Reviving This Blog

So I’ve been away for a while; law school has a way of appropriating all of your time. I’ve come back to this after two years to just, well… Write. I need to balance out legal writing with some writing of my own choosing, as legal writing has a way of, how do you say… draining your soul. I also need to become a better writer in general, as writing is a huge part of being a lawyer. The best way to do that is to just keep writing, consistently, in spite of harsh self-criticism and general lethargy. I’ll be trying to write at least one thing a week; can’t say it’ll be funny, or any good at all for that matter, but it will have contractions, which is more than I can say for my paper on preliminary injunctions. Thanks for stopping by, there will (hopefully) be more and better things to come.

-Warren

Election Thoughts

It’s over. It’s finally over. Thank God. Next time I hear scary music coming from my TV, it’ll be an ad for 1-800-BAD-DRUG. I’m glad the election turned out the way it did, and I think it was a turning point for American politics for a number of reasons:

1. It Showed That Elections Can Survive Citizen’s United

In the Presidential race and the key Congressional races, the unlimited, anonymous outside spending did not majorly sway the results. In the Presidential race, $290 Million was spent by outside groups on anti-Obama attack ads; only $64 Million was spent against Romney.  A big contributor to that anti-Obama spending was Karl Rove’s SuperPAC, American Crossroads. It spent a total of $103 Million on attack ads against Obama and Democratic congressional candidates. However, according to a report by The Sunlight Foundation, which monitors political spending, it had a “return on investment” of about 1 percent (!) in swaying the races it invested in.  The rest of the report shows Liberal outside groups overall getting better “returns” than Conservative groups, even though Conservative groups spent more than double what Liberal groups did: Conservative groups had 66 percent of the total spent, compared to 31 percent by Liberal groups. Basically, the anonymous outside money enabled by Citizen’s United, money that heavily favored Republicans, had a negligible effect on the outcome of the elections; this election refused to be bought. That doesn’t mean that future elections won’t be affected, and Citizen’s United absolutely needs to be overturned or nullified by constitutional amendment.

2. It Showed That Good Organization Beats Big Money

Romney and the Republicans attracted more outside money. A lot more. The only problem was, these outside groups could only spend that money on ads; they are legally forbidden from coordinating with political campaigns, so they’d have trouble doing work “on the ground” like going door-to-door and making calls. The official campaign has to take care of that work, and Obama’s campaign did it better. Way better. They’d been organizing and preparing for this election since Obama’s first day in office. This NPR story says it best:

The planning started back in 2008 when Obama became the nation’s first African-American president.

“The Obama campaign realized better than any other campaign that elections aren’t about one big thing anymore,” says Sasha Issenberg, author of The Victory Lab: The Secret Science of Winning Campaigns. “Part of that is we have much better tools now to isolate the impact of individual interactions between a campaign and voters, and lots of data that allows us to segment the voters themselves.”

Issenberg argues that the Obama campaign took those tools, including the application of social science insights and experiments, and, with the gift of four years to perfect its operation, “used them better than any other political enterprise in history.”

So Obama, good Chicago politician that he is, builds a nationwide political machine. A machine unprecedented in scope. This guy, a political reporter who’s no fan of Obama, concedes that it’s “the greatest political machine in modern history.” To illustrate, he goes on with this anecdote:

During flight, a campaign official talked about the ground game on background . . .

In describing the ground game, the official told of a conversation he had with a top field director on Monday. The GOP had tweeted that they had knocked on 75,000 doors in Ohio the day prior. Not to worry, the director said, “we knocked on 376,000.”

I like The Atlantic’s take on it; Obama ran an organization as massive and complex as any corporation, and he did it better than the Corporate man himself. Obama had the edge in organization, and no amount of SuperPAC ads could cancel that out.

3. It Made Fox News Begin to Realize They Had Their Heads Firmly Up Their Asses

They’d been going strong, right up until election day, predicting a Romney win. They predicted strong Republican gains. They only looked at the polls they wanted to see, and read them how they wanted to read them. They were confident that “their” voters would come out stronger than Obama’s on election day. “Their” voters probably being Bill O’Reilly’s White Establishment (we always knew you were biased Bill, but thanks for confirming it). They scoffed at Nate Silver and his predictions for Obama, which were based on a thorough analysis of state-by-state polls. His method, being more thorough and grounded in fact, was obviously inferior. Thus they were blindsided on election day; a more demoralized “news” crew I have never seen. Obama crushed Romney in all the battleground states, the Dems picked up Senate seats, and the house remained unchanged. Karl Rove took it especially hard. Then, right there on the air, once it was clear Obama won, only then did they do some soul-searching; only then did they realize that they’ve had their heads quite firmly up their asses. They realized that Republicans can’t win without minority votes; they realized that the GOP were doing something to alienate non-white people. They couldn’t quite make the next logical leap: that the GOP has a reputation for things that non-whites just don’t like. Things like thinly veiled racism, the casting of minorities as moochers, and the complete disdain for facts and dignified debate, to name just a few. I can understand it’d be hard for Fox News to accept this, seeing as they do everything they can to perpetuate those things. But Fox finally, finally realized that a majority of the country is not inclined to vote for the GOP, at least as it is now; hopefully they’ll realize that their network is getting more unpopular by extension. Hopefully they’ll do something about the godawful partisan circus they call a “News Channel.”

4. It Showed That Many Conservatives Believe That Obama is Practically the Anti-Christ

When you have people like Donald Trump encouraging revolt, you know something’s not right. When you have a Red Scare in 2012 (“We are threatened by socialism from within! Obama is a communist!!!”), you know something’s not right. Judging by the post election hyperbole, it seems like a Conservative’s capacity for rational thinking is inversely proportional to their media visibility: more attention, more crazy! Here you have the Whole Sick (Conservative) Crew running the gamut of dramatic reactions, from despondent to predicting the Death of America: Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Donald Trump, Karl Rove, Ted Nugent, Bill O’Reilly, and so on. Then you have a much lesser-known fella getting 15 minutes of fame (more like shame in this case) for his hateful and infantile proclamation of a lifelong vendetta against Democrats. Then you have petitions for secession from several states. When it comes to that, the people have spoken: in the petition with the most signatures, about 46,000 people requested that Texas secede from the Union. That’s 46,000 people out of a state of… 25 million.

All this in reaction to our election system doing exactly what it’s supposed to: electing the candidate that the majority of Americans want. The “Death of America,” ironically, stems from America functioning correctly. If Obama were truly as terrible as the pundits make him out to be, a rational populace would never have elected him. Therefore, because they voted for Obama, the majority of Americans are irrational, stupid, immoral, socialist, lazy, God-hating moochers. At least, that’s the argument that many of the loudest Conservative voices are making. They’re fervently trying to get everyone else to think the same: why accept reality when you can create a comforting fiction?

Luckily for them, our governmental system was designed to resist the “tyranny of the majority.” The victimized Conservative minority can take solace in that, as the actions of the Republican party of the past 12 years have shown just how resilient to the desires of the majority our system can be. Hopefully the GOP will change in response to America as it is, instead of trying to hold on to a vision of America that’s becoming less and less palatable to the public. If they don’t, it’s going to be a long 4 years.

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The Prairie State

Every morning, I walk past a couple empty lots on my way to work. These lots are part of a small housing development being built on the site of a former factory. The old factory building was torn down about a decade ago, and until a couple years ago no houses were built; the land was left empty. Interesting thing about empty lots; in most cities, they’re a blight. Nothing but concrete patches, scraggly grass, sad tiny bushes, maybe a pipe or two sticking out. You get the idea. However, in Chicago it’s a little bit different. Here, these lots revert to Prairie. Wild, natural Prairie, the ecosystem that preceded our fair city, carpeting the empty lot in a matter of weeks. Only the concrete patches remain; given enough time, a combination of rain, wind, and Prairie growth breaks those down too.

And so this is what I walk past every morning: two lots, filled to the brim with Prairie grasses, shrubs, and flowers. They come up through cracks in the small concrete foundations in the center, and through the cracks in the asphalt in the adjacent parking lot. The plants come in all sorts of colors: deep red-brown, light brown, up through pale yellow; pale greens, dark greens, and every hue in between; and finally, plants that look anywhere from cobalt blue to indigo to lavender, depending on your vantage point and the time of day. And the flowers, in all those colors and more… And then the city continues immediately outside these lots; chain link fences surrounding them, a concrete alley just outside that, and then cookie-cutter houses with sod lawns.

It’s a quite striking juxtaposition, the Prairie and the city. It’s really amazing to me that this wild growth happens. How does it happen? Where are the seeds coming from? Chicago’s been urban for a while, long enough I’d think to destroy all the old Prairie roots and seeds through intense construction and widespread pollution. And now you have to travel a good ways from the city to find any rural land, where you’d think the Prairie would be. Should be. Except that, sometime between 1837 (when John Deere invented his Prairie-conquering steel plow) and now, the Prairie basically ceased to exist. The Prairie, which once covered almost the entire state, became farmland (with a few cities sprinkled in here and there). Illinois is now just endless, border-to-border farmland. Anyone who’s ever driven through Illinois knows what I’m talking about. Or Iowa; Iowa is exactly the same. Illinois is short on Prairie everywhere, not just Chicago.

And yet, the minute you turn your back on a piece of land, it up and sprouts a Prairie. The Prairie evidently is a very resilient ecosystem. If I had a more than basic understanding of ecology, I’d probably understand what’s going on, but right now I have no idea how it happens. I do intend to find out. One thing that’s even more puzzling to me is why, when Chicago’s natural plants are so awesome, its lawns and parkways are almost uniformly planted with boring old green grass. The same grass you’d find anywhere, grass which needs a lot more water than Prairie. Well, I can understand wanting to keep your lawn below waist height. But gardens then. Clear a patch of bare soil, wait a couple weeks, and boom: instant Prairie garden. If I ever get a house and some land of my own, that’s exactly what I’m going to do.

My Legs Hurt

Unless I’ve actually strained them in some exercise-related way (hah!) this means one of two things: either it’s raining or I’m hung over. I don’t know why, but without fail it always happens. Today it rained and I was hung over, so I’ve been doubly sore and ambling in a geriatric way around my workplace, trying to inconspicuously massage my knees at every opportunity. This has been, and probably will be, the most interesting part of my day, and this day itself will be abnormally interesting compared to most other days.

For the past couple months I’ve been sequestering myself with either a good book or a good video game, as a way to avoid being crushed by the sheer weight of my own mediocrity. Pretty soon I will have read most of the books I should have read in high school. I just finished the Great Gatsby, and it’s weird trying to talk to people about it because everybody except me has already read it. Like 10 years ago. Thus, however profound, intriguing, or evocative someone might have found the book, they got over it a long time ago, making meaningful discussion about the book a bit hard to come by anywhere outside a high school English class.

In addition to catching up on the classics, I’ve spent a lot of time shepherding a virtual civilization towards greatness by way of a game called Civilization 5. As opposed to the real world, where there is poverty, ignorance, and war which an individual can do little about, Civ 5 gives you a virtual world where you can do things differently; you can do right where historically we have gone wrong. So I start a game and I try to build an ideal civilization, one that values peace, prosperity, tolerance, and scientific progress; through diplomacy, mediation, and others following my shining example, I hope to lead my fellow virtual civilizations into a glorious golden age for all mankind. Once that’s done, I can trick myself into thinking that, having done it in a game, I could help fix the world (should I ever come to any position of power).

However, after about 5000 years pursuing my glorious vision, the entire world hates me. Perceiving my enlightened philosophy as a sign of weakness, every nation I met declared war almost immediately. Every principle my virtual civilization once stood for was violated to ensure its survival. It looks like I’d be lucky to finish the game with just one nuclear war. The game designers did a very, very good job at making their virtual world resemble the corporeal. So unless I suddenly find inviting the prospect of repeating the depressing mistakes of world history in a virtual arena whose theoretical purpose is to be fun, my virtual escape has been effectively thwarted.

I’d like to say that I’m actively trying to find things more interesting to do than play computer games, but that would be lying. I’m glad Obamacare passed, and at one point in my life I would probably spend a lot of time arguing its merits with complete strangers online; I would have thought that these people, many having a virulent personal hatred for Obama that’s beyond ridiculous, could be swayed by reason. Now, experience has taught me that these people can only be mocked, relentlessly, and even then the satisfaction and feeling of self-righteousness one gets in doing so is fleeting and often accompanied by the realization that you could be doing better things with your time. Still, for me, going on an arch-conservative forum and pretending to be the ghost of Reagan is always good for a chuckle every now and then 😉

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On Hiatus With Thomas Pynchon

For the past two months, I’ve been on the receiving end of a literary bludgeoning, otherwise known as reading Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow. The last month was especially tough going, as the book seems to get exponentially more dense and abstract towards the end. In fact, I’m surprised Pynchon himself didn’t include some kind of mathematical representation of how the book’s difficulty increases over time within the book itself. It’s that kind of book. And now I’ve finally finished it. As it is regarded as both one of the greatest english language books and one of the most challenging, I feel pretty awesome for finishing it. I may even be considered cool for doing so, but I’m not getting my hopes up.

In terms of describing it, I don’t know where to begin. Lets see… Of all the movies and books I’ve seen or read, I’d say in overall tone it’s most similar to Terry Gilliam’s Brazil. If it were an original movie, it would, for one thing, be ridiculously long; there would be nothing left on the cutting-room floor. There would be potent and compelling dream-symbolism throughout that would put David Lynch to shame, and half the movie would be devoted to the actual dreams, daydreams, fantasies, flights of fancy, and drug-induced hallucinations of the characters; these mental tangents would be seamlessly integrated and at times indistinguishable from the rest of the movie, and the narrative would jump in and out of these at will. These tangents would also just as likely jump to another character’s conscious or unconscious point of view with no warning or indication whatsoever. There would also be kinks and fetishes aplenty, the likes of which would make David Cronenberg blush. Add in a prevalent sense of paranoia and comic relief as fine as anything by the Monty Python ensemble, and then imagine all of that increasing in magnitude exponentially as the allegorical movie progresses: that is a very, very basic picture of what Gravity’s Rainbow, as a movie, would be like.

There are over 400 characters, but don’t worry; only about 100 or so are important. Characters from Pynchon’s two previous novels, V. and The Crying of Lot 49, also make appearances. As the events of the novel (mostly) precede those of the other two, these characters’ back stories become even richer, and their actions in the other two books become more understandable as well. And just like those previous books, Pynchon takes a broad sample of humanity for his characters, focusing more on the unconventional, the non-glamorous, and the “undesirable:” addicts, dealers, hustlers, prostitutes, anarchists, bureaucrats, disaffected spies, soldiers gone AWOL, mystics, science cultists, dozens of otherwise “normal” people with “abnormal” obsessions, and any number of folks caught up in the machinations of uncaring or outright malevolent forces much more powerful than they are.

With many of these characters, he tries to question the validity of what society deems “normal/abnormal” (and thus the validity of the very act of deeming normalcy). He also tries to show the emotional and psychological effects of living in an industrial society, specifically of having one’s life be determined/ended by the demands of a small, powerful corporate and political elite. As you might guess, many of the characters are or become paranoid as the book progresses. Helping this along is a grand conspiracy underpinning everything, and just like Pynchon’s previous two books, it is strongly hinted at but never conclusively confirmed and is ultimately left up to the reader to determine whether it exists at all.

Ultimately, my favorite thing about the book is its refusal to be forgotten. I will probably be digesting its 750+ pages of dense and powerfully evocative prose for a long time. While I was reading it, I felt like there was no way I could possibly retain even a fraction of it. Now that I think back on it, the wonderful ensemble of loony and (in many cases) tragic characters stands clear in my mind, and I can vividly remember the themes and events of the book in relation to those characters. Now that I think about it, by always bringing everything back to the emotional and psychological effects on/reactions of the characters and by making points be evocative and/or intriguing proportionally to their importance, Pynchon actually did a pretty good job of keeping the whole thing together.

I’ve already applied what I’ve retained from the book. I’ve started reading Saul Bellow’s The Adventures of Augie March, and early on Mr. Einhorn gives a speech that resonated all the more with me after reading Gravity’s Rainbow, and in my opinion it exemplifies Pynchon’s central premise more concisely and in a more straightforward way than any passage in Pynchon’s own book. Talking about the rough and “uncultured” nature of 1920’s Chicago, Einhorn says: 

“But there is some kind of advantage in the roughness of a place like Chicago, of not having any illusions either. Whereas in all the great capitals of the world there’s some reason to think humanity is very different. All that ancient culture and those beautiful works of art right out in public… You see those marvelous things and you think that everything savage belongs in the past. So you think. And then you have another think, and you see that after they rescued women from the coal mines, or pulled down the Bastille and got rid of Star Chambers and lettres de cachet, ran out the Jesuits, increased education, and built hospitals and spread courtesy and politeness, they have five or six years of war and revolutions and kill off twenty million people. And do they think there’s less danger to life than here? That’s a riot.” Gravity’s Rainbow’s most important theme may be this, that the “savagery” of the rough-and-tumble “lower classes” is nothing compared to the savagery perpetrated by the very organizations dominated by the “cultured” elite: wars, started by governments and supplied by corporations.

Sound awesome? Radical? Thought provoking? Mind-effing? It is. All of those. If you haven’t already, read it! You’ll be glad you did, or at least feel very accomplished for finishing the damn thing 😉

New Friskies, Now With LSD!

So Friskies has a new ad out, one that’s quite “colorful,” to say the least:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Q4JLsNtDsM

I’m used to Friskies advertising based on its taste and health benefits for cats, but here they seem to be taking an entirely different route. As the caption for the video says, “Discover Adventureland! A Journey to delicious and beyond. FRISKIES wet cat food unlocks a magical world of sensory stimulation for your cat.” It should read “Catnip’s got nothin on this shit!,” since apparently it makes your cat trip balls. I think it would be awesome if that were actually true, like some disgruntled Friskies employee dumped a bunch of LSD in a batch of cat food and the company just decided to run with it.

It probably wouldn’t be too bad for the cats; cats are too high strung as it is. With the new “Special” Friskies, you’d see kitties making peace with the house’s resident mice, digging up your old Pink Floyd albums and laying them suggestively at your feet, trying to meow to you their oneness with the universe, etc. Much better than how most cats act normally. Like my cousin’s old cat; a fatter and more melancholy feline I have never seen. It legitimately had a death wish; besides trying to eat itself to death, it kept trying to jump out windows and wedge itself in inescapable places, and when you saved its life it repaid you by peeing on the furniture. Now that’s a cat that could use some mind-altering substances, let me tell you. Plus, I’m sure every “look at my cat LOL” video out there would be doubly hilarious with tripped out kitties. So Friskies, I eagerly await the day you actually do make a cat food of the freaky variety.

Global Warming’s Here, Might as Well Enjoy it Before it Gets All Apocalyptic

How about this weather, huh? For the past couple of weeks, Chicago has been enjoying some incredibly nice weather. Some years we’d still be having snow and -10 temperatures around this time, and most years it’d be consistently miserable between now and May. Not this year; we’ve come off one of the warmest Chicago winters in history, and according to my friend the warmest Oct. 1st – Mar. 1st in Chicago’s history. It was above freezing more often than not, or at least it felt like it, and we never got anything resembling a normal Chicago winter (many, many weeks of -30F with wind chill).

The lines between seasons have always been somewhat blurred here, with “Spring” and “Fall” really just being periods of palsied fluctuation between blazing hot and bitter cold, and such periods never abiding by the three-month periods convention has set aside for them. But even this, what we’ve been having recently, is abnormal. Weather nationwide has been erratic for the past couple years, with Tornado Alley moving further South and East, the Northeast experiencing Midwest-style ice storms and blizzards, and the Pacific Northwest starting to get actual snow. It’s climactic change on a grand scale, no doubt about it.

No self-respecting scientist can say that the climate isn’t changing. Some scientists say it can’t be proven whether mankind is causing it, even if the evidence suggests it is. Well, even in the face of overwhelming evidence, you can’t prove that a fart on a crowded elevator is caused by mankind either. Most people are going to assume the culprit is an inconsiderate fellow passenger. Said passenger will never admit to it of course; that passenger would most likely be the one to bring up alternative theories (“Could be a mechanical problem with the elevator”), or to sow mistrust and blame the other passengers (“It could have been any of us!”), or even to pay hush money to the passengers behind them (the most directly affected) to avoid public ridicule. Or maybe said passenger is in an astronomically higher socio-economic strata than the other passengers, possibly being their boss, and thus doesn’t give a damn about them or their discomfort and unabashedly lets rip at every opportunity. We can call that last one “Bad Passenger,” or “BP” for short.

Replace “elevator” with “world,” and the culprit with a polluting industry and, well, you get the idea. The politics behind the Global Warming “debate” don’t really get any more advanced or mature than that, at least from what I can see. People are probably going to waste time with the “debate” until our coasts flood and our crops wither, at which time the parties/corporations most heavily in denial will magically (hopefully) have on hand the products and technology we need to save our asses, for a price we can’t afford not to pay. Until then, though, I’ll at least be able to enjoy the mild winters up here on the Chicago Riviera; there’ll be less frozen beards, less claiming my shoveled-out parking space with lawn chairs, and maybe less potholes in the summer. There’s always a silver lining, eh?