RobStar Services Co-Op

They joked about this in War Inc, but I want to make note of this as an informal patent or copyright or whatever the frick you call this kind of intprop. I haven't officially registered this idea, but I HEREBY CALL DIBS on it!

You take your standard, instant, push-button voice service available through car or mobile phone. In addition to giving directions, making reservations, whatever, you offer phone therapy. Stressed or anxious or neurotic customers simply touch a button and begin working towards catharsis. Maybe even RobStar RomanCatholicTM edition for push-button confessions?

I wouldn't want a corp or LLC or whatever because those are for capitalists. We can form a co-op and then all my co-workers/co-customers/co-owners at RobStar will get a fair share. I just get my name in the title of the co-op as reward for suggesting it.

Come to think of it, you may already be a member of RobStar or a similar co-op without even knowing it. But you call it a shoulder to lean on or working shit out with your friends, and letting them dump their troubles on you sometimes. Yet another example putting the lie to that bullshit that "There is no alternative" to capitalism. Mothers do not perform child-raising services as a function of capitalism. Families do not help each other as a function of capitalism. Friends do not do favors for each other as a function of capitalism.


Dramatic Movies with Stakes Most Twee

These are probably good movies, but the trailers are so fucking dramatic for such insignificant matters, I've always avoided them. Make sure to watch the trailers so you can hear the music intended to gear you up for these tiddly-wink premises.

4. Miami Vice creator and Oscar nominee Michael Mann directs Oscar winner Al Pacino, Oscar Winner Russell Crowe, and Cristopher Plummer as tv producers and execs at Sixty Minutes arguing over whether to air an expose on malfeasance at tobacco companies in The Insider. Instead of an exciting story about a whistleblower getting beaten up or threatened by evil profiteers, this focuses on the political turmoil behind the scenes of a tv news show when the network refuses to air his story. Nominated for seven Oscars! Everyone tells me it's a great movie. With that creator and cast, I'm sure it is. Oh well.

3. Robert Redford directs Ralph Fiennes, John Turturro and Rob Morrow as contestants and investigators on a rigged Quiz Show. In case the stakes weren't low enough, this true story is from the Fifties, so the prizes involved were in the tens of thousands of dollars. Wake me up after you're done explaining how that was a lot of money in the Fifties. CONGRESSIONAL INVESTIGATION! Zowie! Did that make you want to watch it? Me neither.

2. Oscar nominee Stephen Frears directs Helen Mirren in an Oscar winning performance about the figurehead of the United Kingdom in The Queen. Not that she's an important enough world figure to need her life story told, but is this a story of her life, covering the many years she has "reigned" over 16 states and colonies? Is it even the soap opera crap surrounding her kids and their divorces and scandalous affairs and what their mom has to say about it? No, the high drama in this movie is centred around 61 million tabloid-eating Brits demanding to hear their reluctant Queen eulogize her ex-daughter-in-law Princess Di. What could be less important? How could the stakes be dropped any lower? Get ready, here it comes....

1. The Wise Owl Award-winning Marc Abraham directs Alan Alda and Greg Kinnear (host of "Later with Greg Kinnear", formerly known as "Later with Bob Costas", eventually known as "Later with Cynthia Garret" and "Later with [any warm body willing to fill this undying slot]"). Begin with jazzy music and scenes of the inventor's family, playfully build up to his invention and his demonstration for Ford Motor Co, and then *BOOM* cue the doomy bass thumps in this true story about an intellectual property lawsuit over the patent for intermittent windshield wipers, drawn out over decades because the guy wouldn't settle for $30 million. I present you with Flash of Genius, winner of The Most Twee Stakes in a Drama According to Rob 2008.

Melinda's been blogging

Melinda used to spend a lot of time blogging back in the days when it was called "updating my webpage." It dried up somewhat when she discovered groups and message boards -- all the fun of blogging with more interaction. Except the interaction is mostly haters and flamewars. Eventually she got hooked on Youtube and started vlogging, same principle except having a conversation through video segments, and an audience with lower attention span and lower standards of civility, if that's possible.

She's still vlogging, but started writing blog entries again. You should read them:

She talks about tea and moisturizers and dandelion jelly and GuidePosts magazine and Harriet Carter catalog. The subject matter probably wouldn't hook me very deeply if I just stumbled across Melinda's blog out of the blue, but it's like so many things with Melinda: if you didn't get it, maybe you had to be there.


What's the Matter with Kansas? = Joe the Plumber

I haven't read What's the Matter with Kansas? by Thomas Frank. I've heard it discussed enough to know that it's shorthand for asking why poor and working class people often seem to vote against their self-interest, in favor of tax cuts to corporations and rich people as if trickle-down economics had ever proven effective.

If you haven't heard the hubbub over "Joe the Plumber", I'm not going to give a recap here. That's what links are for. Here's video of Obama talking to Joe Wurzelbacher while campaigning in Ohio around Oct 13 or 14, 2008. Here's a transcript of what they said. Here's a transcript of the third presidential debate from 15 Oct 2008, in which McCain gave Joe the Plumber his fifteen minutes of fame (or fifteen megs, whichever comes first) as a potential victim of Obama's proposed tax plan.

The problem with Kansas and Ohio and everywhere that people consistently vote against their own self-interest is that they're voting for a fantasy of what could someday be in their self-interest, not what is currently and realistically in their self-interest. Lots of our friends and neighbors and co-workers are so bewitched with dreams of winning the lotto that they lose all sense of probability. They baselessly worry about keeping taxes low on rich people in anticipation of soon becoming one.

I'm using lotto as exaggerated substitute for the unlikely American dream of moving up to McCain's $5 million middle class. (I know, it was just a joke. Guess you had to be there. As Harry Shearer says: for your own safety, leave comedy to the professionals.) People too often count on getting a huge raise every year or getting a promotion on a regular basis, or trading up for better jobs at better companies every few months or years. They may have accepted that becoming a rock star someday is a childish dream, but they still expect to start as a mail clerk and work their way up to CEO. Their expectations of upward mobility are not tempered even when they know people who have worked in the mail room in the same position for decades, when no one around them is experiencing that kind of legendary Horatio Alger levitation.

Joe the Plumber does not own a small business. He was not really asking Obama about his own self-interest. Here's what Joe the Plumber said when he introduced himself to Obama: "I'm getting ready to buy a company that makes about $250,000 … $270-$280,000 a year."

Right. I'm getting ready to accept the position of vice president in charge of Harry Potter merchandizing for Scholastic Inc.

I'm getting ready to marry Scarlett Johansen, Jenna Fisher, Tyra Banks, Hayden Panatierre, and the chick who plays Sarah on "Chuck". Talking some of them into divorcing their current husbands is an integral part of my plan, but you can treat it like a done deal because like I told you, I'm
getting ready to do it.

I'm getting ready to offer Martha Stewart a position as our housekeeper. She'll make her own dresses in the style of the other Fundamentalist Mormons in our Texas compound, which will be built based on designs by Todd Palin.

I'm getting ready to retain Anthony Bourdain and Paula Deen as live-in cooks/entertainers. They'll have a knife fight every morning to determine which of them gets the privilege of cooking for me and my harem that day.

I'm getting ready for my long lost great uncle to bequeath his castle and swampy estate to me, and I'll own it free and clear as long as I stay there one week with Scooby Doo and we don't get scared away by the Rat Monster of Gruesome Gulch who's really the groundskeeper in yet another rubber mask. Are you still with me, Sen. Obama? In case all that happens and I can afford to buy the company, and if I'm then too stupid with business accounting to write-off a bunch of expenses and make it look like I'm making under $250 grand, then omg I'll have to pay teh higher taxes, won't I??!1!/?! I'll have to buy gold-plated hankerchiefs to wipe away my richly salted tears at the thought of losing some of my phantom money which I do not have right now, which would probably still be more money after your tax increase than I'm making right now. That would be a fantastic tragedy, wouldn't it, Sen. Obama? In the sense of this whole thing being a fantasy.

Yeah, Obama's plan will require an incredible bureaucracy of registration for your unicorn halters too. If you are able to buy $250,000 worth of leatherwork and tack used in riding griffins, pegasuses, mermaids, manticores, chimeras, Klingons, demons, tauntauns or other mythical creatures, your taxes will go up on all that too.

Joe the Plumber only works as a randomly sampled entrepreneurial working stiff if you see him as a stereotype without looking at real situations, like the one he is in. I wouldn't fault the guy for owing $1200 in back taxes and another $1200 to a hospital, when his annual income is in the range of $40k as of 2006. To be in debt, especially medical bills, makes him more sympathetic and more average. But to talk about buying a huge business while carrying those debts, that doesn't sound like someone who's going to run a business very well even if he realistically could afford it. It certainly doesn't sound like someone in a position to righteously pounce on Obama's tax proposal. Lucky for him, if the business brings him $252,399 salary next year, then he can pay off that $2400, accurately report his adjusted gross income as $249,999, and not have to pay in Obama's higher tax bracket anyway (which brings it back to the level people paid under Clinton, not some unprecedented new level of strangulation taxation).

And please do the math before you cry the river. Let's say it's not a complete fantasy. Let's say a guy who earned $40k in 2006 is in a realistic position to buy a business that "makes" $250,000 to $280,000 per year. Is that number supposed to represent the profit after all the expenses and other salaries are paid, or just the total income for the business? Because if he has any expenses or other salaries to pay out of $250,000 total income for the business, then how is he going to get a salary of $250,000 for himself and get taxed at the higher rate?

If $250,000 is his profit, and I'm taking that to mean the amount of salary paid to the owner, are we supposed to have a pity party for someone who has enough money and/or credit right now to buy that business? Forgive my amateur understanding of business value, but that number is not the price of buying the business either. I've read some pundits talking about this as a $250,000 business but I don't think that's accurate. You don't sell a business for $250k when it brings in that much profit year after year. There's probably some rule of thumb for this. What price would be appropriate for a company that brings in that much profit? Wouldn't it be misleading to call a person "working class" or "middle class" if he had enough money to place a down payment on that and somehow finance the rest, even if he had been a plumber [or plumber's assistant] for fifteen years?

The way the original conversation should have gone between Joe and Barack is like this:

Joe: "Hi, my name is Joe Wurzelbacher. I am in no position to make anywhere near enough money for my taxes to be raised under your plan, but it amuses me to fantasize about it. Your new plan is gonna tax my daydreams more, isn't it?"

Obama: "You have nothing to worry about, Joe. We could talk about all the hypotheticals that would apply if you earned that much money, about how my tax plan and foreign policy and healthcare plan would affect the dreams of your train going in and out of the tunnel. But you are in no position to make enough money for your taxes to be raised under my plan. Sorry to burst your bubble, but you won't look like Britney if you dance in her bikinis or yellow pythons either. Accept reality and vote for what's best here in your real world."

Joe: "I am sorry to have wasted your time."

How do we show Joe the Plumber and my mom and working class Republicans that they have been screwing themselves and the country voting for lotto fantasy scenarios? (Sorry, Ma.) Why do non-rich people keep crying rivers for the insignificant extra burdens on rich people (actually the transfer of their own wealth to subsidize rich people), as if they are likely to ever become rich people, as if eight years of Reagan and four of Bush and eight more Bush hadn't demonstrated that trickle-down economics is a myth?

The problem with "Kansas" is they'd believe your economic plan to distribute tax dollars among leprechauns, whose magic pockets will cause any cash placed therein to multiply and appear in the pockets of all who live near the leprechauns. Working people don't realize how likely it is that they'll remain in the ballpark of their current income level, that they're now less likely than some Europeans to experience "upward mobility" to middle class (whatever that is) or richer. For rich people and the politicians they own, the gullibility of working Americans is magically delicious.


Missing: One lapel pin

Only thing worth commenting on from the 15 Oct 2008 debate was that Obama wore a flag lapel pin but McCain did not. I regret that his fans who love superficial displays of patriotism will only have three weeks to spread the rumor that John McCain as a rule refuses to wear flag lapel pins.


Like you could give a shit about my comments on last week's debate 7 OCT 2008

john_mccain out loud
1. "That one." It's a stretch to say this was some kind of coded racial slur by McCain. It reminds me of the kind of thing my mom would say about me, or parents say about their kids. "Watch out for that one, he'll give you trouble." For people who demand some level of formality of their politicians (I'm thinking that would be conservatives), this is something they might raise an eyebrow over, not something to clutch their pearls over.

I agree there are some words that have somehow picked up a taint of racism through repeated use like "uppity" or fucking buffoon Biden saying Obama was "articulate." But I've also seen some real stretches lately in the outrages against McCain and Pal. Somebody wrote that a McCain ad sounded racist when it called Obama "disrespectful" about the lipstick on a pig kerfuffle. What's the racism encoded in that word? Is it that Black slang includes the verb "diss" derived from "disrespect"?

I also view McCain's remark "I'll bet you, you may never even have heard of [FannieMae or FreddieMac] before this crisis," as a condescending thing to say to a young person, not necessarily a judgment about Black people being ignorant. Maybe he should have been more sensitive though, I don't know.

However, Sen. Obama's "I'm green behind the ears" slur against Vulcans was explicit, mediated by no codewords, totally inappropriate.

2. McCain elaborated that idea I complained about last time: that if you really need to launch attacks into the territory of allied countries without getting their approval, you don't say it "out loud." He's obviously emphasizing not that it's wrong to use military force against allies, but that it's wrong to admit it.

Unfortunately, the Obama's policy towards "incursions" into Pakistan is basically the Bush Doctrine, or the kind of unilateralism laid out by Clinton. Those usually apply to demonized countries, not allies, but the same principle applies. This is the argument Bush used in launching the war in Afghanistan. Whether or not we’re pals with the Taleban (wasn't he? How many diplomats did he host or give money to just prior to 9/11?), Bush said it was right to launch attacks into Afghanistan to stop Al Qaeda and capture Bin Laden. The kind of things that used to be covered in extradition treaties. In fact, it negates any need for extradition treaties if you say there's some level of crime or transgression where we're not willing to negotiate about extradition and we'll just invade.

It's not something we can just hold against Republicans. I remember sometime in the late '90s (after a little research I found 1998), Clinton authorized missile strikes in Afghanistan and Sudan in response to Al Qaeda bombing US embassies. In one of these, the US shot missiles at a camp near the border of Afghanistan, but they "accidentally" hit across the border in Pakistan. I remember joking about this with friends, how our smart bombs aren't even accurate enough to hit the right NATION, let alone the right target. But the press didn't raise a stink at the time. I can't even find an article validating this, so I have to rely on my memory. It was just a buried lede that jumped out at me in an article explaining the US response.

Was there an outcry from Pakistan or Afghanistan at the time? Did any US politicians or press care about outcry from those flyover countries? Did we have approval of the governments of Afghanistan or Sudan for the strikes we intended to land there? If Clinton had identified a target in Pakistan and intended to hit there without approval from Musharaff's predecessor, would Clinton or any Democrats or Republicans have cared? The reason it didn't lead to an international incident was because the target countries don't matter as far as most US politicians are concerned. If you launch a strike into Russia's sphere of influence or Europe, then you might have an "incident." If you strike third world countries, you have brown people complaining, as if they mattered.

Did McCain object to Clinton attacking those places, presumably without a green light from Afghanistan, Pakistan or Sudan? Did McCain object to Bush attacking in Afghanistan to strike at Al Qaeda and Bin Laden? And if the only difference is that Pakistan is currently an ally, it means Obama is saying we will stop being an ally and we will become enemies of Pakistan if necessary to hit terrorist groups hiding there, same as we've done in the past. Here he is saying it in slightly different terms in last night's (7 Oct 2008) debate:

"But I do believe that we have to change our policies with Pakistan. We can't coddle, as we did, a dictator, give him billions of dollars, and then he's making peace treaties with the Taliban and militants. What I have said is we're going encourage democracy in Pakistan, expand our non-military aid to Pakistan so that they have more of a stake in working with us, but insisting that they go after these militants. And if we have Osama bin Laden in our sights and the Pakistani government is unable or unwilling to take them out, then I think that we have to act, and we will take them out."

Notice that these military strikes in situations that call for policing are really just a show. The strike in Sudan was later shown to have hit a pharmaceutical plant, with no evidence that chemical or bio weapons were ever made there. One man was directly killed. Germany's ambassador to Sudan, Werner Daum, estimated that "tens of thousands" of Sudanese civilians died from the resulting shortage of pharmaceuticals. But it had no noticeable effect on Al Qaeda. Apparently it didn’t stop them from bombing the USS Cole or WTC or elsewhere. And even if all these attacks had been effective, it would be a utilitarian argument for ignoring sovereignty of other nations and unilaterally attacking, not a moral or legal argument.

Anyway, back to McCain. Listen to or read his words, and I think you'll see another instance where he's saying not that he would swear off this kind of attack, but that he wouldn't announce it ahead of time. Given the kinds of questions that reporters ask, it's a matter of either "plausible deniability" or he's admitting that he will lie if you ask him about these things, on the excuse that "I'm not going to telegraph my punches" to the enemy. Maybe the problem is that McCain's disingenuously pretending that our lists of allies and enemies are stable, or that it depends on their good behavior. A look at US history shows that allies are abandoned casually.

By the way, 700 billion extra credit points to Katie Hamm for ending her question …'or should we ignore their borders and pursue our enemies, like we did in Cambodia during the Vietnam War?"

3. McCain: "But the fact is, America is the greatest force for good in the history of the world." Not only does this play on my pet peeve of saying "the fact is" before stating an opinion, but the opinion is that of a failed student of American history, someone who embraces "American Exceptionalism," rationalizing all of US history as if there were good intentions behind every action and war and massacre. Meanwhile, every nation and dictator claims to have good intentions for their actions and wars and massacres.

4. I don't like hyping insignificant slips of the tongue, like "Roosevelt went on TV" (Biden) or climate change causing all of man's activities (Palin). But I wonder if McCain misspoke or honestly believes that "The Taliban came back in" after the USSR pulled out of Afghanistan. The transcript I'm looking at shows McCain saying, "We drove the Russians out, with the Afghan freedom fighters, drove the Russians out of Afghanistan. And then we made a most serious mistake. We washed our hands of Afghanistan. The Taliban came back in; al Qaeda."

Was that supposed to mean "The Taliban came back, I mean Al Qaeda"? Was this generous transcriber using a semi-colon correctly? Does anyone know how to use a semi-colon correctly? After you look up the history of the Taleban and find they first took control over parts of Afghanistan in 1994, after the end of the Soviet Occupation of Afghanistan, look up what Kurt Vonnegut said about semi-colons.

5. Obama: "We are going to have to make the Iraqi government start taking more responsibility." This is not a new criticism but worth repeating. What Bush and Obama and McCain and Hilary Clinton have often talked about in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars is a strategy that was attempted in Vietnam. At that time it was called "Vietnamization," a term which is clear as mud. Basically the way they used it, the term means that you're supporting an unpopular government in some foreign country, and you've been propping up that government by force with US troops, keeping democracy at bay. You don't acknowledge that it's an occupation, or that it's a façade puppet govt or an unpopular government that wouldn't be in power if you hadn't intervened, which will fall like Chevy Chase's one-note impression of Gerald Ford as soon as you withdraw the occupying army.

All you need for the unpopular government you support to "stand up for itself" is for lots of indigenous civilians to join the unpopular govt's military, and then they can protect themselves against the will of the people. Then you can withdraw US troops and everybody's happy (everybody who matters). You need to "Vietnamize" the force that is protecting the unpopular government, replace the American occupying force with a favorable Vietnamese occupying force. Thus, the "Vietnamization" of the country. Just pay a ton of local civilians to prop up a government that the majority of their countrymen don't support.

When you put it in the right terms, you can start to blame the citizens for failing to defend the government they hate. They need to "take responsibility" for their own defense. Well, actually not defending the people from attackers but defending the govt they hate from their own people trying to throw the bastards out.

You'll notice this rhetoric from Obama and Hilary Clinton and all up through the pundit records of the Vietnam war. The people of Vietnam weren't taking responsibility to join the ARVN (South Vietnamese army) and defend the series of dictators approved by the US. The people of Afghanistan haven't taken responsibility to defend a ruler who was approved by the US and Coalition in a conference held in fucking GERMANY.

To begin giving your lives in large numbers in support of rulers that the US approves of and most of the indigenous people don't approve of = "taking responsibility." Defending your people against invaders and occupiers and collaborators = not taking responsibility.

Political Quotes, First week of October

"What's the use of retiring rich on a planet that's being murdered?"
- Derrick Jensen interviewed on Unwelcome Guests (radio show and podcast)

Matt Taibbi on Sarah Palin at the Republican National Convention:
"It was like watching Gidget address the Reichstag."
"The great insight of the Palin VP choice is that huge chunks of American voters no longer even demand that their candidates actually have policy positions; they simply consume them as media entertainment, rooting for or against them according to the reflexive prejudices of their demographic, as they would for reality-show contestants or sitcom characters. Hicks root for hicks, moms for moms, born-agains for born-agains. Sure, there was politics in the Palin speech, but it was all either silly lies or merely incidental fluffery buttressing the theatrical performance. A classic example of what was at work here came when Palin proudly introduced her Down syndrome baby, Trig, then stared into the camera and somberly promised parents of special-needs kids that they would 'have a friend and advocate in the White House.' This was about a half-hour before she raised her hands in triumph with McCain, a man who voted against increasing funding for special-needs education."

Back to Robbie's opinion here: there seems to be a parallel between the image of Palin and the image of Bush II. The more often they exhibit verbal slip-ups, the more down-homey they seem, the more elite anyone sounds for criticizing them. Our best bet is to ignore the "gaffes" like Palin accidentally saying, "I'm not one to attribute every man -- activity of man to the changes in the climate," when she obviously meant attributing the changes in climate to the activities of man. It'll work better to focus on the substance of what she says, wrong about trickle-down economics, wrong in her characterization of Obama's economic plan, wrong to reject actual diplomacy with Iran and Cuba like McCain and Hilary and Bush have.


In name only / in everything but name

I was listening to Democracy Now replay clips from the OfficialTM VP debate. Palin and Biden both said they support gays having the right to be together, to have hospital visitation, etc., but both VP candidates and their Prez candidates say there should be no gay marriage.

In so many ways we hear politicians pay lipservice and they mean it in name only. McCain and Palin are "mavericks" in name only. Biden is pro-democracy in name only -- notice in the VP debate where he said he opposed a vote in Palestine because he feared that Hamas was likely to win. Democracy is only acceptable or necessary when it puts someone you like into power?

Think of some other ways they talk in name only. Discuss.

So it occurred to me that their position on gay marriage is that they should have equal rights in everything but name. For all practices, gays should be able to live together, do their thing, get benefits at work, have right to hospital visitation, but they don't want to call it "marriage."

That's all. Sorry, it's not a very profound observation. Just funny how many things politicians are willing to endorse in name only, backpedalling when it comes to substance, but in this case they endorse gay rights in substance only. I guess they are against gay marriage in name only.