Wednesday, August 27, 2008

I was a bit surprised that Paul Krugman defended Obama for going after McCain's inability to remember how many houses he owns. It seems to me that if you don't want the Republicans to castigate you as an intellectual elitist (which Obama is), don't castigate your opponent for being a wealth elitist (which McCain most certainly is). A better point to make - and I'm not sure how to make it in this twisted political landscape - is that it's far better to be an intellectual elitist than a wealth elitist. If you went to Harvard Law, you're an elitist; if you can't remember how many houses you own, you are one too. But which kind is more likely to have the know-how, poise and breadth of diplomatic and other skills necessary to lead the country?

This notion that intellectuals are to be distrusted, this creepy idea that Nixon internalized and that Karl Rove and George W. Bush externalized and perfected, seems to haunt us still - even after its disgraceful consequences in our recent past. It's far more damaging than your run-of-the-mill campaign canard; in fact, it's fascist. It's Bolshevik. And Islamist, too. Totalitarian regimes, and the philosophies that gird them, have long repressed, demonized, ridiculed and even slaughtered the intellectual class. Why? Because intellectuals are the types of people who have the brains and insight to stop evil people, such as Republicans and terrorists, from doing whatever the fuck they want. It's always been easy for regimes to repress the intellectual class, because "regular" people - be they blue-collar Americans, the Russian proletariat or the Iraqi poor - are exceedingly susceptible to class resentment. This is a very easy button for propagandists to push, and once that's taken care of, it's not hard to make the problem "go away" - intellectuals tend not to be militaristic; they don't put up much of a fight. In Spain during the Inquisition, or Russia under Stalin, this meant you could round them up and kill them. In the United States today, you have to dispatch them more subtly - by insinuating that they're "soft on national security." No matter the method, it's the same crime.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

It seems like death is inconceivable in our digital age, that our myriad virtual selves form a phalanx against the vulgar forces of decay. In fact, there's really no place for death online - macabre MySpace memorial pages notwithstanding. Aliases, avatars, profiles and home pages: These are the things about us that never die. They are our souls, and eventually, our ghosts.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

We went to the Halal Guys for lunch today. When I got to the front of the line a fat woman appeared from the west side of the cart and paused a few feet away.

"I don't come no more 'cause it's too crowded!" she shouted, then stepped backwards in defiant retreat, like some insolent youth who'd just hurled a rock at the police.

The main Halal Guy was jamming lettuce into my chicken pita, a shred or two falling to the sidewalk. There was an awkward, volatile moment as he tried to think of a response.

"That's because it's so good," he said

Illustration by Louise Asherson

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

I worked on our compliance mechanism today, spending hours editing and testing, ensuring that all end-user profanity and sexual innuendo receives the same neutral, eerie response. It amused and depressed me all at once to realize that on my very first day of work, on Monday, October 9th, 2000, I was engaged in precisely the same task.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Jim and I were unable to win a single game of foosball today. The fourth floor guys, giggling and scoring. Making it look easy. After punctuating our days with this for months and months, it appeared we'd gotten nowhere. Less than nowhere. The frustration was dark, absurd: I had to remind myself to be gracious, not to contaminate the sacred air of frivolity. These were losses that raise questions: Why is it that we lose?, and Should we ever play again?

A softly weeping woman on 75th Street, into her cell phone:

"... And I don't know what to do now..."

Monday, August 18, 2008

Is Someone Spying on New York City?

We went to SummerStage in Central Park again, to see Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings. We sat and waited in the searing, sideways sun.

On the way there Sara spotted one of the red-tailed hawks flying high overhead.

Later, during the show, she spotted another bird - this one man-made, but too small to be a plane or glider. She pointed at it and I saw it and we half expected everyone else in the crowd to look up and gasp, but no one did. It disappeared behind some trees to the east and that was it. As it was white and tripartite, and flew quietly and straight, it had a Starship Enterprise air about it.

"It's an unidentified flying object," I said.

In fact, I suppose it was a drone - an unmanned aerial vehicle. Is someone spying on New York City?
Periodically Google docs automatically saves the document you're working on, which is funny when the page is blank.

Friday, August 15, 2008

On my way back home all the people I walked past were cringing in the rain.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Hail pelted the tinted windows of our floor.

I'm more often than not stricken by some disorder of the flesh.

When you think you're in the batter's box they got you standing on the warning track.

The train I ride is sixteen coaches long.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Politics is now just a derivatives game. It's not about the moral character of the candidates, nor about their "vision," nor their experience or know-how, and least of all about the tedious "issues." The game is played at deep layers of derivation now: It's not even about the "spin" that a campaign can try to put on news events, polls or the assertions of its opponent (although this is an essential tactic). Nor is it even about the media's coverage of said spin. It's about the media's coverage of the media's coverage of the media's response to the public's response to the media's coverage of the spin.

There's been a lot of hand-wringing over whether modern American politics and policy have become "poll-driven." This is not the real worry. (In fact, we'd be a lot better off if the last eight years of executive policy had been determined in accord with public sentiment rather than in spite of it.) The trouble is, the media are poll-driven. They are engaged in a breathless dance with the public, as represented by lucrative demographic sectors, in which they cloyingly proffer "news" that might be most appetizing for the public to consume, whereupon the public more or less eats it up, the media poll the public to evaluate the success of the transaction (ever heard of ratings?), and try even harder next time to please. In other words, the media are doing the work of politicians.

The American people might be stupid, but they're no fools. They'll let someone butter their bread any old day. The media give the public what they want - entertainment, the illusion of authority, the illusion of knowledge, bells and whistles and (ironically) Britney Spears. Barack Obama's umpteen-point health care plan doesn't do that. It might buy you chemo when you're sick, but it won't try to tell you what there is to live for. All consumers aspire, strive and fantasize, and the media's business is to leverage that.

What's most worrisome is that Republicans are experts at this deeply cynical, immoral game. They don't give a fuck whether anything is "true" or not. This was not an aberration of the Bush campaign (no big surprise, as Bush's staff is now on board with McCain). It's ingrained in the cutthroat Republican culture now. They can't fight this campaign on the issues. They fucked us with Iraq, they fucked us on the environment, they've humiliated our country in the eyes of the world, they've dismissed the victims of disaster, they've tortured innumerable innocents, they've encouraged insane and profligate fiscal policies and economic practices, they've installed ass-kissing cronies at every level of government, they can't get their story straight on gays. So now we have: Obama voted against troop funding. Obama wouldn't visit the troops. Obama's playing the race card. Don't you think he's too thin?

It's encouraging that at least historically, McCain has not been completely down with this type of nonsense. (This may be the real reason the Republican "base" is so worried about him.) The pressure might get to be too much; he might have some cataclysmic and very public emotional breakdown over the evil that his minions are doing in his name. But I wouldn't count on it - the sight of the ultimate trophy seems to have rendered him docile and compliant. For that reason, too, Obama might have an advantage: Who's the fucking man in this duel right now? Not McCain. Still, we should worry.

I don't know how Republicans rationalize all this - or if they do. Maybe they see it all as an extension of individualism and free markets - get all you can ruthlessly, give the people what they want, the rest will sort itself out. The real trouble is, it works.

The bigger the lie, as somebody once said.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

We sat outside at some Mexican place on Columbus before the movie and it smelled of dirty dishes, mold and rot. That particular odor that busy, bad bars get; that chain restaurants get. Places where the busing station's always burdened by a tub of dirty dishes.

I drank salty-syrup margaritas until it was time to go and I had a good old-fashioned headache. We crisscrossed the IMAX room, dim, steep and infernal, in search of empty seats. Finally I clambered over to a single space in the middle, near the front of the balcony.

It was "The Dark Knight," and I could barely for the life of me understand what was going on. Seemed like a deliberately nasty movie, bleak, unfunny. People crashing about and you can't focus on a body part. Dehumanizing. Antihumanizing. And Heath Ledger's performance nagged me throughout: Who had he imitated to form his version of the Joker? The voice, I was certain, is Tom Waits. But where does the flickering tongue come from? He gives the impression that he has to remember not to bite it every time he speaks. There seemed to be aspects of Jack Nicholson, Marlon Brando, Truman Capote. Maybe some old-time comic, some contemporary of Milton Berle's? Something about his twisted-lispy voice, the way his smile would collapse into a grimace. I don't know. Reminded me of someone in particular and I still can't tell exactly. I have a feeling that once I do his performance will be demystified and seem empty to me, but until then I suppose I have to hand it to him. If he's created a character everyone recognizes but nobody knows, more power to him still.

Monday, August 04, 2008

The greeter in the sea blue blouse festooned the plants at the entrance to the restaurant terrace with little Swiss flags.

Across 53rd Street there was a truck from a document shredding company, promising confidentiality.

The sky was heavy but it refused to rain.