03 November 2012

Plumping for a Reason

I know there haven't been any new posts around here (In ages! Jesus.) on the Days, but in the twilight of this electoral season my mother wanted to know how it is I'm leaning.  More than just a 'who you vote for' question, I guess it gives me pause to think more deeply about what it is I believe in, a 'why' sort of thing.  A good think for any of us to ask of ourselves, from time to time.

I guess I'd have to preface all this by saying that I can't believe in immutable rights, beyond those that are agreed upon as societal norms (which for better and for worse, do change with time). I trust that there are certain values that are almost universally held, which may seem self-evident when thought about objectively. But as there isn't any compelling evidence for a god (or gods), there really isn't anything proscribed or impossible except that which society will crush one for in reprisal. Moral values are then a product of human coexistence and the changing dynamics therein, rather than being a simple given. The nature, means, and measure of power - which to my mind is a thing of inevitability in any social grouping, the implementation of who gets what, how and when - isn't just innate; one can argue it to be beholden to a number of factors, like technology, economy, and even geography.

From that viewpoint then, I'd say our current, past-century set of circumstances make government the arm of the common good, ostensibly there to protect and better society in ways individuals can't or are unwilling to do, modern society being large, complex, and as a unit fairly unwieldy. The tumultuous nature of the free market system upon which we base our daily existence lends itself to conflict, inequality, and discord - conditions that the nature of said system cannot thrive in. This isn't medieval Europe, where power is measured by the crops you grow and your ability to wrest what you will by force. Force is still a potent means of control, but is by no means the end-all appropriation.

In terms of governance, the problems I have with the private sector are absolutely borne from a personal cynicism held that a for-profit motivation is inherently going to be selfish; when one tries to apply free market principles (which are great, from a business perspective) to what one might call the 'social good', you necessarily find gaps where there's no profit to be had. Worse yet, conflict of interest dictates that a money-making approach to government invites corruption and further solidifies the placement of 'haves' and 'have-nots', simply because people who can afford to invest and turn a profit (call them 'producers') will become the focus and primary beneficiaries of any such government. 

Conversely, one can make the same argument that governments are poor at running businesses. This is generally true because the motivations and goals of government are intrinsically different from those needed to successfully maintain a business. In a successful economic system such as ours, it wouldn't be too insane to suggest the existence of a symbiotic relationship between the two, the one being the engine powering the other, which maintains the stability the former requires to do its thing.  Kind of the essence of Keynesianism, really.

So I voted Democratic because I believe in people, and in society. There's a disparity that has been widening in America over the past forty years, and I believe our democratic virtue requires us as a society to redress them. That's my problem with the Tea Party, in that they are actively working to redefine those values that make us 'American'. Not that there's any problem inherent in evolving public interest, or with debating policy. But it's the cheap political tactics and fairly transparent self-interest that I disagree with the most strongly.  No system is perfect, just as our very bodies - while standing the tests of time and selection - are neither perfect nor even well-suited for all contingencies. But at some point we need ask what best serves the greatest common denominator.

12 May 2012

What's New, Pussycat?

Dear, but how time flies!  March to May in what seems like a week; of mold, of shit, of utter decrepitude.  My life finally feels consumed by the job, that most dreadful of all nouns.  Up at six, fix a to-go salad and eat my yoghurt.  The daily walk to 4610 26th Avenue - I've calculated that as of last Wednesday I've walked five-hundred miles exclusively to and from work since starting in October.  It's two miles each way, so I suppose it adds up.  But my god!  I could have (very slowly) walked to San Francisco from here, rather than the punch-in and early morning meeting that begins each and every weekday with unflinching regularity.

I dream about work now, so far gone are my free time aspirations.  Sometimes I'll wake up and think up a way to go about a particular job that hadn't occurred to me before.  I'll return those two miles, feeling utterly efficient and utilitarianally clever.  Meanwhile my writing notes grow into a small stack of of yellowing paper.  My blog (poor blog), untouched for nearly two months that felt as a week.  Before I know it I'll be in my mid-thirties, wondering where it all went, dreaming my workaday dreams (if I dream at all, by then) and crawling into a bottle after every second set of two miles in the evening.

Whole lives are sometimes used this way, and it frightens me. 

15 March 2012

"The War Hero"

            Orson Hayes smiles twice at the readied camera as the production assistant gives the thirty seconds sign.  Silly Sally sells sea shells, ink pink blink, cognitive gymnastics.  Across the desk to one side sits a clean cut young man in an immaculate set of dress greens, a few dozen multicolored ribbons arranged over his heart.  He sits with folded hands resting on the knee of his crossed leg, the placid and quite photogenic war hero, a sort of latter-day Ollie North.  Orson can feel the glow of patriotic greatness emanating upon him; if he could but touch the hem of his Silver Star-
            Three, two, one, “And we’re back, tonight’s guest freshly returned from his triumphant tour of duty overseas, Private First Class John Bollard.”  The audience roars approval; every red-blood loves PFC Bollard.  “Proud to have you with us, John,” smilingly wresting back the spotlight, the gracious late-night host.
            “Pleasure to be here, Mister Hayes,” Bollard smirks saccharinely.  Orson doesn’t appreciate the formality, and casts a wary eye at his guest.  Perhaps he doesn’t care for the spotlight?  A touch of PTSD, maybe?
            “As many of you know, John here was the hero of last month’s harrowing Haiftatabad siege, in which over a hundred militants had his squad surrounded in an abandoned hospital.  Completely out of contact and beyond support, isn’t that right?”
            “The ruins of a hospital, but yes, you’ve got the facts correct.”  Orson doesn’t much care for Bollard’s tone, or his sarcastic smile.  If the little shit doesn’t want to be on television, why come at all?  Just play ball, dammit.
            “Surrounded and outnumbered, your fellow warriors injured and spent, you courageously volunteered to infiltrate enemy lines in order to cause a distraction that would allow your squad to escape.  Not only did they escape, but he single-handedly neutralized more than fifty insurgents, completely breaking their ranks!  How do you like that, folks?  A modern-day Audie Murphy!”  And suddenly Hayes feels old- would people even remember who Murphy was?  “A real John McCain-style maverick,” he adds, still a little out of touch.  But who else in this day and age comes close?  Team Six, maybe, but none of them have names or recognizable faces.  He looks at Bollard with an almost real feeling of admiration, “You display the true American spirit, young man.  If only the current administration could better honor heroes such as yourself and the other men and women in uniform with better support.”
            And then his guest laughs, actually has the balls to snicker during Orson’s oratory to the American people.  But he’s not laughing; John looks scathingly upon him, a frighteningly sneery expression of disdain clouding his heroic visage.  “Hero?” he scoffs.  “You keep saying hero, but really you’re only dancing around the glaring reality that I’m a mass murderer in a uniform.  Hero,” he spits.  “Honestly, how can anyone in this day and age condone the things we do, much less applaud my actions?  Standing me up to be some sort of role model, so that when I’m old and spent and working a civvie contract job you can send today’s sons and daughters-” and the private scoffs again, “sons, send people’s sons to become murderers of their own, to fight and die or grow old and land more civvie jobs to enable more young people to fight and die.  Of course,” he continues matter-of-factly, sitting back in his seat, “it’ll be mechanized by then, all drones and robots and IEDs blowing up other IEDs and whatever civilians get in the way.”
            Orson is appalled, looking to the set director for guidance.  Keep it going, she mouths back at him.  Hayes struggles to find an opening, struggles to rally his riled feelings of public betrayal and ire.  “Do- do you mean to say you don’t support the war?  That you don’t support our troops?”  A few people in the audience boo, shouting commie and coward.  But John has obviously seen worse; he simply laughs at them.
            “Support our troops?  Have you spent any time with our troops, Orson?  They’re all either poor or fools or monsters, or fools waiting to become monsters so you people can idolize them.  Sending them off to fight wars for things you don’t really understand, simply to attach yourselves to a feeling like remoras on a shark.  You’re leeches, every last one of you.”  The stage lighting is bringing out the dark shadows around the eyes, bringing out the exhaustion in Bollard’s features.  Orson shakes his head reprovingly; the boy’s obviously delusional, speaking ill of his country and his fellow warriors this way.  And the crowd is getting ugly, inflammatory.
            “People, please,” he tells them in a soothing hush, trying to be his own sort of hero now.  “Post-traumatic stress is a very serious condition, affecting tens of thousands of our-”
            “Do you know why they get that way, Mister Hayes?  Because war is an unnatural thing incompatible with modern society, especially with a functioning democracy that believes in human rights and the sanctity of life.  We get sent off to see and do terrible things, get told we’re doing good, and then have to wrap our little minds around it all for the next thirty, forty, or however many years it takes before finally dying.  And it’s painful, so eventually everybody adopts the same language of lying, heroes and neutralizing and all that sanitized garbage people like you spread around.  For your ratings and your public image.  So yes, I do support the troops.  Fire them all, or else keep them home,” John trails off, tired and by now drowned out by the awful voices raining down upon him.  “Do something.”
            Security has been dispatched to keep a few audience members back from the stage.  Orson stands, feeling a bit like Springer as he looks to camera 3.  “Well that’s all the time we have for now.  Stay tuned for our next guest as we discuss the wolf problem in the mountain states.”  The On Air sign blackens and he looks around for Bollard, but the soldier is gone.  “Coward,” Hayes mutters, and begins trying to settle the tumultuous crowd back into their seats.

09 March 2012

Decline and Fall of the Demure Right

            Obviously it has been happening for years, as steadily as a runaway glacier: the polarisation of American politics and the rightward thrust of the current Republican Party.  Nothing by way of news, though some stories from the past couple of weeks bode ill for a perfect union.

Super Tuesday Fizzle  Super Tuesday - called such because it generally concludes the primary stage of any opposition party’s election run-up in an explosive fashion - has fallen flatter than a tired metaphor, as Romney wins in a disappointingly lacklustre fashion and rival Santorum loses in such a way as to come out a slightly stronger candidate.  Not only does this underline that there’s money to be made in drawing out a foregone conclusion, but it is painfully indicative of a split among Republican voters.  Viz, that there are about as many conservative, bland, yet somewhat responsible primary voters that support (reprehensibly oily as he may appear to be) at least a plausible presidential candidate who has leadership and (reprehensibly as it may also be) successful business experience and a history of compromise to his credit, (deep breath) as there are voters of the vehemently Tea Party, post-Moral Majority set that (ever increasing in dictating party lines) have already shattered the efficacy of the House of Representatives, and now seem intent on crashing the gates on the Senate and Presidency.

Snowe Moves On   Senator Olympia Snowe, a moderate Republican representing Maine, announced a week before Super Tuesday that she would not seek reĆ«lection, citing “an atmosphere of polarization and 'my way or the highway' ideologies [that have] become pervasive in campaigns and in our governing institutions.”  What this does to limit congressional bargaining (and ultimately large-scale bipartisan projects, such as the debt reduction supercommittee) and the ensuing gridlock that follows would, in her opinion, make another term in the Senate personally unproductive.  She closes her announcement with a bittersweet flourish,

As I enter a new chapter, I see a vital need for the political center in order for our democracy to flourish and to find solutions that unite rather than divide us. It is time for change in the way we govern, and I believe there are unique opportunities to build support for that change from outside the United States Senate. I intend to help give voice to my fellow citizens who believe, as I do, that we must return to an era of civility in government driven by a common purpose to fulfill the promise that is unique to America.

Unfortunately, as she hangs up her legislative hat another potential intransigent may usurp her rare position as an aisle-reacher, further exacerbating the already static cling to party unity (over coƶperation).

Pledge Drives  And the one that really gets me are the ill-fatedly indefinite pledges (read my lips) that have been getting the pass-round among Republican congresspersons.  The first is Grover Norquist’s pledge to never under any circumstances increase the marginal tax rate of either person or business (living or dead), signed by all but six Republican representatives and most of their senators.  No wonder Snowe (who did not sign the pledge) has decided to leave; if maintained the pledge effectively eliminates all possibility of compromise over the reduction of America’s debt.  The other pledge (because bad news comes in pairs) is the brainchild of the right-wing Susan B. Anthony List, directed at Republican presidential candidates and maintains a strict policy of appointing only demonstrably pro-life judges and appointees if elected.  Mitt Romney (again, the only thing by way of a plausible GOP candidate this fall) is the only of his rivals to not sign, arguing that it would be a limitation of his abilities as president.  Yes, the future of America’s Right seems to lie in the unmovable foundations of uncompromising ideology.  

So what then might anybody expect to be the Democratic reaction?  Eventually, trenches shall be dug, and the American moderate will indeed be a thing of the past.

08 March 2012


I like the Asian grocer's.  The aisles of exotic, cheap foodstuffs, the smells and familiarity of being surrounded by the unfamiliar.  It puts a smile on my face as I browse with a basket slung over my arm.  Picking, choosing, thinking.  I grabbed a sixer of duck's eggs on a whim yesterday; they seem larger than those of chickens, and I can't recall ever eating one before.  The gal at the checkout seemed a bit perplexed.  In broken English, asking if I knew they were ducks'.
"Aye, ducks' eggs," I nod on amicably, glancing at my watch.  My lunch hour's nearly up and I've yet to get back to the office.  I have a stir fry planned for later, minced garlic and peppers and cabbage, chicken and graced with a duck's egg at the last.  Which is why it came as an unpleasant, hilarious sort of surprise when I went to crack open that extra-extra-large white oblong egg and found the sharp rift pulsating with ruddy afterbirthage.
Rushing the thing to the sink for fast inspection, an embryonic duck flopped out amid yolk and runny white.  It was horrible, hysterical.  I couldn't stop laughing.  The checkout gal had said they were ducks, not ducks'.  One by one, I pass the others in front of the overhead light.  Cloudy, every one.  Fertilized to the last.  Bugger.
I did a bit of research, the odd wiki page and a question or two to an old friend.  These are a specialty, balut in the Philippines.  Supposedly a proteiny snack and aphrodisiacal booster steeped in folklore and local culture.  It seems barbaric, disgusting; I must try it, if only to pit myself against my blander inclinations.
Day next, I've boiled four for a solid ten minutes (as per an instruction I found in an online Q&A column), the lime juice, salt, and an emergency glass of Polish vodka at the ready on the dining table.  I run an egg briefly under the tap, to a holdable cool.  I'll try at least one, and if it doesn't work out I'm okay with throwing the rest out.  Hesitantly, gingerly, I crack and unroll the shell, catching what flumps lifelessly out into a small bowl below.  Knife and fork in hand, I take it to table with impending dread.
It's veiny, grotesque.  I don't want to eat it, would feel terrible doing so, can't even look at it directly.  I poke at it with my knife - it feels soft, like organ meat or an overdone Spam.  Gradually I fork up a bite, half of a meaty embryo and a bit of golden yolk solids.  This first bite is surprisingly good.  Yolky, yes, but past that there's a subtle crunch of feather and bone, and the overall flavor of liver.  Yes, by all the gods, it's good!  I press on, ironically only unable to eat the familiar white, which is as hard as a stone.
I'm back to the kitchen for more, shelling and seasoning and consuming the other three with an awful sort of relish.  They're good, better than good.  As the feelings of guilt and disgust slip away I'm overcome with a feeling of triumph, that I can accomplish anything now.  I can overcome any fear, prod myself past any discomfort.  Eating balut is more than just an exotic meal; to do it once is to dethrone God himself, to push one's sensibilities and sympathies to a backseat and embrace an entirely new sort of existence.  It's an abortion of finickiness, and I feel liberated at having undergone the venture.

12 January 2012

Overtly British Toad in the Hole

Or, three flavors that seem to get along just fine first thing in the morning.  You will need:

one egg
one slice of bread, with a hole punched through the centre
one pad of butter, creased to resemble the union jack

Place the pad of butter onto a small skillet and begin frying on MED-HI, placing the empty bread down and dropping the egg into its cavity.  Fry, fry, fry, for about a minute or two until you can see the bottom (through the translucent top) of the egg whiten.  Flip it over swiftly, careful not to get raw egg all over the place.  Now, take a dash of mustard powder and a squirt of Worcestershire and slather it over your toad in the hole.  Let the egg fry another minute or two, then flip once more (making it three flips in total) and add a dash of malt salt (or failing that, just the slightest dashes of salt and vinegar).
Accompanied by a cup of tea in newspaper, breakfast slowly and think of England.