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Ritter and Hersh

If you are able to pull in the American cable channel  C-SPAN2 (otherwise known as "Book-TV") and you can manage to get to it  at 10:00 p.m. Eastern Time tonight (Sunday, October 23), there will be a repeat broadcast of a discussion with Scott Ritter and Seymour Hersh. I caught most of it this afternoon. It started out as "a show on in the background", then it became "interesting", and then it became "gripping" -- in the manner these things do as you realize you are listening to people who know and care about their topic. You should watch this, or tape it, or Tivo it for later viewing, or something. Sadly, there doesn't seem to be any online file available for viewing.

*Sigh*... it's at times like this that I wish I'd cultivated a wider readership for this blog. This is an important broadcast, in my view. I hope a great many others get to see it.



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My Cat Will Never Write A Poem

I am hardly the mystic type. People who know me think of me as more of a science guy. Nevertheless, the other evening I was reading my way through a book by a fellow who is clearly regarded by others as a mystical person. A friend of mine -- himself a moderately mystical person -- is thinking about a project based on this fellow's work and so I was curious to read some of it. I'm not mentioning the fellow's name or the title of the work I was reading for fear of jinxing my friend's project even before he starts a-bornin' it.

So I'm reading along, the classical music station playing in the background, when the part of my brain assigned to handling musical input informs me that I'm listening to Saint-Saëns' organ symphony. My brain is thrown into a panic. All reading systems shut down and all available power is switched over into my listening engines. That piece of music is so delightful, all resistance is futile.

As I listen, I note my cat is nestled near my feet on the sofa. His head is up, as if he's paying attention rather than snoozing, but his eyes are closed. By all appearances, he adores this piece of music as well. Except, of course, I'm pretty sure he doesn't.

I play all sorts of music, and by all outward signs my cat just takes all this noise for granted. I think my cat is a pretty smart guy, but even I can't believe he actually understands the science of digital audio reproduction equipment. I think he must assume that what I think of as "my music" is just another part of the environment he lives in. It's just a part of this world that he moves through and doesn't bother to explain to himself. Well... "doesn't bother"... it's not really a cat's job to explain the world to itself, is it? If something moves quickly across a cat's field of view, it's his job to catch it and eat it. If the thing looks like it might be a good meal, it's his job to sneak up on it and pounce. It isn't his job to wonder why water is falling on him when it rains, nor why he has to squint his eyes against the October winds.

All that stuff just is as far as he's concerned. And this noise that occasionally issues forth into his world -- this noise I think of as "my music" -- well, that just is, too. Where does his food come from? Well, I give it to him. That's all he knows. He doesn't wonder where I get it. I just, you know, have it, and then I give it to him. He takes a dump in his box. That just is. I doubt he wonders why he has this odd feeling inside his gut; he just knows that when he does, he goes to his box and produces a dump. Does he ask why poop comes out of him? Does he connect the food I give him to his dump?

These are not questions cats ask. How do I know? I'm supposedly a science guy. How do I know my cat doesn't connect the food I give him with the poop he produces?

Because he's never written a poem about it, that's why.

So I'm listening to this gorgeous, utterly delightful piece of music, and I'm watching my cat listening to it as well, and so I go ahead and ask him: "What do you think, Jeff? You like this piece?"

He moves his head in my direction, slightly, without even bothering to open his eyes.

I know he has no opinion. He has no opinions about anything, really. He has food that he likes. He has birds that he likes to kill. He likes to bring me little baby mice still wriggling in his mouth. But he doesn't really have much to say about any of that. These are not things that require opinions of him; they just are. They are not subject to analysis. They do not demand his insight. There are no poems he needs to write about them.

I glance down at the book sitting open on my lap. It's about all sorts of things I don't think about much. It's about ways of being alive that I don't particularly give much credence to. In fact, I don't really connect much of any of it to my own way of being alive.

I cope with reading this book -- that is, I maintain my interest in it -- by allowing myself to view it as a kind of poetry. Or -- better put -- I think about it the same way I think about ghost stories. I don't believe in ghosts, but I love ghost stories because they can be such powerful metaphors for what it means to be a living being. Ghosts are about longing, and regret, and pain, and love. There's nothing like a really good ghost story to fill you in on what it means to be alive. And so, more or less, I adapt this way of thinking to the book I'm reading now. I don't necessarily have to believe in God to believe in something called God's love.

But sitting there on my sofa with my cat, listening to Saint-Saëns, it occurs to me that I could be just as stupid about the things in my world as my cat is about the things in his. That noise isn't just noise, you foolish cat, that is music. It means something. It doesn't just inexplicably exist, you know. It's Saint-Saëns.

And so I resolve to wonder about "noise" the way my cat does not. I'd have to be an idiot -- in short, I'd have to be my cat -- to think that there isn't more to be experienced in this world than what I've experienced myself, or that there aren't other ways to understand those things I think I already understand.

Finally, just to be perfectly fair to my cat... I tried writing poetry once. A long time ago. Based on the evidence I think it is safe to say neither one of us has the complete trick of it. He was blessed with the poet's powers of observation (especially at night) and I got the reflective (especially at night) nature. We might have amounted to something, someday, if we'd been born into the same person. As it is, the best he can manage is a concise poop or the occasional overproduced hairball. Meanwhile, the best I can do is this blog.

I Feel So Dirty

Not two days after I complain about American Democracy being an Electric Football game, I get a phone call. The guy on the other end says he's from Gallup.

The first thing you should know about me is that I never take polls. I don't explain when they call. I just say, "Sorry, I don't do polls" and then I hang up. I haven't taken a poll in years, on any subject.

Until tonight.

What can I say? The guy had a cute voice. (Note to Telemarketers: only hire people with cute voices.) But more than that... well, maybe not more than that, but close... I'd just heard about a poll this morning on Bush and the Republicans and it was sweet. Finally, the American public is getting a clue about these bastards.

So, I thought... maybe I could get a little of this action? What if they ask me what I think about the things that matter to me? What if answering the guy with the cute voice's questions makes me feel, you know, involved or something? Maybe even important? But most of all, what if I could add my little opinion turdlet to the steaming pile of crap that's burying these people? Oh, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes...

As always, I played hard to get.

"How long will this take?"

Eight minutes, he told me.

Heh. Eight minutes. Where have I heard that one before? "Please? C'mon... It'll only take eight minutes, I promise." Yeah, right.

So, anyway, call me a slut if you want. I don't care. And anyway, a line delivered in a cute voice is a hell of a lot different than a line delivered in just your regular, run-of-the-mill voice. It's not the same thing at all. If you think it is, then you don't know nothing.

And no, you don't need to know the details. All you need to know is that... it was good. It was very, very good. Well, at least it was for me. He seemed to enjoy himself, but I guess you'd have to ask him about that. Not for me to say.

My favorite part was when he read me the list of "public figures" and asked whether my opinion of them was favorable or unfavorable. It was sweet. So, so sweet. He knew just the right names to read... yum... in that yummy voice of his...

Of course it took longer than eight minutes, but then I knew it would. Heh. I wasn't complaining. He even told me he might call back later, to ask me "follow-up" questions.

I pretended indifference.

He loves it when I play the coquet.

Game Theory

As always, a day late and a dollar short.

Yesterday --

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has decided to award the Bank of Sweden Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel, 2005 [i.e., 'The Nobel Prize in Economics'. These things are sponsored now? Like American sports stadiums? - ed.], jointly to Robert J. Aumann Center for Rationality, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel and Thomas C. Schelling Department of Economics and School of Public Policy, University of Maryland, College Park, MD, USA, "for having enhanced our understanding of conflict and cooperation through game-theory analysis".

I should've written all this up before -- my own "game theory", I mean -- so I could have been in competition for this year's Prize, but (1) I didn't think another gamer could win it after Russell Crowe won his "game theory" prize in 1994, and (2) I didn't come up with my theory until this morning.

So, I guess I'll get it all down now, in the hope lightning will eventually strike thrice.

The Game

Most little American boys of a certain age, and some little American girls probably, especially if they had brothers, are familiar with a contraption that began appearing under Christmas Trees all over this country sometime in the late 1940s, early 1950s. The wrapped package would have been maybe three feet long, maybe two feet wide, and a few inches high. Once you and your brother finished shredding the wrapping paper, tearing it away from the box and flinging the handfuls of paper over your shoulder, you would find yourself gaping in awe at your new treasure:

(To my astonishment, this thing is still going strong. Do a Google search on "electric football".)

The idea is this: you and your "opponent" set up your 11 "players", one side on "offense", the other side plays "defense". You cram a little football-shaped piece of felt under the arm of one of the men in the offensive backfield. You throw a switch and the room is filled with this incredibly aggravating droning buzz, the "field" begins vibrating, the little men slide around in some incomprehensible pattern until one of the defensive "players" bumps into the "ball carrier", or he goes out of bounds, or crosses the goal line (either yours or the other guy's). Once one of those outcomes has occurred, you turn the switch off and reset the "player's" on your "team" for the next "play".

That's it. That's the whole god-damned game. You can't believe how lame this thing is. And yet, at the same time, you can't believe how popular this thing was (and, I guess, still is).

I don't recall ever really caring all that much about the game. Well, I wanted to win and everything, and I would set my men up with the intention of "gaining ground" and eventually scoring a touchdown. But, I mean, come on. Once you flipped the switch, it was chaos. The fun was in how stupid and pointless the entire exercise was. I remember myself and various of my opponents rolling on the carpet in my bedroom, laughing our asses off. Talk about easily entertained.

Electric Democracy

But only this morning did it occur to me how much of the Republic's decline can be explained by the appeal of this "game".

At election time, we set up the players on our side, and the other side sets up its players. We flip the switch. An incredibly loud, irritating noise fills the room. The players wander around the "field". In the end, more or less accidentally, one of a number of chaotic outcomes occurs. (Note: as in the real Electric Football, sometimes you can get away with influencing outcomes by surreptitiously tilting the "field".) Then we reset the field and throw the switch again.

To be sure, there are many who still care about issues, who make it a practice to get their news and who care about getting it from reliable sources -- people who take their civics lessons seriously and who know a genuine democracy relies on the people keeping themselves informed and thinking.

And yet what we have is Electric Democracy.

I can't account for it, really, anymore than I can account for the popularity of this incredibly pointless "game" of Electric Football. As I say, the only thing I can think of by way of an explanation is that it's good for laughing your ass off at the stupidity of it all. On your bedroom floor, when you are 11 years old, that sort of thing is not just harmless, it's more or less your job to be hopelessly entertained by incredibly stupid things. So, you know, cool.

But ever since its introduction just after the war, this "game" has apparently turned into some sort of respectable civics lesson for young Americans. This is how you run a democracy. Set up your men and flip the switch. I don't think it was ever anyone's intention to have things turn out that way, but it's certainly the way they have.

OK, fine, but come on. You're not 11 anymore. Turn that god-damned thing off and go outside and play in the sunshine for a while, will ya? Jesus. You're driving me nuts.

I Matter!

Wait... didn't all New Yorkers get at least one of these in their mailbox last week?

Dear Potential Victim of Impending Terrorist Attack:

We here at al-Qaeda know how many widespread-death-and-destruction options you have in today's dangerous world so we would like to take a moment just to thank you for choosing to live in New York City, one of our prime metropolitan targets. Your faceless death is important to us! Once again, thank you for choosing New York City.

Terror Distribution Division

And then a day or two later:

Dear Pending National Hero:

We here at the Military-Industrial-Political Complex know how many dying-in-the-name-of-freedom options you have in today's dangerous world so we would like to take a moment just to thank you for choosing to live in New York City, one of our prime promotional event venues. Your heroic death is important to us! Once again, thank you for choosing New York City.

Military-Industrial-Political Complex
Horror Marketing Division

Parenthetically, I do think they might have chosen separate direct-mail houses. But, whatever. It's not as if we aren't used to this sort of thing from major corporations and the like. Yes, the sentiments are manufactured, but still... I admit I do appreciate the effort. In the old days, the marketers were pleased to settle for the "DMV Model" wherein we all just stood in line and our custom was taken for granted. Now they at least  pretend to appreciate us.

And I guess it works even though we know it's just a marketing technique -- otherwise they wouldn't bother. It's not like these guys are in business to lose money, after all. They know we all need to belong somewhere, somehow. They know we all long for meaning and focus in our lives. Back in the day, we had to settle for screwball philosophers and fruitcake teachers to guide us on our way. Now we get it through direct-mailings and commercial brand-name advertising. Much more efficient, and a much better fit with our busy lifestyles.

So! You're welcome, guys! Lemme know if there's anything else I can do, or believe, or buy!

On account of... I wanna be on your team!

Perform A Fuck-Reboot

You ever get to the point to where the world just makes you want to vomit?

Yeah, that's right... I haven't been around here much. That's on account of I had to go off and deal with an overwhelming urge to vomit.

Fortunately, I've never really been the depressive type. In fact, I hardly ever get depressed, even when the world is going the way it's going now. Instead, I mostly just get disgusted. There's really nothing useful to be said under such circumstances, nothing to be done, and I suppose if I wasn't some sort of weirdo or something I'd do something normal like get all passive and depressed and all, but that's not usually what I do.

What I usually do is go off in search of various sexual adventures.

Healthy? Well, I suppose it depends on your definition of "healthy". If I played unsafely, which I don't, you certainly couldn't call it healthy. If I physically or emotionally or psychologically endangered myself with my play, you certainly couldn't call that healthy either. But I generally take steps to keep untoward things from happening to me. So, mostly it ends up just being mindless fucking or some other sort of harmless sexual play.

Here's one thing I can say for it -- at least it doesn't pretend to be anything other than what it is. And if there are any lies told in the middle of it all, they are almost always the sort of lies that edge you toward the truth.

But in fact I generally don't lie about any of it. Can't afford to, really. Any lie I could make up, I probably couldn't live up to. So... just tell the god-damned truth and take the consequences. The whole idea is to be easy and simple, after all.

But at the same time, I really don't care if somebody lies to me about any of it. I've been around long enough to pretty much smell a lie when somebody lets a big rancid one. In this particular arena, they rarely matter. I find myself more interested in why I'm being lied to, rather than the content of the lie itself. I mean, it's a lie, isn't it? What the hell difference does its content make? The more viscerally interesting question is why the person feels compelled to lie about something as plain and simple as sex-fuck-play in the first place.

I think everybody, the whole country maybe -- probably even the whole world -- should just go off somewhere and fuck itself silly for a while. Sort of a fuck-reboot, I guess you might say.

They tell us we're not supposed to do that sort of thing, you know.

Heh. Reason enough to do it, in my book.

And hell, pay somebody for it, if you want, or if you think you don't have the skills or the "goods" to get some  of it on your own. There's no shame in that. We're all just commodities anyway. I think the best thing to do is just accept that notion -- embrace it even. It's a truth about you as a human being, at least as far as the world is concerned, and you can't really fight it. The world, after all, is so much bigger than you are.

So, yeah, embrace it. And once you have accepted your commodity status in this world -- once you don't have to have that argument with the world anymore -- you can get back to work on your own definition of who you are. Once you've admitted to the world that, yes, you know you aren't anything more than what you can contribute to the economy, then the world will go away and leave you alone for a while.

And when it does, you can get back to work on your secret self. That part of you that you keep separate from the world. That part of you that the world can't have just because you are resolved to not let the world have it.

The world really hates it when you do that, believe me. It's why it doesn't want you going off every once in a while and having a fuck-reboot. Fuck-reboots give you funny ideas.

Like, you know, you are some sort of human being or something.

In Memory

May 2006

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