Tuesday, September 30, 2008

McCain Comes Undone

John McCain spoke to the editorial board of The Des Moines Register today. He gave them a taste of what he's really like.

There is much more of the interview here. I suggest you watch it. The Des Moines Register endorsed McCain during the caucuses, but all bets are off now.

The man is coming unhinged.

Again, creepier and creepier.

Today's Featured Laugh

Christian band, Sonseed, from 1984 performing their... um... hit, Jesus is a Friend of Mine.

As JMG says, "It's like the Gay Osmonds go ska."

Where In The World Is Johnny McCain Oh?

First he doesn't know where Spain is and now this:
McCain this morning at his economic forum implying that Hugo Chavez (and Venezuela) are in the Middle East.

"ensuring that America is secure, and not dependent on oil from people like Hugo Chavez or other parts of the Middle East which is, we know, could be destabilized under certain sets of circumstances."

via Ben Smith

One More Conservative

David Frum on Palin:

“I think she has pretty thoroughly — and probably irretrievably — proven that she is not up to the job of being president of the United States,” David Frum, a former speechwriter for President Bush who is now a conservative columnist, said in an interview.

As Andrew Sullivan said this morning, "I'm unsure, at this point, if she could pass a citizenship test."

If At First...

It worked so well the first time, McCain just might do it again.


via TPM

Monday, September 29, 2008

The Odd Couple

President Barack Obama and Vice President Sarah Palin
Seem strange?
Bob Beatty says yes, but it isn't out of the realm of possibility.

A Sign Of The Times

The S&P 500 was down 8.4% today. The only stock in the index that went up was Campbell Soup.

Oh, and the Dow is now lower than it was on the day Bush took the oath of office eight years ago.

Just Like The Real Thing

How would Palin answer questions? Here's an example.

If You Were Wondering About A Gift

From the "so funny cause it seems so true" department: someone has set up a fake Bristol/Levi wedding registry at J.C. Penneys. I like the camo diaper bag, maternity babydoll pajamas, and the set of wilderness prints.

via JMG

Sunday, September 28, 2008

The New Header

"As Putin rears his head and comes into the air space of the United States of America, where– where do they go? It’s Alaska." - Sarah Palin

Loving Couple

I haven't posted a lot today. Spent some time with my wife and kids. Imagine that. I love my family. It isn't a sham. It isn't an act. I couldn't imagine myself with anyone but my wife, and my kids have so altered my world I don't remember what I was like before they came along. So that has gotten me thinking.

With all the Gremlin/Palin, polling, scandal, debate, suspension, bailout crap that has poured over us the last couple of weeks I've ignored one of the things that I like about Obama: the guy loves his wife. The guy loves his kids. The guy is loved by his wife and his kids. That may not be such a big deal. The Gremlin's wife may love him. Todd may love Sarah. But I don't know for sure; I can't honestly tell.

I do, however, know - I can tell - that the Obama house is love: paternal, filial, matrimonial, physical love. You can see it in their eyes. You can see it it their reactions to one another. You can see it in their ease.

Michelle and Barack are a couple I can relate to; a couple with a sense of equality and support that comes naturally. They have that sense of familiar mischief that comes with time, trust and a sense of humor. A fine example for the rest of the nation.

Hey, when's the last time there was a sexy couple in the White House; not hot, not sexual; just sexy. They make loving your mate sexy. We all know it's supposed to be that way, but it's been a while since we got a sense of that from a leader. That's a welcome change.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

McCain Stability

If you want an idea of how seriously disturbed McCain is, check out these letters exchanged between Obama and McCain in 2006. McCain has some real passive/aggressive issues. I say again: the guy is getting creepier and creepier.

McCain Vs McCain

He gets creepier and creepier.

When Dinosaurs Attack

Ok, I have a three year old.
I can no think of a worse idea than this one.
Unless I got to be the dinosaur.

via schuylersmonsterblog

Uribe 08!

Reihan Salam of The American Scene doesn't like either choice this year and posits another kind of appealling (or at least very amusing) possibility.

I’m really tired of Barack Obama and John McCain. Seriously. No more. I was telling my persuasive conservative friend the other day that I really wish this election pitted Vladimir Putin against Alvaro Uribe. Because let me tell you: I’m for Uribe all the way. Uribe ’08!
Given that we’re in a state of national emergency, I see no reason not to suspend the constitutional provisions that would keep a sitting foreign head of state from becoming president. Desperate times call for desperate measures. I am fully confident that Uribe would swiftly crush the rebellion in the northern two-thirds of the United States. This “Canadian government,” headquartered in Ottawa, even prints its own currency in open defiance of our sovereign rights! My understanding is that rebel leader Subcommandante Stephen Harper is interested in “warm relations” with his “neighbors to the south,” to which I say: eat tank tread, rebel scum.

via Andrew Sullivan

How To Feel Better

The Boy woke up early this morning, stuffy and with a fever of 104. We have nursed him throughout the day as he's slept and whined and been even more conversationally difficult to follow than usual.

A little while ago, after he had awoken from a rather long nap, his fever having spiked yet again and his shirt soaked with sweat, we asked if there was anything we could do for him or get him that might make him feel better. We were prepared to make a run for ice cream if necessary.

He lifted his head and peering through his droopy eyes said weakly, "Well, you could put some money in my piggybank."

Is It Her Spinning, Or The Room?

As more and more conservatives pull back from McCain, or just peel off entirely, the diehards are desperately spinning the debate as a McCain win, despite the polls. Here's one of the remaining McCainites spinning as best she can.

From Kathryn Jean Lopez (K-Lo) of The National Review Online (as posted, and unedited):

I think Obama supporters are happy enough tonight. But I suspect they wanted McCain to show up tired and cranky and he didn't he appeared a leader whose dont some of that leading. I have my quibbles with some of what McCain said and didn't said, but the choices are clear in this election and I think you saw a bit of why tonight.

Maybe she'd been drinking. The way this thing is going, could you blame her?

update: Somebody sobered up and made some corrections, but fear not, the image above is a screen capture of the original post.


Best post-debate analysis line last night came from Daniel Larison who said McCain looked like "sort of a disturbed gremlin."

Monkey Fear

Why couldn't McCain look at Obama? The general consensus seems to be that McCain was arrogant, disdainful; that he he had no respect for Obama. TPM has a more interesting theory proposed by a reader who happens to do research into the social tendencies of primates.

I think people really are missing the point about McCain's failure to look at Obama. McCain was afraid of Obama. It was really clear--look at how much McCain blinked in the first half hour. I study monkey behavior--low ranking monkeys don't look at high ranking monkeys. In a physical, instinctive sense, Obama owned McCain tonight and I think the instant polling reflects that.

For A Thousand Bucks

A Louisiana state Representative, John LaBruzzo, is proposing the state: a) pay the poor $1000.00 to get themselves sterilized and b) provide tax incentives for wealthy, college-educated people to reproduce.

LaBruzzo said he worries that people receiving government aid such as food stamps and publicly subsidized housing are reproducing at a faster rate than more affluent, better-educated people who presumably pay more tax revenue to the government. He said he is gathering statistics now.

It's worth noting that LaBruzzo was elected from the same district that sent the KKK's David Duke to the State House.

via ThinkProgress

RIP Paul Newman

Paul Newman died last night. I honestly couldn't feel sadder.

Friday, September 26, 2008

I'm Paying More

There's a site getting a lot of press today that says it can take a few values from you and determine how much you'd pay in federal taxes under both the McCain and Obama tax plans.

I took a shot at it. Interestingly enough, under Obama we would pay more (just a little) than under McCain starting in 2010. If true, I'm perfectly happy. I don't want to pay more in taxes - who does - but it isn't about my wallet. It's about my children's future. Nuff said.

Plasma, Stat!

Former McCain Adviser, Craig Shirley, on McCain's death spiral:

"It just proves his campaign is governed by tactics and not ideology," said Republican consultant Craig Shirley, who advised McCain earlier in this cycle. "In the end, he blinked and Obama did not. The 'steady hand in a storm' argument looks now to more favor Obama, not McCain."

Shirley added, "My guess is that plasma units are rushing to the McCain campaign as we speak to replace the blood flowing there from the fights among the staff."

A Conservative Calls For Palin To Get Out

Kathleen Parker, who has defended Palin to the point of ridicule, has had enough:

Palin’s recent interviews with Charles Gibson, Sean Hannity, and now Katie Couric have all revealed an attractive, earnest, confident candidate. Who Is Clearly Out Of Her League.

No one hates saying that more than I do. Like so many women, I’ve been pulling for Palin, wishing her the best, hoping she will perform brilliantly. I’ve also noticed that I watch her interviews with the held breath of an anxious parent, my finger poised over the mute button in case it gets too painful. Unfortunately, it often does. My cringe reflex is exhausted.


Only Palin can save McCain, her party, and the country she loves. She can bow out for personal reasons, perhaps because she wants to spend more time with her newborn. No one would criticize a mother who puts her family first.

Do it for your country.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

More Conservative Reaction

Rod Dreher of Beliefnet, who supported Palin, on her after the Couric interview:

Palin's just babbling. She makes George W. Bush sound like Cicero.

I remember the morning I woke up in my college dorm room and went in to take my final exam in my Formal Logic class. I knew I was unready. Massively unready. And now I was going to be put to the ultimate test. I sat down in Dr. Sarkar's class and resolved to wing it. Of course I failed the exam and failed the class, because I had no idea what I was talking about. I wasn't a bad kid, or even a stupid kid. I was just badly unprepared, and in way over my head. Seeing the Palin interview on CBS, I thought of myself in Dr. Sarkar's exam. But see, I was a college undergraduate who had the chance to take the class again, which I did, and passed (barely). I wasn't running for vice president of the United States.

I am well and truly embarrassed for her.

The Intellectual Elite

One of my big issues with George Bush is his native stupidity; his lack of natural curiousity; his disdain for fostering his own intellect.

I want a President that's smart. I want one that wants to be smarter. I want a President engaged with the world and deeply desiring an understanding of that world's workings. Being smart is a good thing in a President, but an eager and open mind is best of all.

Obama got his ass endorsed today by 61 Nobel Laureates, the largest number in history.
That's smart.

A Voice From The Middle

Undecided in PA is a 27 year old, Republican blogger who hasn't (es evidenced by her nick) made up her mind. This is part of her post from two days ago.

Ok - let me put it out there. I would've voted for McCain if he were running against anyone else (especially Hillary) or if he were the same person he was 8 years ago. I'm serious.

McCain has always had significant support amoung the younger types. Even some of my most liberal friends in college loved him. Then, he was truly an outsider and a maverick. The Bushies hated him and destroyed him, which was really sad and unfortunately. But his reaction was moreso. Since gaining the nomination - and maybe even before that - he turned his boat around from the middle towards the shores of the conservative Evangelicals. He sounds more and more like Karl Rove every day.


My mom came with me to the TODAY show yesterday, and some random guy came up to her complaining he couldn't get on the show. During his rant, he mentioned that he was a Vietnam vet. He said that neither he nor none of his friends came back sound of mind, body, and spirit. The more my mom thought about it - the more she agreed with him. She didn't know anyone either. Made her look at McCain in a different way.

ed note: italics mine

Another Conservative Speaks Out

Daniel Larison on McCain's handling of the "crisis":

Gingrich likens [McCain's stunt] to Eisenhower’s “I will go to Korea,” but unlike Eisenhower and the Korean war McCain has no credibility concerning the crisis he is supposedly addressing. In the end, knowing when you can contribute something and knowing when to avoid complicating an already difficult situation by intruding on ongoing negotiations is what separates grandstanding from leadership. It is what separates the simple egomaniacs from the ambitious pols who nonetheless have some idea what public service is. McCain’s belief that he is indispensable in a time of crisis is the surest sign that he is unfit for any office in republican government, much less the chief magistracy of the Republic.


Another reason to love Photoshop.

The Great Schlep

Very amusing. Watch and then talk amongst yourselves.

This Is A Little Frightening

Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight polling posted an interesting piece yesterday about betting at Intrade. If you aren't familiar with it, Intrade lets you bet on elections. There have been some seriously strange things going on at Intrade of late that are more than likely nothing more than manipulations to make McCain look better (though it's costly) or just an idiot gambler.

But Silver hints at something more sinister and a little frightening. The pattern of bets could indicate someone knows of something very bad that is going to take place and will make a lot of money if it pans out. He calls on the Secret Service and the FBI to investigate a possible threat to Obama's life.

It's twisted, scary, and in this weird world, just a little too close to possible.

Ghost Writers Into Lies

Economic crisis be damned. I think I have found a calling. The McCain camp needs letter writers. A Dutch journalist volunteered for the McCain campaign and was assigned the job of ghost writing fictional letters to the editor that McCain supporters would then sign as their own. She had a good time and even put her fictional son right there in Iraq like Track. That is one good gig.

The assignment is simple: We are going to write letters to the editor and we are allowed to make up whatever we want -- as long as it adds to the campaign. After today we are supposed to use our free moments at home to create a flow of fictional fan mail for McCain. "Your letters," says Phil Tuchman, "will be sent to our campaign offices in battle states. Ohio. Pennsylvania. Virginia. New Hampshire. There we'll place them in local newspapers."

Place them? I may be wrong, but I thought that in the USA only a newspaper's editors decided that.

"We will show your letters to our supporters in those states," explains Phil. "If they say: 'Yeah, he/she is right!' then we ask them to sign your letter. And then we send that letter to the local newspaper. That's how we send dozens of letters at once."

No newspaper can refuse a stream of articulate expressions of support, is the thought behind it. "This way, we will always get into some letters column."

Change We Can Believe In

I am a stay-at-home-dad and a blogger. Those are my "jobs". I have already spoken to my children and now I will let you know: Due to the financial crisis I will not be doing my job(s) today. I need to focus on this economic problem and so I am suspending my parenting and blogging responsibilities until we have a solution.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

A Really Large Number

If you have been wondering how the Treasury Department came up with $700 billion as the amount they needed for the bailout when they don't know the value of the securities involved, well, here's your answer from Forbes:

"It's not based on any particular data point," a Treasury spokeswoman told Forbes.com Tuesday. "We just wanted to choose a really large number."

Fearing The Question

What a day! So McCain wants to move the Presidential Debate to next Thursday and by doing so preempt the VP Debate which would be rescheduled for a date "to be determined."

Uh huh, sure.

This has gotten so ridiculous. They are terrified of having her answer any questions. If you don't believe me check this out from a pool report today of McCain and Palin's meeting with Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvilli:

McCain then looked around the room and gestured as if to welcome questions. The AP reporter shouted a question at Gov. Palin (“Governor, what have you learned from your meetings?”) but McCain aide Brooke Buchanan intervened and shepherded everybody out of the room.

Palin looked surprised, leaned over to McCain and asked him a question, to which your pooler thinks he shook his head as if to say “No.”

That's terror.

via TPM

I Can't Help Myself

The economy is in a shambles, we're in a hot war with Pakistan now, the first debate is (maybe) two days away and this is the fodder I offer you. Sorry, but it's too damned funny. The National Enquirer must be selling a lot of issues.

They are reporting the name of the man with whom Palin had an alleged affair: Brad Hanson, another former business partner of Todd's. Todd found out and closed down the partnership, a snowmobile dealership (of course). Three family members of the Hansons are the sources including one who took a lie detector test. Palin reportedly told friends the relationship was "never consumated".

According to Gawker, when the Enquirer called the Hansons for a comment his wife answered and said:

"I would prefer not to talk about it. It's a nonissue." Then she hung up. Then she called back. And then said, "There is absolutely no truth to this story. It is a complete rumor." Then Brad got on the phone and said, hilariously: "Todd and I are still friends. We own a cabin together. I talked to him four times this week. Does that sound like there was a disagreement?"

Personally I find the fact that he looks just like Todd to be the best aspect of it all. Well, that and the accompanying photo on the Enquirer site (below) that implies why Sarah might have been stepping out on Todd.

I don't feel so bad about this. Like I said before: if you don't define yourself to the press, they will define you themselves. Come out and talk to the reporters, Governor.

You Scream, I Scream

PETA has written Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream requesting that they stop using cow's milk for ice cream and start using human breast milk.

I have no words.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Why Can't They All Be Like This?

Rep. Marcy Kaptur gets it right and says what we should hear. She may not have the right solution, but by God she sees the problem damned clearly.
Listen to her... right now!

Another Email Scam

Via Angry (but very funny) Bear:

Dear American:

I need to ask you to support an urgent secret business relationship with a transfer of funds of great magnitude.
I am Ministry of the Treasury of the Republic of America. My country has had crisis that has caused the need for large transfer of funds of 800 billion dollars US. If you would assist me in this transfer, it would be most profitable to you.
I am working with Mr. Phil Gram, lobbyist for UBS, who will be my replacement as Ministry of the Treasury in January. As a Senator, you may know him as the leader of the American banking deregulation movement in the 1990s. This transaction is 100% safe.
This is a matter of great urgency. We need a blank check. We need the funds as quickly as possible. We cannot directly transfer these funds in the names of our close friends because we are constantly under surveillance. My family lawyer advised me that I should look for a reliable and trustworthy person who will act as a next of kin so the funds can be transferred.
Please reply with all of your bank account, IRA and college fund account numbers and those of your children and grandchildren to wallstreetbailout@treasury.gov so that we may transfer your commission for this transaction. After I receive that information, I will respond with detailed information about safeguards that will be used to protect the funds.

Yours Faithfully Minister of Treasury Paulson

Rock The Vote

Bill Clinton went on David Letterman last night and offered up what can only be described as tepid support for Obama. He talked about Hillary. He talked about McCain. He never once mentioned Obama's name.

Fortunately, Chris Rock followed him as a guest. Chris Rock speaks the truth. Bill Clinton needs to get his head out of his ass.

Out Of The Holler

Palin meetin herself some world leaders today. They's gonna do some howdy-doos and some glad-ta-meetchas and that's bout it. Cept for that part where no reporters is allowed. Them reporters is a pesky lot. They's ornrier than a griz got woke up early and harder ta get rid of than a tick what snuck in yer drawers. Says they's not sending no camera crews ta cover Palin's meetups if'n they's not gettin ta have no reporters there too. I reckon that's gonna make her madder than a badge what got poked with a stick; angrier than a coondog with a mouthful porcupine quills. What's the point a meetin ole Karzai if'n she ain't got no soovieneer pitchur of it ta show back home? Hell, she might just spit.

George Will On McCain

George Will, like so many conservatives of late, is seeing the light; or at least the darkness that is McCain:

Under the pressure of the financial crisis, one presidential candidate is behaving like a flustered rookie playing in a league too high. It is not Barack Obama.

Conservatives who insist that electing McCain is crucial usually start, and increasingly end, by saying he would make excellent judicial selections. But the more one sees of his impulsive, intensely personal reactions to people and events, the less confidence one has that he would select judges by calm reflection and clear principles, having neither patience nor aptitude for either.

It is arguable that, because of his inexperience, Obama is not ready for the presidency. It is arguable that McCain, because of his boiling moralism and bottomless reservoir of certitudes, is not suited to the presidency. Unreadiness can be corrected, although perhaps at great cost, by experience. Can a dismaying temperament be fixed?

Monday, September 22, 2008

Swing Low

The Boy started school some three weeks ago. He goes three days a week in the afternoon. It's Montessori and kind of structured. Class ends at four, but they will hold the kids until five thirty for parents that work. It lets the kids run out their energy on the playground under supervision. I let the Boy do this until five or so, though I could pick him up whenever.

Today when I got there one of the teachers told me he had been hurt while playing. An errant foot at the swings had caught him in the hip. They'd put an icepack on it and he seemed none the worse for wear.

As we drove home he asked to have his window opened and sat there quietly. He seemed melancholy. Finally he asked, "Daddy, why did the other kids call me a baby?"
"When did the other kids call you a baby?"
"By the swings. Today," he said.
"When you got hurt?" I asked, digging deeper.
"No, when we were swinging."
"Did you want to swing and they wouldn't let you?" I asked thinking there had been an issue regarding fair use.
"No." And then he got quiet.

It suddenly dawned on me.

"Did they call you a baby because you don't know how to swing by yourself?" I asked gingerly. He has not yet mastered the unassisted swing techniques. I have tried to teach him, but have not pressed it - I failed to treat it as a crucial skill-set.
"Yes, they said I don't know how to swing, so I'm a baby." He was sad.
"What did you say?"
"I said I not a baby. I a big boy."
"What did they say?"
"They laughed and said I was a big baby."
"What happened then?"
"I just helped some other kids that couldn't swing. They called them babies too. I pushed them on the swings so they weren't sad."

I sat there for a second.

"Hey, little man, how bout we go to the park and work on swinging this Thursday?" I offered finally.
"Ok," he agreed less enthusiastically than I hoped.

It was quiet again. I was searching my console for a tissue or anything.

"Am I a baby cause I can't swing?"
"Boy," I said, and blew my nose, "you're more grown up than I ever imagined. You're a very big boy."

He thought about it for a moment, then, "Thank you, daddy."

It Takes A Thief

So you're sitting in front of the computer and you have read the news and you have read the blogs and you have checked ebay about that great Milo chair you bid on last Friday. You have run out of puter tasks. Here's something...

A woman in Portland, OR, has had an Obama sign stolen from her yard. Twice. Her son set up a webcam to catch the thief in the act. The Obama Sign Watch has become a silly meeting place for conversation and... well... sign watching.

Kill some time; catch a thief.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Nah, We Trust You

This is a joke, right?

The Bush proposal that would dole out huge sums of money to Wall Street firms and bankers is a mere three pages in length and fails to specify which institutions would qualify or say what — if anything — taxpayers would get in return.

We're giving them 700 billion dollars and the paperwork is three pages?!

I don't know about you but when we bought our house there were a whole lot more than three pages and that was a whole lot less money. Oh, and I think it was spelled out pretty fucking clearly who owed what to whom and what would happen if we didn't pay up.

How much is $700 billion? Well first, get a million dollars. Then stack all those crisp bills in a nice, neat pile. Then, make 700,000 more stacks of a $1,000,000.00 worth of crisp new bills. That is how much money we are giving away. For my family of 4 people that comes to roughly $10,000.00 we gave away this weekend - two thousand five hundred dollars for every man, woman and child in this country.

Here's a good part, too. You see, when we - you and I - buy all those companies' bad debt there's nothing in the deal that says what the companies have to do with that 700 billion we're giving them. They don't have to put it out there for loans to ease the credit pinch. They can do anything they want to with it. They can use it to buy up smaller companies, chop them up and put people out of work. They can use it to give their investors bigger dividends. They can use it to give themselves those big Wall Street Christmas bonuses they were sweating wouldn't come this year. There are no rules. We are just giving them this money and the only guarantee is that we are going to get reamed for it.

And those homeowners that are behind on their payments - the ones that are looking at foreclosure? Guess what? They still are. This doesn't do anything for them. I'm not terribly sympathetic about their situation - they bought more than they could afford - but if we're bailing out the companies with no requirements...

None of this debt we're taking on includes the mountains of cash we've divied up in the last couple of months for AIG, Bear Stearns, Fannie Mae & Freddie Mac, or the insurance we just added to those previously uninsured money market funds. We talk about homeowners who bought more than they could afford, but all these corporate investors we're bailing out are supposed to be smarter and understand the risks. They are supposed to know that they could lose their investment. They are supposed to eat it if they aren't smart. I'm not supposed take my prudently invested savings and cover their losses.

This whole thing is going to spin inflation out of control and drive all of our home values further into the dirt. We will all have less money and the money we do have will buy less. We are screwed. The people who managed their debt and spending responsibly are the ones really taking it on the chin here. We are going from a "cash is king" economy to a "cash sucks" one in three short days.

This is a Republican administration that is doing this. This is a Democratically controlled congress that is assisting. They have mortgaged my children's future and I have gotten nothing in return. And George Bush, much like in the Iraq war (which for or against, you have to admit was seriously mis-mangaged), is saying to us, "Trust me on this."

At least when the government buys surplus cheese to prop up an industry we get something we can eat.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Last Good Kiss

I call them airplane books: cheap, thrilling, detective fiction to get you through a long day of travel or a breezy afternoon. I still have standards for them; I can't abide crap. They can be remarkably well-written and even achieve greatness. One writer regularly produced these crime novels, though most people would now consider his works serious literature.

That fine writer was James Crumley and he died earlier this week at the age of 68. His books redefined the form in a post-vietnam America. The malaise and disenchantment that has always been a part of that kind of fiction became even more palpable and violent in his best work. Writers like Dennis Lehane and George Pelecanos show his influence in their work. Best described as a cross between Raymond Chandler and Hunter S. Thompson, he would have been a master in any genre.

He wrote 11 novels, but perhaps his best was The Last Good Kiss, published in 1978. It's title came from a Richard Hugo poem, Degrees of Gray in Philipsburg: You might come here Sunday on a whim./ Say your life broke down./ The last good kiss/ you had was years ago.

I don't need to do anything to convince you of the book's brilliance other than to give you the hard-boiled but melancholic opening line; a line that Crumley said took him eight years to get right and might be the best opening line ever written for crime fiction:

When I finally caught up with Abraham Trahearne, he was drinking beer with an alcoholic bulldog named Fireball Roberts in a ramshackle joint just outside Sonoma, California, drinking the heart right out of a fine spring afternoon.

How could you not devour that on a long flight?

RIP James Crumley

Friday, September 19, 2008

As Long As You're Handing Out Cash

Hey! Federal Government, Bush, et al! I loaned an old girlfriend about 130 bucks about 14 years ago and I never got it back. Can you guys take that debt off my hands, please? I know it's not in the 500 billion or more range you're taking care of for the wealthy investment bankers, but it's money I could use. I know it was my fault for loaning it to her and I shouldn't have trusted her, but come on, help a guy out ok?

I mean you just shot my kids' future to hell for the sake of saving investors. As if this financial meltdown is any better by burying my children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren under a mountain of debt from which they will never emerge. It's ok. I understand. Somebody has to make certain that those 40" plasma TVs and new cars keep shooting out the door. I understand that the Republican Party has screamed personal responsibility for 30 years but when push came to shove they showed how false that was. I understand that Americans can't be asked to forego the lattes. Just keep the party going guys - cause China is going to own us and the only way we will be able to pay them back is by consuming their tainted milk. Way to go boys and girls.

Can you tell I'm pissed off? I don't care how bad it could have been - it will be much worse now. Did you see the market today? "Hey, they're gonna take that debt of our hands. Let's BUY!"
Boy did that make them happy. Like a bunch of meth heads who just got lucky with a Scratcher. Woo Hoo. I'm spendin.

Fuck it - who cares?

Of Bjorns, Urinals & Insanity

Ah the hazards of being male and the primary caregiver.

Lunch? It's On Me

So the Girl gets lunch today. A delightful bowl of penne with shredded parmesean tossed with olive oil. She enjoys it thoroughly. She then uses the bowl as a hat. Yep, that's olive oil you see in her hair mixed with assorted sizes of cheese. That took three washes to even get it close to clean. Ick.

Biden Bites This One

Been beating on McCain/Palin for a while here and so here comes a jab at the other side. Recently Biden said this:

The truth of the matter is that we are in trouble. And the people who do not need a new tax cut should be willing, as patriotic Americans, to understand the way to get this economy back up on their feet is to give middle class taxpayers a break. We take the tax cut they're getting and we give it to the middle class.

We are all going to have to pay for the mess and that means we're going to pay more in taxes but to imply, as Biden does, that to not want to pay more in taxes is somehow unpatriotic is nonsense, and offensive from a campaign that said no one's patriotism would be questioned. It's also ridiculous as an argument to ask any group to take a hit so that some other one can get a break.

Everybody is going to be paying more taxes for a long, long time. The bill has come due.

Rites Of Musical Passage

Episode of Caillou ends. Tivo pauses and then jumps back to broadcast. Up comes Michael Tilson Thomas and the SF Symphony performing Stravinsky's, Rite of Spring. Boy watches a little as I enter room. "This your show, daddy?" he asks. "Sure," I answer. He watches more intently as I watch him. "Daddy?" "Yes," I respond. "I think I love that song," he says adoringly.

Hey, that's something.

A Good Way To Wake Up

The reasons why I've been ranting and raving through this Presidential campaign. Sometimes I have to remind myself.

Boy, first day of school


Boy feeds his new best friend

MMM, water

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Pink Slip 'em

John McCain called for the head of the Securities and Exchange Commission to be fired for this mess. Here's what Obama said:

"I think that's all fine and good but here's what I think. In the next 47 days you can fire the whole trickle-down, on-your-own, look-the-other way crowd in Washington who has led us down this disastrous path.

"Don't just get rid of one guy. Get rid of this administration," he said. "Get rid of this philosophy. Get rid of the do-nothing approach to our economic problem and put somebody in there who's going to fight for you."

The last couple of days Obama has had the tightest, crispiest lines of the whole campaign.

How Bad Is This Financial Mess?

I'm not an economist, and therefore no expert regarding this serious mess in the economy, but here's a little clue that's pretty easy to get a handle on.

T-bills are issued by the government and give a specific return on your investment. They are considered safe because they're issued by the U.S. of A.. The interest you get on those bills is based on the demand for them; if more people want them, you get less interest. In troubled times people load up on T-bills because they're safe. People know they won't lose their investment - their money - even if the return is small.

In 1940, at the end of the Great Depression and as the world was in the first chaotic and frightening throes of World War II, people got very scared and searched for safe financial havens. They began to buy T-bills. So many people wanted them that the interest rate got lower and lower until it actually got into negative territory, which meant that when the bill matured they would get LESS money than they put into it. Every other haven for their money was even scarier and could lose even more. That was the only time in our history that T-bills had negative interest...

Until today. This morning 3 month T-bills moved into negative territory for the first time since 1940. They have since moved back into positive interest, but that should give you an idea just where we are.

Depression and World War II = today. It really is that bad, folks.

Conservative Endorses Obama

Wick Allison, conservative par excellence, former publisher of The National Review, endorses Obama:

Today it is conservatives, not liberals, who talk with alarming bellicosity about making the world “safe for democracy.” It is John McCain who says America’s job is to “defeat evil,” a theological expansion of the nation’s mission that would make George Washington cough out his wooden teeth.

This kind of conservatism, which is not conservative at all, has produced financial mismanagement, the waste of human lives, the loss of moral authority, and the wreckage of our economy that McCain now threatens to make worse.

Barack Obama is not my ideal candidate for president. (In fact, I made the maximum donation to John McCain during the primaries, when there was still hope he might come to his senses.) But I now see that Obama is almost the ideal candidate for this moment in American history. I disagree with him on many issues. But those don’t matter as much as what Obama offers, which is a deeply conservative view of the world. Nobody can read Obama’s books (which, it is worth noting, he wrote himself) or listen to him speak without realizing that this is a thoughtful, pragmatic, and prudent man. It gives me comfort just to think that after eight years of George W. Bush we will have a president who has actually read the Federalist Papers.

Most important, Obama will be a realist. I doubt he will taunt Russia, as McCain has, at the very moment when our national interest requires it as an ally. The crucial distinction in my mind is that, unlike John McCain, I am convinced he will not impulsively take us into another war unless American national interests are directly threatened.

“Every great cause,” Eric Hoffer wrote, “begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket.” As a cause, conservatism may be dead. But as a stance, as a way of making judgments in a complex and difficult world, I believe it is very much alive in the instincts and predispositions of a liberal named Barack Obama.

This is a genuinely important endorsement that is full and well-reasoned.

Hagel On Palin

Republican Senator from Nebraska, Chuck Hagel, on Palin:

"She doesn't have any foreign policy credentials," Hagel said in an interview published Thursday by the Omaha World-Herald. "You get a passport for the first time in your life last year? I mean, I don't know what you can say. You can't say anything."

Could Palin lead the country if GOP presidential nominee John McCain could not?

"I think it's a stretch to, in any way, to say that she's got the experience to be president of the United States," Hagel said.

The Rain In Spain Falls Mainly On McCain

This showed up yesterday and I waited till there was a version I could post. McCain did an interview with Radio Caracol Miami on Wednesday aimed primarily at the Hispanic community.

The interview runs through McCain's views on Latin American issues. But then they get to Spain (at about 2:50 in). He places Spain in the Western Hemisphere.

As TPM puts it:

At first it sounds like McCain is taking a hard neocon line against Prime Minister Zapatero, but as the interviewer continues to press the point, it becomes pretty obvious that McCain has no idea who she's talking about.

His broad, generic answer is clearly meant to cover Latin American leaders generally, known and unknown -- sort of a blanket "we'll stand up to tinpot dictators" -- even if they happen to be NATO prime ministers.

And we thought Palin had a few problems with international affairs.


McCain foreign policy adviser Randy Sheunemann said McCain's answer was intentional.

"In this week's interview, Senator McCain did not rule in or rule out a White House meeting with President Zapatero, a NATO ally," he said in an e-mail. "If elected, he will meet with a wide range of allies in a wide variety of venues but is not going to spell out scheduling and meeting location specifics in advance. He also is not going to make reckless promises to meet America's adversaries. It's called keeping your options open, unlike Senator Obama, who has publicly committed to meeting some of the world's worst dictators unconditionally in his first year in office."

When the McCain campaign screws up they really screw up:
Zapatero is not the President of Spain; he's the Prime Minister.
Good God!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Of Girls And Blinks And Pathological Lies

So Palin tells Gibson (or as Jon Stewart called him, Geppetto) about her "unblinking" reaction to McCain's offer of the VP:

PALIN: I didn't hesitate, no.

GIBSON: Didn't that take some hubris?

PALIN: I -- I answered him yes because I have the confidence in that readiness and knowing that you can't blink, you have to be wired in a way of being so committed to the mission, the mission that we're on, reform of this country and victory in the war, you can't blink. So I didn't blink then even when asked to run as his running mate.

Here's what she tells Hannity about the same thing:

"It was a time of asking the girls to vote on it, anyway. And they voted unanimously, yes. Didn't bother asking my son because, you know, he's going to be off doing his thing anyway, so he wouldn't be so impacted by, at least, the campaign period here. So ask the girls what they thought and they're like, absolutely. Let's do this, mom."

But here's the official tick-tock of the announcement from McCain communications director Jill Hazelbaker on August 29:

"Later that morning, John McCain departed for Phoenix and Governor Palin departed with staff to Flagstaff, Arizona. Governor Palin, Kris Perry, Steve Schmidt and Mark Salter proceeded to the Manchester Inn and Conference Center in Middleton, Ohio. They were checked into the hotel as the Upton Family. While there, Governor Palin’s children, who had been told they were going to Ohio to celebrate their parents’ wedding anniversary, were told for the first time that their mother would be a nominee for Vice President of the United States of America."

The girls didn't know until that announcement morning when it had already been decided. So according to the official McCain story the girls never voted and this is another (and really pointless) lie from Palin. This woman is pathological... but unblinkingly so.

via Andrew Sullivan

Witchy Woman

From the Times Online:

The pastor whose prayer Sarah Palin says helped her to become governor of Alaska founded his ministry with a witchhunt against a Kenyan woman who he accused of causing car accidents through demonic spells.

Go ahead, read the whole thing.

And we all laughed at Nancy Reagan's astrologer.

Old Boys

Obama in Elko NV, 2 hours ago:

Yesterday, John McCain actually said that if he's president that he'll take on, and I quote, 'the old boys network in Washington.'

Now I'm not making this up. This is somebody who's been in Congress for twenty-six years, who put seven of the most powerful Washington lobbyists in charge of his campaign.

And now he tells us that he's the one who's gonna' to take on the old boys network. The old boys network? In the McCain campaign that's called a staff meeting. Come, on!

That's some funny stuff.

via Jed Report

Social Skills

Remember Health Care Reform? Remember how a government supported plan for everyone was trashed as unweildy? Remember how it would be socialized medicine? Remember how the private sector and insurance companies are more efficient? Remember how it would bankrupt the nation?

Guess what?

The largest insurance company in the world is bankrupt and we bailed it out yesterday. We just got ourselves socialized insurance cause the private sector failed miserably, not just in providing insurance for everyone; not just in making a profit for investors; failed to even keep the doors open. So we - you and I - have now socialized a little medicine.

Of course we've also socialized the mortgage market and at least one investment bank (Bear Sterns) and will more than likely socialize another in a day or two (Morgan Stanley).

When the most capitalistic of enterprises has to be socialized what difference does it make?

Oh and remember all that talk about privatizing social security? Yeah, that would have been an EXCELLENT idea, huh?

Talk About Byzantine

Well the paperwork in Alaska has gotten monstrous. In addition to the suit filed by five Republican Alaskan legislative hacks against their own party because the Troopergate investigation authorized by a group of 8 Republicans and only 4 Democrats has become too "partisan"; in addition to the trashing of Monegan by McCain reps (which is pissing off even Palin supporters in Alaska); in addition to announcing that the Palin administration figures called in by the investigation will ignore the subpoenas (where have I heard that before?); in addition to all that, we now have the whopper.

Palin, in an attempt to take the investigation out of the hands of the Legislature and put it into the hands of the state's Personnel board whose three members she appointed, last week filed an ethics complaint against herself. Yeah, that's hysterical. But wait, it gets better. Yesterday, she asked that that complaint be dismissed claiming there is no probable cause. Just so we're clear about this, she filed an ethics complaint against herself and then asked to have it tossed because there's no reason for it. Yes, after a thorough investigation of herself, by herself, she's decided there's no ethical problems.

As Mudflats says, "there are no words."

Up And Coming

Went to wake the Boy this morning. In the darkness as he rustled himself from dreamland I saw - horror of horrors - he had gotten sick last night. It was all over his bed, his pillow, his PJs, his stuffed animals. It was ghastly. And yet he had gone back to sleep. Weird kid. His stomach is in serious rumble mode and his back side has clearly indicated some kind of GI bug. He's going to spend the day in and out of the bathroom I suspect. We have started his rehydration and will keep at it.

The Boy has never had this happen (except for that whole new car moment). He threw up twice as an infant and never again, so last night's little (well, not little) expelling was new to us. Uh, yuck.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

What A Country!

For all you new owners of mortgage companies, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, have I got a deal for you. For only 85 billion dollars you now own an insurance company too. That's right, the Federal Reserve is "loaning" your 85 bil to AIG, the world's largest insurance company, in exchange for 80 percent of the company. Apparently they were going to eat it without the help. We're told it's a good deal, though if it was so good then why didn't anyone else pony up the cash.

Congratulations once again you lucky Americans!

Some Of Dem Small Town Values

When Governor Palin, during her nomination acceptance speech, discussed small town values she quoted a writer. Though she did not mention him by name - she said only, "a writer" - the quote added emotional resonance to her speech. That quote was as follows: "We grow good people in our small towns, with honesty and sincerity and dignity."

The man she quoted, but left unnamed, was Westbrook Pegler, a former FDR supporter who turned rabidly against FDR and became, by all accounts, a full blown anti-communist, McCarthy supporter. As a columnist he warned that the post-war influx of East European Jews was dangerous as they were all likely communists. Eventually he pissed off everyone, lost his column and ended his life writing sporadically for the John Birch Society.

According to Robert F Kennedy Jr., the son of the late Senator Robert Kennedy, Pegler also said something else of note. Upon hearing that the late Kennedy was considering a run for President in 1965, Pegler remarked that he hoped, "'some white patriot of the Southern tier will spatter his spoonful of brains in public premises before the snow flies."

Pegler died of stomach cancer in 1969, his hope fulfilled.

Much like McCain, Ms. Palin sure knows how to pick 'em.

Not HP, But VP

Former Hewlett Packard CEO and current McCain enthusiast, Carly Fiorina (who called Tina Fey a sexist for her portrayal of Palin on SNL), on KTRS radio discussing Palin's qualifications:

HOST: "Do you think she has the experience to run a major company like Hewlett Packard?"
FIORINA: "No, I don't. But that's not what she's running for."

A ringing endorsement, huh?
Nope, not a company; just the Vice Presidency of the United States.

Later in the day Fiorina said the same thing of McCain on MSNBC.
Man, with friends like these...

via Marc Ambinder

McCain On A Roll

Honest About Dishonesty

Richard Cohen, a McCain fan, finally sees the light:

Following his loss to George W. Bush in the 2000 South Carolina primary, John McCain did something extraordinary: He confessed to lying about how he felt about the Confederate battle flag, which he actually abhorred. "I broke my promise to always tell the truth," McCain said. Now he has broken that promise so completely that the John McCain of old is unrecognizable. He has become the sort of politician he once despised.

McCain has turned ugly. His dishonesty would be unacceptable in any politician, but McCain has always set his own bar higher than most. He has contempt for most of his colleagues for that very reason: They lie. He tells the truth. He internalizes the code of the McCains -- his grandfather, his father: both admirals of the shining sea. He serves his country differently, that's all -- but just as honorably. No more, though.

McCain has soiled all that. His opportunistic and irresponsible choice of Sarah Palin as his political heir -- the person in whose hands he would leave the country -- is a form of personal treason, a betrayal of all he once stood for. Palin, no matter what her other attributes, is shockingly unprepared to become president. McCain knows that. He means to win, which is all right; he means to win at all costs, which is not.

At a forum last week at Columbia University, McCain said, "But right now we have to restore trust and confidence in government." This was always the promise of John McCain, the single best reason to vote for him. America has been cheated on too many times -- the lies of Vietnam and Watergate and Iraq. So many lies. Who believes that in Afghanistan last month, only five civilians were killed by the American military in an airstrike, instead of the approximately 90 claimed by the Afghan government? Not me. I first gave up on the military during Vietnam and then again when it covered up the death of Pat Tillman, the Army Ranger and former NFL player who was killed in 2004 by friendly fire.

McCain was going to fix all that. He was going to look the American people in the eyes and say, not me. I will not lie to you. I am John McCain, son and grandson of admirals. I tell the truth.

But Joy Behar knew better. And so McCain lied about his lying and maybe thinks that if he wins the election, he can -- as he did in South Carolina -- renounce who he was and what he did and resume his old persona. It won't work. Karl Marx got one thing right -- what he said about history repeating itself. Once is tragedy, a second time is farce. John McCain is both.

John McCain: Techno Genius

Now this is a McCain whopper.

Holtz-Eakin: McCain helped create BlackBerry

Asked what work John McCain did as chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee that helped him understand the financial markets, the candidate's top economic adviser wielded visual evidence: his BlackBerry.

"He did this," Douglas Holtz-Eakin told reporters this morning, holding up his BlackBerry. "Telecommunications of the United States is a premier innovation in the past 15 years, comes right through the Commerce Committee. So you're looking at the miracle John McCain helped create and that's what he did."

Al Gore, call your office.

via Andrew Sullivan

Why Moneagan Was Fired, Version 49

Andrew Halcro details the ridiculousness of Palin's current reasoning for firing Walt Monegan:

According to papers filed by Palin's lawyer, Monegan lost his job as public safety commissioner because he resisted Gov. Sarah Palin's budget policies and ultimately showed "outright insubordination."

According to both Palin's lawyer and a McCain campaign spokesman, it was Monegan's "rogue mentality" on budgeting and other policy issues that got him fired in July, not his alleged refusal to dismiss a state trooper who was involved in a messy divorce with the governor's sister.

On July 14, 2008 Kyle Hopkins of the Anchorage Daily News asked Palin press spokeperson Sharon Leighow about Monegan's firing:

Hopkins: "Was there a personality conflict here? You know, a rift between the governor and ..."

Leighow: "No, absolutely not. I don't know if there's more to add than what I've already told you as far as the governor wanting to change leadership in the public of safety. I don't know if we can point to one specific incident or one particular, specific detail."

In a July 21, 2008 story in the Anchorage Daily News, "The governor says she dismissed Monegan and replaced him with Kenai Police Chief Chuck Kopp last week because she wants a new direction for the department.

Palin has said she wants more of a focus on trooper recruitment and fighting drug and alcohol abuse in rural Alaska. The governor’s spokeswoman, Sharon Leighow, said no more details are coming about the reasons for Monegan’s dismissal."

In a July 28 story in the Anchorage Daily News, Palin abruptly fired Monegan on July 11 and later explained she wanted to take the Department of Public Safety in a different, more energetic direction.

And yet according to McCain campaign spokesperson Megan Stapleton at today's press conference, she said that Monegan's "egregious rogue behavior" had become a major issue over the previous eight months and represented the reason for his termination?

Then during an August 13, 2008 press conference, Palin reveals a recorded tape conversation where her close aide Frank Bailey is on tape trying to enlist the help of another State Trooper to help get Palin's ex brother in law fired.

In the recorded phone call, Bailey talks about Palin's feelings toward Monegan; “She (Palin) really likes Walt a lot, but on this issue she feels like it’s, she doesn’t know why there’s absolutely no action for a year … it’s very troubling to her and the family. I can definitely relay that.”

So according to Bailey, the governor "really" liked Monegan's performance, but just not his performance in responding to her wishes to see Wooten out of a job. This was on February 29...and then four months later Monegan is out of a job?

Also during that August 13, 2008 press conference Palin gave more reasons why she fired Monegan.

"And now I want to talk about Walt Monegan. I appointed Monegan as commissioner of public safety because of his grasp of both urban and rural law enforcement issues. Unfortunately as my term progressed, Commissioner Monegan was not making headway on key goals, such as filling numerous trooper vacancies. Alaskans deserve a fully staffed trooper force," Palin said.

Palin then defended her firing of Monegan by saying he wasn't doing enough to combat bootlegging and alcohol problems in rural Alaska. Then she turned around and contradicted herself by saying that Monegan was offered a job where his skills could be better used; in charge of fighting bootlegging and alcohol problems in rural Alaska.

...even if one was to believe Palin's story, the fact that she'd offer someone who she accuses of having a "rogue mentality" and was guilty of "outright insubordination" another job in her administration, raises serious questions about her ability to run government.

The lies and stonewalling from the McCain/Palin camp are so embarassingly obvious and so easily disproven it's as if they think we are idiots. Well, I suppose some of us are based on the polls.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Bad Taste In The Mouth

Though not of the profitable racist ilk of the Obama waffle mix, this is just plain bad. Jill Greenberg was hired by The Atlantic to shoot a cover of McCain. She asked for one more shot and set up a strobe for a horror movie shadow. Neither McCain nor his people realized what had taken place. After turning in the rather flattering shots for the cover she took home her last shots, photoshopped them and put them on her blog. Free country and her opinion, but bad taste and rather rude to both her subject and her employer.

The right is predictably and understandably upset (though I don't recall anything from them about the Obama waffle flap other than, "can't you take a joke").

Whatever we may think of McCain, he deserves more respect than this (as does Obama). This is not acceptable in my book, is not even remotely funny, and in all honesty, I'm offended by it.

If you have the stomach for it, there are other images here, that are equally offensive.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Recycled Water

Curry posted it first. Banks followed with a link.
I will make it a trio because I must.
David Foster Wallace's commencement address to Kenyon college.
Clear thoughts in murky seas.


Transcription of David Foster Wallace's 2005 Kenyon Commencement Address - May 21, 2005

(If anybody feels like perspiring [cough], I'd advise you to go ahead, because I'm sure going to. In fact I'm gonna [mumbles while pulling up his gown and taking out a handkerchief from his pocket].) Greetings ["parents"?] and congratulations to Kenyon's graduating class of 2005. There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says "Morning, boys. How's the water?" And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes "What the hell is water?"

This is a standard requirement of US commencement speeches, the deployment of didactic little parable-ish stories. The story ["thing"] turns out to be one of the better, less bullshitty conventions of the genre, but if you're worried that I plan to present myself here as the wise, older fish explaining what water is to you younger fish, please don't be. I am not the wise old fish. The point of the fish story is merely that the most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about. Stated as an English sentence, of course, this is just a banal platitude, but the fact is that in the day to day trenches of adult existence, banal platitudes can have a life or death importance, or so I wish to suggest to you on this dry and lovely morning.

Of course the main requirement of speeches like this is that I'm supposed to talk about your liberal arts education's meaning, to try to explain why the degree you are about to receive has actual human value instead of just a material payoff. So let's talk about the single most pervasive cliché in the commencement speech genre, which is that a liberal arts education is not so much about filling you up with knowledge as it is about quote teaching you how to think. If you're like me as a student, you've never liked hearing this, and you tend to feel a bit insulted by the claim that you needed anybody to teach you how to think, since the fact that you even got admitted to a college this good seems like proof that you already know how to think. But I'm going to posit to you that the liberal arts cliché turns out not to be insulting at all, because the really significant education in thinking that we're supposed to get in a place like this isn't really about the capacity to think, but rather about the choice of what to think about. If your total freedom of choice regarding what to think about seems too obvious to waste time discussing, I'd ask you to think about fish and water, and to bracket for just a few minutes your skepticism about the value of the totally obvious.

Here's another didactic little story. There are these two guys sitting together in a bar in the remote Alaskan wilderness. One of the guys is religious, the other is an atheist, and the two are arguing about the existence of God with that special intensity that comes after about the fourth beer. And the atheist says: "Look, it's not like I don't have actual reasons for not believing in God. It's not like I haven't ever experimented with the whole God and prayer thing. Just last month I got caught away from the camp in that terrible blizzard, and I was totally lost and I couldn't see a thing, and it was fifty below, and so I tried it: I fell to my knees in the snow and cried out 'Oh, God, if there is a God, I'm lost in this blizzard, and I'm gonna die if you don't help me.'" And now, in the bar, the religious guy looks at the atheist all puzzled. "Well then you must believe now," he says, "After all, here you are, alive." The atheist just rolls his eyes. "No, man, all that was was a couple Eskimos happened to come wandering by and showed me the way back to camp."

It's easy to run this story through kind of a standard liberal arts analysis: the exact same experience can mean two totally different things to two different people, given those people's two different belief templates and two different ways of constructing meaning from experience. Because we prize tolerance and diversity of belief, nowhere in our liberal arts analysis do we want to claim that one guy's interpretation is true and the other guy's is false or bad. Which is fine, except we also never end up talking about just where these individual templates and beliefs come from. Meaning, where they come from INSIDE the two guys. As if a person's most basic orientation toward the world, and the meaning of his experience were somehow just hard-wired, like height or shoe-size; or automatically absorbed from the culture, like language. As if how we construct meaning were not actually a matter of personal, intentional choice. Plus, there's the whole matter of arrogance. The nonreligious guy is so totally certain in his dismissal of the possibility that the passing Eskimos had anything to do with his prayer for help. True, there are plenty of religious people who seem arrogant and certain of their own interpretations, too. They're probably even more repulsive than atheists, at least to most of us. But religious dogmatists' problem is exactly the same as the story's unbeliever: blind certainty, a close-mindedness that amounts to an imprisonment so total that the prisoner doesn't even know he's locked up.

The point here is that I think this is one part of what teaching me how to think is really supposed to mean. To be just a little less arrogant. To have just a little critical awareness about myself and my certainties. Because a huge percentage of the stuff that I tend to be automatically certain of is, it turns out, totally wrong and deluded. I have learned this the hard way, as I predict you graduates will, too.

Here is just one example of the total wrongness of something I tend to be automatically sure of: everything in my own immediate experience supports my deep belief that I am the absolute center of the universe; the realest, most vivid and important person in existence. We rarely think about this sort of natural, basic self-centeredness because it's so socially repulsive. But it's pretty much the same for all of us. It is our default setting, hard-wired into our boards at birth. Think about it: there is no experience you have had that you are not the absolute center of. The world as you experience it is there in front of YOU or behind YOU, to the left or right of YOU, on YOUR TV or YOUR monitor. And so on. Other people's thoughts and feelings have to be communicated to you somehow, but your own are so immediate, urgent, real.

Please don't worry that I'm getting ready to lecture you about compassion or other-directedness or all the so-called virtues. This is not a matter of virtue. It's a matter of my choosing to do the work of somehow altering or getting free of my natural, hard-wired default setting which is to be deeply and literally self-centered and to see and interpret everything through this lens of self. People who can adjust their natural default setting this way are often described as being "well-adjusted", which I suggest to you is not an accidental term.

Given the triumphant academic setting here, an obvious question is how much of this work of adjusting our default setting involves actual knowledge or intellect. This question gets very tricky. Probably the most dangerous thing about an academic education -- least in my own case -- is that it enables my tendency to over-intellectualize stuff, to get lost in abstract argument inside my head, instead of simply paying attention to what is going on right in front of me, paying attention to what is going on inside me.

As I'm sure you guys know by now, it is extremely difficult to stay alert and attentive, instead of getting hypnotized by the constant monologue inside your own head (may be happening right now). Twenty years after my own graduation, I have come gradually to understand that the liberal arts cliché about teaching you how to think is actually shorthand for a much deeper, more serious idea: learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed. Think of the old cliché about quote the mind being an excellent servant but a terrible master.

This, like many clichés, so lame and unexciting on the surface, actually expresses a great and terrible truth. It is not the least bit coincidental that adults who commit suicide with firearms almost always shoot themselves in: the head. They shoot the terrible master. And the truth is that most of these suicides are actually dead long before they pull the trigger.

And I submit that this is what the real, no bullshit value of your liberal arts education is supposed to be about: how to keep from going through your comfortable, prosperous, respectable adult life dead, unconscious, a slave to your head and to your natural default setting of being uniquely, completely, imperially alone day in and day out. That may sound like hyperbole, or abstract nonsense. Let's get concrete. The plain fact is that you graduating seniors do not yet have any clue what "day in day out" really means. There happen to be whole, large parts of adult American life that nobody talks about in commencement speeches. One such part involves boredom, routine, and petty frustration. The parents and older folks here will know all too well what I'm talking about.

By way of example, let's say it's an average adult day, and you get up in the morning, go to your challenging, white-collar, college-graduate job, and you work hard for eight or ten hours, and at the end of the day you're tired and somewhat stressed and all you want is to go home and have a good supper and maybe unwind for an hour, and then hit the sack early because, of course, you have to get up the next day and do it all again. But then you remember there's no food at home. You haven't had time to shop this week because of your challenging job, and so now after work you have to get in your car and drive to the supermarket. It's the end of the work day and the traffic is apt to be: very bad. So getting to the store takes way longer than it should, and when you finally get there, the supermarket is very crowded, because of course it's the time of day when all the other people with jobs also try to squeeze in some grocery shopping. And the store is hideously lit and infused with soul-killing muzak or corporate pop and it's pretty much the last place you want to be but you can't just get in and quickly out; you have to wander all over the huge, over-lit store's confusing aisles to find the stuff you want and you have to maneuver your junky cart through all these other tired, hurried people with carts (et cetera, et cetera, cutting stuff out because this is a long ceremony) and eventually you get all your supper supplies, except now it turns out there aren't enough check-out lanes open even though it's the end-of-the-day rush. So the checkout line is incredibly long, which is stupid and infuriating. But you can't take your frustration out on the frantic lady working the register, who is overworked at a job whose daily tedium and meaninglessness surpasses the imagination of any of us here at a prestigious college.

But anyway, you finally get to the checkout line's front, and you pay for your food, and you get told to "Have a nice day" in a voice that is the absolute voice of death. Then you have to take your creepy, flimsy, plastic bags of groceries in your cart with the one crazy wheel that pulls maddeningly to the left, all the way out through the crowded, bumpy, littery parking lot, and then you have to drive all the way home through slow, heavy, SUV-intensive, rush-hour traffic, et cetera et cetera.

Everyone here has done this, of course. But it hasn't yet been part of you graduates' actual life routine, day after week after month after year.

But it will be. And many more dreary, annoying, seemingly meaningless routines besides. But that is not the point. The point is that petty, frustrating crap like this is exactly where the work of choosing is gonna come in. Because the traffic jams and crowded aisles and long checkout lines give me time to think, and if I don't make a conscious decision about how to think and what to pay attention to, I'm gonna be pissed and miserable every time I have to shop. Because my natural default setting is the certainty that situations like this are really all about me. About MY hungriness and MY fatigue and MY desire to just get home, and it's going to seem for all the world like everybody else is just in my way. And who are all these people in my way? And look at how repulsive most of them are, and how stupid and cow-like and dead-eyed and nonhuman they seem in the checkout line, or at how annoying and rude it is that people are talking loudly on cell phones in the middle of the line. And look at how deeply and personally unfair this is.
Or, of course, if I'm in a more socially conscious liberal arts form of my default setting, I can spend time in the end-of-the-day traffic being disgusted about all the huge, stupid, lane-blocking SUV's and Hummers and V-12 pickup trucks, burning their wasteful, selfish, forty-gallon tanks of gas, and I can dwell on the fact that the patriotic or religious bumper-stickers always seem to be on the biggest, most disgustingly selfish vehicles, driven by the ugliest [responding here to loud applause] (this is an example of how NOT to think, though) most disgustingly selfish vehicles, driven by the ugliest, most inconsiderate and aggressive drivers. And I can think about how our children's children will despise us for wasting all the future's fuel, and probably screwing up the climate, and how spoiled and stupid and selfish and disgusting we all are, and how modern consumer society just sucks, and so forth and so on.

You get the idea.

If I choose to think this way in a store and on the freeway, fine. Lots of us do. Except thinking this way tends to be so easy and automatic that it doesn't have to be a choice. It is my natural default setting. It's the automatic way that I experience the boring, frustrating, crowded parts of adult life when I'm operating on the automatic, unconscious belief that I am the center of the world, and that my immediate needs and feelings are what should determine the world's priorities.

The thing is that, of course, there are totally different ways to think about these kinds of situations. In this traffic, all these vehicles stopped and idling in my way, it's not impossible that some of these people in SUV's have been in horrible auto accidents in the past, and now find driving so terrifying that their therapist has all but ordered them to get a huge, heavy SUV so they can feel safe enough to drive. Or that the Hummer that just cut me off is maybe being driven by a father whose little child is hurt or sick in the seat next to him, and he's trying to get this kid to the hospital, and he's in a bigger, more legitimate hurry than I am: it is actually I who am in HIS way.

Or I can choose to force myself to consider the likelihood that everyone else in the supermarket's checkout line is just as bored and frustrated as I am, and that some of these people probably have harder, more tedious and painful lives than I do.

Again, please don't think that I'm giving you moral advice, or that I'm saying you are supposed to think this way, or that anyone expects you to just automatically do it. Because it's hard. It takes will and effort, and if you are like me, some days you won't be able to do it, or you just flat out won't want to.

But most days, if you're aware enough to give yourself a choice, you can choose to look differently at this fat, dead-eyed, over-made-up lady who just screamed at her kid in the checkout line. Maybe she's not usually like this. Maybe she's been up three straight nights holding the hand of a husband who is dying of bone cancer. Or maybe this very lady is the low-wage clerk at the motor vehicle department, who just yesterday helped your spouse resolve a horrific, infuriating, red-tape problem through some small act of bureaucratic kindness. Of course, none of this is likely, but it's also not impossible. It just depends what you what to consider. If you're automatically sure that you know what reality is, and you are operating on your default setting, then you, like me, probably won't consider possibilities that aren't annoying and miserable. But if you really learn how to pay attention, then you will know there are other options. It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-hell type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same force that made the stars: love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down.

Not that that mystical stuff is necessarily true. The only thing that's capital-T True is that you get to decide how you're gonna try to see it.

This, I submit, is the freedom of a real education, of learning how to be well-adjusted. You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn't. You get to decide what to worship.
Because here's something else that's weird but true: in the day-to day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship -- be it JC or Allah, bet it YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles -- is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It's the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you. On one level, we all know this stuff already. It's been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, epigrams, parables; the skeleton of every great story. The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness.

Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they're evil or sinful, it's that they're unconscious. They are default settings.

They're the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that's what you're doing.

And the so-called real world will not discourage you from operating on your default settings, because the so-called real world of men and money and power hums merrily along in a pool of fear and anger and frustration and craving and worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom all to be lords of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the center of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talk about much in the great outside world of wanting and achieving and [unintelligible -- sounds like "displayal"]. The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.

That is real freedom. That is being educated, and understanding how to think. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing.

I know that this stuff probably doesn't sound fun and breezy or grandly inspirational the way a commencement speech is supposed to sound. What it is, as far as I can see, is the capital-T Truth, with a whole lot of rhetorical niceties stripped away. You are, of course, free to think of it whatever you wish. But please don't just dismiss it as just some finger-wagging Dr. Laura sermon. None of this stuff is really about morality or religion or dogma or big fancy questions of life after death.

The capital-T Truth is about life BEFORE death.

It is about the real value of a real education, which has almost nothing to do with knowledge, and everything to do with simple awareness; awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, all the time, that we have to keep reminding ourselves over and over:
"This is water."
"This is water."

It is unimaginably hard to do this, to stay conscious and alive in the adult world day in and day out. Which means yet another grand cliché turns out to be true: your education really IS the job of a lifetime. And it commences: now.

I wish you way more than luck.