Thursday, September 25, 2014

Six More Years!

Despite its proximity to the nation's power center, the Commonwealth of Virginia is actually something of a political backwater. The federal freakshow in Washington seems to suck all the air out the state's politics, and as a result its "leaders" are largely ignored, except when they engage in some spectacular assholery (I'm looking at YOU, Erc Cantor, George "Macaca" Allen and Governor "Jailbird" McDonnell). Though the Old Dominion is known for the incredible array of Presidents who hailed from the state in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the days when dinosaurs like Washington, Jefferson, Madison and Monroe walked the land are long over. The last national politician of any real stature to hail from Virginia was that cretinous old liberal interventionist, Woodrow Wilson, and he hightailed it to New Jersey long before his political career began.

In other words, Virginia politicians have to work extra hard to get noticed at the national level, so when one of them starts to get the stirrings in his loins aspiring to higher office it might just be worth paying attention to the man. I'm referring, of course, to our illustrious senior Senator, Mark Warner, aka "the Senate's richest man." Warner, you may recall, or likely not if you don't live here, first won his senate seat in 2008. Running alongside the "commie socialist Nazi" Obama he manage to score 65% of the vote, sweeping most of the Commonwealth's counties in the process except for a few Appalachian backwaters in southwest corner of the state. Warner's stature a rare popular southern Democrat secured him a spot delivering the keynote address at the 2008 Democratic National Convention that, of course, nominated Obama.

Given that he remains the most popular politician in Virginia, that Virginia's former Republican governor was just convicted in a tawdry corruption scandal and that the GOP is basically conceding the race by putting up a lame Washington insider to run against him, you'd think Warner would be content to cruise effortlessly to his second term. But that's not what's happening.

Starting right after Labor Day, Warner's campaign has been flooding the airwaves with teevee ads. That's not so unusual in and of itself, except for the content of those particular ads. Instead of touting his record in supporting Democratic initiatives, Warner has been trumpeting his efforts at "deficit reduction" (read: screwing benefits for the middle and working classes) and also just how great he is at "crossing the aisle" and working with Republicans. Never mind that most elected Republicans these days are either bug fuck crazy, or have to act that way to appease their constituents. Nope, in Senator Warner's estimation, it's his own enfeebled party that has a bad case of the cooties. Heck, whenever he sees Harry Reid coming down the sidewalk towards him, Senator Warner makes sure he crosses the street lest he be accused of hanging out with his own Majority Leader.

So what's really going on here, anyway? Warner has to know that such a campaign is perfectly designed to turn off his liberal and progressive supporters. So why is he doing it?

Because, dear friends, Senator Mark Warner is not really running for 2014 but for 2016. You see, when Hillary Clinton accepts her belated coronation from an ungrateful Democratic Party that should have bowed to her supreme highness in 2008, she's going to need a running mate to "balance" her ticket. And who better to do that than a "moderate" southern senator who routinely wins over 60% of the vote and will work hard to ensure the vital "purple" swing state of Virginia stays in the Democratic column.

But first, in order to ensure he gets queen Hillary's blessing, prince Warner must ensure he scores that plus-60% election victory once again. So his political advisers, cynical bunch that they no doubt are, are betting that their strategy will win more votes among the both disaffected Republicans and independent librul hating yokels than they will lose by turning off his base voters, who, after all, will have no other choice (other than staying home).

Warner's campaign also fits hand-in-glove with the way Hillary has been positioning herself by running to right of Obama, blasting the president for not having a more belligerent foreign policy. Never mind that the warmongering policies she endorsed as Madame Secretary effectively destroyed the nation-state of Libya and helped lead to the rise of ISIS in Syria and Iraq. More guns, more bombs, more drones, more killing, more state inflicted terrorism--THAT'S what the Middle East really needs.

And you know what? Unless the economy completely craters during lame duck Obama's final two years in office, it's going to work. Queen Hillary will be coronated on January 20, 2017, and there is a very good chance that the former richest senator, who wants to slash any sort of program that helps anyone who isn't a telecom mogul like he is, will be standing by her side, one heartbeat from the top job. And thus will America get six MORE grueling years of what it has been getting ever since the Supremes elevated court jester Bush to the throne nearly 14 years ago.

May (you own favorite deity) help us all.

Bonus: Here's fellow Virginian David Lowery and his band Cracker (and the Drive by Truckers' Patterson Hood) with a little ditty that may or may not (but probably doesn't) apply to Hillary and Warner

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

A Half Million Dollars Could Save Your Life

There's a really dumb old adage that goes something like, "a liberal is really just a conservative who's never been mugged." I'm going to flip that little bit of "logic" on it's head by saying, "a conservative is really just a liberal who has never faced a life-threatening accident or illness sans good health insurance."

One thing I've been quite thankful for during my battle with cancer is that I at least have good health insurance and didn't face the additional awful stress of worrying about being financially ruined by the disease. In fact, given how close run this thing was (and still is, frankly) that would likely have been the literal death of me. Though I've lost track of the precise amount, to date the total cost of my care the past two years has easily topped $500,000. One shot alone that accompanied each of my twelve chemotherapy treatments and is designed to help regenerate white blood cells cost $10,000 apiece (yeah, HOL-LEE SHIT is exactly what I thought, too). How many people do you know that have that kind of cash sitting around in their rainy day fund? Yeah, I don't know many either.

It happens so often these days that you hear of someone who has cancer for whom their friends and family have put together a big charity drive that we don't even think anymore about how stressful it must be for the patient. One of the best gags on the otherwise darkly brilliant teevee show, Breaking Bad, even has Walt laundering his drug money through a charitable website set up by his son.

Since I do have good health insurance, I make a point whenever I am discussing my disease with someone of mentioning this cost and how lucky I've been not to have been bankrupted by my ailment. It's my little way of trying to raise awareness of our totally broken health care system without being overbearing about it or starting an argument (though I do notice that as a cancer patient I get far more deference when raising controversial topics than I used to get before I got sick). Sadly, it seems to go way over most people's heads, though I did get one conservative coworker of mine to admit that MAYBE everyone ought to at least be entitled to catastrophic coverage (though who would determine exactly what constitutes a "catastrophic" condition he didn't say).

Had I not had the insurance, I would have faced two stark choices when I was diagnosed: pay up or die. And considering how unlikely my survival was at the start (pancreatic cancer has a five-year survival rate of less than 10%), I might well have chosen the latter to spare my wife from losing the entire nest egg we have built up over the last 20 years. Had we had children, the choices would have been even bleaker--them losing their father versus the loss of any chance that their parents could have helped provide for their future. Strictly on an actuarial basis, treating my cancer made no sense whatsoever.

So why is it exactly that real national health care was a non-starter from the get-go, and how exactly did we end up with an Obamacare abomination that has done little to alleviate the problem? Because, quite simply, there is virtually no empathy left in American politics these days. The vast majority of the people who vote in this country have divided themselves up into two tribes: one who couldn't give a shit about the less fortunate, and one who turns a total blind eye to any injustice just so long as it is being perpetrated by politicians who have a little "D" after their names when they appear on teevee.

But there is one little way that I take solace in all of this. Up until two years ago, I used to joke that being in such good health my whole adult life meant that my health insurance carrier was making out like a bandit on me. As it turned out, however, the joke was on them.

Bonus: "Every life comes with a death sentence"

Monday, September 15, 2014

Killing the Pain

I'll begin this post by making a confession--over the past year I have become what some people would consider a drug addict. What that means is that I take continual doses of Dilaudid--synthesized morphine--all day, every day. That is not to say I am doing anything illegal, as my dosages are well within the limits set by my prescription. However, because of what has been diagnosed as moderate-to-severe neuropathy in my fingers as especially my feet, a fun little aftereffect of the chemotherapy that helped save my life, I need the drug just to get through the day without screaming. Yes, I am aware that there are other drugs and methods for treating peripheral nerve damage. Problem is, none of them have as yet been able to do squat to relieve my constant pain and discomfort. Maybe medical marijuana would be right for me, except it will be a truly chilly day in Hades before Virginia ever deigns to legalize it and asshole Obama, fake liberal fuck that he is, is every bit as hard-hearted a drug warrior at the federal level as any of his Republican predecessors.

But I didn't come here today to whine and complain about my own ailments. I only wrote that last paragraph so that everyone will know where I am coming from with the rest of this, and that obviously I have every bit of empathy in the world for people who truly are in pain.

That said, do you know what the number one cause of "accidental" death in America is these days? Drug overdose. And the leading form of drug overdose is...drumroll please...prescription drugs. Sorry, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, but heroin doesn't even rate.

I'll throw another little fun fact at you from the article I just linked. Despite having the only 5% of the world's population, America consumes an astounding 83% of the world's prescription opioids. Even considering that half the world's population is living in subsistence level poverty with little or no access to decent health care, that is an astounding figure.

Clearly, lots of people in this country are in pain for whatever reason. And just as clearly, there are lots of people out there whose lives have become so desperate and hopeless that they manage to kill themselves while trying to kill the pain.

The latest scare tactic media campaign--and that's another area where America proudly leads the world, using fear of drug abuse to scare the shit out of the "straights" who vote--features teevee ads telling adults to secure their prescription medications lest their drug fiend children and grandchildren get ahold of them and promptly kill themselves. One of the ads I saw recently featured a middle-aged gent standing in front of his bathroom mirror, calmly taking his meds while his teenage daughter stared back at him in the reflection doing the same thing. Made me laugh, because this bozo would have had to be pretty out of it not to notice his pills are disappearing twice as quickly as they ought to be, and with the tighter controls on prescriptions these days he's gonna run out of that shit well before he can get a renewal.

Maybe, as is usually the case, good parenting is a better strategy than keeping a padlock on the ol' medicine cabinet. That's not to say there aren't teenagers out there abusing prescriptions drugs, most certainly there are, but just that there is no better way to get those same straights all fired up about an issue than telling them it's for the good of the children.

As is usually the case with any supposed "crisis" our media decides is worthy of its very short attention span, nobody ever pauses to ask WHY this has become a problem. Why are so many people killing themselves with painkillers? Why do some teenagers feel compelled to try and escape reality for a few precious moments through the abuse of them? Actually, I think I may know the answer to that last one--it comes straight from a quote from a retired DEA agent in the linked article:

“I’m better at picking out drug addicts than anyone you’ve every met,” Stutman told the crowd.

Still, he can’t spot opioid abusers. His prime example: Talk radio host Rush Limbaugh, who confessed to being an Oxycontin addict for years while hosting a nationally syndicated show every morning, and nobody knew. The same can happen to kids.

“They’ll get A’s in high school until they’re dead, or so close it doesn’t matter,” he said.

Do you suppose it might be the pressure to GET all those A's, knowing that if they don't a truly grim future working the counter at the local Panera franchise awaits them, or that even if they do manage to get the grades it'll mean admission to a college that'll saddle them with debt they won't be able to pay off until they are well past their parent's age that might have led little Jane/Johnny to seek the solace of all those painkillers? Perish the thought.

This all should come as no surprise to any thinking person. America is a sick society in so many ways, and it just continues to get sicker every day. It's in everything from our poisoned politics, to our poisoned media culture and right down to the poisoned "food" so many of us consume in massive quantities. All of it causes pain, either physical or psychological--and once you have the pain we'll give you even more poison to help kill it.

But hey, it's all good for the corporate bottom line. And that's all that REALLY matters, amirite?

Bonus: I wish it hadn't been my destiny

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Gambling and Tourism Won't Save the Economy

image: Little Cubs Field--a desperate attempt to generate tourism dollars

The most surprising thing about the recent announcement that one-quarter of the casinos in Atlantic City are shutting down is that anyone is really surprised by it. The article from I just linked provides the following explanation:

Since 2006, Atlantic City's casino revenue has plunged from a high of $5.2 billion to $2.86 billion last year. It has been beset by competition from Pennsylvania, which has surpassed it as the nation's No. 2 casino market after Nevada, and suffered further losses with additional casinos coming online in New York and Maryland.

Israel Posner, executive director of the Lloyd D. Levenson Institute of Gaming, Hospitality and Tourism at Stockton College, said the resort has been dealing with casino saturation for a while now.

"We know that the oversupply of gaming product is a regional issue, as we're seeing the effects of the pressure all around Atlantic City," he said.

So in other words, when every state and jurisdiction opens a casino to draw out-of-town visitors who'll spend the money that will then replace jobs and tax revenues being lost in other sectors, sooner or later they stop being an advantage for everybody. I'm not really sure just how dumb you have to be not to see that obvious fact, but the article states that economists predicted this inevitable occurrence as if it were some sort of blinding revelation.

This simple truism about gambling can also be applied to tourism in general. Many depressed locales have tried to reinvent themselves as prime tourist destinations, such as Cleveland did by landing the Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame, handing out hundreds of millions of dollars to billionaire sports team owners for new stadiums and sprucing up its downtown area so visitors would feel safe walking the streets at night. So how did all of the that work out for Cleveland? Well, beyond the downtown's glitzy bright lights it is still almost as big a shit hole as Detroit--the kind of place where just being born there tags you as someone who has no hope of a future even remotely resembling the pie-in-the-sky American Dream.

Even my own hometown of Freeport, Illinois got into the act. Regular readers of this blog will recall that back during the last thoroughly discouraging and depressing presidential election, I wrote several posts about Romney's old pals at Bain Capital shutting down one of the local factories, transferring the jobs to China and having the unmitigated gall to ask the workers there to train their Chinese replacements.

Not coincidentally, Freeport made an effort a few years ago to try and combat the relentless loss of industrial jobs in the town by trying to generate tourism. Now, I can tell you from having spent the first two decades of my life there that a little rust belt city entirely surrounded by nothing much except cornfields has very little to recommend it as a tourist attraction. 156 years ago, one of the famous (assuming you know your American history) Lincoln-Douglas debates took place there. Nearly a quarter of a century later, a mentally unhinged Freeporter assassinated the President of the United States, but that probably isn't the sort of thing the local Chamber of Commerce is really interested in playing up. Since then? Um...I've got nothing.

So what did they finally decide to do to bring in hordes of visitors and their loose dollars? They, I shit you not, built a miniature replica of Wrigley Field. Never mind that the REAL Wrigley Field is only about a two hour drive away. Even sadder is how the website describes Freeport: "Freeport, Illinois, A Scenic And Historic Section Of Northwest Illinois Between Chicago And Galena." Because that's all Freeport really has going for it these days: history. And as I've pointed out above, there ain't really all that much of it.

Obviously, Little Cubs Field, as it is called, hasn't done much to save Freeport's economy, much as Atlantic City's casinos have ultimately proven a failure in lifting that unfortunate burg out of the postindustrial age mire. Just a couple of weeks ago my father, who was once employed by the local Goodyear factory, told me that the plant is cutting its work force again, and will be down to about one-tenth of the 2400 employees it had when he retired 20 years ago. Dad also expects the plant will be closed down for good in a few years, having existed for merely the entirety of his adult lifetime. But don't worry, I'm sure some of those laid off workers can get jobs this summer working at the concession stands at Little Cubs Field.

It's amazing to me that a country in which wages and benefits for most workers, especially paid vacation days, are being endlessly slashed and the word "staycation" has entered the popular lexicon, that any of the so-called "experts" who get paid to consult with state and local governments about how they might increase revenues and employment could with a straight face espouse the idea that an endless sea of tourism dollars is out there just waiting to be exploited. As it stands right now, the tourism industry is being propped up by more affluent older Americans who are downsizing their living arrangements (i.e: selling off their assets) in order to do at least a few of the things they wanted to do while they were still working. But when the country begins to run out of bucket-listers who still have a bucket to pee in, tourism is yet another industry facing an inevitable epic crash.

But hey, if you're interested, all events at Little Cubs Field feature free admission. And for this little bit of faux Americana, it's worth exactly what you pay for it.

Bonus: The problem these days, Bruce, is that the trouble ISN'T "busing in from out of state"

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

"Glad it Isn't Me," and Other Evil Thoughts About Cancer

About ten years ago, I had a professional colleague who went in for routine surgery only to find out she had about a fist-sized tumor lodged firmly in her stomach. Four months later she was dead at the ripe young age of 53. To make matters even shittier, she was less than two years away from retirement when she died and she and her husband were already in the process of building their dream beach house. The last time I saw her was when she came in for the office Christmas party about a month after she was diagnosed. There was all kinds of happy talk about how she was going to beat the cancer, but as she went to hug me goodbye that afternoon I could see the stark fear in her eyes. Of course, I told her I would see her when she was well again and all that happy nonsense. But what I really remember was thinking, "glad it isn't me."

For a long time I felt bad about that. Or when a few other people I knew got the disease in recent years--or when another colleague's father contracted ALS (a worse disease than cancer since it doesn't even give you the courtesy of a fighting chance) and that same damn thought popped uninvited into my head.

"Glad it isn't me."

Flash forward to exactly 19 months ago, and all of the sudden it WAS me. There I was, sitting in an examination room at a very prestigious cancer specializing hospital, being told I had a massive tumor on the head of my pancreas--Stage 3, inoperable. Oh, and my life expectancy at that moment was approximately 11 months.

When my diagnosis became generally known among those who know me in meat space, the reaction was overwhelmingly supportive. Even a number of people I considered to be just casual acquaintances were effusive in their expressions of sympathy, and I was damned appreciative of every last such utterance I received. It went a long way towards helping me through the bad times--six months of chemo, six weeks of radiation treatments and a surgical procedure (those first two might have really sucked but they shrank the tumor just enough that it just barely became operable), that until just recently itself had a 15% mortality rate. But I know many of them had to be thinking that same horrible thought that never gets expressed when discussing potentially fatal illnesses.

"Glad it isn't me."

During this awful time, I've come to know and become friends with numerous other cancer patients and "survivors," some of whom have unfortunately already lost their battle and are, as the trite expression goes, no longer with us. One guy who is still alive and kicking is the husband of a friend of my wife who contracted Stage 4 lung cancer four years ago even though he never smoked a day in his life (hello, Walter White!). I first met him a few days after my diagnosis, and one of the very first things he said to me was "Welcome to the club!" At first I was taken aback by how rude that sounded, but I quickly learned to appreciate the true fighting spirit that lay behind it. He was originally given just six months to live, and you've got to be one tough motherfucker to put off death for years on end like he has knowing that shit will kill you eventually anyway.

Ever since then I've done my best to emulate his example, which means occasionally allowing yourself to get pissed off about your situation even though that might make others uncomfortable. Once when I was on chemo I felt strong enough to go out running. I won't say I made great time, but I lasted a full 30 minutes on what was a gorgeous late spring afternoon. As I slowed to a walk, I looked down at my abdomen and blurted out, "fuck you!" at the tumor as if it was a living, breathing opponent and not just a lump of senseless but deadly flesh. Hey, get busy living or get busy dying. I think I heard that said in a movie once.

Anyway, not long ago another friend of my wife who is a cancer survivor was talking with her about a mutual friend of theirs who had "overcome" the same form of the disease only to get that bad CT scan result that every one of us in the club dreads--the bastard is back. My wife's friend confessed to her that, given the overall percentage chance that she will one day find herself in the same position, whenever she hears of some other "survivor" experiencing recurrence she just can't avoid thinking, no matter how terrible it sounds, that if nothing else it increases her own chances of survival ever so slightly.

"Glad it isn't me."

My surgery, which I am still in the process of recovering from, involved a lengthy hospital stay during which my wife and I got to know some other patients who had the same procedure around the same time I did. There was one guy in particular--a few years older than me--who coincidentally is a friend of one of my in-laws. We chatted a number of times in those early days, comparing notes on how shitty we felt and whatnot. As it turned out the two of us were the only ones of six pancreatic cancer patients on our floor whose surgery was a complete "success," meaning that afterwards lab tests determined that there was no cancer detected either in the margins around our tumors or in our lymph nodes.

Two had their tumors removed but got bad test results, meaning they had more chemotherapy and/or radiation treatments to look forward to. The other two were even more unlucky in that their tumors could not be removed, though they still faced the same horrible recovery we did. One of those two was even told that the surgery revealed that his tumor had metastasized (insidiously, the doctors can't actually see everything going on inside you through a CT scan), and sadly he passed away a mere two months later. My wife attended his funeral. I wanted to accompany her, but that turned out to be one of the bad days.

So you can imagine how lucky I felt even as my body weight plummeted 40 pounds in the aftermath, and the pain and discomfort reached levels I hadn't yet experienced in over a year's worth of truly wretched treatments. Certainly, I expected that my fellow "survivor" would feel the same way. Surprisingly, he didn't.

Though he lives in another part of the country, I was able to keep in touch through a journal he keeps on one of those websites for people with serious illnesses. In the months that followed the surgery, I noted in his posts an unexpected negativity that seemed to go beyond being down about how terrible the recovery process was. In one of his posts, he described how after being diagnosed he had shut down his business and wasn't sure if he'd have the strength to start it up again. I'm not sure if others who read his journal could sense it by reading between the lines, but it seemed to me that he had mentally prepared himself to die. Perhaps he'd been subconsciously glad to be leaving the rat race that is modern life in America, I really don't know, but apparently being given a new lease on life wasn't really a blessing for him.

Flash forward to a month ago. As it so happened my friend in misery and I had our first post operative CT scans just a few days apart. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't sweating it out, but for me it came up clean--meaning as far as the doctors can tell I'm currently cancer free (which is only good news for a few months until the next scan). Unfortunately, he was not so lucky. Not only had his cancer returned, but it had actually metastasized. He was pretty frank when he posted the news, even saying how unlikely it is that he will be alive at this time next year.

Incredible as it may seem, however, his postings since then have taken on a more positive tone--or at least one far less rooted in misery. It's almost as if he is now welcoming the outcome he had expected all along. Could it just be that he can't bear the thought of forever living with a loaded gun pointed at his head never knowing when it will go off? I really don't know, and as an outside observer and only a casual acquaintance at that I wouldn't begin to presume to know what is really going on in his mind. But as a fellow traveller on this dark, dark road of ours I can understand why maybe he would actually welcome the worst, just as I can empathize with Robin Williams and understand why, facing Parkinson's at age 63, he did what he did.

So I guess it then begs the question, am I glad it was him and not me? As I sit here typing, anonymously pouring out thoughts I could never say aloud to my friends and family, still in constant pain from chemo-induced peripheral nerve damage, popping more pills each day than I used to average in a year just to keep things tolerable, I can't honestly say for sure. Check back with me in about five years--which is how long it usually takes until the doctors will declare you "cancer free" (and even that is no guarantee). Maybe then I'll have an answer to an unspoken and guilt-ridden question that used to be a no-brainer.

Bonus: No, Walt, CANCER is The Danger

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Where I Stand on Economic Collapse These Days

Well, damn, here it is nearly two full years since my unfortunate enforced break from blogging and the economic collapse that had been one of my favorite subjects hasn't happened yet--nor does it appear to be at all imminent. In fairness to me, back during the epic debates about slow versus fast crash circa 2008-2009 in online Peak Oil forums, particularly the old Life After the Oil Crash forum, I was firmly in the camp with the slow crashers, stating at the time that I thought America (and by extension the modern Western world) would limp along until some time in the middle to late 2020s before the bottom really fell out. I still see no reason to alter that prediction, though I will admit that the oil industry has been far more successful in exploiting so-called "tight" oil fields like Bakken than I ever expected. Thanks largely to oil shale exploitation and fracking, America is right now experiencing an oil "boom" that has the cornucopians confidently predicting that we will soon surpass Saudi Arabia and Russia as the world's top oil producer.

Other Peak Oil writers such as John Michael Greer have done a terrific job of explaining why the fracking industry is just another massive economic bubble waiting to pop and kick the economy in the balls once again. I won't rehash all of their excellent work, other than to point out that if fracking was really going to "save" a highly hydrocarbon dependent economy built on the premise of cheap oil forever, how come gasoline has been priced at well over $3.00 a gallon for several years now?

I mentioned in yesterday's post that the first minute cracks are beginning to appear in the foundation of America's body politic that are indicators of a coming political disintegration such as James Howard Kunstler first suggested in The Long Emergency. And if one casts their gaze overseas, one can see even more evidence that political disintegration is becoming even more of a word wide issue as more and more nation-states, many with artificial borders created by the Western imperial powers in the previous century, are beginning to break down or otherwise fail.

Somalia turned out to leading indicator by collapsing into total anarchy back in the early 1990s. Congo followed suit a few years later with a multisided, internal war starting after it's despicable dictator, Mobutu Sese Seko, fell in 1997 that was so deadly it claimed the lives of millions and has even been referred to as the Great War for Africa. Moving forward, South Sudan finally separated itself from the fanatical Islamic freaks running the show up in Khartoum, only to almost immediately disintegrate into its own nasty little civil war. Ukraine is in flames as ethnic Russian separatists battle that country's puppet NATO government for the right to succeed, and now ISIS has risen up from the wastelands of Syria and Iraq to erase the border between those two countries as it battles for control of both of them. Heck, even Scotland is about to take a vote as to whether to become independent from the UK and as of this writing the outcome is expected to be very close one way or the other.

What every one of these conflicts have in common is that each are fueled by the desire of a whole lot of people to not want to be governed by anyone who is not of the same ethnicity, tribe or religion (or even a different sect within the same religion) as they are. Can't we all just "get along?" that great philosopher and poet, Rodney King, once supposedly asked. Sorry, Rodney, but the answer would appear to be, "fuck no."

For me the most interesting recent development here at home was that public opinion poll a couple of months ago which showed that Americans were at their most politically divided since just before the Civil War (or the War of Northern Aggression for you Southern patriots/separatists out there). Which I know is true, but I nevertheless have to shake my head in amazement at just how successful the power elite's divide-and-conquer strategy has been in this country since Reagan first got elected 34 years ago.

It's quite brilliant, really. For a generation-and-a-half, wages and quality of life in this country have been under relentless assault by a tiny group of billionaires and Wall Street tycoons who use their fortunes and control of the vast media empires to manipulate the election of a combination of rabid Republicans and compliant corporatist Democrats. This unholy cabal has done a brilliant job of manipulating everyone not in their own tax bracket into getting all foaming at the mouth about issues such as gay marriage, the pledge of allegiance, flag burning, abortion, contraception, etc., that they personally couldn't give a flying fuck about just so long as there is no political interference in their efforts to offshore jobs, slash wages, cut benefits and pauperize virtually every American worker but for a small cadre they need to carry out their bidding. Every once in awhile I get the perverse desire to stand up and slowly applaud at the sheer successful audacity of it all.

But it won't last forever. Sooner or later the scum that has risen to take total control of America will begin to lose their grip, mostly because they are so damn greedy that they don't seem to realize that a smarter strategy that would allow the party to last a bit longer would be to temper the looting of the economy ever so slightly and throw a few more crumbs to the lumpen proletariat. Thanks to their mass media lapdogs the idiots are compliantly eating the scraps out of their hands, but what happens when all the idiots have their flat screen teevees repossessed?

Given the above, I'm starting to believe that America may pull itself apart politically even before oil production plummets, although all the NSA spying and militarization of local police departments prove that the elites are going to do everything they can short of sharing the wealth to prevent it from happening. Thus am I standing by my prediction of the mid-to-late 2020s as a likely dates for collapse to really be underway, which would put it happening just after the end of Hillary's second term.

And if I'm wrong and the cancer hasn't yet come back and killed me, you can feel free to drop by here and mock me all you want.

Bonus: "It's shite being Scottish."

Saturday, September 6, 2014

It is What it IS

Okay, I have REALLY had it with all these ragged looking, religious extremist back country hicks demanding that everyone who refuses to conform and worship God EXACTLY the same way they do be exterminated like cockroaches. These people are CLEARLY a threat to our American way of life, and President Hopey-Changey needs to stop being such a spineless, spluttering little pansy-boy and sic our ginormous military on them post-haste.

Oh, wait a minute, did you think I was referring to ISIS (or ISIL or IS or Whatever-the-fuck-it-IS?)? No silly, I was talking about Phil Robertson and his merry band of drooling, ZZ Top-wannabe troglodytes.

It's at about this point in the program that the Internet's vast legion of armchair warriors gets itself worked up into a rabid froth and begins firing off bile laden comments about how it is the Mooslim fundamentalist whack jobs from ISIS who are running around lopping off heads of anyone they deem an infidel and posting videos of the executions on You Tube for your entertainment. All poor ol' Phil was doing in that Hannity interview, they would argue, was exercising his God-given First Amendment right of freedom of expression.

Fair point. Okay, for the moment I'll take back my facetious call for military action against the Duck Dynasty. After all, there is a BIG difference between committing hideous acts of violence and merely spouting virulently violent rhetoric on national teevee, right?

Well, maybe not that much.

Let's examine for just a moment who Phil Robertson is. Beyond being a self-professed fundamentalist Christian, Robertson has a net worth of around $15 million that is the result of both his hunting apparel business and his reality television show. In other words, he is despite his apparent fanaticism one of the LEAST likely guys in the world to go out beheading reporters and risking having a predator drone dropped on his rich-ass head.

On the other side of this equation are the mostly anonymous ISIS fighters, who these past few months have been rolling up Iraqi and Syrian controlled enclaves even faster than they have the heads of kidnapped American reporters. But think for just a moment about who the ISIS guys actually are: mostly dirt poor young Sunni males who until recently were living under the oppressive Assad and Maliki regimes and whose life choices came down to either whiling away their days tending goats under a blistering hot desert sun for a few dinars a day, or joining up with the local militia boys and being handed AK-47s to go tear-assing around the countryside blowing away soldiers of those very same regimes that had had their boot heels so firmly placed upon their collective necks.

So which choice do YOU think they were gonna make? If you said "goat herder," you fail and clearly need to be sent back to retake Basic Fundamentals of Human Nature 101 all over again. It's a well worn cliche to say that when people got nothing, they got nothing to lose, and few people on this here old Earth have less to lose right now than your average Muslim living in those unfortunate Middle East and South Asian states that have been ripped apart by more than a decade of unbridled American and NATO militarism--to say nothing of a century's worth of exploitative Western imperialism.

But hey, let's flip this narrative over for a minute and imagine that it was Phil Robertson and his clan who had had the misfortune of being born Sunni down in old Mosul. And let's take it a step further and imagine that it was instead a handful of ISIS fighters who had been lucky enough to be born Christian on the Bayou, where the humidity may be high but one at LEAST generally has recourse to the rule of law, especially if one has managed to build a small fortune and can afford to sue rather than shoot their enemies. NOW who do you suppose is going to be rolling heads through the desert sands like zombie bowling balls versus who'll be raking in millions from their duck calls, parading around like circus freaks on their stupid reality teevee show and for some reason being asked to go on a national "news" network so some idiotic airhead can ask them to opine about world events?

It is about at this point in the essay that I imagine at least a few of you are thinking, "hey, Bill, who really gives a flying FUCK what Phil Robertson has to say?" Well, if these were "normal" times in America I'd agree 100%. But as I've pointed out so often on this blog, these interesting times of ours are anything but normal. America has for years now been skating along the edge of the economic precipice just waiting for SOMETHING to shove the country over into the abyss of at least partial economic collapse. And when the day finally does come in which either that happens, or enough Americans see their livelihoods ripped away from them that the country reaches political critical mass, what do you suppose the millions of heavily armed Americans who heard what Brother Phil said and thought "you're God damned right!" are gonna do?

America as a political entity is already beginning to splinter, just as James Howard Kunstler predicted it would in The Long Emergency, as evidenced from such events as the Ferguson riots and the various secession movements around the country advocating separation from certain states or even the U.S. itself. When it starts to actually break apart things are going to get ugly in a hurry for minorities, gays and even women, and many Americans are going to wake up and suddenly find themselves living in a dystopian world little better than the one those unfortunate civilians in the ISIS occupied territories are currently residing in.

I deplore Phil Robertson's comments for their obvious blind bigotry, hatred and sheer fucking ignorance. But what's worse is the fact that his hate filled words were not universally condemned from the moment he closed his mouth after uttering them. Sadly, what they represent is yet another weather vane pointing to which way the wind is currently blowing in our very broken body politic.

Ironically, by funding the Syrian rebels against Assad our government stupidly created the conditions that has allowed ISIS to flourish, while at the same time its domestic policies of continually rewarding banksters and Wall Street while fucking the middle and working classes is slowly creating the conditions that may well someday allow intolerant, violent, ISIS-like extremist groups to flourish right here in the homeland.

Bonus: My papa said "son, don't let the man what He done to me."

Friday, September 5, 2014

Cancer Fucking Sucks

You know, life is funny sometimes--yeah, funny the same way a two by four upside the head is funny. I'm sure the real Bill Hicks would have found plenty of gallows humor upon learning that nearly two decades after his death a blogger who chose to adopt his identity online managed to contract pancreatic cancer, which is the same goddam fucking awful ailment that so unkindly robbed the world of his very much needed presence at the tender young age of 32. In retrospect, I should have chosen George Burns as my avatar--that way I could have smoked cigars and fucked young starlets until I was 100 years old (though it was too bad for George that he kicked off long before Viagra was developed).

Yep--the universe has a real sense of humor sending that particular malady to plague the life of a guy in his 40s who (unlike the real Bill) never smoked, exercised a lot and drank only in moderation. Oh, and did I mention that there's virtually no history of cancer in my family? Yeah, there's that, too.

But I'm not bitter.

No really, I'm not. The fact is, despite being told 19 months ago that my life expectancy was less than one year, not only am I still here but I am one of the VERY lucky few who has managed to "beat" pancreatic cancer. I place "beat" in quotations because despite all the happy cancer ad horseshit you hear from various cancer charities, no one ever REALLY beats cancer. For while it is true that the longer you go after being successfully treated for the disease the better your long term chances of survival, the fact is that you are always living under that Sword of Damocles--one bad CT Scan away from being right back in that horrible chemotherapy chair knowing that your chances the SECOND go-around are that much worse than the first.

So that's what's been going on in my life during my long absence from blogging. I have a lot more thoughts about cancer, the medical establishment and all the BS cancer patients have to put up with even if they are fortunate enough as I was to have good health insurance--but that will be for later. Tomorrow, I plan to come back here with an honest to your favorite deity old fashioned TDS post. I've heard whispers that a whole lot of bad shit has gone down in the world since the last time I rhetorically kicked that pathetic windbag in the White House right in the teeth and I have a few things I'd like to get off my chest.

In the meantime, please enjoy this HIGHLY inappropriate-under-the-circumstances ditty from Joe Jackson. "There's no cure, there's no answer" indeed.

Thursday, September 4, 2014


Hey all--just doing a commo check to see how many of my readers are still out there. Anyone? Anyone? Beuller?

The last two years have been literally hell for me starting not long after I signed off for the last time after Obama's reelection. But I think it may all be past me now.

Anyway, just wanted you to know that I'm considering reactivating the blog.

More later when I've had a chance to gather my thoughts.