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That's Some Thanksgiving, All Right

We've had an unexpected death in the immediate family so I'll probably not be posting again until sometime after the first week in December. Thank you for your kind thoughts.

Let Loose the Libertines of War. Or, Not.

We are told that one of the reasons the terrorists hate us is because they think we are, as a culture, irredeemably corrupt. Of course, what the fanatics regard as corrupt, we call a bias toward individual freedoms. They want the power to define society, and people pursuing their own lives, liberties, and particular happinesses is anathema to those who want that kind of power over us. Any totalitarian movement will regard personal freedoms as a sign of cultural corruption.

I watched the news last night, oh boy. The big story was Black Friday -- the purported (but not in fact) biggest shopping day of the year -- the day on which many merchants are finally able to yank their books over the line into the black. The stock market is up 5 or 6 percent over the last month. Yes, lay-offs are coming in the auto industry. Consumer confidence is a bit shaky. A goodly proportion of the population feels the country is heading in the wrong direction.

Nevertheless, life is good. I don't know about you, but I stuffed myself silly on Thursday.

So let me ask you: Do you feel like your country is at war? I certainly don't. It feels to me like most of the rest of the country doesn't either.

We watch the war debate on T.V., we follow the blogs, if you aren't sleeping in late on Sunday mornings, you can catch up on the current state of the argument. But really, it's all shockingly abstract if you stop and think about it for a moment. Shouldn't we here on the homefront be a little discommoded?

What happens when a country gets so big and powerful that it can electively invade and occupy another country, and meanwhile the homefront... well, what homefront?

There are nearly 160,000 American soldiers in Iraq at the moment, and surely the families of those men and women know all too well what it feels like to be on a homefront. But the rest of us? Well. There's that big "day after Thanksgiving" sale at Macy's...

You know what? Maybe we are pretty corrupt. What else can you call a democracy wherein the vast majority of the people don't have the slightest visceral sense that their country is at war? What's the use of having in the hands of the people (through their representatives) the supreme power to declare war if there is no discernible difference between being at war and not being at war? It's like having the power to choose between a Ford and a Mazda, or a Maytag and a Kenmore. Worse, it's like those reprobates who will have sex with anyone, or perhaps anything, simply because it no longer matters to them with whom, or what, they have sex. Anything is better than boredom, after all.

We have become libertines of war. We are free to have war with whomever we want simply because it apparently doesn't make much difference to us anymore if we do.

Come to think of it, as a culture, that makes us pretty god damned corrupt.

Gobble, Gobble

Closed for USan Thanksgiving.

But, quickly, I do want to mention I'm thankful my gluten-free cherry pie came out juuuuusst riiiiiight. Well, it looks good, anyway. Guess we'll find out later this afternoon how it tastes.

Meanwhile, if you are traveling the highways this long weekend, drive carefully. There are some pretty big rigs out there.

So a Guy Walks Into a Bar...

...and he says to the bartender, "Wotta ya got for a guy who had a needle habit in the 70s, found out after he was married that he liked sleeping around with men, found out later he has Hep C and probably is HIV positive, whose long-suffering wife finally left him, and who has spent the last few years in a drug-addled series of polyamorous relationships with a variety of people, most of whom were, like him, using crack?"

The bartender thinks for a moment and says, "Jesus."

The mail today brings a... holiday card, I guess you'd call it. Anyway it has a hand-painted candle on the cover and has been all spangled up with glitter. Inside there are two sets of lyrics -- one from a "Lutheran Sunday School song" circa 1955, the other from a "Baptist Bible Study song", circa 2005. Both songs concern themselves with light. Neatly folded inside the card is another piece of paper. It's one of those "Year in Review" newsletters people send out at holiday time to catch people up.

Therein we find vague references to three brushes with death, and various clues about another series of mystifying, unnamed events. But never mind, the author tells us. There is really only one thing that transpired over the last year that is truly worthy of note. On the third Wednesday in September, in a homeless shelter somewhere upstate, he was ushered into the presence of the Lord Jesus, and his life is now transformed.

Those of you who know me know me to be a pretty irreligious guy. I've toned down much of the rowdy atheism of my youth, but I remain an accomplished unbeliever. Still, these days, my attitude is pretty much: mind your own damned bees-wax and I'll mind mine.

When I started reading this newsletter from this friend I haven't seen in years, I had a creepy feeling I knew what was coming. Kind of like when you can tell with absolute certainty your best friend on the high school swim team is about to tell you he's found out he's a homo.

So when he actually came out with it -- that he'd found Jesus and his life was transformed -- I was expecting I would feel, I don't know... a little exasperated maybe.

But the truth is, I could tell right away I was glad of it. It's not like any of us had much to offer him anymore. Come to think of it, over the years, it never seemed like we had much of anything to offer him. At least not anything he really seemed to want.

So, yeah, it turns out I'm pretty glad he found Jesus. Really. I am. And I hope his life really is transformed by his acceptance of the Lord.

But I still don't want the Ten Commandments parked inside my local courthouse.

I only mention that because that's politics of a sort I particularly object to and what my friend from some years ago just found... that's religion, see? I get the impression some people are still a little confused about the two.

Cri de Coeur

I can't stand reading blogs anymore.

The irony is this comes on a day when Avedon (guesting at Political Animal) renders a wise post on the subject of Democratic politicians not paying enough attention to all the facts available in the leftward blogosphere. She's right, of course. Our guys should stop being so dumb. They are in the business of (supposedly) being informed, after all, so come on Democrats...

But then I feel like a complete phony chiding them for not doing something I can barely bring myself to do anymore. It's funny because I've always been interested in keeping myself well-informed. Naturally, I was pleased when all of these interesting and informative blogs first appeared before my eyes. But I tell you... I can't take it anymore.

I'll get over this, right? Probably I'm just reading the wrong blogs?

I feel like I'm in Commentary Borscht Belt. Even the funny blogs have started to bore the crap out of me. It feels like I'm sitting at the bar, completely shnockered, ordering another scotch and just barely keeping myself from throwing my drink at the hack up there on the stage.

I can't stand myself when I get like this.

You don't have to say it. I know the problem is with me. I had a friend who was diagnosed late in life with ADHD and I thought at the time... well, I'm not as bad as he is, but I do get easily bored by things. I wonder if...?

But, no, I don't think so.

Maybe it's just Ennui? Maybe I am just World Weary?

That sounds all suitably grown-up and everything. I'd rather believe that about myself, no matter how pompous and disgusting it makes me seem, than believe I'm just an obnoxious drunk at the bar, on the verge of getting bounced out of the place for heckling the talent.

But I don't know... maybe while I'm drinking myself under the table ("I'm resting here! Step over me! It's not like I'm charging for the air-rights!") somebody else could figure out a way to be more interesting? Don't look at me. I'm as hackneyed and as echo-chambery and as tedious as the rest of them. If I could make what I have to say more interesting, believe me I would do it.

It's not like what's out there isn't important. And it isn't like a lot of the bloggers aren't perfectly good writers. So that makes me think the problem is elsewhere. In addition to being in me, that is.

People do say the first step in solving your problem is admitting you have one. Okay, so I admit it. I have a problem.

I can barely start a browser anymore for fear I might be tempted to read a blog.

Theater of the Face

One of the good things about living in New York City is that people do a lot of walking, and one of the good things about that is that a whole parade of people end up walking toward you on the sidewalk everyday. This is especially good for guys like me since I have always been a fan of the theater of the human face.

Face theater is what you see when people are playing out some silent drama, either in retrospect or prospect, behind the fourth wall of their minds.

I'm not referring to crazy people railing against their demons. Nor am I talking about people lip-synching to the music in their ear-buds. True theater of the face is what dances across people's mugs as you (surreptitiously) watch them wrestle with life's little antagonisms -- trying to get the subway entrance to accept their Metro Card, or worrying over a wad of cash as the line moves them closer and closer to the cashier.

That is light-weight face drama. Kitchen-sink stuff, really, though I do find it engaging to watch. Even more interesting is when the faces of people walking toward you show clear evidence of scenes being played with bosses, or loved ones, or other people clearly important in the lives of the face-dramatists. This is often very serious stuff. Today a woman passed me on the sidewalk and her face was playing out a quiet drama of such grief that I could hardly bear to watch it.

People say the thing that killed vaudeville, and what brought low a lot of legitimate theater, was the invention and popularity of movies. I mention this because it occurred to me the other day that I have been seeing a lot less face theater lately. I don't know. Maybe I'm crazy, but once this thought occurred to me, I started actively seeking out face theater and it really did seem to be on the wane. I suspect cell-phones. People don't have to act out their sidewalk-scenes behind a personal fourth wall anymore. Got a drama you want to play out with somebody? Get them on your speed-dial. The grace and subtlety of the interior drama disappears in an orgy of "reaching out".

Just think what it would have been like if that woman who passed me today had been playing her drama out on her cell-phone. Not knowing her material, I can't say precisely what my response would have been, but I think I probably would have been embarrassed for her, or at least too ashamed to keep listening.

By attending the theater of her face earlier today, I was recalled to my own sorrows and maybe comforted a bit. There is cathartic value in the private theater of the human face as glimpsed on the street so I hope our precious "reaching out" doesn't eventually kill it deader than the Palace.

Seems unlikely, I guess. But then I never imagined the Beatles would break up, or that endives would make it big.

Year Two, Corpuscular Era

Yes, I've changed the look of the place. I've done it partly because today is this blog's one year anniversary. One year ago today, I posted my first entry.

I will spare you ruminations on the past year. Likewise, I will forgo any discussion of what I might be thinking of doing in the future. If my intentions amount to something (beyond a new paint job), you will see the changes for yourselves. If they don't... Well then, we will all be spared the embarrassment.

So. All that remains now is for me to say "thanks" to all who continue to visit this place. I truly appreciate your ongoing interest and comments.

Sometimes You Forget How Much You Remember

The weather is finally turning consistently cold here in New York City. The leaves are all off now, milling about in the wind, waiting to be raked or swept up. The air this morning is clear and cold. The sun is bright.

It was on a morning just like this one...

Fifty weekends ago, I found out my friend Shannon Hamann had unexpectedly died by means of a terrible accident. Inexplicably, this news about Shannon still seems to be true. That's fifty weekends of my friend being unavailable for comment, as they say. This is unacceptable behavior on somebody's part. Somebody in charge needs to be spoken to. Harshly.

This week, while waiting for some sort of satisfaction on this front from the powers-that-be, I find in my inbox a note from Shannon's mom, Eloise.

Dear Friends of Shannon,

In a little over two weeks it will be the anniversary of Shannon's death.  Over the year we have comforted ourselves by various ways of remembering Shannon.  The Red Cross maintains a website that allows families to set up memorial sites for their loved ones.  Kenn, Heather, and I have set one up for Shannon.  We invite you to visit it and light a virtual candle if you are so inclined.  The website includes many photos from the memorial and gathering afterward at Shannon's favorite local restaurant, Snacky.  http://shannon-hamann.memory-of.com [ed.: sound file plays]

I want to thank you again for your support during a difficult time.  The fact that Shannon had so many friends was comforting to us.  Further, we would never have been able to put together Shannon's memorial and gathering if it hadn't been for all of your help.  We are doing well.  I don't think the pain will ever go away, but we are learning to live with it.  We also know that you miss him.

With warmest regards,
Eloise Hamann

If you knew Shannon, stop by and light a candle for him. Post a memory, or express your condolences.

Lots of pictures to look at. I have to admit they were a little difficult for me to cruise through, but I am glad they are there. They will get easier to look at.

You know... sometimes you forget what you are feeling, way down deep, as you go about your daily business.

I'm reminded again this morning, fifty weekends later: I miss him so much.

O Citizens of the Future!

Tell us, O Chef of the Future, can it core a apple?
- Norton

Good question.

Here's another one: Did Bush lie?

Some of us think he did. Some of us think he didn't.

Know what? I don't really care anymore.

Shut the hell up about whether he lied. That argument will be decided by history, and -- parenthetically -- it will be lost by the Bush Administration. Worrying about it now makes it easier for them to do even more damage to the country.

Having this argument now gives everybody the chance to weigh-in -- influenced mostly by their own inclinations, with both sides pressing arguments that are more than adequate to re-convince those who are already convinced, and nowhere near good enough to convince those who are not.

And so where does that get us? It gets us nowhere near where we need to be. Which is, in my opinion, out of Iraq.

The question is not what was included in the infamous National Intelligence Estimate that members of Congress were shown; the question is what was not included in it. The evidence shows it was cleansed of genuine doubt, and we know now that those elements of genuine doubt were the very reasons we should have had a genuine debate beforehand.

A responsible administration -- an administration of grown-ups, if I may borrow a vaguely familiar phrase -- would not have buried those doubts. It would have had the guts to press them upon us, to press the debate on us, whether we liked it or not.

The important question now is not whether Bush lied. The question is whether the Administration had the guts to promote a genuine debate before the invasion of Iraq. We know now it did not.

Because we know that, we know they failed us, unforgivably.

Yes, and Congress failed us -- and we failed ourselves, too --, at least to the extent that we as a nation did not demand a genuine debate. Yes, many of us spoke up and demanded something better than what we were getting, but the nation as a whole did not.

None of that excuses Bush and his Administration doing all it could to prevent a genuine debate in the first place. They asked to be our leaders. They should have behaved like leaders.

And so, Citizens of the Future, here are some lessons we'd like you to learn from us:

Remember that war is not a T.V. mini-series. It is not a "cake-walk", no matter how many experts tell you it is. Remember that it's never just the war, it's what comes after the war, too.

But all of that is just the prelude to the most important lesson you have to learn from us -- the one you have to learn "truly, madly, deeply", as they say:

If you don't have the debate before you step in it, you are going to have the debate after you step in it, with such added complications as "They lied!", and "They did not!" This post-stepping in it debate will proceed without regard to the new problems you've created for yourselves by mindlessly stepping in it in the first place.

O Citizens of the Future, always ask yourselves: When is the better time to have that debate? Before or after you step in it?

Maybe Bush lied, maybe he didn't. Did he preempt a genuine debate? Without question.

That's it. That's all we need to know for the time being. That's what Bush and the rest of his Administration need to pay for.

Oh, and Citizens of the Future? A favor?

Don't be kind when you write the history of these bastards. Just tell the truth. That should be a sufficient force to damn them to hell.

The Birth of the Goo

Being a celiac, I pretty much have to bake my own bread. If you look hard enough, you can find gluten-free bread in some specialty stores, but I've never found any that was even remotely edible. So, I make my own.

And let's be honest -- it's not really bread. It's kind of an interesting head-fake, but it doesn't have the texture and taste of real wheat bread. Hey. You do the best you can under the circumstances.

The other day, I tried making some french bread and it was a reasonable imitation, but it occurred to me that if I could make sourdough french bread, I could get even closer to the real thing. So I set about trying to find some sourdough starter.

I looked for days through a number of local grocery stores... most of the time the store employees just blinked at me when I asked if they had any sourdough starter. When I finally did find some, it was -- of course -- full of "hard white flour".

Eventually I turned to the web and at long last I found a recipe for making my own starter:

  • 1 package yeast
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar
  • 2 1/4 cups warm water
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 cups bread flour

Dissolve yeast in 1/4 cup warm water. Add sugar, vinegar, salt, flour. Add remaining water until a creamy batter is formed. Place in a glass bowl, cover and let sit until it starts to ferment (about 3 days). It will take on a powerful boozy smell. Stir again until creamy and measure out what is called for in the recipe. Replenish starter with equal amounts of flour and water. Store in fridge and bring to room temperature before using.

Obviously I couldn't use the bread flour, but in a lot of simple recipes you can get away with substituting various gluten-free flours. So, I figured, what the hell, why not try substituting a gluten-free flour mix I picked up from Bette Hagman (2 parts white rice flour, 2/3 part potato starch flour, 1/3 part tapioca flour)?

Unfortunately, by the time I'd added only about half the 2 cups of water, the batter had become more like milk than cream. So, winging it (you do that a lot trying to get gluten-free stuff to work), I just threw in more of the gluten-free flour and less of the remaining water. I'd guess the total amounts ended up being more like: 1 and 1/3 cups warm water, and 2 and 2/3 cups gluten-free flour. That seemed to give it the right "creamy" consistency. (When it comes time to "replenish", my guess is I will have to add about two parts flour to about one part water.)

So, anyway, per the recipe, I threw the whole mess into a glass container, sealed it, and let it sit for three days. After the three days were up, I flipped the lid and -- sure enough -- it had that nice, boozy smell described in the recipe.

So, who the hell knows? Maybe I did it? Maybe I've given birth to some gluten-free sourdough starter. I'll try it out this weekend, see what kind of sourdough bread I end up with.

I have to say that if I really did get it to work, it's going to be particularly gratifying. I can recall being introduced to my grandmother's sourdough starter when I was a little boy. At the time, I think they told me it had been living in gram's refrigerator for something like twenty or thirty years. I was fascinated by the notion that there was this weird creature living in there. Every once in a while, grams would go in and remove some of it, then "feed" it to keep it nice and healthy. I may have imagined it  was a little bit like having some weird, Outer Limits pet in your refrigerator. I may have worried a bit about what it would do if you didn't "feed" it when and how you were supposed to.

So now I have given birth to one of my own. Naturally I'm feeling a little bit paternal at the moment. I look forward to taking "Bud" to Yankee Stadium for the first time, teaching him to ride a bike, and so forth.

Though I think I probably won't be starting a college fund.

What do I have to do to get you into a democracy today?

Y'all know what goodwill is, right?

purchase price - net assets = goodwill

Ha. Fooled ya'. You thought goodwill had something to do with an intention to "do good", didn't you? Well, I'll amend that: you probably thought that if you aren't an accountant or a lawyer.

Think of it this way: Say you want to buy a company, Kooky Kooler, Inc. How much should you pay? First you figure out the value of all its tangible assets -- it's distributorships, the vehicles it owns, all its bottling plants -- then you subtract whatever liabilities it has -- debt or what-all. That gives you, more or less, the net asset value of the company -- let's say in this case $10 million.

So you offer that price hoping that the owners of Kooky Kooler, Inc. are idiots.

Sadly, they're not. They know that their brand name is known and loved worldwide. Their tasty and refreshing product delights billions all over the planet. If you think you are going to get that kind of customer goodwill for a song, then you are the one who is an idiot.

You offered $10 million; the owners of Kooky Kooler say they can't let you have it for less than $100 million. After running the numbers, you decide it's still a steal at $100 million so you crack open the checkbook and happily pay an extra $90 million for something that doesn't tangibly exist anywhere -- except in the hearts and minds of Kooky Kooler's loyal customers.

You know that's supposed to be crazy, but you also know in your gut that it isn't. In fact, it makes perfect sense to you, doesn't it? You know the value of feeling good about a product or the way a company does business with you. If you want a nice lunch, where're you going to go? To the restaurant where the food is lousy and the staff treats you like crap? Or to the one where the food is tasty and the people are cool? You make your choice based on the goodwill you feel toward a particular outfit, or on the badwill you feel for another, and the business that went to the trouble of cultivating your goodwill gets your money. In a competitive environment, customer goodwill can make the difference between staying in business and going, as my daddy used to say, "tits up".

Yep. Goodwill is a big damn deal. Your run-of-the-mill CFO knows that. He even gives it its own column on the company's balance sheet. Or, at least a proper footnote in the annual report.

Thing is, though, it wasn't always that way.

A merchant had sold his stock of goods at a price in excess of their inventory value, and, in selling, had agreed not to set himself up in competition with the business of the purchaser.  He violated his promise, suit was brought against him by the purchaser for damages, and decided in the latter's favor.  Prior to that time contracts in restraint of trade seem uniformly to have been held void and even criminal, and the only case on record in which an English judge is reported to have resorted to profanity in rendering his decision was in the case of a dyer in the year 1417 who had agreed under bond not to practice his craft within the town for a certain period of time.  The bond was declared void and the dyer was absolved by the court from compliance.  So the decisions had uniformly run against agreements in restraint of trade from the year 1417 until, in 1620, this exception was made, thus laying one of the cornerstones of the modern law of goodwill. (Commons, John R., Legal Foundations of Capitalism, Macmillan Company, 1939, pp. 263-64.)

So. Looks like we're coming up on the 400th anniversary of goodwill, at least insofar as it can be bought and sold as a business asset.

It should be obvious by now, if it wasn't before, that goodwill can only exist in a competitive environment. If you as a customer don't have the choice of withholding your goodwill from a company, if that company has no competitors, then your goodwill is utterly without value to that company. That company knows you are going to do business with them whether you like them or not.

When, in 1907, the Consolidated Gas Company of New York, claimed the right to charge its customers a price high enough to earn interest on "goodwill and franchises,"  Justice Hough in the federal court disallowed the claim as respects goodwill, on the ground that the company enjoyed a monopoly in fact, and the customer had no choice except to remain with the company.  And the Supreme Court adopted this view, saying, "The complainant has a monopoly in fact, and a consumer must take gas from it or go without. He will resort to the 'old stand' because he cannot get gas anywhere else."

And Justice Savage, of the Supreme Court of Maine, in a case where a water company had set up a valuation of the goodwill of customers as a valuable asset, said, "Goodwill is inappropriate where there can be no choice.  So far as the defendants' system is 'practically exclusive' the element of goodwill should not be considered." And similarly the Wisconsin court excluded goodwill as assets in the case of a monopoly like that of a water supply. (Ibid, p.270)

There's a movie made back in 1967 named The President's Analyst (1967) starring James Coburn. It's generally pretty bad, but there's some mildly amusing stuff in it about The Phone Company, a reference to a time when our only choice for phone service in this country was Ma Bell. In the film the Phone Company is not, to say the least, presented sympathetically.

I think it is in the nature of human beings to hate monopolies. It isn't so much that we are born with an affinity for the free enterprise system. I think it's more that we are born liking to have things go our way. And we're pretty good at resentment, too, especially when it comes to somebody telling us how it's going to go whether we want things to go that way or not.

Yep, we hate them. But don't take my word for it. Listen to an official spokesman for The Monopoly:

No one likes us.... resentment of our power, hatred of our success has been a staple for decades... The fact is that the world hates us for our wealth, our success, our power. They hate us into incoherence....

Okay, no fair. That's from "To Hell With Sympathy: The goodwill America earned on 9/11 was illusory. Get over it", by Charles Krauthammer (Time, November 17, 2003) As you will have guessed, The Monopoly here is America.

Hey, wait just a darn second, you might say. America isn't a stand-in for monopolies.

The free flow and the open competition of ideas is the heart of our free societies. What a striking contrast this is with those nations of the world where the people have no role but must sit weakly by and wait for a small group of men to conclude their struggle for power behind closed doors and then rule without being accountable to anyone.


General Eisenhower wrote in his personal diary less than a year after the end of the Second World War, "Our most effective security step is to develop in every country where there is any chance or opportunity a democratic form of government. To lead others to democracy we must help actively, but more than this we must be an example of the worth of democracy."


I do not underestimate the capabilities for repression of dictatorships of either the left or the right or the devastating effect of terrorism. But the imperishable democratic ideal and the democratic movement -- these are stronger.


[T]he free competition of ideas at the ballot box is an invitation to stability and flexibility that is so necessary for economic and social progress...

That's Ronald Reagan speaking in November of 1982 to delegates at the Conference on Free Elections.

The business of America is democracy, right? We like "the open competition of ideas". No monopolies here. Well, except we are kind of bossy sometimes. Like as if we don't care about customer goodwill in this marketplace of ideas. Sometimes we even invade countries that aren't even threatening us, which kind of makes it look like we don't care how our product, liberal democracy, looks to other potential customers.

Wait a minute, you may object, you can't treat the world of international politics as if it were the marketplace. You can't rely on the "free flow and the open competition of ideas" to protect us in a dangerous world.

Hey. I'm not the one who says a reasonable price for Kooky Kooler, Inc. is not $10 million. I'm not the one who says it's worth $90 million more, taking into account... goodwill.

That was their idea, the Big Shots, though I certainly agree with it. It comports with everything I know about patronizing my local businesses. It is, in short, true in a fundamentally human way.

Goodwill is big money, so how come it isn't big politics?

Look, I could see invading Afghanistan. That country more or less sponsored the attacks on September 11, 2001. Attacking back made sense to the world, generally speaking. That particular war didn't cost us much goodwill.

But Iraq? Come on. That was our leaders turning us into The Monopoly, and it was us, as a nation, acquiescing. And now Guantanamo? "Black prisons" in unnamed countries? Extraordinary rendition? Torture?

How can you describe that sort of behavior other than it's the sort of thing you'd expect from The Phone Company?

We have become the jerks at The Cable Company who put you on hold for hours when you call for repair. We are the infuriating couldn't-care-lessers who make you take the whole day off to be home when they come, and then they never show up.

But this isn't screwing around, you may say! This is international politics! This is the War on Terrorism! You can't compare the two situations at all!

Well, maybe we could justify acting like The Monopoly if we actually had a monopoly on world politics. But the thing is... we can't even maintain order in a country that was beaten down for a good decade before we went into it. Nobody believes we really have the power to behave monopolistically in this world. We are powerful, but we are nowhere near that powerful.

Whether we like it or not, we are in a marketplace of ideas... just like Ronald Reagan said. So, the thing is... maybe we shouldn't be all that surprised if people take their business elsewhere when we continually behave like we don't care about winning their goodwill.

I didn't think this thought on the morning of September 11, 2001 as I stood there looking up at the burning towers, but I just might think it now:

"Well. Another dissatisfied customer."

All I'm saying is... think about this:

We have a good product. Why do we have to sabotage ourselves by continually alienating our customers?

You can't hold a gun to the heads of your customers and force them to buy your product. Unless you are A Monopoly, of course, but we can already see that we are not that in this world.

Goodwill matters. You know in your gut that it does. Even the Big Shots say it's so.

So why don't they act as if they believe it?

My guess is it's because they are all used to living in a world of no-bid contracts. Who needs goodwill from your customers when your fellow Big Shot is happy to give you, free and clear and without competition, more business than you can possibly care about doing well? Goodwill is a pain in the ass, after all. Why work for it when you can just take what you want without even breaking a sweat?

Unfortunately, what you ultimately end up with then, in a situation like that, is an Enron or a Worldcom or a Tyco.

Me, I'd rather work for an outfit that's likely to stay in business.


If It Was Disco, I'd Laugh

You anti-War-in-Iraq types out there, when was the last time somebody accused you of "preferring Saddam"?

Have you noticed this? This particular hareng rouge has all but disappeared from the catalogue of accusations made against those of us who opposed the war. Now we are merely "nay-sayers", or "blind to all the progress that's been made", or, worst of all, "Democrats".

I was out buying my paper this morning, enjoying the fresh morning air and listening to the news in my earbuds, when somebody on the radio said something, I can't recall what, and it suddenly occurred to me... Jeez, I haven't heard the "I suppose you prefer Saddam" golden-oldie in quite a while. I cannot say I was suffused with nostalgia, the way I might have been if "Goin' Home" by Ten Years After, or "Everyday People" by Sly had suddenly been piped across the airwaves into my head. But still. I remarked upon it.

When I got home, I did a quick Technorati, Google, and Google News search on the phrase "prefer Saddam". Technorati had a number of hits, all a couple of months old. Google had some out-of-date classics including this golden oldie, but there wasn't one hit on Google News.

Of course the "I suppose you prefer Saddam" shtick was never anything other than a vacuous distraction, but still... it had a spectacular albeit brief run there for a while. Like Edsels, or Pet Rocks, or Duck's Ass haircuts. Certainly there are some, well, dead-enders out there who have made hobbies, more or less, out of these minor blips in our cultural history. I'm sure that every once in a while, you'll still come across some variation on "I suppose you prefer Saddam", like some decoupaged, Bake-o-lite purse in a second-hand store down some back street. But for the most part it's gone.

I wonder why? Maybe it's a bit like est, or Jonathan Livingston Seagull, or Neil Sedaka. They all seemed like such good ideas at the time, you know.

Or maybe it's just one more entry in the brief history of bullshit. Well, it isn't so much that the history of bullshit is short. No, its history is long and inglorious. It's more that every instance of bullshit has a relatively short shelf-life. Reality has this unfortunate habit of intruding on bullshit, you see, as most of us can testify.

You'd think that, after a while, as a species we'd get better at this sort of thing... sniffing out bullshit, I mean. I don't know why more people can't just trust their noses. If it smells like bullshit, then it is. C'mon already. What else do you need to know about life?

Start trusting your nose, fer Christ's sake. We'd all be a lot better off if you did.

Waiting for the Light

Waiting for the light to change, I look south, down Second Avenue. This is the same view I marveled at on the evening of September 11, 2001. Back then the sky over lower Manhattan was filled from the horizon up to about 45 degrees with a wall of smoke.

Today though the sky is a bright mid-day blue for most of the view down Second. There is a flow of high clouds coming up from the south. The tops are white, lit by the noontime sun, low in the sky these days. It's one of those rough gatherings of clouds, disordered, the leading edge looking like a piece of torn French bread.

The flow is solid and wide, stretching almost to the horizon, then a break of blue sky, then the leading edge of another disordered flow coming up over the edge of the Earth, God knows how many miles away.

At that particular moment, it's not hard for me to imagine how people long ago began to suspect there was a whole other world up there. Call it "heaven" or what-all, but at a moment like that it does feel possible you are peering across a gulf of time and space into some world that is impossible for you to visit just now. You may get there when you die. You may not. In any case, it seems an attractive place to a guy standing quietly on a street corner, his feet planted on the pavement, waiting for the light to change. It seems so high up and so far away. It must be a wonderful place compared to the sorry world we live in -- friends lost, opportunities wasted, lives dribbled or snatched away.

On occasion, I don't mind imagining a better place somewhere up there above those clouds. And anyway, you can't really help the sensations that come to you. This sensation, undeniable at the time, is that there is a place up there where people go when they die. I recall a famous scene from a famous film (the name of which I cannot now remember) wherein a cheery band of soldiers waves at us from its new place in the sky. I'm obviously not the only one who -- in the presence of such clouds -- has sensed another world up there.

I know it isn't there, of course. People can't live on top of clouds. Anybody who has fallen out of an airplane that's been blown up in mid-air could tell you that. If they could still talk after they hit the ground, I mean.

I suppose it's a sort of natural poetry, the distance between ourselves and the world up there standing in for the distance between ourselves and the dead. A particularly visceral metaphor on an autumnal afternoon, I must say. That distance, that better world up there, feel as real as a magnificently turned phrase.

Dead soldiers in the sky. It beats them not being anywhere at all, I guess.

All that bravery, all that foolishness, all that beauty, all those lifetimes never lived... it's no wonder we can sense that other world up there above the clouds. It's too painful to feel much of anything else, I think, and a flow of high clouds coming up from the south into a bright autumnal sky really is such a magnificent sight. Like all poetry, it's a translation. It makes you believe for a moment you can fly.

Ethical Refreshment Among the Bush Bonobos

"Your attendance at one of these sessions is mandatory. [...] The counsel's office will ask office leaders to ensure that each of their employees has signed up to attend a session. There will be no exceptions," read the memo sent to staff last Friday. [...] Three sessions will be held Tuesday for senior staff with security clearances. Neither President Bush nor Vice President Dick Cheney will attend the sessions.
- FOX News, 8-Nov, 2005

Tuesday, 9:00 a.m. - Troup enters auditorium. Much generalized anxiety evident in the members. Many earnest but generally fruitless rump presentations toward Painter. Addington produces and displays a piece of paper. Much generalized distress throughout troup. Harriet charges aggressively. Addington flees but is intercepted and stopped by Scotty. Addington crouches, solicits oral-genital contact with Scotty who acquiesces. Harriet surreptitiously lifts the paper from Addington's grip, quickly retreats then makes great show of tearing the paper into pieces. Troup celebrates. Many random couplings. Andy presents to Scotty who mounts him. Karl sulks in corner, but then is noticed by Scotty who breaks off from Andy and charges Karl aggressively. Karl shrinks, cries out for help but none is forthcoming. He presents to Scotty who mounts him. Harriet and Andy join Scotty and "press their own grievances" with Karl who duly submits. Tension in troup greatly reduced. Food sharing behaviors. Many nap.

9:55 a.m. - Observation concludes.

That Is Some Buggin' Out

Last night I attended a lecture at the Rose called "New Horizons: Mission to Pluto". The speaker was Richard P. Binzel, Professor of Planetary Science, M.I.T.

From the hand-out:

New Horizons is the first mission to the ninth planet -- the initial reconnaissance of Pluto and its satellite Charon, continuing on into the Kuiper Belt at the outer frontier of our solar system. With a launch planned for January 2006, New Horizons reaches Pluto in 2015, becoming the first exploration of a 'new' planet since Voyager nearly 30 years ago.

Of course, the 2015 arrival date depends on exactly when in the launch window they get to go. The primary window is January 11, 2006 to February 14, 2006. If they fit the launch into the first 23 days of the window, they'll swing by Jupiter and get a spectacular gravity assist that will get them to Pluto by 2015. If they're forced to wait for a launch opportunity in the last 12 days of the window, they'll have to do without the Jupiter slingshot and instead head straight to Pluto... which adds 4 years to the mission. I guess that's called getting there the Easy Way, or the Hard Way.

But here's what astonishes me.

On launch day, the little craft -- about the size of a Mini Cooper -- will be sitting atop a mighty Atlas V (v. 551) rocket and when she finally goes, man, she is going to be buggin'. She'll cross the moon's orbit just 3 hours after lift-off!

Hope she's got seat-belts and an airbag.

After the lecture, we had a bite to eat, then I copped a downtown #1 train at 72nd. Sitting across from me, a guy was studying a script and practicing his lines silently but expressively. A few feet away from him, some skater dude was gnawing open-mouthed on a slice of pizza and sucking a can of Coke. The script guy kept glancing at the skater guy. I couldn't figure out if he was annoyed at all the smacking/munching noises, or if he wanted to go out with the guy.

In between worrying myself about that, I kept thinking: "In the time it takes me to get home tonight, New Horizons would be 1/3 of the way to the Moon."

And that, dear children, is the difference between our lives and the lives of Spacemen.

How to Cite This Blog

A reader writes to inquire how he should cite an article from this blog in the bibliography of a paper he is writing. I think I want it to go this way, using my article "Brand New Gay Stereotype, Gratis" as an example:

thecorpuscle.com (2005). "Brand New Gay Stereotype, Gratis", April 8, 2005, retrieved on [insert article retrieval date] from https://thecorpuscle.com/2005/04/brand_new_gay_s.html

Oh, and if you cite me in a paper you are writing, I'd love it if you emailed me a copy. I'm so vain, I probably think your paper's about me.

In Memory

May 2006

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