Choose your delusion

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

In a word or four, the planet has gone 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?

Trust me, full-blown manic-depression is no joke, even though I shall attempt to make light of it here. If you have been experiencing any of the above symptoms for longer than two weeks, see a mental-health professional immediately. In fact, that may be exactly what our extremely dysfunctional planet needs. If the world is indeed what we make of it, perhaps the same remedies that work for individuals can help heal the whole. However, keep in mind that despite the miracles of modern medicine, bipolar disorder remains difficult to treat, primarily because the patient isn’t aware of the illness.

With that said, now 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 January 1. In retaliation, the United States dropped 40,000 pounds of bombs on suspected Al Qaeda hideouts in the Baghdad suburbs on January 10. According to the respected British medical journal Lancet, upwards of 1 million innocent Iraqi men, women and children have been killed since the United States invaded the country in March 2005.

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. They’re only as good as the world allows them to be. I’ll show you. When the chips are down, these … these civilized people, they’ll eat each other. See, I’m not a monster. I’m just ahead of the curve.”

For those who haven’t seen the film, it should be pointed out the Joker is criminally insane. For Ledger, the role, for which many predict a posthumous Academy Award, 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 January 22.

Heath Ledger as the Joker in <i>The Dark Knight</i>. Criminally insane or just ahead of the curve? In 2008, it was hard to tell.

Courtesy Of warner bros

Granted, those are among the finest synthetic compounds in the pharmacopeia—just ask Rush Limbaugh. Each has proven effective when the prescribing physician’s directions are followed, and in both Limbaugh and Ledger’s case, even when they’re not. But it’s a bit early in the examination for final solutions. It’s best to exhaust other, less permanent remedies first.

Option 1: Laughter is often the best medicine, and nothing tickles the old funny bone like a good prank, such as outsourcing McClatchy Co. CEO Gary Pruitt’s job to India.

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
No one was more surprised than us by the avalanche of résumés we received after outsourcing Gary Pruitt’s job to India. Each applicant was not only qualified, not only offering to work for considerably less than Pruitt’s $1 million annual salary, but willing to forgo all monetary compensation entirely. “Will CEO for food,” as one of them put it. Gazing rearward through the lens of McClatchy’s plummeting price per share, it’s a wonder The Sacramento Bee’s parent company didn’t pursue the idea.

In their defense, those were heady times, back in February, when McClatchy’s stock price was still flirting with $10 per share, instead of today’s $2 per share. To be sure, the suicide bombing 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! Sens. 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 back the White House in November.

The two were neck and neck coming into Super Tuesday on February 5, and Californians flocked to the state’s primary election in droves. 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—Clinton won the state’s primary—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
No sooner had the warm winds of hope and change blown through the state than the chilly air of economic recession returned. The city of Sacramento cut its workforce by 10 percent, unemployment reached its highest level in 11 years and McClatchy’s bond rating was relegated to junk status. How bad was it? Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger hinted he might consider tax increases to balance the state’s ballooning-out-of-control budget deficit. For a Republican, it doesn’t get any worse than that.

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.

No one in their right mind wants any piece of this kind of action, but nevertheless, Kevin Johnson, the former NBA star who was born and raised in Sacramento, announced his candidacy for mayor in March, instantly making him and two-term Mayor Heather Fargo the front-runners in the upcoming June primary. For the first time in years, city politics became interesting again, virtually overnight.

It was not to last. In keeping with the long-held American political tradition of not discussing meaningful issues during campaigns, the Fargo-Johnson face-off would devolve into a farcical debate over who was tougher on crime and who had allegedly fondled the most underage girls. In a similar fashion, mainstream media knocked 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 that state’s attorney general, he earned a stellar reputation fighting white-collar crime on Wall Street. But as governor, he got caught with his pants down (and regrettably, his socks still on), 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, from the groceries at Safeway to The Sacramento Bee delivered daily to your doorstep. Yet at the same time, thanks to economic contagion spread by the collapsing housing bubble, the stock market continued to crater. By April, Sacramentans had lost an estimated $2 billion in home equity; nationwide, that estimate exceeded $1 trillion. That’s $1,000,000,000,000.

Economists call this stagflation, and naturally, panic ensued. Investors pulled their money out of equities and funneled it into the commodities market, further driving up the price of petroleum. Alternative energy was on everyone’s lips; the price of corn, which farmers are increasingly dedicating to the production of the gasoline substitute ethanol, shot up dramatically, dragging wheat and rice prices along with it, causing food riots across the globe. With great fanfare, SMUD unveiled its solar-powered hydrogen fueling station in Sacramento, supposedly a vital first step on the road to the so-called hydrogen highway.

Unfortunately, the bipolar tendency to wishful thinking on a delusional level 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 as of this writing, evidenced by gasoline prices dipping under $2 per gallon.

Even more misguided was the notion that hydrogen- or grain-based fuels would somehow supplant petroleum as our chief energy supply. To put it bluntly, hydrogen will never become a major fuel source because it’s too expensive to produce without some sort of unforeseen technological breakthrough. Grains won’t work because there’s not enough arable land on the planet to both feed and fuel us.

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.

Mmm, mmm, good! Ed Bennett and husband Todd Vlaanderen, just one of 18,000 couples who’ve wed since the state Supreme Court ruled against the ban on gay marriage last May.

Photo By Jeremy Sykes

May: We had a gay old time
Gay marriage is not about sex, it’s about civil rights, which according to the state’s constitution, we’re all 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. I don’t understand conservatives who believe the government’s place is in the bedroom. Religious zealots give me the creeps. But 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! Cheer up, homophobes. All is not lost. There’s still a chance for you to rejoin the civilized world.

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 also predicted, Kevin Johnson and Mayor Heather Fargo were the top two vote getters in the city’s June primary. As the political battle for the future of both the nation and the city heated up, the contradictory behavior of the present continued at full pace.

Consider the actions of Gov. Schwarzenegger. In June, he declared the state was in drought, while at the same time he continued pushing for a controversial peripheral canal to siphon off even more water from the Sacramento Delta to his developer and agribusiness cronies in Southern California. And this was after a federal court ordered the Bureau of Reclamation to shut down its pumping station in Tracy because the operation is endangering the Delta smelt.

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
In a July cover story, SN&R senior staff writer Cosmo Garvin asked Sacramentans the burning question, “What will it take to get you out of your car?” 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 ban on offshore drilling enacted by his father 12 years before. Crazy like Gov. Schwarzenegger, the alleged environmentalist who gutted state public-transportation funding in his first round of budget cuts. 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 a light rail whizzed by, it seemed like the cars were packed with more and more people. One wonders what might have happened if Sacramento 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.

President-elect Barack Obama gave a big thumbs up to Wall Street’s banksters by supporting a $750 billion taxpayer-funded bailout for failing banks and investment houses. Will he next abandon his base, the progressive Democrats who got him elected? Tune in next year.

Courtesy Of Obama-Biden Campaign

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.

People wearing anti-gravity devices flying around in the air playing giant drums upside down. Thousands of acrobats in glow-in-the-dark garb tumbling in unison, willing to endure radium poisoning for their country. Technological lighting and wizardry unlike anything the world has ever seen. Stunning 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. The only senator with more anger-control issues than Biden is McNasty himself, John McCain, a certified raving lunatic from the moment he shlepped snapping and clawing from the womb. What in blazes did they fill Biden’s head with when they sawed the top of his skull off 20 years ago? Strychnine and sawdust?

Thus went the summer of progressive discontent. 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.

As bad as that was, worse was yet to come in late August, when McCain chose a no-name neo-Nazi from Alaska as his running mate. Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.

Option 1: Become your own lone gunman.

Option 2: See Heath Ledger (January).

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 Vice President Dick Cheney, has shown more disdain for the American people than John McCain and the Republican National Committee, 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. The mainstream media’s obsession with the moose-eating mental midget had many of them convinced Palin was a genuine threat. Most of them white-knuckled their way to November, but really, it wasn’t necessary. Being bipolar means there’s always more than one solution.

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. If you’ve never been clinically depressed, let me tell you a little something about it. Imagine waking up every morning for months without the will to get out of bed, even though you must, to pay the bills. Imagine people telling you to smile when all you really want to do is tear their goddamned heads off. Imagine feeling so down, no combination of booze and pills can bail you out of it.

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.

No local company on the big board was harder hit than McClatchy, which has lost 99 percent of its share price in the past two years. Employees and assets have been thrown over the side to keep the newspaper company afloat, and yet it continues to sink. In October, one Wall Street ratings agency questioned if McClatchy’s stock was worth anything at all. As in zero.

Moreover, as jobs continued to hemorrhage in Sacramento and 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 were Mormons, and they’re not exactly Christians, are they? 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. Now, for a normal person, a wash feels like a good deal. We get Obama, the cretins get their gay-marriage ban, even-Steven. 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 both for Sarah Palin and Prop. 8 from ever voting again.

This is not the Baydan Shoe Company’s Model 271, which the Iraqi shoe thrower hurled at President George W. Bush. However, any black brogue with thick soles will do.


December: If the shoe hits
Last week, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson personally ordered me to have a positive attitude for the rest of my life, instructions I attend 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 state and city 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 to the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors for approving the use of the state’s medical-marijuana ID card. It just might come in handy in the coming months.

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

But more than anything, I want to thank Muntader 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.