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Archive for the 'Prose Screeds' Category

All the World’s aTwitter

Posted by dowbrigade on 23rd June 2009

Discussing logistical matters on Twitter is simply going to attract unnecessary attention of the government and other detractors. This is why most such discussions take place on secure private platforms like e-mail or instant-messaging….Thus, Iran’s regime is quite knowledgeable about social media. Perhaps we should not read too much into the government’s reluctance – or, some have argued, inability – to ban tools like Twitter. The reasons for these may be much more banal: These tools are simply too useful as sources of intelligence about what is happening in the country. Not only do they help the Iran government to follow the events closely (as well as to understand the perception of the government’s actions) in every single locality with an Internet connection, they also help it to understand the connections between various activists and their supporters in the West. From the intelligence-gathering perspective, Twitter has been a gift from heaven.

Evgeny Morozov in Boston Globe

It occurs to the Dowbrigade that our previous posting, arguing that there is nothing inherently beneficent or liberating in the digital revolution, was a bit one-sided. It argued that the internet was just a new tool that could be used to ends both enlightened and nefarious, by the full gamut of human wielders. However, as we used to say in our salad days, the mark of true intelligence is the ability to simultaneously entertain irreconcilably contradictory concepts. So let us consider the flip side.

As someone undoubtedly noted (the unattributed quote is in my head and Google won’t help) the Power of the Printing Press accrues mostly to those who own one, which used to be a pretty rarified slice of humanity.  The paradigm-busting characteristic of the digital revolution is putting that power in the hands of a significant proportion of the world’s population.

Recent events in Iran seem to argue for the status quo quashing potential of digital tools, as Twitter, blogs (Iran has the most blogs in the Muslim world) and general wiredness of the population seems to be a crucial factor in the most serious opposition to the rule of the Ayatollas since the Islamic Revolution thirty years ago. The majority of the current population of Iran never knew the Shah and grew up on the Internet. Surely that makes governing 66 million people according to a set of laws from the 9th century a bit of a challenge.

Yet, as Evgeny Morozov noted in the Globe, quoted above, the Ayatollas and Revolutionary Guard know how to use computers as well, and we are currently seeing a pretty virulent counter-attack on the ground and in cyberspace on the part of the Iranian authorities. Perhaps, rather than a stairway to freedom, the web is just another battlefield for the age old struggle between – who? The authorities and the rebels?  The ins and the outs?  The ensconced elders and the upstart youth? Good and evil?

At any rate, it appears Twitter is here to stay, for better or worse. And we finally get it.  After a couple of years of dismissing it as digital telegrams for twits, the currently vogue term “microblogging” helped me wrap my head around it.  But it’s not “micro” exactly, more like “mobile”. The distinguishing characteristic of Twitter is that it can be, and is usually, done from a cell phone.

Blogging, of course, is usually done from a computer.  It is a ruminative, contemplative occupation, best accomplished alone, in a quiet, controlled environment, like the Dowbrigades Electronic Command Center, with its multiple screens connected to all manner of digital information, rats-nest of cables which Norma Yvonne constantly threatens to cut and throw out, super-comfortable Ikea suspended chair and easy access to refrigerator, restroom and sleeping facilities.  Hence the iconic image of the unshaven, pajama-clad blogger burning the midnight oil. Many bloggers are comfortably into middle age.

Twitter, however, is a youngster’s game. It is out and around, not stogily baracaded in a basement bunker. It is done on iPhones and Blackberrys, in short frantic bursts, on the scene, furitively in crowds and meetings, on the fly, in the moment, and as such captures a different aspect of the cutting edge and a different slice of daily life than blogs. It produces different kinds of insights and thrills.

For example, this Twitter-related story came into the Dowbrigade Command Center this morning:

TORONTO (AP) – Police have charged the tour manager of the Black Eyed Peas with assault after he allegedly gave celebrity blogger Perez Hilton a black eye outside a Toronto nightclub.  Hilton, whose real name is Mario Lavandeira, complained about the incident on the microblogging site Twitter. He tweeted at 4 a.m.: “I am bleeding. Please, I need to file a police report. No joke.”

from the Associated Press

The Dowbrigade thinks he will stick to blogging. Actually leaving the Command Center is becoming increasingly dangerous. No joke.

Posted in Humor, Politics, Prose Screeds, Technology | 62 Comments »

Boston Rules and Resistance is Futile

Posted by dowbrigade on 20th June 2008

mvp2.pngYesterday the Dowbrigade and his son and cameraman Gabriel joined half a million other Boston sports fans to celebrate the latest World Championship by a local sports team. Yawn. Then we stopped for Brazilian Bar-B-Q on the way home. Ho hum.

How jaded we have become, here in the Hub! Somehow life seems empty if one of the local teams isn’t playing for a cup, or trophy, or title. What we have here is a unique and unprecedented confluence of statistical, psychic and socio-cultural factors, bringing championships to Boston by the bandwagon.

We have already taken credit for the Major Mojo behind this run of competitive success. However, it occurs to us that most people may not be aware of how deep and widespread this reign of triumph currently is.

For example, how many readers are aware that the Walpole, MA Little League team was declared the default 2007 Little League World Series winner, due to the retroactive age-related disqualifications of players from the Macon, Georgia and Osaka, Japan teams which finished ahead of them?

And how about the news that the Boston team at the National Conference of Mayors won the annual City Government Softball Tournament final 17-6 after cleanup hitter Tom Tom Menino pointed to the left field wall, mumbled something unintelligible and smashed the crap out of an 0-2 knuckleball from Michael Bloomberg.

While the “Big Three” of Celtics, Patriots and Red Sox grab all the headlines, true sports fans are aware that there are other champions in town. The New England Revolution have been to the MLS finals three years in a row, earning the unfortunate sobrioquet “Buffalo Bills of the MLS”.

But further down the food chain of professional sports, who knew that the Boston Tea Bags recently finished first in the Gay Para Olympics. Or that the Boston Bonsais of the Professional Flower Arranging League last year won the Bouquet Bowl?It is a shame only the Bay Windows weekly rag reported that the Boston Stylistics captured the American Stylists 2008 Coiff-Off held recently in Las Vegas. They Blow!

Among female competitors, local teams at the top of their respective sports include the Boston Ballbreakers of the Womens Amateur Rugby Association and the New England Nannies who recently triumphed in the World Child Care Olympics in Manchester, England.

And who could forget the Boston Blueballs, who traveled to Fugloysund, Norway for the Competitive Ice-Swimming Team Championship and won! Go Blueballs!

But Boston’s good fortune has not been limited to nominal grown-ups. Our many excellent college teams have also been bringing home titles at a rate that has the laurel leaves falling faster than foliage in the fall. Why, just during the past academic year, MIT took home both the US Collegiate Chess Championship and the NCAA Robot Rhythmic Gymnastics Cup. In between Harvard won the Super-Ego Bowl.

Speaking of bowls, BC triumphed in the 2008 GE College Bowl as well as the Champs Sports Bowl, and Northeastern staggered home with the 2008 Beer Pong title. Brandeis took the team title at the Maccabee Games and a Bentley won the Paris-Dakar Road Rally. In a major upset, BU won the Division 3 Football Championship, even though they haven’t had a football team for ten years.

Flipping through the cable lineup we also note that New Englanders have been on a competitive reality show tear, having recently won America’s Top Model, Celebrity Chef Cookoff, American Idle (a slacker spin-off), Dancing with the Stars, Big Brother, I Survived a Japanese Game Show, America Gladiator, The Great Race, Fear Factor, Top Design, America’s Got Talent, The Biggest Loser and The Apprentice.

The popularity of Boston has been noted and rewarded by a plethora of national publications and professional associations which have recently named our fair city, among other things, America’s Voted Most Livable City, Best Sports Bars, Top Singles Scene, Best Managed City, Most Scenic Urban Area, Best Educated City, Best Junk Food, Most Interesting Eccentrics, America’s Friendliest Citizens and, in an incredible coup, Best Weather in the Continental United States.

In addition to a continuing cavalcade of championships, we can look forward to an accelerating parade of world-class events. Boston has been recently selected to host the 2010 Miss Universe Pageant, the 2016 Summer Olympics and the 2020 World Cup. In 2012 both the Democrats and the Republicans plan to have their nominating conventions here.

So enjoy it while it lasts, boys and girls, but be ready to relocate for a while. When the party ends, there’ll be the devil to pay. Balancing the karmic books can be a bitch.

Watch the video we shot yesterday

Posted in Boston, Celtics, Humor, Prose Screeds, Sports | 4 Comments »

Ode to an Unsung Hero

Posted by dowbrigade on 3rd June 2008

Boston sports fans have reason to be nervous – the incredible run of luck experienced by area sports teams is coming to an end.Now it can be revealed – the Dowbrigade has been personally responsible for the incredible run of championship seasons during the past 5 years, and we are getting tired. For the past 60 months we have been collecting charms and amulets from around the world, consulting with witch doctors, consorting with dark powers from beyond the veil, performing rare and almost forgotten rites and burning exotic herbs in abundance.

And you thought it was just fantastic coincidence that the Patriots, Red Sox and Celtics have all put in historic season after season and brought home more combined championships than any other city in such a short period? Or that it was somehow our superior sporting spirit, or some unknown urban virtue? Maybe the collective brilliance of our coaches, managers and athletes can be attributed to intellectual osmosis from the high I.Q. zip codes along the Charles? Or something in the water?

Fuggedabouddit. It is we, the Dowbrigade, working tirelessly 24/7, scouring the globe for tchoktches, medicine pouches, religious icons, fertility figures, lucky charms and power crystals. Our dedicated research staff is constantly unearthing sacred texts, arcane tomes and occult resources for good curses, jinxes and hexes to fire on our unlucky opponents.

We have spent months and most of our disposable income acquiring powders and potions, snake skins and beeswax, holy water, hallowed earth and sacred fire, ceremonial knives and rare incense. Not to mention the dozens of farm animals offering themselves up for ritual sacrifice. And the schlepping – you try to get a 2,000 pound ceremonial stone altar into a 3rd floor walk-up.

But no sacrifice was too great for our teams. It all started in 2002, when, recently returned from a vacation retreat with an Amazonian shaman who must remain nameless, we set up a small shrine in a corner of ourliving room and adapted a few simple rituals the Shaman had taught us into weekly enactments right before each Patriots game. Every week we tried to introduce something new to the ritual – a rabbits foot, a native American katchina doll, a pinch of hogwart. When the Pats up and won their first championship, we were hooked. We knew we had to keep going.

We knew that we were personally responsible for bring the trophy home to Boston, and that with great responsibility comes great power.

By 2004 we had become much more adept at the rites and spells, and had widened our horizons in the search for more powerful talismen and charms. We obtained a shipment of Rudraksh nuts, found only in remote regions of the Himalayas, and collected four-leaf clovers from outside of each of the stadiums on the Patriot’s schedule. When our efforts were rewarded with another championship we resolved to redouble them yet again.

The Patriots third championship in 2005 was largely the result of the actions of a series of demons and evil spirits we summoned from the Nevernever via a magic lantern obtained from a Vedantic mystic whose son was trying to get into Brandeis (he did). Summoning these spirits each week, and siccing them on the opponent de jour, was exhausting work, and we swore we would never do it again after a storm spirit went out of control after the Superbowl and absolutely destroyed a seaside trailer camp outside Jacksonville (they called it a “freak storm”). But you can’t argue with the results.

Later in 2004, we transferred our attention to baseball, which turned out to be a whole new level of challenge. For one thing, overcoming an 87-year-old curse is no day at the beach. We needed major mojo, which arrived in the form of a shroud from a 1,800 year old Mexican mummy, unearthed beneath an ullamaliztl (an Aztec ball game) court in the ancient capital of Tenochitlan. Legend has it he died scoring the final goal in a sudden-death regional final, saving his entire region from literal sudden death at the hands of division rivals.

In addition, the length of the season proved problematic. In order to provide a non-stop psychic assault on the Red Sox’s opponents we arranged visas and passage for a hardy band of near-naked tribesmen from New Zealand, a Maori Shaman and his five acolytes, who were adepts at the performance of the Ka Mate Haka, a sort of singing celebration of Life over Death which packs a hell of a whammy.

Performing the Haka before each of the 162 ballgames of the regular season and the 20 post-season encounters proved a real trial, and before the season was half over Norma Yvonne was really pissed at the presence of 6 Maori tribesmen in our guest room, constantly chanting “Kikiki kakaka kauana! Kei waniwania taku tara”, but it was all worthwhile when we burst the curse and won the series.

Nevertheless, our marriage took a hit for the cause, which is why, this season, we went with a trio of mystic Russian monks who have taken vows of silence, rather than inviting the Maori back.

We thought about helping out the Bruins, but Jeremy Jacobs has so much negative karma that counteracting it would require human sacrifice, and even the Dowbrigade draws the line somewhere.

This constant marshaling of occult forces in favor of the New England sports teams has taken a toll, financially, physically and psychically on the whole Dowbrigade franchise.

The stress is starting to show. At the climax of a six day fast this past February, in the throes of a drug-induced trance-dance, we had a mini-breakdown and lost our focus during the waning minutes of the Superbowl. The disastrous results are now a matter of public record.

Hell, if we want to take credit for all those championships, we ought to take the heat for the one we blew.

Now, we find ourselves in the heat of the NBA finals. In an effort to assure victory we’ve been consorting with the Faeries, and their penchant for truly evil mischief and trickery has our home in a shambles. But I guess we can put up with it for another couple of weeks, if it means bringing home the Larry O’Brien Trophy for the first time in 21 years. No sacrifice is too great for long suffering sports fans.

But, honest to God folks, we don’t know how much longer we can keep it up.

So enjoy it while it lasts, Boston Sports fans, and be prepared for some long lean years when we finally end our efforts. Even the strongest Mojo wears off, and magic offers only a temporary dispensation of the law of averages.

Posted in Humor, Prose Screeds, Sports | 6 Comments »

These Genes are Killing Me

Posted by dowbrigade on 21st May 2008

When we consider such far-flung modern phenomena as professional sports, presidential politics and the popular press, we are constantly reminded that the central problem facing the human race at this stage of our march across the history of our planet is the conflict between our genetic inheritance and our current living situation.

Our genetic inheritance comprises not only our physical characteristics, but also our behavior patterns and emotional constitutions. Genetic changes take place on a vast time scale – thousands of generations are necessary to elongate a bone, adapt an organ or to hone a skill. The human genetic code, which each of us carries in every cell of our bodies and brains, has evolved over hundreds of thousands of years, during almost all of which we were tribal savages, nomadic hunter-gatherers and short-lived, omnivorous predators.

Therefore we are all operating with instincts, reactions and skill sets designed for violent, merciless killers.

The past 5,000 years of civilized progress, all of our achievements and arts, are but a blip on the slow curve of evolution, and have yet to produce any measurable changes in our genetic code. We were built for more primitive and untamed times, in which our short desperate lives were constantly in danger, and we survived only by being the baddest beasts on the block.

Just as natural selection favors faster runners and bigger brains, over the millenia it also favored certain personality types and behavior patterns. In the savage world in which we evolved, qualities like aggressiveness, physical violence and blood lust were survival prerequisites. The most efficient killers, the most ruthless hunters, and the most paranoid plotters survived, and propagated these same qualities, until we truly became the baddest of the bad.

It is this terrible inheritance we must come to terms with if we are to continue to survive in the technologically transformed world of today. For today we cannot afford unbridled aggression, constant paranoia and physical violence. There are too many of us on the planet, and our weapons are too terrible, to allow these indulgences from our adolescence as a species to guide our coming of age.

If we continue to behave in the manner we were bred to behave, we are headed for certain extinction. Many of the most disturbing phenomena of modern living – alienation, mental illness, mass murder, soccer hooliganism and reality television (for example) – stem from the disconnect between what our brains and bodies evolved to deal with and the brave new reality we are forced to face every day.

Fortunately, humans are very good at developing coping mechanisms. We are nothing if not adaptable. Out of necessity we have developed mechanisms to channel and sublimate our aggressive, bestial instincts. Politics is warfare with words instead of weapons, but employs many of the same tactics – attack, defend, defeat, gang up on, infiltrate, stab in the back, etc. The whole world of sports, professional and recreational alike, developed as a way to practice martial skills, but over the centuries has evolved into a way to channel aggression and the drive for physical dominance into socially constructive, rather than destructive, channels. The popular press, mass media and the blogosphere have become a channel for all sorts of venting, exclusionary bonding, fear mongering, scapegoating and purging which was previously acted out with deadly violence within and between tribes, producing physical rather than emotional and metaphorical damage.

But while you can lead your tribe out of the jungle, you can’t clean the jungle out of some members of your tribe. Boys will be boys, and a considerable segment of the boys on our planet continue trying their best to kill each other. Far too many of our resources, and the mindsets of the far majority of those in power, are held hostage to ancient cycles of hunt and kill, massacre and revenge, defend through destruction.

Because we are mired in the bygone battles we were bred to fight, we are unable to win or even engage the urgent troubles of today. The ancient blood lust, romantic and deeply satisfying on a viscereal level, is like a cigarette habit acquired in adolescence – it feels good and looks cool, but it’s going to kill us for sure if we don’t quit soon.

Posted in Prose Screeds | Comments Off on These Genes are Killing Me

Lilac Tuesday and Artificial Intelligence

Posted by dowbrigade on 21st May 2008

Every May, without fail, the Dowbrigade drifts into a fragrant nostalgic reverie when the lilacs come into bloom. We grew up in upstate New York, near Rochester’s Highland Park, which together with the Royal Botanical Gardens in Burlington, claim to be the largest collections in the world, and in our neighborhood every house had at least a few bushes (Mom counted 19 at our house on East Boulevard). Peak lilac season comes later in Rochester; the last week of May or the first week of June. For fifteen days the normally dowdy aging urbe would be decked out in garlands and leis and smelling like Aphrodite in heat. I remember that each year at the height of lilac season the P’s would invite my elementary school teacher over for dinner. By that time the interminable upstate soggy spring had given way to better weather and we usually ate out on the porch, with lilac bushes pressing against the screens and a few sprigs of purple, or white, or vermilion in vases on the table.

New England’s best lilac collection is at the Arnold Arboretum, the Harvard University botanical collection in Jamaica Plain, which boasts over 450 bushes, including a magnificent variety of colors and forms, both single flowering and the rarer double flowering “French lilacs”. We had hoped to take Norma Yvonne last weekend, but the poor woman is currently working a full-time bank job and teaching 10 courses in the evenings and consequently basically rolls up into a ball when she finishes at 12:45 Saturday and tries to recuperate as much strength as possible before she has to start again on Monday morning.

Besides, how could I miss Bar Camp?

So, taking advantage of a break in our teaching schedule, we went out yesterday. After an hour or so of tramping around the Arboretum listening to Jimi Hendrix on our chi-pod, we wandered into the lilacs. We approached the collection, strewn on a sunny hillside, sort of like an art museum. We would approach each bush like the masterpiece it was, peering from various distances. By squinting, or letting our orbs slide slightly out of focus, we could make each flowery explosion of color into a Cezanne, or a Monet, or a Pissaro. Finally, we would stick our head into the fattest and most fecund bunch of blossoms and inhale deeply.

Our head was spinning by the time we plopped down next to a particularly pungent purple exemplar and opened the book we had brought with us, Marvin Minsky’s “The Emotion Machine”, which is modestly subtitled “Commonsense Thinking, Artificial Intelligence and the Human Mind.”

We must say we are disappointed, so far (we are still on Chapter 2). His basic idea is that the human mind is very complicated and contains many specific abilities which he calls “resources” and active agents he calls “critics” which determine which resources will be brought to bear on each situation or problem.

Our first impression is that this ground was covered more comprehensively 40 years ago by John C. Lilly, who argued in Programming and Metaprogramming in the Human Biocomputer (1967) that because we don’t have time to think out each step of our reactions in real-time situations, we rely on pre-established programs of how to behave, and that which of these programs snap into place when we are confronted with specific cues or triggers is controlled by metaprograms.

“Each mammilian brain functions as a computer, with properties, programs and metaprograms partly to be defined and partly to be determined by observation. The human computer contains at least 13 billion active elements….Among other know properties are self-programming and self-metaprogramming.” (Lilly ’67)

Lilly goes on to argue that humans can gain access to and actually reprogram these metaprograms through a variety of techniques including meditation and other rigorous mental disciplines, transcendent religious experiences and directed drug use, an approach which seems to offer more possibilities for actually improving our system software than Minsky’s.

In fact, we have spent the past 35 years, since we first read Lilly’s seminal paper as an undergrad, trying to implement its implications and modify our metaprograms. We can report mixed results: we no longer become a stuttering idiot in the presence of beautiful women, but we still break out in a cold sweat at the thought of an approaching dental appointment.

Still, perhaps we are jumping to conclusions. The remaining 7 chapters in the Minsky book may contain some new ideas or useful elaborations.

We didn’t bring any lilacs back to Norma or to brighten the apartment. Breaking branches off a living bush seems like a sacrilege today, although we know they will fade and die on the vine soon enough. It’s enough to know that they’ll be there still next May, filling the late spring air with the scent of seasons long past and far away.

Posted in Friends and Family, Prose Screeds | 3 Comments »

Fantastic Finish Coming Right Up

Posted by dowbrigade on 14th May 2008

CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. — The contest with Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton not quite over and the one with Senator John McCain not quite under way, Senator Barack Obama is floating somewhere between the two major phases of his long campaign — a political limbo that brought him to this Republican hamlet on the
night of a West Virginia primary he was expected to lose.

from the New York Times

The Democratic Party’s love affair with Barak Obama has hit a rough patch. Familiarity has not exactly bred contempt, but it is becoming increasingly obvious that the dew is off the rose and a lot of people don’t trust this guy as far as he can toss a bowling ball. Books will be written about the meteoric arc of the political career of Sen. Obama, but in the Big Book of Presidential History he is destined to be but a footnote.

We continue to maintain that the entire Obama candidacy, in fact his six-year ballistic rise from South Side obscurity, was a brilliantly devised plan by the Billary Brain Trust to create an extremely attractive but ultimately nonviable stalking horse to divert attention, support and funding from more (they thought) dangerous rivals.

For a variety of reasons this political science project went seriously out of control. For one, Barack proved elegant, graceful and silver-tongued to a degree almost forgotten in American politics, and completely novel to a majority of voters. Remember, 18-year-old first time voters in 1960 are 66 now. In addition, despite decades of spite and vitriol, the Clintons once again underestimated the depth of the visceral repugnance that Hillary inspires in a healthy segment of the population, including many in her own party. Finally, the millions of young Americans drawn into the political maelstrom for the first time during this election cycle are proving endearingly but frustratingly naive. They actually believe that the highfalutin rhetoric flowing from the B-man mean that he IS different from your average politician.

The sad truth is that Barack is one more in a long line of Democratic machine politicians, perhaps even more indebted to his corporate masters as a result of his seemingly miraculous ascendancy over pols with decades more experience and public servitude. The polished veneer starts to crack every time he has to play defense; the lofty phrases and sweet syntax evaporate and he becomes just another mealy-mouthed prevaricator trying to talk his way out of hot water.

Everybody but the Dowbrigade has already counted Hillary out, and that’s just the way she wants it. Contrary to popular belief, the protracted internecine warfare in the Democratic party is helping Hillary, the party and the American political system. How? Well, for Hillary, this kind of knock-down drag-out infighting is her bread and butter. She revels in the down and dirty of American politics, and in our opinion it’s about time the Dems got a candidate who knows how to land a good sucker punch in the clinch.

Whoever wins this thing is going to have to win it dirty, and in a no-holds-barred mud wrestling death match our money is on Hillary every time. Perhaps it is better for her that the Obama golem has run amok – after a rough blood sport matchup with Barack she will be even more ramped up than if she had emasculated him in a spring walk-over as originally planned. Kind of like the Red Sox beating the Yankees in the American League Championships and then blowing through the World Series.

Plus, the Democratic party benefits by the unceasing media spotlight focused on the race; McCain gets barely an obligatory mention on the evening news these days. Even when he does get some face time, he doesn’t know whom to attack. By keeping the situation up in the air as long as possible, the Dems present a moving target and confuse the enemy, like a football team that doesn’t know which opposing quarterback to prepare for.

Finally, the country benefits because, besides six months of gripping political drama, we are witnessing unprecedented engagement and activism by huge segments of the electorate who have been sitting on the sidelines for far too long, apathetic, disillusioned and convinced that nothing they do would have any effect on the way their country is run. Unfortunately, most of them are so starry eyed and gullible, not having had their eyes opened and their hearts ripped out by the likes of Teddy Kennedy, Thomas Eagleton, Gary Hart, Ross Perot, Michael Dukakis, Ralph Nader or Jerry Brown, that they are taking this newly repackaged Democratic shtick at face value.

Let’s hope these fools wake up before it’s too late. Let’s hope that Hillary’s feral nastiness and killer instinct discover a loose thread in the presumptive Emperor’s new clothes, because America needs a President who knows how to fight dirty. The world is indeed a Global Village these days, and its not a particularly nice neighborhood.

The bottom line is that Barack Obama is simply not ready for prime time. He has not been battle-tested, has not been in the line of fire, has not endured his trial by fire. He may one day face these trials and come out seasoned and secure, but leader of the free world is not the kind of gig you want someone working out the kinks in their act in.

Categorically renouncing a man he so recently referred to as his mentor and spiritual adviser indicates an individual in a major period of evolution and reorientation. As Groucho Marx famously said, “Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them… well, I have others.

At least we know what Billary stands for…..

Posted in Politics, Prose Screeds | Comments Off on Fantastic Finish Coming Right Up

Dowbrigade Denies V.P. Rumors

Posted by dowbrigade on 29th April 2008

Barack Obama’s press conference this afternoon may have been the death knell of his ersatz presidential campaign, if not of his aspirations. In an ingenious twist in the script, by utilizing a surrogate as the scandal object, Obama can lose elegantly and remain a viable player in future electoral cycles. It’s nice he’s going quietly; he possesses a gentle grace rarely seen on the political stage. The Clinton’s scriptwriter (the Mastermind?) is to be commended; having their support-sapping surrogate undone by a surrogate of his own is both ironic and karmicly balanced.

The press conference was almost embarrassing. Although he handled his prepared statement fairly well, when the reporters began their aggressive questioning, he stopped speaking grammatical English and started wandering down twisted paths of hems and haws and”…umm, that is, I, or rather we, ummm, let me say this, that was not my intention…”

Everybody knows that kind of hesitant pussyfooting is prima facie evidence of guilt and moral vacillation. Your President can be as guilty as Lee Harvey Oswald, but you don’t want him or her looking or feeling guilty. And the last thing Americans want right now is a President experiencing the kind of moral vacillation or personal reorientation that renouncing ones Spiritual Advisor usually involves.

So, bye bye Barry and hello Hillary. The Clintons cut it close; they almost let this one get away from them. They clearly underestimated the speed and ferocity with which the ABC (Anyone But Clinton) forces aligned behind even as deeply flawed a candidate as Barack Obama. It is probably better for all concerned they managed to stop the runaway freight train before it crested the hill. Had Barry actually accumulated a majority of the delegates, the opposition would have had to resort to Plan Z to blow him out of the water, which probably would have involved large quantities of drugs, underage kinky sex, or similar evidence of moral turpitude, and from which resuscitation would have been unlikely..

Which brings us to the question of the day – who is going to be Hillary’s VP? Despite rumors to the contrary, the Dowbrigade is not in the running to adorn the Clinton ticket. Although we have no doubt we could bring sizable demographic support to the ticket (never underestimate the dingbat vote), after considerable divination and soul-searching we have concluded that those unsubstantiated rumors of our connections to white slavery rings and previous ayahuasca abuse have rendered us unelectable.

Which leaves a sorry field of party hacks, corporate sell-outs and career sycophants. Let us review the field.

Barack Obama – while his apparent graceful fade and considerable support would seemingly recommend him, and we can certainly see him on the stage in Denver with one arm around Hillary and the other around Bill, we don’t expect him to be the candidate. It would be the most unbalanced ticket in recent Democratic history; something for almost everybody to hate. The problem is that people hate Hillary and Barack for different reasons, so if you add together all of the people who can’t stand one or the other you have built an electoral majority.

No, what Hillary needs is a nice stable adult white male, a jocular, reassuring Daddy or Granddaddy figure to inspire confidence and buff down some of her sharp edges. Someone who makes voter’s say, “Well, if Hillary shits the bed we can always impeach her like her old man and bring in good old Frothington.” But who can play the role convincingly?

John Edwards – as an affable Southern gentleman who could deliver a valuable demographic and geographic segment, he would seem to be a prime candidate, and he is obviously interested (why else has he not endorsed anyone yet). However, we have a hard time seeing Hillary picking someone prettier than her. Think how bad it would look on all of the posters and campaign buttons.

Bill Richardson – our personal favorite with the requisite affable, reassuring personality and a demo-geo-graphic contribution to make, but it appears that Hillary already has the demo (Hispanics) part locked up, and she hates redundancy.

Al Gore – the surprise pick of the litter is actually the logical choice for a number of reasons; he hits the same southern gentleman note as Edwards but is not as pretty, he has proven he can do the job (and be an effective and loyal Clinton consigliere), and has given every indication he enjoys a lifestyle with a high profile, little real work, and an endless series of dinners and banquets. Those who say he has lost the lust for politics underestimate the addictive allure of the Big House, dwarfing anything a dynamite baron can offer.

Of course, she could always go the other way, and select someone so scary that all potential usurpers would give serious pause before proceeding. Someone like, say, one of the Jesses (Jackson or Ventura) or Barney Frank. If she’s got the goods on John McCain like she has on Obama, she may just go that route.

Posted in Politics, Prose Screeds, Uncategorized | Comments Off on Dowbrigade Denies V.P. Rumors

The Last Days of Barack Obama

Posted by dowbrigade on 16th April 2008

The demolition of the Obama phenomena is now well underway, and the only matters remaining to be resolved are timing, deniability and how far the destruction needs to go.

Meanwhile, the denouement of Act One must be accomplished with pathos, transcendence and redemption. After unbelievable trials and tribulations, beat up and counted out more times than Rocky, the future Queen Hillary will in the climatic scene be transformed from Plucky Pauper to Proud Princess.

In the process, the comeuppity knight will be vanquished to his subservient domain by an onslaught of trials and misfortunes. Reverend Wright and the “bitter” imbroglio are merely love taps compared to the barrage of insinuation, inuendo and incriminating evidence which will appear between now and the convention. How far it will go depends on Obama himself and whether he hopes to salvage a future in the Democratic Party, as well as on how much sleaze it takes for the American public to decide they’d better take a pass on this guy, at least for now.

We all know that Hillary’s hit team has a lot more ammunition in the armory. Barack Obama is running up against one of the signature conundrums of the media age; anybody interesting and inspirational enough to make a good President has probably done something which, were it widely known, would disqualify him or her from winning a national election.

Clearly, Obama is not alone in having transgressed in his youth. John McCain was reportedly a wild man as a hot-shot fighter pilot, and even Dubya has admitted to having had a drinking problem and at least trying other “substances” in his admittedly misspent youth. The only exception to this norm seems to be Hillary, who has apparently been fastidiously circumspect in all of her actions since she decided she wanted to be President at age 11.

But Obama admits to having been a regular user of pot and blow, and has the unfortunate burden of having grown up in the electronic generation. This means that somewhere out there there is a photograph, or a video, or a tape recording of Obama doing some bad things with some bad people. During his college years the Ivy league campuses were awash in drugs of every description and provenence. During his years as a community organizer in the South Side of Chicago the streets were awash in a kaleidoscopic variety of groups, cults, angels and devils. If his Pastor was damning America, one shudders to think what his more profane associates were saying.

It’s not that we think that Clinton staffers are locked in a secret research center pouring over ancient video and tracking down old Obama homeboys to gather dirty tidbits. We are convinced they already have the goods, and have had them for quite some time.

All that remains to be resolved are timing, deniability and how much ammo needs to be used. In politics, as in baseball and sex, timing is everything. Obama has shown an amazing resiliency, and if a bomb is dropped too early its effects could pass before the convention. We expect a gradual cascade of escalating mini-scandals will be the most effective.

Of course, none of these scandals can be traced back to the Clinton campaign or the effects could backfire. In this day of electronic trails and millions of nosy bloggers anonymous leaks are harder to achieve, but not impossible. Plus, Hillary does a credible “Who, me?”

Finally, a lot depends on when Obama sees the writing on the wall and slides back into line. If he does so before the really heavy artillery is brought out he can salvage his career and his image and probably nail down a cabinet post in the Clinton administration. If not, he goes the way of Gary Hart and Thomas Eagleton.

The scriptwriters’ idea is to reconcile in the final scene of Act One, to gather together all of the new voters energized by both campaigns, to mobilize the fundraisers and the canvassers and the bloggers and to march forward to face the Evil Warlord in Act Two. Like a hit network TV show this script was written long ago, yet we sit rapt, week by week, and watch the story unfold.

If you think this part is good, just wait for sweeps week.

Posted in Politics, Prose Screeds | 2 Comments »

Growing Up Retarded

Posted by dowbrigade on 15th April 2008

Anyone who has been to the supermarket lately (which means everyone except the very rich and Presidential candidates) is aware of what is happening with food prices. Even with weekly specials, manufacturers coupons and heavy reliance on store brands, $80 just doesn’t fill the larder like it used to.

While the average American is beginning to react to the pinch of rising food prices by choosing a cheaper cut of steak or a budget bottle of wine to accompany it, for the hundreds of millions of human beings living dangerously close to the starvation line, the adjustment is nothing short of catastrophic.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) keeps tabs on world food prices, and they have determined that in 2007 their Global Food Price Index surged a shocking 40%. For a significant percentage of the people on the planet, struggling to rise from abject poverty and partake of the tantalizing promise of Globalization, this abrupt increase amounts to a death sentence for them, and most significantly, for their children.

According to the UN, of the current 6.1 billion inhabitants of our orb, almost 1 billion, or one thousand million people, are trapped between the poverty line and the starvation line. These are people so poor that they or their childred were going to bed hungry at least 3 or 4 times a week. And that was before food prices went up 40%.

These people were just barely keeping their heads above the water. Now the water has gone up three feet.

Not having enough food to eat, or access to clean water and a balanced diet, does much more than send people to bed on an empty stomach. People without enough food are weak, lethargic and depressed. They are unable to work hard, hold jobs, go to school or look for work. They are susceptible to myriad diseases and conditions brought on or exacerbated by inadequate diet.

The effects are not limited to the physical, either. Chronic hunger causes personality disintegration, depression, apathy, neglect, uncontrollable outbreaks of anger and violence and a breakdown of law and order. Who among us, faced with returning empty-handed to a hovel in a slum to face the tear-stained faces of our children slowly dying of starvation would not consider desperate measures, robbing, rioting or even strapping on a suicide vest in a last, desperate gesture of rage and despair?

Cruelly, it is the most innocent who suffer the worst. Anthropologists have found that while adults can survive a period of inadequate nutrition with a little weight loss and wasting from which they later recover, children under the age of five who pass through a similar period suffer permanent mental and physical retardation. This means their IQ’s, their stature, their physical strength and health, will all be limited to 75-80% of what they would normally be.

This is not a new phenomena, but with the increase in food prices it will soon be endemic around the world. Vast regions, entire countries, even continents will be struggling along with the majority of their surviving populations suffering from extreme retardation. Their geniuses will just have average intelligence, and the normal people will be, well, slow. How can they be expected to compete in the increasingly competitive and cutthroat global marketplace?

And all of those retarded people will be hungry, and desperate, and resentful of the waste and opulence that they can see daily on television; today even the poorest of the poor have access to televised images. Shanty towns sprout forests of antennas – even tiny villages in the Amazon or the Himalayas or the Australian Outback have one or two screens. Television has become the true opiate of the people.

And these hungry huddled masses, the wretched refuse trapped on those teeming shores, will prove fertile ground for extremist sects, violent religions and messianic leaders, and poor candidates for good neighbors or democratic allies.

The problem is extreme and immediate, and will not get better soon. The factors causing the sudden run up of food prices – fuel and fertilizer costs, bad weather caused by climate change, growing population and competition for arable land – will not abate in our lifetimes.

The ultimate irony is that we already have the space and the know-how to feed the entire population of the planet until and after the global population stabilizes, which most experts feel would happen if everyone had access to education and economic opportunity. It is simply a problem of priorities and distribution of available resources.

The Dowbrigade feels strongly that this is the only road to a happy ending to the troubled history of the human race. There exists a solution to the Malthusian dilemma, but only through fully developing our human potential all over the planet. Statistically speaking, there is an Einstein alive somewhere right now, and a da Vinci and an Aristotle and a Mahatma Gandhi.

But if they have the bad luck to be born in the half of the world that is growing up retarded, together with billions of others, then we don’t stand a chance.

Posted in Politics, Prose Screeds | 3 Comments »

Last Man Standing – Hillary!

Posted by dowbrigade on 15th March 2008

Although we saw straight through the Obama phenomena when we first met the man four years ago, there are several heartening aspects to his runaway popularity. Even though he hasn’t a Kibbutznik’s chance in Sadr City of winning the nomination, he is undeniably drawing new interest, enthusiasm and participation from quarters customarily quiessent during past political campaigns.

First, he has mesmerized the public largely on the basis of the kind of soaring political retoric which hasn’t been heard in these parts since at least the Presidency of JFK. The succession of mangle-mouthed speachifiers who followed Kennedy has been all the more disappointing given the inspiring history of American political rhetoric.

Since Thomas Jefferson penned the lines “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certainunalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” the bar has been set pretty high on the English eloquence scale. Over the centuries Lincoln, Monroe, Teddy Roosevelt, FDR and Kennedy, to name a few, have contributed to the tradiition of elegant and enduring language. Hell, even Woodrow Wilson said “The government, which was designed for the people, has got into the hands of the bosses and their employers, the special interests. An invisible empire has been set up above the forms of democracy.”

Some will argue that slick speechwriters, focus groups, reaction polling, tele-prompters and speech coaches have emasculated modern political speach, but one need go no further than our friends in Latin America to find that good, old-fashioned barn-burning political rhetoric is alive and well in other parts of the world. We once saw Peruvian President Alan Garcia hold a crowd captivated for over two hours, make them laugh, cry, shout in anger and piss in their pants, followed by four hours of drunken reveling featuring spontaneous copycat speechifying by the audience and semi-nude conga lines of painted native dancers.

Barack hasn’t reached those heights quite yet, but his ability to move people with words holds out hope that inspirational political rhetoric is not a lost art in this country.

Another key element in the early tsunami of support for the Obama candidacy was the shocking realization that after 40 years of chumming around the Democratic Party, Hillary has become just another party hack.

We are sure that in those halcyon days when Hillary was a Wellesley rebel she was convinced that on her quest to become the first female president she was going to change the political system from within. However, in America today, and for the past hundred and fifty years, there are only two roads to the White House – one goes through the Democratic Party and the other goes through the Republican Party.

Now, those roads are lined with the running dogs of party politics, grasping lobbyist hands, thinly veiled temptations, unlimited lines of credit, whispered promises and threats and a thousand varieties of unctious slime which drip and leak and adhere annoyingly to all who travel that path. Hillary has been on this road for an awful long time and we all know that if you lie down long enough with dogs like these, you get up with rabies.

What voters are showing is a rejection of the depressing partisan baggage that comes standard on machine politicians from both parties these days. What they are just starting to realize is that Barack Obama is being rolled out of that same corporate factory, with the same brand allegiances, as his competition. He is just a newer model for a newer generation.

We sat down with Obama when he met with a group of bloggers at the 2004 Democratic Convention, and it was immediately obvious that he didn’t “get it”. We asked him a question about New Media and he thought we were talking about Fox News. He’s just trying to sing a hip-hop version of Sinatra’s “My Way”, and although he’s got a nice voice, the tune is tired.

The public’s visceral rejection of party politics, reflected in the historically low poll numbers garnished by Congress lately, brings tears to our eyes, both because it validates our faith in the instinctual political wisdom of Americans and because it is doomed to be dashed by the eventual exposure of Obama as the same old obsolete product in a slick new package.

Americans are grasping for something new on the political scene like a drowning man grasping for a life preserver. Unfortunately, the life preserver they have embraced is sinking like a stone. Barack Obama is a made-to-order update on the traditional major party politician mold, but he’s not ready for prime time. His campaign has reached its high water mark and is now withering under the unrelenting and unforgiving scrutiny of the all-seeing media eye.

Geraldine Ferraro was only half-way there. Barack Obama not only would not have gotten so far had he not been black, he would not have gotten so far if the cupola of white men running the Democratic Party had not had a firm hand on his throttle and a few kill switches build into the system as well. The unmerciful exposure of his spiritual advisor is but the latest brick in a wall of unelectability being build between Barack and an increasingly disillusioned public. By August he’ll be lucky to get past security in Denver.

Obama has done his job, played his role, and hopefully can be recycled in a form leaving him serviceable for future electoral dramas. After four years of meticulously laid plans, venomous in-fighting, double-crossing, arm twisting, back stabbing subterfuge and cynicism from the heavyweights of the Democratic Party, there is just one candidate left.

It has come down to the last man standing, and that man is – Hillary Clinton!

We couldn’t make this stuff up – but somebody did.

Posted in Politics, Prose Screeds | 9 Comments »

The Unfolding Narrative of Queen Hillary

Posted by dowbrigade on 6th March 2008

Queen HillaryHillary believers need not fear. The Obama phenomena has reached its high tide mark right on cue, and the froth and spray are starting to ebb. Just as scripted by her consort the Master Planner, the Warrior Princess will emerge, bloodied but unbowed, battle-tested and triumphant, to claim her rightful place on the throne.

At some inevitable point in the next few months, the gallant young knight-errant will step to center stage, deliver a moving and inspirational silioquy, and kneel before his leige to pledge his sword and his loyalty for the battle ahead. The major remaining incognitos, in our mind, are the new Queen’s choice for a second-in-command, and the location of the prestigeous fiefdom from whence the defeated loyal knight will serve the resurgent dynasty.

A few weeks ago we were wondering if the Clintons would be able to finesse the endgame or would need to resort to the self-destruct button on their Obamadroid. We should have had more faith in the Master Planner. Whatever their Ace in the Hole was – and it is certain that the powers controlling the Democratic Party would not have brought this loquations young man so far so fast without a kill switch – we won’t be seeing it anytime soon.

Instead of a scandalous misstep like those which aborted the campaigns of Edmund Muskie, Ted Kennedy or Gary Hart, we will probably see a series of minor miscalculations, insinuations, denied rumors and critical press like that which has emerged in the past few days.

These moves are designed to erode Obamamania just enough to let Hillary play the comeback kid one more time while retaining Obama as a viable asset in future electoral cycles. After all, the party superstructure (aka The League of Super Delegates) has a lot of time and money invested in their boy Obama by now, and it would be a shame to have to blow him up at this stage of the game.

Why would the Democrats want to go through this long, drawn out drama if they could possibly avoid it? The conventional wisdom says that McCain and the Republicans have a major advantage having settled on a candidate four months before their convention while the Democrats are still battling it out. As usual, the conventional wisdom is hogwash.

What do you think the Press is going to cover if John McCain is attending fund raisers and giving the same tired speech over and over again to groups of rich white donors while Hillary and Barack are barnstorming across the country speaking in Baptist Churches and Barrio rec centers and college campuses, chasing every demographic slice of the American Pie and trading punches like the Red Sox and Yankees in a 51-game World Series? Which narrative will capture the public imagination?

Because what politics in America has come down to in the Media Age is a competition between narratives. Which storyline will the public buy into? John McCain has a compelling narrative with the whole tiger cage, Maverick Senator thing, and it sure would feel good, on one level, to have a real American hero as President once again. It’s been a while. How can the Dems come up with a narrative to top that?

During the past two election cycles, the Democrats cynically underestimated the American predilection for smaltzy melodrama and patriotic vitriol, and the Republicans were able to impose the righteous reformed slacker Bush narrative on an insecure and wounded public. This time the Clinton brain trust, Howard Dean and the economic interests behind them are determined not to get robbed again on the crucial stage of media-fueled myth-making.

So they have crafted, for our viewing pleasure, an exquisite, astute and inspirational saga of struggle and triumph, of emancipation and empowerment, of patient perseverance rewarded and past injustices avenged. It’s gonna have action, it’s gonna have tear-jerking dialog, it’s gonna have mondo suspense, and its gonna have a happy ending. For its authors.

If everything goes according to plan, its gonna fill up the front pages of America and the world, and keep the voters enthralled until its dramatic denouement in July, when the Warrior Princess is crowned and the loyal knights line up to pledge to the cause and prepare for the final battle against the forces of evil in November.

Simply brilliant. Like a well-scripted television series, even though we all but certain of the eventual outcome, we can’t wait to watch each episode unfold.

The only questions remaining, in the Dowbrigade’s mind at least, are who Hillary will select as a running mate and what role she has reserved for the soon-to-be tamed Obama. Readers may have surmised that we don’t think much of the chance she’ll select Obama himself; despite the superficial advantages this would produce a deeply unbalanced ticket bound to tick off just about any group on some level.

What Hillary needs is an experienced older white guy from the South with enough Gravitas that a certain segment of the voting public will reason, “Well, if she really fucks up or goes rabid, we can always impeach the bitch and fall back on good old Chumley…” This may be enough to close the deal for the few percentage points worth of wavering liberals necessary to put her over the top.

We’ll deal with these ancillary questions in a future posting.

Posted in Blogging, Politics, Prose Screeds | 2 Comments »

Obama Blunder Coming Up

Posted by dowbrigade on 21st February 2008

Obama 1080iAccording to our calculations, Barak Obama is due to suffer a campaign-crippling mishap sometime in the next two weeks. It could be a spectacular misstatement or a subtle slur let slip almost unnoticed in tonight’s debate, a financial scandal emerging from the primordial Illinois ooze, or a snippet of video from a lost grad school weekend. However, its appearance is inevitable.

The question now is not whether to pull the plug on the Obama Golem, but rather when and how. The who should be obvious by now; Barak Obama is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Clinton Conglomerate, albeit through a convoluted series of cutouts and front companies, created and activated for just such a contingency as we have at hand.

The Clintons saw years ago (4? 8? 16? 32?) that eventually the race for the nomination would come down to Hillary vs. Some Guy. They have been pushing the pieces for a while now to make sure that that guy would be their guy, although obviously not obviously. WWF fans may be able to convieniently overlook the fact that The Undertaker and Hornswoggle both work for Vince McMahon, but the Professional Politics Federation demands a bit more discretion.

The question that has the brain trust losing sleep is how to finesse the endgame, so that it’s not so obvious when Obama takes his dive, and that Hillary comes out as the heroine of the show, which of course ends with Bill and Hillary and their whole crew living happily ever after in the White House.

There are basically two ways this thing could go. If Barak is a good boy and behaves himself, we will we a snafu which is unfortunate but not career ending, and leads to a gallant demurral on the part of the young challenger, culminating in an exquisite made-for-TV moment in which he kneels before his sovereign and pledges his sword to her service. We are certain he will be rewarded with a cushy Dukedom, say, Urban Development, Interior or even State, as well as a starring role in a future PPF production.

The other path, should Barak prove so intoxicated by the heady champaign of public adulation that he somehow forgets dark pacts forged in the winter of his fortunes, is not as pretty. The Clintons would not have let the Obama juggernaut build up such a head of steam unless Hillary had her twitchy finger on the cut-out button, and her other hand on the abort and destroy plunger.

What the Clintons’ had underestimated, we suspect, is the desperate intensity of the ABC movement in this country, and its ability to quickly mobilize behind even as unlikely a candidate as Barak Obama. Millions of Americans, it seems, have a viscereal repugnance to all things Hillary, and are willing to spend heavily in time, money and political capital to bring her down. ABC – Anybody But Clinton.

But the Dowbrigade has bottomless faith in the ability of the Clintons to dig down to whatever depths necessary to fix the system and undermine the opposition. Which is why our money is on Hill.

Time, however, is running out. The possibility exists, should the groundswell of Hillary-hating continue congealing around Barak, that he will actually accumulate enough pledged delegates before the convention to win the thing on the first ballot, before the professional pols can even recess to the back rooms, hotel bars and smoke-filled private suites. Hillary has to derail that train before it gets to the bridge, and the bridge is coming up around the next bend.

Which is why we expect a major break in this story in the next two weeks. After Obama reaches the magic number, things would get much messier, although not impossible. A health crisis, for example, could intervene. Put nothing past these folks.

We are convinced our whole Hillary-Owns-Obama theory will stand or fall on what happens in the next few weeks. When the Fall of the Knight Errant arrives, remember that you read it here first.

Posted in Politics, Prose Screeds | 16 Comments »