And now for something completely different

Today is going to be another light blogging day, although when I say “another”–I mean, considering I didn’t start writing until around 6 PM yesterday I think I churned out a decent number of words. But I digress.

I’m sorry to make this All About Me, but today I tried going to a strange new place…


The truth is, I used to be a member at a gym I liked very much, but it went out of business a few months back. One of the reasons I liked it was that I was often one of only 3 or 4 people in the place at any given time, and apparently that’s not a very sustainable business model. Anyway as I say it’s been a few months, most of which I spent resisting the opportunity to join any of the big chain gyms around here, most of which get bad-to-mediocre online reviews at best. I finally did join a big chain gym, though this one gets very good reviews, and I worked out there for the first time today. On the plus side, I was able to find all the equipment I needed to get through the workout routine I was doing at my old gym. On the downside, I got through the workout routine I was doing at my old gym–all the way through, after several months of, you know, not doing that. And now not only do I look like a guy who hadn’t worked out in a few months, I also feel like a guy who hadn’t worked out in a few months, and then did. If I don’t make it, please remember me as a Man of Peace. I don’t really have the credentials for it, but neither did Shimon Peres, and yet here we are.

I’ll probably be back this evening with something more meaningful, after I shepherd my daughter to one of her various after-school activities, but since I’m feeling in a healthy mood I thought I’d do the rare bit of food blogging and share the thing that’s been keeping me alive for the past few weeks. It’s a smoothie, so feel free to get out of the car here if that’s not your thing.

Continue reading

Apologies for all this dust and for whoever is slicing onions in here

One of the things I lose track of when I’m doing a lot of writing is how fucking debilitating it can be to read/watch/think about nothing but awful news all the time. It backs up on me until I wake up every so often in a foul mood that I can’t explain, and then I know I need to take a day off. And I’m doing this to some extent by choice. How much worse it must be when you’re stuck hearing about this stuff because you don’t have any other outlet on to the world:

Jole and Michele had started to cry while watching television. The former had asked her husband why there was so much hate in the news that day and Jole had cried so loudly that someone in the building called the police.

The elderly couple, who have been married for nearly 70 years, felt lonely. It had been ages since someone had visited them, they told the officers.

On the kitchen table there were only some old grapes, and few signs of a recent proper meal. So as police waited for an ambulance to check in on the couple, one officer prepared a plate of pasta for Jole and Michele – a simple dish, spaghetti with butter and parmesan – while the other three officers sat down with the couple for a chat.

Rome police, who shared the story on their Facebook page, said the couple told the officers of a life spent together, but also of how their loneliness was, at times, so suffocating with only a television to keep them company.

Unless they’ve been truly awful to you, and “truly awful” doesn’t mean “we disagree about politics,” go visit your parents and/or grandparents. Check on an elderly neighbor. If you know somebody who’s been struggling lately, ask them how things have been going lately. We don’t live in a particularly violent or terrible time, although we do live at a time when it’s very easy for the news to make it seem like things are terrible. But it does seem like it’s become very easy to forget that we should all try to be decent to one another.


What to talk about when you can’t talk about anything

We can’t talk about gun control today (or any other day), because it’s not (ever) the time to politicize things, at least not in that particular way. Also because a flawed document written by flawed men over 200 years ago must be treated as though it were literal Truth at all times or else Scary Things will happen.

We can’t talk about changing our societal approach to mental illness, because it’s unfair to attach the stigma of violence to mental health. Also, we don’t have the money to change our approach to mental illness, by which I mean we don’t care enough to find the money.

We can’t talk about the particular victims of this particular act of violence without ignoring the violence that strikes less visible communities every single day all across this country and around the world.

We can’t talk about violence against women, because, you know, not all men.

We can’t talk about race, because we live in a post-racial society, or so I’m told.

We can’t talk, because whatever we decide to talk about will be the wrong thing, and the words we use to talk about it inevitably won’t be adequate to the task.

But you know, we really better start fucking talking about it. All of it. We better start talking about gun violence, and violence against women, and the many ways we commit violence each day against our fellow human beings from Virginia to France to Syria to Australia and everywhere in between. We better start talking about why the richest industrialized country on the face of the earth regularly leaves people in desperate need of medical care to their own devices, either because they don’t have the money to make their way through our extraordinarily broken for-profit medical system or because we’ve already stigmatized mental illness to the point where it’s easier to murder another human being than it is to admit that you need help. And yes, we need to do it in a way that doesn’t make that stigma worse.

Maybe most of all we need to talk about why we seem to hate each other so much. Or maybe it’s not hate; for some people it obviously is, but maybe for most of us it’s just that we don’t really give that much of a shit about each other. I don’t really know how else to describe a society that will spend more time sharing videos of cats tomorrow than it will talking about what happened today in Virginia, or what keeps happening in St. Louis, or what happens every week on the west side of Chicago, or what happens nearly every day in Aleppo, or Baghdad. I don’t know how else to describe a society full of people who spend more time worrying about how they can deprive their neighbors — of simple pleasures, of luxuries, of basic necessities — than about how we can all work together to make this world a better place. I’m not judging; I’ll be doing the same thing myself. But it seems to me that if we never talk about it, we’ll never figure out where this hatred and/or indifference comes from.

The 13th century Iranian poet Jalal al-Din Rumi once wrote “If you can’t smell the fragrance, don’t come into the garden of Love.” I don’t know the first thing about poetry, so I don’t really know what that means, but it sounds right. If the only way you can interact with your fellow human beings is out of hatred or violence, or if you can’t spare a thought for people who are suffering as long as you don’t know them, then do the rest of us a favor and get out of the garden. Go get some help, or go give some, or if you won’t do those things then go hole up in a cave somewhere and let the rest of us try to build a society based on respect and love.

Who’s going to take responsibility?

For the second day in a row, some guy in Mississippi (probably the same guy both times, who may have been taken into custody a short time ago) has fired shots in the general vicinity of a military facility, Camp Shelby in Hattiesburg, where “Jade Helm 15” exercises were going on. If you don’t know what “Jade Helm” is, it’s the fringe conspiracy du jour, wherein a large counter-terrorism exercise in several southern and western states is being portrayed as a federal “takeover” of those states by people who are genuinely unbalanced as well as people who prey on the genuinely unbalanced. The conspiracy talk has become heated enough that three people were arrested earlier this week in North Carolina (which is not one of the states affected by Jade Helm) for allegedly planning to attack federal government “forces,” whatever that means.

I don’t have a point to this, but I am deeply curious as to who is going to take the blame if somebody really carries out a serious attack against federal agents over this nonsense. The ugly side of the nut-job internet, InfoWars and the like, constantly winds people up with pure garbage about government takeovers and secret Illuminati plots because it gets clicks, but you keep winding people up like that and eventually somebody is going to go out and do something because of it. Who takes responsibility for that? We’ve even got elected freaking politicians dipping their toes in fringe waters, like Ron Johnson and Ted Cruz with their ridiculous EMP fixation, though the EMP theory has a billionaire pushing it so that helps to explain its potency.

As I write this, there are reports that police confronted and killed a shooter at a movie theater in Nashville, and they are now concerned that the backpacks the shooter was carrying may contain explosives. Almost certainly that case has nothing to do with Jade Helm, but I felt like I should acknowledge it in the context of this post and because it’s yet another example of how shit continues to be fucked up and bullshit.

Hey, thanks for reading! If you come here often, and you like what I do, would you please consider contributing something (sorry, that page is a work in progress) to keeping this place running and me out of debtor’s prison? Thank you!

Presidential vs. Parliamentary systems, and why Tayyip Erdoğan cares

Yesterday when I was writing about Tayyip Erdoğan’s big electoral setback, I started going off on this long tangent about how he wants to transition Turkey from a mostly parliamentary system (with a weak presidency) to a mostly presidential system (albeit with a prime minister and cabinet appointed from among the parliament sharing executive responsibilities). This started to turn into a thing about the pros and cons of each system, at which point I snapped out of it and realized that I was well on the road to writing some 2000 word monstrosity that was mostly devoted to a digression. But rather than delete the digression, I thought I’d make it into a separate post for those who are interested.

Within the context of democratic or mostly democratic systems, the simple definition of “parliamentary” government is a government where executive authority rests with a prime minister and cabinet who are drawn from the party or coalition that holds a working majority in the legislature/parliament. These kinds of governments will usually have a separate “head of state,” which could be a hereditary monarch or a ceremonial president (who could be popularly elected or elected by the legislature) whose only real jobs are things like formally calling for elections, picking the member of parliament who gets to try to form a government and be PM, receiving foreign diplomats, signing legislation into law (he or she may also have veto authority, which I suppose goes along with signing legislation into law, but they generally have to be judicious in how they use it). Lots of democracies opt for a parliamentary system, including democracies in countries whose governments have been built with considerable US involvement, like post-WWII Japan and Germany, and Iraq today. Consider the implication here, that the US doesn’t think highly enough of its own system of government to encourage other nations to adopt it. Then consider that the most recent example of the US trying to help a country form a presidential government is Afghanistan, and maybe you’ll begin to understand why the US doesn’t push presidential systems harder (and why Afghanistan is considering reinstating the post of prime minister and moving back in a parliamentary direction).

In presidential systems it can be hard to contain the power of the office of the president, even when the holder of the office has good intentions, so corruption and the threat of lapsing into dictatorship are both lessened in parliamentary systems, in theory. In countries with major demographic divisions (ethnic, religious, etc.), it can be easier on those divisions to embed executive power into the popularly elected legislature rather than collect it in one person who may well be seen as representative only of one of that country’s demographic groups. And of course, in normal operations parliamentary systems are more efficient, avoiding the kind of gridlock that can cripple a presidential system, not that I’m referring to any government in particular here. If the executive and the legislature are gridlocked in a parliamentary system, you simply call for another election. That can lead to its own kind of gridlock, but we’re getting to that.

Of course, parliamentary systems have their own drawbacks, which explains why lots of other democracies opt for presidential or semi-presidential systems. Continue reading

Misgender? I hardly even know her!

Look, if you’re planning on misgendering Caitlyn Jenner, or any other trans* person for that matter, nobody can stop you. Go nuts. But don’t pretend that you’re making some great stand for realism, or human society, or that you’re being super witty and funny, or that you’re revealing anything other than the fact that you’re a dick.

This has been a Public Service Announcement.

While I was out (to lunch)

Well, OK, my break is over and it seems like I should get back into the swing of things around this place. But because I have a hard time breaking back into stuff without going over all the many disasters events that have taken place while I was trying not to pay too much attention, you’ll have to indulge me a little here.

HONG KONG: This is easily the most interesting new thing happening right now, but as it’s absolutely not my area of expertise I’d direct you to explainers at The New Yorker, Al Jazeera, Mashable, and elsewhere. Protesters are angry at what they argue is China’s failure to keep its obligations to hold free elections for the post of Hong Kong Chief Executive in 2017 (discontentment with Hong Kong’s stagnating economy isn’t helping either). For some reason, they don’t believe that an election contested only by Chinese government-approved candidates will actually be “free.” Picky, picky. The protests escalated into serious civil disobedience with the standard pepper spray/tear gas/”outside agitators” response from the government, but the government set today as the deadline for protesters to disperse, and it seems like they may have pulled back although they haven’t totally gone away. So things may be settling into a long-term, low-level protest. One hurdle facing the protesters is that, so far, a plurality of Hong Kong residents actually oppose the protest movement.

NORTH KOREA: Speaking of things I don’t know all that much about, Kim Jong Un hasn’t been seen in public in more than a month, which seems odd maybe? A former North Korean intel figure named Jang Jin-Sung is saying he thinks Kim has been toppled in a coup or at least sidelined by the country’s Organization and Guidance Department, because North Korea is literally Oceania from Nineteen Eighty-Four at this point. It’s also possible that Kim is just sick, but maybe seriously sick, given that he wasn’t the healthiest-looking guy when he took power and that he’s apparently been on a major Swiss cheese binge ever since his dad died. So we could be talking about gout, hypertension, diabetes, you name it. Or he may have broken both of his ankles on account of being fat and/or trying to walk around in high heels, which also seems perfectly reasonable.

EBOLA: Everybody knows at this point about the Liberian man who became symptomatic after arriving in the US and is now being treated with experimental drugs in a Dallas hospital. Now a Spanish nurse has been diagnosed with the disease, the first person known to have contracted it outside of Africa. Speaking of Africa (remember that place?), fears are that the reported number of Ebola cases (7200, mostly in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea) has been vastly undercounted, owing to the difficulties of assessing the disease under the best of circumstances, let alone in the current situation where health care networks (and, really, societies) are breaking down. Overworked teams of investigators are unable to keep up with new infection reports (and it’s possible that most new infections never even get reported), and are often unable to get to where they need to be because locals are uncooperative or downright hostile. The CDC estimates that there are 2.5 actual cases of Ebola for every one that gets reported, which would put the real infection could around 18,000. At those levels the concern starts to be that the outbreak has totally outstripped any possibility for containing it.

BRAZIL: Presidential runoff! I seriously don’t have anything insightful on this, but this New York Times piece doesn’t paint the rosiest picture (the newsstand owner who said “truthfully, none of the candidates are great” kind of summed it up). At one time a genuine leftist, Marina Silva, was thought to be the frontrunner, but she cratered and finished third, so she’s not eligible for the runoff.

SYRIA: Continue reading