June 08, 2007

The agony of Paris Hilton

 Party Like It's 1999
Paris, in a happier moment.

I honestly think I'm in danger of taking things a little too seriously. I blog, and sometimes bloog, about the Iraq war, Bush's non-species-specific intelligence quotient, global warming, while leaving alone those issues that strike closer to home, that define who we are as a people. I speak, of course, of Paris Hilton. There is something pretentious about refusing to engage with her crisis, I see that now. I think I'm too good for all that. Clearly this is an illusion. I'm no better than anyone else; refusing to devote blog space to Paris Hilton, and her ongoing agony, is an act of arrogance. The Sheriff's Department, in transporting Paris from court to jail, from jail to West Hollywood home, from home to court, from court back to jail...the law men can barely do their job because of the crush of paparazzi and reporters. There's a reason for that. People want to know what's going on with Paris Hilton, and they want to know because of who Paris Hilton is. She's Paris Hilton. She's famous for being Paris Hilton, and has been for quite some time.

I've gone to Google and put Paris's name in the browser, then hit Images. I did this because I kept hearing the name, the name "Paris Hilton." There are some amazing pictures of Paris Hilton. Some might make good plates in an obstetrics and gynecology textbook. In the above photo, Paris is dancing in Miami Beach on New Year's Eve. A continent away from the Lynnwood lockup, of course, and I would surmise Paris had two or three hundred of her closest friends at the disco with her. Including someone named Nicole, who may be Paris's sister. If I weren't such an insufferable intellectual snob, I would know for sure. There are millions of Americans, in other words, who know more about Paris's life than I do. At the lockup, Paris is in solitary confinement. She apparently freaked out right away. This is not an uncommon reaction in anyone who is confined. If I had a chance to talk to Paris, and I really wish I did, I would tell her that the first two or three days of her stretch will be traumatic, then she'll settle into the routine and it won't be so bad. Then she can make another fortune giving interviews about the ordeal of being in stir, but first she has to endure that initiation.

It's odd, to say the least, that the Sheriff's Department suddenly took Paris out of a court-ordered jail stretch and drove her to her house in West Hollywood. From what I've been able to gather, however, Paris is actually quite charming, and even though the pundits who take themselves way too seriously (the way I used to be before I loosened up and became a regular guy) talk about how "scrawny" she is, and horsey-faced, I think she's kind of cute, and I'll bet the Sheriffs do too. Plus, I have a feeling Paris really raised a ruckus in that jail. Once that nervous breakdown started to come on, when she realized there would be no sushi or Dom Perignon in her "room," and she was actually supposed to sleep on that mattress and pee in that toilet...I'll bet things got just a little shrill. But what am I doing now? See, I'm slipping into that arch, above-it-all tone, just like all the cable news guys who pretend they're not fascinated by the life and times of Paris Hilton. Do they think Paris Hilton became famous for no reason? That's silly; she became famous, a celebrity, because she's Paris Hilton.

Claustrophobia, which Paris is enduring again right now, as I write this (I can barely stand to think about it - when will it end?), must be especially acute for her. (Paris, reading this, thinks I just called her cute again.) Paris is used to having lunch in the West End, continuing by Gulfstream to Milan to pick up a skirt (total square inches: 14), and then finishing up at a disco in her namesake city. Given the contrast between life before and after incarceration, maybe Paris has already done enough time, in terms of relative deprivation of freedom. See, that's why Paris Hilton is such a staple of People magazine and dinner-hour cable news. Paris is a very privileged young woman who uses all those privileges. We can identify with her, because secretly we know that most of us would behave the same way with all that money, glamor and access. We wouldn't spend our time like Princess Diana, making the rounds of all the land mine victims and disease hotspots. We're just as frivolous as Paris Hilton. Go ahead and call her a disco-dancing, jet-setting, coke-snorting, magnum-swilling, bed-hopping airhead celebutard. She's got a quick riposte for you (it's like "put-down," Paris): I'm Paris Hilton and you're not.

I'll probably write a lot more about Paris Hilton, now that I'm into it. Maybe a legal analysis of the fairness of her sentence. Too lenient? Too heavy, as the judge sought to make a point about equal justice? Or maybe this blog is it. It took about 15 minutes to write. That's all the fame Paris should have had, logically and according to Andy Warhol, but there appears to be no end in sight. This jail stretch is just what Entertainment Tonight was praying for.

June 07, 2007

Bush in Germany with the Adults

Let me say at the outset that I am generally sympathetic to Americans when they mix it up with the Eurodogs. The patronizing condescension of those descendants of barbarians who gave us the Inquisition, the Holocaust, both World Wars, and even slavery can be difficult to bear at times. They regard us as uncouth, unsophisticated, uncultured. To which I always reply: what's your point? Still, the idea of Bush at Heiligendamm...how many more of these things will he attend? It's excruciating to observe and listen to the reports of his "participation" at these confabs. I think we tend to judge his performance, at this point, by the avoidance of truly humiliating gaffes. E.g., will he grope Angela Merkel? Will he try to walk through a locked door, as he did in Asia? Will he run down and injure a cop while riding his bicycle, as he did in Scotland? Will he barf all over a prime minister, as his father did? The current fear is that he might get into a fist fight with Vladimir Putin.

As I say, there can be something heartwarming about an American proving his mettle against European snobs. Take "Casablanca," for example, where Rick Blaine, dismissed as a "bumbler" by Nazi Major Strasser, outwits everyone and proves himself more noble than any of his presumptuous Continental betters, earning the ultimate accolade from the leader of the Resistance, Victor Laszlo: "Welcome back to the fight. This time I know our side will win." Yep, there was an American who snapped out of his alcoholic stupor and rose to the occasion. Bush, meanwhile, didn't even wait till he got to Germany before he started screwing up.

Consider his "position" on global warming. Angela Merkel, bless her heart, wanted to use the G-8 to hammer out an agreement in principle that the industrialized countries would reduce CO2 emissions by 50% by the year 2050. So that No President Is Left Behind, let me do the math for L'il Georgie, our "special" President. That's 43 years from now. You'll be dead by then, George, and so will I. What terrible thing would happen if we agreed to this framework? We've got 43 years to work with. At least 10 presidential election cycles, at least 20 congressional elections. 43 years. 43 years ago, how many people were blogging from their dens using the internet? How many hybrid cars were on the road? How many cell phones were in operation worldwide? Do you think the world might be radically different 43 years from now? Do you imagine that unheard-of technologies will exist to deal with carbon emissions 43 years from now? Bush says that he can't agree to "binding" caps on CO2 because India and China are not on board. First of all, is it just me or does anyone else think that there is no connection whatsoever between Bush's counterproposal for "aspirational" CO2 goals to be set someday out there in the future at some other meeting and his problem with India and China? How are the two logically connected? How is a meeting someday in 2008 to discuss aspirational goals with the same people who are already in Germany, ready to talk now, a solution to the problem of India and China's noncompliance?

Sometimes I'm tempted to think Bush is an idiot, to tell you the truth. If Rick Blaine were in Heiligendamm, I think he would finesse the matter this way. Go ahead and agree in principle to the carbon reductions Angela Merkel proposes. Some way or other, between now and 2050, we'll get there. We have to get there. This agreement is itself aspirational. We don't know for certain whether it will be met or exceeded. We might arrive in a world of 2050 where the only CO2 emissions are from natural oxidative processes. But it does provide this leverage: if India and China don't agree to the same mandatory restrictions, then the G-8 nations, operating as a bloc, have leverage to enforce their compliance. Because their compliance is essential to a viable ecosphere. Such leverage is completely absent from a purely "aspirational" bullshit session in which Bush runs out the clock on his Presidency while proving only that no one, ever, in Germany or in Crawford, Texas, can ever make him do something smart he doesn't want to do.

Oh hell, George. Go ahead and walk into a wall.

June 04, 2007

Grand Unified Theory of American Politics

Or: It's my blogsite and I'll rant if I want to.

But admit it. Down deep (if not at the surface, where it drives everyone else nuts), you've got it all figured out. The proliferation of personal blogs is testament to this tendency. I believe it's healthy, for it was obvious to me that the Establishment was not getting the job done. Indeed, that is my thesis. The Establishment has become irrelevant to the actual human condition. It is no longer ameliorative, it is not responsive, it is not anything but a money-making racket. Do I overstate my case? Actually, I think I understate the case. Everyone writing a blog, for the most part (not the ones dedicated to different ways of making zabaglione - maybe), are figuratively that character in "Network," the TV executive who realizes (in Paddy Chayevsky's brilliant formulation) that everything is corrupt and are shouting out their (virtual) windows, "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore."

The country is at that brink. Something like 3 or 4 people in the nation "approve of the job the Congress is doing." In effect, everyone hates all of them, all the time. This represents sound judgment. For example, if we were to schematically represent the "range" of viewpoints of all these tiresome people "running" for President (at a point some 17 months before the actual election), we might do it this way: Suppose using the x-axis only we were to group all the "plans" and "initiatives" along this horizontal line, with the "liberal" ideas toward the left and the "conservative" ideas toward the right. Let us confine all the data points which these "ideas" represent to the ordinates 0 through 10. A dark cluster of points, I submit, would be found around the 7.5 mark. You would find nothing to the left of 5, and nothing to the right of 9. This squashing of "acceptable" ideas is what Noam Chomsky termed "manufacturing consent." It is a bias toward the conservative, the "reasonable," the usual, the already-done-that.

In this world, a proposal by a Presidential candidate to actually cut the military budget, by any amount, would be considered radical. The debate is about how much to increase the budget; a "liberal" might say, "Well, how about 3%?" The conservative, after branding the liberal a seditious insurgent, would decry this "starving" of the defense establishment which will make America "less safe." The medical care system is broken. If one-sixth of the populace has no medical insurance now, about 50 million, it is a matter of time (and not much) before the diverging lines of cost (upward) and people who can afford insurance (downward) will double this number, so that 100 million people, a full third, will be uninsured and effectively shut out of all but emergency care. The United States, at the federal level, is doing absolutely nothing about global warming. All it does is talk. The candidates offer tepid ideas about how to "approach" it. No one has the guts to discuss how draconian, how radical the adjustments in American life really have to be to deal with the problem. The nation is bankrupt. The federal government is simply printing money and issuing phony statistics to hide the resulting inflation (it doesn't include "food" or "fuel" in the calculation - do you ever need those?) and devaluation of the dollar. It borrows money like your drug addict relative with the get-rich-quick scheme. It borrows money to continue a stupid war that both parties lack the courage to simply shut down, $100 billion the last go-round, all of it made possible by money the Chinese recycle to us to keep us afloat.

While the government spends $8 billion per day for all its farflung operations (literally: $2.9 trillion/365 days) and never says no to a call to "support the troops," it has let Amtrak die a slow death by refusing, a few years ago, to appropriate the $2 billion its new and enthusiastic director said was essential to revitalize the railroad. Not $2 billion a year, or $2 billion every week, as with Iraq, but on a one-time basis. No, let's drive cars. Big cars with shitty mileage, in fact. The Republocrats run a kind of "guided democracy" of the kind we thought was so laughable in Mexico when the PRI could not be dislodged. Or when the Politburo held sway in the Soviet Union. Options within a narrow bandwidth are considered "reasonable," even if they cannot possibly get the job done, because they satisfy vested interests and are consistent with the psychology of previous investment.

The blogosphere has already produced some "Establishment" sites, such as the Huffington Post, which are mainly propaganda organs for the Democratic Party. Arianna Huffington has produced, in fact, an on-line 'Zine, and its commercial trappings are now smothering its once daring and subversive fire. She must have figured out how to make money, a lot of it, with the site. Once that happens, of course, the radicalism is scaled back. One must not disturb the other passengers on the Titanic. The Democrats, who are doing nothing, are the temporary beneficiaries of Republican revulsion. The Republicans, unchecked, were so bad that the nation mistook the Democrats for avenging heroes. They're not at all. They never make any real noise about the Constitutional atrocities committed by George W. Bush. A few hearings, a speech now and then at a Congressional session. Impeachment is too "radical." Restoration of habeas corpus or the Bill of Rights is too "radical." Ending a dumb and ruinous war is too "precipitous." National healthcare is too "socialistic." Joining the rest of the civilized world in dealing with carbon dioxide emissions is too "green."

Legislators in Washington, D.C. live in an insulated world where they make a decent living, receive the best medical care, have large staffs to do the work, and can flaunt power in feckless ways. They are most drawn to issues which have no impact on the real life of Americans. The "immigration" bill is a clear case in point. Discussing how and when to grant citizenship to millions and millions of illegal immigrants sounds important, but it isn't. The bill will have no economic impact on the United States. It will deal neither with our huge environmental problems nor with our looming financial meltdown. That is why the solons like the issue: they can engage in bombast and oratory about our "nation of immigrants" and tell stories about their granddads, or alternatively can indulge in jingoistic soliloquies about America losing its Americanness. Either way, they can take another few months to produce a "landmark" bill which will have nothing to do with anything. The illegal aliens among us will go on living here, working, paying sales and property taxes if not income taxes, having children and ignoring the law. The Congressfolks will then appear before a bank of microphones and smile like idiots about their important accomplishment, and hope that no one notices that this bill is the direct result of failing to enforce an identical bill passed twenty years ago.

I think the system is beyond redemption, and in fact is no longer even designed to solve problems. Usually, I quit about here, about 350 words in. However, this is my Grand Unified Theory, and an abnormal expatiation may be necessary, if not necessarily in order. It is pretentious, of course, to use terms like "unified theory," which is a term borrowed from physics. It has something to do with Einstein's attempts to consolidate quantum theory with relativity. Or maybe the modern attempt to reconcile gravity within a quantum framework. I don't really know. Writers in the social "sciences" like to lace their writing with references to "rigorous" stuff. Christopher Hitchens, for example, likes to pretend he has a detailed appreciation of concepts such as "punctuated evolution" and cosmology in his "god is not great" book. He doesn't, of course, but it's enough to fool the general reader, and that's all that counts. You should not take my "grand unified theory" seriously for the same reason, because it's all bullshit from the get-go. So what? It's my blog. But theories have theorems, or propositions. I know that much. For example, Einstein's Special Theory dealt with equations for mass under acceleration: dilation of time, increase of mass, decrease of length, etc. So I have them too, because I want to be rigorous, just like Christopher Hitchens.

Theorem #1: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is a dangerous myth. Mark Twain once referred to "Congressional idiots," then said: "but I repeat myself." At this point in history, a career in legislation is like a career in car sales or real estate brokerage, and the entry requirements are about comparable. As a lawyer who has spent his professional life trying to decipher the crap these people write, trust me on this. Think about it: what other line of work can you get into without real credentials, talent or personal capital, solely on the basis of bullshit, and yet acquire a good salary, a staff, and apparent power? The mediocrities in Congress, above all, do not want to give these sinecures up. As C. Wright Mills explained, the first impulse of those in power is to remain in power. This disinclines members of Congress from taking any kind of risky action.

Theorem #2: The Scared-of-their-Shadows-Solons cannot react to uncomfortable impulses from the real world. Global warming is an excellent example of this principle. The real solutions are "radical," in the classical etymology of the word, meaning "root." One must go to the "root" of the issue, the way we produce energy for manufacture, transport and production of electricity and heat. To undertake a real solution, the solons would need to upset vested interests who are more interested in remaining vested than in long-term consequences. Upsetting such interests would violate Theorem #1. Thus, Congress would prefer to tinker and to propose timelines which are politically acceptable but irrelevant to atmospheric science. George W. Bush does not care because he plans to resume drinking on January 20, 2009, at about 3 pm.

Theorem #3: Since Congress cannot react to conditions in the real world, it exists solely to perpetuate itself and to give the appearance of crucial importance. Congress is not important; indeed, it is an impediment. As I said in another post, any cashier could have written George W. Bush a check to continue his stupid war. I will detail in another post the truly revolting game which Nancy Pelosi played in order to pretend to oppose the war. It was her attempt to finesse both Theorems #1 and #2.

Please bear these theories in mind as you go about your quotidian, outside-the-Beltway life. The first principle is to protect yourself from the effects of the U.S. Congress, although, as demonstrated by the draft legislation which Nancy Pelosi's Democrats just unveiled which will invalidate California's global warming initiative (under the "Preeemption Clause" - don't you love it?), this is not always so easy.

June 03, 2007

Liberal CO2

Certain events in your life, like the last of your parents to die, bring home inevitable feelings of fatalism. You're reminded that no matter what happens, this is all temporary anyway. We're a temporary species on a temporary planet. If Ernst Mayr was right about the usual survival period for a species, we're already on borrowed time. The Earth, no matter what we do, is going to be consumed along with the rest of the solar system when the sun goes red giant in 4 or 5 billion years. If the human race were still on the surface of the Earth when that amazing convulsion begins to be felt (we won't be), all talk of "global warming" would seem like pretty tame stuff. The oceans will boil and Earth will be consumed in heat death, along with all planetary co-passengers. That will happen with or without, or despite, human contribution.

In this pleasant suburban enclave where I live, where the air is redolent of California laurel and redwood trees, and the usually cool marine air is never too heavy with humidity, everyone carries on their lives much as they do everywhere in this country. On a political map, this region is deep blue. Liberal, concerned, progressive. Because the county is relatively affluent, the houses are big and often sparsely occupied. In the parking lot of the overpriced but charming grocery store a short distance from here, it's difficult sometimes to maneuver your car down the lanes between cars, not because the lot attempts to allocate too many spaces in too small a space (if anything, every space is larger than normal), but because of the size of the suburban transport machines used by the shoppers. Row upon row of Range Rovers, Land Rovers, Toyota Land Cruisers, BMW SUVs, GMC Yukons, Lincoln Navigators and all the rest of the elephantine class of internal combustion vehicles. I suppose on a given day the "fleet average" for the parking lot, if full, might be around 15 mpg. Most of the "cars" are driven by one woman weighing on average (this is a muscle-toned enclave) 130 pounds and traveling a distance of less than 5 miles, round trip. This is unscientific, somewhat anecdotal, yet perhaps telling. Many of these cars display progressive bumper stickers. There are, of course, Priuses and high-mileage compacts hidden in among the Brobdinagian land-crawlers with their high performance AWD for negotiating those tricky dry, suburban streets. But overall...

One reads that the world is beginning to take seriously the issue of CO2 concentrations in the troposphere. Nancy Pelosi, parka encircling her concerned face, has been to Greenland, flying by jet of course, "to see for herself" what was going on, perhaps not trusting the world's finest climatologists to figure it out without her presence. Although in so doing she laid down another gasp of CO2 directly at that level of the troposphere where it does the most harm. La Diva saw that Greenland's glaciers are now running into the sea at the rate of 75 feet per year, about a 12-fold increase over about six years ago. She was, naturally, worried. She is a progressive, however, and her concern is more concerned than the norm. By the same token, I think liberals in general, when they drive their behemoths and heat their oversized houses, believe that their CO2 emissions are entitled to a different regard from that of the unaware. One cap-and-trade system that Nancy might suggest is a greater allocation to rich liberals, who form such an important part of her constituency, under a "Liberal CO2" program. The idea being that Liberal CO2 is different from the CO2 of the unaware and unenlightened. As a reward for their concern, liberals should be allowed twice the amount per capita as opposed to those who do not take the idea of global warming seriously.

The scientists may argue that the real issue is how much fucking CO2 is in the troposphere capturing infrared radiation and heating the Earth's atmosphere. They might go on to point out that while all this palaver among the political class has been occurring over the last few years, since global warming was "discovered," the actual, gross amount of CO2 released worldwide has continued to increase over previous levels. But perhaps this additional CO2 is entitled to a special dispensation; after all, it was released to do its devilish work after we became aware of its deadly potential. So maybe, just like Liberal CO2, it doesn't count.

Actually, we better hope so.