, his mentor the great Socrates asked the question that if you were about to take a long voyage on the ocean who would you want to be in charge of the boat? Commonsense should suggest that the people about to take such a trip would want someone qualified in such niceties as practical sailing, the finer points of navigation, the know-how to repair whatever vessel they are taking, and lets throw in knowledge about weather.

Socrates' response was to further ask the question why then do we let just anyone vote? Voting shouldn't be something we relegate to intuition, or to some fanciful whim based upon a public who really doesn't know their heads from their collective backsides. Voting should be an educated skill and letting people elect leaders without the proper knowledge of government and current events is like making a washed up, semi-senile rock star the captain of a massive cruise ship about to go from San Francisco to Sydney. (I bet you people thought I would say a delusional, lying, and narcissistic reality star who advertise himself as a businessman?)

Socrates' points notwithstanding, we've pulled that restricted voting scheme many times and all were blatant attempts just to oppress various minority groups. So, instituting a system where the average voter has to prove he or she isn't a blithering idiot just will not happen. More to the point, a bigger issue might be the simple fact that most people can't be bothered to vote on election day. For some the reason is that they can't make it to the polling place because of work or family issues. But others, for whatever reason refuse to take part in the very system that ensures their safety and well being.

The common complaint from a number of folks on my side off the political fence is that they refuse to elect a lesser of two evils, which they see as still evil. Nice logic for those who believe in unicorns that fart rainbows which smells like expensive potpourri. The problem for the rest of us is that we have to live in the real world and deal with the results of a delusional, lying, and narcissistic reality star/businessman getting elected.

To sum this short post up, since a realistic education test for voters isn't possible, people can bitch all they want about nasty, divisive politicians and the horrendous things they do in office. But unless more people vote and chose candidates who stand a realistic chance of winning we will continue our spiral downward into oblivion. Watch the video below for a more precise take on the issue. 

Saturday, June 3, 2017

A Political Pearl Harbor




Probably the only instance of me ever uttering something prophetic happened in the immediate aftermath of the Persian Gulf War, commonly referred to as “Operation Desert Storm.” Since history is a weak subject for most lets backtrack for a moment. Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait, a much smaller and weaker country was rightly opposed by the United States and the coalition of nations it formed. Oil be damned, had Saddam's actions gone unopposed it would have eventually lead to every second-rate dictatorial cockroach invading weaker neighbors in an effort to build an empire. When you throw in Saddam's treatment of people inside Iraq, the inventory of chemical weapons he had at that time, and his interest in acquiring even more powerful destructive capability he had to be stopped.

That being said, First President Bush's decision to leave Saddam in power was also the right thing to do. The nation of Iraq is a Frankenstein's monster of varying ethnic and religious subgroups created by the British in the aftermath of the First World War and the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire. Saddam was a monster and if Hell really exists he most certainly is now a resident. But you have only to look at the bloodbath Iraq became after he was removed from power to understand that while the lesser of two evils is still bad, sometimes the alternative is even worse. Yes, I am totally discounting the idea that we invaded Iraq to take away Saddam's WMD's. There was plenty of intelligence, all ignored or hidden, that his desire to produce a nuclear bomb had no basis in reality. As for his stockpile of chemical and biological weapons, aside from a few pitiful exceptions they were all destroyed or taken back during the 1990's.

History lesson over, my post Operation Desert Storm epiphany involved the realization that despite Saddam's real but relatively minor threat in the 1990's, and the much propagandized menace he was made to be after 9/11, he was not an existential danger to the United States. The statement I made to my cohorts at the time was that Saddam Hussein was an idiot and that the United States might find itself in some really deep shit if it ever had to face and adversary with more than a few dozen IQ points.

My point being that given the capabilities Iraq's military had right after he invaded Kuwait, Saddam could have caused significant trouble in such places as Saudi Arabia or even Israel before there was anywhere near enough American troops and equipment on site to deter him. What that means is that since Saudi oil is a major factor in the international economy if Saddam had just attacked its refineries with Scud missiles he could have caused another Great Depression.

Even worse, since one of the worst kept secrets of the modern era is that Israel has a significant cache of nuclear weapons had Saddam said screw it and attempted a full scale attack on the Jewish state an apocalyptic event with clouds of radioactive fallout drifting out from the Middle East would have more than likely occurred. Saddam Hussein didn't hold any military punches out of the hidden, moral goodness of his heart. The man was an utter bastard, which was only exceeded by his ego and incompetence. (On a side note unrelated to my point, I will refrain from the eerie physiological comparisons I could make between Saddam and Trump.)

Of course, my point that Saddam was not an existential threat to the United States was pretty much ignored. This early 1990's when the modern version of American exceptionalism was born with one of the central pillars of that belief being the idea that the United States was immune to all the factors that had brought down numerous other powers all through history. For those on the right, their narrow view held that the United States was king shit and would go on kicking ass forever. Those on the left held a similar but slightly askew view that through its military power and faceless corporations the United States had bullied the world into submission and the idea that anyone else would rise up to threaten us was ridiculous.

Well, history is replete with nations and empires whose citizens and subject were convinced would hold power forever. Low and behold the 2016 presidential election was hacked by the Russians with them flooding both social and television media with stolen emails and fake news stories. Contrary to the more excitable and less rational on the left, I have yet to hear or read any evidence that Russia hacked into the computers that were linked to electronic voting machines. But what the Russians actually did to sabotage Hillary Clinton's campaign was bad enough.

After decades of the Soviet Union pouring untold hundreds of billions of rubles into their military machine in an attempt to overwhelm the United States, it looks like all the Russians had to do was tickle the ugly underbelly of American political paranoia and abject racism to goad us to tearing ourselves apart. Now, I'll admit while I voted for Hillary both her and the people running the campaign made it easy for the Russians to dig up information to use against them. It's funny to think now that back when the collection of Republican clowns, fools, and idiots were in the primary phase of the campaign I had the stupid idea that since Hillary was a long time political warrior there shouldn't be much for them to use against her. I totally ignored the fact that things could be made up out of whole cloth and that Hillary has a history of being her own worst enemy.

With that out of the way, the fact remains that a hostile foreign power, I'll go ahead say existential enemy, has found a dependable way to make the powerful United States look like a sick old man suffering from dementia. What really turns my stomach is how many in the Republican party view Vlad Putin, a dictator who murders journalists and dissidents, as someone who should be admired. Sort of makes a mockery of how they looked down upon and even accused liberals of something close to treason if any mention of peaceful coexistence was suggested during the Cold War.

Of course, to many of the less educated folks on the right Putin is a masculine (white) dude who doesn't spend time worrying about inconvenient things like civil liberties and basic human rights. The acquaintances I known in that group, all certified rednecks, have almost a homoerotic fixation on the manly Putin riding on horses without a shirt and his association with washed up martial artists/movie stars like Steven Segal. It goes along with the perceived notion of him standing against gay marriage, and other liberal causes that they believe America needs to be saved from. But most of all they like Putin because he was white while the democratically elected American president was a black guy.

Since I have lived in the American South most of my life it would have shocked me to hear anyone of that type say anything but the usual thinly veiled racist talk. But I've got to admit it is the established right-wing that has most disappointed me with their downplaying of Russian involvement in the 2016 election. Yes, there are notable exceptions like Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham but the Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, and the majority leader of the senate, Mitch McConnell have only given the barest lip service to Russian hacking. Those members of Congress and in the Senate occupying the fuzzy middle between the two are just waiting to see what the various investigations will or will not turn up. Largely a rational approach given the nature of the allegations against Trump, but that stance is less about finding the truth and far more with just protecting their asses and cushy jobs.

What it all comes down to is that the Russians pulled a blatant electoral Pearl Harbor on the United States. For me that is almost reason to go to war, but what scares me the most is that Americans are so politically polarized that many on the right are okay with the hacking since they hated Hillary Clinton more than they are concerned with the state of their country.

Don't worry, I'm not excluding Democrats/liberals/progressives for putting party and ideological purity above the health and safety of the nation. The main election strategy for both parties is to convince voters that the other side is evil. Yes, as a liberal Democrat I do believe some Republican ideas are baldfaced attempts to protect the rich elites, but I also realize Democrats have their own faults and inability to see the forest for the trees. I'm not saying we should all go for one big group hug and then break into singing “Kumbaya,” I can be just as partisan as any other dickhead, especially when I believe the Republicans are dead wrong on a subject like climate change. But democracy only works if the different factions compromise, it's an ugly process but works far better than one side controlling everything only to be kicked out of power at the next election when nothing really gets done.

It goes without saying the American political process is a screwed up system. Both parties paint the other as the enemy with many members saying any sort of cooperation with their counterparts is a betrayal of sacred principles. In the past such behavior could largely be overlooked since no other country would dare to interfere. That time has passed with Vlad Putin and the Russian government he controls making it part of their way of dealing with foreign governments. Putin is the worst possible adversary we could face in this current era. He and his minions have found what divides Americans and will not hesitate to widen the existing chasm as long as we continue allow him.

It appears the time when Americans pulled together when faced with an adversary has passed into history. Then again, all we really have to blame for this behavior is ourselves. What should scare every rational American most of all is that the situation is probably only going to get worse.