Monday, December 29, 2008

Picture of the day

The girl on the right looks eerily like someone I almost married a long, long time ago. She was kinda blurry back then, too.


Ah the memories. Sometimes they're even accurate.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Pentagon: House of War

This video documents Dan Webster's Pentagon: House of War installation at Burning Man 2008. chuckling played a small role as a member of the installation's crew and some of the photos in the video, all of the black and whites, are mine. It's about 25 minutes, so watch it when you have a bit of time (or click on the Google Video link and download it to your IPosd). The poor quality is due mostly to poor chuckling's method of capturing video off a DVD and whatever voodoo Google Video does to allow such a large file to play on the internets.

Caution (and promise): contains nudity.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Hole like my head

Big bucks and an ivy leage education, for this?

There was an electricity outage in Hawaii, which provided the opportunity for one of our titans of journalism to produce the worst writing to appear in a prominent newspaper today (so far):

President-elect Barack Obama has yet to even assume power, but he suddenly lost it Friday night.

New york story

If you don't live here, I bet you'd be surprised by how often I meet people who work trivial jobs during regular business hours and practice their art the rest of the time. I can't tell you how many times during the course of a casual conversation that someone points me to their website to see their painting, writing, photography, music, or some other art. And people give me their music cd's all the time.

So I wasn't the least bit surprised when I asked a young woman I know if she had a business card and she handed me a music cd and said I could find her contact info there. But I was shocked, shocked I tell you, when I listened to the cd and it turned out to be great. Normally they're just okay.

So I encourage you to check it out here or here and maybe buy something (available at the web site or though ITunes) or at least steal a few songs and tell your friends. This is the type of work that should be encouraged.

Sucky bat shit, chuckling

Last night's family ordeal, I mean movie, was the new Batman pic, "The Dark Knight," which my daughter was given for Xmas. Let me tell you, and you can trust me on this, the Batman series is one dead series, at least creatively. Of course that doesn't mean they'll stop making them. I expect we'll see the 23rd installment, "Batman Belches" before too long and it will gross at least $300 million in today's dollars. Artistically though. Dead. Worse than dead. Putrid.

I knew that, but still, I was almost interested in seeing "The Dark Knight" for two reasons: Many people I respect speak well of Heath Ledger's performance as the Joker and a lot of right wing nutcases felt the movie supported their fucked up world view.

As for Ledger's performance, I'm sorry, but unless you are Caesar Romero, how hard can it be to play the Joker? Even the older, washed up Jack Nicholson managed it. You don't have to be a master thespian to pull off a character that wears scary makeup and acts like a total psychopath in every scene. No need for character development or growth. And this iteration didn't even require that the Joker tell jokes, so there was no comedic timing requirement either. I hope they cast Bill Murray in the next remake, but it will be a waste of his talent if they don't get better writers than they had on this one. Or maybe it was some kind of meta joke to have a jokeless Joker? Good concept, perhaps, but it failed in the execution. Failed miserably.

Still, the scenes with the Joker were the only interesting ones in the movie. Homicidal psychopaths wearing makeup are inherently entertaining for the human species. It's an evolutionary thing, I guess. And that explains why the only other remotely watchable Batman movie (that didn't star Adam West) is the other one with the Joker. If the Hollywood Honchos were really smart, they'd find a way to make the Joker a hero and give him his own movie franchise. It shouldn't be that difficult. Homicidal maniacs on insane killing sprees are socially acceptable in the right context. Slap a flag on his ass and send him to Mecca or the like. Blockbuster. Guaranteed.

The Batman character is, as usual, poorly written. They make yet another lazy attempt to portray him as a psychopath instead of a hero, but it comes off as lame as it is half-hearted. Only the real Batman, Adam West, was able to pull of that trick. Michael Keaton didn't do a bad job either. But the Batman in "The Dark Knight" could have been played by an animatronic robot and it wouldn't have mattered a whit. The writing was really that bad.

Why the winguts think the movie supports their idiotic worldview is a bit of a mystery. Yes, there's a scene where a vigilante tortures a defendant while the police watch, and I know that kind of thing turns them on even more than Sarah Palin with a shotgun, but there's also a plot point where people choose to die rather than kill a boatload of African-American criminals, which you'd think would get their liberal hatin dander up. Of course none of it makes any sense. In the end you just have to chalk it up to their penchant for incoherently grasping at imaginary straws cause that's all they got. No reason to expect otherwise.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Boy in the band (wagon)

Poor chuckling doesn't mean to be a contrarian. I'd like to agree with my imaginary internet friends on every issue. I really would. Especially when it comes to right wing scumbags like Rick Warren. Do you know the original meaning of the word "scumbag?" It's Prophylactic. Rubber. Condom. Scum, you see, is slang for sperm. The bag is the rubber. A scumbag, by definition, is a receptacle for jizzem. Is Rick Warren a receptacle for jizzem? I don't know. Seems like most right wing homo-hating preachers are, doesn't it?

Anyway, since I'm already so far off-topic, I'll share a joke from my college days. One of our journalism professors got caught and was arrested for masturbating in a men's room. After that, he was known as the professor emeritus of urinal jizzem. And you guessed it. He was a Republican.

What's any of that got to do with President-elect Obama appointing Rick Warren to say a few words of mumbo jumbo at his inauguration? Something, I'm sure. But the important thing is that poor chuckling, unlike nearly everybody else he respects, thinks that President-elect Obama made a wise choice. As far as I can tell, it's just me and Melissa Etheridge against the world on this issue.

And together, we are strong. I think we're already starting to reap the benefits of Obama's ploy of inclusion. Multiple lefty websites report that Warren is trying to weasel out of his anti-gay stances so he won't lose his high profile inauguration gig. Discriminatory directives have disappeared from his church's website. He's publicly backpedaling from his most hateful pronouncements.

And among my imaginary friends, these advances are reported as if they are bad things. No. Sorry friends. When homo-hating right wing leaders back off their idiotic views, that is a good thing. And if all it requires to achieve that self-interested enlightenment is a little symbolic inclusion, well, a little symbolic inclusion is a good thing too. Warrenseems to have gotten the message. Symbolism only goes so far. If his type wants to stay and play, they better play nice.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Literature with interruptions

All those words to say the same sad thing. That’s what these people are like, they’re never quite sure what they mean.

--Jose Saramago from "Death with Interruptions"

I’ve told this story elsewhere, you may have seen it. If so, don't worry, or stop reading. It’s apropos here for entirely different reasons. This time it's about literature, not religion.

One fateful day, I think it was sometime in the autumn of 1999, I randomly picked up two superficially related books that would lead, each in its own way, to a lot more reading over the years. The first was “The Jesus Legend” by George Albert Wells which would serve as my introduction to the study of first century Palestine and the historicity, or not, of the Jesus character in the Bible. The second book was “The Gospel According to Jesus Christ,” a novel by soon-to-be Nobel Laureate for Literature Jose Saramago. The Wells book demonstrated that what so many people take for truth can be mostly fiction. The Saramago book demonstrated how much truth can be contained in a work that is unapologetically fiction. The Wells book led me off in one direction to read a lot more New Testament studies. The Saramago book took me down another path. Reading Jose Saramago.

This passage form “The Gospel According to Jesus Christ” provides a good introduction to Saramago. You’ll immediately note his idiosyncratic style. Long run-on sentences, non-standard punctuation, particularly for dialogue. Quite a bit of rambling. Beautiful language on occasion.The rare flash of stunning insight into the human condition. The following scene takes place at the end of the time Jesus spent with Satan in the wilderness. God has just appeared.

"To hear you Lord is to Obey, but I have one more question. Stop asking Me questions. Please, Lord, I must. Very well then, speak. Can I save my sheep. So that's what's bothering you. Yes, that's all, may I. No. Why not. Because you must offer it in sacrifice to Me to seal our covenant. You mean this sheep. Yes. Let me choose another from the flock, I'll be right back. You heard Me, I want this one. But Lord, can't you see, its ear has been clipped. You are mistaken, take a good look, the ear is perfect. It isn't possible. I am the Lord, and with the Lord all things are possible. But this is my sheep. Again you are mistaken, the lamb was Mine and you took it from Me, now you will recompense Me with the sheep. Your will be done, for You rule the universe, and I am Your servant. Then offer this sheep in sacrifice, or there will be no covenant. Take pity on me, Lord, I stand here naked and have neither cleaver nor knife, said Jesus, hoping he might still be able to save the sheep's life, but God said, I would not be God if I were unable to solve this problem, here. No sooner had he finished speaking than a brand-new cleaver lay at Jesus' feet. Now quickly, said God, for I have work to do and cannot stay here chatting all day long. Grasping the cleaver by the handle, Jesus went to the sheep. It raised its head and hardly recognized him, never having seen him naked before, and as everyone knows, these animals do not have a strong sense of smell. Do you weep, God asked. The cleaver went up, took aim, and came down as swiftly as an executioner's ax or the guillotine, which has not yet been invented. The sheep did not even whimper. All one could hear was, Ah, as God gave a deep sigh of satisfaction. Jesus asked Him, May I go now. You may, and don't forget, from now on you are tied to Me in flesh and blood. How should I take my leave of You. It doesn't matter, for Me there is no front or back, but it's customary to back away from me, bowing as you go. Tell me, Lord. What a tiresome fellow you are, what's bothering you now. The shepherd who owns the flock, What shepherd, My master, What about him, Is he an angel or a demon, He's someone I know. But tell me, is he an angel or a demon. I've already told you, for God there is no front or back, good-bye for now. The column of smoke was gone, and the sheep too, all that remained were drops of blood, and they were trying to hide in the soil.

When Jesus returned, Pastor stared at him and asked, Where's the sheep, and he explained, I met God. I didn't ask you if you met God, I asked you if you found the sheep. I offered it in sacrifice. Whatever for. Because God was there and I had no choice. With the tip of his crook, Pastor drew a line on the ground, a furrow deep as a pit, insurmountable as a wall of fire, then told him, You've learned nothing, begone with you."

See what I mean? Great piece, eh? After “The Gospel” I started reading his other novels. He is most famous for “Blindness,” which is undoubtedly one of the most brutal books ever written. Why anyone would want to see, let alone, make, a movie based on that novel is a mystery. Then there was “All the Names,” “The Cave,” “The History of the Siege of Lisbon,” “The Double” and “Seeing,” which is a sequel of sorts to “Blindness.” If I had to choose, I guess I'd say "Seeing" is his best. I'm not sure a lot of people would agree with me on that.

Much of Saramago’s work seems based on thought experiments. What if everyone suddenly became blind? What if they discovered the poor souls in Plato’s cave living below a modern apartment building? What if they held an election and no one showed up to vote? Maybe you can get away with it once, but after a few novels it starts to get a bit irritating. And the rambling can definitely be a put-off. I'd quote an irritating passage, they're not hard to find, but I figure I'm lucky if you've stayed with me this far. Saramago typically has one major idea whose plot progression could be easily managed in short story, yet he strings it out in sentences that span pages and paragraphs that become long chapters. I often question why I’m reading that shit. But then a passage comes along that just knocks me over. Or the story arrives at an emotional payoff that you don’t see coming but hits you like an oncoming tractor trailer. Reading Saramago, for me at least, is a love/hate kinda thing.

Anyway, his new novel, “Death with Interruptions” begins with one of those thought experiments. What if nobody died? Okay. Think about it. What if nobody died? People would still suffer, wouldn’t they? Suffer horribly, no? How would the government react? How would organized crime take advantage of it? Saramago’s novels are (or maybe they're not) typically strong on what you might (or might not) call “character development,” but most of “Death with Interruptions” has no characters at all. It's all about broad happenings. But slowly death (with a small d) is introduced as a character. After eight months or so she allows people to start dying again, but now she gives them a week’s notice with a violet-colored letter. Another thought experiment? What would happen if everyone received a warning from death?

From there Saramago finally gets to the heart of the story. One of the letters keeps being returned to sender. The appointed hour of one man’s death, an obscure cellist, inexplicably passes. death goes to investigate and make things right and restore the order of things. Before you know it death has become a compelling character. Here’s a good passage. death goes to see the cellist in concert:
“The orchestra has fallen silent. The cellist starts to play his solo as if he had been born for that alone. He doesn’t know the woman in the box has in her brand-new handbag a violet-colored letter addressed to him, he doesn’t know, how could he, and yet he plays as if he were bidding farewell to the world, as if he were at last saying everything that he had always kept unsaid, the truncated dreams, the frustrated yearnings, in short, life. The other musicians stare at him in amazement, the conductor with surprise and respect, the audience sighs, a shudder runs through them, and the veil of pity that clouded the sharp gaze of the eagle is now a veil of tears. The solo is over, the orchestra washed over the cello’s song like a great slow sea, gently submerging it, absorbing and amplifying that song as if to lead it into a place where music was transmuted into silence, into the merest shadow of a vibration that touched the skin like the final, inaudible murmur of a kettle drum on which a passing butterfly had momentarily alighted. the silken, malevolent flight of acherontia atropos fluttered quickly through death’s memory, but she brushed it away with a wave of her hand...”

Typical Saramago. Often frustrating. Sometimes brilliant. Well worth the effort.

Ed. note: Long time readers may note that I've quoted that same long passage from "The Gospel" and made a few similar points in much earlier posts. If so, I hope you can find it in your hearts to forgive me. One, that passage is just so great, I can't think of any good reason you wouldn't want to read it many times (read it again, tell me I'm wrong) and two, I seem to have a few more readers than I did back then so a few people probably missed it.

Slushy day in brooklyn

Long way down, long way to go

The shit is piling up from all those chickens coming home to roost. Did anyone really think that replacing decent paying manufacturing jobs with low paying service jobs was an intelligent plan? Not to mention creating a monstrous, wealth sucking health providing business whose goal is not providing health care?

Lori Harris, 47, waited for the job fair to open... She is paying $95 a month toward $23,000 in student loan debt. She is living with her boyfriend, who is supporting her, not always cheerfully. She has no health insurance and cannot see a specialist for a torn rotator cuff and recently applied for food stamps.

“I tried to better myself,” she said, “and I’m getting nowhere.”

She was offered one job, as a medical technician dispensing pills to patients. The pay was $7.50 an hour.

“Forget it,” she said. “I was like, ‘Is it worth going to college? Did I waste my time?’”

She wondered if her age explains the rejections. Or her Boston accent. Or the smell of her cigarette smoking.

“It’s getting really discouraging,” she said.

Unfortunately, things are going to get a helluva lot worse for the Ms. Harris's of this country. Americans' sense of exceptionalism and entitlement are largely responsible for allowing the government to get away with shipping so many good jobs overseas for a dime on the dollar. The better educated told themselves that it would be those other losers who will have to take the lower paying jobs. Most of those affected either couldn't bother to pay attention to current events, didn't have the education to understand them and/or let their attention diverted by stupid hateful Republican propaganda. Until they lose those fantasies, they'll find that there's still a long way to go to get to the bottom.

Americans will be slow on the uptake in realizing that they don't deserve squat in this world. Great wealth is bestowed on many through the lottery of birth and many others earn it through a combination of cleverness and hustle. But most people's chances come from intelligent public policy that encourages education and job opportunity. To get and maintain those kinds of intelligent public policies requires a modicum of educated self-interest from the masses. The type of person most likely to rise in both politics and big business is prone to corruption. To keep them in check requires constant vigilance. Otherwise, before you know it, everything for sale is manufactured abroad, you can't afford to see a doctor or purchase medicine, the only food you can afford makes you fat and sick, and the only job you can get pays little better than minimum wage. If that.

So in the longer term, the Ms. Harris's of this world, and I count myself among them, better start paying attention to politics, understand the economic forces that are fucking them over, then find their voices and make them heard. If we want high paying jobs, we've got to make it in the best interest of companies to provide them. Allowing them to profit by shipping them abroad will result in them being shipped abroad. Duh.

In the short term, she'd do well to quit smoking, certainly before job interviews, eat healthy, cancel the cable and study up on some history and current events.

And take that $7.50 an hour job until you can find something better. Cause if you don't, something much worse is coming along fast.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Look away, obvious solution ahead

Regular readers know that I do not believe the there is a legitimate two party system in the U.S. Granted, the nominal parties differ on social issues but when it comes to matters of cold hard cash, they all work for the same bosses. Hopefully, Obama will prove me wrong, but his appointments don't suggest that will happen anytime soon.

Anyway, two prominent news items support the observation that the only political party in the U.S. is the Business party. The first is government's insistence that workers at American companies take pay cuts. The second is the widespread lamentation that there is nothing we can do about out-of-control executive looting, errr compensation.

Both of these issues should be easy to understand and resolve, yet all across the political spectrum our leaders just throw up their hands and say that nothing can be done. Perhaps there is areal need for American workers to take pay cuts to put their salaries in line with foreign workers. If this is a valid principle, we should apply it across the board.

For example, American executives make far more money than their Japanese or European counterparts (whose companies, btw, have apparently been much better managed):"

On average, chief executives at Japanese companies with more than $10 billion in annual revenues are paid about $1.3 million a year, including bonuses and stock-option grants, according to Towers Perrin, a consulting firm, based on data gathered between 2004 and 2006. But chiefs in the U.S. are paid about $12 million, and chiefs in Europe are paid $6 million.

So why don't our leaders demand the same pay equivalence of executives as they do of workers? And perhaps we should look at bringing our Senators and Congress people's total compensation more in line with world averages.

Of course everyone throws up their hands and wails that there's nothing we can do about executive compensation. That's really not something the government can, or should legislate. And I agree. The government shouldn't legislate anyone's salaries (not even their own).

But the government can certainly influence executive pay and it's not a great mystery how. The fact that the obvious answer that has worked so well in the U.S. historically and continues to work well abroad even up to the present day is not even discussed in the congress or the media is yet another demonstration that we are a one party state.

What is this mysterious solution to this problem? It's right out there in plain site.

The progressive tax system, duh. Just tax the greedy motherfuckers back to earth. That's what we've done in the past. That's what they do abroad. I'll leave it to the experts to figure out the best levels, but something like 70 percent of any income or capital gains over $500,000, 90 percent on any income or capital gains over 2 million, and 99 percent on any income or captial gains over 100 million. Would that result in people not wanting to become rich? No, but it might result in people not willing to mismanage and loot companies in order to become richer than Croesus.

Something like that would go a long way to solving a lot of problems. Too bad there's no opposition party or independent media to put it on the table.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Picture of the day

Snow day in Brooklyn.

The sociopath perspective

If you want a less sentimental take on "It's a Wonderful Life," (and why wouldn't you?) the New York Times obliges in this story by one Mr. Wendell Jamieson:

“It’s a Wonderful Life” is a terrifying, asphyxiating story about growing up and relinquishing your dreams, of seeing your father driven to the grave before his time, of living among bitter, small-minded people. It is a story of being trapped, of compromising, of watching others move ahead and away, of becoming so filled with rage that you verbally abuse your children, their teacher and your oppressively perfect wife. It is also a nightmare account of an endless home renovation.

The movie starts sappily enough... Soon enough, though, the darkness sets in. George’s brother, Harry (Todd Karns), almost drowns in a childhood accident; Mr. Gower, a pharmacist, nearly poisons a sick child; and then George, a head taller than everyone else, becomes the pathetic older sibling creepily hanging around Harry’s high school graduation party. That night George humiliates his future wife, Mary (Donna Reed), by forcing her to hide behind a bush naked, and the evening ends with his father’s sudden death.

Disappointments pile up. George can’t go to college because of his obligation to run the Bailey Building and Loan, and instead sends Harry. But Harry returns a slick, self-obsessed jerk, cannily getting out of his responsibility to help with the family business, by marrying a woman whose dad gives him a job. George again treats Mary cruelly, this time by chewing her out and bringing her to tears before kissing her. It is hard to understand precisely what she sees in him.

That's a great take. I wish I'd been perceptive enough to frame it that way. Then the writer (I find it hard to believe that Mr. Wendell Jamieson doesn't have something like III or IV or Esq. after his name) goes on to highlight thoughts I thought back when I was in my early twenties, if not 15:
Here’s the thing about Pottersville that struck me when I was 15: It looks like much more fun than stultifying Bedford Falls — the women are hot, the music swings, and the fun times go on all night. If anything, Pottersville captures just the type of excitement George had long been seeking.

I understand and share the feeling. I left a small town for the big city, a series of them actually, and wouldn't wish that stultifying life on anyone with the good sense to get out, but the writer of this NY Times piece goes quite a bit farther and does a good job of illustrating the sociopathology of the wealthy shitwads that rule the world:
I interpret it instead as showing the true characters of these individuals, their venal internal selves stripped bare. The flirty Violet (played by a supersexy Gloria Grahame, who would soon become a timeless film noir femme fatale) is a dime dancer and maybe a prostitute; Ernie the cabbie’s blank face speaks true misery as George enters his taxi; Bert the cop is a trigger-happy madman, violating every rule in the patrol guide when he opens fire on the fleeing, yet unarmed, George, forcing revelers to cower on the pavement...

Not only is Pottersville cooler and more fun than Bedford Falls, it also would have had a much, much stronger future. Think about it: In one scene George helps bring manufacturing to Bedford Falls. But since the era of “It’s a Wonderful Life” manufacturing in upstate New York has suffered terribly.

On the other hand, Pottersville, with its nightclubs and gambling halls, would almost certainly be in much better financial shape today. It might well be thriving.

You see the problem? Mr. Wendell Jamieson (IV, Esq, whatever) seems to believe that it's necessary for the poor to suffer in order for people such as himself to have fun. The opposite of what he says is the reality. The true characters of Bert the cop, Ernie the cabdriver, Nick the Bartender and Violet Bick are not psychopathically violent cop, miserable loser, angry scumbag, and drunken prostitute. The point is that they would not be that way if they lived in a society with a modicum of economic fairness. They would be decent people with a good shot at happiness. Economic justice and good times are not mutually exclusive.

It really makes you wonder about the writer (III, Esq). Does his happiness require the suffering of others. Must his prostitutes be desperately unhappy for him to get off? Would he feel even smaller if the cops and cab drivers and bartenders he so obviously looks down on live decent lives? And the idea that gambling jobs are better than manufacturing? Yea, how's that working out?

That's such a fucked up take but it's valuable for the window it gives us into the minds of the upper eastsiders and their soul mates everywhere.

Annual xmas post

"When we consider the character of any individual, we naturally view it under two different aspects; first, as it may affect his own happiness; and secondly, as it may affect that of other people."

-- Adam Smith, famous Free Market Philosopher

"Remember, no man is a failure who has friends."
-- Clarence, 2nd Class Angel in "It’ a Wonderful Life."

It’s Christmas eve again, or Xmas eve as we say in our house. We strive to take the Christ out of Christmas.

Replacing Christmas with Xmas was, as you can probably imagine, a difficult battle. Like you, we live in a superstitious nation in which the airwaves are saturated with references to all the worst sorts of mumbo jumbo. And children, you know, are very susceptible to that kind of nonsense, especially when they see it on tv.

Also, kids like to argue with the parents and we actually encourage that. We are not the parental types who dictate their children’s beliefs. We require that they become educated on important subjects so they can make informed decisions rather than simply absorbing whatever nonsense happens to be wafting among the societal vapors at any given time. So Christmas didn't die easily in the chuckling household.

The children had a choice. If they wanted to celebrate Christmas instead of Xmas, well, that was their business. But I explained that Christmas is a solemn religious holiday, the reputed birthday of the God who would grant them an eternal life of bliss if they are willing to flatter it constantly; not some excuse to get a bunch of toys. I explained that it would be wrong, blasphemous even, to commercialize such a momentous occasion in the history of the universe.

Xmas, on the other hand, is mostly about the exchange of gifts, with a little family togetherness thrown in for good measure. If they liked Christmas so fucking much, we’d take them to church and then bloody well be done with it.

When presented with these simple observations, the children wisely chose Xmas over Christmas. But Xmas is not solely about hauling in loot. It also contains important lessons about the importance of societal bonds and giving to our mental health and happiness.

Of course most children will not thoroughly absorb those facts the first few times around. But as the years go by and their minds develop, repeated lessons in what makes life wonderful will often take root and grow. As adults, those with a well-developed understanding of what’s wonderful in life are able to project it beyond the immediate environs of their family and close friends. They can imagine a better society in which everyone is happier, not only due to what they are given, but also because of what they give.

That insight is a big part of what Xmas teaches and it is true. But unfortunately, our society is dominated by the spirit of Christmas. Unlike Xmas Christmas is all about getting something for nothing. Pretty much all you have to do is lie, if even that, and a supernatural being will shower you with gifts, both here and in the afterlife. For the individual, the spirit of Christmas is a prescription for poor mental health and unhappiness. For society, that same Christmas spirit is a blueprint for suffering and strife for far too many people.

Well, there’s not much we can do to save society from the evils of Christmas, but my own little family unit has developed some Xmas traditions that contribute to our own mental health and happiness.

This may surprise you, but one of our most important traditions is watching "It’s a Wonderful Life," the 1946 Frank Capra movie starring Jimmy Stewart.

You might think that poor chuckling would hate “It’s a Wonderful Life” because of the religious claptrap and overt sentimentality, but I am not opposed to the use of the supernatural as a narrative device. If angels help move the story along, then bring in the angels I say. And what's wrong with wallowing in sentimentality once a year? And what better time than XMas eve?

But it's not all about claptrap and sentimentality. Although it’s true that “It’s a Wonderful Life” is a devastating critique of the spirit of Christmas and a nearly impeccable metaphoric representation of the spirit of Xmas, I wouldn’t watch it, much less subject the kids to the experience, if it were not a great movie on its own merit. The story is much deeper than it appears at first glance.

When the movie was released in 1946, few could have guessed that it would attain the status of timeless masterpiece. "It’s a Wonderful Life" was a box office flop and financial disaster that bankrupted its studio. Although nominated for several Academy Awards, it didn’t win in any category. One of the big reasons for its failure was that many people felt that it was too political. That may surprise you, but it really was. Consciously so.

It still is.

"It’s a Wonderful Life" features nostalgic dancing and romance. Good triumphs over evil. The little guy wins. Our eyes grow moist at crucial points throughout the movie. George saves his brother from drowning, saves the druggist from a tragic mistake, saves Uncle Billy from the mental institution, saves Violet Bick from becoming a drunken harlot, and ultimately saves Bedford Falls from becoming Pottersville. Tears flow freely when we learn that George Bailey, not Mr. Potter, is the richest man in town.

George Bailey is a child in the years immediately following World War I. He’s a teenager in the Roaring Twenties. A young man during the Great Depression. A middle aged family man through the end of the Second World War.

Those years span momentous eras in the history of the United States. From the general economic well-being of the war years through the record setting prosperity of the 1920’s to the Great Depression of the 1930’s. Society was rocked by wild mood swings and extreme changes in fortune and financial well-being. Radically different social and political philosophies were embraced to explain the times. Each new era seemed to prove false the philosophy of its predecessor.

"It’s a Wonderful Life" presents those philosophical arguments just beneath the surface. George Bailey’s struggle with Mr. Potter for the soul of Bedford Falls pits the individualistic moral universe of the Roaring Twenties against the community oriented struggles of the Great Depression and war years. European style socialism vs. unfettered capitalism. Capitalism comes out looking pretty bad. But the movie is hardly didactic. It shows rather than tells.

In Bedford Falls, freshly fallen snow blankets the town square. Patriot buntings deck the walls and buildings. Main Street is empty at night save for a few parked cars and some lonely tire tracks in the snow. The trees are decked in Christmas lights. Precocious little boys sled down a hill onto an icy pond. Little girls in ribbons and bows twirl on soda fountain stools. People treat each other with respect. The cops and the cab drivers are nice, happy people. Christmas wreaths and glowing candles in the windows of classic American homes appear warm and inviting.

In Pottersville, nothing is warm and inviting. Certainly not its Main street panorama of nightclubs and bars that serve "hard liquor to people who want to get drunk fast." Blinking lights and cold neon signs garishly advertise the Blue Moon, billiards and fights every Wednesday night, the Indian Club, cocktails, pawn brokers, dancing at the Midnight Club and gorgeous girls can be had for a dime in any number of nightclubs.

The same men who are warm, fun loving guys in Bedford Falls -- Bert the cop Ernie the cab driver, Nick the bartender; are angry wrecks living in broken down shacks in Pottersville. Women like Mary and Mrs. Bailey who were safely ensconced in the warmth of family and friends in Bedford Falls are lonely, cold and afraid of strangers in Pottersville.

The message was clear in 1946. George Bailey’s community spirit resulted in a better society than Mr. Potter’s relentless pursuit of financial self-interest.

Judging by the box office, people didn’t want to hear it back in those days. But somehow in our own time, that message has much more resonance.

It’s a bit ironic, because, let’s face it, we’re living in Pottersville. An apiring Capra could easily put together a montage of images depicting a Pottersville-like panoply of strip clubs, porno shops, casinos, bars, violent cops and mean drunks in just about any American city.

And if only the similarities between Pottersville and the America we know ended with the nightlife. We’re just waking up from a nightmare of corrupt capitalistic excess. We lived in a time of record setting prosperity that proved to be a Ponzi scheme. Opportunity is drying up. Businesses are closing and jobs are hard to come by. The stock market keeps going up, up, up until the next day when it goes down, down, down.

Then, as now, the rich, and the minority of people who participated in the stock market, are got a lot richer while those who had to work for a living stagnated. In 1920’s Pottersville the wealthiest 1 percent' controlled a statistically inordinate amount of the nation’s wealth and that number was compounded daily by the inexorable march of interest. Today, the top 1 percent of Americans own more than 35 percent of the nation's wealth, and one half of the population has less than $1000 in net financial assets. The governments of both eras exacerbated the disparity though regressive tax policies and loopholes for wealthy campaign contributor types. John D. Rockefeller was reborn as Bernard L. Madoff.

Then, as now, a technological revolution had provided more jobs. Back then skilled labor gave way to assembly lines, which in this era became customer service and teleservices jobs. Working in a phone center was the 1990’s equivalent of working on the assembly line in the 1920’s. Then the job was shipped overseas.

As wages for the majority stagnated or declined, consumer debt kept setting new records. The mailbox was full of easy credit. No more.

Just as the 1920’s ended with the stock market crash and the beginning of the Great Depression, the economy of the late 2000’s is mired in all the shit dropped by so many chickens coming home to roost. Once again it’s turned out that consumer spending and economic expansion couldn’t go on forever in conjunction with exponentially increasing income disparity and massive consumer debt. One rich family can have thousands of times more assets than thousands of middle class families, but they’re not going to buy a thousand times more washing machines. Business fundamentals eventually bring stock valuations back in line with reality. Funding dries up for all of the businesses that are making crappy products and losing money, or in danger of doing so. Those that manage to stay in business lay off much of their workforce.

Although "It’s a Wonderful Life" deals with these grand issues, what sets it apart from other political message movies is its focus on the value of an individual life. Yet paradoxically, the great lie at the heart of "It’s a Wonderful Life" is that the life of anyone like George Bailey would have a significant influence on the life of a city like Bedford Falls.

The reality is that wars and recessions, boom times and depressions will come and go and Adam Smith’s "invisible hand" will continue to assure social results that are beyond the ability of a regular Joe to influence.

Ultimately, what separates the people in "It’s a Wonderful Life" isn’t their interest in accumulating wealth but their attitude towards it. For example, George's life-long friend Sam Wainwright pursues wealth with the same single-minded intensity of Mr. Potter, but he wants his friends to get rich as well. Plus he’s happy to help the community. Mr. Potter, on the other hand, tries to keep it all for himself. The result of that difference in attitude is that some people maintain a pretty good level of happiness while other become unhappy and bitter.

Like the great majority of Americans, George Bailey never becomes inordinately wealthy. But, like most of us, he learns that the value of family and friends is dearer than the value of money.

George Bailey will be the richest man in town in any era. Pottersville may be visible just outside the window, but we can all be good people. Doesn’t matter where we live.

That’s, ultimately, what makes “It’s a Wonderful Life” such an appealing film.

No one notices the underlying political messages and either wouldn’t care or would get angry if they did. But the progressive political message provides the foundation without which the story would not work.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Affordable tourism

As I think I mentioned, I got a new camera recently that's specifically for Black and White photos. Since my Thanksgiving vacation plans fell through, I spent the time in New York, mostly Brooklyn, learning how to use it.

This is the documentary of my learning experience, which future photography historians will likely refer to as my "professional suicide" phase. Nevertheless, I enjoy the slideshow.

In the spirit of XMas, I'm offering a free download of these photos so that anyone who wants can load them as a screen saver. They work much better on the larger screen, especially on a Mac. You can put on your favorite music, have a drink and/or whatever, and wallow in New York squalor!
username: photoVisitor
pw: Welcome1234

Of course you are allowed to use these photos for non-commercial purposes only. Let me know if you have any problems.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

The way to paradise

I just finished reading Mario Vargas Llosa's novel, "The Way to Pardise," about Paul Gauguin and his grandmother Flora Tristan. Tristan was a proto-feminist author and revolutionary. Gauguin, as you probably know, was an influential French painter most famous for the work he did in Tahiti. They were both of Peruvian descent and each spent an influential period of their lives in Peru, which is probably why they came to be the subjects of a Vargas Llosa novel.

It was the first new (to me) work of high quality fiction I've read in awhile. Part of it is related to my general intellectual decline but I think part of it is that I've again run out of authors. So I'm left with trying somebody completely new and superficially unappealing or reading the lesser, or at least lesser known, works of authors I've read extensively in the past. And of course I go way back with Vargas Llosa. I first read him in Spanish way back when I lived in Peru.

If you are unfamiliar with his work, know that Mario Vargas Llosa is easily one of the greatest living writers. He has an incredible command of storytelling's multiple tools and usually puts them to use in constructing compelling fictions that push, at least slightly, the established boundaries of literature. I consider "The Real Life of Alejandro Mayta" one of the best novels I've ever read. The story itself is great and the way it is told is both masterful and avant-garde, somehow managing to come off as traditional and ultra-modern at the same time. I very much enjoy reading "The War of the End of the World" and consider that a masterpiece as well. I'm not so sure about the ultimate literary value of "Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter," but it is one of the funniest works of fiction I've read.

I doubt that The Way to Paradise" will be considered a masterpiece, but it is an interesting read. As usual, Vargas Llosa's mastery of form is exceptional, but it is the historicity of the characters that carries the novel. Paul Gauguin, after all, is an interesting character and if you don't know much about him, as I didn't, you will probably find his story fascinating. I doubt if much of anyone has heard of Flora Tristan, but her life and place in history are fascinating as well.

The link to Gauguin's Wikipedia page above is worth clicking on for the jpegs of some of his major works, many of which are discussed at length in the novel.

But the heart of the story is summed up best by Gauguin's epitaph provided by the Catholic bishop on the South Pacific island where he died: "The only noteworthy event here has been the sudden death of an individual named Paul Gauguin, a reputed artist but an enemy of God and everything that is decent in this world."

That, my friends, is an epitaph worth dying for.

What goes around goes around

Atrios points to yet another abject surrender by the congressional Democrats to the administration. But don't worry my friends. The Democratic party will soon find its spine and thwart the administration in all it tries to do. Just as soon as it's the Obama administration. Of that, you can be sure.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Freedom's finale

Today I went to Sunset Park. It was cold, rainy and ugly. Thus ends the worst vacation ever. Go anywhere my friends. Anywhere but New York City. In addition to cold, rainy and ugly, it's loud and it stinks. People are nice though.

The audacity of reality

Today's Washington Post has a good essay that points out the very obvious reality that Barack Obama is mixed, not black.

I've caught quite a bit of shit from progressives for making the same point. Of course it's true that racists use that fact to help justify their continued hate and ignorance towards non-whites. It's his white half, they say, that makes him smart. Well, it's true that racists are ignorant assholes but that's no reason for everyone else to deny reality. Obama really is mixed, not black.

Personally, I detest the entire classification of humans based on our ancestry. Who gives a fuck about hue and recent genetic origin? People with fucked up priorities, that's who.

I also find it interesting that so many progressives seem unable to comprehend the possibility of progress, at least in this area. I'm always told that reality-based analysis that shows the unmitigated idiocy of the concept of race is irrelevant to the poor African descendant pulled over for driving while black, or otherwise the victim of racism. Oh hi. Scientific reality is not irrelevant. It is the antiquated notions of race that enable the racists. Progress is embracing and promoting reality, not making excuses for those who refuse to do so.

The rules of journalism require the post to balance an intelligent article about race with an opposing one, so here is the answer from a nice, fucked up woman that speaks for all too many progressives:

For me, the goal has never been negating race through colorblindness -- to do so would take a healthy discussion of existing racial disparities off the table. My aim is not for us to be post-racial but to embrace our cultural heritages while refusing to be confined by them.

I've barely recovered from the epic campaign that led to President-elect Obama, so it's a bit early to be thinking about how cold it will be in Iowa come December 2011 or what the crowds might look like. It's safe to assume that Obama's coalition will somehow be altered by the power of the presidency. Perhaps by the time 2011 arrives, the country will have become less racially stratified.

I hope that by then, we will find that an auditorium of white Iowans cheering on a black, Asian or Latino presidential candidate is commonplace. I also hope that in that auditorium, race and ethnicity will remain valued aspects of our identities, not forgotten or homogenized for the sake of some vague notion of post-racialism.

Note three things. 1. It is now commonplace for white Iowans and people from every other state to cheer a (perceived) minority candidate. Fuck, they even voted for one by the millions, and 2. Ethnicity will always be a part of people's identities and no one is saying otherwise. Race, however, is not even real and it's fucked up for anyone to want it to be a part of his or her identity. Even more so to push those fucked up values on other people and 3. What the hell does any of that have to do with taking the goal of fixing existing disparities off the table? Nothing. Nothing whatsoever.

Friday, November 28, 2008

A day at the beach

Today, continuing my thanksgiving vacation in New York City, I went to Coney Island.

It's not all fun and games. Most of it is quite desolate. Especially in winter.

Outside the amusement park area, Coney Island is predominantly black and Latino. It's one of the more dangerous parts of the city. And unlike the Flatbush area where Obama's face is plastered everywhere, I didn't see a single image all along Mermaid Avenue. Does that say something about the relative presence of hope in these communities?

A day in the city

I think I mentioned that I'm vacationing in the New York City area this thanksgiving. As far as vacations go, that's akin to eating shit for thanksgiving dinner. Certainly not one's first choice.

On a photography note, I need to go back to this place when those smokestacks are smokin.

Actually it is a lot of people's first choice. Why? Beats the hell out of me. But I had nothing else to do so I went to check out the phenomenon.

You know there's a lot of controversy as to the precise location of the asshole of the universe. Well, I've been to a lot of the contenders and can't imagine there being anywhere more excremental than Times Square. People pay incredible amounts of money to come here and look at advertising. How crazy is that? Pretty crazy, that's how. Future historians will wag their heads in disgust.

Then I popped by Rockefeller center. I actually enjoy this area at night during the Xmas (we here at chuckling on-line magazine believe in taking the christ out of christmas) season. Cynical I may be, but there's a happy vibe about the place on december nights. But it's not even past Thanksgiving and this crap just feels excremental. Still, I found myself wanting to buy something. Damn the costs.

Then I went to church at St. Patrick's cathedral. Talk about excrement. Made me want to high tail it back to Brooklyn toot sweet.

That's more like it.


Speaking of worship, I belatedly took an interest in the African American community's genuine pride in Obama's election. If it's not too late I may put together a show at some point. It's probably too late. It seems a lot of street vendors are going to be stuck with nicely framed portraits.

I've never understood why anyone goes to Manhattan. Except maybe to work. Or museums. And for nightlife. Granted, there's that.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Obla di, obla da, oble ah

Kia has a nice essay about ultra-violence, religious stupidity and intolerance in the Caribbean. Includes a link to a coupla great statues that are (allegedly) responsible for much of the violence.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

W(h)ither the 800 pound gorilla?

I can't help but noting that in all this talk of out-of-control budget deficits and cutting wasteful spending, I have not heard nor read a single person mention the defense budget which is what? Half of all spending, much of which is total fucking waste and corruption.

Sure, the old Soviet Union went bankrupt and collapsed, partially due to the devotion of too many resources to military spending. But that can't happen to us now, can it? We're different. Exceptional, you might say. And our imaginary enemies might develop awesome capabilities for which we must be prepared, no matter the cost. Of course if they want to just buy us, that's a different matter. Rope is selling cheap these days.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Another day in the life

I've given up color photography. Just so you know. I'm like totally sick of color. It's just a trick the brain plays on the eyes and I've had it up to here with stupid brain tricks. From here on out, all I do is black and white. And many shades of gray. At least sixteen. No fewer.

I had to get a specialized black and white camera, which was expensive. That and the price of travel these days resulted in me staying home for Thanksgiving, doing my part to tank the economy. I'd already taken the vacation days at work, so here I am playing the tourist in Brooklyn on a rainy November day. Today I saw Flatbush Avenue.

Figuring it's going to get even colder before it gets warmer, I hiked to Sears and bought some long underwear. When I got home I put on a top and threw a t-shirt over it. My teenage daughter said I looked like Kurt Cobain if he had lived to be old and fat. Kurt Cobain, I thought. Cool. Anyway, after shopping I had a bite to eat.

Then I did some window shopping. The Xmas season is upon us.

I felt safe with the NYPD watching over me.

Getting tired, I stopped by the orgy for some relaxation.

Then I took a picture of a tree.

That got me thinking about nature so I went to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. It's free on weekdays all winter.

Afterward I walked back home through Prospect Park. Tomorrow I'll probably do the same. The same. The same. The same.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

What's in store

A sign went up for the new business that will be replacing the recently closed Halal meat market in my neighborhood. Fortunately, we were all wrong. It is not a pawn shop, nor a pawn mall. Not a storefront church, though that was a very good guess. Could have been a storefront mosque as well, but no. And it didn't turn out to be a Mexican or Chinese restaurant either, though I got a bit scared when I saw two Chinese looking guys installing a steam table.

No, it turns out to be a place called Basmati, specializing in Curries, Shwarmas, and Falafels. Praise be to Allah! Something to balance out the dreaded Pizza or Chinese on eat in Fridays.

There are already plenty of curry places down the street and around the corner, but we never eat there because we are sure they rip us off. None of the prices are posted. The rooms are full of Bangladeshi and Pakistani laborers and taxi drivers. And they're asking me to believe a shriveled piece of Tandoori chicken is nine dollars? No way Bub. And a Jewish Falafel place opened recently, but they are closed on Friday nights and Saturdays, which are the only times we ever order out.

So my pessimism was over the top, as is not unusual. But the recently closed 99 cent store is now gutted, and whoever bought it also took over the recently deceased cheap furniture place right next door, so something big is coming.

Normally, I'd guess something that size would be a drugstore but it's right across the street from a Walgreens, caddy corner to a Rite-Aid, and just down the street from at least two Russian pharmacies, so I'm not as confident in that prediction as I might otherwise be.

It's almost big enough for a burger joint like Wendy's or McDonald's. That would be a horror. The first fast food place on the strip. Or it could be a porno palace. We don't have any of those nearby. Storefront church or mosque is still a good possibility.

But I'll still guess drug store. That smells most like capitalism these days.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

It's the stupid, economy

You can’t accuse me of being a conservative. What is a conservative? Someone who is wrong again and again and again yet keeps believing in the value of his or her analysis. On economic questions, I have been wrong again and again and again. But instead of trying to get myself appointed secretary of Treasury as if I were a conservative, I quit making economic predictions a long time ago. At least short term economic predictions.

Time frame is the key. Time and time again I’ve been burned on the short term predictions. For example, Ronald Reagan is running gargantuan budget deficits which means hyperinflation is about to take off so therefore I should obviously use as much credit as possible, no matter the interest rates, because soon the dollar will be so worthless we’ll be using them for toilet paper. Wrong.

Which brings me to today’s topic. The economic crisis. Everyone agrees that in order for us to be prosperous, we must be voracious consumers who spend more and more, exponentially, forever.

Well excuse me. This plan simply cannot work, not in the long term. It is essentially a pyramid scheme: a non-sustainable business model in which approximately 88% of all people will lose, if not more.

The question is not if it will collapse, but when it will collapse. People simply cannot continue to buy a bunch of useless, or at best unnecessary crap until the end of time. Eventually they will have enough. How many Ipods do you really need. Five? Okay, but that’s not enough. No number will ever be enough.

Or the cost to produce crap will become too high. Resources are not infinite. The population continues to grow. A realistic plan to mine the moons of Jupiter is nowhere on the horizon.

But does this economic crisis signal the end is upon us? I very much doubt it. Remember way back in the mists of time, as long ago as June, oil was $135 a barrel and we were doomed to $5 per gallon of gas until prices would go even higher. Yet now the price has been more than halved. Does this mean that we will have cheap oil forever? No. But it demonstrates that predicting the short term economic results of unsustainable economic models is hopeless.

So go ahead, buy an SUV and a 128 inch flat screen teevee with surround sound and invest in GE and GM and you’d better eat out a lot, too. It’s your patriotic duty and who’s to say that you’ll be burned when the insane consumer economy crashes and burns as it inevitably will. It might not be this year, maybe not even this generation or the next. Before you die, you may have a big screen teevee the size of a wall and a wall the size of a billboard in a house the size of a castle, if not in the backs seat of your SUV.

Or maybe not. I don’t know. I’m not making any short term economic predictions, not in public anyway. But there is a shiny new camera I’ve been eyeing, and the old Mac is ready for an upgrade, and I don’t feel like cooking or doing the dishes, and the kids need new toys, and games and I’m bored and just don’t know what to do with myself but shop shop, buy buy, buy.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Everywhere the signs

I went online to rent a car and was shocked to find that the price for an economy car had nearly tripled since last time I rented. But what I really found interesting was that a full size SUV was $15 a day cheaper than the smallest car.

Well, market forces were speaking and I was listening. I checked the airlines, but they were no bargain either. We decided to stay home instead. The economy suffers accordingly.

Meanwhile, changes are afoot on the commercial street between my house and the subway. First, a grouchy old locksmith who had been there forever closed and was replaced by a 99¢ store. Then the leather guy. Another 99¢ store. Then a great Pizzeria that had been there for 50 years. Another 99¢ store. Several middle class clothing stores closed. Several $1 clothing stores opened. We have four nail salons, six drugstores, four Chinese restaurants, two polish groceries and one Albanian. None seem very busy. The Halal meat market just closed and so did one of the 99¢ stores. What could replace them? I don't know. The wife is betting another 99¢ store. The kids are split between a Chinese or a Mexican restaurant.

Me, I'm guessing pawn shops.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Chuckling has a better idea

Word has it that Senate Doormatocrat Harry Reid is offering Joe Lieberman a chairmanship of some committee other than the one to which he has become accustomed.

Well Harry, here's a better idea: Give him 30 pieces of silver, an appropriate length of rope and--in the spirit of bipartisanship--have the courtesy to point him to a good, stout tree.

Changing colors

Happy days. More photos here.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Duty done

I went against all of my best instincts and voted and I swear that will be the last time ever. The polling place, pictured above, was downright creepy and the poll watchers charged me $50 to vote. No way, I said and turned to leave. Sorry sir, it's mandatory, I was told. And they didn't even have ballots. It was verbal voting. Well, enough about that. I reported it to CNN's election irregularity hotline. I trust something will be done.

Anyway, since I've spent considerable time here detailing my indecision, I'll tell you how I voted. Working Families party all down the line. Jewish sounding names when Working Families had no line. Go team!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Pay no attention to the elephant in the rooom

Just saw my first McCain campaign commercial. Some guy was going on and on about how Obama has never operated a small business.

Funny, I don't recall seeing small business owner on McCain's resume. I don't think marrying a big business heiress counts.

How stupid do they think people are. Pretty fucking stupid, that's how.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Hate, injustice, and the (real) american way

The Guardian UK, perhaps America’s most informative newspaper, gets off the campaign bus in the small town (pop. 176) of Hasty, Colorado and informs us:

Times have been tough here for some time, and seem only to be getting worse. "The valley is already hurting," Colleen tells us. "It's really scary for the kids that are making minimum wage and driving 25 or 30 miles a day to work — paying for gas, for babysitters, housing. Hard to watch these kids. It's a struggle. It takes all they've got. They don't have luxuries. They live on $1500 a month - $500 for rent. How can you live on that? They have no health insurance. They can't afford it."

Why are times so tough in these small towns? Well, the answer to that question is outside the bounds of big time journalism. We’ll just have to read between the lines. If we are able.

Not all areas of inquiry, however, are off the table.
She says most of the people in Hasty are for McCain, and she herself will vote for him. "I think they're scared of Obama," she says. Sarah Palin is the one Colleen really likes. "I think Sarah is the closest thing [to us] that's ever arrived in politics. She knows what it's like. She's got family. They [the politicians in Washington] don't know what it's like to live. They don't have a clue. I'd really like to sit down and talk to that woman."

The implication, of course, is that small town inhabitants are dumb. Dumb as a steaming pile of shit. And stinky too. Well, not all that dumb and stinky perhaps, but suffering from the debilitating weight of poverty induced ignorance. More like third worlders than civilized folk on the coasts, you know.

Scared of Obama? Sarah Palin knows what it’s like? She’s got family? Obama doesn’t have family?

And would Colleen really enjoy a sit down with Sarah? Yea, I’d love to observe that conversation.

Colleen (humbly):
"It's scary owning a store. People going hungry." She pauses. "I would never let that happen." She wants to make sure we understand that the locals here take care of one another, are made of strong stuff. We're survivors here. We'll survive anything. Beans and rice," she laughs, "and on Sunday put bacon pieces in it."

Sarah (backing away from the table, nasally Ned Flandersish voice):
“Taking care of other people?” That’s socialism. Why your (sic) just a gosh darned loser, Colleen. No wonder you gotcha some of them Socialist notions. Hard work is what you need.

Not that a real life Sarah Palin would actually sit down socially with someone like Colleen. I know because I am from a small town and have been acquainted with plenty of Sarah Palin types. They are the go-getters, attending the right churches, involved in the PTA, cheering fanatically at their kids’ ballgames, running for the school board, plotting to take down that obnoxious Mrs. Smith and anyone else who stands in their, or their kids', way. Small town women like Sarah are far worse than the snobs of Colleen’s nightmares. Rich New Yorkers, for the most part, would treat her well. The small town Sarah Palins, on the other hand, feel the god-driven need to make the Colleens of this world feel small. Really small. That’s one of the things I hate about small towns.

Of course, that alone is not enough to make me vote against the Palin/McCain ticket. I still haven’t made up my mind about this election. There’s a lot to hate about both tickets.

For starters, I hate all the candidates. I hate Obama, I hate McCain, I hate Palin, and if Obama had a running mate I would hate him or her too.

Not only do I hate the candidates; I really hate their followers. The Palin/McCain people are either small minded bigots, drop dead stupid, or sleaze bags wanting to keep their hands in my pocket for another four years. When I think about the type of hateful, divisive campaign they have run, I seethe with anger and want to vote for someone, anyone else. They think that just because I’m a small person from a small town and almost as hateful and angry as they are, that I will vote for them. They take me for granted. You can’t believe how much I hate that. You can't believe how much that makes me angry.

But what really pisses me off about the Obama people is the way they condescend. They are just like the Palin/McCain crowd only the opposite. They assume that just because I’m from a small town and anger and hatred gush visibly from my pores, that I am a Palin/McCain supporter. I hate that, too. It makes me angry. Really, really angry.

Just because I wallow in hate and anger don't mean I’m stupid. Not about politics.

I guess it will all come down to whom I hate most. Right now, I’m leaning slightly for Obama. Maybe it’s because I was never around an incredibly smart, cool and successful black guy when I was a kid so I can only hate him from an intellectual perspective. The Palins and McCains, however, I know all too well. Not only do I hate them, but they hate me as well. Why should I vote for someone who hates me?

Well, there's still time to answer that question. Nine more days to decide.

Gawd, I hate this election.