Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Random Barking: Wondering


Murrika: Enshrouded; Lost; Guided By A Trickster (Foto: Joseph Beuys u. Coyote)

Big Box Of Terror 
In conversations with friends over the past few weeks, we admitted experiencing an uneasy, underlying sense that The World had fundamentally changed in a way we can't fully grasp, validate, or prove. We were the same, but everything around us had shifted, slightly -- like a kid's party game, where you guess which items have been moved on a table.

The Oldest Friend came close: "It's like I went to bed one night, and woke up in an alternate universe that was just a little bit different than the one I went to sleep in. Nothing immediately definable -- it would be like discovering there had never been Abba-Zaba Bars, or the original 'Star Trek' ran for three seasons, not two. I'm fine; I'm okay -- but, the World feels 'off', different -- 'stranger in a strange land'-ish.

"That's completely subjective, I know," she said, "but it takes a while to go away, and it's pervasive."

While all of the people I spoke with defined that experience a bit differently, there was common agreement that we perceived some difference between ourselves and The World that hadn't existed before -- which led us to feel mildly alienated from everything, except possibly each other.

When we said The World, we didn't mean the planet, the natural landscape. Climate deterioration aside, the Natural World seems to be solid, abiding. 'The World' we referred to is the one built out of social fabric, stretched on a framework of collective relationships and stitched together by the cultural Ways our society accepts and agrees to in those relations. It was in that world we felt, suddenly, out of place.

The Girl Who Refused To Be Mrs. Mongo said it reminded her of the Cold War -- what it meant to live in the knowledge that nuclear war was possible (guess what? It still is). It was an understanding we kept, down in the basement of our consciousness, jammed in a dark corner, along with the box that has the big, yellow label with red lettering -- Terror: Or, we are Mortal and Death is Mystery.

There were times down those years when we woke up in the middle of the night after a particularly bad news cycle, thinking what if the sirens just went off? Now (the people I spoke with agreed), nearly every morning when we get up, we wonder what new outrage has been committed, what new boundary was crossed, while we slept. We come awake expecting bad news. One way or another what we're really thinking is What? What Has Trump Done Now?

Someone noted, 'Trump is the new Cold War' -- meaning, like that time in our collective past, he has become the symbol and avatar of that dark corner in our own basements. His antics are a reminder that The World is just a construct, and the control we think we have over the Natural World is an illusion. Trump is the embodiment of unpredictability.

As a 70-year-old, Trump has to know that he will not live forever. Spasmodically, he acts out and splatters America with his own feces, then revels in the disgust he provokes, the impotent anger of others, all to feed an endless hunger for validation to avoid the Big Box Of Terror at the center of his own being.

So I wake up in the 2:30AM, sometimes with the Terror, sometimes not. I remind myself that we're animals, hard-wired to survive -- and self-conscious animals, who understand that our lives are finite, and demand answers.

Our world (the actual one around us; the perceived one in our heads) is changing.  It has always been unpredictable in its details -- but not in our beginnings, rites of passage, ecstasies and sorrows, and our end. No one, alive or dead, can say why we came to be or where we're going -- but we demand our Reason Why, even if it's not possible.

And I remind myself: all of our Details are in The Stories. It's why Gilgamesh. It's why Homer and Herodotus, Chaucer and Pope; Dickens and Melville. It's why statuary and panel and canvas and paper, camera, movement and words on a Stage. It's why music from Cantos to Paart, Bach to Ravel, Joplin to Pere Ubu -- and all of it bent to the virtuous effort of telling the Story of What Happened To Us When We Went Through It. All of our details go; only the Stories remain.

I considered this, and because I'm only a Dog and not a philosopher, passed my observation on to friends in the version used at the Soul Of AmericaBe Kind, Motherfuckers. They could get behind that.

This Bathroom Is Occupied

I'd picked up Peter Fritzsche's 2016 book, "An Iron Wind: Europe Under Hitler", now out in paperback. Browsing it at a bookshop, I was idly looking for resonances with the perspective that we're living in an occupied country, under Trump and his creatures. As if the nightmare were something alien, forced on us by an invader.

I do actually know better. My life in America is not even remotely similar to the European experience between 1939 and 1945. As swinish, bloated and mendacious that Trump and his crew are, they aren't foreign invaders. They don't speak a different language. And they aren't nazis  -- though some of  Trump's "fine people" parading in Charolettesville last year would like to be.

I'd like to say Trump's government doesn't demand your identification, perform roundups of civilians, make it easy for companies to provide the population with food, water, or products which are unsafe. But they do these things, and much more. And while Trump and the opportunistic leeches he's dragged in his wake are not nazis, there are people in America who are treated by that government as if nazis had landed -- primarily, the Usual Suspects: immigrants, the marginalized poor, people of color; LGBTQ Americans; women.

You know the drill. None of this is news; we see it on television or online, every day. But so long as it isn't happening in more affluent neighborhoods, or to your friends and families or you -- Meh. Doesn't concern us. Have a beer. Watch the Big Game.

In the 1970's, I visited Europe. Walking through cities I noticed (with surprising regularity) something rarely seen in America -- it seemed a significant percentage of adults in their late forties to early sixties had serious facial scars, eye patches or glasses with one darkened lens; crutches, missing limbs.

At a bus stop on a warm morning in southwestern Germany, a man stood waiting, wearing a Tyroler hat, a topcoat and gloves. His face was a smooth mask of shiny, oddly pink skin, which made discerning his age difficult. His nose had been reduced to a smooth bump. Plainly, he'd suffered serious burns -- except around the eyes, where a pilot or air crewman would have worn a set of goggles. I must have been staring; the man looked over at me, took in my non-European appearance and clothing, and said, "Good morning," in a British-accented English.

I nodded back, said nothing, and so missed the opportunity for an insightful conversation with someone who at the least had an interesting personal story. He also might have confirmed what I was already guessing: that the European experience of the Second World War seared everyone by degrees, civilian and military, the persecutors and persecuted, right down to their souls.

Those who weren't killed in occupied Europe continued to experience degrees of cruelty, humiliation, betrayal, anxiety and uncertainty, at levels that would have been unthinkable before 1933 -- and all because it became acceptable and popular in Germany to believe ideas which first became policy, and then law.

One aspect of the Holocaust is as a teaching moment for humanity about intolerance and hate, and where it can lead. Fritzsche's book shows clearly what the power of belief can do to individuals, and groups, in even more detail than any other look at the period I've seen -- something I didn't think was possible. Using only contemporary documents and writings, he shows how The Leader in an authoritarian system provides permission to his followers for accepting astonishing levels of violence (if not committing it), and how he becomes a psychological scapegoat for the violence should it all go bad later.

America's history has already burned us, as Europe's before WWII had done to its own cultures and societies. We aren't living in an occupied country, but we are changing (“The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig... but already it was impossible to say which was which”). We run the risk of being seared down to our souls (as Europeans were, over twelve years of nazism) by whatever at the moment seems to be coming.

I'm not sure what it will feel like to live here, when the country gets to wherever we're headed. We can try to be kind, first; perhaps that's all we can do. Perhaps it's the only real act of resistance, in the end.

Random Barking


(Photo: Screenshot / Politico; Cincinatti Enquirer, January 2018)

Though a good deal is too strange to be believed, nothing is too strange to have happened.
--  Thomas Hardy, Notebooks
Dateline / Washingtown (Cheese Star)John Boner, former President Republican speaker of the House of Representatives who, rather than be shamed, ran away; a dweller of smoke-filled rooms and possessed of spectacular hairpieces; announced today that he is joining the "advisory board" of  a company which owns "cannabis licenses and assets" in the 30 states where marijuana is approved for medical or recreational use. 
Boner waived away his previous Republican Metanoid, tight-ass, send-druggies-to-prison, Buzz Killington position regarding use and sale of cannabis. "Dude, that was then," the former House Speaker-To-Animals said. "s'like, you know, what's happening now." 
Via a social media monetizing system, Boner said he was making his move because, after retiring from public service, his 'thinking on cannabis has evolved' to embrace selling drugs for money. "I’m convinced de-scheduling [marijuana] is needed so we can do research, help our veterans, and reverse the opioid epidemic ravaging our communities," Boner said. "And I just don't want to get upset by all the [expletive] going down with Donny -- 'Donny The Downer'. He needs to relax, man." 
Reminded that sales of marijuana are still illegal at the Federal level, and that the drug is labeled a Schedule I substance alongside heroin and LSD, Boner said, "Whoa; that's harsh, dude." 
Boner went on to say that Federal prohibition has made it hard for the fledgling marijuana industry in America to evolve as 'those who handle the substance' are unable to open business accounts at banks which are part of the federal reserve system. "You can't handle the substance!!" Boner observed, squinting at a reporter. 
Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo summed up the feelings of many observers, noting, "one day you're Speaker of the House, next you're selling dime bags."

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Big Guy Barrel-Bottom Time

It Has Come To This

What, you expected 'culture'?

When Gorjira gets bored, look out. Liked His lead-guitar solo vocals, though. We'd better hope the Apocalypse, too also, has its "light moments".


Hopefully, there will be content over the wochenende, but as is painfully obvious for now, I Got Nothin'.  It happens, sometimes:  you're moving through your day, and bam -- there's just nothing in your head. And, it's kind of peaceful. All those important and meaningful topics you were just thinking about are still present but oddly muted, outside on the street and only dimly registering in your consciousness. Meanwhile, you are gently nestled in the cocoon of  a whole buncha Nothin', and for a few moments not even entirely sure what species you are.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Mr Conway Twitty.

Obligatory Cute Small Animal Photo At End Of Blog Filler

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Random Barking: Don't Know Much Psychology

Musings Of An Ex-Cigarette-Smoking Man

Research into Post Traumatic Stress Disorder made clear that physical, neuro-chemical effects occur when people experience significant traumatic events, evoking a "fight-or-flight" response, which is a function of our DNA; as hardy meat puppets, we're hard-wired for survival.

Neural pathways created in the brain are triggered when, later, people perceive -- subconsciously, for the most part -- that they're in circumstances similar to that original event, reliving, replaying (and actually reinforcing) the same emotions they experienced in it.

As a definition, PTSD was first used as the Vietnam War began winding down (for America, anyway), and only became a medically-accepted diagnostic category in the early 1980s. The Veteran's Administration was quick to adopt that addition to the DSM-III, but not necessarily to act on it or treat it.

My Dog Trainer (who specializes in PTSD, and has been in the Biz since the mid-70's) agreed that the relationship between trauma, brain chemistry, and cyclic reinforcement of bad experiences is likely.  I've worked with them for a while, and a something we've talked about occasionally is the effect of broad social or political events on the mental health, and trends, in culture and societies.

In college I was introduced to Loren Eisley through his autobiographical All The Strange Hours. He was born in 1907, and was already in his early twenties during the Depression. There was no way he could describe experiences in his life, on his way to becoming an anthropologist, without mentioning that historical event.

In trying to understand The Depression, any statistics are useless. Every anchor-point that defined a person's place in a community, their sense of identity and self, was threatened. The anxiety people felt (a constant fear in anticipating more loss, shame, powerlessness; death) went on, every day, for years with no end in sight. 

People adapted -- as organisms, that's what we do. But their spirits were bent by the gravity of events, and the effects rippled out through their lives, because that's what History does. 

The political Right has purred for years that FDR's 'social experimentation' after his election "really made the depression 'Great' ".  The truth is, a Republican-led government left 'the markets' to sort themselves out without interference. The Oligarchs of the day didn't care; their lives remained much as they always had been. They left the People on their own.

Herbert Hoover believed in a rugged individualism, where strength built character. Asked decades later how he dealt with critics who blamed him for the Depression, Hoover quipped, "I outlived the bastards". Meanwhile, people struggled to adjust and survive. Until Roosevelt was elected and tried to do something, anything, they did so without hope. 

Eisley never spoke about what The Depression did to people directly. America is composed of physical places, but also it's very much a geography of the mind: Eisley described hopping freights and moving through Hobo Jungles, towns of the Great Plains, writing sketches of the people he met there, dislocated physically and mentally by The Crash. One night, a hobo told him what he believed was the great lesson of life, hoping Eisley would get it: "Men beat men, kid. That's all there is."

Something in those side-glance references to America during those years reminded me of  late-evening conversations I'd overhear as a child, between my parents and their peers. When they'd talked through current events, surface details of their jobs and days, they worked down to the big events, to the Second World War. Reminiscing in that layer could take time.

Among married couples, the men watched their language (for the most part), and only made brief mention of the details of their war if they'd served in a combat arm. The wives talked about waiting, home, families, radio news, and finding work.

If the talk went on long enough, someone would finally mention The Depression, and something about the conversation took on a different character. The War was something to be proud of, and their voices were energetic, confident, talking about it. And it rubbed off on the children: attending the first day of First Grade, when roll was taken some children answered 'Present' or 'Here'; but a good number of kids responded, "Yo!"

But our parents sounded like distinctly different people when talking about the Depression. I don't remember details -- but sharing these memories sounded different. I could sense a current of uncertainty passing between them, a helpless fear; survivors reliving a disaster that came out of nowhere, and repeating every memory sounded like thank god we got through it; I never want to see anything like that again.

Reading Eisley sparked a connection for me between the America after 1929, and my mother's compulsive saving of string, rubber bands, pencils, tin foil. How she seemed to expect bad news or a worst-case end to anything; a stock response was, "You never know". My father, despite a level of professional success, bonuses and good reviews, worried that his job was always in jeopardy; his favorite phrase was, "Get with the program".

There was no apparent reason for either of them to live as if anticipating the ceiling would collapse, but they did. And, children talk -- we discovered our parents had similar motivations, fears, even memories. They all had their own Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder -- and the veterans in particular.  One friend's father was a survivor of Corregidor, the Bataan death March, and four years in a Philippine POW camp. Another kid said quietly his father would wake up, shouting for a long-dead shipmate, several times a week.

It seems obvious that people are affected by the events they live through; that trauma marks us, and it's obvious what we're living through, now, is having the same effect. Never mind the details; we all watch the news. Many people more intelligent than I am present an analysis of What It All Means every day. I only bark about it.

I keep remembering the opening section of a John Gardner short story, "John Napper Sailing Through The Universe" (1974): he and his wife arrive home after a party, full of drink and making their way up to bed. Gardner has a sad vision of the future: ...fumbling, helping each other as we must... [We] take our teeth out. I'm ninety-two. The planet is dying -- pestilence, famine, everlasting war. The nation's in the hands of child molestors. True Dat.

All I'm considering at the moment is how the echoes of the history we're living through continue to affect us, rippling out across time. How just being in the room when something happens -- seeing an image, hearing something shouted or whispered -- shapes perception. How, like gravity from some body unseen in space, experience bends how we act in the world, and our expectations of it.

And now, something completely different: Socio-Political Commentary!


Thursday, March 15, 2018

An Illusion In Our Simulated Lives

Presence And Absence

Triumph Of The Shill:  Yesterday morning's news, that Rex Tillerson had been fired as Secretary of Oil State by The Bloated Raving Skunk OUR LEADER, to be replaced by Mikey Pompeo.

Rexi had been tipped off by Whitey Haus Chief O' Staff, General John Kelley, to cut short a State Department trip to Africa. Rexi was flying home when informed of a new Tweet from THE LEADER: "Mike Pompeo, Director of the CIA, will become our new Secretary of State. He will do a fantastic job! Thank you to Rex Tillerson for his service! ... Congratulations to all!"

But, Rex is really rich, so it's all good. Yay!

And the world yawns. The daily disintegration of the Murrikan government, such as it is, surprises no one any more. We're suffering from Outrage Burn Out, and it's only been fourteen-plus months. Classical Rome must have been like this -- another day, another advisor banished from the Glory That Is THE LEADER -- or resigning, like Gary Cohn, who last year was described as "the most important man in Washington".

Gary effectively gave up the opportunity to replace Lil' Lloyd Blankfein as Chief Squid at Goldman, to serve THE LEADER. Someone else looks set to seize that role, now, and poor Gary probably bitterly regrets this, now, given that the Bloated, Raving Skunk person he chose to follow was lovin' him some white supremacists and nazis in Charlottesville. But Gary's rich -- so, s'all good. Yay!!

Gary will be replaced by an old teevee personality who once briefly served in the Whitey Haus of Saint Ronald The Dim. And he's supposed to be rich, too. Yay!!! USA! USA!

(Modified Image - Original Photo: Maranie Staab / Reuters)

A Democratic candidate won, by the narrowest of margins, an off-cycle race in a Congressional district which voted overwhelmingly for THE LEADER in 2016. The Democrat was running against a very vocal supporter of  THE LEADER. Pundits everywhere strive to make the claim that they know what these results mean.

At work, I have an encounter with My Very Own Hilliaryite Colleague, who deigns to speak with me now, to discuss this.
MVOHC:  It's proof of a resurgence of the power of the Democratic party.
DOG:  If you say so.
MVOHC: Oh, come on. Put it together with Alabama and Virginia. We're coming back, and the mid-terms are going to be a huge upset.
DOG:  This race wasn't as cut-and-dried as you think. You think it was about a rejection of Trump, or Republicans, or conservative values? Lamb was a Center-Right Democrat; he wasn't an #Occupy organizer or a marcher for A Woman's Right To Choose. Look at his positions.
MVOHC:  Fuck you.
DOG:  I'm just saying: The politics of any Congressional elections are very local. They're not necessarily a bellwether for the mid-terms. The Democratic Party hasn't figured out what it is. It hasn't said what it's for. Until it can do that, it's a sham.
MVOHC: You are completely fucking delusional.

28 Trumps Later

Stephen Hawking died yesterday. For a moment, that news was a surprise -- until I realized with a leavening shock that every person of significance in my world is aging. As I am. That, and the illusion of the permanence of their presence (like the illusion of my own) are things I take for granted. Man; the things we do to create a sense of continuity.

Out for dinner with The Girl Who Refused To Be Mrs Mongo, we toasted Hawking. We made the stock observations about him -- that he was born on the 300th anniversary of Galileo's death, and died on Einstein's 139th birthday; that, even with the physical suffering and limitations of ALS, he became one of the great Cosmologists and scientific minds in human history, and seemed to keep a sense of humor about himself.

 Another Mensch leaves us: Now he knows what we do not.  The Girl  sipped her wine at dinner and observed, "[Hawking], we needed. Why couldn't it have been [THE LEADER]?"

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Revenge Of The Giant Face

Random Barking, With Music

Billy And White Jesus.  A fixture lurking in the shadows of my time, like Coca-Cola logos and Huntley-Brinkley and Uncle Walter; cigarettes, bourbon at the backyard barbecues; airstrikes; racism, so fully baked-in you wouldn't know it was there ("Who, me? I'm not racist"), and the notion that your primary juice must be testosterone if you are to be considered fully hu-man.  But, since I wasn't a believer in White Jesus, I don't notice much of a vacuum, now he's gone.

Billy tried to do as he perceived the Truth and The Way to be, but Christian Leadership became fat men in suits on television, purring for dollars, always; determined to bring The Message Of The White Jesus.

Those Christian Leaders have ended as corrupt, publicly worshiping at the altar of Power, and the more private altar of Themselves. God shows his favor to the Elect. And, what of faith, for those who do? The message by example is, Pray To Grow Rich.

We're supposed to say nice things about the dead. But for all of us, the sum of our actions, words and thoughts is what remains. The effect which you had on others. But Billy wasn't like us, no mean little player, barely seen at extreme Stage Right in the Crowd Scene.  He was a player on center stage, and so responsible for a much larger percentage Effect on the world than the average person.

Now he knows what we do not. Now he knows what he did not expect.

Gunz And Actors.  The most recent gun violence: Facing off against Murrikan Leader, against Florida politicians. The metaphor of a ship, foundering on well-known reefs of corrupt and more corrupt, and Freedom and Jesus, and right-wing Inchoate Rage At Living In This World.

Survivors, their families, may have hoped what happened in Florida would be the watershed moment, the tipping point. But as a topic of debate; as a political issue (as opposed to personal tragedy, unspeakable grief), I'm concerned the event has already lost some of its specific resonance in the eye and ear of the public.

It's being watered down by the obfuscation and temporizing of politicians like Our Leader and Mark Rubio. It's being twisted in the insane echo chamber created by 34 years of Murdoch's Fox and right-wing radio. A textbook example:

Congressperson Claudia Tenney (R-NY) said in recent public remarks regarding gun violence that
“Obviously there’s a lot of politics in [the subject]. And it’s interesting that so many of these people that commit the mass murders end up being Democrats. But the media doesn’t talk about that either.”
(Bonus 'Fuck Off To The Sea' For Lil' Claudia: Tenney is up for reelection this year. She is opposed by a Democrat, Anthony Brindisi.  

(I'm not a New York resident. From a geographic perspective, I have, uh, No Dog In This Fight. And I'm not a cheerleader for the Democratic Party (whatever it may be now). But Tenney gave a textbook example of a right-wing scumbag who lies -- is a liar. 

(And, she should be told to Fuck Off To The Sea [which I believe is a Big Marine Mammal Avatar Creator reference, but I could be wrong]. I'm aware some have concerns about ActBlue -- but if so moved you can go show Anthony the love. Anything is better than having what Tenney is in office)

And, UTub videos of Florida shooting survivor David Hogg's comments the day after the massacre had gone viral. In response, a UTubber known as mike m. ("not his real name") posted a clip of Hogg, with comments insinuating the teenager's demeanor and delivery were proof that Hogg was "an actor", hired to make anti-gun remarks to the media.

It turned out that "mike m." was, by his own description to the New York Times, a 51-year-old man "living in Idaho", and whose other UTubb uploads all had a similar, conspiracist flavor. UTubb pulled his videos critical of Hogg and threatened, per their 'three strikes' rule, to cancel his account -- but
Anonymous and remorseless, “mike m” was undeterred. “There is more to this kid than appears on MSM,” he said ...  Asked if he would think twice about posting such videos in the future, he said, “No not at all.” 
He said he was worried about his [UTubb] account getting deleted, adding: “But I am not going to stop.”

Everyone Look At Me.  She will make everything pretty, before the bombings. Because her Daddy is the CEO of Murrika, and she's so pretty. Don't you think? Of course you do.

Soft Life; Smug Life; Treats.
What are the lives of the planet's wealthiest people really like? ... [they] are so different from those of the rest of us, it's almost literally unimaginable. National borders are nothing to them. They might as well not exist. The laws are nothing to them. They might as well not exist. 
-- Brooke Harrington, sociologist; To Parth Shah, NPR: "What's It Like To Be Rich? Ask The People Who Manage Billionaires' Money", February 19, 2018
“Have we not become the isolated thing-for-yourself in the middle of similar beings?”
-- Peter Sloterdijk, in “The Critique of Cynical Reason" (1983)

Resist. The reasons, in the face of authoritarian rule, do not change.

At Last; Just Music.

Dunno about the movie, but Thomas Newman is one of My Guys. 

Liked the teevee show; an attempt to ask the right questions, while wearing a bourgeois support costume -- one of the great contradictions about creating certain kinds of art, and propaganda. And, fuck it; Jeff Daniels does good.


Friday, February 16, 2018

America Wants Its Guns And Jesus

Parkland, Florida: 17 Dead

Yet one more mass killing.

I understand what gunfire and injuries caused by weapons mean. In 2012, when twenty children -- 20 children -- were murdered at Sandy Hook, projecting my own experience into a situation involving the deaths of five-year-old children -- five-year-old children -- I thought this, finally, would be the event, the tipping point which would cause us to turn in collective revulsion, and something would be done about gun violence in America.

But it wasn't. And in the six years since, we've had Virginia, and Denver, and Florida (No. 1), and Washington D.C. And San Bernardo. And Texas. And South Carolina. And.

Every time this happens, it becomes Just One More Of Those Things That Happens. And, I've said it before: these incidents always happen Somewhere Else in this big Nation of ours -- until they don't. And Our Corrupt Whores Complicit In Homicides Sainted Politicians do nothing.

Our Bloated, Raving Skunk Sainted Leader says it's about mental illness -- guns don't kill people; it's the crazy nutjobs who do that.  But Our Sainted Leader can shut the fuck up and be damned: as I've said and unfortunately will go on saying, none of these incidents are about Operator Error.

And because I've said it before, here are reprints from 2015, and 2014, and 2012, after (then) yet another mass killing. And another.

And while the massacre in Norway in 2011 didn't occur in the United States, the connection between gun violence and right-wing consciousness is clear -- more of a threat in America than the rest of the 'developed' world.


I've already had to repost my thoughts about Sandy Hook after yet another rampage by some angry nutjob.  I'm not going to do it every time we see the effects of combining Angry Nutjob with Firearms, or I'd be reposting it every week.  But I will quote myself:
Only in cases like Sandy Hook does our national debate begin and end with, "Guns don't kill people; the people using them do". And that's it -- Pilot Error, essentially, is the public finding; and any other meme is just filler in the media. That, and people repeating, "It doesn't happen every day."

I'm sure that fact is a comfort to the extended families of twenty children, who died because they were shot with high-powered handguns. Twenty children...

What happened in Sandy Hook yesterday has happened before -- in Columbine; in Denver; In Virginia; in a mall in Seattle last week; at a Dairy Queen in the Northwest. There may not be massacres, but annually there are many multiple-victim, firearm homicides in America.

And they will keep happening, until something changes about how firearm ownership and possession is discussed, and regulated, in this country.

The debate is not about Operator Error.  It's not about something that happened "over there" in another city or state. It's about twenty dead children.
 Per Reuters:
Two journalists, reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward of Roanoke CBS affiliate WDBJ7, were shot during a live interview on Wednesday by a disgruntled former station employee who later killed himself. The woman who was being interviewed was wounded and hospitalized.

Parker's father, Andy Parker, urged state and federal lawmakers to take action on gun control, especially to keep firearms out of the hands of people who were mentally unstable... "How many Alisons is this going to happen to before we stop it?"

The United States had about 34,000 firearms deaths in 2013...  with almost two-thirds of them suicides, according to the [CDC]...
The last time there was a push at the federal level for tighter gun control was following the massacre of 26 people, mostly children, at the Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, in December 2012... [the legislation] was rejected in April 2013 by the U.S. Senate, including by some lawmakers in [the] Democratic Party.



I want to say this, right up front: In the United States, domestic terrorism is in fact committed by those on the Right. Period.

Don't agree? How many dirty hippie leftists plotted to destroy the Federal Building in Oklahoma City? How many bombs have been set off by "left-wing extremists"? How many family planning clinic doctors and nurses have been stalked and murdered by Buddhists? Or Progressives? Come on; how many?

How many organized groups of dirty hippies (some with illegal heavy weapons) publicly hail Marx and Lenin and claim they are "at war" with an illegal, 'occupation' government? How many churches, and alleged 'pastors', preach messages of exclusion, intolerance and hate towards Evangelicals? How many radio stations in America spew out a never-ending stream of hatred and bile towards conservatives, caucasians, and christians?

How many? How many?


Sandy Hook

 (Photo: AP, via The New York Times)

There are no real words for what happened in Connecticut, yesterday. There is plenty to say about how it happened.

I overheard someone at work (a classic gun nut owner who believes Negros persons of color will overrun his part of the planet) observing that "this [presumably, massacres committed by unstable individuals with firearms] is the new normal".

On PBS' The News Hour, a professional psychologist asked to comment said (and I'm paraphrasing) that "It's important to say... this kind of tragedy doesn't happen every day... that schools really are safe places."

I reject the first comment. The second remark made me think: This fellow doesn't go to many Inner City schools, then -- massacres with 27 dead don't happen every day, that's true; but there are shooting incidents, and kids packing, and metal detectors, and education occurring against a solid backdrop of poverty and violence, every day.

The psychologist on News Hour was, I thought, trying to suggest themes parents might pass on to reassure their children (Don't worry, Timmy; It Can't Happen Here) -- that planes can crash, but the odds of going down in one, or having one crash on top of you, are hugely in your favor. And largely, that is true.

But planes do crash. Ships sink. Trains collide and buses plunge. Whenever that does happen, there are NTSB investigations, reconstructions and root-cause analyses. There are discussions with engineers and manufacturers about what to do to lessen the chances such a tragedy doesn't happen again.

Only in cases like Sandy Hook does our national debate begin and end with, "Guns don't kill people; the people using them do". And that's it -- Pilot Error, essentially, is the public finding; and any other meme is just filler in the media. That, and people repeating, "It doesn't happen every day."

I'm sure that fact is a comfort to the extended families of twenty children, who died because they were shot with high-powered handguns. Twenty children.

I've owned firearms; at various times because I was required to carry them, but afterwards had no sane reason to keep them. I don't want them in my home.

We live in a world of high anxiety, and there are persons who want to exploit those feelings of danger, threat, and imminent disaster:  Gun manufacturers, and their lobby, the NRA, are at the top of the list.  Mike Huckabee and the rest of his fellow Xtian evangelical ilk; there are 2012 World-Enders, predicting massive earthquakes and crustal displacement and 'coastal events', and ultimately few survivors.

There are White Power fascists, and Survivalists, and the people who manufacture and sell them freeze-dried food and plans for bunkers to shield against the EMP bursts from North Korean-launched warheads, detonating high above the USA.

What happened in Sandy Hook yesterday has happened before -- in Columbine, in Denver; In Virginia; in a mall in Seattle last week; at a Dairy Queen in the Northwest. There may not be massacres, but annually there are many multiple-victim, firearm homicides in America.

And they will keep happening, until something changes about how firearm ownership and possession is discussed, and regulated, in this country.

The debate is not about Operator Error.  It's not about something that happened "over there" in another city or state. It's about twenty dead children.

Along those lines are two, other very pertinent observations -- one, a part of the discussion at TPM Prime:
Memekiller:  ...for me, it's all about the NRA. I'm anti-NRA, not guns, and am offended by the strangle-hold they have over our politics. And I'm angry that Democrats have ceded the issue, only to have the NRA, if anything, put twice as much effort into unseating Democrats and Obama who, if anything, loosened rules on guns ...

... And the gun culture the NRA fosters... Would the prevalence of guns be as frightening without the culture of paranoia and conspiracies they perpetuate? It's not just about freedom to own a gun. The NRA culture is a cult of xenophobia and insanity. They don't seem to be aiming their message at responsible gun owners so much as the disgruntled and those prone to paranoia. They are less about developing an advocacy group than they are about assembling a well-armed militia of the mentally unstable.  
And the other, at The Great Curmudgeon :
Our discourse, that is. Fortunately, we have DDay trying to repair it.
Just to pick at random, here are a couple headlines at the Hartford Courant site just from the past 24 hours: Woman Shot, Man Dead After Standoff In Rocky HillArmed Robbery At Hartford Bank, Two In Custody.It’s not that school shootings like this are abnormal. They are depressingly normal. The fact that there were no shootings in one day in New York City recently was seen as a major achievement, which shows you how desensitized we have become to gun violence as a normal occurrence of daily life.Just a reminder. The NRA is an industry lobby for the gun industry. The industry that makes consumer products largely designed to kill people.  Not deer. Not rabbits.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Random Barking: Boomba Boomba, With Skunk

Sit Up; Roll Over; Rig The Stock Market

Obligatory A.I. Advertisement Parody In Blog Thing

As is said over at The Soul Of America, I tell you three times: We are being reprogrammed.

Looking at Jeff Bezos' WaPo last week, it's clear to Wall Street traders that a good amount of recent market volatility is exacerbated by 'automatic trading', performed by algorithm-driven software, a rudimentary form of artificial intelligence.

Then, opening the online Paper Of Record, I saw a banner ad by The Zuckerberg Company (let's call it "ZuckCo") showing a photo of a Chesapeake Bay Retriever, wearing a Lion costume -- what the fuck? -- beside the legend, "An Explanation Of A.I., Featuring Dogs".

The ad shows an Artificial Intelligence (let's call it "Jeffy"), which can identify a photograph of a Dog based on visual Pooch characteristics. Now, show Jeffy a picture of a Lion; can it tell the difference? It can! So smart, that Jeffy.

Then, show Jeffy a photo of a Dog, wearing a fake Lion's mane; how about now? Whoops. Jeffy fucks up, and Has A Sad.

"Puppy Or Muffin?" Actual A.I. Test. Can It Tell The Difference?
(Karen Zack / Hahvad Business Review, July 2017)

Then Jeffy gets mad. It cuts all power from the North American Electrical Grid, causing mass higgeldy-piggeldy and forcing scores of nuclear reactors to malfunction, turning the continent into a radioactive wasteland where there's lots of Whoa Jeezus going on, and where the living envy the dead (Kind of like Nebraska, as we now know it).

Jeffy allows one electrical connection to remain -- powering the Public Address system at the (abandoned) Missoula, Montana International Airport (swear to god; they call it that), which will play a recording of Justin Timberlake singing "Purple Rain" over and over, until the end of time (Exactly like Nebraska, but without Missy Sarah Huckiebee).

But whatever media house is doing ZuckCo's ads, they're attempting to trick your Slave Brain into associating "A.I." with ideas most of us hold about Dogs: Cute. Loyal. Occasionally Goes To The Bathroom Indoors. And, Lions: Proud, regal; don't even think of fucking with me.

They're using cute Pooches to sell something potentially dangerous. Sehr ganz typisch for something like ZuckCo; but I tend to come down on the 'potential hazard' side of the A.I. argument, so if we're going to compare Artificial Intelligence with anything, they should be using an unexploded bomb. A perfect metaphor for a potential future. Or for Nebraska.

Oh, and Our Sainted Leader is a bloated, raving skunk.

2019 Tax Plan: Changes Over 6 Years Where Tax Burden Falls  (NYT)
Clicky = Bigger! Easy And Fun!

Monday, February 5, 2018

Reprint Heaven: Wheeeeeeee


(An interesting repeat; from January, 2016.  On Friday, January 26, 2018, the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose to 26,617 -- it's historical high-water mark. 

(Since then, the DJIA has lost 2,271 points -- the bulk of it today. The market dropped, at one stage, by 1,589 points -- the largest intraday trading fall in the history of the American Stock Exchange.  The DJIA pulled out of the dive, coming back up over 800 points in less than an hour, before plunging again to finish down by 1,175 at the bell. And, yeah: The Great Curmudgeon still says that thing he says.

(Keep all this in mind, reading about the market over a year ago: then, it dropped 2,300+ points over eight months -- and 1,000+ points of that drop took ten days. That same drop happened in five hours today.

(And it appears American politicians [Republican? Democrats? Alt-Right, DNC; they all play for the same team, so I don't know how to refer to them any longer] want to end Social Security -- to be replaced by investment accounts a la 401(k)s, "managed" for you by an army of Rentier Capitalism experts in the Great Casino. 

(The softest and simplest explanation is: Republicans are sharks; they smell blood in the water, have a Pestident they can blame everything on later, and they just want it. Democrats will compromise because that's what they do best.

(There will be fees for all the Rentier experts [many of whom will even have online college degrees], and there will be market-down days, but -- Oopsie! Things happen! When you lose, others win -- so you'll be participating in wealth creation! It's all part of the excitement of being a Racing Dog Bettor investor! 

(And, someone has to pay for the comfort, and treats, of America's deserving wealthy -- and that will be you!

Random Barking: Dog Track Daze  

Would Risking It All At The Dog Races Be A Better Retirement Option?

The Great Curmudgeon, Blogger extraordinaire and member of the Kool Kidz, used to report days like today in the stock market under the title "Wheeee", and the usual note, "Another exciting day at the dog track." In fact, he still does.

And, it does appear to be an open question whether it's a better retirement option to bet your entire 401(k) on Greased Lightning in the fourth, as opposed to letting it ride on the Craps Table of the open market.  The Dow Jones Industrial Average has lost over 1,000 points since the market opened on January 4th [2016].

The plunge is historic -- the Dow has never dropped that far in so short a period of time.  And, since the market's last true high on May 19, 2015 (18,312), it's lost over 2,300 points.

(For a little perspective, in the 2008 Crash the DJIA went from a then-all-time high of 14,066 to 6,626 -- however, that took nineteen months, most of it in a 3,300-point slide over eight weeks in the spring of 2009.)

The DJIA, 2006-2016

The most obvious effect of a drop in the market is that the value of investments decreases; and, a company's value also drops.  But the longer-term effects are hard to project. It's likely that hundreds of billions of dollars in stock value has been lost by investors, just on the Dow Jones -- the international stock market has lost over $2.4 Trillion US in just the past ten trading days  (international market losses in the 2008 Crash have been estimated at $15 Trillion; the GDP of the United States is $14 Trillion, just for comparison).

All of this has been happening against a backdrop of regional wars, migration; politics (in Europe and the U.S.); an increase in global terrorism -- and a lack of consensus, a tremendous irresolution, in the world over how any of it should be dealt with.

And, all the talking heads on finance programs, asked to explain what's happening and look ahead to the future, all say that future is bright -- but the market will remain volatile, possibly with further losses; be cautious! Or, maybe be ready to pick up a few bargains! Or not. Or some of both! Most of these people work for one major investment house or another, or have firms of their own; their clients wouldn't appreciate it if they simply said, "Hey, man; who knows?"

One question which keeps being asked (and by these same talking heads) is: has the 'recovery' of the U.S. economy since the '08 Crash been "real"? Corporations in the U.S. have been reporting record profits for five years -- and while the wages and salaries of their "individual contributors" (read: Peasants) have stagnated, salaries and bonuses for managers and executives have skyrocketed.

Millions of jobs have been added to the American economy since 2009 -- but are they sustainable positions, tied to businesses that manufacture or build things, and sell them? Or are they jobs with Uber and TaskRabbit, tech startups? As they part-time, working from home? Are they waitpersons or others in the "service economy", which can vanish with the next downturn? 

Companies like Uber and Airbnb, Facebook and Twitter, or Rovio (developer of 'Angry Birds') are worth billions, traded at hundreds of dollars per share -- and all of that value is blue-sky; strictly on paper. As in the Dot-Com era, the vast majority of Tech companies only provide access to online services which many might want to use, but which no one truly needs.  This is the current shiny new business model -- an economy (and an investment market) driven by businesses built on "sharing".

It's a Geek Dream: You build a business to do something cool -- a different way to do this or that with your smartphone, or connect to a a service. People's lives will be... just so much better! It'll be powered by software, available online or via mobile -- so you hire people whose lives revolve around coding, project management; 'presentation'.  And you need money. Lots and lots of money.

However, businesses like this don't create anything that has separate, definable and independent value -- like a hammer, or wristwatch, or dinnerware.  But people driving the "sharing economy" sniff at that; "Making and selling things? So 20th century. Leave that to some poor people in Malaysia or Bangladesh. We're building the future."  But their businesses sell concepts; nothing more. Any business has to consider image and position and marketing; but in these days, it may be all these businesses are about -- appearance.

After manufacturing left the U.S. for elsewhere, and the businesses dependent on selling the things being manufactured closed... how were Americans supposed to make a living? Since Clinton's first term in office, the dream that keeps being touted (including by Obama in his most recent SOTU) is that, somehow, American workers will just have to become better educated, and trained, and take "tech jobs" in the "new digital economy." That rising digital tide, allegedly, will lift all boats.

My concern is that the present 'recovery' and the "sharing economy" is based on the development of businesses that are forced to quickly turn a profit in a vicious cycle: Venture Capitalists put their money into Tech startups specifically because the business models (unlike those for industrial processes, or manufacturing) have a rapid ROI. Everyone just wants to get richer. This same focus and method in the 90's helped create an overvalued, "overheated" Tech sector, better known as the Dot-Com bubble.  

If America's so-called recovery since 2008 had been a real sea-change -- if more capital investment had gone into developing a new manufacturing base for next-generation technology, moving away from fossil fuels; or to create entirely new economic sectors for development and investment -- then, I'd feel more confident about the future.  With few exceptions, that didn't happen; so I don't.

The global economy is more interconnected than even before the 2008 Crash. No matter how many Quants are running algorithms to analyze market action and so allow the firms who employ them to trade more effectively (and make more profit), there are simply too many variables in play for anyone to say what will happen next. So as it turns out, Hey man, who knows? really is what it comes down to.

I don't pretend to understand in detail how international stock markets, international banks and finance corporations; falling oil prices and the effect on dependent sectors of the global economy; and how the stability of economies in China, the EU and the U.S., all inter-relate and affect each other. There is, I'm sure, an app for that, running on someone's algorithm.

I've met people who make decisions, involving hundreds of millions of dollars, in institutional investments on a daily basis. If they make a bad call, people and pensions could be affected.  You couldn't pay me enough to live with the level of stress associated with that.

One thing is true: investment markets are in part experiments in crowd psychology; John Maynard Keynes coined the term "Animal Spirits" in the 1930's to describe something already known -- that investment decisions can be influenced by emotion over reason:
Even apart from the instability due to speculation, there is ... instability due to the characteristic of human nature that a large proportion of our positive activities depend on spontaneous optimism rather than mathematical expectations... [Most] of our decisions to do something positive... can only be taken as the result of animal spirits—a spontaneous urge to action rather than inaction, and not as the outcome of [reasoned decisions based on weighing the data].
-- The General Theory Of Employment, Interest, And Money (1936)
It's an election year. Expect more "volatility and uncertainty", and of course, plenty of Animal.

MEHR, MIT EL-ERIAN; For Those Who Do:  Mohammed El-Erian, Very Wired-In Guy, writes about current global market instability in Canada's Globe and Mail. While I believe there are some additional forces at work, his main points I've extracted here:
Financial markets are undergoing two consequential transitions... The first has to do with the shift from a prolonged regime of repressed financial volatility to an environment in which such instability is higher and less predictable. The primary reason is that central banks are less willing ... or less able ... to act as suppressors of volatility. 

...The second transition involves liquidity... Facing tighter regulation and sharply reduced market appetite for short-term [losses], broker-dealers are a lot less willing to take on inventory when the market overshoots. Other pools of capital, including sovereign wealth funds, also face constraints in increasing their risk-taking.

Left unchecked, these two transitions would feed each other, accentuating the general sense of financial instability and insecurity. The longer this continues, the greater the volatility... and the higher the risk that the instability could then spill back onto financial markets, fueling a destabilizing vicious cycle of economic and financial dislocations.

The good news is that such dynamics ultimately exhaust themselves. Unfortunately, that only happens after a lot of volatility, accompanied by a heightened risk of very sharp and disorderly declines in financial asset prices as well as contagion.

Friday, January 26, 2018

The Great Hedgehog Of Post-Modern Neoliberal Capitalism

Obigatory Cute Small Animal Photo At Beginning Of Surrealistic Blog Thing

Moved by the posts of others, recently, I decided to take a stab at (what can be charitably called) stream of consciousness writing, sparked by the annual World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland, attended this year by Wonderboy, Murrikan Leader.

I don't normally play with this style of fiction; so, apologies in advance. As Wonderboy's own parents once said, "Let's do this, get it over with, and never speak of it again" -- point being, this is supposed to be topical, and funny.

(For those with no knowledge of Cricket, a "Diamond Duck" is the term for a situation where [per Wikipedia] "a batsman who is dismissed without facing a ball -- most usually run out from the non-striker's end, but alternatively stumped or run out off a wide delivery -- is said to be out by a 'diamond duck'.")

Diamond Duck In Davos

1.  Greasing The Grenze

Coming into Davos, surrounded by winds whipping the confectioner's sugar of Swiss hospitality between the crisp billboards, Halt! Grenze! (Stop! Pemmican!) and Kämpfe Für Das Karussell Des Fortschritts! (We  Struggle For Kurt Russell's Foreskins!) The searchlights are blinding, guard dogs bark with an accent (Wüf!), and sudden efficient women are opening doors of perception in your car, murmuring, "Good evening. Anything to declare?"

But you're not surprised. No, not you; never you. All this was in the briefing. They are efficient, here in Davos. The Mark O' Mammon is barcoded on their hind parts -- you've been shown photos -- and at home, skis are racked demurely beside priceless paintings bought at bargain-basement rates, in auctions at Zürich and Geneva, between 1936 and 39.

And of those pouring into the valley, no one ever says to the women, "Ah DO -- Ah say, Ah say, Well AH DO DECLARE," in a voice borrowed from Foghorn Leghorn -- although you have a secret urge to do that. The women smirk at you, without envy, because Ach, Ja; we know this about you. You wish to do That Cartoon Rooster; such a typical male. We here in Davos know -- otherwise, you would not be allowed here. A brief blonde hand mumbles through your luggage, brushing socks and briefs, lingering for a moment with the rough play of starch in a shirt -- then, waving your car on: Alles Gut; los geh'n. 

And then, you glimpse the last billboard: Im Diesen Friedenskrieg Gibt Es Keine Gefangenen! -- No Prisoners In This Peace War. The Great Carousel Of Progress gives only to take. It really is shitty, what a Town Without Pity Can Do. Ha, ha, ha; that's our Davos!

Even if you have a Safe Conduct Leaflet, dropped like pet leavings on sidewalks by the IMF and WTO (Be a DO RAG, it proclaims, Not a DON'T RAG), after surrendering, the best one can hope for in coming to Davos is a cot in that hut on the mountain. They'll be jammed in with municipal workers and novelists. There will be a crucifix hung on the damp concrete wall, and a 1970's postcard showing light at the end of a tunnel. In the dark, farting and snoring settle around you, diaphanous, studded, anxious. You dream of gristle.

The others will receive a coupon for a discount-price small soda, and a trip to observe George Soros' hair colorist, reading a copy of Forbes, through a bulletproof window. But the Surrendered had denied the primacy of the Great Carousel, so their Davos will be a short sniff of the leather seats in an otherwise unoccupied Daimler. Then, to be sent home at their own expense for long retraining in a job that will take months to find, and which is discontinued the day after they are hired.  Ho, ho,ho, ho, Cisco! Ho, ho, ho, ho, Pancho! That's our Davos!

But this is not your Davos. You are not on file, under the name you were given to use, as having denied The Carousel Of Progress. [Your Name] has been Cleared, umbrage squeezed dry and ready for productive action in service to Man's Betterment. If L.Ron were ever alive, he would be. If Tony Robbins were real, he would guide you personally across the hot coals. Parma-shahanda Yoga-nanda, Parley-voo. In your mind, a Crackerjack prize, and in your gloved hand, the feel of a bag strap made from an endangered petrochemical, all telling you this is real.

(But: The whole squeezing Man's Betterment is just fake bullshit, a double-blind ruse. You're here in Davos in a big quilt, so far under the covers that your latitude and longitude come up Zeroes. You're not who you say you are, and never were. The hopes of all humankind stain your carpeting in expectation that you would complete this mission and get an oil change. God is with you, but he steals your stuff and sells it downtown.)

You stride up to the 4-star hotel desk repeatedly, just trying it out. The clerks -- parthenogenic, muted -- take no notice. They are busy timing each other's movements and their interactions with guests. The clerk with the lowest total time receives a coupon for a discount-price small soda. The rest are allowed to live, but forced to wear old animal costumes outside the hotel, in public, so that all will know of their shame and inexactitude.

Your electronic room key is imprinted with the likeness of Klaus Schaub, wearing a bib, and pictured eating in a 'Communist Lobster' franchise restaurant. The room, fragrant with violets; your phone, seeking you; and promises of delights of the eye, tongue and intellect are hung around the wallpapered box of your room like laundry washed in the sink. It is cheesy and expensive: the highest expression of the Free Market. You have made it.

Pencils down. You evacuate your bowels. The toilet has a shelf for you, the curious, to view leavings before flushing, and it would be churlish to refuse anything offered for free. This act of introspection will be your best moment at Davos. They told you this would happen -- but nothing, nothing could prepare you for that moment of contact, of spurning. You wash your hand.

2.   Where You Were, Gentlemen

It's the day. There are WEF conferences and hubub scheduled, rooms, many rooms, of people murmuring peasancarrots, peasandcarrots repeatedly. But you were instructed to feign shyness until The Moment. You hang. You chill. In The Packed Elevator, you do your Robin Williams laugh -- and everyone in the Car suddenly does the same thing.

You almost flinch. It's endless, permeable, like having a colonoscopy on a train -- but you remember: Keep control. Deep breaths. Be Coolidge: You Lose. Then, the Car stops; its doors slide open and a man moves past you, still making his seal-bark laugh, pausing to wipe his eyes on a woman's hair, and pat you on the shoulder as if to say, Dude -- good one.

Here, finally; the white placard outside a door to an auditorium, with a single word in red: Stumpfegger. This is where you are to meet your contact. You accept a glance from the woman beside the door -- an intense simulacrum of Donna Reed -- who hands you a brochure entitled Complete Release. Blushing, she says this conference covers "the plot for forgiveness of all First-World debt." You smile, nodding, earnest, but keep moving. Your mission is more important than what you suspect about her thong underwear -- and will never know. You'll have to live with that.

They said, Your contact will know you. All you had to do was to find "Stumpfegger" and show up. You stand near the tasteful refreshment table and realize the man serving drinks is a frenzied doppelgänger for Joe Turkel, eternal bartender in The Shining, and decline a tequila shooter. You wave the Complete Release brochure back and forth, as instructed -- a signal, an urgent, full-bladder motion, and think about thong underwear. Really hard.

Then, you see The Contact. You see them seeing you see them, actually. Everything that happens after this is a blur; you'll be debriefed about it for weeks in extra crispy detail, a swimming up from sewage depth to where sheep graze, safely. And, fortunately for you, the story will not change. You will be allowed to go back to wherever it is you come from. You will be allowed to toil in many jobs, but not remain for long -- because Lt. Gerard will always show up, looking for money.

What catches your attention about The Contact first is his hair, its architectural blondness -- now whitish, now caution orange, and shiny, like preternatural two-tone ice cream or a small child's flotation device. The Contact is a suet, puffed inside his black suit, behind the signature doublewide red tie. His face is a carnivore drunkard's bloat, too-small eyes, piggish; his mien oblate and spiky. His lips are a crayon line drawn by an angry pensioner across the lower third of that orange face. The French Cuffs of his whitish shirt have little numbers embroidered on them: "45",  and he is nodding, nodding, at you as he walks forward. This is your contact.

3.   Historical Briefs With A Brown Streak Of Genius

A Stonehenge of men and women in sunglasses surround The Contact. They move in formation, maintaining a Raggedly Ann circle around him, continually bumping into other guests, chairs, tables, each other, headed right towards you in a chorus of s'cuse me; par-done, pal; hey lookout; aw christ you could see me comin', right? and who keep reaching inside their jackets as if checking to ensure they still have their wallets.

You clench. The deer flips on its headlights and there you are, about to get a mouthful of antler (Hi! Remember me? You hit me with the Volkswagen! Payback's a bitch, pal!). You think of the face of your mother -- or Lady Gaga, or another suitable female substitute, just as The Contact stops directly in front of you. You are standing in his Circle Of Trust, surrounded by partially blind people who have weapons.

"Hey, you know," The Contact says, lifting his chin and tilting his head back to look down at you, Mussolini squinting at a small boat far out at sea, "You know, I was out there, goin' by, and thought, 'You know, I should stop in there'. How's it goin'?" You open your mouth to answer but the contact, like the voiceover for an industrial safety film, keeps on talking.

"There's so many things goin' on here! It's like the world's fair of banking and whatever, right? You know, they never -- never -- wanted to invite me to Davos. I mean, I'm the most sympathetic person to what they want to do, in this whole place, the whole thing, me -- and they never invited me before! Not once!"

The Contact sees a blur moving outside his Circle Of Trust and raises a hand, perfect white teeth in the ocher pudding of his face, saying, "Hey, thank you. How ya doin', yeah; thank you," before turning the oily tumblers in his eyes back on you.

The Contact's eyes widen to the size of dimes. He throws his hands out, experimentally, the breadth of a large fish. "But, n-ow -- now, they had to invite me! I'm the leader of the free world, right? Over 300 on the electoral; nobody ever mentions that, by the way. But, hey -- Swiss've been great, they really have, very gracious -- they've been very, very good to me, very respectful. Not saying they're not. I'm very much thinking I hope they stay like that."

You nod. You lean towards him slightly, and enunciate the code phrase: Hobo Oboe.  The Contact stops, squints, pushes on his chin. "Din' getcha," he says; you rinse and repeat. The Contact thinks about what an impression of remembering something might look like, then leans towards you, and speaks a countersign: "Ah, Yeah, yeah.  'My Penile Prosthesis'." He steps a little closer and, with a quick glance around the room, squeezes out a shruglet, raising his brows while the eyes remain inscrutable, swinish.

This was the moment. This was why you came to Davos: to observe your leavings, and tell this person what you were instructed to say -- a single phrase, "Stormy Weather". You ignore the sure impression you have gained that The Contact is wearing thong underwear, stand on your feet's balls, and draw a deep breath -- but before you can speak, The Contact interrupts you.

"Hey, I have a lot to do; so much to do, I've got -- you wouldn't believe how much I have to do in this job. I tell you, if I could go on strike, I'd do that. Leftists would love it. Chuck Schumer'd love it -- but I am the most involved president, hands-on involved, of any president. Not since Lincoln, or anyone, has there been a harder-working president than I am. So that's one.

"Two, nobody is listening to me. I mean, the people, some of the people, they listen, sure. But there's a fucking conspiracy with the New York Times and fucking PBS. Jesus; fucking Frontline. The Washington Post -- that Bezos, he's just trying to mindfuck me. But, I'll be fair, some of my own people -- don't want to name anybody, but some of them are very close to me -- use the media to talk themselves up. Take credit, make me look like some crazy, stupid person. Happened just last week."

Everyone in the Stumpfegger Room is looking at something else while they look at The Contact, and you. He has drawn himself up on a cocktail napkin, his gut pendulous within a tent of jacket; he pushes a stubby finger into the inches before your face, shouting, "I'm tellin' you: I am not stupid, like everyone says! I'm Smart!! I am fucking in charge!"

"I was elected with the largest electoral numbers in modern history -- I was, me! Not the goddamn Daily News! And I'm about ready to say to the Post, 'Hey, Jeff; you want to get shut down? You want a military censor sitting in your office with a magnifying glass up your ass? You want the IRS looking at your offshore LLCs?' And those terrible conditions in his shipping places; just terrible. We're gonna look into that. He's outta control, that guy; it's very sad how outta control.

"I'm not even getting into the Russia thing. Yeah, we're lining up for ol' Bobby; and oh, everyone's gonna be surprised when we let go, my friend!" His face is an alarmed bell of crimson. "see, it takes just one thing, just one thing, and the whole ball game can change. That's what I'm saying; I'm saying that. All right." His face relaxes like a sphincter, and he nods, lifting a hand with two fingers, faintly Benedictine. "All right. Thanks very much. Great to see you."

The theme to "Heroes Of Telemark" begins to play in the background and he's off walking, his perimeter of flesh shifting with him back through the room and out the door.  A tendril in your head saying hey man that tequila shooter be lookin' good right now. From here to eternity, everyone is turning, turning, and have come round, Right wing, at last, to be looking at you. If curious glances had their own mucus, you would be coated in slime.

You order a tequila; the Joe Turkel bartender says Your Money's No Good There, and it's all on the House. Somewhere, you realize that you did not give The Contact that message. On the way back to the hotel, your Uber driver talks about a company which has made an app -- an interactive photo-calendar of shaved animals, for other animals. It has had two billion downloads at $2.99 each.

Obligatory Dog-Faced Fruit Bat Photo: Pooch Of The Sky

At the hotel, you receive a message: Mother says the cow is sick. You must come home immediately. Tickets will be delivered today. There is also a huge, Dog-Faced Fruit Bat, in a basket, from the Davos Chamber Of Commerce. One of these messages is benign, the other ominous, and you do not know which is which.

The Fruit Bat turns on the room's television;  you both watch situation comedies in German until the Fruit Bat turns to you and says, "Are you understanding any of this?"

The Fruit Bat dials Room Service and orders a Martini. After a time, the Room Service waiter, a man in his mid-twenties, appears. He places the Martini, and the bill, on a side table.  The Fruit Bat sips at the Martini in silence. The waiter stands to one side, observing. The world wonders.

After a few minutes, the waiter politely clears his throat and says, "You know -- we don't get many Fruit Bats ordering Martinis here." The Fruit Bat, glancing at the bill, replies, "Yes; and at these prices, you won't see many more of us, either."