Sunday, August 29, 2004

Lake Effect

Back from Up North, almost over the cold I always seem to get whenever I visit family, either one, no matter the time of year.

Torch Lake was beautiful, despite the infernal whine of the two "personal watercraft" moored (all too infrequently) at the pier of the house next door. Goddamm aquatic leaf-blowers.

We stayed at the home of an acquaintance of my mother's, a modest and comfortable house on the water. The kids ran around and made kid noises, I had fun cooking despite the dreadfully 1970s equipped kitchen (is there another kitchen in America without a single wooden spoon?).

The modesty of the house made me ruminate on the diminishing prospect of meaningful middle-class leisure. Such homes are no longer being built anywhere near water, as evidenced by the $1.5 million homes being constructed down the road...on spec. The fact is that people of modest means no longer can afford a second home, let alone somewhere as beautiful as this corner of the world. Increasing population and finite land resources are one reason, certainly, but more suspect I think, is the decline in prosperity for the middle class, coupled with the concentration of development exclusively for the upper brackets. This same phenomenon is replayed all the way down the Carolina coastline, as charming and unassuming cottages are bulldozed for the five story condo monstrosities that are the sole province of the new Republican haute bourgeoisie.

At least there is still some public land for a little while longer, until Bush gets us good and greased up for his vision of an "ownership society". I won't go into a rant about conservatives' baroque ontology of property rights just here. Suffice it to say that our public places, especially those as beautiful as the Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes National Lakeshore where we spent a perfect day, are criminally underfunded and no doubt being salivated over by developers who are banking on a happy confluence of privatization and budget deficits to deliver onto their forks the last morsels of the commonwealth.

Friday, August 20, 2004

How Do You Feel?

Good lord, Bakerina, I feel like that all the time. My serotoninergic factory defaults are set to tab A for anhedonia into slot B for blue must be the color of the blues.

Though I can't say it'll improve my outlook any more than the Wellbutrin I can't seem to remember to take on a regular basis, I'll be travelling as well: a year ago my mother arranged a family gathering for next week at a rented cottage on lovely Torch Lake in northern Michigan. I won't be savoring the O'Hare to Traverse City leg on what will undoubtedly be one of those tiny commuter jets that always seem to be plummeting into a light industrial sector somewhere in the midwest, but I will claim no small enjoyment in watching L cavort with her older and greatly esteemed cousins.

It'll be nice to be in my old home state. Play the lotto, stock up on refreshments sadly unavailable here in Cackalacky, maybe find some late season cherries for that Joan of Tarts, Bakerina.

Erm, maybe it won't be so nice after all. Wish me luck.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

'Ho-lesome Fun

This just in: satire is no longer possible.

Monday, August 16, 2004

Class Clowns Take 2

A real world example of the forces described below, from the young neocon golems at the Stanford Review:

Apparently, all it takes to be a "conservative woman" (at Stanford, no less) is a disturbingly low threshold for nuance:
Bush isn't Hitler
The rich don't eat babies
Raising taxes is bad
US troops killing terrorists is good
And, obviously, a nice pair of tits.

Class Clowns

Got the latest Harper's in the mail yesterday, and the cover story is an essay, The Tentacles of Rage, by Lewis Lapham. A longer-form version of his monthly Barthes-as-told-by-Mencken Notebook feature, the topic is one that I've spent no small amount of time being at turns alarmed and depressed about: the propaganda armature of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy. The piece chronicles the thirty-year philosophical and financial "re-education program undertaken in the early 1970s by a cadre of ultraconservative and self-mythologizing millionaires bent on rescuing the the country from the hideous grasp of Satanic liberalism" and the resulting triumph of inanity that passes for conservatism these days:
How does one reconcile the demand for small government with the desire for an imperial army, apply the phrases "personal initiative" and "self-reliance" to corporation presidents utterly dependent on the federal subsidies to the banking, communications, and weapons industries, square the talk of "civility" with the strong-arm methods of Kenneth Starr and Tom DeLay, match the warmhearted currencies of "conservative compassion" with the cold cruelty of "the unfettered free market", know that human life must be saved from abortionists in Boston but not from cruise missiles in Baghdad? In the glut of paper I could find no unifying or fundamental priciple except a certain belief that money was good for rich people and bad for poor people.
Lapham runs it all down, from a rebuffed Goldwater as the avant-garde whose ideas are ultimately subsumed by the mainstream, to the paranoid strategizing of Lewis Powell's memo that launched a thousand think tanks, to the Reagan-era birth of fledgling "idea" factories such as the Heritage Foundation, to the present day state of affairs in which the field generals of the massive shibboleth known as the Culture Wars (Scaife, Bradley, Olin, Coors, etc.) pony up the capital with which the usual suspects (Heritage, AEI, Hoover, Cato, Hudson, etc) provide the matériel and tactical supremacy.

Of particular interest may be the swamp of conservative college publications, funded by the likes of the above and invariably, mimetically, named the (Dartmouth, Stanford, Michigan, etc) Review. If a certain creaky aphorism describes a natural trajectory of political consciousness, where on the spectrum does a nineteen year-old Grover Norquist acolyte go to die?

This has all been noted, investigated, annotated and pissed into the wind by so many others, why bother? The idea that a wholly market-supplied media, by its very decentralized and "free" nature, could permit a propaganda system much more insidious and effective than a hundred Pravdas is clearly demographically insignificant. That George W. Bush could represent for anyone the last best hope of liberation from the commie depredations of Time Warner, Disney and General Electric is a notion which is as apparently pervasive as it is unspeakably imbecilic. The resulting cognitive dissonance is for me, shall we say, considerable.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Letters From A Crank

We're introducing a new feature here at JoDI: cranky letters to the apparatchiks of the Liberal Media Empire. Once we've generated a few I'll collate them in one handy location --ed.

Volume I Issue I

re: a double dose of commentary joy

Dear Nice Folks:

As you may deduce, I haven't made good on my promise to replace my car radio with an Mp3 player yet, so I was vulnerable to the one-two punch of two successive classically fatuous NPR commentaries.

First, I was left woozy but still standing from the wisdom of Ted Rose's commentary about leaving his shallow Manhattan lifestyle behind for the austere comforts of enlightenment at the Shambhala Mountain Center (not without first letting it drop, however, that he had gone to Harvard). Rose lulled me into thinking that this would be a typical yawner of an NPR self-parodying bit of wooey bullshit--you know, the kind of Volvo-driving, latte-drinking "I'm-going-to-simplify-my-life" pukefest that in a single stroke laughably reconfirms the public radio stereotype no matter how many Heritage Foundation hacks are given NPR mic time in the hopes of counteracting it--so my standard "yadda yadda" defense left me unprepared for the sheer comic roundhouse which followed. Describing how his preconceptions of a buddhist retreat didn't exactly mesh with the reality upon his arrival, he depicted the scene as "something out of a Gene Simmons video". Despite myself I was suddenly intrigued; were the supplicants spitting blood? Licking guitars? Doing battle with Terry Gross? I know, I know, of course Rose meant that other famous Simmons who makes videos. An understandable, if regrettable mistake. Still, this was a bonus fulfillment of yet another NRP stereotype: that of the effete pseudo-intellectual with a farcically inept grasp of pop-culture.

Speaking of maladroit pop-culture references, the following morning's commentary by Joel Achenbach finished off the pummelling to my suspension of disbelief begun by Rose. His ascription of analogues among the Beatles to the American founding fathers was about as trenchant as speculation about who among the Constitutional Convention might have prevailed on Survivor, or whether Ben Franklin would have worn boxers or briefs. A truly interesting Revolutionary era compare and contrast exercise might have begun with an examination of the similarities between two hereditary heads of state named George, each fighting a desperate battle to maintain dominance through the support of the landed gentry at home and imperial loyalists in an insurgent war abroad. And each symbolically associated with the color red. Get back, indeed.

Down and out for the count,

Name and address withheld

Monday, August 02, 2004

Carolina Boogie

One of the fringe benefits of my job is the occasional encounter with a legend. Last saturday night it was Earl Scruggs, who was playing in the museum's amphitheater. I caught him in the employee break room with the band finishing up their dinner (a telling detail--the big stars usually grub up in the Director's boardroom) and he graciously signed an old record (Live at Kansas State, Columbia, 1972) for me:

Taking in the photo of himself on the cover, Earl's son and bass player Gary was wryly amused by the hippie countenance of his youth. They were all perfect gentlemen, and although my wxdu colleague Dave T astutely reminded me that "you don't get real far in the bluegrass circuit by being an asshole", Mr. Scruggs and his ensemble each seemed to project a matchless grace.

Despite the kicking I gave myself for not trying harder to get a good portrait (even had the old Hasselblad ready with a roll of Tri-X) of Earl next to his formidable tour bus, it was a lovely show.