1st and Ten - The Weekly Tendown: December 13-19 2009

Sunday, December 20, 2009


This is the 6th issue of our weekly recap of what's good - The Tendown; I count down the very best things that happened this week.  Last time, I talked about how I wasted my 2008 presidential vote, the Top Chef finale, and my meeting Chris Cornell in an Anthropologie.  Let's see what the very best thing was that happened this week...

1st...The Bill Moyers Journal.

One of the reasons for this blog is my sense that I want some accurate recording of my thoughts.  I'm not sure why that is.  But next year I turn 40, and 2009 is the year my neck began to crackle for no good reason other than now my neck crackles.  A year ago, I had a body where my neck wasn't chronically weird, now I don't. Now, the neck I've had my entire life has a sound effect. Sure, there are probably ways to view that other than it being a harbinger of the long, slow descent to death; and probably other ways to react to the long, slow descent to death than blogging about the derivatives market.  But I occasionally make curious decisions. 

Regardless, Robert Kuttner of the American Prospect said something on this week's Moyers that precisely reflects my current worldview, and its the best thing that happened this week:

I think it's not accidental that the last three Democratic Presidents have been at best corporate Democrats, and one hoped because of the depth and the disgrace of deregulation as an ideology and the practical failure of the Bush presidency, that this was a moment for a clean break.  That even at such a moment, even with an outsider President campaigning on change we can believe in, that Brack Obama has turned out to be who he has been so far is so revealing in terms of the structural undertow that big money represents in this country. 

If there's one element, aside from the right wing referring to the first African-American President as a racist who is trying to bring down the United States, that will be most revealing about American character - it's how quickly we re-embraced the ethos of letting corporate America do anything it wants.  Rewind to September '08 - even the McCain/Palin campaign made noises about Wall St. regulation.  There was a month and a half in this country where you couldn't seriously say "just keep government's hands off everything and let the market take care of itself" without sounding like you were advocating Hoovervilles. The value of sitting on the precipice of global economic collapse was it so clearly put into focus the bankruptcy (pun intended) of a worldview that government's primary job was to get out of the way of business.  Corporate power above all has created a world where we are designed to live in a constant state of anxiety; we have sold our soul to the company store over the past quarter-century, and if there was any time that we'd ever get it back it was now.  That doesn't mean I thought we'd get it back - doesn't mean (to return to last week) that my vote for Obama was an expression of belief in a progressive White House - but in the universe in which we actually live (as opposed to the universe where...who would my ideal ticket be...Bernie Sanders/Blake Lively?) we did step into 2009 with a confluence of factors that, if there was ever any chance to turn around the three decade movement away from economic justice (I think of the United States the way I think of the WWE - I'm stuck with it and occasionally something really nice happens - but it is intentionally booked in a way entirely contrary to what I think is best.  It's not incompetence, although there's plenty of that - we're this way because this is what those entrenched in power want.  I am entirely disposable.  When I break down from my years of heavy courseloads and class sizes, I'll be swept aside no differently than if I worked in a Chicago sausage factory in 1909.  If that means my house is foreclosed, and I have no health care, my screams will not be heard by my government any more than Vince cares that I want to see Bryan Danielson and Low Ki pushed) it would have happened now.

But it did not.  What happened now is what happened now.  And what's going to happen next is worse.   Also from Kuttner on Moyers:

Democracy is the only possible counterweight to concentrated financial power, and ideally that takes a great President rendezvousing with a social movement.  One way or the other there's going to be a social movement, because so many people are hurting.  People are feeling correctly that Wall St. is getting too much and Main St. is getting too little, and if it's not a progressive social movement that articulates frustration and a reform movement, you know the right wing is going to do it and that oughta be scaring us silly.

And I think he's exactly right.  And it's exactly what I want to say right now.  And that's the best thing this week.  After the jump - the rest of the Tendown!

Let's go to the Tendown - the next Ten best things that happened this week!
1. Power Concedes Nothing Without a Demand

That's a quote from Frederick Douglass, which was part of The People Speak , the stage presentation of Howard Zinn's work.  The show was fine, and is worth your time - but what's really important about it (beyond getting to hear all the lyrics to "This Land is Your Land" - which is a sufficiently subversive song that its inclusion in the jingoistic elementary school canon is curious) is it contains Zinn's essential historical thesis - so vital to now (and tying in with Kuttner's second thought) that power has always had to be pushed from below; the Bill of Rights, the end of slavery, turn of the century health and safety regulations, the right to unionize, the end of child labor, social security, the minimum wage, women's suffrage, the civil rights movements - it has never been a matter of electing a President and watching from the sidelines as he stood up to powerful interests.  Even those most committed to social justice - Lincoln - FDR - LBJ - had to be poked and prodded and cajoled and threatened - we have had massive progressive movements in this country - echoes of which were seen in that Moyers episode which also profiled a movement in New England to keep foreclosed homeowners from being evicted.  A community organizer (you know, which is like a small town mayor, except a small town mayor actually..sneer...has real responsibilities...big white applause line...U-S-A! U-S-A!  Country First!  Drill Baby Drill!) named Stephen Meachem is tirelessly working to keep otherwise powerless people from being run over by banks (banks which you and I bailed out) and correctly pointed out "a lot of the ways people are oppressed is presented to them as normal."  I think of that a lot at my non-unionized job that could disappear without any cause at all at any time, ensuring that I never step out of line in the slightest.  But Douglass was, of course, right - and Zinn's reading of history is, of course, right - and Kuttner's point is, of course, right - what's missing is a massive progressive movement - the loud voices of 2009 were the Teabaggers, they had guns and Hitler signs and huge corporate dollars (google Freedom Works) and Fox News entirely devoted to propping up their cause 24 hours a day.  And they won this fight.  The health care bill that's going to pass is an insurance company's dream (check the stock prices since the public option and Medicare buy in were both killed) we leave the health care debate with the worst of all possible scenarios - a bad law that pours money into the hands of the insurance companies which the American people will perceive as a liberal bill. 

The reason the right fought so hard to kill health care reform is because they were afraid it would work. 

And now it won't.  And people will be angry.

2. He's a Really Good Guy, He's the Kind of Guy I Need In My Life, I think His Name is Ron
-That's Snooki, from this week's episode of Jersey Shore.  That line is funny enough without the punchline (that dude's name was Russ).  Jersey Shore has not disappointed - this week's episode had enough going on that two housemates having them some TV sex didn't even make the top half dozen most noteworthy moments of the week.  Beyond the above quote - I was most amused by JennWoww's weekly breakup with her boyfriend (as someone who has been watching these "everyone lives in a house" reality shows since Real World One, can I make the following incredibly obvious observation - these shows are relationship killers; don't hate the player, hate the game).  And the part that got me (and perplexed me) was the following:

Jenn Woww had been grinding up against some dudes at the club - Ron/Russ knows JennWoww's boyfriend and told him of said grindage.  JennWoww's defense was (paraphrasing) "you don't even know what the music was!"

Jenn Woww then had Snooki come to the phone (the phone is shaped like a duck) to very matter of factly, as if the boyfriend was missing an "end of the debate" point say "It was house music, not R&B or anything."

And the best part - the classic part - is that in fact did end the argument.  The boyfriend, upon hearing that while his girlfriend was rubbing her ass against many blue jean covered Italian dongs, was doing so while house music was playing, dropped his objection entirely.

My neck really started to crackle at this point.  I am extra old.

Someone should tell Tiger that's a good excuse now.  "No, you don't understand - it was house music."

3. Jury Duty

Jury Duty

My lady type friend beat jury duty this week.  It could have been I had a suggestion or two which helped.  It's a little harder to beat jury duty here than might you think - it's a week before Christmas in south Florida - the ratio of People Who Report to the Jury Pool:People Going on Trial for Felonious Battery is not in favor of those looking to avoid spending the week in the jury box.  Further, while jury duty is always a pain in the ass, given my lack of automobile this was a particularly bad week for me to be flying (er, walking) solo. (two weeks now since my car broke down - I'm 2 different shops and more than 2 grand in the hole.  Why put more than 2 grand in a 10 year old car?  Again, my decision making skills can occasionally come into question.  No, I still don't have my car back.)

I'll leave it to someone else to coach you through beating jury duty if that's your inclination - what I will suggest is personal hardship is not the route to take during voir dire.

4. Baked Goods!


My non jury serving lady type friend then was able to use some of the hours she wasn't debating the meaning of reasonable doubt with non-English speaking Juror #3 to bake the above gooey butter bars.  They were tasty and joined by a no bake fudge oatmeal cookie which was even better.  Yes, a fat kid hooked up with a woman who bakes.  Yes, I am wildly lucky and will one day lapse into a diabetic coma.  There will be no Tendown that week.

5. USC 77 Tennessee 55   
USC hoops hit rock bottom this past off season; Tim Floyd got sacked for slipping a couple of bucks to OJ Mayo and that led to a flury of de-committing by all of our top and midlevel recruits.  We were picked to finish 9th in the conference this year and settle in to our IU post Kelvin Sampson purgatory. 

Instead - we're 5-4 - and in what is the high point of the season, we beat a top ten Tennessee team yesterday - and laid on 'em a good thumpin'.  If the football team is able to win its bowl game by a similar margin, it would be a surprise. 

6. 1/4/10
It appears that Bret Hart (who not only wrote the best wrestling book ever, Hitman: My Real Life in the Cartoon World of Wrestling but was the feature of the best wrestling movie ever Hitman Hart: Wrestling With Shadows - 10th Anniversary Collector's Edition) has signed a short term deal to return to WWE beginning at the top of the year. 

I should be more ambivalent about this - I don't really wish good things for WWE under its current direction, and my faith that Bret won't be booked to look badly on his way out is nonexistent - but unfortunately the portion of me still capable of being so is extra excited.  If for no other reason than what it will mean for my Counterfactual. 

There aren't too many people around sport (professional wrestling is not a sport, but it's around sport) as compelling as Bret Hart, and I'm a little geeked up that he's coming back to TV. 

The best wrestling match from this week was the opener from WWE's PPV last Sunday (Christian v. Benjamin, 3 3/4 stars).  But there were multiple 4 1/4 star matches I saw this week as I made my way through September's wrestling.  Miyamoto/Kobayashi from Big Japan and Go's GHC defense against Saito were the best.  There was another one...shoot.  Oh yeah, I'm being dopey - it was from October, the last Kenta/Nakajima match from the year - your vote for Feud of the Year in wrestling needs to go to Kenta/Nakajima, just one off the chart match after the next.

7. This Guy Knows What I'm Talkin' About; This Guy Definitely Knows What I'm Talkin' About!
-I enjoy all the Apatow movies; Funny People is sitting on my table so I can't speak to it yet, but what I did watch this week was the Funny People bonus disc, which I'd recommend highly for the following three reasons (1) Raaaaaaaandy.  Aziz from Parks and Recreation parodies a 21st century hack stand up named Randy (his favorite comic is himself, he has a DJ in his act named Old Youngin, he analyzes the crowd laughter to decide how many spins he should make on a particular punchline, he has jokes in a cabinet in files labeled "gettin' my dick sucked" and "the economy."  There's a documentary about Raaaaaaaandy on the bonus disc and that's your first watch (2) Yo Teach - Yo Teach is such a pitch perfect awful but sellable sitcom that Apatow might want to consider selling it under a pseudonym just for the extra income (3) there's a deleted scene where Eminem (paying himself) starts yelling in a crowded restaurant at Ray Romano (playing himself) when he thinks Romano has been giving him the eye, and explains to Adam Sandler's character why he needs to be so vigilant about such goings on, not wanting to have someone explain to his kids "dad's not coming home tonight 'cause daddy got popped by Ray Romano."

8. Simple Jack Hates Football 
Glenn Beck came out against football helmets this week (seriously) - he argued that because there are fewer concussions in Australian Rules Football than the NFL, that helmets give players a false sense of security, and that the game would be safer without them.  Simple Jack's right - there would be fewer concussions if the NFL did away with helmets - because then they wouldn't be playing football anymore, at least not any game resembling football more than does Australian Rules Football.  Beck wasn't really talking about football though - he was talking about all manner of health and safety regulations proposed by Democrats - saying that what they really lead to is risky behavior. 

So, there you go - last week, Simple Jack came out against Medicare - this week, he comes out against the 20th century.  I do appreciate the intellectual consistency, I really do.  When the right says universal health care is socalized medicine but doesn't say they want Medicare repealed or private fire departments, it seems less principle than opportunism.  But here's Simple Jack coming out against seat belts this week.  Here's Simple Jack opposed to the FDA, who thinks the Triangle Shirtwaist fire was an example of the market punishing moral hazard (no one made you work in a factory that locks the doors), who is pro sweatshop and would like to see the motto of the United States be "Every Man For Himself."

That's a voice I like seeing attached to the Republican Party.  He doesn't have Limbaugh's drug conviction or O'Reilly's mult-million dollar sexual harrassment payoff - but I dig a guy who just wants to fully unleash the powerful upon the rest of us and let the chips fall where they may.  At bottom, conservative dogma is "let the market rule" - if you can't afford health insurance, get a better job - isn't that the essential argument?  So, isn't Simple Jack basically just saying "if you can't afford a car with a seatbelt, you should be able to buy one without it - if you can't get a minimum wage job, but someone will hire you for a dollar an hour, you should be able to take that job."  This is conservativism on its feet.  My favorite podcast this week was Steve Rannazzisi from The League on Marc Maron's show - Rannazzisi recounted how, on 9-11 (he worked in Tower 2) he approached the one cab he could find to get out of Manhattan - the cabbie asked for 500 bucks to go to Brooklyn.  I don't know offhand if this is illegal in New York; in Florida, there are price gouging statutes that prohibit the raising of prices of particular goods during hurricanes; but most people would say the cabbie was acting immorally.  There isn't a lot of political debate about price gouging statutes - I wonder what Simple Jack's view would be?

Because the intellectually consistent view should be that they should be repealed.  It's an effort by government (like helmets and seat belts and, in other countries, health care) to regulate for the health, welfare, and safety of its citizens.  But in steps into the marketplace government saying "you cannot set a price you want for your product".  We have those laws - and yet, the Teabaggers do not protest them as socialism.  We have laws that prevent discrimination.  Hey - if I own a restaurant and only want to serve white customers, why should I be stopped?  Maybe I've made a business decision that my client base would increase if they could eat their Reubens without any black people around.  It's my business after all - if the customers are offended, they won't come, right?  And if they don't come, presumably I'll change my policy.  If the black customers can't find anyone to sell them pancakes - they should get better jobs and buy their own restaurants.  How is that different than our current health care system?

Why is Simple Jack not making that argument?  Where are the 9-12'ers (was the 9-12 movement about allowing cab drivers to price gouge?  That would be good.) on the Civil Rights Act?  Isn't that another example of the way progressives forced government into the lives of the people?  You can't spell ACORN without CRA. 

Well, they opposed it of course.  The same people (did you see the John Birch Society is back?) making the same anti-government arguments are back - and if you dig even a quarter inch deep, you see the same problems with letting the market control our lives.  Football helmets, seatbelts, minimum wages, price-gouging statutes, and anti-discrimination laws didn't turn the United States into Nazi Germany or Stalinist Russia.

And having Medicare for All wouldn't either. 

9. Do I like Gordon Ramsey?
-I legitimately don't know the answer to that question.  I don't really like Hell's Kitchen, but I am a fan of the BBCA version of Kitchen Nightmares.  I couldn't make it through his live special this week; it was painful and forced and the guests were ill-used props and I'd assume we'll never see it again, but there was a point during the dessert where Ramsey asked LeAnn Rimes if "she liked it thick" - which is likely to be the oddest question asked of a country music celebrity on network television this holiday season.  If YouTube had instant classics the way ESPN Classics does - that moment would have made the list this week.

10. It's Difficult to Get a Man to Understand Something When His Salary Depends on His Not Understanding it.
That's Upton Sinclair quoted last Sunday by Paul Krugman is his piece Diaster and Denial, the best thing I read all week.  Krugman writes:

When I first began writing for The Times, I was naïve about many things. But my biggest misconception was this: I actually believed that influential people could be moved by evidence, that they would change their views if events completely refuted their beliefs.

Krugman's been disabused of that notion. We are living in a post-fact world.  I am as pessimistic about our ability as a country to move to a better, fairer, more just place than I have ever been in my life.

I don't have a car.

And my neck crackles. 

That's Issue 6 of the Tendown.  I'll see you next time...if there is a next time...


Kirk said...

1. I will watch Bret Hart's return, but I don't anticipate enjoying it enough to go regular again.
2. I beat jury duty once by implying I might be racist.
3. My parents have Glenn Beck's book about sweaters in their bathroom.
4. You watch reality house shows. It will be hard for me to just sidestep that when I'm speaking at your funeral.

Jim said...

No funeral, please.

In the spirit of recording my thoughts accurately (and because I don't believe I put this in my will) there will be no funeral. I skipped my 21st birthday party, I really don't want to be stuck at my funeral.

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