30 September 2017

Lyndon Jhonson, Master of the Senate: Book Review / Report / Reconnaissance

This post is written in honor of a book I once read, just now in geologic time, by Robert Caro, called Lyndon Jhonson, Master of the Senate.

This was a completely amazing book, one of the best books I have ever read, certainly one of the most eye-opening.  I strongly, positively, feverishly recommend that if you have any interest the world as we know it you acquire this book by any legal means and read it in its entirety. But, the book is a thousand pages and most people (no offense) will never read the whole thing; so I’m going to tell you briefly some of the many amazing things I learned from it.

This will involve plenty of simplifying/summarizing not to mention flat-out omitting but hopefully without distorting.  Broadly the following is divided into things I learned about LBJ, and about Senate history / context, followed by the story of the 1957 passage of the first major civil rights legislation in nearly a hundred years, a relatively toothless bill but one which paved the way for the historic bills of 1964 and 1965, which are covered neither in the book nor in this podcast, which is hereby published in the form of a blogpost, which you may read it aloud to yourself or others, as you are already doing now (more or less) in your own head right there as it sits atop what is roughly the midpoint of your own two shoulders, on a good day.

This book was so good that I knew this blogpost could never begin to do justice to it.  Thus the recent hiatus around here.  But the pipes must be unclogged.  Time to dislodge this, and move forward.

About LBJ
Before reading this book my knowledge of LBJ was perhaps typical of members of my generation: know him mostly as the one after Kennedy, the Civil Rights prez but also the one who got us into Nam. From Texas, wife named Lady Bird. My Chicago aunt had an old comedy record called Welcome to the LBJ Ranch that I played more than once.  Fans of Seinfeld have a particular, vulgar association with the man that is beneath elaborating upon here. That's about what I knew on the subject going in.

This book tells us, in a nutshell*, that LBJ was a bastard with a heart of gold who wanted more than anything else in the whole wide world to be POTUS, with the result that he was mostly a bastard all the way along the path to power but not opposed in principle to doing good if it could serve his ambition.  A central point the book makes about LBJ’s mix of ambition and compassion is that when these two motivating forces came in conflict, ambition always won. But if doing good aligned with his ambition, LBJ could get big, like tremendously good shit done.  So he simultaneously embodies the best and worst of humanity. Which is pretty cool, not everybody can pull that off, especially at that level.

What makes 'the great man' great?  The following were among LBJ’s talents.
Tireless – worked all day and all night, at all times, if not working on people then mastering information, combing the details looking for the smallest advantage. In fact, one reading of the book goes a long way to suggest that LBJ was quite possibly an animatronic cyborg sent from the future, although Caro devotes no more than a few paragraphs in passing to this remarkable theory.
Hardass – did whatever needed to be done.
People skills – talking to people all day; and listening. A sponge. A reader of people, a tireless observer of what motivates them and how to manipulate them.
Suck-up. Gets on the good side of those he needs. First Rayburn in the House, then Russell in the Senate. Known in college as a suck-up. Going to the funeral of the guy who hated him's father. Sucking up to Truman. A potent blend of obsequious and dictatorial.

Mostly though my overall grade for LBJ is, he was a bastard. I came away from this book disliking this mofo because of what he did to Leland Olds.  So, a brief digression to tell a little of Leland Olds, who was a truly great american. A liberal, an advocate for the poor, the working class thus pro-labor, who, first working for FDR in New York before serving as chairman of the Federal Power Commission, did as much to get electricity to the homes of the broad mass of americans as perhaps anyone. He showed utilities that were refusing to electrify rural areas and reduce rates that they would make even more money by doing so (by increasing demand), and he was right. He was also a staunch anti-communist, he considered communism to be antithetical to the american spirit (or in the modern parlance, sucky).

One of the many results of Leland Olds' actions was limiting the ability of filthy rich natural gas interests in Texas to get even filthy richier.  LBJ needed these same filthy rich bastards to bankroll his presidential run. To show them they could count on him, he needed to destroy Olds.  So he did.  Destroyed a man who had served his supposed political idol FDR in New York and nationally and who had done so much to bring affordable electricity to the broad mass of Americans (ironically, one of LBJ's early successes politically was bringing electricity to rural Texans). And he did it in the lowest possible way, by smearing him as a commie based on deliberate distortion of things Olds had written 20 years prior, long before ever getting into regulating the power industry.  LBJ torpedoed the 1949 renomination of Leland Olds, basically ruining the man’s life not to mention raising gas prices on countless americans so that filthy rich bastards could get even filthy richier ... so that they could pay for his campaign to one day be president.  So, LBJ was a complete and total fucking bastard, the worst kind of human being.  How do such people live with themselves?  How do they sleep at night?  To find out, press 1 on your touch tone phone, now.

II. Senate History / Context
The book literally** oozes information about the historical role of the Senate. As the dam against the passions of the masses. A bulwark against the popular will. Part of the design of our government. Founders were rich and feared levelling/redistribution that democracy could bring. Staggered six-year terms, impossible to turn over the body in one election.
"In creating a Senate for the new nation, its Founding Fathers had tried to create within the government an institution that would speak for the educated, the well-born, the well-to-do, that would protect the rights of property, that would not function as an embodiment of the people's will but would rather stand--"firmly"--as a great bulwark against that will.
    They had succeeded." (p.33)

Examples of Senate ‘stemming the tide’ are detailed: Chase impeachment trial 1805, Andrew Johnson impeachment. Webster’s Second, Exasperated Reply to Hayne, in which Webster was  like, Dude, we're not just like a bunch of freakin' disparate states and stuff, man ... we're like a country and shit.  Woodrow Wilson and the whole League of Nations thing (due to time constraints, we'll just leave it at that).

This book also educates the reader about how the Senate has traditionally worked over its long and storied history, how power flows within it, committees and procedures and so forth.  Power in the Senate in large part was/is executed through committee assignments; you want a place on the most important committees along with a path to the chairmanship of that committee.  When LBJ got there committee assignments were based almost entirely on seniority; so new senators had to get in line and it may take 20 years or more to get to the top if you ever do.  Almost singlehandedly, LBJ ended the seniority system; not right away, for he rose faster than most through hard work and sucking up; nor out of principle, but rather he did it after becoming majority leader mainly so he had more latitude to dole out committee assignments which gave him some power over the other senators, something no previous majority leader had possessed.  It was this rigid seniority system, along with the filibuster, that allowed a relatively small minority of southern senators to control the senate.

The 1957 Civil Rights Bill Story
The main story of this book is the passage of the 1957 civil rights bill, and while it does not say much about the Civil Rights movement as a whole, it makes with clarity and erudition (I had to) a few basic important points. One, Jim Crow was apartheid, an absolutely inhuman system of discrimination enforced by the government, backed by the power of the law. Stories of trying to register to vote. The lynchings, jesus.  And two, the system of the old south was not just melting away, they fought like bloody hell to keep it (to keep the children of different races from mingling and, horror, intermarrying). As long as the south had the filibuster, no civil rights legislation with any teeth could go anywhere.

Richard Brevard "Dick" Russell.  A Russell of the Russells of Georgia.  Implacable supporter of the southern life, i.e. Jim Crow. But always the gentleman, downplays the virulently racist arguments coming from his southern allies, sticks to the high road (relatively high anyway).  Separation is good for both sides. Sure there are abuses and injustices in the south, but are there not abuses and injustices in the north?

And of course that catch-all, states’ rights. States rights was generally speaking code for racism, i.e. an excuse to justify not forcing local governments to enforce the law of the land. But it is also a little more than that, because there are many cases in which opponents of segregation/racism come down on the side of states rights (legalization being a current example).  So states’ rights arguments resonated outside the south, and could provide along with the southern bloc enough votes to kill any civil rights legislation.

So. When LBJ gets to the Senate (by a fraudulent election btw), he sees that the south controls the senate and the power flows from its leader, Dick Russell.  If he wants power in the senate he needs Russell’s backing – and he works relentlessly to get it (pretending interest in baseball and civil war battles to hang around Russell).  If he wants to be prez someday he needs the backing of the south; but he can’t be seen as only the candidate of the south, he needs the backing of northern liberals.  Northern liberals are demanding civil rights legislation.  The southerners absolutely oppose this.  LBJ needs the backing of both sides.  How the hell is this gonna work. 

The answer is that LBJ stood with the southerners and stopped civil rights legislation every previous year up to and including 1956; then in '57, he kinda persuades Russell we gotta let something through or we’ll lose the filibuster but we can totally declaw what gets passed so it won’t matter anyway while telling the liberal side this is not perfect but it’s the best you’re gonna get right now, take this as a first step that you need to get the ball rolling. And in his defense, even as he saw enforcement weakened if not practically neutered for many of the bill's key provisions he stuck a little firmer on the voting rights aspect, believing that if they could at least enforce the right to vote then government would inevitably become more representative.

So, he gets this 1957 Civil Rights Bill through, it's watered down to be sure but it's the first such legislation in generations.  And it's the way he does it, arm-twisting and begging, literally horse-trading to bring key votes onboard.  He sees a way to get the votes of some states-rights westerners because it supports their positions on owning the dams in their states.  The thing appears to be on the verge of death many times, but in the end he comes through.  Certainly plenty of material here for a feature film or 24 episode netflix thing.  Fantastic reading.  Knowledge, with entertainment.  Four stars out of a possible four (stars).    Conclusion of review.

TL;DR: He was such a fucking bastard vs. He led the passage of historic civil rights legislation.  Amazing read. Hosts friendly and towels clean.

*This particular nutshell, it hardly need be added, is proverbial. 

**Not literally but you know, like, totally.

06 May 2017

Publishing That Blogpost Exposing the Deeply Embarrassing Thing That Happened to Me Deeply Exposed and Embarrassed Me

This is the post I have been afraid to write. Terrified, actually.

Because it will reveal me to myself and force me to face up to my private desires and in the end I may be exposed as a total moron and still not have any Followers on Twitter – well you can imagine how terrifying that must be.  I know I can, and imagination was never my strong suit.

I feel cheated, robbed of my privacy and stripped bare of my most innermost thoughts.  Embarrassed, insulted, kicked around, pushed out the door and left for unsuccessful by the side of the road to my horizons.

And it's all because I bared my soul for the world to mock in that (dumb stupid) blogpost.

When I wrote my tell-all self-expose of the complete story of the shocking revelation that I wet the bed until I was twenty-seven, and detailed the many therapy sessions and corrective surgeries I had gone through in what can only be described (by law) as a pitiful ordeal, I thought I was just telling an interesting story, it was a simple exercise in 'writing what you know' that I imagined would help me attract a bevy of new "Adherents" on Twitter or Twongle or Twozzle or whatever the new one's called.

I never imagined it would ruin my life forever.  That people would laugh at me, make all manner of hurtful wisecracks at my expense, create hysterical memes with pictures of cats or famous movie characters captioned with embarrassing words that I myself wrote under an intense emotional spell, in a fragile, vulnerable state of mind, when I felt that I just had to get that out of me or I would explode and was utterly unable to understand or even consider the consequences of such a revelation, in today's internet era where your words once published can come back to haunt you and take your dignity and obliterate your future, forever.
Now I'm unemployable.  I can't keep a job or a boy/girlfriend.  My pet hamster Mr. Gerbils ran away when he discovered my secret, he left a note saying all the other hamsters were making fun of him and he was confused about his gerbility and why did I post that on Facebook am I a complete moron and he simply couldn't face the world as my hamster any more.

Courage exacts a price, and if having the courage to stand up and make an ass of myself in public in order to get attention (which these days of course can be monetized) is the cost of having the courage to take a stand, to show yourself to the world, then so be it.  I am not trying to run away from the consequences of my choices.  I did get 71 new Followers on Instagraham and although there's no way to tell how sincere any of them are, in that sense it was almost worth it.  But alas, the suffering of being stigmatized for my own blogpost.  Of being made a parasol, or a paragon, whichever is correct there, on account of my own deeply personal account of my past stigmatization and sufferings.  To be bitten by the very thing – social networks – that had given my life some semblance of meaning for the past three and two-thirds years!  How cruel is fate, how savage the vicissitudes of Instagraham and how bitter the poisoned fruits of cruel demon Twitter!

O wretched internet, I am SO like, Eli Eli lama sabbachtani to the max! Why hast thou forsaken me and whatnot?

15 April 2017

On the Merging of Politics and Sports

The following essay was originally "published" in September of 2012.  It remains as timelessly relevant as it was on the day it was originally "published", which is not to make a claim about the matter one way or the other, purse a.

It is clear that The Country is coming apart at the seams, and what is needed is a heavy dose of social cohesion.  One of the few subjects capable of bringing diverse groups of people together these days seems to be professional sports.  Therefore, professional sports must be brought into the political process.  And not just implicitly – as for example the Cleveland Brownshirts – but by law.  The teams and their fan bases must become political parties to advocate for and protect their particular interests.  This will increase political participation and our sense of community and go a long way towards revitalizing this great nation of yours, mine, and ours.

Sure some people don't like sports.  Nothing wrong with that.  But every citizen is or can be persuaded to become a fan of at least one team, if not for the policy platform then for the ancillary social benefits or the color scheme.

Instead of extending unemployment benefits for 'the poor', a vague and easily otherizable designation, it would be framed as, "We need to extend Lombardi Benefits for needy Packer fans."  This is something all Packer fans can get behind: Green and Gold, The Glory, Bart Starr, Jerry Kramer and all that.  Any Packer fan would support a modest surtax on every brat with the money earmarked to fund community education programs for Packer fans less fortunate than themselves.  Just like the Giants didn’t give up on Eli Manning after his first three subpar seasons – and look what it got them: two friggin super bowls – we can't give up on young Brian even if he's flunked his welder's certificate twice, we can extend those benefits because we know he's gonna get back on his feet, consume his share of cheese-filled foodstuffs and give us much-needed special teams depth for the stretch run.

We will have to redraw the electoral map a little bit to accommodate the overlapping fan bases of different sports and cities.  After all, Raider fans should not be taxed to support 49er fans and vice versa.  And a Bronco fan living in San Diego should not have his hard earned money taxed to support the Chargers, I think we can all agree that is not what The Framers had in mind.  Yes the world has changed a whole hunk since they met behind Fort Sumter circa 1763, but some principles are enduring. 

At this time, as with any cockamamie idea, we should focus not on the difficulties but the possibilities. 

Imagine having elections decided by the outcome of the Penguins-Flyers series, determining the passage of legislation by the OBP leaders or taxation rates by the fifth at Pimlico, deciding whether to launch another pointless foreign war based on the results of another pointless late-season Wolverhampton match.

Let the games double as city council meetings, with seven minutes of every halftime set aside for civic matters, doing the public's business and so forth.  Referenda or simple up or down votes on questions of public policy could be speedily conducted by asking fans to flash one of two sides of a pre-distributed placard.  In election seasons games might include campaign rallies, where the candidates briefly outline their vision and policy proposals, take a few seconds to malign and misrepresent their opponent, and then demonstrate their physical fitness as well as ability to handle complex legislation in the Punt, Pass, and Kick.

Chew on that for a second.  We'll be right back to talk more about politics, after this succession of slickly produced, highly charged moments from our sponsors.

21 March 2017

In the Words of The Founder

Since the Opening Statement, The Founder has modestly receded into the background, maintaining overall creative control while ceding the day-to-day jokemongering to a crackerjack young editorial staff.

But okay I guess it's time to get deeply personal about myself, I know a lot of people read these blog things looking to enjoy other people humiliating themselves, and I certainly wouldn't want to disappoint anyone.

I started this project with a simple maxim: There is no I in blog.  That's why I started a blog and not a website, which has an I and a we and even a sie for that matter.

I still believe that's true, and that's the main reason this blog is not about cooking. Because I'm a helluva cook in the kitchen, let me tell you, I can whip up a buttercream souffle like nobody's business.  But if I started posting recipes about the cheap, easy and delicious meals I cook for friends and family with stunning regularity, suddenly I'd just be counted on to produce more and more of the almost-the-same and I was not up for that kind of burden, I already have two kids of my own.

Or I could write about my collection of books, or do one of those compiler blogs where I link to videos off YourTube or to funny pictures of street signs that don't make any sense.

Heck I could start another Wendy's in my neighborhood, a good neighborhood can never have too many Wendy's's. And then blog about that: the trials, the tribulations, the neverending struggle ... tribulations sell.

The truth is I'm much like an ordinary person in most respects. Sure I spray-paint my breakfast before I eat it, and I know everything that's gonna happen somewhere between two milliseconds and six years before it happens, oh and yeah god speaks through Me, so I got that going for me as the great man muttered, but otherwise I'm fairly normal. Well I do have this shape shifting thing I can do, but lately I can only seem to do Greg Norman and that's about it.

I don't know what pancakes have to do with any of this but I've gotten off-topic here. Wait, what was the topic? Tenacious D has a new album? No way, that's great, that's like, I'm sure there's some really funny rock and roll on there and no one has ever heard it yet. That's gonna be terrific to purchase and then enjoy, a lovely respite from the bleak succession of blog posts and digging for grubs that modern life has become, at least for those of us who still have the courage to 'keep it real.'

Well I hope this post has given you some idea about me and the way my thought process works (or doesn't). I think it's important that you the reader understand and identify with me, that way everyone will start to love this blog, I can hire someone to ghost write it and finally retire and do something worthwhile like digging for fossil clams in the far reaches of the northern territories.  That's supposedly where clams evolved gills to become fish and I want to be the lucky bugger to lay my mitts on the missing link, the final missing straw in the puzzle of evidence that fish descended from clams and their freakish hybrid offspring.

So I'll leave you with some food for thought:  What if Jennifer Jason Leigh's screen name was Jennifer Jason Kearns? Or hunky QB Tom Brady had been Wally Brady, or maybe Dexter? Do you think their careers would have played out any differently?   Do names influence the destinies of the stars and the horses they rode in on?  It makes a body wonder.

29 January 2017

Time Stops Again (Again)

Special note or appendum type thing: This article may be a rehash, or a foreshadowing.  Time has apparently been turned upside down (again) (whatever that means), and the future may or not guarantee present or past results. (The Future is Void Where Prohibited.)

Time itself, that cheap inviting bastard who flies when you'd have him crawl, and crawls when you wish he'd fly (e.g. when you're crawling with flies), stopped again on Thursday at 10:24 a.m., as the Central Clock went kerflooey and the fabric of the universe was once more torn asunder, whatever on earth that means. None reported hurt and no injured, Kent, no one seems to really know what happened, or if anything at all happened, and frankly some are starting to once again ponder the age-old questions, the nature of the cosmos, its source and its ultimate destiny, and the meaning of the fact that no good answer exists to the question of the meaning of existence.

People are kind of falling into two camps on this one, with one camp insisting that time actually stopped this morning, and for several days, though no one can really say how long it lasted, while the other side, in fact the vast majority of the citizenry, seems not to have noticed and continued about their business more or less as usual. There were scattered reports of a palpable weirdness, a definite oozy thickness to the atmosphere, and many if not most of the basic rules of the physical universe seem to have been suspended (one example being the law of conservation of energy, which states that great players save a little something for crunch time). Still, most assumed it was some combination of lack of sleep, gastrointestinal distress, or overindulgence in spirituous liquors, and bravely pushed on with their day.

Authorities are calling all this talk of time stopping "a lot of dangerous nonsense," fearing that any anomalies in the flow of time could cause jitters among already-nervous investors and send them fleeing for the exits in a panic that could scupper the prospects for a robust period of growth for the markets, i.e. more free money for everyone involved. Allegations in the blogosphere that the time stoppage was engineered by Goldmen Sax so that their trading algorithms could rake in another zillion remain unsubstantiated, which is not to say disconfirmed, so you just go right ahead and believe what you want to believe, apocalypse be damned.

Many who claim to have experienced the stoppage were people who were meditating, as well as some (although interestingly not all) of those who were playing music at the time. One dude speculated that what happened was that they were so in the moment that when the moment stopped, they were still able to move and flow freely, inside of it. Asked to describe the sensation, the consensus is that it was pretty, you know, like, "heavy."

And then, whether or not it actually and in fact did happen, it was over. Snap! Just like that.

Physicists at the Institute for the Study of Time said they didn't notice anything, they were 'on break' at 'the time.' Then they started parroting my questions back at me but with extensive, inappropriate uses of air quotes, all while giggling uncontrollably; after twenty minutes I got tired of waiting for them to stop and I left. I don't know what they're smoking, chewing, snorting or shooting over at the Institute these days but I'd like to boil it, distill it and slip a little into my coffee one of these Sunday mornings.

Central Timekeeping was flummoxed, no one from the department could give a good account of what happened. Conflicting stories about the readings on their instruments at the critical moments in question were leaked to the media, and all we could get was an assurance that they would look into the matter thoroughly in due course. In other words, don't hold your breath.

Questions regarding this alleged event or non-event are many and perhaps, in the end, unanswerable.

If it did happen, how could it be verified? Does time stop all the time and we just have no way of knowing? Is this why people spend so much for a Rolex?

Is it even possible for time to stop? To speed up, slow down, or flow in other directions? And not just theoretically, but for humans to actually experience the fluctuations and live to describe them in comprehensible terms?

If a glass were falling, and time really did stop, does the glass just hang there in the air?

If time stops, how do you measure how long it stopped for?

What is time?

[Pauses, looks uncomfortably at shoes.]

We'll be right back.

23 January 2017

Off the Gridirony, Part I: Down Syndrome

With the Super Bowl once again upon us, it seems important that (now more than ever) we settle this nagging question of the downs, which being the more and which the less critical of the downs, in terms of winning the football contest and capturing the big prize.  We asked former Miami Gold Star Tiara Queens Linebacker Johnny "Big Uncle" Brownstone to explain it slowly and clearly once and for all so that even the most boneheaded among you can get it through your thick skulls, and he was like, You know what?  I tell ya.

First down is the key down…  Everything happens on first down and that makes first down the most important down, first down sets it all up for the downs that follow, first down sets the table and that’s why coaches call it the table-setting down and suchlike, first down is where you line up your ducks against their ducks and establish the ground game, or threaten the deep middle (of the pond), maybe set a few decoys out there, because if you can get a nice chunk on first down that sets you up nicely for second down.

Second down is where the rubber meets the road, not literally and not figuratively either but second down is the middle child, it exists in the shadow of first down which, though second has no control over it, has already laid down the broad parameters within which second down must exist and attempt to strike out on its own, make its own name, knowing that third down is coming and bound to soak up all of mom and dad’s attention and leave it the overlooked middle child of downs, as downs go second down is an absolutely critical down and it’s a down good teams make something on, good teams make something on second down that’s either gonna give em another first down or they’re gonna try and leave themselves with a nice short makeable third down.

Because third down is where reputations are made, third down is where the cream separates itself from the chaff and that’s why third down is absolutely the most important down, the down to end all downs, third down is where the Tchaikovskys of the world compose their best music, third down is when Julia Child finally got her own cooking show, heck even Hitler (who was evil) recognized the importance of third down although fortunately for freedom and human decency he was unable to convert the critical third downs that would have kept his team on the march and refused to listen to his generals even when they pleaded with him that everything is riding on third down because if you can’t get a first down on third down you’re stuck facing the grim reaper, the fortified bunker of downs, the end of the line: fourth down. 

Fourth down is the down on which dreams die.  It is absolutely the ultimate down, the sine qua down (res ipsa loquitur), fourth down is where you show your mettle, where you comb the burrs out of your thick winter coat and buckle up your chinstrap and buckle down your shinchaps and literally put the pedal to your mettle, the strive to your drive, where the guts and bolts of your desire to win rise like the cream to the surface of the kettle, like the wheat rises to the challenge of creating separation from the chaff.  If there were a fifth down that would probably be the down of all downs, the be-all and end-all down-wise speaking, but nope.  There’s only four and then one way or another it’s back to first down, which to be honest is not very important because you still have two or even three more chances after that and even if you have to punt it’s not that big a deal and besides football is stupid, the end.