pseudopodium
. . . These United States

. . .

This past week, Tom Parmenter's far-too-sporadic emailzine Desperado issued an appropriate response to the "respect the US flag" constitutional amendment that's being cheered on through our do-nothing-and-proud-of-it Congress. One might think that our politicians' patriotism would be better expressed by eliminating tax shelters and offshore labor. But no, the greenback remains the most furiously guarded symbol of their country.

My reaction to flag-hagiographers is even more unmixed than Tom's, possibly because pretty much the only use I've seen the flag get put to is as a quick hiding place. I'm so glad I'm living in the USA because of the Bill of Rights, the unusually (if still insufficiently) permeable class system, and the achievements they've made possible. Forcing children to take daily oaths of allegiance to a piece of cloth doesn't seem so useful; it's also hard to see what benefits can be derived by the flag-hags' getting their red-white-and-blue panties in a twist over furriners' bonfires. The most pleasant association the flag has for me is as verifier of post office or embassy.

A couple of months ago, I read James Branch Cabell's These Restless Heads, which spends quite a few pages observing the USA flag at eye level from a high-placed summer cottage:

I note that those seven red stripes and those six white stripes are so alternated as to suggest the uniform of a convict.... That blue canton I know to contain some and forty stars; but for seven whole years I have tried without success to count them.... It may well reek with irreligion, in that it boldly attempts to improve upon the celestial plan by arranging its own stars in six parallel rows.... I recollect, in the nick of time, that those some and forty white pentangles were borrowed from the Washington coat-of-arms, in which they did not represent stars but the rowels of spurs.....

The patriot everywhere, it may be observed, remains always exceedingly careful lest his country's banner become besmirched by any touch of that bloody sponge which is his brain....

For any of antiquity's heroic standards a liquescent barber's pole seems a poor substitute.... Red-and-white-striped peppermint candy is a spectacle which, in itself, connotes rather less of high-mindedness than of an over-cloying and sticky saccharinity; and I imagine that in this aspect it may rhetorically mislead a great many patriotic orators. I wish, in fine, that both the flag and I were somewhat different looking.

. . .

The Just War: Good news from the Penzeys Spices Harvest 1999 Catalog of Seasonings:

The quick resolution of the conflict in Kosovo seems to have averted the anticipated sage shortage.
Not since Ronald Reagan sent troops to protect our nation's vital supply of grenadine have I been so proud of a culinary police action.

. . .

Wendy Beck says, and how right she is, "Here's something that'll cheer you right up":

Miss Kentucky, Heather Renee French
Miss America 2000

After Competition Quotes:

What are your first thoughts?
"I think that this is a victory for our veterans and my immediate goal is to work on funding for those that are homeless."

What inspired your platform?
"When you see a man cry and then feel his trust as he tells you his story keeps you inspired, believe me."

Wendy suggests we give French a big hand, but I'd rather have her feel my trust. Hot-cha-cha-cha!

. . .

These United States

Chapt. 1 - Once upon a time at midnight a spirited American patriot, Paul Revere, mounted his horse, and rode through the streets of Lexington shouting, "Wake up, wake up and listen to the sensational recording of I Don't Want to Set the World on Fire by the 4 Ink Spots"

. . .

Home These United States: I spent a very special Thanksgiving in a new housing-under-development outside Phoenix, Arizona, a glassfull of suburbia dribbled over the desert so thinly it seems like it should evaporate too quick to even attract bugs.

But it turns out that's not true at all! Cockroaches and scorpions and Porta-Potty-tipping adolescents all had gathered there! In fact, it's likely to display all the spunky life-force of a candy wrapper or plastic Coke bottle.

. . .

These United States:

WHAT DO WE WANT? TEAR GAS!
WHEN DO WE WANT IT? NOW!

. . .

Things that scare me:I know that George Bishop is trying to reassure me but still, check out the odds that highway drivers on all sides of you believe they're going to heaven.

The only thing that saves us from holy civil war is that the American God is a Personal God, complete with "God Is My Friend" bumper stickers and 900 numbers, a God who cares about your personal bank account and your personal football team and not about anyone else's. It's easier for a Protestant to form a new church than to argue. That's why there's no Protestant Aquinas. And in America every household has its own monogrammed household god who's not even all that interested in the ancestors -- otherwise, why would it have let them get Alzheimers?

Just in case things get hot, though, it's nice that Bishop told us the defusing trick: Elvis sung "I believe for every drop of rain that falls, a flower grows" with full fervor, but if you'd asked, "Mr. Presley, are you sure that it's true that there's a one-to-one correspondence between the number of flowers and the number of individual raindrops?" he might have waffled.

. . .

If I asked you what would happen to a law clerk who publicly exposed the padded expense accounts of his legal firm, you'd probably be able to come up with most of this on your own. But a news story doesn't have to be surprising to be entertaining, and news stories from Alabama continue to be our best entertainment value. (via Overlawyered)

. . .

"Pimp president" ==> "Tipper impends" (election prediction via AnagramFun and Boondooks)

. . .

Everything I need to know about American politics I learned from Henry Adams.

His History of the United States of America during the Administrations of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison diagrams the first of our country's Jimmy-Carter-to-Ronald-Reagan drunken staggers with "How Things Don't Work" clarity. His novels, Education, and letters provide a lifetime's course on the place of the intellectual in American government (somewhere behind the croquet mallets in the back of the garage).

And so, in big election years, I turn to Henry Adams for guidance:

"Everything here creaks and groans like a heavy old Dutch man-of-war in bad weather. Congress is floundering over necessary business and inventing all kinds of excuses for steering nowhere. The single great and controlling political fact is our national prosperity which is stupendous, and covers all waste of force....

I have noticed a general law that our entire political system breaks down in the winter before a general election. The moment a course is adopted, the terrors begin and the votes fall off. The politicians are fleas; they jump just because they are made that way....

The Democrats are clutching frantically for an issue. The Republicans are crawling on all fours for votes. [For Year 2000 conditions, reverse the parties.] The Germans rule the Republicans; the Irish rule the Democrats; and money is the ruler of us all. I see no public measure to care about. There is no real difference of opinion. But they have to talk."

-- Henry Adams, letters from February and March 1900

. . .

Movie comment: Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr.

Though Errol Morris has a nose for good stories, the smooth 1000-Strings-stylings of his bigger-budgeted recent movies haven't helped 'em along. They're constantly being interrupted by ads for themselves.

Through the first half of Mr. Death, I thought the perfect match for Morris's weirdly inflationary-but-insulting mannerisms had finally been found in Fred Leuchter. A completely transparent guy with jaw-droppingly clueless aplomb who loves to pose and play-act, Leuchter is a character worthy of a Kurt Vonnegut novel at least, maybe even a Nathanael West novel. The camera loves him like the ax loves the turkey.

From the Shoah-like trains that carted condemned men to the prison where Leuchter's father worked, all through Leuchter's own long and geekily proud career in improving the efficiency of death machines, I was thinking, yes, this is the best American movie ever made about the Holocaust, the only possible American movie about the Holocaust: one which shows how such an operation might find willing just-do-it workers among us regular narrow-minded free-thinking down-home never-admit-a-mistake American folks.

Well, it was the best American movie about the Holocaust till it got to the Holocaust-denial material, anyway. 'Cause then Morris started flailing, dragging in a chorus of disapproval and filming them like a VH-1 production of a PBS pledge drive. I guess he was afraid that he hadn't done a good enough job of letting Leuchter and Co. undercut themselves. Unfortunately, in a movie so focused on smug pomposity, hellfire sermons to the choir aren't likely to sway the unbeliever's sympathy.

Enjoy the Show Not that I'm against attacks on neo-Nazis. But Morris's style is kinder to bare fact than to strong opinion, which is why his most effective hostile witness is the chemist who unknowingly analyzed Leuchter's wall samples -- a genuinely scientific counterweight to Leuchter's amateurish investigator -- and why I wish he could've included the forensic analyses made in 1945 and the surefire laugh-getter that the building we saw Leuchter scraping so many of those wall samples from wasn't an original gas chamber at all but a reconstruction built after WWII. Instead we got a debate between one guy with an accent saying "This is an outrage!" and another guy with an accent saying "This is an outrage!"

A pity about the fumble, then (as David Irving might say about the Russian Campaign), but there's still a great story rolling under the interruptions. Leuchter continues to astound, and so do his new friends, most irresistably that Canucknut Mephistopheles, Ernst Zündel, who seems to remind just everyone of The Producers' Franz Liebkind....

. . .

Continuing his series of commentaries on Election Year '00, here's Henry Adams with some thoughts about the Microsoft antitrust trial:

"The merits or demerits of the particular interest, -- what Roosevelt calls the good and bad trusts, -- concern particular districts or individuals; but this personal question surrenders the principle; nor can I see, as our society has now fixed itself, any loop-hole of escape. The suggestion that these great corporate organisms, which now perform all the vital functions of our social life, should behave themselves decently, gives away our contention that they have no right to exist. Nor am I prepared to admit that more decency can be attained through a legislature made up of similar people exercising similar illegal powers.

"As long as these people subject me, as person and property, to the arbitrary brutalities of the Custom House Jews in order to make money for private individuals in business, I shall be perfectly willing -- nay! I shall be singularly pleased,-- to see you Spokaners skinned by Jim Hill. None of you dare touch the essential facts. The whole fabric of our society will go to wreck if we really lay hands of reform on our rotten institutions. From top to bottom the whole system is a fraud,-- all of us know it, laborers and capitalists alike,-- and all of us are consenting parties to it.

"All we can hope to do is to teach men manners in wielding power, and I'll bet you ten to one, on the Day of Judgment, that we shall fail."

-- Henry Adams to his brother, September 1900

(Like most turn-of-the-last-century well-to-do non-Jewish Anglo-American intellectuals, Adams uses "Jew" as the catch-all term for anything that he doesn't like about big business, small business, middle European immigrants, bad taste, or urban life. I've never seen him use it to refer to religious practice.)

. . .

These United States

Late last night, I went to a by-invitation-only barbecue presided over by President Clinton. Looking trimly professional in his apron and chef's hat, the President disarmed me by handing over a large envelope containing the proof sheets of a new book by Alice Jardine and then graciously offered to introduce me to a guest with shared interests. On the back of the menu was a collection of invitation requests that had been sent by email to the White House, along with the President's responses. I only remember this bit of geek humor:

Dear Mr. President:

I'm actually a long zero!

Sincerely,
0

Dear 0,

I guess I'll have to take your word on that!

Best wishes,
BillL

. . .

Imagine what Larry Clark could've done with A.I....

"His love is real. But he is legal."

Speaking of which, don't miss this must-read TV! (via Daze Reader)

Confidence workers often claim that greed is the best lever for parting human beings from all pretense to rational thought. But it's pretty clear that the intelligence-lowering choice of professionals has always been self-righteousness: people will believe anything if it gives them the opportunity to feel outraged.

The most recent news I've encountered along those lines is the Bush underling who insisted that the promotional glass at right be removed from all Warners Brothers stores because the "Henery" character is "a self-described 'chicken hawk'... [made into an] unthreatening cartoon"! Your tax dollars at work, folks.

Predators are not 'cute'

. . .

Q: How do you separate church and state in the Bush administration?

A couple of reminders that when you combine the inevitable corruptions of faith-based charities with the inevitable corruptions of government support, things get very ugly very quickly:

Orphanages were a Quebec growth industry in the 1940s and '50s. Families were large, money was tight and birth control was banned. There were fewer adoptive families willing to care for children born out of wedlock, or into poverty....

A: With a crowbar.

. . .

I sent this letter before I read about the increasing use of the DMCA as a convenient way to suppress web sites (link via BookNotes) without the bother of legal justification: a particularly clear example of the DMCA stripping rights away from US citizens and draping them around well-padded corporate shoulders.

Dear Senator Feinstein:

In recent news coverage of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, I read the following quote from "Howard Gantman, a spokesman for Feinstein": "We need to protect copyrights and this law was designed to do that."

I find this attitude deeply troubling. Copyright was already well-established law, and laws are meant to be enforced, not protected. Human beings need to be defended and protected; laws do not, except in so far as legislators may try to defend a particular law against other legislators in debate.

If there's one common theme to the Bill of Rights, it's the need to protect American citizens from such "preventative" legislation. There's no doubt that police officers and public prosecutors would sometimes more easily enforce the law if those amendments, and other troublesome parts of the Constitution, could be conveniently dropped. But if those provisions did not exist, much too much added power would be gained by the wealthy and politically powerful at the expense of the relatively powerless. Our Constitutional protections help level the legal playing field.

The DMCA is a classic example of the kind of legislation that citizens need protection from:

  • It is based on a presumption by the powerful (large corporations) that the relatively powerless (the individual purchaser) is the guilty party in any dispute.

  • It specially privileges the rights of the wealthy (who can buy into patented encryption and distribution methods) over the rights of the less wealthy human beings who actually do the work of creating what corporate lawyers like to call "intellectual property" but who are unlikely to be able to afford the extra layer of protection.

  • In the name of protecting copyright and preventing piracy, it criminalizes human beings who have never themselves violated copyright or committed piracy.

Public domain and fair use are always under attack by large media companies, but defense of those concepts is absolutely essential to the cultural health and heritage of a nation. Profitability is the only rule that can be followed by a publicly-held corporation, but there are reasons besides profitability for making our culture and history available. (To take an example of special interest to California, much American film history will be forever lost over the next few decades: films deteriorate, inaccessible, in vaults because the multinational corporations which own them do not see sufficient profitability in making them accessible to the public.) Those non-profit-oriented reasons don't have a chance without public domain and fair use.

But the DMCA assumes that the best way to avoid disputes over public domain and fair use is to guarantee absolute power to the large media companies.

There is no requirement that a digitally protected work automatically unprotect itself once its content enters into the public domain.

There is no requirement for fair use workarounds to digital protection. On the contrary, even investigating such a workaround is criminalized.

There is no way for the consumer and scholar to protect themselves against the industry-driven shifts in media technology fashion which seem to take place every decade or so. To take another example from American film history, several of the great early sound movies of Ernst Lubitsch have never been released on VHS tape or on DVD, due to lack of anticipated profitability. They were, however, released briefly in the now-obsolete laserdisk format. Laserdisk players are getting rarer and more expensive, and will someday will be virtually unattainable. Purchasers of the Lubitsch laserdisks -- film schools, for example -- are able to preserve their investment by backing them up to another media format. If those disks had been copy-protected, the movies contained on them would effectively be lost to the public. Similarly, if 78 RPM records could have been copy-protected, there would be little left of the early history of jazz or blues by the time copyright restrictions ran out. Only the most consistently profitable works can survive such technological shifts.

There is no consumer protection against profit-gouging deals between large corporations. An early target of DMCA enforcers was software that allows DVDs to be played on the Linux operating system. Microsoft was able to cut a deal with the relevant media corporations, and thus gain extra leverage against any competitor; Linux, as a free operating system, could not. Should the manufacturer of a copy of a fifty-year-old movie really be given so much influence over the purchaser's home computer setup? Again, the DMCA criminalizes consumer protection.

Defense of our legal rights against the arbitrary rule of the powerful is what we look to our senators and representatives for. I believe that history will judge the DMCA as harshly as McCarthyism and the Alien and Sedition Acts. I urge the Senator to reconsider her support of this unjust and destructive legislation.

Sincerely,
Ray Davis

. . .

 
Hammett
Dashiell Hammett: tubercular veteran of two world wars, political target
I started thinking about the following topic while reading Dashiell Hammett's letters a month or two ago, back when I was one of the only people I knew who would've described themselves as "patriotic."

Nowadays there's a lot more of that going around, but it still seems worth bringing up. Flag-waving (link via Electrolite) is an easy and transient exercise; worthier of scrutiny are less strictly symbolic acts, such as legislation. Our current national leaders have a history of opportunism, and they've been handed a splendid opportunity.

+ + +

No one's really bothered to pick it up yet, but over the past two decades, right-wing Republicans have had to discard what used to be one of their favorite political weapons: patriotism. (A narrow form of xenophobia is still wielded in especially racist states such as California, but America, being a nation of immigrants, doesn't lend itself to ethnically-based nationalism.)

In the 1950s and 1960s, conservative Republicans were able to push the patriotism button pretty heavily. Left-of-liberals muddied domestic waters by dopey idealization of the Soviet Union or China, southern Democrats still saluted nothing but Dixie, and opposition to government involvement in Vietnam easily slued into attacks on the military itself.

Well, there are essentially no more left-of-liberals, no one outside the executive suite has much good to say for China, the military budget has been devoted to frivolous weapons research while ignoring personnel, and the dominant wing of the Republican party doesn't have a red, white, and blue pot to piss in.

Reaganesque anti-federal propaganda brought a plague of do-nothings who move into political office on corporate support, interfere with or dismantle useful services, re-route tax money to corporations, and then move back into cushy corporate positions. (I might not exactly enjoy the thought of sewage, but that doesn't make me want to hire a high-priced plumber to remove all the pipes.) Their allegiances are pledged to two special interest groups:

  1. Global corporations, who are dedicated by law to the profits of their shareholders and by inclination to the financial security of their upper management. Legally speaking, nothing else can be allowed to take precedence. A corporation cannot afford to instead emphasize, for example, scrupulous service -- which is why, for example, you wouldn't want one to be responsible for your health care. And certainly it can't afford to consider the good of the nation. That's why it's global, right? Corporations maximize profits by taking jobs away from American citizens and by taking taxes away from the American government. They have no interest in improving American life or in defending American freedoms.

  2. Fundamentalist demagogues, who, like fundamentalist demagogues elsewhere in the world, are avowed enemies of the secular democracy set up by the Constitution of the United States and avowed proponents of its replacement by rule of their interpretation of their sacred texts. Frequently supporters of domestic terrorism (although I assume Ashcroft is trying to ensure that bombing birth control clinics and murdering doctors won't fall under his expanded definition of the term), they're one step away from being traitors, and often seem none too particular about that step.
Republican leaders idealize only (their) money and (their) church. They have no workable concept of country.

"Big-spending" "bleeding-heart" liberals, by definition, believe that the American system of government is good and capable, that the American people are worthy of defense and respect, and that America can be both a haven and a promise of limitless possibilities. That gives them access to a heap of rhetorical tools that've proven very useful in the past, and which might as well get used.

. . .

Henry Adams responds to yesterday's buried-in-FDR's-clenched-jaws pipe dream, via his 1870 essay, "The New York Gold Conspiracy":

"Nevertheless, sooner or later the last traces of the disturbing influence of war... will disappear in America, as they have sooner or later disappeared in every other country which has passed through the same evils.... Yet though the regular process of development may be depended upon, in its ordinary and established course, to purge American society of the worst agents of an exceptionally corrupt time, the history of the Erie corporation offers one point in regard to which modern society everywhere is directly interested. For the first time since the creation of these enormous corporate bodies, one of them has shown its power for mischief, and has proved itself able to override and trample on law, custom, decency, and every restraint known to society, without scruple, and as yet without check. The belief is common in America that the day is at hand when corporations far greater than the Erie -- swaying power such as has never in the world's history been trusted in the hands of private citizens, controlled by single men like Vanderbilt, or by combinations of men like Fisk, Gould, and Lane, after having created a system of quiet but irresistible corruption -- will ultimately succeed in directing government itself. Under the American form of society no authority exists capable of effective resistance. The national government, in order to deal with the corporations, must assume powers refused to it by its fundamental law, -- and even then is exposed to the chance of forming an absolute central government which sooner or later is likely to fall into the hands it is struggling to escape, and thus destroy the limits of its power only in order to make corruption omnipotent. Nor is this danger confined to America alone. The corporation is in its nature a threat against the popular institutions spreading so rapidly over the whole world. Wherever a popular and limited government exists this difficulty will be found in its path; and unless some satisfactory solution of the problem can be reached, popular institutions may yet find their existence endangered."

. . .

What breed of idiots would voluntarily reduce government income at the start of a war? Beats me, but they bred enough of 'em to populate the executive and legislative branches and have some left over to publish newspapers: walking around yesterday I saw no less than five front pages that called new tax cuts an "Economic Boost" rather than "Suicide."

Do many people really believe that fear of taxes is what's killed the economy? Speaking as a representative consumer, I'm trying not to squander my meagre life savings because I'm worried about unemployment, health care costs, and retirement -- you know, all that social safety net stuff. Decreasing my "tax burden" isn't about to make me worry less.

. . .

In a long and delightfully well-researched letter, John Ferguson objected to my passing characterization of the American Civil War as fought "to defend slavery," pointing out that the contested issue was expressly secession. Since I'd already worried that I might have summarized my views into a bit too condensed a clip, and for the benefit of those American history students who've happened upon this page while searching for "exploitive + photographs + of + not + quite + sixteen + year + olds," I reprint my answer here:

Not oversimplification so much as disagreement, I think. You believe the Civil War was initiated by the refusal of the United States government to recognize the legitimate right to secede. I believe the Civil War was initiated by the insistence of the Southern states on seceding when they had no such right.

Obviously a good many well-informed people argued both sides of that particular question. As a practical controversy, it was settled by the war.

Now, as to cause. Why did the Federal government want to keep the southern states in the Union? I doubt that many historians would say that it was so that slavery could be eliminated in those states.

Why did the southern states secede? Pretty obviously it was triggered by the election of a president from an anti-slavery party and motivated by the fear that slave-holding states would lose Federal power and perhaps even the slave-based economy itself.

A good many people have also argued over whether that distrust was justified. My own feeling is that it was not -- that the combined power of the Southern states and the less radically anti-slavery politicians of the North would have indefinitely postponed emancipation, and that those responsible for the Confederacy moved much too quickly from petulance to paranoia -- but I may well be unduly influenced by the particular accounts I've read from the period.

And John graciously responded:

I was much intrigued by your final paragraph as I'd almost noted earlier that many other nations finally abolished slavery as a legal status without having an internal war. I'm not so sure we're in disagreement regarding the issue of secession, and I'd guess we both consider much of the turbulence about slavery as attempts by the various partisans to trump each other. I certainly consider slavery to have been indefensible. [Therefore, it would be illogical for the war to have been fought to defend slavery.]

I noted General JA Early, in part, as he (and many others) opposed secession, and some of those who opposed secession did so because they disagreed with the legality of dissolving the union. It's impossible to know, but I've seen estimates that on the brink of the war most people in the southern states were "undecided" regarding many of the controversies, with the pro-secession and pro-union minorities being extremely vocal (and in the case of the former, relatively politically powerful). The historical record is clear that both sides initially expected the war to be short and glorious, and that the resulting horror was a powerful incentive to explain afterward what happened in terms of lofty principles worthy of the sacrifices.

My attempt to sum up:

Yes, I'd tend to agree that the majority of the populations in both the North and the South were more "undecided" than anything else, and that it was only the domino-by-domino polarizations of 1) the minority Republican party winning a split Presidential race, 2) the victory of the secessionist minority in some Southern states, and 3) the ensuing civil war that make the North-vs.-South free-vs.-slave federalist-vs.-secessionist divisions seem so clear to later generations.

In fact, that's why the example came so quickly to mind when I was writing about the importance of mistrust in politics: the American Civil War seems a prime example of an avoidable crisis which sprang from unrealistic levels of distrust and opportunistic minority extremists. (Leaving aside my strong sentimental attachment to one of those extremist parties!)

. . .

"I just wish webloggers (and the general public) were a tenth as upset about this as they seem to be about what the RIAA is doing, The Evil Empire That Is Microsoft (Windows XP, aieeee! Ooga booga!) or the SSSCA. It's not that we shouldn't worry about those three things, just that the USA Act (doublespeak lives) is far more threatening." -- ghost rocket

Blinded by keyhole No hiding place down here

Most of the people I've worked with through the years have shown little interest in social issues; I can't blame the EFF for occasionally pushing the funds-ahoy! issue of privacy any more than I blame the Republican party for targeting NRA members. But privacy laws only defend your freedom so long as no one cares enough about you to make an effort. In that sense, they're as obsolete as the Second Amendment: No handgun is going to protect you against a SWAT team and no PGP is going to protect you from seizure of your hard drives and backups.

We can't truly secure personal information. And that's just as well, since privacy laws are heavily relied upon by those in power -- for example, to prosecute a victim of police brutality who taped his own assault, to cover up election fraud, to launder money, and to hide embarrassingly glaring hypocrisies from voters. Note that video rental records only became legally regulated after a right wing leader was inconvenienced by them. And what makes a h4xor a "terrorist" -- as opposed to just another annoying-as-hell adolescent -- is the kiddie's unhealthy disregard of class lines when invading privacy.

The injustices of the War on Drugs are exacerbated rather than reduced by privacy rules: only those who can buy privacy are protected by the rules. Any security I gain by encrypting anti-administration sentiments is illusory if I can be jailed for anti-administration sentiments. There's no way to guarantee that a personal notebook full of written fantasies will be safe from prying eyes, but we can push for judges and legislators who won't try to criminalize personal notebooks of written fantasies. If the FBI grabs my credit card number, I want the FBI to be held liable for their database leaks; if my boss insists on tracking down my office-dynamiting fantasies, his curiosity should not count as my fireable offense. In short, the fights that matter most to me are not over protection of information, but over what gets done with the information that's collected.

That's not to say that our government fulfills any useful function when it attempts to circumvent or restrict our Fourth Amendment rights, or that habeas corpus should be suspended, or that unmonitored incompetent organizations should be given even greater opportunities to abuse power and misuse funds; nor is it to deny that encryption is to electronic communications as opaque envelopes are to postal services. To imprison and completely isolate someone for a month, making no charge and thus allowing no defense, ruining a life or two or three on little more than a whim, is an innovation well worth protesting. But "Privacy" seems a singularly uninspiring banner under which to rally.

Of course, this is just to say what principles I, personally, would be willing to risk life or (given my druthers) limb for; some people might find "Fair Use" or "Abortion Rights" banners just as dispiriting. My priorities, as previously admitted, are eccentric, and I'm not at all resentful when others prefer to direct their attention to issues like, for instance, starvation and torture.

Unfortunately, those of us who aren't millionaire politicians or professional pundits have to pick and choose our quixotic battles, as enticing as they all are each in their own way. At present there's even less chance of preventing crap like the USA Act than of improving public education and health care. And although moans often escape me involuntarily, I see no point in trying to force them. My friends have enough to put up with as it is.

. . .

Spread the Noise

In our present state, Project Censored could easily move to bi-weekly awards. Here are my current picks (mostly fished from the flood of bloating bobbers at Ethel) for stories most shamefully underreported by American news media:

  1. Between January and September, the Bush administration pressured intelligence agencies to drop their investigations of bin Laden and other Saudi-related terrorists.
  2. The administration has persistently downplayed or ignored domestic right-wing terrorism, particularly as it relates to the anthrax panic.
  3. The "economic revitalization" act just passed pointedly hands government money over to corporations who've moved investments and jobs to tax shelters overseas -- that is, to those least likely to revitalize the American economy.
  4. A heroic giant bullfrog saves -- actually, I guess I already covered that.
Have I missed your favorite? If so, ship it along in the germ-free comment box up there -- I'm kind of curious....

. . .

Preaching to the choir & pillorying the congregation

The recent crossfire between two of my favorite virtual watering places has been sad -- but at least not in a completely boring way, which makes it better than most sad things:

"The Right always wins these encounters, and it always wins by virusing the affective structures of the Left with its own."
Me, I think (more hopefully) that here again we're just bumping into the pleasure of attacking one's neighbors and the impossibility of defining a politically effective group in terms of opposition. It's true that I've seen "leftist" pundits criticize other "leftist" pundits for not remaining oppositional at all times -- which rallying cry, though lastingly delightsome to the crier and useful to the information-hungry, doesn't permit much organized progress after the Bastille is taken: repelling particles disperse rather than cohere. But holier than thou is played much the same no matter what the issue at hand or what the beliefs of the handler, and, as might be surmised from the name of the game, its appeal isn't limited to secular humanists.

The political power presently wielded by fundamentalist Protestant demagogues has developed from the coincidence of several historical accidents, including:

All of which have less to do with ideology than with expediency. Introduce enough irresolvable conflicts, and the "right" coalition would splinter into factions almost as nicely as the "left": it has in the past, and it can again. (Bearing in mind, of course, that, no matter what loose coalitions might be in play, the most powerful single faction in American politics will continue to be, as it's been since the Civil War, that represented by corporate lobbyists.)

. . .

1941

OURS to fight for

  1947

Eat Hearty


From its beginning, the USA has been unable to coherently coordinate foreign intervention or isolationism with domestic policy and rhetoric for any length of time. George Washington, sweating hard, managed it for eight years, but international hostilities tripped up John Adams, then Thomas Jefferson, and then so on and so forth. It's not a question of "Right" or "Left": the same initial arguments for or against use of the military have been applied by every political faction.

The orthogonality of war is no accident. War, by definition, can never be fully justified as "consent of the governed." War can't be fully dealt with in ethical or even in practically political terms; being between nations, it requires the concept of nationalism, with all its heated confusions. War isn't hell because it's painful; war is hell because it contains no possibility of virtue -- only the possibility of more or less serious misunderstandings, and more or less disastrous mistakes, and more or less sincere avowals of necessity.

Although I feel solidly hostile toward theocratic governments (until the Quakers seize power, anyway), I can't possibly obtain enough information about the war-in-progress to feel solidly "pro" or "anti" about it -- much of the lack of information being by design* but much being inherent to any war.

Luckily, at the moment my opinion doesn't matter a bit.

For which I am truly thankful.

* Consider the following sequence:
  1. The Bush family has a long history of private financial and secret governmental operations in the Middle East.
  2. On attaining the presidency, Bush younger orders investigative agencies to lay off bin Laden and other Saudi terrorists.
  3. Bush refuses to disclose the evidence linking bin Laden to the September 11 hijackings.
  4. Bush orders that the papers of the Reagan-Bush administration be kept out of the hands of historians.
  5. Bush calls for secret quasi-military tribunals under his exclusive control.
I'm hardly an antiwar protester or a conspiracy theorist (link via wood s lot), but it seems clear enough that the Bushes want to maintain a number of germane secrets (while insisting that no one else is entitled to any), and, given what history teaches us about secretive presidents, it seems possible that their motives include ducking personal responsibility as well as preserving national security.

Which has absolutely nothing to do with blaming the victims of terrorism, or with defending the Taliban, or with dividing populations between "thugs" and "refugees" -- but which still seems likely to be overlooked by the well-funded reporters of FOX news....

. . .

Ex-cel-lent

With horror and dismay I read admiring reviews of John Ashcroft's standup on Letterman, the elite handlers having convinced him to swap his Montgomery Burns for a Ned Flanders.

Not with surprise, though. "How low can they go?" stopped thrilling back in November 2000 when but-daddy-I-want-it-now! editorialists declared our national wound-binder on the basis of "niceness." Reagan demonstrated how aristocrats could turn jes'-folks-shtick directly to their political advantage -- all the CEOs I've met have been good-old-boy as hell anyway (and why shouldn't they seem at ease?) -- and that's been the chastened Bushes' sole study since.

Contrary to his wartime cartoon reputation, Hitler was fully able to shine one on. "He dressed better than Churchill, he was a better dancer than Churchill" -- all true. A politician sells policies, a campaign manager sells politicians, and the wise consumer inspects the fruit, not the professionalism of the pitch. Oh, for the day when the warm sincerity of a hypocrite demogogue meets its proper response!

. . .

"I determined to think no more of America; but to set off the ensuing morning for the village of Oakland, in quest of my dear Sophia."
- John Thelwall, The Peripatetic, 1793

Economic Wisdom
Photo by Juliet Clark

. . .

On a certain tendency of journalism

"News" is what's just now being talked about, and "balanced news" concerns what's arguable (or pretends to be). "Old news" isn't news, no matter how essential the old news is, and no matter how little it was reported when new.

We saw that turned to use in the 2000 election, when early reports of undebatable problems in Florida (voters illegally turned away; grossly misprinted ballots; Republican party stalwarts counting votes) were drowned in a comic muddle over debatably bad UI design.

And here we go again, into a muddle over the relative vagueness or exactitude of pre-September-11 warnings.

Cheney's cautious avoidance of commercial airlines is amusingly characteristic, but the hypocrisy and cowardice of our current Executive branch has already been well established, and one new example is unlikely to change anyone's opinion.

What's important news now has been important news since last November (and arguably since the previous November): the Bush adminstration's favoritism towards its private business interests, including antagonism towards whatever might offend the Saudi royal family.

"Would the hijackings have occurred if Bush hadn't called off investigators?" is an obviously unanswerable question, but it's just as obvious that they weren't made more difficult. There's no need to prove some unthinkably vile conspiracy's "responsibility" for those thousands of deaths; Bush's, Cheney's, and Ashcroft's patent irresponsibility is damnation enough.

"Did they know?" is equally undecidable. What is decidable is that they didn't want to know.

Almost immediately upon taking power, Bush placed his familial, financial, and political ties above considerations of national safety. (All part of reducing big government and keeping business strong!) Just like Ashcroft placed his personal bigotries and religious beliefs above such considerations. (All part of saving Christianity!)

That seems more enduringly to the point than whether Bush was told in August 2001 that airplanes were capable of crashing into things. But, although it was a cause of news, and will be a cause of news to come, I have to admit that it's not news.

See also Avedon Carol's Sideshow....

. . .

More honoured in the breach than in the observance

Google headline of the day:

 
Bush Honors Black Music, Hears 'Take the A Train' - Reuters

. . .

The New Dark Ages, cont. (via grim amusements)

Conservative U.S. Christian organizations have joined forces with Islamic governments to halt the expansion of sexual and political protections and rights for gays, women and children at United Nations conferences....
This is considerably more terrifying than the previous bedfellowings of fundamentalists-with-anti-porn-feminists and fundamentalist-Protestants-with-conservative-Catholics, but as predictable a step as the Hitler-Stalin nonaggression pact. The Bushes have gotten along fine with the Saudis for decades -- and there was that reward we gave the Taliban for their anti-drug efforts.

Quite aside from any specifically coincident issues (such as keeping women in their place), it's to every theocracy's benefit to keep other theocracies in power. When they're our "friends," we jointly eliminate secular democracy; when they're our "enemies," we all have a holy war as a reason to eliminate secular democracy. It's a win-win!

. . .

America:
Open for Branding
  Up to 3 initials
(via an in-flight shopping catalog)

. . .

Nobody Knows I'm Dear

Turbulent Velvet is right that mean-spirited uncivil attack is the discursive norm in contemporary American culture, and that any public discourse left to its own devices will veer in that direction.

Alex Golub is further right that that same corporate-made-flesh norm drives us, mooing and ineffectually kicking those pressed close behind, to infinite extension, followed by suffocation, of copyright.

"Ideology" is too figureheading a word to reliably take a stand on any one ground, but there should be some term for a culture's mostly unspoken, slavishly followed, and clearly inadequate notions of human effort and pleasure: for that which is expressed and maintained passively through (paraphrasing T.V.) exhaustion and impatience as much as actively through fear or vanity or ignorance. In some cultures, altruism is the standard rhetorical stance and people are hypocrites about everything else. In ours, aggressively selfish he-with-the-most-toys-wins competition is the standard, and it's anything other than playing-to-win that's seen (and hidden and dismissed) as perverse.

My optimism (such as it is) rests (or exerts itself [such as it does]) in my knowledge of the failure of that norm to fully satisfy or explain human realities. There are delights and desires outside the purely competitive; even here and now, some people can sometimes share that recognition.

  Lest you think me insufficiently bitter and cynical -- I'm not, honest! -- I hasten to protest that sympathetic, kind, companionable, or harmlessly intrigued intentions in themselves are no guarantee of followthrough, success, coherency, or even sincerity. It's just I'm bitter and cynical enough to think the same caveats hold when people express intentions like greed, vindictiveness, power-grabbing, or lust. Most straight guys, for example, can't tell the difference between lust and a hole in the ground -- but that's another topic for another day. For today, it may be enough to remember how often vehemently expressed greed leads to bankruptcy. All motives are unreliable -- so why selectively repress sociable motives in favor of the sociopathic?

For every 19,800 announcements of eradicated Mr. Nice Guys, we gain only 75 restored or replaced Mr. Nice Guys. Since Mr. Nice Guys are, in fact, a defining comfort of civilized existence, what are we to do?

One of the things I like about the Journal of Personality & Social Psychology is, after they diagnose some way we're fucked up, they try to hack a workaround. (But that's social engineering! Yes, and just talking is social engineering. Coming up with the original hypothesis and putting experimental subjects through the embarrassment and publishing the results are all social engineering. And when newspapers rabidly seize upon some stereotype-reinforcing abstract and caricature it in headlines, that's primo social engineering.)

In "Norm of Self-Interest and Its Effects on Social Action", Rebecca K. Ratner & Dale T. Miller summarize earlier (North American, I presume) studies: Contrary to selfish assumptions, having a personal stake or vested interest in an issue doesn't unduly affect a person's attitudes or opinions about it. Stakes and interests do, however, make it more likely that one's attitudes will be acted on.

The easy, passive, explanation is that this reflects the miraculous power of selfishness.

Instead, it turns out to be caused more by a presumed injunction against altruism. Volunteers insist on explaining, no matter how unconvincingly, their motives as selfishness ("It gets me out of the house," "I like the people I work with"). Non-volunteers -- notably those who remain silent while others are slandered, or passed over, or pushed in -- point out that "It's not my place to interfere," "People will wonder why I'm making a fuss." It's like they'll be perceived as rude.

Horrifyingly, their presumption is right. Among the (North American, I presume) subjects of these studies, public action and public protest truly are likely to draw disapproval when there's no obvious self-interest involved. "Naturally," on the other hand, when there is obvious self-interest, the dominent whatsit is confirmed and strengthened.

But Ratner & Miller, tinkering with this awful machinery, found that if the action is framed to make it seem more legitimate or less objectionable (e.g., through anonymity, or by explicit inclusiveness, as in "everyone wins, it's a win-win, don't worry, people will think you're being selfish"), even nonvested citizens become much more likely to act on their beliefs. Once they grow accustomed to that luxury, who knows what might ensue? Multiple-issue politics even? A boy can dream.

Have we come to this? Imaginary vests and an underground of good intentions? Very well then, if that's the best we can manage....

Act on! Divested, invested, join us, who are not you! You have nothing to lose but your shirts!

. . .

If you can't sleep at night, it isn't the history -- it's the bunk.

Last September 11, I thought about the Blitz. But within the month, and more and more obsessively over the months since, I've been thinking of Frau Witte. "If it's true what they're saying, then things are in an awful state."

On the list of Ashcroft's civil rights reductions, I don't spot one that would have prevented the hijackings -- but each of them reduces the administration's accountability. Now, as on the day itself, and as in the days before and after, our leaders have followed two precepts: First, save your ass. Then cover it.

Who can guess at how the First Amendment gives aid and comfort to wealthy fundamentalist ideologues? The pollsters don't ask essay questions, so the mystery remains. If facts were included, opinions might change, but then it wouldn't be an impartial poll. Politics is sports, and facts must clear the field while opinions have their showdown. There's not even any need to fill in the blanks with propaganda: vague hypotheses are enough to get newsworthy results.

We're in wartime when the dockworkers strike but wartime's nothing that might interfere with vacation, naps, and tee-offs. As for dying, our servants will do that for us.

. . .

The Secondary Source Review

Sexual Revolution in Early America by Richard Godbeer

Having dragged a mature-content filter through pre-1800 American source material, Godbeer sorts his catches by region and period, arranged quasi-dialectically; viz.:

"There hardly passes a court day but four or five are convened for fornication or adultery; and convictions in this nature are very frequent." - "Letter from New England," J. W., 1682, London

 
"It may be in this case as it is with waters when their streams are stopped or damned up. When they get passage they flow with more violence and make more noise and disturbance than when they are suffered to run quietly in their own channels." - William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation, 1620-1647

The conclusion, should conclusions be desired, is that technical and prison terms vary more across time-and-place than sexual behaviors do. But the real point of a book like this is to read the cool bits aloud, and although Godbeer has collected eye-catching material on such topics as bundling, sodomitical pillars of the Puritan community, and Philadelphia prostitution, he seems compelled to interrupt every few lines of quote with a few words of paraphrase. (That awful interference, wrecking your orgasm on the Playboy Channel.) Juliet Clark, star editor, explains this as dissertation house style, but we non-academics would prefer a straightforward anthology: interpretation is rarely needed, and, William Bartram aside, this stuff is hard to find.

Not that Godbeer is a bad writer when there's a need to write. He provides a usefully concise summary of the Thomas Jefferson Situation, for example:

Jefferson's father-in-law, John Wayles, had a long-term relationship with his slave Elizabeth Hemings, who bore him six offspring. On Wayles's death, Hemings and her children came to live with the Jeffersons as favored house servants at Monticello. One of Elizabeth's daughters, Sally Hemings, became Jefferson's lover and gave him several children. None of their offspring remained in slavery as adults; significantly enough, the only slaves whom Jefferson freed were members of the Hemings family. Mary Hemings, another of Elizabeth's daughters, was leased to Thomas Bell in the 1780s, became his lover, and bore him two children. Jefferson later sold Mary and her offspring to Bell; that he did so at her request suggests a mutual affection between Bell and Hemings. They lived together as a couple for the remainder of Bell's life.

If that sounds slightly incestuous, how about this?

Byrd recounted in his commonplace book a story about a West Indies planter who "had an intrigue with an Ethiopian princess, by whom he had a daughter that was a mulatto." The planter sired another child with that daughter and then another with his granddaughter. That great-grand-daughter was "perfectly white and very honorably descended." The planter boasted that "he had washed the blackamoore white."

Ah, good old plantation miscegenation.... It ain't incest if it's livestock breeding; on the other hand, it ain't bestiality if it's human beings. And rather than being a financial burden, the rapist's child becomes money in the bank. Kinda makes a feller proud, don't it?

(As an upcoming review subject points out, this win-win situation was exploited in typically enthusiastic fashion. When they call the American South a "slave-based economy," they don't just mean that slaves did the work. Unlike the industrialists and bankers of the North, the Southern aristocracy derived their wealth from property, and by far their most valuable property was people. That's why our Federal government never had the option of ending slavery by financial compensation, as England did: there simply wasn't enough money. Something to remember the next time you encounter a nostalgic lament over drove-down old Dixie....)

. . .

He governs best who governs leased

Kevin Phillips throws all the busy bulk of Wealth and Democracy behind two central points:

  1. There ain't no such thing as a free market. From colonial days to tomorrow, the great fortunes of America have been created and maintained with government aid, and policy has been steered by the rich whenever they weren't forcibly kept away from the wheel. The wealthiest citizens-to-be when Adam Smith wrote were Revolutionary War profiteers, and we're still paying big for the oil subsidies that fueled the Bushes and their friends.

  2. Booms, balloons, busts, and recoveries follow a similar pattern through the centuries and across leading economic powers. Wealth pours into the financial sectors; the middle class, although they hardly notice in the hullabaloo, work more, gain less, and take on debt; industry and agriculture weaken; the tariff setters of yesteryear suddenly insist that uninhibited global trade is an essential human right.... Post-bust, the middle class regains control of politics, and part of whatever's left of the upper-five-per-cent's plunder is redistributed. (Did you realize that the Eisenhower administration kept the New Deal upper-tax-brackets in place funding the nation through all those Republican-idealized good old days? I didn't, not in so many words.)
As might be expected from an old Nixonian, Phillips's prose stumbles the gamut between flatfooted and clownshoed. And while one copyeditor labored over his sentences, another might have been profitably employed in rationalizing the book's unnecessarily complex and repetitious structure: it's almost impossible to guess where a particularly pressing bit of information might have landed.

But that's really only a problem because particularly pressing bits of information land on virtually every page. Wealth and Democracy became an indispensable reference somewhere during its first chapter, and I've found occasion to refer to it in every other extended conversation of the last few weeks, online and fleshy, from the Bay Area to rural Missouri. Even if written by a mere best-selling TV-guesting pundit, it's that rarest of secondary (or, in this case, tertiary and popularizing) sources: the one I'll buy for my own library.

Which is how I discovered an Amazon game new to me, though not to hundreds of satisfied players. A mob of dittoboys dogpiles on an insufficiently right-wing book, posts extremely negative reviews, and then boosts their own reviews' rankings. The results stand out (and are made easier to remove) by the outrageously high number of "found this helpful" votes (over a hundred instead of the usual ten or less) and by the absurd blatancy of the reviewers' lack of first-hand knowledge. I'm sorry I didn't save a few samples before Amazon cleaned the joint up; the ones calling Nixon-loyalist Phillips a Communist were particularly refrigerator-door-worthy. No, Phillips's concern is the middle class, pure and simple and unspoiled.

That's what makes the book useful and even, with reservations, hopeful, this being America and all.

. . .

But none, I think, do there embrace

Once the bouncers let us in, the voting booth is fine & private place enough for us to express our natural mild altruism without fear of shame. It's no surprise, then, that we tend not to vote our pocketbooks so much as vote our impressions of how the country is doing ("I'm in debt and unable to afford a house and working long hours and without health care, but the TV and radio say our kids will be millionaires") and how warmly our values are stroked.

Unluckily for us, the people who control our impressions keep their minds squarely on business.

The depressingly anonymous author of Seeing the Forest, who's maintaining a remarkably cohesive view of American politics, has produced a meme worth propagating:

There's a simple solution - do what they do. I'm talking about building up a network of "think tanks" etc, that work together, and reach the public with a coordinated "communications engine." This is why I'm always pushing people to understand how the right is making all of this happen for them - so that eventually people will suddenly say, "Duh!, Why aren't WE doing that, too?" It took time, but we have the advantage of using what they have built up as a model - they've been through 30 years of trial-and-error. Also we have the advantage of having the truth on our side. WE aren't trying to convince blue-collar workers to give up their health care and pensions so that rich white guys can have bigger private jets - THEY are. So our task is not monumental.

It can be done. The money exists on our side; there are huge amounts of money for environmental groups, etc., not to mention the amounts that the Democratic and Green Parties have been able to raise every 2 years. Add to that moderate Republicans - even they are under attack from the right now and an appeal to them to join up could bring needed resources.

And there are already a number of great organizations on our side. The research I've been doing is looking at the right, but I'll be researching and publishing what does exist on the moderate/progressive side. But what is missing is the coordination - the right actually has weekly coordination meetings - and the awareness that we need to work to build a "movement" just like the right has done since the early 70's.

I hope.

I fear. The problem in assembling such a coalition nowadays isn't necessarily hornlocking over conflicting issues and values -- televangelists and CEOs of global corporations didn't just happen to wake up together in bed one morning. The problem is that the natural allies of such a coalition will insist on locking horns. It's been a very long time since the wandering splinters of the non-right-wing have maintained the discipline to stay in line, pursue one goal at a time, and remain confident that one hand will eventually wash the other. Everyone enjoys self-righteousness, and the easiest source is to attack our annoying co-workers. After all, that's what the TV and radio are cheering us on to do.

+ + +

Somewhat related:

Next: Louder & funnier!

. . .

Geegawed

No, America isn't full of right-wing voters. America is full of voters (and non-voters) who think politics is about personalities and pet causes when politics is about controlling policy and law. America is full of voters who fall for cons and get fleeced by casinos. America is full of voters deciding by TV commercials. And America is full of voters who'll continue to pay handsomely for the privilege.

But the Presidency, Congress, and judiciary -- they're full of right-wing voters, that I'll grant you.

. . .

Fleet's In

 
"In the beginning of our government we were willing to introduce the least coercion possible on the will of the citizen. Hence a system of military duty was established too indulgent to his indolence. This [War of 1812] is the first opportunity we have had of trying it, and it has completely failed...."
I'm a liberal who wants a big fat federal government that gives big fat services to its citizens and rewarding employment to the citizens who staff those service industries -- one such service industry being the military. I respect the pacifists I've known infinitely more than the warmongers I've known, but abolishing the armed forces didn't work so well for Jefferson and Madison.

My opinion is biased by personal experience as well as historical evidence, since my father, my mother, and my brother are all Navy veterans. Our education, our excellent health care, and our eventual move to the middle class of the proletariat have all been funded by the Navy. Although I'm the odd civilian out -- it always being clear enough that my tour of duty would be divided between sick bay and the brig -- I'm grateful to the Navy. I simply wish more Americans had similar access to federally aided education, health care, and class mobility.

As you might imagine, should you feel up to imagining the feelings of someone who writes a weblog, I'm occasionally irritated by the presumptions of the fine young people who've surrounded me in Cambridge and San Francisco and Berkeley. If our armed forces have generally been deployed to bolster corporate profits -- well, what hasn't generally been deployed in that never-ending chore? including mass media, fast food restaurants, universities, computer programming, and much more that fine young people have no trouble sucking down? That happens to be the kind of history we're stuck in.

More often, though, I'm angered and frightened by what's behind their presumptions.

 
"... you'd think they'd treat our forces like human beings."
"That would be 'no'."

I blame the Vietnam War. That's safe enough; nobody likes the Vietnam War.

Talk about being "pro-military" or "anti-military" is as nonsensical (and common) as talk about being "pro-economy" or "anti-economy." There are at least two sides to an economy -- worker security and big business profits -- with party lines drawn between them. Just as clearly, there have always been at least two sides to the American military: the armed forces themselves and the profiteers who leech from them.

The leaders of the Republican Party have never been subtle (in their actions, anyway) about which of those sides concerns them. They were against the GI Bill as a democratizing force and they're certainly against bringing anything like it back. On the other hand, no pork barrel sweats more fat than military contracts: virtually no competition; virtually no punitive action for fraud; a captive audience of "consumers" whose whistleblowing can be stopped by direct order....

 
"In 1976, the senior military officers he polled were one-third Republican. Today, it's two-thirds. Liberals have all but evaporated. You go from a conservative-to-liberal ratio among senior ranks of 4-to-1 in 1976 to a ratio of 23-to-1 in 1996.... I was out in California recently, and a Marine told me that the commanding officer of his unit would play Rush Limbaugh's show over the unit's loudspeakers so everybody could listen to it while they worked."
By conflating those two sides into "the military," we've handed the armed forces over to politicians whose chief concern is profiteering, never more openly than in the current administration. "A strong military," "the military budget," "military spending" -- all these terms bandied about by the news media refer to transfer of money from taxpayers to the corporate friends of the Party. No distinction is made and thus no regard need be given to military personnel or national security -- as was made grotesquely apparent after last September's low-tech hijackings, when Bush claimed that the Star Wars pork fest was now more essential than ever.

Meanwhile, the left's withdrawal from and frequent vilification of "the military" has slaked the thirsty ghost of Joe McCarthy with sweet victory: the United States officer corps now consists overwhelmingly of right-wing extremists. Given the nature of the military hierarchy, once such a trend is in place, it's almost impossible to undo.

Except maybe through a resurgence of patriotism or a draft or whatnot....

. . .

The Asymmetry Within

I washed the dishes, listening with Anya-like anthropological curiosity to a pop song of petty romantic revenge -- something along the lines of "Now you've left me and I'm never coming back" -- and found myself wondering about Michael Jackson's ex-lovers. Not about who, or how old, or what sex they are, but about what they're feeling. Are they grimly pleased by the outcome of his morbid privacy and perfectionism? Are they shaken and depressed? Gleeful? resigned? bored? And if some mix, then sequentially, contrapuntally, or chordally?

It's an obsessively rehearsed story: the cat grooming its bald spots, the oil paintings daubed to mud, the hygiene-frenzied billionaire awash in filth and surrounded by excrement; wrapping one side, landscaping the other, until the entire cliff starts to crumble.... (And lord knows I've attended enough rehearsals: the promising little tune overcooked into indigestible glutin; the mild aperçu pounded flat, tanned, shredded, and threaded into an unreadable essay; the novel's first page rewritten back into originary chaos.)

One can't maintain a firm line between outside and inside while simultaneously trying to induce an ideal form. You think you're shaping clay and find you've been crushing eggshells. Self-control and the impulse to control one's image, control of materials and the impulse to control one's production -- they're hard to distinguish in theory, and an ugly overextended lifetime can be spent without learning to distinguish them in practice.

So then, naturally, I started to wonder how someone who works for John Poindexter feels.

Here we have a perjurer, conspirator, felon, and traitor with proven disregard for the liberty and lives of American citizens, but oh! how the Bushes ensure his continued professional prosperity! To the extent of giving him responsibility for the most ambitious domestic surveillance repository in history!

Working for such a man, would one consider oneself a thug? a pirate (garrh)? a broken-spined creature thrashing toward nutrient and shelter?

Or does one go to work each day to touch the hem of a stately senility?

Or does one view IAO as merely a scam along dot-com lines, except with less risk of discovery? "The fools are giving money away, and we'd be even more foolish not to take it"? And "we'd be even more evil than our masters if we didn't at least partly believe it"?

Because if we believe it, and if we take the money, then isn't it possible that it'll all come true?

Clicking through the PowerPoint, it's certainly easy enough to picture the next generation of Andreesens suiting up and making the Poindexter scene. Each moronic whimsy that pops from their doughboy foreheads has a sacred (and tax-funded) right to life, swaddled in 80 yards of management-blather and trundled off with a roll of hundred-grand bills into the ever colder, crueler world.

So how do Poindexter's workers go about their job? Cynically? Or willfully deluded? Or (as surmised by Carter Scholz in a barely different setting) in some unstable combination?

 
Your IAO Programs
TIA (Total Information Awareness System), Dr. John Poindexter
"The TIA program will develop and integrate information technologies into fully functional, leave-behind prototypes that are reliable, easy to install, and packaged with documentation and source code (though not necessarily complete in terms of desired features) that will enable the intelligence community to evaluate new technologies through experimentation, and rapidly transition it to operational use, as appropriate."

FutureMAP (Futures Markets Applied to Prediction), Dr. Mike Foster
"... will identify the types of market-based mechanisms that are most suitable to aggregate information in the defense context, will develop information systems to manage the markets, and will measure the effectiveness of markets for several tasks. Markets must also offer compensation that is ethically and legally satisfactory to all sectors involved, while remaining attractive enough to ensure full and continuous participation of individual parties."

BSS (Bio-Surveillance... umm... Someday?), Mr. Ted Senator
"A prototype bio-surveillance system with appropriate military and commercial data will be constructed for a citywide area of military interest and demonstrated in a series of field experiments by injecting simulated biological event data into the real-time data streams of the testbed system."

EARS (Effective, Affordable, Reusable Speech-to-Text), Mr. Charles Wayne
"EARS encompasses wide-ranging, multidisciplinary research; quantitative evaluations of algorithm accuracy and utility; and efficient technology demonstration prototypes."

EELD (Evidence Extraction and Link Discovery), Mr. Ted Senator
"EELD’s initial activities demonstrated the feasibility of extracting relationships from text...."

Genisys, Lt Col Douglas Dyer, PhD [notice how Dyer ducks the acronym convention; watch out for this guy]
A new database platform. No, really. Because "current database technology is clearly insufficient." Any Ada programmers reading this? "Planned Accomplishments: FY02: Genisys will produce several prototype designs consistent with program goals."

Genoa, Lt Col Douglas Dyer, PhD
"Genoa provides analyst tools to augment human cognitive processes and aid understanding of complex arguments." The slide for this baby is appropriately mind-blowing.

Genoa II, Mr. Thomas Armour
"Cognitive aids enabling humans and machines to think together faster, smarter, and 'jointer'." Projected jointerizers include "means to overcome the biases and limitations of the human cognitive system" and "'cognitive amplifiers' that help teams of people rapidly and fully comprehend complicated and uncertain situations." The slide for this son-of-baby is appropriately mind-numbing.
 
Foreman, Smelter, Dump Truck Operator
Never trust a bald smelter in a three-piece suit

+ + +

Rafe Colburn makes a good point but misses the bad one:
The simple fact is that resources for analyzing information are limited, even for the federal government. This became completely obvious in the months after 9/11, when it was gradually revealed that we had more than enough information to track down the hijackers, but we didn't have the resources to piece it all together. This new system is aimed at gathering huge additional amounts of information...
This would be a legitimate argument against IAO if legitimate arguments counted. But national security is not the goal. I'm not talking some "Who watches the watchmen?" subtlety here. If Al Qaeda has a nuclear weapon, John Poindexter is probably who supplied it. (Only for the good of the Party, of course.)

No, the goal of Total Information Awareness is to help the administration follow its real vocation: maintaining political power through hypocrisy; that is, through a combination of personal secrecy and public libel. The Bush family relies on confidential deals, insider trading, erased records, and so on, while the far-right Republican Party has proven to its own satisfaction that any criticism of their policies can be deflected by launching non-sequitur counterattacks on their critics. Intelligence agencies -- "I know everything about you; you know nothing about me" -- are the coziest nests for such rodents.

Poindexter's fully integrated database of information on American citizens would, Colburn's right, be useless for spotting terrorists or predicting attacks. But for tracking down damaging information on a named target, it would work miracles. If any inconvenient witness starts to bring up late-night transfers of funds to foreign banks, or mysterious absences from duty, or college drug use, or vote tampering, or lying under oath, or even what the daughters are doing, just submit a simple query, and opportunities for harassment, news leaks, or assassination will be available in record time.

Kenneth Starr in a box, 24-by-7! Now that's worth paying for!

. . .

Flagiography

A flag is not a symbol but a sign.

As sign, the American flag is clear and useful: at post office, embassy, courthouse, and military base, it signals an institution of the federal government of the USA, an entity on which I'm dependent and for whose sign I'm grateful.

Pressed into service as symbol, it stands for so many things that it can hardly be said to "stand" at all. Flails, rather. Citizens steal from the federal government, lie to the federal government, violate federal laws, plot to undermine the federal Bill of Rights, and then with no apparent discomfort wrap themselves in a flag that symbolizes American Free Enterprise, or the American Spirit, or Christian America, or White America.

Symbolically, a flag becomes a bullfighter's cape: a distractor in aid of a kill.

+ + +

I hate symbols. That's probably why I read poetry.

. . .

Errata

It's not funny.

+ + +

Read the post mortems, listen to the interviews, and you'll find no mention of what a governor might actually do for a living. According to our more reputable news sources, the California recall issues were those of "character" rather than work, of "coldness" and "groping" rather than conspiracy and sabotage; a political campaign is a wrestling match or star search or "Big Brother" poll, not a job interview.

Subvert democracy when it goes against you, then ensure it doesn't do so again; open Q&A, debates, and policy disclosures are for losers. Following on last year's election, we can declare such precepts thoroughly vindicated: California's provided as pure a test case as imaginable. Missile defense research should be so lucky.

If 2001 wasn't enough to teach voters that elections have consequences, I doubt I'll live to see the lesson learned.

. . .

The 2003 Census of the American Soul
(source: Johnson Smith Company catalog)

CategoryImportance
Clocks
(including farting clock)
18
Crazed conspiracy theories18
Dancing objects2
Dragons5
Farting objects25
Fat Elvis2
Flames pattern5
George W. Bush
(including farting George W. Bush)
4
Insulting motivational phrases2
Iraq wars2
Martial arts14
The Matrix2
Military tributes
(including dancing hamsters)
5
Money25
Mystic powers
("Unleash The Genius Within You")
6
NASCAR
(including farting NASCAR driver)
5
Security19
Sex9
The Simpsons5
Star Trek3
"the trendy Stars/Stripes pattern"4

. . .

Movie comment: Balseros

This patient and splendidly constructed documentary glommed onto a group of Cuban rafters in 1994 and had the good fortune to not let go.

As the rafters struggle to exchange the hopeless claustrophobia of community for the glorious promise of acquisitive isolationism, their story touches on the deadpan fish-out-of-water picaresque, the ensemble-decay saga, and the post-industrial engineering suspense film (e.g., Flight of the Phoenix).

Its most unique genre success, though, may be as a survey of the American Dream, where to my eye it bests such ponderous competition as Elia Kazan, Michael Cimino, and Francis Ford Coppola. Despite the small sample size, the Dream's most familiar manifestations are covered: lotteries, cab driving, drug dealing, whoring (subcategory: marriage), rednecks and blue collars, religious mania.... And the ambitious viewer can even gather some notion as to which path might be best to follow.

(Not to spoil anything, but the spirit of proletariat solidarity needn't feel betrayed. Hee yah!)

. . .

Ba-lue Uh-Lack-Shun Ba-lues-Are

Dedicated with timid tenacity to The Little Teapot and The Tofu Hut.

My mind scurries round and round the fumigation chamber of this great democracy... I find fewer exits than if I was five hours old....

Have you heard the story about the boy who unlocked Grandmother's cottage, hid in the closet while Red Riding Hood was devoured, and then got a cushy job as wolf-crier?

Sure you have, so why tell the story again?

I dislike refrains. Except in songs.

Therefore, a playlist: 1824's "Little Know Ye Who's Coming", sung with conviction by Oscar Brand, Sonny Boy Williamson's "Fattening Frogs for Snakes", Memphis Slim's "Four Years of Torment", Bo Diddley's "Don't Let It Go", Swamp Dogg's "These Are Not My People", and the finest Clinton's two finest hopes for the union, "One Nation Under a Groove" and "Never Buy Texas from a Cowboy". And remember (for a limited time only), our earlier political meditations, "Someone Wants You Dead" and "One Monkey Don't Stop No Show".

Responses

This just in:

CHARLES FOSTER KANE DEFEATED, FRAUD AT POLLS!

A more apropos quote, I think, would be:

"If it was anybody else, I'd say what's going to happen to you would be a lesson to you. Only you're going to need more than one lesson. And you're going to get more than one lesson."

Another Pseudopodium correspondent notes:

It's 11:16 am here and TN, and I'

And another finds:

No more money in the bank
No cute baby we can spank...

Whats to do about it?

. . .

"My Life"

I pictured it to myself, and at once people came to my memory, all people of my acquaintance, who were slowly being pushed out of this world by their families and relations, I recalled tortured dogs driven insane, living sparrows plucked bare by little boys and thrown into the water and the long, long series of obscure, protracted sufferings I had been observing in this town uninterruptedly since childhood; and it was incomprehensible to me what these sixty thousand inhabitants lived by, why they read the Gospel, why they prayed, why they read books and magazines. What benefit did they derive from all that had been written and said so far, if there was in them the same inner darkness and the same aversion to freedom as a hundred or three hundred years ago? A building contractor builds houses in town all his life, and yet till his dying day he says "galdary" instead of "gallery," and so, too, these sixty thousand inhabitants for generations have been reading and hearing about truth, mercy, and freedom, and yet till their dying day they lie from morning to evening, torment each other, and as for freedom, they fear it and hate it like an enemy.
- Anton Chekhov, from "My Life"

Responses

Ow. Oh, oh, ow.
The serial killer profile that the wusses adopted vis. animal cruelties was in some measure a note-for-note of the hidden cruelties of many boyhoods, kept secret from all but each other. I saw, and did, some awful things, though the worst was something I spoke against - and in the end you know, as far as animals, the unintentional carnage of the highway's been worst of all. But yeah, Anton - eviscerate them with your scalpel'd truth.

I should note that the story's narrator is saintlier than Chekhov seems to have been and much saintlier than I seem to have been.

. . .

Baboon see, baboon do

Maybe belligerent democracies are just reactive by nature. Power struggles to balance intensity, not hue.

It's hard to realize nowadays the extent to which Sputnik incited support for scientific education and research in America. While the national enemy was secular and egalitarian, the United States achieved its rational and fair best. (Although, as Chandler Davis would remind us, that was nothing to write home about.)

And now that the national enemy is fundamentalist and plutocratic, we feel the need to close the intolerant billionaire gap.

Responses

A helpful reader recaps the story so far:

An amoeba in a tutu, with a little pink hat on its uppermost. Bikers re-enacting Lakota chest-piercings in disused pastures. Souls of the wronged lined up for miles at the window someone said they thought might be the place you go to state your case. At the end the weak ones turn around and go back through time, creating a tidal effect. It gives them an unassailable advantage, but it doesn't really go anywhere. Domestication and sophistication begin to merge. Everything gets stolen. SRI had these tests...

Ah, how I loved that tutu it gave me a waist....

Josh Lukin's mention of René Girard led me, a few hours too late, to this:

The error is always to reason within categories of "difference" when the root of all conflicts is rather "competition," mimetic rivalry between persons, countries, cultures. Competition is the desire to imitate the other in order to obtain the same thing he or she has, by violence if need be....

And, a half year later, the brilliant Narrow Shore starts from the same comparison and reaches a horribly beautifully complementary contrast:

The detonator in those planes was not a gadget but the absolute faith that allowed the human pilots to steer dead into the glass towers. There has been a Sputnik moment, but the tech and arms race embarked upon recognizes faith as the ultimate weapon, and the tactical goal seems be to out-believe the enemy.

This is very dangerous. Not that belief cannot be part of a very effective military technology. Clearly, it can. But the trigger mechanism (didn't anyone notice, in this Sputnik moment?) is suicide.

. . .

Land of the Dead (2005)

I'm sorry that "Mr. Tambourine Man" wasn't played over the closing credits. Even Dylan's harmonica would've been contextually justified!

Otherwise a near perfect Fourth of July movie, complete with fireworks and everyone wanting to move to Canada.

Responses

Re your "Mr. Tamborine Man" suggestion --wouldn't that have been PERFECT!!!? and so in keeping with the sensibility that produced the opening shot ("EATS >>").

I thank that fine newspaper man Tom Parmenter for copyediting.

. . .

Op-Edge: inanis et vacua

One can surely imagine the fall of the current kings of the shining city on the dunghill—indeed, one can predict their fall with some confidence—but the removal of one mad prince isn’t going to restore the Republic because democracy doesn’t go very well with a declining empire.
Posted by: James / 12:58 PM

An economy's exchange medium purportedly abstracts something other than the medium itself. Although we play the game of equivalency, rupture maybe a begrudging "Oh, yeah, I guess so" glance away from the stock report, maybe a crisis that drives us out of the game altogether remains a possibility.

How much of a possibility?

  1. Links were invented to go somewhere. A determined tracer of bloglife might conclude that its most desired ends were the most insipid products of commercial journalism: editorial page, movie reviews, gossip column, books section....

    And for the past two years, the best I've read in the classic editorial mode has come from inanis et vacua: an idealized Citizen We speaking softly, rationally, passionately in a tone of unassailable common sense. Sometimes I gain a new insight; sometimes I gain a new formula; usually I gain some assurance that we're not crazy, or at least that if we're crazy we don't have to be incoherent about it.

  2. In a link economy, the volunteer of unremunerative labor is, by definition, invisible.

    But for the past two years, inanis et vacua has avoided linking to anyone who might conceivably link back.

And so here we have a lovely chance to inspect a conflict between value and exchange medium.

Results: Not much possibility.

In common with most remedies, advice is not a panacea; but it isn’t a placebo either and even placebos work.
Posted by: James / 11:26 AM

Responses

Reasons for things aren't always phototropic.

Or photogenic.

Your new knocker's gazabe opened a door to Franklin P. Adams (tho I also appreciate the Information Technology myrmidon).

Good ol' FPA. I had a weird obsession with him for a year or so when I was a kid.

. . .

Op-Edge: Irving Howe, 1963

I recently read the first year of the New York Review of Books.

Less poetry nowadays. Otherwise, they haven't tinkered much with the original formula: not as interesting as the TLS, not as ghastly as the NYTBR, and earnestly committed to political strategizing by people without any influence whatsoever. After a while it's like hearing people talk about TV: "All I can say is they'd better not kill off Scully!" Or else...?

Unbeknownst to the strategizers, they were guest-starring in a very special episode of another type of show entirely. "This decade only: Washington Week in Review broadcasts live from the Titanic!" So while they gripe about how JFK hadn't been leftist enough to lose the last election and he's dragging his well-shod feet so much it's almost like he wants to win the next election but it is kind of neat how he's actually willing to talk to some of them even though he's such an arrogant S.O.B. he still doesn't parrot what they told him while that's happening, the viewers have their eyes fixed on the digital clock at the corner of the screen: September 1963, October 1963, November 14 1963, November 28 1963, December 12 1963? jesus, how long were lead times back then anyway?

Ah. December 26 1963.

Readers of that issue would've brought a special sense of exhaustion to the magazines and newspapers of mid-September 2001. All these public spokespeople feeling professionally obliged to say something weighty and appropriate to the occasion, come on, man, get with it, Norman Mailer's watching!, OK, um, "Things will never be the same...."

Nothing to say, no reason to say it except for vanity, which, I guess, has to stand in for the triumph of the human spirit.

Oh, and except for Irving Howe.

His contribution wasn't reprinted in Selected Writings, which is understandable given how much material there was to work with. It got into Steady Work, where the horrorstruck bystander can watch a democratic socialist survive McCarthyism only to then survive Berkeley radicals, without ever once killing anyone. I can picture some people in 1965 or 1966 giving him a hard time about a few of these prophecies.

The poor bastards.

(Naturally I'm not going to try quoting the whole piece you think the NYRB doesn't know any lawyers? but these two excerpts should convey the flavor.)

And then, the nightmare city. Its police chief explains why he had announced publicly the time the first suspect would be moved, thereby giving the second killer his opportunity: "We could have moved him earlier, but we told you fellows [reporters and TV men] 10 a.m. and we wanted to live up to it." Immortal words, filled with the spirit of our century! The law becomes an appendage of publicity, and experience the raw material for spectacle.

Yet the city survives. "Dallas," runs a headline in the November 26 New York World-Telegram, "Dallas Finds Solace in Wealth." And the story opens: "Talk to the people of Dallas about guilt and they tell you about their mansions, their oil wells and their riches. They pour money on their wounds."

Blessed are the rich in pocket, for they have inherited the earth.

. . .

What has been shaping up in American society is a fundamental struggle as to its future direction, and the sad fact is that the most aggressive and determined political pressures have been coming from the right. Not merely or even primarily from the Birchers or Southern racists or conservative ideologies: in themselves these people are not too important: they matter as an advance guard, or noisy symptom, or extreme manifestation, of a deepgoing fundamentalist reaction, a slowmoving and incipient counter-revolution, that has been gathering among the middle classes.

This is a rebellion against history. It is a wish to be done with those burdens that mar the enjoyment of new-found wealth and status. It is a desperately nostalgic impulse to shake off the complexities which, in the absence of a coherent liberal leadership, have a way of emerging as the confusions of world politics. And as anyone can testify who has spent some time in the Far West, this reaction involves an unashamed class selfishness such as we have not seen openly expressed in this country for some time, a new kind of Social Darwinism which is laced with the snobberies of greed and racism, a frigid contempt for those millions who are said, somewhere in the invisible depths, still be to suffering poverty and joblessness.

I think we should take this phenomenon with great seriousness. Today it may appear as an attachment to Goldwater, but in social range and depth it goes beyond the Goldwater movement. Signs of it could already be found in the Eisenhower following, and it will survive the possible collapse of the Goldwater boom. For a few months this socio-political impulse may be silenced, but it speaks too authentically for the sentiments of millions of Americans to be long suppressed.

Every issue in American polities from civil rights to joblessness, from automation to support for colleges, from medicare to city planning now elicits a fundamental divergence in outlook. It cannot be helped: not all the speeches of President Johnson, nor all the columns of James Reston, can prevent it. The issue is not, as the rightist doctrinaire claim, between capitalism and socialism, but between a firm decision to pull away from modernity and social responsibility, and the inclination to move (more often, stumble) toward an enlarged welfare state.

This, I would contend, is the central issue in American political life, and the struggle in regard to it cannot be stilled or long postponed. It seems to me a little shocking when one hears intelligent people reduced to an American equivalent of Kremlinology and engaged in gossipy speculations as to whether "Lyndon" will shift his political stress for tactical reasons, and what "Arthur" said or didn't say. Instead, we had better do some hard thinking and make some genuine commitments. For, without indulging in the usual sort of scares about a resurgence of McCarthyism or the terrors of the Birchites (what matters now is a social impulse deeper, more native, more authentic than its extreme manifestations; it is a blend, so to say, of Ike and Barry) I think we should recognize how the contending forces are disposed and how serious and prolonged the coming struggles are likely to be.

From a liberal-left perspective there is reason for disquiet. The labor movement, facing major perils, dozes away in a state of intellectual torpor: it appeals to no segments of the unorganized, it gains no loyalties among the young, it barely makes itself heard in the discussions of national policy. The liberal movement, as a movement, has become slack, uncombative. And even the one tremendously encouraging development of the last few years, the rise of the Negroes, is for the moment balked, uncertain in perspective, a little exhausted, trapped in the dilemma that its all-too-reasonable immediate demands involve the deepest issues and problems of the American economy.

And the intellectuals? Those who are supposed to move in advance, not content with the complacence of the status quo? My own subjective impression is not a happy one. In New York, as I now see it again, there is much brilliance, but little direction; a great deal of talent, but not much purpose. A large fraction of the writing in the advanced journals strikes me as middleaged narcissism, a bit Alexandrian, in which the stress is upon intellectual display rather than intellectual conviction and influence. At the very time when there are larger audiences, few American intellectuals seem to be strongly concerned with the idea of a coherent political and cultural public. Things, as the sociologists say, have become "privatized."

Intellectuals ought to be able to look beyond the moment, which means to look beyond the pieties of "national reconciliation" and toward the difficulties ahead. No one is going to be adored for saying this, but that does not make it any the less true.

. . .

If Winter Comes, Can Next Winter Be Far Behind?

My more journalistic fellows those twitchy meteorologists who change their forecast with every beat of a butterfly's wing seem heartened by the manifest incompetency of the Bush administration having finally manifested in the polls.

However, at this stage of the big takeover, competency isn't a requirement for the far Right coalition. All that's required is to not be outrageously, openly, and continuously more incompetent than their opponents. Otherwise? The Shining Path rolled over the speed bumps of Watergate-and-Carter and Bush-I-and-Clinton, and I don't see any masonry underway at the Bush II exit.

Responses

Not that I wouldn't welcome (and donate to and vote for) a speed bump.

. . .

Unpopular Man Seeks Popular Front

Aside from primate reliables like deceit and terror, divide-and-conquer is likely repression's most well established technique. Even when you know it's coming, it just works. So I understand I understand intimately how much easier and more gratifying it is to rip into those nearest to us than to fight a united-enough front of all three branches of the federal government, most state governments, and possibly City Hall.

Sadly, there are worse things than being wrong. There are even worse things than having to work with the annoyingly smug, the fanatically muddled, and the scandalously tunnel-visioned. Among those things would be accelerated transfer of all wealth to the wealthiest, illegalized abortion, destruction of Medicare and Social Security, ramped-up voter suppression, dropping consumer and financial and environmental regulations, valorizing the therapeutic use of violence and incarceration by the inexplicably timorous powerful, increased inundation by propaganda at school and home, decreased access to real information at school and home, absolute freedom to apply bigotry in whatever fashion can be reached or bought, and the frenzied sprint between total economic and total ecological collapse, along with whatever less predictable international scrapes we're dropped into.

Those seem like plenty enough problems to occupy our minds. An embarrassment of riches. Embarrassing enough to make me want to avert my eyes. I mean, who has the time? Given a chance to study ancient Greek, I'll spend an hour looking at Mary Beard tweets.

But when you're deported or abducted to a foreign land, I suppose you have to learn the language as best you can, no matter how badly that is. And I suppose I've got to bumble and thrash more-or-less towards what might be the right direction, and try not to get in the way too much.

ALL THAT SAID, this is an unusually well-earned rant by Kurt Eichenwald: "Start with this: The DNC, just like the Republican National Committee, is an impotent organization with very little power...."

Eichenwald is a reporter who focused on the election process itself, which may be why he doesn't mention what baffled me most about anyone-but-Clintonism: Bernie Sanders's one single issue wasn't something that Sanders or any other president could do much about. Taxes are determined by Congress, not by the executive branch, and there's no other path by which our democracy can restore the necessary redistribution of wealth. So long as greedy traitors control Congress, a President Sanders or a President Clinton, just like the post-2010 President Obama, could only act as a speed bump.

A speed bump or a drunken lead foot on the gas? That seemed like a simple enough choice. I forgot how 30% of Americans drive.

Responses

well, we know how to rip into each other, and we don't know how to fight the folks we need to fight. any ideas?

And then you can hear me run through the consonant declensions. Nah, I have no ideas; I'm looking to more sensible people for those. I do have words, plenty of words, but they're all unhelpfully self-obsessed and I'd rather not share them except as needed for friendship's sake.

For friendship's sake, I'll attempt a tl;dr: Whenever I engage in anything recognizable as "political action," my misery and ineptitude are such as to constitute sabotage.

More-sensible person Josh Lukin reminisces:

I guess my only comment on 9 November would have been "Hey, Mako! What the fuck happened!"

. . .

Bye, 2016; so long, all that

I loved my country my United States, headed by a well-funded and unabashedly ambitious federal government I loved my country about as much as any halfway sane person could love an unimaginably huge and amorphous institutional abstraction. Which seems only natural since it had rescued, fed, clothed, sheltered, educated, and boosted me and my brother after having rescued and supported our parents.

Of course (being halfway sane) I knew big government was frequently inept, hypocritical, and unjust to the point of murder. But it was also the only rival to and our only defense against the unimaginably huge and amorphous institutional abstractions of big business and big religion, both of which were at least as frequently inept, hypocritical, unjust, and murderous. And where big businesses and big churches could cheat, lie, embezzle, extort, and rape with virtual impunity, big government's pretense of public service left its miscreants nominally (and therefore sometimes actually) susceptible to public inspection and public penalty.

Even while I and my brother were swaddled by socialism, big business and big religion began negotiating an unholy alliance. As of the 1980 election, its success was no longer deniable. But I kept a sullen, resentful faith. My country had absorbed such body blows before and re-righted itself. Weren't the allegiances of evangelical with Jew around Zionism, and evangelical with Catholic around abortion, and church with plutocracy around ignorance inherently unstable?

After the 2000 election, "my country" suddenly looked less like world-as-is and more like a vulnerable blip. 2001 confirmed its vulnerability; the 2004 election guaranteed its loss. Seventy years, approximately the lifespan of the Third Republic.

You know how these things go, though. We understand our loved ones will die, and yet the day finds us unprepared. We understand that gambling is lucrative business; we noticed the casino staff repeatedly extract ever larger winnings and repeatedly produce ever colder decks. And yet when we blankly watch our chips, checks, bonds, mortgage, and IOUs squeegeed dry across the table, it's a shock.

A shock but no surprise.1 No need to waste weeks arguing over how we might have played that last card better. No infallibly winning card was left in this particular game. If we hadn't lost this deal, we would have lost the next one.

At least our razed territory holds plenty of company. Like successful totalitarians of the past, our new leaders didn't let themselves be distracted by the unpopularity of their goals; instead they focused on gaining power by any means at hand, and then guaranteeing continued power by any means at hand. This they interpret as a heroic win against overwhelmingly unfair odds by dint of their superior brilliance and talent.

They've recently attempted to adapt their self-justifications for a wider audience with spins like "saving our country from urban scum" or "defending America against California" or simply "making those fuckers squirm." And of course, as soon as their eminent domain's established they begin demolishing anything in the path of the propaganda superhighway notably the distasteful slums of reality-based journalism, education, and research. But for a brief while yet, our rulers remain a lunatic fringe who defy majority opinion on almost every policy, and we retain some belief that a democracy should at least vaguely represent its people. History suggests that's common ground enough to push from.

1   Well, one surprise, at least for me. I never anticipated Vladimir Putin as leader of a new Axis. Awfully exceptionalist of me. After "patriotism" lost any connotation of service or sacrifice (even the trivial financial sacrifice of taxes), and frankly selfish plutocrats could reach office without need of political stand-ins, who better to inspire them than the leading exponent of the globalized shakedown state? And whereas Stalin's, Hitler's, and Mussolini's attempts at foreign influence relied on native "thought-leaders" who never quite met spec, now misinformation and propaganda, like every other form of publishing, can bypass the middleman (unless, of course, the middleman is a national firewall), and Russia's greatest export, the bot-troll cyborg, can work from the comfort of home.

Responses

Thanks, Bo Diddley.

 

Copyright to contributed work and quoted correspondence remains with the original authors.
Public domain work remains in the public domain.
All other material: Copyright 2015 Ray Davis.