08/12/12

R&R

On the road. Early hours of the morning, recording from a top secret undisclosed vocal booth. About to pass out.

Left my windscreen at home, of course. Had to use a Kleenex on my mic to try and kill some of the consonants.

Super budget tonight.

But, I had to get something in on Romney’s selection of Wisconson congressman, Paul Ryan, for vice presidential running mate. Couple of super quick thoughts before I drop into a coma.

1. Serious pick. Ryan is the real deal whether or not you agree with his policy initiatives or politics. A cosmic leap from Oh 8’s Republican vice presidential choice.

2. In a time of continued economic stagnation, R & R, together, represent a formidable fiscal alternative, if not necessarily the most energetic or entertaining duo.

3. Ryan has, over the last year or so, begun backpedaling from a well-documented obsession with Ayn Rand’s classic, Atlas Shrugged. I really don’t have time to unpack it all so make sure to chase your listening of this blong with a Google of “Rand” and “Ryan.”

4. Rand is an atheist philosopher and advocate of the most cold sort of economic individualism.

5. Ryan is Catholic.

6. He seems to have made such a drastic 180, at least in part, out of fear that the Republican base would decry his advocacy of the aetheist Rand. (It’s certainly a possibility that he simply changed his mind about her.)

7. Homogeneity of view is not a reasonable expectation. Not with our politicians. Not with our preachers. Not with our colleagues. Not with our spouses.

8. We can agree with, and even be inspired by, ideas or arguments expressed by people we otherwise disagree with or even despise. It’s not all or nothing. I love finding wisdom in a place unexpected. Like an Easter egg.

9. Ryan’s interest in Rand does not disqualify him as a Republican or Christian.

It just disqualifies him from being unthinking.

Which would have been a nice departure from prior Veep candidates who apparently had no book list at all. But, unfortunately, he appears to have abdicated.

I’m with Atlas. Non-story.

Performed by ipoetlaureate. Music produced by Sundance.

Today’s song blog here:

Atlas Shrugged

08/9/12

Casinos and Daycares

So I have a friend who has a friend who does sweepstakes as a hobby. I know. Sounds like doing bath salts as a dessert. Or doing your nails as massage. Wait. People actually do that. Anyway, he raked. Like a serious family vacay every year. Hawaii not Dollywood. Sorry, Mom and Dad (they’re D-Wood GOLD VIP.) He had a garage and guest room full of prize. A dozen waffle irons. Four mopeds. A year’s supply of Mop ‘n Glow. Stacked to the ceiling, Ali Baba style. (I’m just guessing about the waffle irons; that would be pretty amazing though.)

So he set aside $30 every month of discretionary household money. Instead of golfing or fishing or a gym membership or coin collecting or LARPing, he would use the $30 to purchase postage for various nationwide and regional promotional giveaways. Apparently there is a publication that provides regular information about sweepstakes and their specifications. Region. Number of prizes. Advertising reach. So if a large number of prizes were being given away in a promotion of limited reach, you had a sense about the probability of winning.

Anyway, a new golf club company was giving away 30 bags of clubs. My friend told me that his friend said that this was pretty much a sweepstakes lead-pipe cinch. Sure enough, all three of us won. 10% of the bags. And, that’s why, to this day, you’ll never catch me driving anything other than a Slotline. “Slotline. Keep your slot right on the line.” ?? I’m not sure they actually have a slogan. And, the fact you’ve never heard of Slotline or that Tiger Woods wouldn’t scratch his backside with a Slotline or that his wife wouldn’t even use a Slotline to bust out a windshield to kill her husband is just a testimony to the good ol’ boy, backward mentality of golf. Unbelievable. Because, I’ve used a Slotline. And, trust me. It will put you into the same woods as your fancy sticks — for half the price.

So as it turns out, my friend’s friend was a pastor. Playing games of chance. The shame. “The Devil’s Ruse.” “Hell’s Gambit.” “The Card Shuffle Souffle.” “Roulette’s Underpants.” “The Snake Oil Milkshake.” “The Ol’ Getcha.” (I made all of those up.)

So in the civilizing process there are, over time, certain behaviors that are necessary to circumscribe. Not because they are inherently all bad themselves, but because they associate other lesser desired conduct and reduce, overall, civility. The “broken windows” criminological theory relies on this idea to explain the correlation between the disrepair of buildings and crime. Broken windows and general urban disorder have a tendency to signal to individuals that crime and anti-social behavior is permissible in that area. Simple building maintenance can transform the entire psychological view of the community.

A similar phenomenon happens in my bedroom. The more empty Diet Mountain Dew cans on my desk the more likely I am to disrobe right in the middle of the room.

In a related sense, cultural signals like tattoos or gambling or body piercing have been taboo, in large part, because they were associated with certain rebellious or immoral conduct or people and not because those aesthetic trappings or activities were so terribly horrible in themselves.

At some point, however, we become sufficiently entrenched in the habits of civility that we can revisit certain taboos without risk of resurrecting the associated and undesireable other conduct — like steer ropin’!

I can’t say it any better than Steve Pinker summarizes in his new book, that I can’t seem to stop quoting, Better Angels of our Nature:

The cliche about Generation X . . . was that they were media-savvy, ironic, postmodern. They could adopt poses, try on styles, and immerse themselves in seedy cultural genres without taking any of them too seriously. . . . the journalist David Brooks observed that many members of the middle class have become “bourgeois bohemians” who affect the look of people at the fringes of society while living a thoroughly conventional lifestyle.

And, this is true, right? It’s just as likely that your friend’s mom will have a tribal butterfly tattoo or nose ring today as the crook or harlot or whomever society might have historically associated with those items. And, that mom has a professional career, PTA membership, and a sustainability compost pile. (Wait is that a smoldering pile upon which we compost all things sustainable??!)

My wife swears that if she ever got one, she would go full tattoo sleeve on both arms. This is the same woman that is uncomfortable with light forehead perspiration at like a CiCi’s Pizza or, I don’t know, a gymnasium.

So when New Jersey thumbs its nose at federal gambling laws and the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (“PASPA”), by passing its own legislation to legalize sports betting in its state, any outcry against the decision rings sort of parochial and schoolmarmish.

The NJ legislation has some legal obstacles. The kind of monopoly or dissimilar treatment to operate in sports gambling given, by PASPA, to Nevada, Delaware, Montana, and Oregon but not other states, has precedent in commerce clause jurisprudence. At the same time some of the policy arguments, rooted in these sort of dying social norms discussed above, for disallowing states to adopt sports betting across the board, are losing their efficacy. Especially in light of the mounting hypocrisy of sports leagues who knowingly benefit in all kinds of direct and indirect ways from it but would now resist, by filing a lawsuit, its expansion to other states, like NJ.

Gambling used to be the thing of gunslingers and gangsters and guys smoking cubans. But, there is legal sports betting in Las Vegas. They talk about game lines on ESPN (they host a “Behind the Bets” podcast for heaven’s sake). Your sister plays fantasy football and participates in a March Madness pool. Sports betting is no longer a marginalized activity of organized criminals (although, ironically, its very criminality allows such people to still flourish at it).

At this point, it’s simply another form of acceptable entertainment and leisure. We waste dollars on unserious, ephemeral things all the time. A movie. A sporting event. A vacation to Disney World. Computer technology. And, trust me, we can become addicted to it all. Gambling isn’t some vice unto its own in that regard (that’s not to say that games of chance cannot sometimes prey disproportionately on the poor but so can all variety of bad money management invited by such socio-economic circumstances).

The day is coming. Sports gambling will be legalized. Heavily regulated. Appropriately scrutinized. But, legal.

High rolling pastors and tattoo sleeved wives everywhere essentially guarantee it.

P.S. RG3, Bolt, & Howard???!!

Performed by ipoetlaureate. Music produced by Sundance.

Today’s song blog here:

Sharps and Squares

07/19/12

Drawn and Quartered

On the road tonight. Pretty exhausted. Wanted to say something about Syria before I crashed.

I’ve been reading Steven Pinker’s new book, The Better Angels of our Nature: Why Violence has Declined. It makes the claim that we live in an evolutionarily less violent time than any other before it. To me, this seems a point that required something significantly less than the 832 pages he wrote to establish. A second or two’s thought about Mel Gibson’s disembowelment in the closing scene of Braveheart, mimicked by puppets in effigy, has long persuaded me. But, in conversations with others, the position is not as self-evidenct as I assumed. And, I think that’s largely attributable to the dynamic and 24-hour coverage that violence receives today and the general horribleness of violent acts relative to our increasingly heightened sensibilities against it. In other words, precisely because most of us don’t encounter medieval violence as a regular incident of living our lives, it is that much more grotesque when Al-Queda beheads an engineer — even though, comparatively so, such mutilation is in fact much less frequent.

But, I think these kinds of reports out of Syria make you wonder:

The top official said Iraqi border guards had witnessed the Free Syrian Army take control of a border outpost, detain a Syrian army lieutenant colonel, and then cut off his arms and legs. Then they executed 22 Syrian soldiers in front of the eyes of Iraqi soldiers.

And, I think FSA are the “good guys.” Syria has fallen into civil war and the Al-Assad regime, worthy of our disdain, is near to fall. Whether we really want what rises up in its place, like with the whole of the Arab Spring, is yet to be determined.

My wife and I just finished watching the first season of Walking Dead. I can’t imagine sawing through someone’s leg. I can barely watch costume blood and prosthetic sci-fi. One of the characters saws his own hand off to be freed of a handcuff. Sort of like the hiker in 127 hours. I literally don’t know what order of magnitude rage or desperation I would need to sever mine or your limb, alive.

Whatever war we still perform, whether more or less than our ancestors, still remains horribly uncivil.

Performed by ipoetlaureate. Music produced by Sundance.

Today’s song blog here:

Civil War

11/14/11

64 Squares

I’ve been wanting to do this since the inception of the site. I thought a book review would be a fresh angle for a contemporaneous song blog. Only problem, all the books I’ve been reading were of a number of years old and, therefore, not particularly timely for doing a relevant blog. Brian Greene’s, Elegant Universe. The late David Foster Wallace’s, Infinite Jest. The autobiography of Nelson Mandela. All great reads but not very current.

I economically applied the gift card, generously gifted to me by the parents of the girls’ soccer team I coached; four groupons; a loose Chuck E. Cheese token, and a vintage Garbage Pail Kids card (ADAM bomb, no less) to purchase a slew of books I had been eyeing: Too Big To Fail, Moral Landscape, Endgame, and the LEGO Collection, Guggenheim Museum, a Frank Lloyd Wright replica. I may have also gotten the Michael BublĂ© Christmas record but that’s a fairly unofficial part of the purchase, so you are not permitted to draw any conclusions from its hypothetical presence in my car stereo about my masculinity.

Endgame is the most recent biography of Bobby Fischer, written by a man who knew Bobby from childhood and who is largely regarded as his preeminent historian, Frank Brady. The book was published February 1 of this year and is still in hardback, so it seemed that it might qualify as sufficiently recent for review.

Wu-Tang made chess in rap fresh, first. So, this is far from groundbreaking.

If you don’t know, Bobby Fischer was the greatest American chess player. He was the first significant child prodigy and rose to the highest stratums of fame. I suspected that his legend was something of a typical American aggrandizement. Like saying, Landon Donovan is the best soccer player in the country. On a relative basis, it’s just not saying much. The Russians have dominated the game for the entire century. But, this book, if nothing else, emphasizes the near mythological station Bobby Fischer held throughout the world in the imagination of chess enthusiasts and masters everywhere, not just here. Fischer spent the first part of his life offending with youthful rudeness and the latter with hateful bigotry of the most abased kind. Nevertheless, he was championed and hosted and rescued and sheltered and lauded and protected and desired to his very last breath by people all over the world. After he won the World Championship in 1972 (the only American to ever do so), from Russian and lifelong friend Boris Spassky, he essentially disappeared and spurned countless and preposterously lucrative requests to play again. Notwithstanding, his presence and peculiar genius were chased by the public his entire life.

Chess has occupied a prominent place with my family over the last few years. The Bobby Fischer story touches me deeply for some reason. For it’s peculiar patriotism and underdog elements and most of all for its picture of such an acute talent. The robbery that was Fischer’s decision to essentially never play again and then to turn into a hate monger against Jews and this country is a tragedy that is hard for me to accept.

We love for greatness to be great. Or, at least I do. We excuse so much for the glimpse of a Tiger Woods’ 45 footer or a Mike Tyson hook or a Michael Vick scramble. It is a hard thing to accept when that sort of athletic or other genius is taken, or rendered incapable of performance, prematurely. Even when they are crooks or bigots or rapists or gamblers or philanderers.

But, world class a-holes don’t have the market cornered on lost talent. The Fugees and Barry Sanders come to mind (I clearly have an expansive definition of “genius”). I can barely think about it. I suppose for the rest of us, possessing more modest talents, the idea that the “greatest of all time” — in anything — would just cease to exercise the talent, is a pill too bitter. For all that he was, what Fischer might have been is what remains most haunting of all.

On word of his death, Spassky, Fischer’s long rival, said, “My friend is dead.” In fact, Fischer died with many friends in spite of doing all he could to be an enemy of all. He died at 64

Endgame can be purchased here.

Performed by ipoet. Music produced by pumpkinFoot.

Today’s song blog here:

Over the Board