Polls and who really gives a damn about opinions

President Obama’s approval rating is up 3%. I don’t even know if 3% really counts in the world of opinion polls. It could as easily read that 3% of the poll respondents had just gotten laid, thus they were happier with the world. The President may have gotten the famous “hey I just got a piece of ass… so yeah I think the Prez is doing a good job, I know that my wife is doing a better job” bump in polls. We could even call this the bump of bumping uglies effect.

This has been a week of interesting opinion fishing. Yesterday the Washington Post ran two pieces on questions being asked of voters. One was about America’s disgust of Congress and the President…yet they seem to like the President’s economic policies… as long as his name is not attached to the policies. The other piece is about some weird 5th grade popularity contest being used to rank GOP presidential candidates.

The first article tells me that : 51% favor payroll tax cuts for workers; 53% favor federal aid to states to avert public employee layoff; 80% support spending for the nation’s infrastructure; 65% favor increasing taxes on Americans who make more $1 million a year (Republicans have blocked all these things); and these percentages only happen when the President’s name ISN”T mentioned.

The second article states that in a 5th grade popularity contest Cain would be the “hard worker,” Romney would be the “rich kid,” and Perry was a “bully.” Even though Cain was seen as a “hard worker,” when asked with a show of hands (in true 5th grade fashion) not a single hand went up when a group of voters were asked if Cain “could be President of the United States.”

In other words… none of these polls and popularity contests mean shit. Eyes roll and mouths drool in stupification at percentages, but if you want a real academic view of percentages and Cain’s chances at becoming the GOP candidate, read my good friend Matt’s blog. People think what they want to think and respond in the moment.

A random polling phone call, a “click here” Internet site, and small gathering of potential voters does not equate to voter action on election day. In the booth the real inner-self of voters come out. The closet fascist or liberal bubbles forth and the lever is pulled. I imagine some of us even start lying to ourselves and others when we exit. Voting is private, thus one is free to state whatever bullshit they want as soon as the “I voted” sticker is put on their jacket. I MAY have been guilty of this in 1992 by claiming to have voted for George H.W. Bush. Bill Clinton was my man when I was alone in the voting booth.

Visceral and emotional responses are so much more important than facts. Cain seems like a “hard worker” and Romney is a “rich kid.” Regardless of their abilities, voters gravitate toward feelings. In the end we Blink and make a gut decision… and this may be the right one for us. People believe they know and you can’t sway them of that belief.

I know I have opinions that should be asked in a poll. I fantasize about receiving a phone call and asked the following random questions:

1. Taco Bell or KFC? KFC… no doubt, I like my greasy food to come with sides of powdered potatoes and sweet cole slaw and when in the Hell did KFC start offering mac-n-cheese AND green beans????

2. Fiction or nonfiction books? Nonfiction… cause authors usually do a shitty job of convincing me to give a shit about their characters… most protagonist  seem like whiny bitches. Harry Potter is the queen of whiny bitches.

3. Boxers or briefs? Neither… going commando is more manly.

4. Bert or Ernie? Ernie because you know that brother would know how to party! Bert serves no other purpose than being the designated driver… but he would complain all night about how much you and Ernie were drinking.

5. Stones or Beatles? Stones… they are bad ass, the Beatles were just asses.

6. Zombies or werewolves? Zombies… werewolves ain’t real.

7. American or National League baseball? National league… the designated hitter rule is for the weak-minded manager.

There are no facts, there is only what one believes. And I believe Bert would be a better President… he is just so much more responsible.

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What if the world ended and no one knew it?

Colson Whitehead’s new novel Zone One is one of those books that only matter to First World readers. It is a well written book (if you like overly wrought descriptions of the way the world was…good and bad) that follows a zombie novel formula. Formula: Something happens that cause the undead to eat the living; some people survive; and survivors band together and attempt to end the zombie apocalypse. This formula (in the context of Zone One), however, only matters if you have been to New York, or at least seen enough Seinfeld episodes to be  aware of the labyrinth that is NYC. Zone One is a thinking man’s zombie novel, a Western Civilization thinking man’s novel. Somali refugees don’t give a shit about zombies.

If you were a Somali refugee and constantly moving through the scrub to avoid death, would you know if the world ended? Not talking Ben Affleck-big-ass-astroid world ending catastrophe (because then the complete world would literally end), but thinking about First World implosion. Would it matter that cell phones stopped working, internet porn couldn’t be accessed, and soccer practice was canceled because all the little suburban tots are munching on each other? Millions of Americans dying due to them being the menu’s main course doesn’t really register to Third World readers (…wonder how many Third World readers there are?). *Note: is it more PC to say “underdeveloped” or “Third” world?

The question really lies in how you define “world.” The First World historians/writers/film makers/commentators get to determine and record what is worthy of being saved for posterity. Those with the guns and money decide what words mean, and who/what is valued. If you were a Somali refugee, the fate of the First World wouldn’t rate on your give-a-shit meter…unless of course you were one of the fortunate refugees that gets their daily nutritional intake from UN charity.

Hunger is a monster. Hutus were monsters to Tutsis. Real life zombies that used machetes and cans of gasoline to gnaw the life out of the Tutsis is a great definition of what “monster” means. (If you have no idea what Hutu and Tutsi mean, go here.) Blood thirsty and shambling hordes don’t have to be undead…plus living, breathing monsters are far more scary. This is probably why we like to imagine fanciful creatures instead of facing the evil that walks among us. This evil is better ignored; let’s just pretend that we need a zombie survival guide instead of mathematical chart confirming the randomness of bloody car crashes that are the result of self-absorbed drunk drivers. Real shit is always scarier, and real shit is always more funny than fiction. This is also why true crime books sell better than horror novels.

Literature, good literature should be able to transcend time and place. It should be able to take common human experiences and thoughts and relate to a reader regardless of their situation, geographical location, or place within the time path of human existence (face it, getting eaten is not a timeless common human experience). David Copperfield is good literature that supplies a bonding to those who can, at a minimum, empathize with shitty sweat shop laboring. Everybody, regardless of their time in history or location, knows what a shitty asshole bosses can be.

Zone One is just a novel that spends the prerequisite time on revealing the background (people get a “plague” and start eating the living), the middle story (people survive by outrunning the undead), the present story (bands of survivors start dealing with the undead). The real story of this book is how memories of places, events, history, and living is described. Zone One is not a zombie book, it is a book about loss. The loss of what was before and how the protagonist deals with the loss. The protagonist is actually a representation of all the world that made it through the original undead onslaught and how the world attempts to getting back to “normal.” Again, one has to ask what is “normal.” Normal for me is not normal for a Somali refugee. My normal is an unbelievable heaven to a starving Horn of Africa resident.

World War Z (fictional oral history of the zombie apocalypse) and Robopocalypse (robots replace zombies) are good books. Zone One is a good book. But they are all fluff. I usually mock deep thinkers who try to argue that zombies are actually manifestations of all the other fears that inhabit our world and minds…but there is some truth to this. However, even with their fear manifestations, these books are nothing more than good reads. They entertain by playing on deeply seated fears and thoughts…but they are not good literature.

In the end, it isn’t the story that matters but how the story is revealed. Zone One is revealed in an interesting manner. Memories and thoughts of the time before the all-you-can-eat horde arrived is described in almost poetic streams of consciousness. The first 5 pages of the book is one of the best descriptions of not only of how NYC looks, but how it feels. At times, I kept wondering where I had read this story, or at least this type of prose. Finally it dawned on me. Colson Whitehead is obviously a Cormac McCarthy fan and reader. Like McCarthy, Colson Whitehead delivers a story that is a pleasure to read but leaves you wondering, after a few paragraphs, “what the fuck is this book about?” But like McCarthy, you enjoy the reading…the actual exercise of moving your eyes and digesting the words…so much that it could actually be about building a microwave.

Like World War Z and Robopocalypse, at the end of Zone One I asked myself “who really gives a fuck if the world actually ended?” My world, my time and place, my miniscule moment in the time stream of humanity is nothing more than mine. My life and death isn’t important. My place in the collective memory of my world isn’t important. The end of my world means nothing. Novels about the end of the world as I know it are nothing more than a good read.

The real deep shit is questioning what responsibility does art and literature have in reflecting on life. Life takes many forms and represents many things. I like a good zombie book, I love things that make me ponder life. Zone One is a good book but I keep wondering if I really give a shit about America after it has had one of its butt cheeks bitten off. Maybe if the hungry Somalis were willing to eat obese Americans…

New Security Paradigm?

Paradigm: A worldview underlying the theories and methodology of a particular scientific subject

Arguably, the 21st Century is the beginning of a new era in global thought and interactions and that Americans need to “…stop thinking of ourselves as ‘post’ something – postcolonial, postwar, post-Cold War, post-post-post-Cold War. Those eras are meaningless.” (Thomas L. Friedman, Hot, Flat, and Crowded, p. 27) In this supposed new era following 9/11, American strategic thought has shifted. The nation’s security strategy is no longer outward looking, it has become more holistic with both an external and internal view. There is now an understanding that security issues outside the U.S. affects the security within the U.S.

After ten years following the end of the Cold War, the strategic paradigm shifted in 2001 and resulted in a new strategic  concept called “homeland security.” One may even argue that this security paradigm shift is comparable to, or the result of, the end of the Cold War and the increased threat from radicalized terrorism.

Now the debate continues on how this paradigm shift affected the concepts of what homeland security means and what it entails. Public perception has shifted with this paradigm and it is now considered part of the American security apparatus.

…or is there really a new paradigm? Did we really feel the shift?

We still don’t have this shit right. Ten years after 9/11 and those responsible for making the country safer (I don’t mean the po-leese or the military…I mean policymakers and analysts) are still trying their damndest to develop a real homeland security strategy.

For those of you keeping score at home, the last version of the National Homeland Security Strategy was issued in 2007 and the Obama Administration issued a National Security Strategy in 2010. And…DHS has recently fessed up to what it is still working on…or ignoring (maybe if you ignore it, it will go away).

  • REAL ID still isn’t enacted (even though it is congressionally mandated…but inadequately funded, plus it sounds sort of po-leese stateish),
  • risk-based airport screening is not happening (but TSA will touch your junk),
  • cyberattack strategies are nonexistent (don’t you dare call it “cyberwar” or I will cyber-kick-your-ass),
  • firefighers and the po-leese still can’t communicate (partly because they hate each other based on history and culture…why can’t we all get along?),
  • biometric exit solution has no solution (okay…I have no idea what a biometric exit solution is, doubt DHS knows either, but that shit is broken too), and
  • Mexican drug cartel spillover violence is spilling over (damn them for coming here and disturbing us while we are snorting our coke).

Supposed smart people have not only issued the national and homeland security strategies, but there is also the:

What do all these strategic documents have in common? They all identify goals that may make the homeland more secure. What do they not have in common? Similar (prioritized) goals that could secure the nation. There is very little consensus among these documents. Additionally, none of them define the term “homeland security” in a similar manner.

If we do not have a common, or agreed-to, definition for the term “homeland security” and we don’t have a consensus on  the nation’s homeland security goals, how do we actually do it?  These documents do not consistently address risk mitigation associated with the full range of homeland security threats. Also, there is no, or little, debate on the resource and fiscal costs associated with preparing for low risk, high consequence threats.

So…where does this leave us? Well, what we got here is a failure to communicate. Until we take a nice, long, deep breath and take a moment to review what (the Hell) homeland security is, we will continue to have a disjointed and disparate approach to homeland security policy. It will continue to seem like every crisis and disaster is reacted to in an ad hoc manner, and the public (voters) will continue to wonder WTF is going on.

Defining homeland security, and specifically homeland security strategy, is difficult. However, it can be addressed in simple terms that provide a basis upon which a real strategy could be developed. Specifically, a national homeland security strategy is an ever-evolving process which couples a nation-state’s resources with realistic courses of action to achieve the nation-state’s prioritized homeland security policy objectives (goals) which advance national interests.

No prioritized goals equals no strategy. No strategy means limited security. Limited security means sending in the troops in a knee-jerk fashion. Too much reliance on law enforcement and the military results in a po-leese state. But the balancing of a po-leese state (don’t touch my junk) and insecurity is hard. Jeh Johnson, the Pentagon’s general counsel, recently addressed this subject at a talk at the Heritage Foundation. Basically, the drive to militarize U.S. response to terrorism, both domestically and internationally, results in confusion and counters the basic tenets of the American legal system. The more we rely on the military, or a militarized po-leese force, the more we move away from addressing individual homeland security threats and focus only on a one-size-fits-all response (we can afford to send in the troops everytime right? right?).

Get the goals prioritized; realistic security will follow (free your mind and yo’ ass will follow)….oh and this can be done without putting troops on the streets. Double plus good!

North Korean Torture and Live Concerts

The North Koreans like to torture their prisoners. I want to believe I could handle North Korean torture. I want to believe I could handle the pliers (or whatever tool the NKs call “pliers”), the testicular shock treatment, the beatings, the rubber hose to the toes, the rats in the face cage (shout out to Orwell). I can’t. I won’t. I will sing like a caged bird. I will give all of you away and describe not only my sins but I will make up sins and attribute them to you. I’m not going to have rats caged to my testicles without bringing some of you down with me. I have my breaking point and I am pretty sure it is close to the surface. Seriously…testicle shock!!!! I wanna be Rambo in Rambo III and show those nasty Vietnamese that I can’t be broken (he was tortured in that movie right?) but I can be easily.

One personality attribute that I have that might assist me in this dire situation would be my ability to bullshit. In true Herman Cain (one of the million…it seems…GOP presidential candidates) style, I would be able to answer any question with the following qualifier: “I don’t have the facts to back this up, but…” My only hope would be that the angry, poor, and hungry torturer would ask me questions that I could truly answer with convincing bullshit. A side note:  Herman Cain would say this angry, poor, and hungry torturer is not trying hard enough to make themselves the happy, rich, and fat torturer they could be if they weren’t so damn lazy.

In this North Korean torture scenario, I have devised the answers to the following potential inquiry: What was the bitchinest and most sucking concerts you have attended? Let’s face it, North Korea doesn’t get a lot of Western musical acts and it seems plausible they would desire information on this type of entertainment. Plus, as a former (but unreformed) Boy Scout, I believe one should be prepared for North Korean torture…especially that rat testicle stuff.

Note: I have no facts to back these answers up, but I did attend all of the concerts mentioned and that counts as circumstantial evidence. Also, note that I had consumed copious amounts of alcohol during most of these concerts thus dates and memories may be wrong…but these would be answers under the duress of North Korean torture so I get a little leeway.

BITCHINEST CONCERT

Tie – Iron Maiden’s “Powerslave” (1984) and Judas Priest’s “Defenders of the Faith” (also 1984…obviously 1984 was a good year for bitchin’ concerts) tours. These concerts had the trifecta of rock concert awesomeness: spectacular lights, deafening explosions and guitars, and overwhelming theatrics. Both of these concerts could have been considered operas (IM’s Bruce Dickinson could easily be an operatic singer and JP’s Rob Halford probably loves opera). The light shows put Georgia’s Stone Mountain to shame. The music and fireworks were so damn loud that my ears rung for days afterwards (I now attend live musical acts with earplugs…yeah I’m old that way). IM had a giant mummy…Eddie…and JP had a motorcycle (and the band was attired in bondage leather). Both of these concerts took place at Huntsville, Alabama’s Von Braun Civic Center (yes that Nazi, but he was our Nazi), and its concrete walls reflected the roar of these concerts in absoluteness…the VBCC was built for loud rock concerts. How do you top that? Simple answer: you don’t. They weren’t just about the music, they were about the show…they were the complete package. Two notes: my dad attended the JP concert with me (if he had only knew about Rob Halford’s homosexuality!…see the bondage leather comment)…he loved it, and because of my age (14) and my dad’s attendance…I consumed NO alcohol before, during, or after either of these concerts. These two are still the best concert(s) I attended.

Gratuitous Mention

Milli Vanilli/Young MC (1990?), Starwood Ampitheater, Nashville, Tennessee. Yes I know you are laughing now, but…who doesn’t enjoy campy Euros lip synching while wearing tight black pants and doing their trademark chest bump? Laugh all you want…I was entertained and drunk. Oh and a shot out to Melana for manning up as a true friend and taking the place of my girlfriend (who had recently broken up with me and thus did not attend this concert even though it was HER idea) as my “date.”

Sting’s “Soul Cages” (1992?) Starwood Ampitheater, Nashville, Tennessee. This is the barefooted, black-clad Sting…I think he even played the flute during the concert. Definitely moody and artistic. However, alcohol was needed for this too.

Fat Boys/Salt-n-Peppa/White Boys (1987 or 1988), VBCC, Huntsville, Alabama. I don’t remember if the White Boys were white, but the Fat Boys were definitely fat. However, nothing compared how phat Salt-n-Peppa were! To this day I still get weak in the knees when I see bootilicious spandexed women…thank you Salt and Peppa!

MOST SUCKING CONCERT

Beach Boys (1988), Murphy Center, Middle Tennessee State University. I was totally drunk at this one…how else could I have seen the Beach Boys? You know their songs, you know their lyrics: cars, girls, cars, cars, girls, cars. Yet none of their songs were the least sexual…maybe in the 1950s and 1960s…but I had already seen IM and JP in concert, how could the Beach Boys compare. They sucked, and I sucked for attending. Now, if my memory serves me right, a newly acquired college friend talked me into going after we had split a 12 pack of Busch…which I think we followed with some plastic bottled vodka. Basically, the best I can tell you is that this concert sucked.

Gratuitous Mention

Whitney Houston (1987) Murphy Center, MTSU. I did this one out of love. I had a girlfriend at the time who wanted to go. Additionally, I did not drink at this one. This was the peak of WH’s rippling vocals, and she was as good as imagined…but it was Whitney Houston. I believe this concert would have been better if she had been coked up and beaten down by Bobby Brown, alas that was the future and not the present in 1987.

Don Henley’s “End of the innocence” (1990), Starwood Ampitheater, Nashville, Tennessee. Definitely drunk at this one because I went with Patrick Crawford and I have no memories of being with Patrick when I wasn’t shit faced. I believe DH was trying to be moody like Sting but definitely was not artistic. However, Patrick and I did a fantastic job of making up pornographic lyrics (which we sang out loud) to “All She Wants To Do Is Dance.”

There are numerous concerts that could be added to both gratuitous mention entries, however, they would be mainly described by the amount/type of alcohol I had consumed while attending the concerts. I don’t have facts to back this up, but…I know how to drink at a concert.

Uncool but not that uncool

I was cool for 3 months in the Summer of 1989. This was the summer between my freshmen and sophomore years of college (okay, that
is a lie…this was the summer between my freshmen year and my second freshmen year). This Summer of Coolness lasted exactly 3 months, not more and not less. I was never cool before this summer and never after. This summer was when I drank with my 4 other roommates and I slept on the floor of the apartment on a mattress (and I actually convinced a few young ladies to join me there). That summer I dated a dancer (easier to do than originally thought…very little competition from her male dancer friends), a photographer (from Boston to the horror of my family), and a former cheerleader (she might read this blog, so no comment here). This summer was one of beer and Southern Comfort and watching Michael Bamman sleep on the apartment sofa…he now has a PhD. So drinking to abandonment and sleeping on a sofa for 3 months does not ruin your academic future.

That paragraph seems to imply that my coolness was based on my dating prowess (I had none…just a fortunate string of events that resulted in meeting young ladies who didn’t immediately see through my bullshit), drinking to “abandonment” (not necessarily a cool factor, but an
extremely true statement for that summer), and living in crowded college apartment conditions (very true…and because 3 of them were of legal drinking age…well you get my point: I DRANK A LOT that summer). The real reason I was cool that summer of 1989 is because I felt cool and feeling it is what makes it so. I felt it because a mattress on the floor of an apartment bedroom is better than living at home. I was so cool that summer that the following December I was “invited” not to return to Middle Tennessee State University. Do any of you (other than Michael Bamman) realize how hard it is to be kicked out of MTSU? Only the cool kids (see Michael Bamman) got kicked out of MTSU…which
led to a period of uncoolness (I enlisted in the Army in January of 1990).

By the way, it takes earning a 0.08 GPA to get kicked out of MTSU. That, for you non-cool kids, is four Fs and one D. I got a
D in philosophy…I think the professor felt sorry for me or assumed I was going through a personal philosophical experience. Damn right I was! A lot of Southern Comfort leads to a significant amount of philosophical discussions.

Why am I discussing my lack of coolness…well I just spent 12 days doing one of the most uncool things in the world. I just took a 12 day cruise through the Aegean Sea and there is absolutely nothing cool about cruise ships or their passengers. HOWEVER, what I lack in coolness I
make up for in observation skills.

Here is a list of my Aegean Sea cruise experience in no order whatsoever (well other than the order in which I wrote them down in my
ever present notebook…and some would argue that is some subconscious order):

Cruise ship stateroom art is ugly and confusing. There was a single “painting” in the stateroom and I didn’t notice it until about day 6.
Now all stateroom esthetics are lacking, but this painting was actually disturbing. It looked like stick figures drowning in water. I don’t assume this was what it really was, but I am your average art aficionado (which means I have seen some art…some really famous art…but I don’t buy expensive art…I get it though) and if an average art viewer thinks it looks like people drowning…well then it is people drowning. People drowning is not what I would consider appropriate cruise ship art. Then again, what do I know…I saw some of Jackson Pollock’s shit and I thought it looked…like shit.

Not all “romance” mix tapes are made the same. While on a small Turkish boat touring the crystal clear waters of the Aegean, there was a bad mix tape playing over the speakers. Wait for it…wait for it…that awful Celine Dion Titanic song came on. Now art that MAY look like people drowning is a bad idea. A song from a movie about people drowning is fucking horrible. I guess it got lost in the cultural divide. Maybe Titanic wasn’t a big hit in Turkey…but I was thoroughly amazed.

Food. Lots and lots of fucking food. Everything you have ever heard about the tons of food on cruises is not true…there is actually more than you have been told. Supposedly the average cruiser gains 14 lbs per trip. There was so much food that I actually started skipping meals and running more. I gained approximately 2 lbs on the cruise (this was a result of the ship offering my favorite German beer and nothing to do with the all-you-can-eat boat itself). However, I wasn’t hip checked by any grannies at the buffet this time…but I was slightly shoved by a pissed old lady on her way to the all-you-can-eat sushi bar.

On-board entertainment isn’t…in the traditional sense. There was a house (boat) band, there were dancers, jugglers, acrobats, and possibly a juggling acrobat. None of them were entertaining because of their abilities…they were a fucking riot. The boat band, I believe, was from Thailand and did Jimmy Buffet and Rolling Stones covers. They actually wore Hawaiian shirts and sunglasses…all the time (day or night). There was an acoustic guitar player (again…I think from Thailand) that I dubbed the Asian Jim Croce. He literally made every song he played sound like Jim Croce, which is slightly disturbing if you think hard enough about it. I once overheard a Johnny Cash request from an Australian passenger, Asian Jim Croce knew no Johnny Cash…but he knew the complete Jim Croce hippie catalog. Needless to say, you have to have pretty shitty tastes in
what you call entertainment to be entertained…which means I have shitty tastes because I was completely entertained. I wasn’t laughing with them…

Dr. Kevorkian is right. Kill me before I get on a cruise ship in a wheel chair or walker. Plain and simple…kill my ass.

You don’t have to drink to feel drunk. I was not meant to be a sailor because I felt slightly drunk floating the Seven Seas. It’s just a constant buzz, well really more like that slightly stumbling walk kind of buzz. Unfortunately the only goofy thoughts I had were related to Jim Croce.

There is now porn pay-per-view. In an earlier blog I busted on bad cruise ship television. I will now eat crow (or at least fondle a butt plug) because they now offer porn…seriously the wheelchair and walker bound are now a market for porn. Who knew? SERIOUSLY???? Who knew?

Slutted-up grannies. Speaking of porn. Evening always brought this delicious anticipation of what you were going to see in the COCKtail dress category. I guess after watching porn, these older female passengers felt the need to get their slut on. Cellulite and high slit skirts do not match…trust me. But backless gowns and thigh high boots do…trust me.

Enough…I could go on and on about my observations. I may even fill in more details later, but I can’t seem to get a certain slow (and old) bump and grind couple out of my head…Jim Croce deserves better.

I am not cool, but I am an expert in identifying those who are more uncool than me. Obviously my MTSU education has paid off.