September 1, 2014

So this iteration of this blog has been around for ten years give or take, which means ten times, give or take, that I've had the chance to say something cheeky about Labor Day.  You know, the day that we celebrate working by not working, the day that Republicans celebrate labor by toasting those who bust unions, bla bla bla.

Here's the thing.  It's nice to have a holiday, and it's nice to go through the motions to honor the American worker, but these days there isn't a much more exploited commodity than the American worker.  The few interests that actually directly employ their workforce do so in a way as to avoid granting them things like full-time employment and benefits that come with it (see Walmart and Starbucks).  Meanwhile the rest of American industry has adopted a model of "efficiency," under which every conceivable function of labor is contracted and subcontracted out until the workforce is nothing but a bunch of permatemps who are hired and fired at will.

Basically, "efficiency" is as deadly a threat to the middle class as anything, as it by definition marginalizes the workforce.

Of course there's dribs and drabs of good news.  The Labor Department is pushing back against the concept that franchise employees have no recourse against the actual franchises, and "wage theft" is now an actual phrase that carries meaning now, so that's good.

But, aside from being awesome to each other, if you really want to recognize Labor Day, read this from last year — Ken Layne explaining how Labor Day has been and is a scam to keep you poor and miserable.

Make sure to finish it before you go back to work tomorrow.

Posted at 12:28 PM

August 29, 2014

There's a paragraph that caught my eye in this profile of White House chef and friend-of-Barry Sam Kass by Jennifer Steinhauer.  (Which is a very nice profile of an interesting fellow who I guess talks to the plants in the White House garden?)  Paragraph follows:
At the same time, he has helped to popularize a way of eating embraced by moneyed urban foodies. Just as the first lady's fashion choices and toned biceps permeate the consciousness of the country, Mrs. Obama and Mr. Kass have taken organic gardening and the whole-wheat-ification of grilled cheese sandwiches mainstream.

Hmm now.  There's a bit of a backhand in the phrase "moneyed urban foodies" but let's think about that for a second.  Obviously, our relationship to cooking and eating has evolved in the past fifteen years or so.  And yes, from my (urban) perspective, there is a particularly focused sort of person that has become prevalent enough to become a stereotype — one that I call a gastrohipster.  But is this phenomenon restricted to just the moneyed (which means what exactly?) and just urban areas?

I don't get out of the city much, but on the other hand, I read a lot, and a lot of what I read is what you would call food journalism.  From the national monthlies like F&W and Bon App to the estimable journal Lucky Peach to whatever bloggy thing I can get my hands on.  And from this I do know that, while there may be a certain expense to entrĂ©e into the gastrohipster world, it is by no means limited to urban areas.  There are the back-to-the-earthers and the new-distillers and the reclaimed-barn-restos and they are scattered across the land.  The whole-wheat-ification is not limited to Brooklyn and its rivals.

But now, is this a case of causation on the part of Kass?  I mean, can you argue that the rise of the gastrohipster is because Kass popularized new cooking/eating trends, as did Jackie Kennedy for pillbox hats?

I have to say, I don't think so.  Whatever the polite term is being used for this Gastrohipster era, it is generally agreed that, while its roots go back to Alice Waters in SF, the inciting incident was David Chang opening Momofuko in 2003, which is well before Kass ascended to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.  More likely Kass is a product of this lifestyle change, or even that everything is related and happening simultaneously without any knowledge of the other.

And for the record, even though I'm a bit of a dick about pretension and preciousness that can happen sometimes in cuisine, the more that take care in what we eat, the better it is for everyone.  So thanks to Sam Kass for his efforts in any event.

Posted at 10:05 AM

August 28, 2014

I have a crazy neighbor.  He lives on the same floor as I do.  We call him Gilligan, because he is spindly and wears a roll-up bucket hat.  He hides in the stairwells like Gollum.  He has been known to threaten dogs with tiny crowbars.  And sometime overnight, he taped xeroxes of this note up and down my floor and the floor below.  I'm transcribing it for your edification:

WHAT DO YOU THINK ZOMBIES EAT.

[Illustration of some stairs and a bathroom door.]

DEAR LADY, WHEN THEY BUILT THAT, WHAT WERE THEY THINKING.  YOU EITHER GET IT OR YOU DON'T.  IF YOU DO, TELL ME.  IS ANY APARTMENT SO LARGE THAT A DOG CAN ESCAPE THE DENTIST DRILLING OF WINDOW SILLS.&NBSP: MAKE SURE DOORS TO ALL APT. ROOMS ARE OPEN.  HOW MANY CATS WILL HAVE THEIR LIVES SHORTENED.  DID THEY GIVE A MINUTES THOUGHT TO A METHOD THAT WOULD NOT HURT THE DOGS.  PITY THE STAY AT HOME PUPS.  THE DEMOLISH AND BUILD NOISE IS EXCESSIVE.  THEY MAY HAVE BOWEL TROUBLE.

This is not his first public notice (the last one was more focused on the bowel trouble, adding the additional symptom of "sex-death" for the doggies), but I really think he's finding his voice.

Posted at 11:17 AM

August 27, 2014

Call me crazy, but this NY Times where do we go now? concerning the neighborhoods surrounding St. Louis is not only totally harrowing but also does not need the backdrop of the murder of Mike Brown to make it so.

And guess what?  It's totally a story about race:

In Maplewood [thirteen miles from Ferguson], according to a 2013 report by the state attorney general, black motorists were searched or arrested during stops at more than twice the rate of whites. Yet searches of whites and blacks were almost equally likely to turn up contraband. Messages for the police chief in Maplewood were not returned.

In the city of Hazelwood, blacks were twice as likely as whites to be searched during a police stop, and nearly three times as likely to be arrested, while searches of whites were about one and a half times as likely to yield contraband.

An inconvenience, you might say to yourself, or, if you're one of those law & order types, you might even say, the innocent have nothing to hide!  But these traffic stops are more than harassment.  They are actually funding the municipalities.

When a person fails to appear and pay [a routine traffic ticket], here as in many other places, a warrant is issued and that person's license is suspended. In the hodgepodge of cities that make up St. Louis County, some drivers may have multiple warrants. In Ferguson, more than one and a half warrants have been issued for every resident. And as the warrants stack up, so do the fines: Not showing up to pay a $90 taillight violation means a failure-to-appear warrant with its own fee of $100 or more; each successive failure-to-appear warrant adds to that; and if there is a stop, there are incarceration fees and towing fees.

In the end, said Brendan Roediger, an assistant professor at St. Louis University Law School, a person who had trouble coming up with $90 might owe a jurisdiction well over a thousand dollars.

Continue reading the main storyContinue reading the main storyContinue reading the main story "The police aren't actually pulling people over to find contraband," he said. "They're pulling people over to see if they have warrants. And they always do. If you run a system that ultimately makes every black person in your town have a warrant, then racial profiling does work."

I know that debtor's prisons are basically back and ruining communities by criminalizing poverty, but this is exponentially worse because these St. Louis County towns are taking the modern-day concept of the debtor's prison — death by a million fines, penalties and service and handling charges — and injecting a racial element into it.

So in places like Maplewood and Hazelwood and Ferguson, not only is it a crime to be black and poor, the sick people in charge found a way to fund the municipalities off it.

Posted at 10:04 AM

August 26, 2014

Since I don't have any particularly useful thoughts at present, let's talk about awards shows!

This may well be a symptom of encroaching senescence, or just a projected crankiness, but I don't like those awards shows, no, not one bit.  Ordinarily an awards show would come and go without me even noticing, but now that I effectuate a portion of my human interaction over the Internet, the awards shows are impossible to miss because they crowd your feed like tribbles on the third day.  So there I am trying to mind my business, and then I get the one-two punch of the VMAs and then the Emmys.  On consecutive nights!

OK, here's the thing: these shows are nothing but self-congratulatory cynical displays of obscene wealth and privilege.  The Emmys, for the TV industry.  The TV industry is a remarkably remunerative profession, and not just for the actors.  It's really hard to get into, and once you get into it, you're largely set for life.  You get to buy a house!  Maybe think about private school for the kids!  And again that's the non-cast.  Actors, especially the ones that are up for awards, make unimaginable piles of money.  Really, TV acting is becoming more lucrative than movie acting.  And sure there are varying levels of skill at all of these positions, and maybe someone is the "best" at something each year.

But why the fuck should we care?  Oh sure we love our TV shows, and we love our constellation of celebrities, but how self-loathing is it to actually celebrate these people for having really nice careers?  I'm not saying that within the industry there shouldn't be a night of such a ceremony, but it kind of breaks my heart to see the amount of public bandwidth being devoted to multi-millionaires who pretend for a living patting each other on the back.

And the VMAs?  What the fuck if "video music" any more?  Sorry, doesn't exist: MTV can't even be bothered to retrofit its glitzy cash cow into proper current context.

I just think that there's something very Stockholm Syndrome about the whole thing.  And I'm sure I'll revisit this at a future date.

Posted at 10:12 AM

August 22, 2014

So I don't know if we're technically in the aftermath of Ferguson (I've a feeling that people in Ferguson would argue that we're not there yet), but no doubt you've seen the spate of stories concerning the gulf between black and white perceptions of the situation and race and all that.

Of all of the thousands of words, I was struck most by this passage from a NY Times story:

In interview after interview, people spoke of white flight from personal experience, ticking off their moves from neighborhood to neighborhood across the northern part of the county as if escaping a flood.

"They always want to stir up to trouble, the blacks," said David Goad, 64, a retired movie projector operator who lives in a neighborhood bordering Ferguson. "I grew up around blacks, so I know how they are," he said. "That's why we had to get out in 1962, because it was getting so bad."

Okay, I get it that race is still an issue in 2014 and another couple decades of dealing with this are needed for us to get in a relatively good place on this, but the fact that a dude would say that out loud to an identified reporter is something that blows my mind.

Yes, I do know people who believe exactly the same thing, but they are aware enough of the unpopularity (though many would blame 'political correctness') that they would never ever say something like that in front of strangers.

So basically we're stuck in 1972.  Save us Archie Bunker!

Posted at 10:08 AM

August 20, 2014

This is odd.

So the one aspect of the controversy over fracking that I've been paying particular attention to has been the unintended consequence of earthquakes.  Burning tap water is fun and all that, but earthquakes, that's something else.  And my impression has been, much like with climate change, that opponents to fracking (present!) are maybe jumping ahead of the science of the issue, and proponents of fracking (oil companies and stupid people) absolutely deny the causal relation no matter what the research says.  So I say, "How many earthquakes is too many earthquakes?" and they respond, "You're a Communist."

So it was a bit of a shock to see this AP article run without so much as a ripple of attention.  This article, you see, is premised on research alleging that fracking earthquakes are not so bad:

Man-made earthquakes, a side effect of some high-tech energy drilling, cause less shaking and in general are about 16 times weaker than natural earthquakes with the same magnitude, a new federal study found.

People feeling the ground move from induced quakes -- those that are not natural, but triggered by injections of wastewater deep underground-- report significantly less shaking than those who experience more normal earthquakes of the same magnitude, according to a study by U.S. Geological Survey geophysicist Susan Hough.

A novel argument I guess, and a nearly-direct answer to How many earthquakes are too many earthquakes — three or four, I guess.

But use of the term 'man-made earthquakes' (by the Associated Press, not exactly a bunch of screaming Lefties) means that the fact that fracking causes earthquakes is settled, which is a thing that I did not know happened.

But I'll take it as a small victory.

Posted at 10:41 AM

August 18, 2014

So there's a fascinating thing going on, and I'm wracking my brain to remember if anything like this has ever happened before: we are in the midst of something like Horror Fatigue.

As in, there are so many giant bad dollops of news out there — we've covered this ground before, and seemingly it's about all I can write about these days — that there's room for nothing else.  And each day brings at least one and sometimes multiple outrages/sadnesses and you just start after a while to feel punch drunk.  Giddy, even, though not like you're making jokes like you used to, because it feels like a betrayal of the enormity of the circumstance.

I'm not whining!  If anything there's a novelty to it.  And of course we've been stunned into numbness before, with 9/11 being the obvious example.

But if 9/11 was one horse-sized duck, this summer is the summer of a hundred duck-sized horses.

Posted at 10:50 AM

August 14, 2014

Don't really have the time to whittle this into anything nifty and coherent, so it is what it is.  I spent the preponderance of last night, and a good bit of the late afternoon, watching with abject horror the events in Ferguson, Missouri.

It's not exactly leading the newshole the past couple days — and to be fair there is some pretty heavy shit going down all over the planet right now — so the nutshell is that a cop in this suburb of St. Louis killed an unarmed black teen on Saturday.  Bad enough!  But since then there have been protests, which have been met with this really unfathomable response from the St. Louis County Police Department that is milatarized to the nth degree.  Full camo, armored personnel carriers, laser-sighted snipers.

Maybe I'm supposed to be totally inured to that?  But last night the cops were tossing reporters (!!) in jail, loudspeakering "We are not infringing on your right to assembly!" as they were forcing crowds to disperse, tear-gassing news crews setting up TV shots.  Suffice it to say THIS IS NOT HOW COPS SHOULD BEHAVE EVER EVER EVER.

It's really the most upsetting domestic thing I've seen since Katrina, and nearly ten years later I STILL can't write about Katrina because I go into some rage fugue and ten thousand words later nothing still makes sense.  But last night a bunch of roided-up police officers cosplaying Call of Duty were pointing loaded weapons at unarmed, peaceful protesters.  Bullshit rhetoric aside, that is the sort of behavior that is not supposed to happen in this nation, and if it does, we are supposed to rally together to prevent this behavior from happening again.

PLUS ALSO in my Twitter fury last night (sounds silly but true) I got into it with some mildly popular conservative dude who was like, Not All Cops, which is like, so what not all cops?  Who's talking about all cops?  We're talking about the cops in St. Louis County.  And all that got me was him calling me sanctimonious and then refusing to address my points.  Par for the course, and reminder to self not to do that anymore.  But important to note that as egregious as this is, the political right will trivialize it out of kneejerk opposition to anything vaguely Obama.  Oh, and what else?  Racism, that's right.  (Compare Ferguson to the response to Cliven Bundy, who was actually training guns on law enforcement officials and who was largely applauded by the Sean Hannitys of the world.)

Okay.  Gonna try to work.  But that is some seriously fucked up shit out there and we all need to talk about it until it becomes an issue that needs to be addressed.

Posted at 10:55 AM

August 13, 2014

Here's a little story from the weekend that totally escaped notice.  Apparently the trucking industry is experiencing a bit of a slowdown.  Why? They are "constrained by the challenging driver market," so says one of the big trucking companies, referring to a self-proclaimed driver shortage.

But is that really the case?  According to the author of the piece, Neil Irwin:

Yet the idea that there is a huge shortage of truck drivers flies in the face of a jobless rate of more than 6 percent, not to mention Economics 101. The most basic of economic theories would suggest that when supply isn't enough to meet demand, it's because the price -- in this case, truckers' wages -- is too low. Raise wages, and an ample supply of workers should follow.

But corporate America has become so parsimonious about paying workers outside the executive suite that meaningful wage increases may seem an unacceptable affront. In this environment, it may be easier to say "There is a shortage of skilled workers" than "We aren't paying our workers enough," even if, in economic terms, those come down to the same thing.

(Irwin sketches out the actual numbers in the piece, in case you think he's full of baloney.)

Now, to play L'il Economist for a second, the same people that believe that the unfettered market solves all ills would tell you that if demand for a product service increases beyond capacity, then the capacity will be increased.  Sadly, this is patently not the case, as the shining examples of humanity that run the long-hauling industry would rather turn down business than increase wages.

And even if this is an outlier, one teensy little example in a world filled with virtuous industrialists, keep in mind that long-hauling is responsible for pretty much every single thing in your house — that couch didn't walk it's way from whatever port it landed, and that box of Bisquick was not dropped into your pantry by a stork.

You can take capitalism or you can leave capitalism, but right now it's just broken.

Posted at 10:24 AM

August 12, 2014

I'll keep it brief; you've probably read to much about this already.

The past twenty years or so, amongst my friends it was fashionable to dismiss Robin Williams as a sort of a one trick pony.  Possessed with a certain genius, but with a motor that ran way too high, to the point that each successive iteration of Robin Williams was a parody of the earlier one.

This was bittersweet, because we were all in high school when "Live At The Met" was relentlessly rebroadcast by HBO, and damned if back then we hadn't memorized every word of it.  And yes, our amateur comedy stylings — a sketch comedy show or two — very much resembled the sensibility of Robin Williams, as when we weren't busy ripping off Monty Python, we were ripping off Williams.

And we were of course wrong twenty years ago.  Williams on Carson may well have been predictably grating, let's say, but as the years wore on Williams learned that he could sometimes speak as himself and not in an dizzying array of funny voices.

He had a storied career.  I've never heard anyone in the industry say a bad word about him.  I had a pair of rainbow suspenders when I was nine.

It was a sad night, last night.

Posted at 1:09 PM

August 8, 2014

The really fun thing about deciding not to vote for the reelection of Andrew Cuomo is that everyone can pick a different reason to not vote for the reelection of Andrew Cuomo.

Like, I know lots of people who won't vote for the reelection of Andrew Cuomo because of how he uses our mayor, Bill di Blasio, as a punching bag, so as to demonstrate to moderates that Cuomo is not a pinko like di Blasio.  And I know of lots of other people who won't vote for him because of the story that the NYT broke, concerning his tampering with his own ethics commission.  I mean, that's some pretty egregious shit, undermining an ethics commission.

But not me, man.  The reason why I will not vote for the reelection of Andrew Cuomo is because, even though he is millions of dollars ahead of his primary opponent, a woman few people have heard of, Cuomo is challenging her candidacy in court.  That is something I would expect from a Republican.  That is also a dick move.

Zephyr Teachout can expect my support in September.

(Sorry, rest of the world: Andrew Cuomo is the governor of New York, a Democrat, and a dick.)

Posted at 10:23 AM

August 5, 2014

A small correction.  In that tl;dr doom-screed that I put up last week, I kind of used the giant Siberian hole as some sort of joke, a light-hearted way into the actually scary stuff.

Well, as usual, I was wrong — the giant Siberian hole is actually pretty damn scary on its own:

According to [archaeologist Andrei] Plekhanov, the last two summers in the Yamal have been exceptionally warm at about nine degrees Fahrenheit above average. Rising temperatures could have allowed the permafrost to thaw and collapse, releasing the methane previously trapped by the subterranean ice. Methane is the primary component of natural gas.

So the craters are being caused by the warming of the atmosphere, which melts and collapses the permafrost which releases the methane which speeds up the warming of the atmosphere.

OK, got it, awesome.  Back to answering terrified emails from distant relatives about whether I have Ebola yet.

Posted at 10:22 AM

July 30, 2014

[OK, this is the longish piece I was referring to in the previous post. I had high hopes for it, but after talking it out, it's a little too grim and unfocused for the general public. But enough of my friends have been arguing that they think it's pretty good, so I'm putting it here, where no one is going to click on it by accident. And keep in mind that it was intended for publication last week, so date references will be a little bit off.]

We survived the Cold War and Y2K and 9-11 and SARS and a Kenyan socialist in the White House. Passed with flying colors. But the tenor of recent current events (capped by a real doozy of a last week) have given us the unique opportunity to freak the fuck out about soooo many things all at the same time, so come on, let's get scared.

It's like Schroedinger's Cat, but when you open the box both the live cat and the dead cat are boobytrapped with poison gas that squirts at you and melts your face off.

It's a new Golden Age of We're All Gonna Die. So let's roll around in it like it was a giant pile of money and we're all Scrooge McDuck.

***

There are obvious candidates that are burned into everyone's consciousness, but let's start with a nice, spooky subtle threat to humanity: the giant hole in Siberia. Helicopter pilots flying over the Yamal peninsula noticed a hundred foot wide, seemingly bottomless sinkhole. Now where could have that come from? A meteorite? Weapons testing? Mole men? And wherever it did come from, how creepy is that, grainy footage of an enormous landscape altering anomaly, from a remote land? It is the pre-title sequence of a monster movie. Some scientists are pretty sure that the giant hole is actually just a geological phenomenon called a pingo , but we still cannot discount that there is a kaiju or two lurking down there so we should probably start making giant robots stat. If we're gonna go down, we might as well go down inside of giant robots.

And then there are ominous events that are not so easy to laugh off, the real biggies.

Last Wednesday seemed it was going to be a real red letter day for feeling shitty, as the ongoing conflict over the Gaza Strip culminated in four Palestinian kids being killed by Israeli shelling in front of a bunch of journalists, including one of the best photojournalists alive. Obviously this is not the first (or the last) tragedy of this ongoing monkey trap of a geopolitical situation, but the immediacy and the reporting knocked the breath clean out of us. It did not exactly reframe the — let's call it a "conversation" — concerning relations among Israel and her neighbors, and that is exactly where the dread lies. As we sit there watching the coverage of this explode on our feeds, it becomes increasingly clear that not only is there no light at the end of the tunnel, we can't even agree which tunnel we're in.

Let's backdrop this against the current state of the rest of the region. Egypt is currently led by an installed military regime that was unhappy with the popularly elected Muslim Brotherhood. Libya has not been stable since Qaddafi was deposed (well, captured and murdered, actually), and when not spiraling into sectarian violence likes to divert herself with incursions into Egypt. Syria is an utter shitshow with a years-long civil war in which it grows more and more murky if there are any good guys at all, and next door in Iraq, the profits of American labor has led to yet another Sunni/Shiite conflict/full-blown civil war. About the only people who could possibly be happy with any of this are the people who make the bullets.

And in the middle of this roiling is the impossible divisive situation in Israel, a problem so intractable that we are reduced to arguing about the tone of the coverage by the New York Times and the Washington Post as some sort of proxy war between the sides. At some point we get light-headed wondering what's the tinder that's going to turn this into a replay of WWI but with warmer weather, but then we realize that it's all tinder, and it's all actually already burning.

***

Wednesday was bad. Thursday was worse. There's yet another actual shooting war taking place in the region, in Ukraine, and by lunchtime we received news of the latest collateral damage, Malaysian Airlines Flight 17. The 777 broke up at 30,000 feet and fell to earth. (If there was anything better/more harrowing than Sabrina Tavernise describing the debris field I'd like to know what it is.) And as we all know the flight was hit by a surface-to-air missile, most likely the result of Russian-sponsored separatists thinking that 17 was a Ukrainian military flight.

So while we are still reeling from the enormity of the Israeli actions against Gaza, this whole other ongoing terribleness results in a most horrific bungle that cost scores of civilian lives. Russia and the West have been brinksmanshipping each other over the Ukraine for more than half a year, like a bunch of power-mad Model UNers, and meanwhile, on the ground, the mess is turning into some Catch 22 written on a larger scale. There has to be something about this that's not gonna put snakes in your head, right? Well, turns out that the entire conflict has basically sprung from the imagination of a bunch of Eastern European sci-fi writers. Warfare was the final frontier for nerd ascendancy.

And as this is just seeping in, and well before the jarring awfulness of the separatists taking liberties with the crash site (which is in the middle of a war zone), Israel decides the time is right to actually invade the Gaza Strip instead of just shelling it to pieces. It was a series of escalating unimaginably bad things, and by bedtime Thursday, hope was really hard to find.

In case you are one of those placid types who is uninterested in all this, or thinks that this is just the way things go, North Korea also says hi.

***

I'd like to think that in this segmented and media-saturated present there is a finite amount of dread, just as there is a finite amount of attention to spare. Not so! Our dread reserves are deep and replenish quickly. Our capacity for dread is as vast as our self-regard. But for once, the variety of dread-inducing events actually matches the outer limits of our cringing.

Just because these very scary events dominated the front pages, that does not mean that there are all sorts of other things to make you wonder if you should bother picking up your dry cleaning. In fact there are even more armed conflicts! Let's pan down to Nigeria, where Boko Haram, kidnappers of teenage girls and more extreme than Al Qaida, has an alarming propensity for simply killing people for whatever reason. A clear and present global danger? Maybe not. But the fact that a renegade sect is conducting random massacres of civilians with impunity is not exactly reassuring.

At least we can take solace in the internet, right? Fritter a couple of hours away cracking jokes, selfie-ing? Of course we can't! The internet is a very complex technological marvel, and accordingly about as secure as a wet piece of cheesecloth, even the parts that aren't suborned by the National Security Agency. Stories of credit card info being hacked are so jejune now as to be hardly noticed, and last week the story broke of how Russian concerns (oh great, them again) basically pwned the NASDAQ a few years back. The forensic internet guys have not yet figured out exactly which Russians, or if the target was to hamstring the NASDAQ or just to acquire information (the Order Flow!), but if the systems of a company at the very heart of international finance isn't safe, then what is? It's time to stop thinking of the internet as a rainbow/unicorn array of digital magic bringing giggles and smiles to an information-hungry world, and instead as a unilaterally tempting target for millions and millions of criminals all across the face of the planet. It may be a bitcoin future, but the goldbugs may have a point, because the hordes of black hat hackers are going to have a hard time pilfering the gold bars you have hidden in your closet with their silly computers.

Maybe it's not going to be us that's going to kill us all. Maybe it's going to be the planet that kills us, or all those little tiny micro-organisms that we share the biosphere with. We're all familiar with the impending threat of climate change, ever more verified, but a thousand clicks or so west of Boku Haram's killing fields a genuine epidemic is raging. as of last week, in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, there have been 982 confirmed cases and 613 fatalities. The epidemic is raging, and the efforts to contain it are being hampered not only by the difficulty of treating the nasty virus and the ease of transmission, but also because rumors are flying locally that contravene medical advice. Residents distrust medical authorities, and as a result the infected are sometimes escaping from medical facilities to return to their homes, and families are insisting that the bodies of those that succumb, which are basically viral tactical nukes, be returned. It concerns me enough personally that I asked a friend, a medical science professional, if we should be packing our go-bags. She was reassuring, saying something along the lines of, "If someone on a flight out of that area starts vomiting blood then no one's getting off that plane until the authorities arrive," but I was less than comforted. People fuck up.

So then maybe it's not the bug that will be to blame, but rather some genial idiot who missed a sign. I wish I could go back in time and unwatch Twelve Monkeys. Sure, the world is on fire, generally speaking, but the ebola outbreak is the closest thing to an extinction freaking event as we have right now. Hot wars are fun, but hot zones infinitely moreso.

***

So are we all gonna die? Yup. That is what is intended by your God or your gods or, ultimately, biology. But are we at a peak moment of paranoia and hysteria? That's a question of whether paranoia and hysteria ever really go away. My generation got to come of age in the waning days of the Cold War, which were no doubt a lot less terrifying than say the Cuban Missile Crisis, when the entire country turned off Johnny Carson, in the first month of his stint on "The Tonight Show," and went to sleep wondering if we were all going to wake up dead, but still, it was pretty disruptive of our little kid sleep patterns. The grown-ups pounded it into our heads that it was more of a question of when not if, no matter what Sting was singing about. And the early years of this century were no cakewalk either, walking around waiting for another plane to fly into another skyscraper.

We have been given the gift of the latest version of eschatological anxiety, a death by a thousand cuts as opposed to waiting for the man-made version of a comet T-boning Earth.

But is any of this really likely to blow up into the actual end? Obviously, no one knows (or if someone does, speak up.) But we've been a pretty resilient species so far, as horrendously as we treat each other and the planet we live in. I hate to be the one to stick my neck out and counsel optimism, but hey, there are still limitless appetizers to eat, and TV series to bingewatch. Let's put the fires out where we can and hope for the best. Let's be optimistic.

[That's it! And to update, pretty much everything referenced has gotten worse except for the Russians hacking websites (though that kind of news usually breaks a year later). But I'm still optimistic! It's my true failing.]

Posted at 4:18 PM

July 28, 2014

So I wrote this thing that was intended for commercial publication and all parties decided that it was, among other things, a little to glib in dealing with the bleakness that is the world these days.

So while I am pondering whether I should put it here (in the interest of wasting no part of the animal), read this Michael Tomasky piece on the bleakness that is the world these days:

But: Am I the only one to whom things right now feel a little... different? By which I of course mean worse. This Israel-Hamas war feels different, neither turtle nor scorpion even pretending anymore about seeking peace. What's happening in Syria, where hundreds die every week now with almost no notice in Washington, is certainly different. Lebanon teems with Palestinian and now Syrian refugees--imagine if you lived in a country of 4.5 million people that was being asked to house a number of refugees that equaled 20 percent of your population--and every effort at normalization is pulverized by the thugs of Hezbollah, which in effect governs the country and which is helping Bashar al-Assad murder civilians while limning Hamas' glorious contributions to "the resistance," as Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah did in a bellicose speech Friday.

Good day to you all.

Posted at 1:50 PM