Choose your illusion

Hope and change. Hate and war. Out-of-control spending and sexual obsession. Any way you diagnose it, 2008 was a bipolar year.

Photo Illustration by David Jayne

I’m not a psychiatrist, but I suffer from a variety of mental illnesses. Thanks to the miracle of modern medicine, top-notch therapists and ancient Chinese secrets, today I somewhat resemble a functioning human being. I say this not to demean myself, but merely to establish my expertise in such matters. I know crazy when I see it, and quite clearly, the world in 2008 was completely off its rocker—utterly, uncontrollably, irrevocably bipolar.

Classic bipolar disorder, also known to Jimi Hendrix as manic-depression, is characterized by violent mood swings, from euphoria to despair, from delusions of grandeur to suicidal depression, from being unrealistically hopeful about the future to being crushed by a sense of impending doom.

Sound familiar? It’s time to meet our patient, the topsy-turvy year of 2008.

January: Suicide is not an option
The new year started off with a bang when a suicide bomber killed 30 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad on Jan. 1. In retaliation, the United States dropped 40,000 pounds of bombs on suspected Al Qaeda hideouts in the Baghdad suburbs on Jan. 10.

Violent, anti-social behavior can be the result if bipolar disease goes untreated and the fragile web of lies and fabrications supporting the patient’s concept of reality collapses. No one described it better than the Joker, played by the late Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight, 2008’s top film at the box office.

“The only sensible way to live in this world is without rules,” the Joker insists. “You see, their morals, their code, it’s a bad joke. Dropped at the first sign of trouble.”

The Joker is criminally insane. For Ledger, the role perhaps came a bit too close to the truth. Plagued by insomnia and depression after filming completed in 2007, he succumbed to what authorities determined was an “accidental overdose” of oxycodone, hydrocodone, diazepam, temazepam, alprazolam and doxylamine on Jan. 22.

Option 1. Laughter is often the best medicine.

Option 2. Hang on by your fingernails waiting for that $600 federal income-tax rebate check to come in the mail.

February: Primarily, that’s all that happened
The suicide bombings continued wherever the U.S. military made its presence felt, in Iraq as well as Afghanistan, Pakistan and Israel. The economy continued to falter, posting its first net loss of jobs in two years. But no matter, for the rebate tax checks were in the mail, and hope and change were in the air! Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, a white woman and a black man, were running away with the Democratic presidential primaries, and both candidates had a viable shot at winning the White House in November.

The two were neck and neck coming into Super Tuesday on Feb. 5. Who would prevail, Obama with his platitudinous message of hope and change, or Clinton, with her first-class political pedigree, phenomenal sense of entitlement and all of Bubba’s baggage? The outcome isn’t what’s important here. What’s telling is the vast number of people who actually believed voting for such status-quo candidates would somehow alter the status quo. Wishful thinking can be a symptom of many mental illnesses, including bipolar disorder.

Option 1: Vote for Ralph Nader, and pray that doesn’t make a difference, either.

Option 2: Register Republican (if you haven’t already) and vote for Ron Paul.

March: In like a rabbit, out like a scalded dog
Spending vast sums of money you don’t have is a classic symptom of bipolar disorder’s manic phase. It also happens to be the engine that’s driven the U.S. economy for at least the past 30 years. In both cases, the end result is the same: Credit evaporates and depression sinks in, and unless you’re the CEO of an investment bank and personal friends with Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, there’ll be no bailout in sight.

In keeping with the long-held American political tradition of not discussing meaningful issues during campaigns, the mainstream media knocked Barack Obama off his hope-and-change pedestal by forcing him to denounce his longtime pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, for remarks Wright made in church when Obama wasn’t even present.

It always comes down to sex and religion, doesn’t it? Just ask former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer. As governor, he got caught with his pants down, shagging high-class call girls instead of his wife. No one batted an eye when Spitzer resigned from his one-step-away-from-the-presidency gig on March 10.

It didn’t have to end that way. Sexual promiscuity, like out-of-control spending, is one of the most common symptoms of bipolar disorder. Treatment options were available.

Option 1: Get a Viagra prescription and a high-speed Internet connection.

Option 2: Cut your genitals off (not to be attempted without medical supervision).

April: Yet more fuelish behavior
One of the more fascinating—and frightening—aspects of bipolar disease is the phenomenon of “cycling.” Generally, the manic side of the disease can go on for months before a patient crashes into depression. In cycling, the patient oscillates between mania and depression with increasing frequency, flipping back and forth in as little as a few minutes. In other words, cycling exactly mirrors the state of the U.S. economy heading into April.

Think about it this way. In April, gasoline prices were pushing $4 per gallon, inflating the price of all goods and services that require fossil-fueled transportation to bring them to market. Yet at the same time, thanks to economic contagion spread by the collapsing housing bubble, the stock market continued to crater. By April, the nation had lost more than $1 trillion in home equity. That’s $1,000,000,000,000.

Unfortunately, the bipolar tendency toward delusional thinking was in full swing. By shifting to commodities, long-term investors, eager to maintain the double-digit returns they’d enjoyed in the booming stock market, had simply inflated another asset bubble, one that has already popped, evidenced by gasoline prices dipping under $2 per gallon.

Not that the situation was hopeless. A cycling bipolar patient can be stabilized if the correct steps are taken.

Option 1: Buy a Prius, a bicycle or a bus pass.

Option 2: Go on a diet.

May: We had a gay old time
Gay marriage is not about sex, it’s about civil rights, which according to California’s constitution, everyone is supposed to have. To their credit, a majority of the members of the California State Supreme Court understood that, which is why the court overturned the state’s ban against same-sex marriages on May 15.

Listen, I don’t know what the three justices who voted to keep the ban in place were thinking, but it wasn’t about the law. Rather than go off on my own rant, I’ll let YouTube sensation Mike Caracciolo, the Kid From Brooklyn, speak to the issue.

Says the Kid: “Look, I want you to know right now, I got nothing against gay marriage. I don’t give a fuck who shtups who. As far as I’m concerned, let ’em get married. Let ’em all get married and suffer like the rest of us. That’s right. Let ’em suffer. Let ’em go through the divorce and alimony. You know they’re gonna adopt children, so let ’em go through the child support. Why should they get off so fucking easy?”

Now that’s what I call equal rights!

Option 1. Rent a copy of Bend Over Boyfriend.

Option 2. Weld your sphincter shut.

June: Half-full or half-empty?
As predicted for months, Barack Obama secured the Democratic Party nomination, in spite of Hillary Clinton’s desperate caterwauling. As the political battle for the future of the nation heated up, the contradictory behavior of the present continued at full pace.

In Iraq, an explosive-laden short bus killed 60 people in a crowded market in Baghdad’s Shiite district. Yet, fewer U.S. troops were killed than in any month since the war started, causing the Bush administration and Congress to deem the so-called surge a success. True enough, if we include in the surge the millions of dollars ladled out to Sunni militants in exchange for their agreement to cease hostilities against U.S. troops and Iraq’s Shiite majority. Apparently, at least one Sunni suicide bomber didn’t get his check.

Still, hope and change were on the way. Optimism is not necessarily a symptom of bipolar disorder. Sometimes, it’s all you’ve got. Hang onto it, and maybe you can make it through the summer.

Option 1: Take a “staycation.”

Option 2: Max out your credit cards and pull a “geographic.”

July: Crazy is as crazy does
What will it take to get us out of our cars? The luxury of owning an automobile—perceived as a constitutional right in the United States—is analogous to the bipolar patient’s delusions of grandeur. What sort of person thinks it’s OK to burn up all the planet’s fossil fuel resources even as they’re exacerbating air pollution and global warming with automobile exhaust?

I’ll tell you: a crazy person.

Crazy like President George W. Bush, who in July rescinded the executive order that bans offshore drilling—an order his father enacted 18 years before. Crazy like the United States of America, that’s killed more than 1 million innocent Iraqi civilians to slake our thirst for Middle East oil.

So what is it going to take to get us out of our cars? By July, we were already seeing one answer: Gasoline prices spiked above $4 per gallon, and every time an RTCRide bus whizzed by, it seemed packed with more and more people. One wonders what might have happened if Reno and Sparks had a truly first-rate public-transportation system, but that, of course, is wishful thinking. Direct action is what’s required in this case.

Option 1: How many times do you have to be told to ride the bus, damn it?!

Option 2: Torch the local Hummer dealership so the troops can come home.

August: China rocks, Obama balks
If the opening ceremonies for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing didn’t scare the crap out of you, well, obviously, you haven’t been reading Time and Newsweek, which for the past several years have cast the Chinese as the Next Big Threat to America. Anyone seeking to discover the difference between capitalism and communism need only review the past seven Super Bowl halftime shows and compare them to the opener in Beijing. There’s no way Janet Jackson’s nipple can hold a candle to the Chinese.

Stunning pageantry and choreography rivaling the best the West has to offer, set to a steady beat hammering out a single, ominous message: We’re coming, we’re coming, we’re coming.

Maybe that’s why Obama loaded for bear by choosing Sen. Joe Biden as his running mate. If you’re going to take on the Chinese—not to mention holding your ground in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as screwing with the Russians—you’re going to need a mean bastard in the No. 2 slot.

Obama won the nomination, but only after months of steadily moving toward the center-right, threatening to invade northern Pakistan to find Osama bin Laden, telling the American Israel Public Affairs Committee he’d nuke Iran if necessary, abandoning the very anti-war views that brought him to prominence in the first place.

Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.

Option 1: Become your own lone gunman.

Option 2: See Heath Ledger, September.

September: Palin in comparison
Let’s make one thing perfectly clear: Sen. John McCain’s selection of Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska as his vice-presidential running mate was not only the low point of the year, it was the lowest point in the history of democracy, and I’m going all the way back to ancient Greece on this one. No American politician, not even Dick Cheney, has shown more disdain for the American people than John McCain and the Republican National Convention, who, in the face of two intractable wars and a collapsing global economy, selected the absolute stupidest person on the planet to be one heartbeat away from the red button.

Here’s why you should be pissed off if you’re a Republican: Your party could have easily pulled this one out. You want those Hillary voters? Choose Sen. Joe Lieberman as your vice president, not some half-baked Alaskan. Then all you would’ve had to do was stand firm on your conservative principles, vote against forking over taxpayer-funded billion-dollar bailouts to Wall Street’s banksters, and presto! President John McCain. But we’ll never know, because your party is so blinded by its own hubris it has moved beyond manic-depression, becoming a sort of nationwide anti-social personality for which there is no known treatment.

For all intents and purposes, the 2008 presidential election ended with Palin’s selection. Not that paranoid Democrats realized it.

Option 1: Turn off the TV.

Option 2: Medical marijuana.

October: Here comes your terrible future
Depression is my particular area of expertise when it comes to bipolar disorder. This probably explains why my friends call me a catastrophist when it comes to economic issues. I never look at the upside; it’s the downside that interests me. Like Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, I’m a student of the Great Depression. Unlike Bernanke, former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan and virtually every mainstream economist in America, I’ve never fallen for Milton Friedman’s free-market flimflam. I’ve watched these deregulatory dodos dismantle society’s safety net for years, and in October 2008, it all predictably came crashing down.

From its all-time high of 14,093 in October 2007, the Dow Jones average fell 43 percent, at one point dipping below 8,000. The loss represented trillions of dollars in paper value, as the highly leveraged Ponzi scheme built by Greenspan’s artificially low interest rates, predatory lenders and unscrupulous financiers caved in like an Appalachian coal mine.

As jobs continued to hemorrhage across the nation, even some of the most ardent free-market disciples grudgingly admitted the economy was in recession. Combine a stock-market crash with a deep recession, and what do you get? That’s right. A second Great Depression. It’s time to get serious about out treatment protocol.

Option 1: 10 mg. Lexapro, to boost seratonin levels; 100 mg. Lamictal, to stabilize mood.

Option 2: Give a $750 billion bailout to your Wall Street cronies.

November: The best of times, the worst of times
Obama won! Huzzah! But what is it with these religious bastards and the gays? From what barrel bottom were the goons who supported Proposition 8 scraped? The Kid From Brooklyn has a few more words of wisdom to impart:

“Leave it alone, people. It don’t concern you. People say, ‘Well, it just doesn’t fit the definition of marriage as I understand it.’ Well, fuck you. Who gave you the power to tell other people what the fuck to do?”

God, apparently. It makes me ashamed to say I’m a Christian, but then again, it seems a heavy percentage of the folks who led the campaign to ban gay marriage in the state of California were Mormons. Not that they weren’t joined by a large number of Leviticus freaks. Hear me, O children of the Nazarene: Leviticus is in the Old Testament. We don’t follow that anymore. That’s why we called our book the New Testament, so even the most brain-damaged among us can tell the difference.

So it goes with treating bipolar disorder. Obama gives you a little boost, the zealots bring you back down, the whole thing ends up feeling like a wash. Medication works wonders, but unfortunately, levelheadedness is not in the DNA of the average manic-depressive, and it can feel alien at first. Needless to say, this is a crucial stage in the treatment process.

Option 1: Up the dosage.

Option 2: Ban anyone who voted for both Sarah Palin and Prop. 8 from ever voting again.

December: If the shoe hits
Last week, I was ordered to have a positive attitude for the rest of my life, instructions I intend to follow to the best of my abilities, at least for the remainder of this year.

So I’m not going to depress you any further by naming all the entertainment venues, restaurants and other businesses that have gone under this year. Let’s leave the laid-off workers for another day. I’m weary of the growing number of homeless zombies wandering our streets. It’ll all be sugar and spice from here on out.

With that in mind, bong hits all around. It just might come in handy in the coming months.

Kudos, readers and advertisers of RN&R. Without you, we are nothing, and we really, really, really mean that, now more than ever, even if we write negative stories about you every now and then.

But more than anything, I want to thank Muntadar al-Zaidi, the Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at George W. Bush during the president’s final Baghdad press conference, the first person on the planet to stand up and give Dubya exactly what he’s had coming for eight years. Our work here is done, but I can’t think of a better way to ring in the new year than taking off your shoes and chucking them in the general direction of Washington, D.C.