The dog’s tail

You’ve probably heard this one: A mother tells her small son, “Stop pulling the dog’s tail.” He replies, “I’m just holding it. It’s the dog that’s pulling.”  His mother knew, of course, that the boy, not the dog, was in the wrong.

The little boy knew it too, but he somehow thought everybody else in the world, including his mother, wasn’t as smart as he was and would be fooled by his assertion.

Sound familiar?  It should.  That little boy grew up to be a Republican in the US House of Representatives.

Most kids learn not to expect others to be fooled by specious claims such as this, but a few don’t.  The Tea Party Republicans seem to have a disproportionate number of followers who somehow didn’t get that gene.

They don’t even seem to get it that they lost the last election.  That is, when the whole country voted, the Republicans lost.  Now they are threatening the whole country for that perceived insult.  Perhaps they forget that they live here too.  Like one House member said, “It’s like putting a gun to your own head and saying, do what I want or I’ll shoot.”  That was even a Republican House member, so not all of them have swallowed the Cool-Aid.

As we all know, those that do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it.  The TP Republicans aren’t too fond of learning in general, especially anything that is counter to their preconceived dogmas.  However, it seems we all are condemned to repeat this bit of history – a government shutdown followed by the R’s getting their knuckles rapped and finally letting go of the dog’s tail.

You might think they would learn this time, but no.  The lesson they learn will be more like what some of them are saying now: “we lost last time because we weren’t radical enough and didn’t do enough damage to the country to make the other side give up.”

Oh, and what happened to that little boy?  He was sent to his room for a long “time out”. Know what I’m sayin’?

The Evolution of Privacy

The revelation of massive monitoring of phone calls in the past couple weeks is only the latest step in the erosion of privacy as we have traditionally understood it.  The founders of this country understood the importance of privacy as the defense against the ‘tyranny of the majority’.  I believe we are crossing a threshold where ‘privacy’ in the traditional sense is impossible, and consequently, we must disempower the tyranny of majority opinion.  We must accept that everything about us can be known, and demand that it can’t be used against us.

It is only when we (believe we have to) keep secrets that we give away our power. If we all stop keeping secrets, then those who control us with threats of disclosure will be rendered powerless. If many people are ‘doing it’, then news that some particular person is ‘doing it’ is not news.

Hear: this is the essential reason that gay rights have advanced over the past 4 decades – up to and including the Supreme Court decision this past week. Gays in increasing numbers stopped accepting that they were fundamentally bad and had to ‘keep their secret’.  They ‘came out of the closet’ – demanding they they be accepted as equals just as they are. I don’t like the erosion of privacy either, but I think it is a lost battle to fight against it.

What we need to do now is demand that nothing known about us can be used against us short of a clear threat of violence – a “clear and present danger”. If I read Communist literature, so what? If I read Islamist literature, so what? If I make contacts on kinky sex websites or visit prostitutes, so what? Yes, there are still a lot of self-righteous people out there who want to make these and many other things ‘wrong’. They still have some, if diminishing, power. The more we defy their moral dictates, the quicker will we empower ourselves and render them powerless.

A Waste of Everything

Finally! Other people are starting to say what has only been whispered up to now: airport security is a giant boondoggle and a waste of, well, everything connected with it – most prominently tax dollars and traveler time.  It is a waste because it is vastly out of proportion to the problem it is allegedly solving – the danger of death from terrorism when flying.

This point is made and thoroughly documented in an article titled “Airport Security Is Killing Us” in the latest issue of Bloomberg Businessweek.  Yes, I said “Bloomberg Businessweek”.  This is not a small nor a fringe publication, certainly not radically right or left, although some at those extremes might disagree.  As yet, this article does not appear to be online, so if you want to read it, buy the magazine: November 26 – December 2 edition with a flaming Jack Welch on the cover.  If and when it appears online, I’ll post a comment.  Meanwhile, here are some points to whet your appetite.

What it costs: the TSA annual budget: 8 billion dollars.  Number of employees: 50,000, up from 16,000 in 2002.  Indirectly, the spending on homeland security from 2002-2011 is estimated at $580 billion.  As Senator Everett Dirksen said a couple generations ago, “that adds up to real money.” Think how much squawking there was about far smaller amounts of government spending during the last campaign and over the past few years. Did anyone question what we are actually getting from that $580 billion?  If so, I didn’t hear it.

So what are we getting?  Supposedly, protection from the risk of being killed by a terrorist attack while on an airline flight.  Alright, so what is that risk, and how does it compare to the risk of other ways of dying?  Here are a few examples, again courtesy of the article: chance of dying in a motor vehicle accident, 1 in 98; dying by drowning, 1 in 1103; dying from contact with hornets, wasps, bees, 1 in 79,842; dying from being hit by lightning, 1 in 134,906; dying in terrorist attack aboard a US commercial airliner, 1 in 25,000,000.

I don’t know about you, but I’ll take my chances on the airliner, so long as they don’t let any bees on board.

I suppose some would say that those statistics shows what a good job TSA is doing – making flying 180 times less risky than being hit by lightning!   Wow.  And for only $8 billion a year.  I am reminded of the story I heard as a kid: I see this guy walking around, snapping his fingers and chanting “hooba hooba”.  I say to him, “why are you doing that?”  He says, “to keep the elephants away!”  I say, “but there aren’t any elephants within 6000 miles of here!”  He says, “works good, don’t it.”

It is, quite simply, time we stop being stupid about airline security and homeland security.  In the wake of 9/11/2001, we were in fear and paranoia.  The politicians rushed to provide all kinds of ‘protection’ to allay our fears.  Unfortunately, neither the politicians nor the people stopped to ask what it cost and what we get for the cost.  For a few years there, any such questions were derided as being “soft on terrorism” or worse.  Over the years, I got really tired of hearing people say, “better safe than sorry” as if that were the actual choice.  Nobody stopped to ask if we what were really getting was “safe and sorry” – sorry for the delays, personal intrusions, and huge expenditures that didn’t make us any safer – and whether just plain “safe” wasn’t the real alternative. No.  “Better safe than sorry” was simply a surrender to unquestionable government control.

OK, so there may still be some who believe we are safer.  In effect, they say, “what if there were no TSA? We would have had more events like 9/11/01″.  Of course, we can never know for sure “what if”, but I say there is ample cause to believe that more changed on 9/11 than putting the TSA in motion. I wrote years ago, including here on 9/11/2006, that we the people learned enough on 9/11/2001 to be sure it would not happen again.  Specifically, we learned the answer to the question:

“How the hell could several hundred people have been controlled and killed by 3-4 guys with nothing more than BOX CUTTERS???”

We learned the inconvenient truth that we were terrorized by a few guys with box cutters because:

“…that’s what we were taught and told to do before 9/11!  Go along, don’t fight back, try to negotiate, stall for time, leave it to the authorities. Well, that doesn’t work when your adversary is unequivocally intending your death or their own or both.”

This was proved on that same day – 9/11/01:

“We didn’t need Afghanistan, or Iraq, or the 5 years of shit that’s been done in the name of homeland security since then. How do I know? Because the 4th airliner never reached its target. Because enough extra minutes had elapsed that the passengers on that 4th airliner found out through use of their cell phones what had happened in NY and DC, and they did rise up and they brought that fucking plane DOWN — sacrificing themselves rather than let the bastards fly it into another target.”

It was proved again a couple years later in the infamous “shoe bomber” incident.  Remember, the TSA had nothing do to with it.  The guy was on the plane, and when nearby passengers saw what he was doing, they wrestled him to the floor.

Ever since then, we have had to remove our shoes and put them through the x-ray, but no claim has been made that that procedures has detected a single terrorist attempt.  Not one.  Zero.

Sure, the TSA can report some discoveries.  Per the Bloomberg article, “The TSA’s ‘top good catches’ of 2011′ did include 1,200 firearms and – their top find – a single batch of C4 explosives (though that payload was discovered only on the return flight.)”  The report doesn’t say it, but obviously, none of those things were found in somebody’s crotch. And by the way, the TSA didn’t spot a single terrorist trying to board an airline in the US.

Anyhow, I strongly you recommend you read this article, however you can find it.  And after you do, see if you don’t agree with me that there has been, and continues to be, a  cost of all this beyond the tax dollars and the delays and the personal intrusions.  The cost I have in mind is our loss of freedom.  The loss that occurs when we surrender our judgement and physical being to the power of government.  When we stop owning the right to ask questions and instead place near-absolute power in government authority, we become just one more populace at risk of succumbing to totalitarianism.  We are actually practicing for the role.

Fortunately, we have drawn back somewhat from the specter of martial law or the like.  But just because we have, don’t imagine that we are blessed or somehow immune.  Never say, “it can’t happen here.”  It can’t happen here only if a substantial number of us speak out and call out the fear mongering and appeals to paranoia used by politicians to advance their own power.  It can’t happen here only if a substantial number of us resist “group think” and are willing to question “better safe than sorry”, head-in-the-sand thinking.

We have a good opportunity right now to reverse the mistakes of the past decade.  To stand up say we do not want the delusion of security created by inconvenience, personal intrusion, and the massive expenditure of money.  To stand up and say we expect and demand concrete justification for the money we spend, and evaluation of the money we have spent.  To really understand that dying in a car crash is 100,000 times more likely than dying from a terrorist attack on an airliner, and start acting accordingly.

Is there hope for the Republican Party?

And why would I care?  Well, despite the fact that my posts have favored Democrat candidates and office holders for some years, it is not because I am a card-carrying ideologically pure Democrat.  There have been, and continue to be, some very decent, competent and level-headed Republicans whose presence in a Presidential or other campaign for high office would likely result in a much more substantive dialog.  Imagine, for example, if John Huntsman had been the Republican nominee this year.  He was the lone voice of reason and practicality early in the primary season, and of course, he was quickly eliminated in the frantic race to the right by the field of Republican candidates.

At present, it is hard to imagine what such a campaign would have been like because, with his early departure, you may have very little sense of John Huntsman, and even more because the idea of a thoughtful Republican candidate seems so incongruous in today’s Republican Party.  It was not always so.  It used to be that there were “moderate” Republicans like Dwight Eisenhower and, ironically, George Romney, who didn’t run a campaign based on religious right hot buttons (gay rights, abortion, and, this year, even birth control) or on coded appeals to racial and ethnic prejudices.

A better campaign isn’t the reason, of course, rather it is that I believe that a healthy two-party system results in better government.  The Republican party has, over the past few decades, drifted further and further away from the role of a principled competitor and player in the sphere of democratic representative government. Specifically, it has become increasingly focused on tactics to win elections and maintain political power rather than on governing well and remaining viable for that reason.  It has been well documented how the divisive “southern strategy” was developed under Richard Nixon based on thinly-disguised appeals to white voters nervous about the growing number of African-American voters enfranchised under the advances of the 1960s.

The past four years have given us the nadir of this course, with major Republican leaders declaring from the moment of Obama’s election that their “most important” priority was that he not be reelected. In saying this, they effectively rejected the voice of the voters as expressed by a substantial margin, and subsequently gave the impression of opposing anything that would make Obama look good, even if it were also good for the country. This arrogance among Republican leaders in believing that they know better than the voters has happened before.  In the unraveling of the Watergate scandal under Richard Nixon, John Mitchell, the Attorney General who was convicted of deep involvement in the coverup, said, “This election was too important. We couldn’t risk the possibility of the wrong outcome.” In other words, we can’t just leave it up to the people.

So is there hope for the Republican Party?  Despite this long history, there were moments during election night and since that suggest some awareness has been raised.  As often as not however, it came out as a lament or complaint: “This isn’t the traditional America anymore!” – presumably referring to the “Father Knows Best” picture of all-white suburbs and stay-at-home moms, where minorities, if they dared even vote or speak in public, would dutifully follow the example of the wiser white men who were entitled to lead society.  Those of us in the “reality-based community” know that that America never actually existed. That so many Republicans seem to believe it did is an example of the fundamental thing that must change if there is to be any chance of a viable Republican Party.

That “thing” is the right-wing’s nearly complete rejection of “reality” as represented by scientific theories, logic as it has been understood since the time of the ancient Greeks, ‘facts’ as distinct from ‘beliefs’ and ‘opinions’, and even basic arithmetic.  The examples of this over the past campaign year are countless and mind-boggling, and they are well-documented in numerous articles such as this one by Frank Rich.

Perhaps most quantifiable is the curious fact that all of the Republican polls that Romney was seeing (and that were endlessly repeated on Fox News and other right-wing media) predicted Romney winning the election, including every one of the swing states, all of which were finally won by Obama – NH, Ohio, Virginia, Florida, Colorado.  One has to wonder how polls, supposedly run by professionals, could be so consistently skewed and all in the same direction.  Perhaps the clearest reason is revealed in the widespread disparagement heaped on Nate Silver, the statistician writing for the NY Times who correctly predicted all 50 states. Of course, as his predictions indicated an Obama win, they accused him of being politically biased – a typical expression of their belief that not to accept the ‘facts’ according to right-wing orthodoxy is to prove that one is politically motivated.  As Frank Rich says, this is also one of many obvious cases of ‘projection’ by Republicans – they believe everyone else is doing what they know, at least somewhere in their subconscious, that they themselves are doing.

A few cracks appeared in the stone wall on election night when the Fox news pundits finally had to confront a series of facts that they could not ignore or negate – the election results rolling in from state after state that culminated in the inescapable fact of an overwhelming Obama electoral college victory, one that even Fox News joined in calling before midnight.  That call produced an iconic moment in the much reported meltdown of Karl Rove, disputing Fox’s own statisticians call of Ohio for Obama and leading Fox News anchor Megan Kelly to challenged him, saying “is this Republican arithmetic that you do to make yourself feel better, or is this real?”

Hence, the most obvious explanation of the consistently wrong prediction by Republican pollsters boils down to: (1) results showing Obama winning would brand you as a liberal defector, and (2) “Republican arithmetic” can be used to produce the expected result.

Equally obvious, “Republican arithmetic” is one of the things that Republicans will need to give up if there is to be hope of regaining the role of a credible party.  Republicans have been using that kind of arithmetic in connection with issues such as global warming, evolution, and budget proposals.  As we said above, this is one piece of a widespread rejection of science and logic, as if the very country that they hope to lead wasn’t in fact made great by the logic and wisdom of its founders and the regular application of science from Ben Franklin to the present day.

To again be a party with a decent respect for science and fact-based reality, the Republican party will need to do another thing: divorce its unholy alliance with Rush Limbaugh and all the rest of the flaming right-wing talk show entertainers.  As I said in that previous piece, these people will go on making up their own facts, spinning conspiracies of foreign-born Presidents, and lamenting the destruction of “traditional America” as long as they have an audience.  That is their job, but it is not the job of elected office holders.   The Republicans must realize and accept that the “ditto-heads” and such are a small and shrinking audience, that you can’t win elections with just that audience, and that the rants of these people are a serious turn-off for an increasingly large majority of the voting population. Regardless of the source, Republicans should take President Obama’s wise observation, “It is always a good idea to ignore Donald Trump” and apply it to a few others as well.

We can hope that, in the long run, the Republicans will adopt a number of basic positions because they are the right thing and consistent with American ideals of personal and religious freedom: (1) accepting and welcoming people of all colors and ethnicities as full and deserving members of society; (2) accepting that freedom of religion means any religion or none, not just Christian, and includes not presuming to impose by law the tenants of one religion on all others with regard to matters like same-sex marriage; (3) taking seriously, with a healthy degree of study and questioning when needed, the general body of modern scientific knowledge, not rejecting it or equating it with religious beliefs.

In the short run, Republicans will need to move toward these positions in order to retain any chance of winning elections, and a few may be confronting that reality now.  Whether it will take hold remains to be seen.  The talk show rants won’t let up, and they’ll probably double down on their doom and gloom scenarios and conspiracy theories, such as massive election fraud as why Obama actually won. Many Republican politicians will find it too scary to put some distance between themselves and the narrow social agenda of the religious right, as well as the divisive rants of the talk shows.  The wiser ones will recognize that most ordinary Republican voters are not ideologically tied to Rush Limbaugh or the religious right, and even those who are won’t be voting for Democrats in any event.

The wiser ones will also realize that there are valid and important questions and issues that remain and are appropriate to be dealt with in the job of governing: the size of government, how to make social program work more effectively; how to balance the competing needs for government action, deficit reduction, tax reform, and economic growth; immigration; energy and environment; how to change voting practices, not to discourage minority and elderly voters, but rather to make fully enfranchised and accurate voting the norm; and so on.  These issues must be approached with the understanding that they are complex and require the use of real arithmetic, not Republican or Democrat arithmetic, real facts and statistics, real economic expertise, etc.   In other words, there will remain plenty of areas and issues where principled positions can differ, and Republicans must choose to spend their energy on those kind of issues, not on social/religious issues, and not on trying to tilt or rig the country so that an appeal to any narrow demographic again becomes a way to win elections.

Republicans also need to accept a bit more diversity within their own party and not consider any deviation from orthodoxy as akin to treason.  They need to accept that it is OK to be seen working with Democrats in office and coming up with solutions that may differ from the demands of the extremes of either party.  Governor Chris Christy demonstrated this in connection with the President’s visit to areas devastated by Hurricane Sandy.  Some Republicans have criticized him for this.  They, at least, have not yet learned that it is more important to do the right thing than to test every action and statement only for perceived partisan advantage.

Do Rush Limbaugh a favor

Yes, you heard me right – do Rush Limbaugh a favor.  And one for all the talking heads on Fox News too. (Or rather, Fox “News”).  You see, Rush and those of his ilk are entertainers, and their schtick is complaining and whining about Obama, the Democrats, liberals, women, minorities, immigrants, etc., etc.  They make a career playing “Ain’t it awful” (also known as “I’m mad as hell, and I won’t take it anymore”), and millions of people tune in to hear their act.  Remember, they are not providing actual information, and they make up whatever facts suit their current rant, but so what?  As entertainers, they shouldn’t be taken seriously or held accountable for, ah, plot lines that bear no relation to reality.

Now imagine what happens if Mitt Romney wins the election.  Immediately, and for the next four years, Rush and all the Fox flamers have lost their number one target!  And with a Republican in the White House, they won’t be able to complain much about anything the President is doing.  Without impassioned rants every day, listenership will drop, and some of them might even lose their jobs.  Believe me, they will be very unhappy.

So do Rush and Fox “News” a big favor – make sure President Obama gets reelected so that the flamers can continue to entertain with impassioned outrage for another four years.  Remember, you don’t have to actually listen. Thankfully.  And while the number may be small, by helping keep these guys employed, you’ll be helping our employment to improve over the next four years under President Obama, just as it has for the past 3.

I know I’ll be sleeping easier knowing that Rush still has a lot to rant about.

Mr. Etch-a-sketch

Among many other things, the debate a few days ago proved what many people, especially in Massachusetts where he was governor, have known for a long time: Mitt Romney stands for nothing.  He is all about what he thinks will sell in the moment.

Whatever he may have said in the past can become “forget about it”, or “I’ve changed my mind,” or even “I was wrong” at any moment.

Take his tax proposal – a keystone of his campaign and proof of his conservative beliefs.  When President Obama made the perfectly obvious case that it doesn’t add up without a significant increase in taxes on the middle class, Romney says “Oh, I wouldn’t sign anything that would increase taxes on the middle class.”

In other words, “forget about it.”  He shakes the box, wipes the screen clean, and says he’ll do something that will not hurt anybody, never mind exactly what. Just elect me and I’ll explain it all later.

Although it didn’t come up in the debate, in a TV interview the next day, he was asked what he would have said if challenged on his “47% percent” comments in the much-publicized video.  Despite the fact that he previously stood by his comment as no more than “not elegantly stated”, this time he said “I was completely wrong.” Wow!  Amazing!  Completely wrong! Shake the box, wipe the screen clean.  Forget about it.

Of course, he says nothing about exactly what in his previous remarks was wrong or how he would rephrase whatever he was trying to say.  Never mind.  Whatever I’ve said that you don’t like, just forget about it.  I didn’t mean it.

That statement is inoperative.

Anybody remember that term?  “Inoperative?”  It’s what the Nixon administration said about previous assertions it had made about Watergate, usually with great piety and righteousness, that had just been proved to be totally false.  “Inoperative.”  In other words, forget about it.  A “lie??”  Oh no, it wasn’t a lie.  Just a statement that we are now erasing.  Shake the box, clear the screen.

If you believe anything Mitt Romney has said about what he would actually do as President, I’d like talk to you.  I’ve got a nice bridge in Brooklyn I can let you have for a bargain.

Making elephants fly

Mitt Romey’s acceptance speech Thursday night was wondrous in all of the things he promised to do if he became President.  Create 12,000,000 jobs.  Give everyone massive tax cuts.  Strengthen defense and make America the guarantor of freedom (or at least US allegiance) all around the world.  Balance the budget. Preserve the ‘sanctity of life’, the ‘sanctity of marriage’, oh, and ‘religious freedom’ too, never mind that there are fundamental conflicts between what he means by those things.

If he thought it would help his chances, he would have promised to make elephants fly.  Why not. Of course, he would not explain how he would do that, just as he did not explain how he would do all those other things.

He spent a major part of his speech in simple, obvious flag waving.  As if that would somehow make us believe that he could do all the things he said.  After making the case for what a nice guy, wonderful father, and fine family man he was, he did at least concede that Barack Obama was all of those things too.  Yet despite that, Obama failed as President according to Romney.  OK, so scratch all that as a guarantee of success as President.  What else can you show me?

If Romney wanted to make the case that he would be successful in a government executive job, you would think he would mention his past success in a government executive job.  Particularly with regard to key issues like jobs and the economy, you might expect he would boast of his success as governor of Massachusetts – one of the larger economies among the 50 states.  Instead, he never mentioned a thing about that.  Oh, he didn’t forget.  The simple fact is that the economic performance of Massachusetts during his term was near the bottom of all 50 states for that period.

Yet there he stood, asking us all to accept without any rationale, that he would do all the things as President that he failed to do in Massachusetts. See my previous post for links to articles that quantify those facts.

Yes, if you believe that Mitt Romney can make elephants fly, then you should surely vote for him in November. If you doubt that, you should have similar doubts about all his other claims.

It’s Worse Than You Realize

In my last post, I mentioned that the state of Massachusetts was #49 in job creation during Mitt Romney’s term as governor.  One of our readers was kind enough to provide some links to published articles and statistics showing just how much worse.  Note that these were written over four years ago by Romney’s home-state newspaper, the Boston Globe, not some flamer who only jumped into the fray this year.

boston.com/romneys_economic_record/

boston.com/economic_performance

In short, Romney’s argument that his business experiences means he knows how to create jobs as a state or national government executive has already been proved wrong.  The same is true of most of the Republican economic argument – it has been proved wrong repeatedly from Herbert Hoover on, but they are oblivious to those facts.

“All You Need To Know”

Anne Romney, the wife of GOP hopeful Mitt Romney, on Thursday insisted that she and her husband would not be giving voters any more information about their tax returns because they had “given all you people need to know.”

Oh sure, it was the wife of the candidate, not the candidate, who made that statement, but how different is it really from so many of Mitt Romney’s statements.  Statements that reflect an imperial attitude so natural that they don’t even realize it.

“All you need to know.”

“Let them eat cake.”

What’s the difference.

Righteousness is the usual hallmark of a scoundrel.

Simple fact: If Romney didn’t have something to hide in his past tax returns (like that he was still on the Bain payroll several years after he claims otherwise) – if he didn’t have something to LOSE by releasing them, he would release them. Can anything be more obvious?

And speaking of “simple facts”, here are a few more:

Simple fact: In the past 150 years, the Presidents with the most “business experience” were the WORST for the economy and jobs. Namely, Hoover and GW Bush.

Simple fact: Under Romney, Massachusetts was #49 in the nation in job creation.

Simple fact: Running a nation is not like running a business.  You can’t just layoff or divest the “unprofitable” divisions.

Simple fact: Four years ago, the economy was in free-fall.  Now it is improving, although it’s still an uphill struggle. Romney’s proposals equal returning to the GW Bush era.  How much simpler can it be?

Playing “Ain’t It Awful”

It was a long time ago – the 1960s – when I read the book “Games People Play” by Eric Berne and heard about “Ain’t It Awful.”  This was one of the earlier pop psychology books that was both easy to read and, at the same time, illuminated many of the patterns that we all follow in our daily lives.  These patterns were called “games” because indeed, they seemed to be group activities defined by specific, if unwritten, rules, and serving some purpose, even if not consciously understood.

Many people clearly recognized themselves in these descriptions, and I was certainly one.  One game that was very recognizable and quite pervasive was called “Ain’t It Awful”.  The classic example of this is where a bunch of employees sit around the water cooler or having a beer after work, and bitch about how screwed up the company is, how all the managers are clueless, how so many co-workers (none of whom are present) are morons, lazy, or corrupt, and so on.  This game can go on indefinitely, generally until it is time to return to the cube or go home.

Although a “game”, this is not one with a goal, nor one where there is a finish with a winner and loser.  It is simply a ritual that serves the moment, and indeed, no one walks away feeling like the loser.  On the contrary, this game allows the participants to feel some level of bonding around their shared experience of misery and frustration.  It may even allow participants to express anger in a way not tolerated in the normal work environment and so serve some useful purpose of briefly relieving tension.

Ultimately, however, it accomplishes nothing and leads to no improvement in the situation which is the context for the complaining.  The marvelous poet, Mary Oliver, said, “Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine. Meanwhile the world goes on.”

It has been described it this way:  “People playing this game get to feel Right and Righteous, a step above those being ‘awfulized’.”  “There is the drama and attention that comes to the one who begins the game or who can ‘one-up’ the previous player.”

In short, it is a kind of drug that makes us feel better in the moment but does nothing to make our lives better in the long term.

Even worse, it has a long-term corrosive effect – where the addicts of the game come to believe that the scenario they spend their time discussing is the true reality and beyond possibility of redemption.

The media today has become dominated by “Ain’t It Awful.”  So has much of our political process and discourse, and it is irrelevant which came first.  They are feeding on each other, all for immediate gratification and with no attention on problem solving or working toward a resolution of the things about which they complain.

The media? It sells papers and gets viewers, listeners, and blog traffic. It pays the bills and keeps the lights on.  The right wing has made a full-blown career out of this for a decade or more, but the left is in the game too.  As with the original book, once the pattern is called to our attention, it is as clear as a 30-foot neon sign.  Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, etc. are simply playing “Ain’t It Awful” all day long, day after day, and serving up the drug of Right and Righteousness to their audience – all without any hint of responsibility on the part of the listener.  No.  All the world’s troubles are somebody elses fault.

Bad as that may be, the entire Republican party seems to have joined in the game.  The self-styled “Tea Party” crew that swept on the scene a few years ago actually has nothing more to offer than strident rants about how awful everything is.  It is particularly pointless to mention that their party was in control of the Congress and the Executive branch for most of the 8 years preceding their epiphany that the country was on the short road to ruin.  Discussion with these people, from their presumptive nominee down, is only possible if you embrace the complete awfulness of the entire government and most of the changes (formerly called ‘progress’) in this country over the past 200 years.

So lest I be merely another player in a different cell of the “Ain’t It Awful” game, I will suggest that we start immediately focusing attention on those persons and those activities that are not mired in “Ain’t It Awful.”  Give support in whatever way possible – time, money, even just casual conversation – to the ways that our complex life and society can be managed and evolved for the better, and to the people who show an ability and commitment to that approach. Do not waste time on people who are trapped in “Ain’t It Awful” and who don’t even realize it.

One of the classic recommendations to people who have come to realize that they have been drawn in to these “Ain’t It Awful” games is simply to stop playing.  Refuse to play.  Just say, “this does not serve me or the larger world” and walk away. Walk away and find something positive to do. This is not a new idea.  As a very old saying put it, “Better to light one small candle than to curse the darkness.”