Archive for the ‘Decline and Fall’ category

Brrrraaaaaiiiiiiinnnnssss…

February 6, 2015

Or rather…

MMMMMorrrrrronnnnns:

The reanimated corpse of Dr. Jonas Salk, the medical researcher who developed the first polio vaccine, rose from the grave Friday morning on what authorities believe is a mission to hunt down idiots.

Wiertz_burial

The usual suspects beware.

Another drive-by post, but go read the whole of Andy Borowitz’s update to his eponymous report.*  It’ll help your mood.

You’re welcome.

*Yes.  I did put this post up solely for the purpose of getting to type “eponymous.” It’s the little pleasures…

Image:  Antoine Wiertz, The Premature Burial, 1854.

What Could Possibly Go Wrong

January 21, 2015

When self selected vigilantes assaulting armed strangers in public spaces?

Consider this incident:

According to the Hillsborough  Sheriff’s Office, [African-American] 62-year-old Clarence Daniels was entering Walmart with his legally concealed firearm to buy coffee creamer on Tuesday when he was spotted by 43-year-old vigilante Michael Foster.

Foster, who is white, had observed Daniels conceal the weapon under his coat before he came into the store. When Daniels crossed the threshold, Foster tackled him and placed him in a chokehold…

Florida, Jake…but at least the worst outcomes were avoided:

He’s got a gun!” Foster reportedly exclaimed.

“I have a permit!” Daniels repeatedly shouted back.

After a struggle, the men were separated. Deputies later arrived and Foster was charged with battery.

V0017125 Head of a man, composed of nude figures. Oil painting.

So:  no one died.  Good.

A couple of thoughts, though:  (a) what kind of asshole do you have to be to decide that you want to walk around looking for folks to bash based on whether they look hinky to you?  B)  if it’s really all about guns, then what’s going to keep you from going all George Zimmerman at any point in the drama?  That this ended with neither the victim nor the self-appointed asshole on a gurney is just a signal that FSM was dangling its noodly appendage down Hillsborough way that day, nothing more.

The most obvious take away is, of course, that this couldn’t possibly be about race because (nods to Charlie Pierce) it’s never about race.  Except…

Again, I see it as a near miracle that the legal gun owner who happened to be black is still alive right now.  The white vigilante is lucky too, certainly — jumping a guy with a gun is not a long-term health strategy — but we’ve seen too much lately of what even the merest hint that an African American man or kid! might be armed does to their odds.

But I want to point out the essential current here, the unifying thread that runs through all of these incidents, the tragedies and the bathetic ones alike.  That’s fear, brought on by the worship of the gun.  How on earth is vigilante-ism even a thing in 2015 America?  It’s because the toxic combination of racial and class politics and unlimited arsenals produce terror and rage in equal and toxic admixture.

Worst of all is then how normal this all seems to those in the midst of it.  Consider this advice:

“The Sheriff’s Office recommends that vigilante-inclined citizens refrain from taking matters into their own hands, especially when an incident is gun-related,” the Tampa Bay Times reported.

McKinnon said that vigilantes should “make sure there’s a good reason” before tackling gun owners.

Ya think?

In the end the fact that actual bad guys do not in fact carry neon signs to identify them  (no Poor Impulse Control tattoos yet) means that, well, it’s a target rich environment.

“Unfortunately he tackled a guy that was a law-abiding citizen,” McKinnon noted. “We understand it’s alarming for people to see other people with guns, but Florida has a large population of concealed weapons permit holders.”

In other words:  be careful out there.  Someone, soon, is going to get killed in one of these stunts.  And once again the tree of liberty will be watered with the blood of someone just going about their business, or a kid who happens to be in the next aisle when the stray shot comes home or…

Not to mention, except I will, again:  the racial element here.  White guys chasing black guys they fear is an old trope in American life.  It’s with us still.  Video at eleven.

PS:  I’m totally with Bryant Gumbel here.

Image: F. Balbi, The head of a man composed of writhing nude figuresposs. 1868.

Merry F**king Christmas, Suckas. (MOTU FU Edition)

December 25, 2014

Bah humbug, y’all.

Or:  here is my reminder that our betters, the MOTU, and their eager servants in the political class never, ever rest from their quest to enrich (themselves) and immiserate (anyone it takes).

Fresh on the heels of the GOP’s decision in the omnibus funding bill to gut one more of the laughingly minor restrictions on bankster crime, we get this Christmas Day report from our friends at The New York Times:

“Turn your car title into holiday cash,” TitleMax, a large title lender, declares in a recent television commercial, showing a Christmas stocking overflowing with money.

More than 1.1 million households in the United States used auto title loans in 2013, according to a survey by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation — the first time the agency has included the loans in its annual survey.

Title loans are becoming an increasingly prevalent form of high-cost, short-term credit in subprime finance, as regulators in a number of states crack down on payday loans.

For many borrowers, title loans, also sometimes known as motor-vehicle equity lines of credit or title pawns, are having ruinous financial consequences, causing owners to lose their vehicles and plunging them further into debt.

In the case with which Times reporters Jessica Silver-Greenberg and Michael Corkery open their piece, a borrower took a $1,000 loan that carried a 171% annual interest rate.  That’s not a typo.  Unsurprisingly, she lost her car and remains about $1,000 in debt on that one transaction.  At that, she got off … well, better than some:

A review by The New York Times of more than three dozen loan agreements found that after factoring in various fees, the effective interest rates ranged from nearly 80 percent to more than 500 percent. While some loans come with terms of 30 days, many borrowers, unable to pay the full loan and interest payments, say that they are forced to renew the loans at the end of each month, incurring a new round of fees.

This isn’t really a banking business (obviously); it’s closer to a combo pawn shop and loan sharking business:

…lenders make the loan based on an assessment of a used car’s resale value, not on a borrower’s ability to repay that money, many people find that they are struggling to keep up almost as soon as they drive off with the cash.

As a result, roughly one in every six borrowers who take out title loans have their cars repossessed, according to an analysis of 561 title loans by the Center for Responsible Lending, a nonprofit in Durham, N.C.

And, of course, something that offers so much easy money to be grabbed from those least likely to find any kind of resource is attracting the finest members of our community:

Jesus_driving_the_merchants_from_the_Temple

The high interest rates on the loans have enticed an influx of Wall Street money. Private equity firms are investing in lenders, and some big banks are ramping up their auto lending to people with blemished credit.

What about regulation? Hah! Vampire squid and masters of the universe laugh at your regulation:

for every state where there has been a crackdown, there are more where the industry has mobilized to beat back regulations.

In Wisconsin, it took the title loan industry only one year to reverse a ban on the loans that had been put in place in 2010. In New Hampshire in 2008, state legislators enacted a law that put a 36 percent ceiling on the rates that title lenders could charge. Four years later, though, lobbyists for the industry won a repeal of the law.

America! F**K Yeah!

It’s ruinously expensive to be poor in this exceptional country.  It’s too damn easy to profit on the bitter hardship of others here.  I’m betting that most of those doing so have today talked pretty about the meaning of Christmas.  If so, let me leave them with Albert Einstein’s injunction, issued almost exactly 100 years ago:

“Honor your master Jesus Christ not only in words and songs but rather, foremost, by your deeds.”*

*Albert Einstein, “My Opinion on the War.

Image: Rembrandt van Rijn, Jesus driving the money-changers from the Temple, 1635.

When You’re Right, You’re Right

December 18, 2014

No GG fanboi, me, I can’t find anything amiss with this statement:

Screen Shot 2014-12-18 at 3.12.59 PM

140 characters (+/-) of truth.

Then there’s this:

Screen Shot 2014-12-18 at 3.16.33 PM

I know.  Calling out Republican hypocrisy is akin to blaring Dog Bites Man above the fold, but still — I remain almost impressed by how thoroughly President Obama’s critics are so damn good at being utterly blind to the contradictions.

I’d say we should just point and laugh, but these feral children have real power.  Feh.

The Lambs Still Scream…

August 7, 2014

…for the performance artist formerly known as Ann Coulter [via TPM]:

In the column, titled “Ebola Doc’s Condition Downgraded To ‘Idiotic,’” Coulter called Dr. Kent Brantly’s humanitarian work in Liberia nothing more than the efforts of an ego-driven Christian and “the first real-world demonstration of the economics of Obamacare.”

…Coulter then said Brantly left the country to provide health insurance for Liberians because he wanted “his membership in the ‘Gold Humanism Honor Society.’”

“There may be no reason for panic about the Ebola doctor, but there is reason for annoyance at Christian narcissism,” she wrote.

I guess this is what you write when you hear that anguished sound inside your head, the one that asks “why aren’t they paying attention to MEEEEEE!!!???”

At least that’s what I hope.  Worse, by far, would be the thought that what Ann Coulter says does in fact reflect broader opinion; that within our great polity, a substantial number of people believe that the suffering of others merits no concern; that there are “right” people to care for, distinguished from those wrong ones — wrong by geography, class, color, what have you.

I’m no Christian myself, as I believe I’ve mentioned before, and in the tradition that I inherited we have a term “tikkun olam” — to heal the world.   From earliest Hebrew School — at least at the commie-liberal orthodox synagogue in Berkeley, California in which I was brought up and become bar-mitzvah — we were taught to view tikkun loam as the singular obligation (one most of us meet terribly imperfectly, of course — but it matters that it’s there as the challenge/demand).  I’ve spoken since with rabbis and other teachers who render the essential demand of Judaism on its adherents in almost-Christian terms, a formula in which the law secondary to action:  keep the Sabbath* and do tikkun olam.  That much, and there you have the sinews of a good life.**

571px-Gustave_Doré_-_Dante_Alighieri_-_Inferno_-_Plate_9_(Canto_III_-_Charon)

There is, of course, a Christian formulation of the same idea, one that comes to much the same point.  Matthew 25:34-40 puts it pretty plainly:

34 Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:

35 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:

36 Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.

37 Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?

38 When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?

39 Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?

40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

Which leads me to a last thought.  If Ann Coulter thinks that the Jesus of Matthew 25 is a narcissistic Christian, and she does in fact speak for any recognizable segment of the American conservative movement, then you know all you need to know about the theology of those self-proclaimed guardians of values.  If there is in fact a Christian God, a Christian heaven, and especially, a Christian hell, then it would take a Dante to describe the destination for which Coulter and her ilk are bound. It’s beyond me.

*Which I also do most indifferently, though I find that creating what Abraham Joshua Heschel Abraham Joshua Heschel called sacred time is always restorative, on those rare occasions when I can actually bring it off, even for a couple of hours.

**And so it is, I believe; certainly, as an atheist Jew, that’s where my religious tradition retains its claim on my head and my heart.

Gustave Doré, illustration to Dante’s Inferno. Plate IX: Canto III: Arrival of Charon“And lo! towards us coming in a boat / An old man, hoary with the hair of eld, / Crying: ‘Woe unto you, ye souls depraved!'” (Longfellow’s translation), 1857

Annals Of The Military Industrial Complex

February 4, 2014

Via exceptionally sharp young journalist Taylor Dobbs, this story of the efficiency and national security value of military procurement:

The Dayton Daily News reports that the Air Force has spent some $567 million to acquire 21 new Spartans since 2007, but has found that the Air Force does not have missions for many of the aircraft.

The planes had originally been acquired because of their ability to operate from unimproved runways. But sequestration forced the Air Force to re-think the airplane’s mission, and it determined that they were not a necessity, according to an analyst with the Project for Government Oversight.

…An Air Force spokesman said the program was “too near completion” to be able to terminate the program in a way that does not cost the taxpayers more than building the airplanes and sending them immediately to the boneyard.

Jan_van_Kessel_(I)_-_Birds_on_a_Riverbank_-_WGA12131

An alternate headline would  — should, in fact — go something like this: “Legislators Find Alternatives To Food Stamp Cuts”

Yeah…I’m dreaming.

One more thought: the fetishization of (genuinely brave and self-sacrificing) members of the military is cover for sh*t like this.

Image: Jan van Kessel, Birds on a Riverbank,  1655.

Republican Health Care Plan (Die Sooner) Implemented Via Shutdown — Salmonella Outbreak edition

October 9, 2013

Ok.  That title is a bit of hyperbole (you think?–ed.).  No deaths have yet been reported from this:

This evening, the Food Safety and Inspection Service of the US Department of Agriculture announced that “an estimated 278 illnesses … reported in 18 states” have been caused by chicken contaminated with Salmonella Heidelberg and possibly produced by the firm Foster Farms.

Vincenzo_Campi_-_Chicken_Vendors_-_WGA3826

The news and its context (and lots of links, now updated) comes from the invaluable Superbug blog written by the equally prized Maryn McKenna (known to her friends as the internet’s Scary Germ Girl, perhaps for books like this one.)*

That’s not the punch line, though.  Something else makes this latest demonstration of the risks inhering to the US food supply system so infuriating and so scary — something with a distinctly GOP reek wafting through it:

 [The Food Safety and Inspection Service] is unable to link the illnesses to a specific product and a specific production period,” the agency said in an emailed alert. “The outbreak is continuing.”

This is the exact situation that CDC and other about-to-be-furloughed federal personnel warned about last week.

As Maryn emphasizes:  we are confronting a potentially deadly public health crisis with legally enforced ignorance:

 At the CDC, which operates the national foodborne-detection services FoodNet and PulseNet, scientists couldn’t work on this if they wanted to; they have been locked out of their offices, lab and emails. (At a conference I attended last week, 10 percent of the speakers did not show up because they were CDC personnel and risked being fired if they traveled even voluntarily.)

To mix metaphors — when you have a political party determined to spin the cartridge on the whole country, eventually the hammer will find a loaded chamber.

Go read the whole of Maryn’s reporting.  This isn’t skittles. It’s illness and misery, the possibility of life-long diminishment…and maybe deaths too, as always with the most vulnerable, kids and the elderly, squarely in the cross hairs.

Even if, as I deeply hope, the current outbreak passes with minimal harm to our fellow citizens, that just means we got lucky.  As long as Republicans see the shut down as a game in which they must put “points on the board” we’re on the hook for the news we know will come.

To take it one step further:  the dominant view within the modern Republican party is one that in essence denies the existence of society.  In the Tea Party view — the one shaping the entire party’s vision — the US is and must be a nation of individuals, atoms; there is no concept that we might act in concert to ends other than those we can address one by one.

From that perspective deciding we don’t need food safety inspectors makes sense.  It’s my job or yours to make sure we cook that chicken breast all the way through, that we sterilize our cutting boards, that we never forget to soap off our knives between cuts, that we never eat with friends less cautious than ourselves. (I’m following Maryn’s argument here, btw.)

One could choose to live that way.  Kids would die, from time to time, and maybe grandpa too, before he needed to go.  Such deaths would be the price of my freedom, a definition of liberty renders every other person around me a kind of ghost: there, but not so much so that I need act as if they are just as real as me.

That’s what’s at stake in the current impasse in Washington.  I don’t want to live with ghosts. I want friends, I want colleagues, I want a society — civilization.  Hell!  I want chicken inspectors, and it’s a privilege, not a burden, to live within a system that’s figured out how to  have them.  That the Republicans don’t seem to get that is why the current version of the party (no longer) of Lincoln must be ground into the dust.

Factio Grandaeva Delenda Est.

Update:  Per Mike the Mad Biologist, this news:

A sweeping salmonella outbreak has become so serious that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has called back 10 furloughed staff members to monitor this and other outbreaks.

Progress.

*You can get the word directly from Maryn via my conversation with her on the Virtually Speaking Science podcast.

Image:  Vincenzo Campi, Chicken Vendors1580.


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