23.9.08

Patty-Patty Buke-Buke! WRONG!

Our Nation's Magnum Opus

A professor of mine told me once that it takes seven years for a tragic event to settle into peoples’ minds, the collective consciousness, before any art can come of it. So I started looking this past September 11th, the seventh anniversary of the attacks. I didn’t have to wait long. The American requiem for the attacks – penned by several hundred million authors – even took more than just those seven years to build tension, crescendo, and then collapse with bated-breath intensity of the towers. Our masterpiece came in the world financial markets, instead of in a libretto, or on a canvas, or a novel.

Briefly, we lived in a time after the end of history. During this time Jonathan Franzen wrote “The Corrections” – which a friend of mine considers the first post-9/11 novel. A prescient novel, as it was published about a year before 9/11. The final chapter of Franzen’s novel begins with this passage:

“The correction, when it finally came, was not an overnight bursting of a bubble but a much more gentle letdown, a year-long leakage of value from key financial markets, a contraction too gradual to generate headlines and too predictable to seriously hurt anybody but fools and the working poor.

It seemed to Enid that current events in general were more muted or insipid nowadays than they’d been in her youth. She had memories of the 1930’s, she’d seen firsthand what could happen to a country when the world economy took its gloves off; she’d helped her mother pass out leftovers to homeless men in the alley behind their roominghouse. But disasters of this magnitude no longer seemed to befall the United States. Safety features had been put in place, like the squares of rubber that every modern playground was paved with, to soften impacts.”

From the shadow of 9/11, this sentiment seems quaint. But we grasp for it at this moment as our legislators in Washington huddle together and try to figure out how to wedge those squares of rubber beneath the financial asteroid that has already struck the planet. Herein lies the beauty of our work of art: It is at once absurd, hilarious to watch these buffoonish Faustus’ try to renege on their pact with Mephistopheles, tragic for the lives they’ll put on the line to do it, and sobering to admit that we all knew it would come to this and avoided every Delphic warning along the way. The complicity for this disaster runs far and deep and the vicious circle of blame, from the proverbial “fat cats on Wall Street” to the “minorities and risky people who can’t pay their mortgages,” is ouroborotic; the snake eating its own tail.

Franzen also said, in an essay in Harper’s Magazine several years before the publication of “The Corrections”: “Tragic realism preserves the recognition that improvement always comes at a cost; that nothing lasts forever; that if the good in the world outweighs the bad, it’s by the slimmest of margins. I suspect that art has always had a particularly tenuous purchase on the American imagination because ours is a country to which hardly anything really terrible has ever happened."

Perhaps it’s not such a surprise that we would commemorate our first great national tragedy since slavery and the Civil War in the language this country has always spoken most fluently; commerce.

In his book “Studies in Classic American Literature” D.H. Lawrence famously wrote, “the essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic, and a killer. It has never yet melted.” After 9/11 that stoicism melted. Whatever we had left of a British stiff upper lip, fully curled into an American snarl. Vengeance would be our balm. They’d caught us off guard this time, but the next one we would take care of ourselves. We would will calamity upon ourselves to prove our mettle (by 2001 we were already well on our way to this present disaster).

Friedrich Nietzsche asked, in his introduction to “The Birth of Tragedy”:

“Is there a pessimism of strength? An intellectual inclination for what in existence is hard, dreadful, evil, problematic, emerging from what is healthy, from overflowing well being, from living existence to the full? Is there perhaps a way of suffering from the very fullness of life? A tempting courage of the keenest sight which demands what is terrible as the enemy, the worthy enemy, against which it can test its power, from which it wants to learn what ‘to fear’ means?"

Perhaps you’ll say it was 9/11 and Al-Qaeda which we invited to test our power. But I disagree. We have never considered the ragtag rebels and the “holes they live in” in Afghanistan as worthy adversaries. We sent fewer troops to demolish their safe-haven of a nation than there are police on the streets of New York City. Our emperor said of their Visigoth leader, “I don’t really think much about him anymore.” We had a hand in bringing on 9/11, of course, but to really see what we were made of, we needed a far more worthy adversary. We needed ourselves as our enemy.

We turned our homes against us. Every night men returned not to their castles, but to a hand grenade in which they slept. We put much of the world’s money on the backs of our homes to up the stakes and then faced down the plunging red arrows to see who would blink first. Our president – like our potential soon-to-be vice-president – if you didn’t know, does not blink. Ever. Well, this time, he blinked. Everyone blinked. It turned out that stoicism we’d traded for vengeance; we missed having it.

About a year before he killed himself, David Foster Wallace asked this question in The Atlantic as part of the magazine’s 75th anniversary “Year in Ideas” feature: “What if we chose to regard the 2,973 innocents killed in the atrocities of 9/11 not as victims but as democratic martyrs, ‘sacrifices on the altar of freedom’? In other words, what if we decided that a certain baseline vulnerability to terrorism is part of the price of the American idea? And, thus, that ours is a generation of Americans called to make great sacrifices in order to preserve our democratic way of life—sacrifices not just of our soldiers and money but of our personal safety and comfort?”

We’ve failed the trial with which we were confronted, and the one with which we confronted ourselves. The red arrows plunged too quickly, too far and we wondered where our guts had gone. Now we’re trying to make use of those squares of rubber retroactively.

Is it too late to try Foster Wallace’s thought experiment? Can we remove the “Power of Pride” bumper stickers from the backs of our Chevy’s and admit that our hubris, as it was for many a Greek, is not our great strength but our far-too-predictable Achilles’ heel? Can we make a hundred million “Power of Stoicism” bumper stickers instead? And if we do, will anyone be able to recall that strength for themselves? The alternative is probably close and it will not be the dramatic denouement to this work we want to leave in the historical record.

“To be so enormous. Then to die.”

18.9.08

The Warrantless Snag of Sarah Palin's E-mail

Today, an American citizen's privacy is something worth fighting for. That, of course, stands in opposition to the past eight years of official government policy towards citizens' privacy which was essentially, "bend over and spread those cheeks." After several years of government probing-devices that reached deep into the rectal recesses of American libraries and personal telephone calls, Pitbull/Mom of the Century, Sarah Palin, has had her e-mail hacked and turned public sentiment permanently against invasions of elected officials' privacy.

Palin had nothing to do with the NSA's warrantless wiretapping, of course. But she does sit on a ticket with John McCain who, as a part of his ongoing surrendering-of-all-previously-morally-defensable-positions, reneged on his objection to Bush's illegal surveillance of private American citizens and decided:

"[N]either the Administration nor the telecoms need apologize for actions that most people, except for the ACLU and the trial lawyers, understand were Constitutional and appropriate in the wake of the attacks on September 11, 2001... John McCain will do everything he can to protect Americans from such threats, including asking the telecoms for appropriate assistance to collect intelligence against foreign threats to the United States as authorized by Article II of the Constitution."

This is a change from McCain's prior feelings on the subject. When asked in a prior interview whether federal statutes against wiretapping provisions trumped the Article II "inherent power" argument, McCain said, "I don't think the president has the right to disobey any law." A slimey answer from a now-slippery man, no doubt, but still it doesn't quite have the ring of "I will wiretap you."

But wiretapping is done by the government, not hackers. So maybe it's illegal and wrong, but they're still the government; we don't get to monitor them, they get to monitor us. Right?

Sarah Palin is in a bit of a mess back in Alaska over that whole Troopergate thing. I don't really find the Troopergate "scandal" evil or despicable, just mildly amusing and soap-opera-ish, a quality which is pervasive in Palin's life. Part of the Troopergate story is a question of whether government business concerning the firing, or any other state business the public should know about, was conducted through Palin's personal e-mail account in order to avoid culpability should any scrutiny, such as the current investigation, befall the governor at a later date. The McCain campaign decided to employ Bush tactics in protecting Palin from the investigation, detailed below via Harper's:

"First, Palin has asserted that her records and communications are protected by executive privilege. Second, her senior assistants have been instructed not to cooperate with the probe. Third, the Alaska attorney general (a Palin appointee and confidant who faces conflict-of-interest charges himself) has issued a series of opinions designed to bar the way for the probe. So how does the McCain team deal with accusations that it is attempting a cover-up of Palin’s involvement in a matter which, at the very least, raises severe questions about Palin’s credibility? They argue that the inquiry should be handled by the Alaska Personnel Board, not by the legislature. The Personnel Board, of course, is dominated by Palin’s cronies and reports to her."

You've learned well, young paduan.

We already know government business (not necessarily the firing, but government business) was conducted on Palin's personal Yahoo account because of state business e-mails sent accidentally to her government account, whose sender was reprimanded and told to keep such issues confined to Palin's personal e-mail. Turd Blosson, aka Karl Rove, and 80 other members of Bush's team executed a similar strategy articulated by TB in which personal e-mail accounts were used to conduct government business in order to avoid public scrutiny.

I say those e-mails are ours. We own them, the people. If Sarah Palin and Karl Rove want to pull the bullshit they have, and continue to, in order to prevent us from getting at their e-mails discussing how they govern our country, I say fuck them. Hack their accounts, take their family photos along with their e-mails concerning official state business, and post them all over the web. They are not entitled to our deference.

As Mark Slouka wrote in a brilliant essay in Harper's in June this year about the difference between American and British attitudes toward government: "In general, the Brits act as though the government is their business and they have every right to meddle in it. Americans, by and large, display no such self-assurance. To the contrary, we seem to believe, deep in our hearts, that the business of government is beyond our provenance."

For our part, we take our cues from the hypocritical talking-head class who deplore the "despicable, slimey, scummy, websites, that, in a free society, we have to tolerate," as said Bill O'Reilly on Gawker's posting of the Sarah Palin e-mails. Now Gawker is no anti-establishment, WTO bashing, anarchist hang-out, but kudos on splaying out Palin's e-mails, even if you were just looking for clicks past the jump.

We listen to Turd Blossom who has so little self-respect - even George W. Bush knows how thickly swaddled in shit is Rove, and bestowed the "Turd Blossom" moniker upon him - that he appeared on television yesterday and said, "We saw this celebrity private investigator in L.A., he's going to jail for having listened in on peoples' phone conversations. This is someone listening in on your personal e-mail, uh, this is really bad... We should throw 'em under the bus," showing no regard for the fact that he could have easily replaced "private investigator" with "my former employer, George Bush" and, except for the going to jail part, the statement would have still been accurate.

Thomas Jefferson said the tree of liberty had to be refreshed every once in a while with the blood of patriots and tyrants. No reason not to start spilling some 1's and 0's along the way, too.

16.9.08

Oops, There Goes $4 Trillion...

No one had lost their jobs, yet, by yesterday, but I'd never seen the Financial District's streets so empty on a Monday morning.

I work about five blocks away from AIG's big downtown offices on Water Street in lower Manhattan. I pass their offices everyday on the way to the New York Sports Club opposite their building. On the way to the gym last night after work I passed two people crying in each others' arms outside the big Chase building. In front of AIG, a fit young man with a smooth, clean head, sat on a flower pot and held his head and sobbed. Maybe their fantasy football teams hadn't performed well on Sunday, or maybe their portfolios had been wiped out in the last eight hours.

Just down the street from AIG, an electric-violin player twitched absurdly before the new "Dwell 95" uber-luxury apartment building that opened its doors yesterday at 95 "Wall Street" (its not on Wall Street, it is most definitely on Water Street, in the middle of the block, not on the corner where you can fudge it, but someone paid somebody for that address...). He stomped around on a blood red velvet carpet and spun out some Richard-Wagner-on-amphetamines music while the dazed suits and IB's stumbled past. A couple photographers snapped photos of oddly placed beautiful people standing in front of the building who-knows-why.
For months designer Philippe Starck's mug stood on a billboard over the building site wearing a moronic Toby Keith beard and a cowboy hat with "yoo" printed on it in big orange letters that had me thinking the place was a new Vonage store, not high rise luxury apartments. The grotesque, impromptu fete for Dwell 95 begged the question, who is going to buy those apartments now - advertised as residing in "the energetic Financial District" (I guess... as long as you don't step outside after 6pm on Friday) - and with what money?

The Financial District suddenly looks very old. Its big stone buildings are heavy and tired. They fit more comfortably with the relic-block of early 19th century NYC preserved for posterity at the corner of Broad Street and Water Street, than they probably should.

In the past year, some of the biggest Wall Street firms have experienced combined losses of about $4 trillion. I'd be fine with that if I wasn't so sure that it's not the dipshit IB's - who'd previously spent their Friday nights at Myst on 28th Street pouring booze on hookers - who will take it in the nuts as much as it is the people in the cafeterias, office services, and maintenance departments. The world loves an overpaid dipshit.

Furthermore, I wonder what this will do to New York City/State. David Paterson, who is a sharp guy as far as I can tell, went on CNBC today and basically said it's killing us to have these firms go belly up. He said that the State Assembly, in a special session recently, cut a billion dollars from the state budget and then had that basically wiped out yesterday when the lost about a billion dollars on the rest of the year with the Lehman collapse/Merrill almost-collapse.

Oh, but at least that fucking asshole, Dick Fuld, will get to leave Lehman with $65 million even with his shitty stock at $3/share. Yeah, Dick, you go break the legs of anyone who shorts that stock.

8.9.08

A Reasonable Succession of If/Then Statements

I heard Katy Perry's "I Kissed A Girl" played for the 96,347th time in the past month at the New York Sports Club the other day. Apparently this pastor from Ohio is as fed up with it as I am. He says you should stick to kissing boys and liking it, I suppose, or else you go to hell. Abide the church of Blacklick, Ohio, Americans.

This'll Help

MSNBC Election Coverage - Olbermann = Mega-Suck

I'm with Gawker on this: Phil Griffin is a gutless slug and the only thing MSNBC has going for it is the Matthews-Olbermann-Maddow trifecta with the occasional Scarborough darkhorse quip. I mean, David Gregory? Come on!

Gawker calls Gregory "the guy who became famous for abusing Bush spokespeople," but that's a crock. He's a shitty journalist and he asked stupid questions to those spokespeople. You want to see how you abuse Bush's spokespeople? Watch Jeremy Paxman intellectu-ass-whip candidate for Dipshit of the Decade, former UN Ambassador, John Bolton, on Newsnight. Coronary country.

I had an enounter with Gregory in October of '03 when I was studying abroad in London. I was at Trafalgar Square the day of Bush's first visit to the UK and there were huge protests, something like 200,000 people. About 8pm I see the NBC news-crew making its way towards me and David Gregory's 6' 5" silver -do sticking out above all the Brits. I end up standing next to him and he says, "Hey, what's going on here, what's the story, I just got in," like I'm his press attache and he's been searching for me the whole time to get the scoop. What the fuck is he asking me for? I just drank a 2 liter bottle of Strongbow Cider. I am ill-equipped to answer this, or any other, question, and, in addition, a) you're the million-dollar a year "journalist," b) you're 6' 5" and you can see over everyone. You tell ME what's going on, buck-o!

Anyway, get rid of Gregory. Olbermann or bust. We don't need another Blitzer-styled starch-injection. Thanks, but no thanks, NBC. You guys suck.

Degrees of Separation

I found this portion of Sarah Palin's Wikipedia entry notable:

"Palin spent her first college semester at Hawaii Pacific College, transferring in 1983 to North Idaho College and then to the University of Idaho. She attended Matanuska-Susitna College in Alaska for one term, returning to the University of Idaho to complete her Bachelor of Science degree in communications-journalism, graduating in 1987."

Ok, nevermind the fact that she graduated from college after attending four colleges, one of them twice on separate occasions. She also graduated with a degree in communications. As you might recall from Episode 237 of The Simpsons, "Faith Off," this is the same degree held by Springfield University's famed place-kicker, Anton Lubchenko. Lubchenko is kicking in the championship game when a drunken Homer drives over Lubchenko's kicking leg with his parade-float-mobile. His career ruined, Dr. Hibbard is tending to Lubchenko and says, "Oh, don't worry about the end of your football career son, you can always fall back on your degree in..... communications??!?!?!??!?"
Yeah, anyway, "McCain-Palin '08: A-durrrr"