Saturday, September 11, 2021

September 11 Memorial

Today is the 20th Anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. I should say something about that. I have not posted anything about it since 2013 - this is strange, but I suppose I haven't posted much of anything here since 2013. I used to post every year about it - at least since 2006, fifth anniversary - but over time, there seemed to be less and less point. I said what I had to say - back in 2006, in fact, a long rant that, well - sounds right to this day... I could repeat it every year or - remember it, and let it go. Which is about what happened.

But 20 years: I have to say something. What? The event itself was horrifying, created a sense of fear and dread that lingered for quite a while. (A more concrete version of what it was like to grow up in the 70s and 80s under the fear of nuclear annihilation.) As for the day itself - I don't think I have written about my memories fo the day, here. Reading articles about false memories of 9/11 makes you think - how much do I remember wrong? The truth is, most of what I remember of the experience was banal. I was at work - I went to a meeting at 9AM. I think I remember someone saying that a plane hit the Trade Center tower before the meeting, but I don't think anyone seemed all that concerned. When I came out of the meeting, everything was different. Two planes hit - there was no doubt it was an attack - no one knew what was going to happen. I remember people watching news on their computers, a new trick in those days. And that's how we saw the towers fall: on a tiny QuickTime window.

They sent us home. I think I went into AOL when I got home and checked on a couple people I knew in NYC and the DC area - they were all right - so I turned off the news and watched Beavis and Butthead Do America. It seemed like a good time to watch it.

The next day I went back to work, though everyone was on edge. Sometime in the morning, the cops raided the Westin Hotel in Boston, a couple blocks from where I worked. People got paranoid and wanted to leave and I thought, where are we supposed to go? But I think later, most of the office just packed up and went home, not waiting for the company to close or the city to close or anything - we just weren't going to hang around. 

Not very interesting, in the end. But the day lived on in my head. Though I think it was the anthrax scare later that September that really set me off. But that might be a false memory. Walking home one day, beautiful perfect blue sky, thinking, holy shit we're all going to die! 

After that? Nostalgia about 9/12 doesn't impress me - partly because of the way we all abandoned our posts the next day, on a rumor; partly because it didn't take very long for everything to go to shit. Arguing over who was to blame, then what to do about it, ignorant things like "Freedom Fries", attacks on Moslems and anyone who looked like they might be middle eastern, increased surveillance across the board, the Patriot Act. We were divided immediately by 9/11, aAll right. Here we are, 20 years along. We have finally gotten out of Afghanistan - that's amazing ed the divisions were deeper and more aggressive, and are still there. 

We got into wars, which we could not win. We have just gotten out of Afghanistan after 20 years - a war that, at the time, made some sense (getting Al Qaeda and all) - but we didn't get Bin Laden, then we gimped that war to fight a very wrong war in Iraq and - well, we aren't the first Empire to fall apart over Afghanistan. 

And 9/11 has ruined us, politically. I mean, imagine a world where someone could say (however stupidly) that there wasn't a dime's worth of difference between the two parties - imagine that! It sounded shallowed and spoiled then - now, it's flat out mad. (Or flat out a lie; people still say it, but they are mad liars.) Whatever side you're on now, the political scene is much more fractured and dangerous than it was then. Conflicts are open and explicit, and more likely to be violent. Fascism is open and explicit and dreams of violence. We are disintegrating. And the world as a whole is just as bad: far less stable than in 2000 (when things were not ideal, don't get me wrong), but open fascism is on the rise all around the world, conflict and disintegration are taking place in areas that were basically stable in 2000. It has been a logn disaster for the world.

Which brings me to something strange to say about those times: the weird sense (but maybe not so weird) that that time - 2000-2001 - might have been the high point of human existence. How strange! But remember life as you lived it in 2000: there were bookstores! Records stores! video stores! more movie theaters! There were records to buy, movies to watch! It's easy to think that technology has been on an endless upward climb in those years - but wonderful as it can be, losing book stores, record stores, even video rental joints, is a cost. They make life more pleasant - there is no replacement for the joy of going into a bookstore or record store, browsing the shelves, looking at the objects as you decide what to buy.

But more than that - the technology was there in 2000. This choice between book stores and Amazon - in 2000, you had both. Amazon existed; Netflix existed. You could have everything - you could buy things cheap online if you wanted; you could rent movies through the mail, on a fantastic new medium, the DVD. At the same time, mind you, as you could go into a bookstore or record store or a video store and root through their stock. You could even watch movies and listen to music on your computer, even watch TV on your computer - even if the quality was not great, you could do it. All those things existed at the same time for a while. Could they have lasted forever? Is there a way to have Amazon and lots of bookstores? Streaming movies and Blockbusters? iPods and their descendents and HMV and TOwer records? I don't know. But we had them all in 2000-2001.

It's weird to think about, but that might have been it - as good as it was going to get. Maybe the end was coming one way or the other - even without 9/11, climate change was already well on its way, and that might end up swallowing all these other considerations - but things were still better than. For a middle class urban white guy, maybe - but go back to politics - it was better for a lot of people who weren't watching QuickTime videos and renting foreign DVDs and spending hundreds of dollars at a pop at Tower or HMV or Newbury Comix. 

And now? Every two days, as many people die in this country of COVID as died in the 9/11 attacks. This is months after a free, safe and effective vaccine was distributed, which stops most of those deaths. I wonder if we would have been smarter before 9/11 about something like that. We wouldn't have had people like Donald Trump who threw his political capital behind making the pandemic worse. I don't know.

We live in a very bad time.

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Charlie Watts

 Time for this blog to come back to life at least long enough to mark the passing of one of the great figures of rock music, Mr. Charlie Watts, drummer for the Rolling Stones. The Stones, one has to say, have been lucky - Watts is the first to go since Brian Jones in 1969, and most of them have been pretty active and lively most of that time. And the band, of course, has stayed active all that time, still touring - or intending to tour - to the present. They seem immortal - especially, I suppose, Keith Richards, who should be dead half a dozen times over, but there he is, still at it. But they are not immortal, and now the sanest of the crew is gone.

And so. I am, I admit, too much of a fan of flashy drummers. Keith Moon and John Bonham and Jaki Liebezeit give me shivers, every time. But I know just how vital Charlie Watts was (or Ringo, for that matter.) They make the songs, hold the whole thing where it needs to be, they are near perfect. They are a big reason the Stones and the Beatles are what they are - the best whole package, the bands that got pop music dead right. The recordings, the songs as songs, everything - and the drumming is at the center of it.

So goodbye Mr. Watts. You made the world a better place.

Here they are last year, locked down - Charlie dapper and amusing, miming along to the rest:

And way back when, just grooving it:

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

The Sweet Tolling of the Bell

I think I shall post today in honor of the passing of Rush Limbaugh, a man who single handedly refutes John Donne: no one is diminished by his passing. He lived a rotten life, Rush Limbaugh. There was a time when it was hard to tell if he meant a word he said - he was a showman, always, and had the air of a charlatan about him, a salesman, someone who could, with a twist in the road here or there, have been announcing football games or selling used cars. Instead he played a right wing demagogue, but was any of it real? 

There was a time. But there comes a time when who cares? You can mean it or not, but if you are willing to say the things he said, push the positions and politics he pushed, sincerity is beside the point. You are evil, and playing evil is no different than being evil. And he was evil. He grounded right wing resentment and viciousness, for a long time, he promoted it, he shaped it, he kept it going. He was central in creating the fascism that has infested the right in this country for 30 odd years - voicing it, pushing it, making it worse and worse. He hurt the country, and consequently the world, immeasurably. 

He was also a loathsome character as a human being. A drug addict and sex tourist who raved about other people's drug use and sexual behavior. A money grubbing worm. A hateful, abusive creep. 

All right: if you can's say something nice about someone, you shouldn't say anything at all. Well - if you can say something nice about Rush Limbaugh, what the hell is wrong with you? I suppose one should feel sympathy for his family and loved ones - but who the hell would that be? No - he won't be missed, except by his fellow fascists. Fuck them all.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

A Good Day

And so we are finally free of the worst man to ever hold the office of president of the United States. One of the worst men ever to run for the office, a man who earned his place next to Andrew Johnson and John Breckinridge, though unlike them, a man who never did anything else in his life worth noting. All the old villains and failures in American history - most of them did something to get there. Maybe a few of them were just born to money and power, like this one - but hell, little George Bush at least made a show of trying to be worth something, he joined the guard at least! He ran a sports team that didn't go bankrupt, unlike some people who bankrupted whole sports leagues. Even Ronald Reagan, mid-level actor - was a mid-level actor. This one? went bankrupt running a casino; pissed away his daddy's money; revived by a reality show and the Russian mob! his uselessness is almost unprecedented in American National politics.

He's gone now. I imagine he will have a few sleepless nights, as now his creditors and many an ambitious DA can cast their eyes his way. Once the Senate gets through with him. Yes indeed. I am grateful that he didn't decide to double down on his coup from a couple weeks back - though it's not surprising. He was always in it for the grift - he never seemed to take anything seriously except the grift. There is a strange surreal quality to the insane right in this country - they are LARPers, they are playing a game - they claim things that are so obviously false it is hard to imagine they take them seriously. The coup attempt - seems to have been dead serious, with people certainly talking about killing politicians and the like - but they still somehow come off as though they were always just playing a game. And - I can't say I am surprise they dissolved on the first touch. The whole affair felt like a Coen brothers movie. Their ranting and raving had a very Walter Sobchak vibe to it - but I couldn't help hearing Walter condemning them too. "These men are cowards, Donnie..." 

All right. I don't have to think about the former president any more! That is a great joy. I can think about Joe Biden. A strange sensation, right, to have Joe Biden as president. It is a massive relief, and he gives off an air of calm, reassurance, but also strength and resolve. He will undo the damage that's been done by 4 years of undemocratic and un-American rule. I take great pleasure in seeing him take office - that in spite of the fact that he might have been my 9th choice among last years Democrats. (Especially in retrospect, which might let me take people like Julian Castro more seriously than I would have at the time.) But then again - there might have been a dozen Democrats running for president last year who were better choices than anyone the Republicans put forward in 2016, and that's even trying to filter out political preferences. And that again who didn't run who I would like to see as president. The Democrats simply are the serious political party in this country. The serious political debate in this country is al within the Democratic party. I just hope they manage to agree on enough to make some real changes.

Still: the cautious parts of the Democratic party will massively improve the country, just as they did in Obama's day. I hope they have learned the lessons of those days: that the Republicans are not worth working with. Do what you want to do, and do not give them an inch. Use every advantage you have, pass what you think will do the most good, do not try to work around their propaganda machine. The Democrats will be accused of socialism whatever they do - so do what you can get through congress, do everything you can do. They have the congress at least - taking over the senate today as well. I hope they use it. 

All right. It is a good day. A good week, from MLK day to Biden's inauguration, to Ossoff and Warnock being sworn into the senate - it is good. We are going to make it after all, maybe.

Wednesday, January 06, 2021

Salvation and Sedition

What a time to be alive. Should I be thrilled that Georgia's senatorial races both went to the Democrats, giving the Democrats a majority in the Senate? (That's 51 votes, representing an extra 40 millions people.) We have a functioning government again. We might save the old republic yet!

Or be "concerned" (that's the word) that a sitting president incited a coup to overthrow the government? invading the capital, proudly waving their confederate flags? 

What a time to be alive.

There is not much to do or say about all of this. This is not a coup that can succeed. It is hard to see what Trump thinks he is doing at this point. I know Trump himself is a spoiled child, an ignorant, destructive, incompetent grifter who simply doesn't care what happens to anything else. He never has - obviously. He has never cared a fig about the United States. I find it hard to think he even cares about the power or winning or anything else - I don't know what he is doing. He is pissing on everything to piss on it. It's mind-blowing.

The people around him - his family, everyone in the White House, Mike Pence on down - are as shameful a lot of hooligans as this country has ever produced. Cowardly, weak, sycophantic, to someone who clearly cannot and will not help them in any way - why are they doing it? Why didn't some of them stop this shit months ago? They could have: he is not a dictator, he is a weak old man who can be easily controlled by anyone willing. Stories about Trump tearing into Mike Pence - why doesn't Pence just recite the 25th amendment (section 4) to him and tell him to sit down and shut up? But you should not have to go that far. Why are these people all so afraid of Donald Trump?

There is, and has been a great divide in this country - people who somehow think Trump is formidable, good or bad, a great businessman or an evil genius, something - and defer to him. And people who think he is a clown, a buffoon, a bully, who should be mocked and ignored. That he is someone who has no power - just daddy's money (or Putin's now, I guess) and daddy's lawyers (or maybe Mitch McConnell) to do things with. If anything, he has more power now, having stoked the mobs and sent them out to break stuff - they can do real harm. But they have no real power. 

But here we are. On one hand, the bullshit will end - Trump will be gone in two weeks, his mobs are not likely to have a lot of staying power. But they can break a lot of stuff before they go. It is crucial, in the aftermath of this - and this has been true since November of 2016, since nothing Trump has done is really surprising, it was obvious in 2016 he was a crook and would be a crook in office and might well sell out the country to anyone who'd pay him - when it is done, he has to pay. Trump needs to be arrested, he needs to be tried, he should be convicted, since he has done it all in public. And the people who helped him should be held accountable - the leaders. It is important to arrest the ones breaking into the capital, making sure none of them go unpunished - but it is more crucial to get the ringleaders.  

Trump should be arrested, now. He's a traitor. The senators and representatives who encouraged this by protesting the certification should be punished - it is one thing to dick around with symbolic protests and the like, but they had to know what would happen here. They participated in this sedition. They need to be held responsible. The criminals and traitors int he Trump white house have to pay for their crimes. If we sweep this under the rug, we will be putting ourselves on the road to destruction. 

There's nothing else to say.

Friday, January 01, 2021

2021 Is Here at Last!

And good riddance to 2020! 

Here we are, 2021, a new year, and one that is very welcome. 2020 has got a very strong claim to being the worst year in American history. 350,000 dead of Covid, over 3 million total deaths, a 15% increase from 2019, the largest increase in deaths since 1918. That is very bad. And around this, we can watch the government collapsing, one of our parties openly embracing treason - it's not a pretty picture. Now clearly, there have been bad times in the past - 1918, say! War, the flu and all; the Depression, WWII; the 60s had some horrible times as well. But this one - especially as so much of it feels like a self-inflicted wound. And the way there seems to be so little to take as compensation. Sure sure, 1968 was horrible - but you got the White Album! This year - this was so bad I somehow managed to miss the fact that Tommy Heinsohn died. A couple months ago. Somewhere between Sean Connery and Alex Trebek. That bad.

So here we are. The virus is still wreaking havoc (we keep hitting new daily highs in deaths, 3900 odd a couple days ago); there are vaccines, but they are slow to get implemented, so we are a long ways from normal life again. There's a new strain out there, more contagious than the last. Not good. Meanwhile, the economy is in a dangerous place. Maybe it's still functioning, but it feels like it could crash at any time. And though $600 checks will help a bit, you need more than that, especially if we were able to take the necessary step of closing things down again until the virus subsides and vaccines are common. There is hope, I suppose, if the Democrats win two senate seats in Georgia - otherwise, we remain at the mercy of Mitch McConnell, and that is not a good place to be.

There is no escaping the utter depravity of the modern Republican party. Donald Trump - he's less than three weeks from being out fo the white house, but is doing all he can to ruin the country while he is still there. He bears personal responsibility for a lot fo those COVID deaths - half of them? Probably about right. He had an easy job when this pandemic hit - nod along with the doctors, tell everyone to stay at home and wear their masks and wash their hands - but he did not do that. He did the opposite, He politicized the disease - he politicized the obvious measures one takes to battle infectious diseases. He did worse than that - he fostered conspiracy theories, he acted the fool, he inspired his followers to act the fool. If he had hit the bare minimum, doing what the doctors said, the Republicans likely would have gone along with it. You always have nuts - but Trump encouraged mainstream Republicans to defy obvious health measures. I don't think they would have done this without his lead. There is almost no one else he could have been in his place who would have acted the way Trump did on this. Mike Pence, bad as he is (and bad as he's been as Trump's VP) is very unlikely to have acted like Trump in the face of this disaster. And that little might have made it possible to keep the disease under some control. Not complete (unless you live in New Zealand) - but we are way worse than anyone else.

But Donald Trump is a pretty uniquely bad human being. He has managed to fulfill all the expectations for villainy and incompetence in the wake of the election. It's interesting to note that the election went more or less exactly as everyone expected it to go: Biden won the popular vote easily; a half dozen states were close enough to make the Electoral College outcome iffy, though there never seemed to be much chance of Trump repeating his 2016 luck. Because of absentee voting, and the politicizations of absentee voting, most observers thought that Trump would seem to be ahead on election day, but the lead would disappear as soon as the votes were counted. It's obvious that's what Trump expected to happen - thus his relentless campaign against absentee voting, his attempts to sabotage the post office, to stop counting votes after election day and so on. 

And that is how it happened. Trump was ahead at the end of November 3, and started clamoring to stop counting votes. People counted the votes. Trump's lead disappeared fast, and a day or so later, it was obvious Biden had won, and would win big. Here, a normal villain would back down, whine about whatever there was to whine about, and pout as the country prepared to change presidents. Not Trump! he kept doubling down on his fascism, challenging votes, trying to intimidate officials, raising up his followers for violence, and when everything else failed, speculating about a military coup. They are still at it! Weird notions still circulating about straight up rejecting the results when congress certifies them, with grandstanding morons in congress still carrying on. Astonishing. Well - not for Trump. More or less par for the course. For the other Republicans - somehow they seem to have missed that the rest of the party sort of made gains in this election - Trump is the only one who got smoked, regularly. 

And so. 2021 is here, Joe Biden will be president in a couple weeks, with luck, the Democrats will have the senate, and might pass some fo the lawws the house has been passing all year. Might make it possible to get through the next 3-6 months it will take to get vaccines to people - we might survive as a nation. For a while anyway.

I will not dwell on the bad, though. 2020 will represent the low point in the Republic, even if worse times come, as long as we do start to get back to something resembling respectability. It's hard to get too optimistic, though, even there - with several others countries slipping into fascism and stupidity at the same time. (Brexit anyone?) But - it feels good to get out of it. There could be light at the end of this tunnel; there hasn't been anything to be optimistic about in a while. So take what you can get.