Smartasses of the world unite!!

Generally a smartass and believer in the Twainism that Against the assualt of laughter, nothing can stand. Mission: mock bigotry, narcisism, and ignorance. This is a collection of thoughts on baseball, politics, economics, and occasional other things.

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Monday, May 25, 2015

Thoughts on Memorial Day

It is interestingly ironic, and poetic, that the celebrations around Memorial Day are typically family gatherings, local parades, and relaxation among loved ones. As a remembrance of service people who gave ultimate sacrifice in honoring that call to serve, it only seems fitting that we spend the day enjoying carefree activities that exemplify American style freedom. I mean those that died in service did so defending that freedom.

I always think of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address when I think of Memorial Day. I know it wasn't presented on Memorial Day. Especially this last part:

"It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

People that serve, serve with a purpose. There's no other way to look at it. Even if someone only serves just to get money for education, they still serve. In doing so they all take an oath to defend the Constitution against all enemies - foreign and domestic. It's a big deal to make that promise. By the same token we owe it to those making it, that what they're sent to do in that service honors the spirit of service captured - in my estimation - in the Gettysburg Address.

I've seen the photo on social media more times than I can count of the Marine handing a small boy the flag from his father's casket. War is the most vile, and extreme form of politics. Unfortunately the decisions around it are made by politicians, and they - regardless of affiliation - are nothing more than water boys. Whomever they're carrying water for influences that, and that's wrong. Every future kid, spouse, mom, dad, brother and sister are owed by we citizens that future sacrifices are done for that freedom and only that freedom. That's our obligation as American citizens. People that promise to defend deserve nothing less.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Beautiful songs that are ......... so ......... fuckin' ......... sad

Music, our lives are filled with moments linked to song. Stories of wedding days, graduations, children's births, first loves, and kisses have all been set to so many pretty pieces of music. There's no shortage of pretty love songs. There's also no shortage of angry music telling angry stories. Now, I'm not a musician so when I hear the musical part of a song, and think if I like it, love it or whatever. Words, I think, I get since I use them. Maybe that's why I pay attention and think about them a little more than the music. Usually a song's lyrics match the music in emotional content and intensity, so it really grabs my attention when they don't. Putting a sad lyrical story to a beautiful piece of music strikes me as a more difficult thing to do. I thought it'd worthwhile to put together a list of the best examples.

Brilliant Disguise - Bruce Springsteen

Bruce has plenty of sad ass songs; The River, Atlantic City, Meeting Across The River, Downbound Train. Those are sad to be sure, but they are totally sad. They have a sad melody and a sad story. Brilliant Disguise has a delicateness to the melody, and the guitar riff has a nice dance to it, but the guy is realizing his wife does not love him, might be cheating on him, and he's pretty much decided to live with it, refuse to love her back, and just play the part of half a couple.
"God have mercy on the man who doubts what he's sure of." Dude - no shit!

The Millworker - James Taylor

A delicate little acoustic guitar picking, and a pretty piano accompaniment are the musical heart of this song. We hear a girl (I know - James Taylor is not a girl....imagination people) recount her past, her regrets, and her happy memories as she lets us know that she feels this life of hers has been wasted. Her grandfathers stories of his time as a sailor, and her memories of playing with her father are juxtaposed against her life as alcoholic's widow, the kids she's left with, and the realization that she's little more than a human tool in a mill, and she's accepted that.
"Waiting on a daydream to take me through the morning, to get me in my coffee break where I can have a sandwich and remember." Shit - ever think a different job would help?

I Am A Rock - Simon and Garfunkel

Paul's simple, plucky guitar along with the duo's tight harmonies make this really nice to listen too, but you listen and the protagonist in the song is singing about being lonely, and that to deal with it all he's decided to just build up wall around him, and not give a fuck.
"I have no need of friendship. Friendship causes pain. It's laughter and loving I disdain." C'mon man!! Seriously!?!?

Lyin Eyes - The Eagles

A gentle strum, a twangy country guitar lick, and those tight tight Henley, Frey, and Meisner harmonies belie our songs main character's regret that she married for money and is miserable. She lies to get out of the house to see her young lover. She knows she's lying, and she thinks her husband knows she's lying, and despite promising to come back to see her lover, someday, forever, she knows she's going to keep on lying because that's the life she's chosen.
"Did she get tired, or did she just get lazy? She's so far gone she feels just like a fool." Damn!!

Straight Into Darkness - Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers

Now, beauty is subjective, and I find Petty's jangly guitar and layers of rhythm on his music it's own form of pretty so maybe I'm pushing pretty here, but the lamentation the of the lyrics of feeling love, and then having the feeling one day be just gone is just tragedy realized.
"Real love is a man's salvation. The weak ones fall. The strong carry on." No shit Tom. No shit.

Dead Flowers - Rolling Stones

This is built on a country lick (yes by the Rolling Stones), with a twangy rhythm that just bounces. as Mick - in his best country drawl - sings of what the protagonist imagines his lost love's fabulous life is as he spirals down. We don't know why. It just is.
"I'll be in my basement room with a needle and a spoon, and another girl takes my pain away." Sunnuvvabitch!!! What the fuck happened Mick!?!?

Killin Time - Clint Black

A proud guitar riff and a cheery steel guitar accompany this tale of a man who's lost the love he thought would be with him forever. How? Why? Don't know. That's never explained, but the song's protagonist has decided that he's just gonna dull the sorrow and regret over "if he'da done the things he oughta" in liquor until he's dead.
"If there's an end to all my sorrow, and this is the only price I'll pay, I'll be a happy man when I go, and I can't wait another day." That's fucking dark dude! Get a dog, or a hobby!

I don't know. Maybe sadness is just as delicate as love is. Maybe juxtaposing the two makes emphasizes the fine line between the extremes. Maybe the beauty makes us pay attention to the sadness. We've all felt the highs of love, and life's hope followed by crushing loss and regret. That could be the point. I don't know. There are more examples I can think of. Maybe there'll be a part II of this.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

American's good


I'm not a film reviewer, and this is not a film review, although as I go back and edit, it kinda is. I know precious little about film making, cinematography, screenwriting (though THAT I'm learning), framing, lighting, etc. A lot has been written about this movie, and about it's protagonist Chris Kyle. A little background if you don't know who he is. Chris Kyle was a SEAL sniper who served 4 tours in the Iraq war. He is officially credited with 160 kills. He's regarded as the most deadly sniper in US military history. The movie is based on his autobiography.

There's been criticism that the movie is jingoistic, and racist in some it's themes and content. That's unfair I think to say that the movie glorifies war, and excuses racist, hateful things combatants say and do. The reality is that soldiers are taught to hate the enemy, and part of that is dehumanizing the enemy. Now, in absolute terms, that's a bad thing, but in relative terms it's good. You can't send fighting people into a conflict with empathy for the enemy. Thinking the person on the other end of a shot is a human being with kids, and other human amenities is a sure way to introduce hesitation on their part. That's just the reality. That's a reflection on us, the society who sends them to war. The movie, this in mind, portrays the soldiers sympathetically. This movie also does not engage in jingoism. The rightness, or wrongness of the war in Iraq is not explored. It just is the setting. There is no exploration into the politics of it. There's none at all. Whether the movie should have or should not have is immaterial to the story of Chris Kyle.

Chris Kyle believes his cause is just. His upbringing is explored briefly, but since the movie is based on his book (and I have not read it) it's probably just as matter-of-factly presented in his book. Insofar as it is revealed, he grew up with a basic set of principles; there are 3 kinds of people; sheep, wolves, and sheepdog. Don't be a sheep, or a wolf - be a sheepdog his father tells him and his brother. That's how he sees himself throughout. He's there to protect others. Again, not a morality play. It is what it is, and that makes him what he is. Not sure why some say this oversimplifies, and glorifies war. The world is presented though his eyes, and that's how he sees the world, and that's how he sees the world. Right or wrong, it's not appropriate for director Clint Eastwood to reframe that perspective in my opinion.

What really drives home this movie is Bradley Cooper's portrayal of Chris Kyle. We see early on him as a kid listening to his dad, and shortly thereafter as a young adult who wants to be a rodeo cowboy, is really just a guy. His attention to world events involving terrorism, and culminating in the events of 9/11 are given cursory attention in the movie. He's a cowboy, then he's in a recruiter office, and then in SEAL training, then meets his future wife, gets married, then eagerly deployed to Iraq. Bang - bang - bang. No moralizing. That's who Cooper shows us as Chris Kyle. He also brings a sense that war is hard, even damaging, on it's willing participants. Through Cooper we see Kyle struggle with his commitment as a father, and as a brother in arms. He's dedicated to his duty. The pain his wife is in as he goes through multiple deployments is palpable. When he's out, he awkward, and uncomfortable around others in non-military settings, including other veterans. The scene where he's thanked by a fellow vet in a tire shop catches this. Kyle just wants to get out of the shop with his son. It looks to me like he does not see himself as a soldier any longer, but just as a dad.

All of which brings me to my point. The controversy surrounding this movie is out of this; each of us brings our perspective to any art. We interpret it through our own individual set of biases. We just do, but that's the value of art. Perception is what frames reality. Whether it's film, music, photography, poetry, or whatever, our individual perspective colors our conclusion. You can just as easily see a guy fervent, and patriotic in his eagerness to serve his country, and protect his brothers in combat. You can also see the atrocity that war is as people in a region have to choose sides, and fathers, mothers, and kids become combatants, and victims of each side. You can also see, like I did, that war fucks people up; combatants same as victims. You don't have to see this movie to see that. The history of modern warfare, beginning with WWI, can't be told without taking into account shellshock, or PTSD today. Terrible things are done in war, by good people. Early in the movie Kyle shoots a child, then his mother - each of whom has a grenade as they approach US troops. An otherwise good kid, and his Mom threaten soldiers. That's really bad. Kyle shoots them, also terrible, but that's what happens in wars. That's why they're supposed to be last resort. Morality goes out the window in a war. It's gone.

Every soldier that fights deserves to be honored for manning a post, and standing alongside his brethren. We cannot condemn them for doing their duty as they are programmed throughout training to do. Too often we fail to do that when we hear, or see a portrayal, of what they do. What we need to do is hold politicians to a higher standard when it comes to the decision to wage war. War fucks people up - sometimes irreparably.The decision to wage it in modern media culture seems to be made with the same consideration given Super Bowls, and World Cups. That is what we fail to do. Don't blame Clint Eastwood for "glorifying" war. Don't blame Chris Kyle for killing to execute his objective.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

History kinda suck at history

A stern middle-aged man with gray hair is wearing a dark red suit. He is standing behind a table, holding a rolled up document in one hand, and pointing with the other hand to a large document on the table.
What Sam Adams really looked like - note the "not a 
hunky type" vibe he's putting out - bad for TV I guess.

This past week (Jan 25th - 27th) the History Channel broadcast a 6 hour miniseries (1 - 2 hour episode each night over 3 nights) entitled The Sons Of Liberty. Did you see it? I saw it. There are 5 things that really suck in the History Channel presentation. They suck mostly because, you know, history seems to have been less important than entertainment. That's disappointing because it was on the History Channel, and with "History" being in the name of the channel one would think history would be pretty important. They probably should have called it "Boston 90210" or "Boston Place" or something more bullshitty because it's like nothing happened outside of Boston. Hello??? New York City, Philadelphia. Here are 5 things that just sucked.

1) Sam Adams is shown as THE central figure in the beginning of the movement for independence. Now, Sam Adams was pretty important, but he wasn't on the scale of John Hancock, or his cousin John Adams, or Paul Revere in the early days of the independence movement. He's portrayed as a pissed off tough guy itching to fight the British. He was really more of a writer, and speaker. Early in his political career he was quite a advocate of the Colonies. He's the one responsible for the idea "No taxation without representation" which in the context of the times meant that the Colonies should be responsible to collect taxes (which is funny because he collected taxes for the Colony early as a professional) and administering the affairs of the Colonies - not the British Parliament where there was no representation on the Colonies' part. He's also shown in the show as fighting, running across rooftops, causing trouble among the British troops, and even climbing aboard a ship during the Boston Tea Party brandishing pistols at the 2 guards on the ship before they jump into the harbor. In actuality Samuel Adams was not AT the Boston Tea Party, and physically he was not a tall, lean, athletic man. He was really kinda just a regular guy of his era. A great patriot, but not a brooding tough guy badass.

2) John Hancock is portrayed in the first 2 and a half episodes as a spoiled little rich kid merchant who has to be dragged along by Sam Adams. John Hancock is correctly remembered as a pretty ballsy guy who put his money where his mouth was when it came to the cause of the colonials. He was a merchant, and a rumored smuggler (though the Crown never got the charges to stick) who was with the movement very early on. He was a wealthy man who put it all on the line. Picture Bill Gates putting his fortune on the line to upend today's political environment. This mini-series really does him discredit. If you believe the show, he never really comes over to the movement until General Gage takes his house while Hancock tries to bribe him. I'd expect John Hancock to roll over in his grave, dig himself up, and beat the shit out the writer of the screenplay. They really make the President of the 1st Continental Congress look like a little pussy.

3) Where are Thomas Paine, Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson? Where the fuck is Patrick Henry? He WAS IN the Sons Of Liberty, and had the most badass quote of the movement. "Give me liberty, or give me death!" Now, neither Paine nor Jefferson were in the Sons Of Liberty, so it's fair that they're not really covered much at all, but when we get into the 3rd episode, and we see Adams and Ben Franklin at the Continental Congress in Philadelphia.  We see George Washington there. He meets our heroes, but shit it's George Washington. Gotta have some Washington in there. There's a "There's Thomas Jefferson" scene. Jefferson is mentioned by Ben Franklin as a candidate to write a Declaration of Independence when Sam Adams finally convinces the Continental Congress to declare independence - cuz it was originally his idea. The writings of Paine, and Jefferson - what were they?

4) General Gage is sent from England to replace the Governor of Massachusetts, and is such a dick that his wife has an affair with Dr. Warren - another member of the Sons Of Liberty. Gage was a dick, and it's been a historical rumor that his wife did get secrets to the colonials. But General Gage really never left the Colonies. After he fought in the French and Indian War, he remained in the Colonies as Governor or Montreal, and later as Commander in Chief of British Military Forces. As for his wife, the mini-series tells she was a pretty typical trophy wife of the era until she saw the good general giving it to a chamber maid through a keyhole, because back then keyholes were HUGE. I guess it's a good thing she saw that in the end, because she hooked up with the good  Dr. What luck!! If Gage doesn't take the chamber maid over the desk would we even be here today?! Gage does get a measure of revenge as he finds out about her dalliance, and kills Dr. Warren at the Battle of Bunker Hill. Warren did die in the battle, but was it at the hand of General Gage? Doubtful.

5) Interesting that the main sponsor of this mini-series was Sam Adams beer. Coincidence?!?!?! Look, the story of the Sons Of Liberty, Sam Adams, John Adams, Paul Revere, and others is really compelling. Does it really need to be sexed up, and made into a "one guy convincing the hesitant crowd that this is what needs to happen" narrative? That's good drama I suppose, but it's really shitty history. Maybe on another channel, but on the History Channel - I'd like to see, you know, history as opposed to a 6 hr beer ad.

Honorable Mention) Ben Franklin comes off as a 18th century hippie and remarks about the idea of independence during a conversation "Well that's an absolutely bat-shit crazy idea."


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

'Merica - loves us some authoritah!!!! (as long as it's the other guy....)

Americans; we love authority. Sure, we say we love freedom, and liberty above all. But goddamn we love authority! We love it way more. Makes sense. Authority keeps us safe, and able to enjoy liberty here at home. It's a balance that we've accepted as a society. I like police, and soldiers. I believe most of them are committed to service. I see them and I feel safe. I'm sure most people do.

There's an interesting facet to this love of authority though. I've noticed over the past few months that some people are reflexively ALWAYS on the side of the authority figure. Whether it's the police shootings, or the CIA torture reports there's a broad segment that reflexively is in the corner of authority figures no matter what  they're accused of. There is not a circumstance that puts them in bad light. The possibility that authority figures might abuse that authority is so minuscule it doesn't even register.

We tortured people. Hundreds of people were tortured in the name of the War on Terror. And collectively, we don't care. Waterboarding, stress positions, sleep deprivation, false shootings, hoses up peoples asses (anal infusion). 'Merica! Fuck Yeah. 25 percent of the people tortured according to the Senate report were innocent. Either mistaken identity, or their name was given by another - probably being tortured, and the CIA's own records indicated they had no ties to terror groups. We tortured them. 'Merica - fuck yeah.

Police have killed people that should not have been shot, including a 12 year old kid with a toy gun within seconds of arriving on scene, AAAANNNND a guy within seconds of confrontation, in a store with a toy Ohio.......where there's open carry and it'd be perfectly legal to be in a toy store with a REAL gun. So, you'd think police would know how to handle people with guns. Now, police have a really tough job; REALLY tough, but when unarmed people are shot and killed, something is wrong. Reflexively a lot of people default to the police side, and blame the victims. And what's worse than that is when notable people speak out, of make a show of solidarity with the victims, the police have a problem with that. Well, what about the cops that abuse their authority and make anyone with a badge look bad? What about that? Nobody, NOBODY, talks about that.

So after some lip service to "yeah, there's some bad cops, but...." It's "police don't do anything wrong, and if you had a problem with the police, it's your fault." And of you say anything critical about the lack of justice for those victims, THAT'S offensive to police, and you don't appreciate their sacrifice. 'Merica - fuck yeah.

"Land of the Free, and the Home of the Brave"

Really???? More like "Land of the - 'listen to the officer,' and Home of the 'whatever you say'"

Monday, November 3, 2014

I hope the GOP wins this Tuesday.

Tomorrow, November 4th, the GOP should win control of the Senate. They will probably win the Governorship of my state, Wisconsin, as well. That's all well and good.

They deserve to win. The Democrats (and while I am a progressive, or a liberal, I am not a Democrat) can't seem to run on any accomplishments. They pass Obamacare, and run from it even when it does the things they said it would do, and even though the things it does people wanted to be done. The GOP just brands stuff, and it sticks, and people vote brands. Like elections are the same as laundry soap. The GOP filibusters everything - EVERYTHING. Nothing gets done, and the Democrats can't even put together a message to say that. Well, fuck it. Lose then. Even if the Democrats manage to hang on to the Senate, it's gridlock till 2016 anyway. Fuck it - give the pyros the zippo.

I've come to the conclusion that there will be no change to the political climate in DC until there is a political reset brought on by economic cataclysm of Great Depression scale. Partisans are locked into their team. The red team/blue team debate is all the mainstream media covers - like it's the next big game. There's no context. There's no objectivity. Red team regurgitates their talking points. Blue team pukes out theirs. "I guess we'll leave it there" is how the "journalists" leave it.

Elections are gerrymandered so that partisans control their districts so much so that competitive elections are largely a thing of the past. The result is that nobody even remotely in the middle gets elected. Republicans run on small government, and how they'll shrink it. They get elected and don't. Democrats run on ethical government and transparency. They get elected and don't. I'm of the opinion that the swamp must be drained, but not by whomever wins the next election. Whomever wins next is part of the same swamp.

So fuck it. Republicans, I hope you win. I hope you get to pass your agenda of tax cuts and laissez faire economics. And just like the past when markets are completely unfettered, and there's a crash at the end. There always is. There's the reset. Just like 1932 the swamp will be drained when the supply side emperor is revealed to have no clothes. Supply side doesn't work. It never has. There is no trickle down. Sure, it sounds good. "Keep taxes at the top low, and the result will be growth in jobs, wages for everyone." Common sense right? Except it doesn't happen that way. Try this common sense; if you get a tax cut you keep it. That's what happens. Since Reagan we've been in this state. "DUHHH - trickle down. We'll all do better because the "job creators will have more money to job create wit." Have middle class wages and salaries kept pace. Ummmm - fuck no they haven't. So when it all crashes the people who "kinda thought it made sense" will see it's bullshit. The people who knew it was bullshit, they won't need to go into the kind of explanation that rolls back the typical voters eyes. They can just say - "See?"

So it's coming. Put your money in a safe place. They're gonna fuck it up - again. They always do.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Why do Republicans hate liberty?!?!?

Richard Posner (Credit: Reuters/John Gress)

I don't get it. I have many friends that are Republicans, and to a person they all cite a dedication to individual liberty as one of the reasons they identify as such.

So, why do Republicans want to use the power of government to restrict voting rights through implementing Voter ID laws. They cite voter fraud as justification, but on such weak evidence? I mean, to place any restriction voting rights you'd expect people - with such a dedication to keeping the power of government from limiting free exercise of all individual liberty - to only do so with proof positive that it was needed. They haven't. They haven't because they can't. It hardly ever happens. As conservatives love to say, "If it ain't broke. Don't fix it."

"I believe there are thousands of illegal votes that cancel out legitimate ones." a GOP friend tells me. Well, believing in something, and proving something is real are entirely different things. Or, to paraphrase my father the sailor; "Believe in one hand, and shit in the other. See which one fills up first." I really don't give a shit what you believe. What can you prove, because that's what matters?

Let's see there's the recent James O'Keefe wannabe conservative muckraker video in which, while disguised as a liberal activist, he conversationally gets other voting activists to admit if they did such and such (with early ballots, or absentee ballots which I'm not sure how Voter ID prevents that anyway) they could stuff the ballot box with fraudulent votes. They never do, but for some reason this is "proof" that voter fraud is rampant.

There's the video of the Arizona man dropping off early ballots that he has collected - which is legal in AZ (not that I think we should bring this practice to WI) - as a Republican poll watcher says "What are you doing?" If he's a poll watcher, he knows damn well what the guy is doing. Again, these are signed ballots in sealed envelopes that need to be inspected by poll workers before they're counted. Another conservative friend - OK brother's friend - says "How do you know those are all legitimate votes Dave?!" To which I reply, "You need to prove they're illegitimate. That's how the law works dumbass."

But go ahead, insist that Voter ID is not a solution in search of a problems. Tell us that fraud is rampant while GOP Atty Generals DON'T prosecute any cases while calling for the law. Tell us how you need an ID to do dozens of other things like buy beer (to show age), or cigarettes (again, age), or a bank account (not the law, a bank policy), or cash a check (another business policy, not state law); none of which are Constitutional rights. Insist it's not voter suppression. People are just too lazy to get the IDs, (or pay the poll tax, or take the literacy tests, or not have ovaries, or not be black, or whatever else conservatives have done in the past to try to hold back demographic shifts). Please, insist all these things are really the reason. It's just so precious.

One of your own, Judge Posner, says it's bullshit. When the guy who upheld Indiana's Voter ID law says it's a pile of poo, it's a pile of poo.