Monday, June 30, 2008

Top Gun

The Supreme Court decision on Second Amendment rights was greeted with dancing in the streets by conservatives, and with shock and horror by liberals -- all very predictable, since both sides had been waiting for this particular shoe to drop for decades. The majority decision was offered by Justice Scalia with his accustomed crystal-clear wisdom and discernment, and the minority dissent was typically mealy-mouthed and appealing only to the most self-pitying. Conservatives see a preservation and reaffirmation of rights simply considered plain common sense in less "enlightened" times. The liberals see a vision of armed gangs running amok in the streets of our inner cities, and... wait, that's already happening. So what _are_ they afraid of? Surely not of law-abiding citizens owing weapons for self defense. Or... and this is where it gets touchy... for purposes of discouraging abuse and the trampling of rights by various "law enforcement" bodies at various levels? This possibility is whispered at on occasion, although it was quite explicitly offered at the time the Constitution was drawn up -- just not actually incorporated into the document, which has been a source of all the confusion since. Could there ever come a time when the citizenry would have to defend itself against its own government? The founders fervently hoped not, but "just in case" -- let's say in case of a violent socialist revolution of the sort that has convulsed so many countries since then -- people would have some first-line defense against totalitarianism. But the heart of the matter seems to have been simple defense of life and property against assault and invasion by the lawless. This, of course, has always been the liberals' weak suit -- namely, the ability to acknowledge the rights of average citizens, vs. those of career victims or of the criminal class itself. The right to bear arms was seen as some sort of vague threat to any sort of revolutionay, or evolutionary, agenda, and it was also seen as a somewhat tacky way of asserting the value of the middle-class, AKA "bourgeois", lifestyle. Hopefully this decision will be a major setback for the agents of change, who do not lack a certain predilection for violence and coercion, where those conform to their agenda.

As to the actual risks involved, I don't think this decision will put one more weapon into the hands of criminals that would not have wound up there anyway. What it will do is _keep_ weapons in the hands of people on the other side of the cultural divide, i.e. between the law-abiding and the lawless, the producers and the takers. This also disturbs the liberal concept of "dialectic", but that concept richly deserves to be disturbed, as often as possible. And yes, criminal gangs will still "own the streets" in many of our inner cities, but perhaps this will serve as a kind of buffer to the expansion of their territories. It may also mean that people who live in those areas won't have to barricade themselves in every night, relying on alarm systems, dogs, and 911 lines that are frequently manned by donut-and-coffee-drugged personnel. In any case, it is a huge victory for law and genuine order, rather than the sort of resentment-fueled identity politics that infects so much of our society. Will there be shoot-em-ups at high noon on city streets, between the citizenry and the felon class? Highly unlikely. What there will be -- hopefully -- is a bit more hesitation on the part of the violent, and the criminal, to take their impulses out on whoever happens to be behind the next door.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Going Human

A new day dawns. And it turns out that there is, indeed, intelligent life on another planet. The planet in question is called “Spain”, and the intelligent life – or, at least, the life form which has now taken its place as the equivalent of homo sapiens, for whatever that may imply in terms of “intelligence” – is the great ape. What interest the Spanish parliament might have had in elevating the ape to the same level as man in terms of “rights” is itself a matter for speculation. Are apes native to Spain? Not the last I heard, unless you include those critters that scurry around on the Rock of Gibraltar. But in the interests of worldwide outreach, responsibility, and guilt (call it “political boundary issues”), no doubt inspired by American liberals, the parliament – and we must parse carefully here – “voiced its support for the rights of great apes to life and freedom”. Put another way, it “called for such rights for non-humans” by “approving resolutions urging Spain to comply with the Great Apes Project, devised by scientists and philosophers.” We have to watch that last phrase, “scientists and philosophers” – an unholy mix indeed, when we are talking about government policies. We have seen, over the past few decades, how basically impotent philosophy is in the face of the Technological Imperative when divorced from faith, i.e. from religion or the spiritual frame of reference. The most egregious examples occur whenever “ethicists” – who are, almost by definition, devoid of a genuinely moral standpoint (because otherwise they would be called “moral theologians” and not “ethicists”) start carrying water for whatever technological, i.e. science-based enormities the medical profession has come up with this time. The ape issue is not strictly medical, of course, unless you include the doubtful psychiatric state of the people who came up with it. It is, rather, a stunning case of not only misplaced sentimentality and what I call “cuteism” – i.e., any species that is “cute”, or otherwise attractive, has to be protected, and the rest can get lost – but of what is called the “pathetic fallacy”, i.e. the notion that animals, especially those who resemble us in some way or who seem, at times, to mimic human feelings and responses, do, indeed, “feel” in the same way, and to the same extent, we do. Heck, we haven’t even accepted this premise about _each other_ as yet; how are we supposed to write this idea about apes into law? But the parade marches on. Now, you’ll notice (back to the parsing) that what was passed by the Spanish parliament was only a “resolution”, and all it does is “urge”. And Spain is apparently the first country on earth to even go this far. So the imminent liberation of apes from, e.g., zoos and experimental laboratories and TV shows and movies is still a ways off. But this is a clear signal that a trend is afoot, and I think it behooves us to be prepared – by which I mean, it behooves the _apes_ to be prepared. Because they will clearly, along with human rights, be saddled with all the human obligations which make this world such a vale of tears – especially when there are liberals in charge.

To begin with, the newly-liberated apes will have to be entered on the tax rolls and a portion of any wages they earn (through appearing in summer-stock productions of “King Kong”, for example) will have to be withheld. They will have to start wearing clothing in public places (except for German beaches). They will have to comply, if they wind up owning a business or rental real estate, with a vast array of regulations, including those pertaining to “equal opportunity” and “non-discrimination” (which, let’s assume, will by that time have been updated to reflect a multi-species environment). Nasty ape-like habits such as littering (with banana peels) or having feces fights will have to stop, due to the environmental and health hazards involved. An adult ape having “sexual commerce” with an underage ape (defined more or less the way it is for us, i.e. according to the public school curriculum) will be arrested, tried, and… well, locked up in a cage, I suppose. (I guess we’ll have to get ready for a bit of irony as well.) On the plus side, the makers of “gas guzzling” motor vehicles will gain a new lease on life, since the upsizing of cars to accommodate gorillas will add many more tons of metal to our already overstressed highways. Other industries that will profit handsomely will be barbers and hairstylists (and possibly manicurists, although further inquiry is needed on that point). The question of whether apes will be admitted to the armed forces will arise, and the issues will be daunting. Their sheer physical strength and agility would seem to make them ideal candidates for special operations. But it is feared that their mental slowness might constitute a disqualifier – at least until the military becomes desperate enough to lower the entrance standards to ape level. But in the meantime, our public school curriculae will have been updated thanks to programs like No Ape Left Behind. And we certainly shouldn’t forget the immense shot in the arm college athletics and professional sports will get. (And speaking of schools, the only institutions that will see no discernible change will be fraternities.) All in all, it looks like a win-win situation for all species involved.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Whose Bible Is It, Anyway?

Now here's a good one. Dr. James Dobson, of Focus on the Family, has accused Barack Obama of distorting the Bible in pursuit of a political agenda, and of offering a "fruitcake interpretation" of the Constitution. Dobson, of course, is a giant among Evangelicals -- you know, those folks who can cite chapter and verse, usually in the Book of Revelations, to the effect that the State of Israel is the key to "salvation history" and that the United States should be prepared to make any sacrifice, no matter how extreme, even unto the total implosion of our economy, to defend it and insure its survival. This, of course, is considered level-headed Biblical interpretation in Evangelical circles -- why, it's right here in black and white, can't you see? There are verses in the Bible that talk about Saddam Hussein, and Al Qaeda, and Iran, and the State of Israel, and... what's the matter with you, are you blind? But Obama, on the other hand, is "distorting". Well... all I can say is, if Dr. Dobson is against distortion, maybe he could encourage his Evangelical friends to call off the platoons of believers who have occupied Washington, DC for the last 7-plus years and who bear a great part of the responsibility for our current political and economic situation. They have done all they can to wreck the Republican party -- although that was not their intent -- even to the extent of throwing George Bush under the bus in pursuit of their agenda. They are no closer to the millennium in the Near East than they were in 2001, except that our economy has been decimated by their efforts, and our military has been put into the service of what is basically a delusional and quixotic quest. It's time to banish these fanatics from all influence on foreign policy. And as for Obama's "fruitcake" interpretation of the Constitution, maybe we should talk about certain people's fruitcake interpretation of the Bible, and how it has exerted a stranglehold on this administration. That would be a good topic for Obama to bring up, as a matter of fact. But what are the chances?

Two Countries

From the news: "A poll, by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, found that nearly three-fourths of Americans believe in heaven... (a)nd almost 60 percent believe in hell." And, "Majorities believe that angels and demons are at work in the world and that miracles occur today as they did in ancient times." "These are common beliefs among the American public", said a Pew researcher. The emphasis of the poll was on the relationship between religious beliefs and politics, but that initial baseline strikes me as somewhat remarkable. One remarkable factoid is that about 15% of people believe in heaven, but not in hell. Well, we all know people like that -- it's the "everyone wins, and all deserve a prize" mentality (without an exception for Hitler, even! -- or Nixon!). But the most remarkable thing about these data is what they say about the vast gulf between the American people and the mainstream media + academics. Simple belief in God is derided by academicians -- not to mention psychiatrists -- as prima facie evidence of "ignorance and superstition" and possibly "mental illness". Then add to it belief in heaven and/or hell, and you have full-blown paranoid schizophrenia with delusional aspects, hallucinations, and who knows what else. This is all according to the people who publish our newspapers and magazines, produce our radio and TV programs, and make our movies. It is also according to the vast "social services" network that has infiltrated every level of government through "child welfare" and "family service" agencies. If you're a religious person, these people all think you're crazy, and that you have to be stopped! Locked up, preferably -- or at least put under house arrest and fitted with a monitor that tracks your location at all times. And heaven (or whatever) forbid you should be allowed to raise children. (Can you say "FLDS", class?)

Can a bigger gap between the citizenry and its "providers" possibly be imagined? And our politicians, of course, have to continually walk a thin line between the two, as we see on a daily basis. They have to avoid offending either side -- which is why their public statements come off, more often than not, as stuttering gibberish. If a politician is also a believer (and yes, it is possible) he has to avoid being characterized as a "religious nut" by the media. If he's a non-believer he has to avoid condemnation by religious leaders -- you know, the ones who keep scaling that "wall of separation between church and state". I almost feel sorry for these guys -- except that they asked for it. In the meantime, we will continue to live in a country that is actually two countries -- that of believers, and that of the people who define our terminology, set our priorities, define what is socially acceptable and what is not, and make pronouncements as to our mental health or lack thereof.

Another Terrorible Election

So the "gaffe du jour" is a statement by a McCain advisor that, according to the news, "a terrorist attack in the United States would be a political benefit to the Republican nominee." And of course this entirely realistic, if somewhat cynical, remark was greeted with shock -- shock! -- by both McCain and his opponent. Well, we've been through this before, right? Back in '04 it was all about, would an attack at that point help Bush, and the consesus was yes, it would, since the Republicans were perceived as strong on terrorism, and on national defense in general, and the Democrats were perceived as weak. This was not even considered especially controversial at the time, just a statement of what everyone knew to be the case. But now it's a cause for great alarm and indignation, and the question is why? Candidate McCain provided a clue when he said, "It's not true. I've worked tirelessly since 9/11 to prevent another attack on the United States of America." Did I say a clue? Wrong, because he clearly doesn't have one. This belongs in the non-sequitur hall of fame. What relevance do McCain's efforts in the anti-terrorism arena have to do with the truth or falsity of the statement? The fact is that McCain's anti-terrorism efforts are the very _reason_ the statement is true. If he had said, "It's not true, because I have no interest in terrorism one way or the other", that would have made sense.

On the Obama side, the statement was received with the predictable shock and scorn, which is a sure sign that a nerve was hit. Of course, Obama could always take the high road and point out that the "war on terror" is basically a hoax, and that, as Ron Paul said, they (the terrorists) are over here because we're over there (in the Near East). But that would take true political courage, and we already know that Obama is a total piece of fluff in that department. So the masquerade goes on.

But let's linger for a moment on the question of everyone's thin-skinnedness on this issue -- especially that of McCain. Why is it _that_ scandalous to suggest that a terrorist attack would help a given candidate? Why, because that might mean -- in some conspiracy-ridden bizarro world -- that someone could stage, or provoke, a terrorist attack for the precise purpose of enhancing their chances in the election. Now, we know this could never happen here.... "but"... how many people are convinced that the government, specifically the Bush administration, "had something to do with" 9/11? Was it a massive provocateur action... or a sting operation, as the Oklahoma City bombing is suspected of being? Was it no more legitimate than the Gulf of Tonkin incident, for example? Or at the very least, was it anticipated but allowed to happen anyway, like Pearl Harbor? We have a long history of suspicious incidents that provided justification for going to war. McCain has already tipped his hand when it comes to Iran. The Bush administration is showing signs of backing off on the Iran brinkmanship, undoubtedly intending to hand the issue off to the next administration, which they hope will be McCain's. But they are laying the groundwork for a war on Iran, as is Israel, of course. But who can convince the American public, and the media, that another war in the Near East is a good idea? The Bush administration has a credibility rating of just about zero right now. McCain would represent a new face, if not a new approach. So the ideal timing, from the McCain camp's point of view, would be: (1) terrorist attack sometime between now and Election Day; (2) McCain is elected; (3) Iran is found to be "behind" the attack; (4) McCain takes office in January; (5) McCain starts war with Iran, with the full approval of Congress and the American people, the media having been at least temporarily declawed. Hey wait, doesn't this scenario sound a wee bit familiar? Doesn't it sound a little too much like the 9/11--Saddam--invasion of Iraq sequence, with Bush's re-election being a bonus? Sure looks that way to me. But! -- you might ask -- the war in Iraq is a total catastrophe! Who would want to repeat it? Well, as I've said before, it's a catastrophe for the American people, but certainly not for their rulers or for the friends of those rulers in the industrial sector. For them, it's pure manna from heaven. But wait! -- you'll say -- Bush has become one of the most despised presidents of all time. How can you say it's good for the "rulers"? Well, who ever said George Bush was "ruling" anything? I'm not talking about him, silly.

Identity Theft

I suppose it’s too early to pronounce the term “meltdown” on identity politics. In fact, I guess it will _always_ be too early to express hope that this most grotesque and decaying manifestation of liberalism will finally perish of its own weight. But it’s good to see, now and then, at least a few absurd cases which lend credence to the condemnation any right-thinking person should pronounce on this phenomenon. And three stories in one day provide an unexpected bonus.

The first concerns a Pennsylvania state legislator who objected to a resolution “recognizing a Muslim group’s upcoming convention” by saying that “the Muslims do not recognize Jesus Christ as God.” Well OK… but that’s also true of Jews and not a few people who call themselves “Christians”, and you don’t see resolutions recognizing their conventions getting derailed. But wait a minute – what on earth is a state legislature doing passing “resolutions” “recognizing” conventions, anyway? Don’t they have anything better to do? Well, the answer is no; see immediately preceding post. In this case, the convention was that of “the U.S. chapter of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community” – you know, that same convention that grabs all the headlines every year? Right, I never heard of it. Now, if the state legislature is going to dig that deep for something to “recognize”, how many other conventions, meetings, gatherings, pow-wows, etc. are going to feel they have a right to demand equal recognition? This could turn into a full-time job… which is, of course, the whole idea. In any case, this particular resolution was “sent back to committee”, which is another way of saying “to Siberia”, and it might just not see the light of day again… or at least not in time to excite and inspire the conventioneers who – we all know – were just waiting with baited breath for a show of support from the Wise Men of Harrisburg.

Secondly, we have a school out somewhere in the boonies in Thailand, where we can be sure political correctness and identity politics have not yet penetrated (if that is the word – read on). But wait! Apparently they have, because out of an enrollment of 2600, 200 identified themselves as “transgender” on a survey. Well, it’s hard to know which question to ask first. To begin with, how to Thai kids out in the sticks even know what “transgender” means, to say nothing of whether they themselves qualify? And then, what on earth is a school (public, we assume) doing asking questions about its students’ transgender identification? Maybe they’re looking for federal grant money or something. But then – can you imagine almost 10% of the students in any American school openly identifying themselves as “transgender”? Does it mean they get special lunches? I just don’t get it. (The article didn’t say how many of the 200 were biological male vs. female. Well, they could have asked that question too! Problem is, they might have gotten a lot of people checking the box for “Uncertain” – then what?)

And finally, we have an item from the source – the very fountainhead – of identity politics, namely South Africa, where “the high court” (I’ll bet they were) ruled that “Chinese South Africans are to be reclassified as black people.” This was to enable them to benefit from anti-white government programs, i.e. from discrimination, which might have otherwise continued to fall on them as well. You have to hand it to them, I guess – they know a winning color when they see one. Of course, South Africa doesn’t have to keep calling all of its preferred victim groups “black” – they could just call them “minorities” the way we do. Oh wait, you say blacks are in the majority in South Africa? But so are all of our minorities – in the aggregate, I mean. If you add up all the minorities, victim groups, and grievance groups in the U.S. you wind up with way more than half the population. And yet they are still referred to as “minorities”, which I guess means that the balance of the population is a “majority” even though it’s in the minority. Or maybe it’s that any given minority is a minority compared with the aggregate of all other minorities plus the majority (which is itself a minority) – in which case, most “discrimination” and “bigotry” and “hate” is something inflicted by one minority on another. Right? Which means that every minority spends just as much time discriminating as being discriminated against. Which means, we could do away with all anti-discrimination laws, since everyone is breaking even, i.e. everyone is equally a victim and a perpetrator. Oh wait, I forgot about white Christian heterosexual men. They are always perpetrators, and never victims. So I guess the laws have to stay on the books. Well, I tried.

Vegetative States

Every time I hear someone going on about states’ rights, or the demise of federalism, I think, well OK, fair enough. The Constitution was written for something called the “United” States – not a single, homogeneous place having little or no trace of the autonomous original thirteen colonies and the many territories that followed. Back then, the states were assumed to have an identity and a history that they wanted to preserve, and their individual strengths were taken as assets which, when contributed to the whole, would make the Union stronger. But these strengths would be best preserved by maintaining a degree of autonomy and self-determination. Well, we know what happened – when was it? – “fourscore and seven years” later, when some of the states decided to take this self-determination thing a bit too far, and they had to be taught a damn good lesson by good ol’ Honest Abe. And ever since then, the states as meaningful cultural and social entities have slid deeper into a pool of irrelevance… and they are only kept alive politically because they constitute convenient divisions for purposes such as allocating, and counting, electoral votes, and allocating federal funds. But their laws can be overturned at the slightest whim of any federal court, and any significant economic decisions, not to mention social policies, have to meet the stern gaze of their masters in Washington. Their legislatures spend all their time working at the margins, worrying about the pathetically trivial handful of options they have left. And their courts are basically flyover country between local jurisdictions and the federal courts.

So what on earth good are they? The answer is that they are basically expendable. But, in line with my First Principal of Government, namely that every government program is a jobs program, state governments drone on, providing a means of sustenance for countless political hacks, mediocrities, and piles of deadwood, even though they have virtually no mission. (But as is well known, when there is no mission, no one can figure out how many people it takes to perform it. So the sky’s the limit.)

And this brings us back to the issues of states’ rights and federalism. Let’s say the trends that began with the Civil War could be reversed. Do you really want state governments, as presently constituted, to assume more control over the lives of the citizens? Do you want to turn one more iota of decision-making over to the zombies who wander around the typical state capital? I sure as hell don’t, and I live in Pennsylvania, which is, I suppose, about average on the corruption and incompetence scale. What if the question involved New Jersey, say, or Illnois? Or Louisiana? Now admittedly, state governments are a product of their environment, the way government employees are the products of theirs. Government employees were not born that way – i.e. as barely-conscious parasites. They were created by the system, by its rewards and punishments. In this, it can be truly said that government employment, like the ailment the kids in “West Side Story” suffered from, is a social disease. And likewise, state governments are suffering from a political disease – they have little or no authority, responsibility, or accountability, so they wind up acting accordingly. If the states had been able to hold on to the degree of autonomy they enjoyed in the early 1800s, they might (read “might”) have wound up with more productive, efficient, and intelligent administrations and leaders. But under the conditions to which they have been subjected, the bad has driven out the good, and simply asserting, or implementing, some form of renewed federalism isn’t going to bring them out of their stupor.

Monday, June 23, 2008

“Democracy”? What’s That?

It is a good thing that the United States is working day and night to spread the blessings of democracy to countries around the world, since we are losing more of those same blessings with every passing day. In fact, the day is not far off when any number of foreign countries will be more “democratic” than we are; I suspect that many of them are even as we speak. The supreme irony, of course, is that it is the very process of “spreading democracy” that has accelerated the erosion of democracy on the home front, because we do not spread democracy merely by example or persuasion – no, that would be way too inefficient and unreliable. We spread it by armed force! Well, we hope it becomes voluntary sooner or later, but initially the thing to do is coerce people into pretending to be democratic, and pretending to like it. You know, the old thing about building up a habit, and then a virtue, starting with rote imitation and close-order drill? It works in the military, so why not on the international front?

Now, what possible value all of these pseudo-democracies can have to the American people is beyond me. I suspect it’s more like some sort of ego boost for our politicians who consider themselves the inheritors of the principles established -- or so they fancy -- by the Founding Fathers: If it’s good enough for America, it must, by definition, be good enough for the rest of the world, and bollocks on their religions, customs, traditions, and the like. It’s not so much that much of the world is not “ready” for democracy – they simply don’t want it. They have tried it (in theory, at least) and found it wanting. And, I submit, the main “tried and found wanting” instance was simply that they took a look at how democracy “works” _here_ and decided they wanted nothing to do with it. Well, the current election cycle would be enough to turn anybody off. But beyond that, anyone with a grain of sense can see that politics, as practiced in these United States, tends to attract – by and large – neurotic egomaniacs with delusions of grandeur, especially on the national level. These are the kinds of people who make one downright nostalgic for kings – you know, the doddering kind like George III who preferred tinkering with clocks to ruling. Who wouldn’t prefer that sort of ruler to our own mini-Napoleons, who undertake ill-advised military expeditions to places of no discernible value, for their own aggrandizement, AKA “legacy”? It was said of the Romans, “They made a desert and call it peace.” Well, we do better than that – we find a desert and start a war there in order to “democratize” it. Thus, a product – and one of the leading ones – of modern democracy. Then one has to look at the whole “democratic” process – in which – by definition! – the people are presumed to rule. After the protracted agony of the primaries, in which “the people” certainly had nothing whatsoever to do with choosing the field of candidates, we wind up with a choice between two highly delusional men who, in any other profession, would be quickly shunted off to an early retirement, if not a rubber room. But in politics, they’re considered just dandy—“normal” even. So again, what are we advertising to the rest of the world? Then you have to consider what happens when someone comes up with some truly new – revolutionary, say – ideas, and attempts to present them to the public. How is he received? With derision, hostility, blatant discrimination, and legal and regulatory barriers that are all but insurmountable. “Third parties” – you know, those things that the rest of the world calls “political parties” – are treated about as well as lepers with AIDS in this country. Great is the indignation that pours from the media and the mainstream politicians that anyone should have the gall to question the transcendent fairness and inclusiveness of the two-party system. Thus, the receptivity of the American public, and its spoon-feeders – i.e. the media – to new ideas (or “old” ones, like for instance strict interpretation of the Constitution). Does the rest of the world see us honoring democratic principles, or even recognizing them? Not unless they seriously need a new pair of glasses.

So the bottom line is that the American electorate is presented with a “choice” of candidates that represents about 1% of the potential political spectrum, and a huge to-do is made of the whole process by the media – i.e. by the voice of the regime. We have a “right to vote”, unlike those benighted serfs overseas. So we dutifully trudge off to the polls, and that very evening (usually) the winner is announced and presented as “the people’s choice”, which basically means that whether you voted for this clown or not, your duty is to shut the hell up for the next four years, because who are you to argue with “the people”? And in the meantime, this candidate has already completely sold out to various special interests and grievance groups, and the chances of his actually ever doing anything that is consistent with the will of “the people” are indistinguishable from zero. He spends the next four years commanding hapless military ventures and running amok in the economy… and on those rare occasions when challenged, will cite the overwhelming percentage of the voters who chose to put him into office – most of whom have been long-since afflicted with “buyer’s remorse”. Then the golden day dawns when he retires, amidst laurels and tributes from all sides, and much to the relief of all… only to be replaced by one just as bad, if not worse. And this is the system we expect the world to gaze upon in rapture, and to emulate? No wonder we have to force it down their throats!

And meanwhile, on the home front, the price of “spreading democracy” grows higher by the day. Because our gentle persuasion of other nations, peoples, and cultures invariably takes the form of military (overt or otherwise) operations, and because said operations are notoriously expensive, the government is forced to delve ever deeper into our pocketbooks – and personal affairs – in order to finance these ventures. And as it seeks for dollars wherever they may be found, the level of intrusion into commercial life deepens as well, as does the level of regulation, paperwork, “reporting”, accounting, and so on. We are, in effect, charged with financing a crusade, and no commercial or personal transaction is too trivial to qualify for a “cut” in the interests of the cause. Then add to this the fragile – if existent at all – structure of language and propaganda that constitutes a rationale for these efforts. It has to be financed through the media, for one thing. And the suppression of dissenting voices has to be accomplished as well. And in these times, there is a new enemy, namely the Internet. Since it is to difficult to censor, the propaganda machine in other media has to be set into high gear and maintained that way in perpetuity – and that is a very expensive process. For every blogger out there (and I blush to consider that I might qualify as one of them) someone in the MSM has to be charged with their total contradiction, if not outright defamation.

One finds, historically, that the more ill-advised the foreign venture, the more effort must be expended to suppress internal, i.e. domestic, dissent. Fight a “good” war, and only a few nut cases will protest, and they are easily dealt with (can you say “Fort Leavenworth”, class?). Fight a “bad” war – e.g., Vietnam or Iraq – and the challenge is much more daunting, therefore the mechanisms of suppression and propaganda have to be bolstered and continually fed with the resources of those they are designed to convince. Thus do we pay for our own chains and shackles. And this is just on the domestic side. Now we have the continual threat of “terrorism” as an excuse to erode civil liberties, wherever and whenever it is deemed appropriate. So we become not only a fortress nation, politically isolated from the rest of the world by our own paranoia and fanaticism, but we suffer from “internal paranoia” as well, whereby any citizen, regardless of his record of impeccable behavior, could, at any time, turn coat and align himself with the terror masters of the Hindu Kush. Compared to the alleged paranoia of the “communist witch hunts” of the 1950s – which turned out to be all-too-justified – this is pure lunacy. And yet it is seeping more and more into domestic policy and into the lives of ordinary citizens.

And make no mistake – the rest of the world sees, and notes well, all of this. We are in a position at present similar to that of the Soviet Union in the Stalinist era – hyper-aggressive, hyper-paranoid, and really scary as far as the rest of the world is concerned. When “_the_ superpower” seems out of control and run by lunatics, other nations have reason to quake in fear. Even Israel is starting to wonder whether we aren’t carrying their cause a bit too far; they are more willing to negotiate with their enemies than we are! (Of course, they have to actually live in the Near East, whereas we don’t. We’re just expected to pay a visit now and then… with a few hundred thousand troops, of course.) This is all, IMHO, a sign of deep pathology on our part. But in the meantime, we are trumpeting our belief in democracy worldwide, and that it’s not only good for us – it’s good for everyone, and heaven help you if you disagree. You might have to be re-educated, at the point of a gun! We have become the “crazy uncle in the attic” to the rest of the world, except the crazy uncle still has a lot of money and he has a lot of guns. Who, then, will bell the cat? And how, and when? Time will tell.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Our Beggar Kings

First, they have a dream… or a delusion. This is typically accompanied by wildly inflated notions as to their talents, capabilities, leadership ability, and the value of their “ideas”. Then they ask for support from, first, friends and family, and then from “associates” who, more likely than not, have their own agenda and are looking primarily at the profit-making and power-accumulating potential of the deal. Then they do this thing called “testing the waters”, which basically means putting out a proposal and seeing how many people are interested vs. how many laugh and call them a fool. Then it comes time to get more money – referred to as “contributions” but more properly called “bribes” or at the very least “investments”. Then comes the really humiliating part, where they have to race up and down the land, glad-handing and smiling at people they would normally never associate with (or invite to a dinner party). They get to try out their rhetorical skills, coming up with a fetid brew of vapid ideas, plans, and “programs”… trotting out every “buzz word” and demagogic device they can think of, basically selling themselves for votes to people who believe that they stand to gain something from the promises made – mostly that by supporting this person they are increasing the likelihood that he will eventually find a way to take money out of other people’s pockets and put it into their own. And should all of this low and calculating activity succeed, what then? Why, the process simply continues at the same rate, but this time from a “power base” from which he can demonstrate that, indeed, putting him in office was a good idea because look at all the jobs, new wealth, prosperity, and happiness that has been created by merely putting him at the helm. Of course, what is not mentioned is that the entire economy has been played as a zero-sum game, whereby for every winner there must be at least one loser, and one can only hope the losers don’t all get together and start comparing notes.

And who, after all, are these wretched excuses for humanity who play such devious games and practice deceit on such a monumental level… and, more often than not, get away with it? Why, our very own politicians, of course! Now, the question is, how did things get this way – how did _we_ get this way – and what, if anything, can be done about it? To begin, let’s think about the “original intent” – to borrow a term from conservatives on the Supreme Court – of elective office, with an emphasis on the federal level. For one thing, no one ever imagined that there would someday be such a thing as the “career politician” – this would have seemed like an abomination to people imbued with the Protestant work ethic and with notions of self-sufficiency and individualism. Politics (and the term was rarely used) at the time was considered a form of service, and a duty which only the best-qualified and most-respected would be expected to take an interest in (but only a temporary one at that). It would be performed with, perhaps, even a bit of reluctance and always with due humility, since we had made it clear that we weren’t interested in kings or “rulers” of any sort. And mainly, it would be performed in the context of a governmental structure so limited that it can barely be conceived of today. The elected official was charged with the defense of the nation and with upholding the Constitution – which, after all, is a very brief document, albeit grand in inspiration. A person would take leave of his usual occupation and go to the capital to serve for a while, then return and become a normal citizen again – none of the present-day trappings of bogus elitism and perpetual royalty would be found.

Yes, this may be a slightly rosier-than-due picture of the situation. But if one compares the “career trajectory” of the Founding Fathers and early politicians to that of today’s public figures, one finds differences so vast that it’s amazing they can be considered comparable in any way. And yet, the Constitution certainly doesn’t forbid anyone from becoming a politician for life, and it also does not forbid – at least not explicitly enough – the growth of government into an all-encompassing entity that is involved with every aspect of the lives of citizens, and that therefore requires not only thousands of elected officials but millions of bureaucrats to keep it going. The question then becomes, does the current situation represent the long-term consequence of a fatal flaw in the founding documents or in the thinking of those who wrote them? I think in most cases issues were not spelled out more explicitly because it was simply assumed that anyone with any sense would understand what was intended, and what the intended, i.e. common-sense, limits to government power were. Surely if the founders had anticipated the deterioration in our ideas of government which has occurred over the years, they might have provided a much more explicit, and longer, document – kind of like the tax code, where nothing is left to chance. Or – they might have simply despaired of the entire process, arguing that people who have to be fed freedom with a spoon and a bib really don’t understand it, and are therefore not entitled to it… that, in the long run, their incomprehension will open wide the door to tyranny. But these men were idealists, after all, and they really did expect people to use their heads and not use the government as a club with which to assault their neighbors. On the other hand, they were realists enough to provide for a separation of powers – which only the negligence of succeeding generations has distorted beyond recognition. We now have courts making law rather than interpreting it, and legislatures rubber-stamping the most outrageous abuses by the executive branch. Our present-day Congress stands by helpless as the courts invalidate laws they worked feverishly to draw up and pass, and as presidents wage wars solely on their own initiative. So, much of the blame can be laid at the feet of legislatures, which are, in turn, full of careerists who will do anything – make any compromise – in order not to risk being voted out of office. Presidents hold power for a season, and seem to delight in doing as much damage as possible, knowing they will never be held accountable. And judges go to their graves after having accumulated more power than the founders ever dreamed of. And through it all, nary a peep is heard from the real victims, i.e. the ordinary citizens, because they have been “educated” to believe that all of this is well and good, and necessary, and a natural “evolution” of the system – good at the time, but largely outmoded – that was devised at the beginning.

So we can say, whose fault is it, and the answer is, basically, everybody’s. But as to a remedy? What started as an idea has run up on the rocks of cynicism, greed, corruption, power hunger, and, yes, outright self-destructiveness and treason. But can ideas once again be brought to bear, and constitute a cure, or at least start turning the tide? The prognosis is not good, because even when ideas consistent with the intent of the Founding Fathers are broached, they are hooted down by the media, vehemently opposed by politicians, and ignored by the bulk of the electorate. We have a few voices crying in the wilderness, but make no mistake – it is a wilderness. And it doesn’t help that so many of those original concepts have been perverted to the point where they are now part of the problem. “Democracy” – the concept behind the Constitution – is now identified with catastrophic military adventures overseas. “Freedom” can be converted into cultural degeneracy and moral anarchy, without much effort and if people are willing to ignore the consequences. And “liberty" is that thing which has been so eroded by successive wars, depressions, social movements, and other crises that most people don’t have the remotest image of what it might entail. And this is another point – what I call the “great unstated assumption”, aside from plain common sense, that seems to be implied by our founding documents and principles. It is the simple self-respect that people are presumed to have by virtue of being part of the created order. But we have outlawed any mention of, or implication of, the idea that the order of things has been “created”. Our vision has gone from reverence and awe to economics and "social justice", which is, more often than not, a way of rationalizing the politics of envy and resentment. In any case, when man is simply the result of blind, impersonal forces -- when it’s all random, all chance, all accidental -- then anything is permitted, to borrow from Dostoyevsky. So we become a demoralized – in the literal sense – people. And somehow, all the efforts of academics to substitute secular “values”, i.e. ethics with no moral foundation, don’t seem to have filled the gap. So yes, we are a different people from those for whom the Constitution was written, and it is very difficult to imagine how we can ever return to the point where we will be once again worthy of its wisdom – and of the freedom it provides. And our politicians, far from being exceptional, are sadly just like all the rest of us, but placed on high on pedestals of straw.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Three for the Road

1 -- The Lack of the Irish

I guess the EU nerdocrats in Luxembourg are kicking themselves that they ever decided to require unanimity in deciding on major questions -- especially those having to do with the organization itself and the extent of its ability to project power not only in Europe but elsewhere in the world. The Irish -- you know, those crazy, feisty characters who live halfway out in the Atlantic Ocean -- have voted a resounding "no" to EU attempts to inflate its power and influence. What soreheads! I mean, the EU has only been harrassing Ireland for years about its low tax rates and business-friendly environment, and the surge in prosperity that has resulted. It really is in bad taste for the Irish to turn around and tell the EU to stuff it. It's good to see that someone over there still believes in national integrity and independence, and isn't afraid to get up in the face of the gray, impacted bureaucracy that has been established to take the place of much more colorful -- if occasionally troublesome -- nationalism.

2. -- A Heck of a Spot

It seems that the Sun has responded to threats of global warming by becoming relatively quiescent in terms of sunspot frequency. There is even fear that the Sun is entering into another one of those periods called a "Maunder Minimum". That sounds to me like a croquet strategy, but what it actually refers to is a sunspot-less period in the 17th Century that ushered in the so-called "Little Ice Age". Now wouldn't it be funny if... well, we know that sunspots have absolutely nothing to do with "global warming" because Al Gore says so. But... what if? What if sunspot activity stays low, and indicators of global warming start to show the reverse? That would put egg on the collective face of only a few million co-opted scientists, politicians, eco-freaks, and opportunists.

3 -- The High Cost of Totalitarianism

It turns out that the cost of the raid on the FLDS compound in Texas, and all the follow-up activity, is amounting to over $14 million. I guess it's a small price to pay for ridding the landscape of another troublesome cult. But will all of the over-zealous law enforcement officials, prosecutors, judges, social workers, and so on, be expected to chip in to help pay the bill? And as usual, lawyers, who always win no matter who loses, stand to collect the biggest single chunk. You don't suppose they came up with the idea for the raid to begin with, do you?

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Uh oh - An Enemy With Intelligence

As if things weren't bad enough, now it turns out that the self-styled "jihadists" are more than just a bunch of camel drivers hiding in caves and gnawing on rancid sheep shanks. Well, we couldn't help thinking that the ham-handed crudity of the 9-11 attacks was the most high-tech, sophisticated thing they had to offer. But now a report comes out that "the type of Islamic ideology that motivates terrorists is more sophisticated, complex and difficult to fight than suspected in the immediate aftermath of 9/11." In other words, these guys have brains and they know how to use them. "Much jihadist literature is written with intellectual brilliance." What? And here we've been led to believe they only communicated with a few grunts and hand signals. And what's worse, "Literature produced during the Marxist and fascist movements in the 20th century 'doesn't compete with the ideology of jihad in terms of potential longevity'". So wait a second -- do you mean that American academicians are going to have to throw out the works of Lenin and Stalin and start pushing jihadist literature instead, purely on intellectual grounds? This is certainly a low blow to Western pride. Not only that, but the Internet plays a vital role in the spread of these ideas. In other words we gave them the tool, and now they're using it against us. Oh, the humiliation! It almost sounds like we're back in 1941, dealing with an intelligent enemy.

The real problem, of course, is that we're dealing with an enemy -- an alleged one, at least -- with actual ideas, and ideals, and an amazing amount of will power to carry them out, not least being the willingness to mount suicide attacks at the drop of a hat. Now, the suicide part we've seen before, with Japan -- and the only way to deal with that was with pure brute force. The idea part brings back shades of Fascism, National Socialism, and Communism, and yes, we dealt with those with brute force some of the time, with threats and intimidation some of the time, but also with ideas, and ideals, of our own -- not only by way of demonstration, but as a means of inspiring the troops and gathering civilian support. In this, of course, there was always a delicate balance between stated ideals and the suspicion that certain people were accumulating a lot of power, and a lot of money, as a fringe benefit of the wars in question. But ideals seemed to carry the day -- and in retrospect, they most assuredly did carry the day. Who can name the "Daddy Warbucks" characters of any of our major wars up through Korea? But I still remember the Dow Chemical protests during Vietnam, and now we have Halliburton, Blackwater, and a host of other profiteers. Even at that, ideas could prevail -- if we had any. And I suppose if you attend enough Memorial Day parades and military funerals, you could get the impression that America is still an idea-driven society as manifested in its foreign ventures. But I find it to be all a bit of a veneer at this point. We "cling" -- to steal a term from the Democratic primaries -- to certain ideas in order to convince ourselves that what this country is doing is good. But we protest too much at times, and it all begins to sound sort of hysterical, i.e. it sounds like we're "in denial". Well, I'll tell ya, folks, the jihadists are not in denial at all -- they know what they want and why they want it, and this knowledge runs very deep. Our politicians can only hope that, this time around, "ideas" _don't_ prevail.

The report is at

The Men Who Came To Dinner

Well, I'm humbled, I must say. All this time I've been saying that one of only two things would ever get us out of Iraq -- total bankruptcy, or a "thumping" (in George Bush's words) military defeat. I had completely overlooked a third possibility, which is that the Iraqis would simply ask us to leave. But now this option is being discussed openly by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. There is apparently a growing resistance on the part of Iraqis to the idea of signing away their sovereignty and self-determination in favor of perpetual occupation, er, "protection", by the U.S. and its armed forces. Well, these people have a nerve, I must say. After all we've done for them! It makes it look like the Iraqis have more national pride than, for example, the Germans or the Koreans, who have put up with our continued presence for 60+ and 50+ years respectively. Plus, really, what's all this nonsense about "sovereignty"? Iraq's sovereignty -- even assuming we can apply that term to a country that was only patched together less than 100 years ago by the European powers -- hasn't been seen since our troops arrived at the gates of Baghdad. And yet they persist in using that term, and what's worse mock our stated goal of spreading democracy to the region by threatening to vote us out. The mockery is aggravated by their characterization of the military occupation as being by "international forces" who are there under the auspices of the U.N. Well, as we all know, our president stood up in front of the U.N. way back in 2001 and said that if they didn't do something about Saddam, we would. The U.N. balked, so we gathered us as many "allies" as we could manage to coerce, I mean "find willing", to join our crusade. But al-Maliki keeps talking about a "U.N. mandate" for our forces to be in Iraq, and further, that it -- the mandate, that is -- is something that is due to "expire" at the end of the year. Clearly someone has not been completely forthcoming with the Iraqis on this issue. This is not something for Iraq to tell the U.N. it can or cannot do; we came, we saw, and we conquered. Can't they get this through their heads? With an attitude like that, how do they ever expect to reap the blessings of democracy? And as for our being allowed to go anywhere we want and do anything we want, how else can we assure that they won't once again become victims of terror, armed attacks, and civil strife? Do they want their country to turn into another Iraq? Oh wait, it's the same country. But you get my point. And to add further insult, they don't want to give our "private contractors" immunity from prosecution for alleged offenses against Iraqi civilians. Hey, these guys are the backbone of our military effort. You don't expect us to get the job done with just our uniformed troops, do you? What an old-fashioned idea. We need our mercenaries, our hired guns, our Rambos more than ever now. We also need to pay them about ten times what the guys in uniform make, since, after all, quality service doesn't come cheap. Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih sounded an early warning as follows: "We need them [the Americans] here for a while longer, and they know they have to remain here for a while." Note that term "while". A "while" is not 100 years. This constitutes a direct affront to Sen. John McCain, it seems to me. Are they trying to make him into a lame duck before he's even elected? Are they, in fact, trying to meddle in American politics by saying this? It certainly appears so.

Well, the moment of truth -- if it ever comes -- will be the point at which the Iraqis really do ask us to leave. Then we'll find out how serious the Bush, or subsequent, administration is about our stated mission in Iraq, as opposed to our real mission, which is to make it permanently occupied territory. Muqtada al-Sadr weighed in with the statement "that he had created a special branch of his militia that would be allowed to carry weapons and attack American troops" -- as opposed to what they're already doing? Maybe he's proposing a kind of "insurgency lite" which wouldn't threaten the locals all that much, but would still insure Iraqi pride and continue to drain American resources. I have to say, these guys have got the cojones -- they tell us right up front what they intend to do, knowing we'll ignore it and continue to suffer losses, and they expect, in return, a policy of benign neglect from the so-called Iraqi government. It's amazing how our current policies are built entirely on the premise of pursuing the "enemy" while totally disregarding everything that "enemy" says. Maybe we could just close down the intel services altogether and save a lot of money, which could then be "reinvested" in the military effort. But wait -- that would eliminate way too many jobs, not a good idea in this time of economic uncertainty. I guess we're just going to have to "stay the course" after all, and continue to ignore all this limp-wristed whimpering about "sovereignty".

Friday, June 13, 2008

Whose Hotline Is It, Anyway?

In the days since Hillary Clinton conceded the Democratic nomination for president to Barack Obama, the National Clearinghouse of Women's Crisis Hotlines (NCWCH) has had to substantially increase the number of hotline staffers catering to traumatized women. A spokesman attributes this directly to Hillary's falling by the wayside as a candidate: "You have to understand that women all over the country have identified so closely with Hillary Clinton in this campaign that they are literally incapable of separating her fate from their own. So her apparent rejection by the Democrats is seen, by them, as a personal rejection -- not just an affront, but a profound denial of their validity, and even existence, as human beings. Hence, those with self-destructive tendencies have been thrust into a crisis mode, and many of them are calling our hotlines. Our concern is that there are many more who are even more at risk, but are too depressed to even call. We're hoping to locate some of them through voter lists and lists of Hillary volunteers, and intervene before it's too late." A recent study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology sheds further light on this phenomenon. It seems that people with low "ego strength" and low self confidence tend to attach themselves, psychologically, to people who seem to be all-powerful, and seem to be able to get away with anything. This "failed ego syndrome" leads certain individuals to become, for example, rabid supporters of a candidate, zealous campaign workers, and tireless advocates of a given politician. The problems arise when the person they attach themselves to turns out not to be all-powerful. According to Jeremy Lipschitz, a psychologist in Baltimore, MD: "The individual in question sees the failure of 'their' candidate as a threat to their very existence -- a metaphysical threat, if you will. Their low self-esteem led them to put all their eggs in one basket, if you will, and then the basket broke. So they wind up having an existential crisis. And yes, serious intervention may be required." Another researcher identifies this as related to what is called identity submergence, or IS. "The person subordinates their identity so completely to that of Bill and/or Hillary Clinton that they literally can't distinguish between setbacks to the Clintons and setbacks to themselves." This has led, for example, to a number of arrests and incarcerations of individuals during the Bill Clinton administration, who only thought they were supporting him and his presidency, only to find that they had been first exploited, then betrayed and abandoned. And yet they never lost hope, and never turned against their idols. When asked if the Hillary Clinton campaign had unfairly exploited these victims of the IS syndome, a spokesman said "It depends on what your definition of IS is."

Observation: It is widely recognized that the various toadies, hangers-on, and "friends of Bill" over the years have been people with not only low self-esteem, but very little to offer as individuals, hence their tendency to cast their lot entirely with the Clintons, in an attempt to at least reap some reflected glory. Hillary's campaign is only the most recent example of this phenomenon, but we can expect to see it happening again, as long as the Clintons remain in the public sphere.

The same organization, i.e. NCWCH, has more discreetly alerted its members to the possiblity of an increase of crisis cases based on the fact that Bill Clinton is now unemployed. "We're not saying he's a danger to the community", a spokesman indicated, "only that our members need to maintain a bit more vigilance than usual. Time will tell whether Mr. Clinton's newfound 'freedom' constitutes a serious moral hazard to the women of America." Apparently this alert was directed primarily at agencies serving white women. Questions as to why this might be were not responded to, but one bit of insight was offered by Koniesha Williams, a food service employee in the building that houses the NCWCH: "Dat gal Monica, she say he got a thang like a 'thumb'. Hoo-ee. No way dis girl gonna put up wif any o' dat mess. He try comin' round and playin' the fool wif me, I kick his ass." Ms. Williams' fellow food service employees seemed to unanimously agree with her assessment.

Further bulletins to follow, as the need arises.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Israel Outed by Peanut; Pictures at Eleven

In a startling and -- some would say -- ironic turn of events, former president Jimmy Carter has been indicted by an Israeli court for high treason, and the process of deportation is already under way. Mr. Carter can expect to get a fair trial in Israel, officials say -- or at least one as fair as the one Saddam Hussein got in Baghdad -- after which time he will be incarcerated in a penitentiary set aside for "the unrighteous among the Gentiles". His alleged crime? -- revealing that, as of around 1980 when he was last privy to this sort of information, Israel had "150 or more" nuclear weapons. (He made this revelation at a literary festival in Wales, by the way. His next stop will be a nuclear disarmament conference in Switzerland where he is expected to hold forth on the works of Harold Pinter.)

Well, OK, The Peanut isn't really being indicted for treason by Israel -- but I'll bet they'd like to, if they thought they could get away with it. Apparently hard data on the actual nuclear holdings of Israel have been virtually impossible to come by for the last... well, for however many years Israel has had nukes, which is itself top secret. According to the news item in question, "While the existence of Israeli nuclear weapons is widely assumed, Israeli officials have never admitted their existence, and U.S. officials have stuck to that line in public for years." Now, the question that always occurs to me is why Israel, out of all the nuclear powers, is so coy and secretive about revealing the size of their nuclear arsenal? Every other country in the nuclear club brags from the rooftops, providing detailed -- if possibly inflated -- figures as to their capability for inflicting grievous damage on unfriendly neighbors. But Israel holds its nuclear cards close to its chest. Why? If the idea is to intimidate, and deter any hostile neighbors from starting a serious conflict, wouldn't you think they would want the facts widely known? Surely they aren't ashamed of having "only" 150 nukes -- I mean, that's 75 times the number we used on Japan and it ended the entire Pacific War! Think what 150 nukes could do for the Arab world -- create so many martyrs that all of Islam would be lifted up in one great wave, leaving the Near East -- finally! -- as a "land without a people". So again I say, what is the problem? It surely can't be the fact that the only hostile use of nukes to date served to end the war with Japan, since they were allies of Germany, and Israel certainly has no torch to carry in that department. Could it be, possibly, the obvious question, if they have 150 nukes, where did they get them? I.e., did they build them all by themselves or did they have some small amount of assitance from us? And if the latter, would the fact inflame feelings among the militant Islamists any more than they are already inflamed? Highly doubtful. Is it possible that they see the American use of the atomic bombs on Japan as having had a distinctly racist element? Could be, except for the awkward fact that most of the prominent atomic scientists who developed the bomb were themselves Jewish. Or maybe that's the rub; maybe they have been having second thoughts all along, the way Oppenheimer did -- not to mention Einstein. Perhaps the Atomic Genie with the Jewish parentage has turned out to be a kind of embarrassment. Well, it's true that the Jews have always taken pride in being the moral standard-bearers for the world; this began way back in Moses' time, and the advent of Christianity did nothing to alter this basic element of their self image. Israel, then, presents itself as the moral standard bearer for the Near East (since you certainly couldn't trust those filthy Arabs to have any sound moral ideas) -- and by extension the rest of Asia, and Africa, and Europe, and on occasion the Western Hemisphere as well. Not to mention which -- and I know I'm getting close to a nerve here -- the sufferings of the Jews under the Nazis and their allies more or less placed them in a uniquely morally superior position, which cannot be questioned, for... well forever, basically. (This was stated explicitly by Golda Meir, by the way.) So I guess after being set in the judgment seat over the rest of humanity, it's a bit awkward to also have to admit to having 150 or whatever number (let's assume a lot _more_ now than in 1980) of those nasty, indiscriminate, cruel, and at least semi-racist "nukes". It's like... oh... it's like finding a nun wearing a diaphragm; it just adds a sour note to the whole thing, and might even, if one were so inclined, call into question the authenticity of Israel's claim to be _the_ morally untouchable nation on earth.

So what am I saying here? That Israel's sensitivity to revelations -- at this ridiculously late date -- about its nuclear arsenal is because those revelations reveal some sort of strategic threat? No, not at all. The threat has always been there, and the Arabs have known it. Then is it about what one former Israeli official claimed, that "there are those who can use these statements when it comes to discussing the international effort to prevent Iran getting nuclear weapons"? This is another way of saying that the argument would be, "The Israelis have nukes, why can't we?" Well, this argument could have been made any time in the last... however many years. Just having a number attached to the idea doesn't make it any more compelling.

The argument, by the way, is not a bad one, but if logically extended we would wind up with Israel's 150 versus a few thousand held by a couple dozen hostile neighbors. And that could be seen as having tilted the playing field a bit. As it is, it's Israel's nukes versus the Arab world's human wave tactics -- and we know how effective those have been in all the wars Israel has fought _without_ the use of nukes. In other words, if they can kick Arab ass all over the map without them, why do they need them? Well, to prevent the other guys from getting them, basically. As strategies go it isn't half bad. The last thing anyone wants is for the Arabs to get hold of a bunch of "equalizers", to compensate for their blatant military incompetence.

But having said this, and dismissed it as the reason for Israel's hypersensitivity on this issue, and having also dismissed the political arguments, it seems to me that only the moral argument -- i.e. the moral ambiguity -- is left. And I suppose we should be thankful for at least this much. If Israel is so squirrelly about _talking_ about its nukes, it has to be even more ambivalent about actually using them. This, of course, is one reason they send George Bush out there at high noon to call the baddies out of the saloon -- clearly, the U.S. has far fewer inhibitions about using nukes, since we've already used them. And aren't the Arabs (or the Iranians, or anyone else over there with a decent tan) just as nasty as the Japs? You can be sure that they will be pictured that way if push ever comes to shove. Ah yes... when you have moral superiority, life is good. But the "etiquette burden" is a bitch.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Bow, Bow, to the Dowager Empress Elect !

There is an office which is alien to the American system, and this is most unfortunate, since this time-honored office has, by virtue of rank and custom, informed the political lives of many much more ancient and venerable civilizations than ours. I refer to the office of Dowager Empress, which technically refers to the surviving wife, i.e. widow, of an emperor, similar to the concept of "queen mother" being the widow of a king and also the mother of the current king or queen. Now, a dowager empress may not wield much formal power, but she has vast reserves of tradition and respect backing up her position, not to mention a considerable stock of nostalgia, as well as plain old intimidation of the sort only middle-aged or elderly women of imperious mien can exhibit. I bring all this out in response to the endless dithering that has begun as to "what to do with Hillary". Apparently, a secure, lifetime seat in the Senate is not enough, although it certainly seems to have satisfied towering egos like Ted Kennedy and Robert Byrd for all these centuries. But no, the search is on for something more permanent... more lasting. A seat on the Supreme Court has been proposed, for example. (For _real_ permanence, I would suggest a news anchor slot on NPR, but let that go for now.) But nay! -- I say -- this is not enough. We are talking about a woman who has already scaled the heights of power... who has held countless politicians (or at least various body parts thereof) in the palm of her hand... who has hired and fired at will... who has presided over the incineration of an annoying, nonconformist cult in Texas... who has taken an old beau on a midnight ride to a scenic overlook in Arlington, Virginia (albeit he was dead at the time, but the scenery was stunning, in any case)... who has offered to become Big Nurse to the entire nation, in the manner of Elena Ceausescu... and many other accomplishments, that could scarcely have been achieved by any one mere mortal. No, the only office, or title, suitable for Hillary at this time is that of Dowager Empress, and to those who accuse me of stretching the point -- who point out, e.g., that her husband is still alive and that he was never, in fact, an actual emperor -- I say, balderdash and pooh! She is eminently suitable for the job, she deserves it, and she will perform admirably, I predict. And in the unlikely event she should fail, we could also have a Dower Empress in Waiting to fill in... someone like, oh, Teresa Heinz Kerry, for example.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Hillary and Obama Report To HQ

Well, it's good to know that even the principals have better things to do than run a silly political campaign. On the day after the last primaries -- i.e. last Wednesday -- both Hillary and Obama made beelines over to AIPAC to bow, scrape, present burnt offerings (rumors that these included ashes of dead American soliders are unconfirmed), and pledge undying loyalty to Israel. Why is it that a candidate can wait until Inauguration Day to pledge loyalty to the U.S., but he (or she) has to pledge loyalty to Israel now? Does anyone but me see something just slightly out of whack in all this? Guess not. In any case, there is, I guess, a bit of understandable queasiness as to how friendly a president whose middle name is Hussein will be to the Israeli cause. Not only that, but the history of Black-Jewish relations in this country has not always been a totally happy one. But hey, if anyone has any doubts, they can always swing over to John McCain, who promises to perpetuate the Bush II foreign policy as far as possible without literally bankrupting the United States -- after which he promises to perpetuate it even further. So that ought to reassure someone, it seems to me. But I notice a certain lack of resolve among the Bushites of late. You don't suppose they're trying not to queer the deal for McCain, do you? Gee, maybe Israel really will have to take on Iran all by itself, unless Cheney gets his act together sometime in the next eight months.

At this point, I'll turn the remainder of my time over to Daoud Kuttab, who says it better than I can. Please go to And see also Some people out there recognize suicidal tendencies when they see them.

No More Long, Hot Summers?

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review's Mike Seate, in a recent column, expressed regret that some white folks had been speculating as to what would happen if Obama did not get the Democratic nomination for president. In short, they thought that blacks would riot. Seate is very troubled by this notion, and offers it as evidence of residual racism and stereotyping. Blacks rioting because of some real or imagined slight in the political or social arena is a thing of the past, right? As is the credibility of any _threat_ to riot -- i.e. the traditional "It's gonna be a long, hot summer" line. Right. The only problem is, the Rev. Al Sharpton has a "rent-a-mob" that follows him wherever he goes, to protest whatever trivial offense strikes his fancy on that particular day. And yes, the demonstrations are typically "peaceful", if a bit disruptive, but Rev. Al has a few not-so-peaceful notches on his social activism/race mongering belt. When enough people gather in one place to protest something, and when that particular class of people has a history of boiling over on those occasions, I don't think it's being overly paranoid or "racist" to speculate that there might be a bit of unpleasantness connected with something like, say, Hillary stealing the nomination from Obama -- which she has, apparently, wisely decided not to do. I'm not even convinced that O.J. wasn't acquitted because the jury could hear the faint undertone of chanting coming from the street outside the L.A. County Courthouse. Which is better, to let off a psychopath who killed a couple of sleazeballs, or to see half of L.A. go up in flames? You make the call -- no pressure! No, I am not at all convinced that the era of the long, hot summer is entirely over. Furthermore, I think we can expect the Obama candidacy to reheat some of those old grievances, maybe to the spillover point, maybe not -- but to claim that it's impossible is to be just a bit Pollyanna-ish. And the point he misses is that we're not talking about all blacks, or a majority of blacks, or even a substantial minority of blacks. It doesn't take that many. Sure, call them the radicals, the soreheads, the troublemakers. But if they're the ones holding the Molotov cocktails, all the tut-tutting of the all the preachers and "community leaders" in the inner city isn't going to make much difference. And yes, those grievances are still being stoked on a regular basis -- by the likes of Rev. Al, Rev. Wright, Rev. Jackson, and probably scores of other "Rev.'s" across the land. We know this because of what comes out in political dialogue, in the media, and -- yes -- in things like "rap", hip-hop, and so forth. It's still an open wound, even if the person insists on repeatedly opening it himself. It's going to be very interesting, in fact, to see how Obama deals with this issue over the next few months. Will he take advantage of the lumpen proletariat, in view of his mentorship by communists and/or radicals? Or will he really try to be a unifier? You can't play the race card on every hand and also claim you're for unification; it has to be one or the other. Both he and the Clintons threw the race card around like a frisbee during the primary campaign -- mostly at each other, of course. So is he going to clean up his act, or sink further into the Black Panther-hued mire? I can promise that the more he does of the latter, the more his prospects of winning will sink as well.

A Silver Lining to the South

Today's entry in the "Why Can't the U.S. Be More Like...?" sweepstakes is Argentina. It seems that judges in the land of beef and tango (not necessarily in that order) have simply stopped punishing people for violating the nation's drug laws -- at least those dealing with "personal use of drugs" as opposed to dealing. An announcement by the judges included the statement, "Criminalization will only apply in cases where the possession of narcotics for personal consumption represents a danger for the public health of others." Now, my question is (in case you haven't already guessed), why can this level of plain common sense not be found here -- in any court in the land, at any level? Why is it still, after decades of evidence to the contrary, contended that personal drug use which does not constitute a clear and imminent danger to others nonetheless represents a threat sufficient to rock the very foundations of society and rend the fabric of the Republic? (And if it's that fragile, is it really worth saving anyway?) Well, one guess is that we have one thing the Argentinians definitely do not have, and that is the Puritan tradition of harboring a morbid fear that someone, somewhere, might be having fun. We also have a drug abuse-based legal system which depends for its life support on the indiscriminate use of Draconian punishment for a wide assortment of, basically, personal habits. It explains why our prison population is so exceptionally high (1% of all Americans are in the pokey, according to latest figures -- more on this in a future post); but that, in turn, adds to the self-perpetuation of the system and the power of the "law enforcement" (read "punishment") lobby. I have spoken at length about our apparent need, as a society, to have a large "loser class", so that no matter how low one sinks, as long as one is walking the streets one can be sure that there are millions who are worse off. This, of course, is a social pathology in itself, but it shows no signs of abating, especially as life in general becomes more fragmented, alienating, and impersonal. Which "failed utopia" novel was it where there was a TV channel devoted entirely to footage of people getting beaten up? We are fast approaching this state of affairs. In the meantime, the Puritans of today stalk the land, looking for reasons to arrest and incarcerate, and the "war on drugs" provides the single best rationale.

Ah yes, the Argentinians. They are volatile -- irrational at times -- politically chaotic -- economically edgy -- but they know a scam when they see one, and the "war" on personal drug use is most assuredly a scam, no matter where it is being pursued.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

What's Wrong With Kansans? (Part II)

There's a line from a World War I humorous/patriotic song ("humorous/patriotic"? Yes, it was possible at one time) that goes something like, "I don't know what the war's all about but you bet, by gosh, I'll soon find out." Well, the millions who marched off to the trenches back then _did_ "soon find out" what war is all about -- blood, dismemberment, filth, and death, among other charming things. What they most assuredly did _not_ find out was what the war was _really_ all about -- for the simple reason that World War I was "the war about nothing" (a la Seinfeld), and of course World War II was built on the foundation of a war about nothing. (Pat Buchanan makes similar points in his recent book.) I suppose that if everyone who marched to war insisted on good reasons -- on an air-tight proof that the war was just -- we would have many fewer wars. But we would also have much more PTSD and other pathologies because more eyes would be open to the absurdity of what was going on. So yes, delusion and self-deception have their function... in war as in no place else. So is a society in which PTSD is more prevalent actually "healthier" in that sense? Can we claim that only "sick" societies can handle war -- especially unjust war -- with equanimity? A respondent to Part I of this post comments as follows:

"...there are interesting ethnic-cultural differences as well. Among Vietnam veterans, the overall PTSD rate is about 16%, I think, but among Japanese-American veterans it is a damning 2%. One of my students... did an extremely interesting dissertation on PTDS among Hopi Vietnam veterans. In an exhaustive study of Hopis living on the reservation, he found a PTSD rate of 87%, not surprising in view of the pacific traditions of Hopi; but, even more interestingly, those who had been through tribal initiation or purification rituals were protected, so they were functioning at a very high level given their diagnosis."

Why "damning" for Japanese-American Vietnam veterans? Were they "hardened" to war because of their early environment? Unlikely. (If anything, you would expect greater sensitivity because of family stories about the internment camps.) Was it, then, a matter of culturally-conditioned attitudes toward violence and death? Possibly. Was it a matter of culturally-conditioned attitudes toward the sufferings of people not in their racial/ethnic group? Much more likely, in my opinion. This is an almost universal human trait, in fact -- the tendency and ability to objectify or "thing" people of a different sort -- to consider them less than human, and hence to have little or no concern for their sufferings. This was certainly an attitude encouraged by the people who designed the Nazi death camp system, and much of the training and propaganda of that time -- starting at a young age with the Hitler Youth -- was aimed at achieving those attitudes, and hence more efficient death machine operations. Who wants a concentration camp guard with a conscience, after all? The Hopis, on the other hand, might be considered the most mentally healthy culture of all since they react most strongly to exposure to violence -- but ironically, the mentally healthy culture yields up more trauma cases, albeit there are mechanisms in that society (if not in American society in general) to help people cope.

So yes, cultural background and training have a big role to play. But the biggest part of cultural background is still the meaning one attaches to experiences, as well as to concepts, ideas -- even (or especially) words. The Bush administration has perfected the art of pulling the right verbal and conceptual strings, pushing the right buttons, and ringing the right chimes to keep the bulk of the American people and their leaders "on board" when it comes to the war in Iraq. The appeal is to positive personal qualities, like courage and persistence, but even more to the rejection of negative personal qualities -- not "cutting and running", not chickening out, not appeasing, not backing down, etc. So the entire enterprise starts to look like some sort of barroom brawl that spills onto the street on a Saturday night, with neither side willing to be sensible and give it up. So the American people are led around by a verbal ring in their noses -- and those doing the leading don't believe that BS any more than they believe in the tooth fairy. But it's somehow enough to get people to march off to war -- which implies that most people, most of the time, are just waiting for an excuse to either start a fight or jump into one; and I think that this is, in a sense, completely true, and explains a lot about why we persist in even the most demostrably futile military campaigns.

The problem, however, with "meaning lite" is that it doesn't provide real nourishment -- it doesn't stick to the ribs when the chips are down. So a guy goes over to Iraq... what happens happens... and all the crap coming out of Washington about "staying the course" starts to look like what it is -- a massive lie. And the war starts to look like what it is -- a massive hoax. And there's nothing like seeing, first hand, that nearly everything America does overseas makes things worse for the people who live there. "We come in peace." But then civil war immediately breaks out, accompanied by increased terrorism, infrastructure breakdown, shortages, disease, hunger... the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse seem to follow on the very heels of our invading forces, and no, they do not "rotate" out. We were supposed to be received as liberators, and crowned with laurels, and instead are confined to Green Zones and made the target of potshots everywhere we go. And of course we forget Rule Number One when it comes to "regime change" -- the attitude that "he may be a cruel, tyrannical dictator, but he's _our_ cruel, tyrannical dictator". No one wants their country occupied by anyone, for any reason, period. Sure, you can bribe a few collaborators and hacks, but the people will seethe with resentment, and they will never change their minds (as witness attitudes toward our continued occupation of Korea after -- what? -- fifty-plus years).

So, seeing all this, the dark clouds of absurdity and despair start to gather... and the kid from Kansas looks at his hunting rifle with a strange sense of longing. Maybe it's time to end all of this. But if he succeeds, there should be murder charges filed against certain personages a thousand miles to the east.

The Carterization of Obama

He was elected primarily as a reaction to a previous regime that was considered hopelessly corrupt, if not actually criminal. His level of experience and his aptitude for the job were widely questioned. But he was an honest man... a good man... a man of principal. He was intelligent. He was not a political "insider". He had "values", he was sincere, he stood for change. But when he became president, he brought in, like ships spreading the plague, an army of low-grade political hacks, frauds, and schemers, and as a result his presidency became a total disaster area on all fronts. In addition, his idealism tended to get in the way of clear, level-headed, realistic thinking when it came to domestic and foreign policy questions.

This is the conventional wisdom -- or one version of it -- regarding Jimmy Carter. Now, why am I starting to get the exact same "vibe" from Obama and his campaign, and his many hangers-on... and the new hangers-on he will undoubtedly accumulate between now and election day, all of whom will follow him to Washington (in the event he wins), each with his or her own agenda which has very little to do with the welfare of the country?

The problem with idealists down through history is that they are too easily exploited. Their idealism tends to blind them to the perfidy all around them, and the closer it is the more blinded they are. Unlike the cold, realistic cynic who knows how the game is played because they are masters at it themselves -- a person like Hillary Clinton, for example -- these people have way too much faith in humanity, particularly in other politicians. They are easily duped, easily flattered (because they know how good and pure they are, after all), and easily kept in the dark about what is really going on. This is not the same thing as the Bush II model, in which a dull-witted, clueless blockhead is set on high to be used as a whipping boy and scapegoat for all sorts of treacherous and treasonous activities. No, this is about a person who might really have merit... who might "deserve" the level of power the presidency entails, but who -- because no one can do the job alone -- inevitably has to call on friends and acquaintances, most of whom are totally uninterested in ideals or ideas, for help. The outcome in cases like this is usually farcical and depressing, and creates a "never again" movement while enshrining the president in question as "the worst ever" -- at least until the next one comes along.

I have a definite impression that the Carter model is already being reworked and prepared for implementation in January. Do I claim that it is any worse -- in operation or in outcome -- than the Neocon model that John McCain represents (except with the president really in charge this time)? Not at all. Just that no one should be surprised when it kicks in and we are once more treated to four years of Carterism.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

What's Wrong With Kansans? (Part I)

It seems that post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan is particularly prevalent among those who grew up in rural areas. And the news is full of stories about the high rate of suicide among returning troops. There seems to be a tidal wave of psychological meltdown and self-destruction coming out of these ill-starred military ventures, and one has to ask why -- i.e. why are these "wars" so much more traumatic, or seemingly so, than more previous ones? This is not to claim that everyone came home hale and hearty from World Wars I and II or Korea, by any means. We have always had "shell shock", and whatever else the authorities called the various "hasn't been quite right since he got home" syndromes. Vietnam seemed to set a new standard for the incidence of trauma, as witness the countless gaping, hollow-eyed Vietnam vets still populating our VA hospitals and roaming the streets of our cities. But now we have Iraq and Afghanistan, and despite the alleged justness of these campaigns, and the nobility of our cause, not to mention the relative low incidence of casualties (at least of the fatal type), the troops are coming home looking and acting like zombies from a 1950s "B" movie.

But the fact that the effects seem more pronounced for guys brought up in the "heartland" is a clue. Could it be that growing up in our cities provides a certain inoculation against violence, and the effects thereof? When a kid can lie in bed at night and listen to the gentle purr of automatic weapons going off around the neighborhood, with friends and relatives falling by the wayside every other day, it stands to reason that he might be a bit better prepared to deal with the rough and tumble of an officially-declared war zone. By comparison, people who grow up in rural or small-town environments could be more shocked and traumatized by the level of violence that is typical of war; paradoxically, they might be more "normal" psychologically but have fewer of the coping mechanisms needed to deal with a pathological environment. I can extend this hypothesis back at least as far as the Vietnam conflict as well, since our urban pathologies were already firmly in place at at that point.

But then what about World Wars I and II (and probably Korea)? Our cities were more livable back then -- those living in them more "innocent" in a way -- and our rural areas were certainly far more placid and bucolic than they are now. Why were the traumas not more acute, more widespread? Well, this brings us to the second piece of my theory, and it has to do with what Viktor Frankl called "meaning". He wrote a book (among many) called "The Will to Meaning" in which he discusses the significance of whether people are able to attribute some sort of meaning to their (negative) experiences. In many cases, this can literally make the difference between life and death, as in the extreme case (which he discusses extensively) of the Nazi death camps. It turned out that the ability to see some purpose in one's suffering was one of the best predictors of survival; a feeling of absurdity or despair almost inevitably led to death. So, in a sense, the "philosophers" survived -- not that they were necessarily any more intelligent, or "well-adjusted" in normal contexts, but that they were able to rise above their situation and see it as part of a larger picture. So what does this tell us about the PTSD incidence arising out of our various wars, conflicts, "police actions", and what not? Simply that the ability, on the part of the everyday solider -- the "grunt" -- to assign some sort of redeeming quality, meaning, or significance to his experience might just be a critical factor in his resistance to not only despair or literal death while "in theatre", but to residual traumatic reactions later on. So we have to ask, in turn, what are the various factors that can _contribute_ to this assignment of meaning? What are the "pegs" that can serve to anchor one's thinking in these situations? Well, one, certainly, is the idea that one is there for a purpose -- i.e. a purpose which can be defined and stated in operational terms that have some broader significance. The same questions arise every time: Why are we here? What is the mission? How do we know when we've won? When do we get to go home? The most block-headed "troopie" in the entire Army -- the "Zero" of Camp Swampy -- is capable of asking these questions, and frequently does. Does he find answers? Well, there were answers in World Wars I and II, and to a lesser extent Korea. They weren't always entirely credible, and they didn't always satisfy, but they were there, and they had staying power throughout the course of those conflicts. In Vietnam, however, those answers weren't there, and they have not been provided to this day -- hence the, as it seems to me, higher incidence of trauma, stress, and a general feeling of futility associated with the veterans of that conflict. Which brings us to Iraq and Afghanistan, and once again, are those answers there? There are plenty of "reasons" provided by our politicians and military leaders, but are they real answers? Do they satisfy anybody but the most brainwashed and delusional? Apparently not -- and rightfully so. We do not, after all, have troops who are "hardened" against absurdity, the way the SS troops of World War II supposedly were. They continue to look for answers, and finding none, react in a perfectly understandable way -- they get sick, they start to act out, and when the absurdity and despair become too overwhelming they take their own lives, while the politicians who send them into those hellholes prattle on and enjoy the high life of Washington and the perks of power.

The People Have Spoken... Unfortunately

I keep waiting for Allen Funt to pop up on the TV screen on all the major networks, and yell, "Smile! You're on Candid Camera! Ha ha -- you didn't really think that the Democratic Party would nominate an urban black radical from Chicago to be the next president, did you? Especially when he was running against The Co-Presidents for Life, who have been using the Democratic Party as their own private litter box for 16 years now?" And yet, it seems that is precisely what has happened, although I do note that Hillary is holding back; perhaps she does have at least one more dirty trick up her ample sleeve, as I have predicted all along. Or maybe the demonic energy of the Clinton Machine really has run out of fuel -- in which case the refrain, "Lo, how the mighty have fallen!" should be on every pair of lips in the land.

So the Democrats are nominating a Trotsky rather than a Stalin... an idealist, not a realist... a theorist, not a pragmatist... a dreamer, not a schemer. Well, so be it, because historically, when they do this, they nearly always lose. The "vote your heart" candidates of recent history include guys like McGovern, Carter, and to some extent Kerry... and now Obama. The "vote your mind (or what is left of it)" candidates include Clinton I and Gore... and would have included Clinton II. The "vote your heart" mindset is characterized by what we used to call youthful, starry-eyed idealism, but on paunchy, sagging middle-aged convention goers starts to look more like delusional utopianism. The "vote your mind" mindset is easily confused with cynicism and an insatiable thirst for power -- since that is what it is, more often than not. The notion that there are people out there who still think that liberal programs actually work, and that they properly serve those whom they were intended to serve, strikes one as a puzzlement akin to the mystery of the "flat-earthers". How can so much evidence be ignored, for so long, by so many? Ideas that might have made some sense once -- i.e. before they were actually tried -- have now been thoroughly tried and found wanting. And yet people "cling" -- to use a term with ironic currency -- to these ideas as if their lives depended on them... which they do, at least in the psychological sense. The "audacity of hope" is more appropriately termed the "power of delusion". And yet it seems to be the life blood of so many in the political arena and their clueless supporters.

The question now is, can Obama pull a "Carter" on McCain? By which I mean, can he successfully represent such a degree of relief from what came before that people will come back from the dead to vote for him, the way they showed up at the polls to vote for Carter in lieu of Ford? Ford represented, to most people, an extension of the feared and hated Nixon presidency. I'm not sure that perception was quite accurate -- any more than Bush I was unambiguously an extension of Reagan. But that was the perception. So while people might have had their doubts about Carter, at least he wasn't Nixon, or Ford, or a Republican. So what does McCain represent? All indications are that the foreign policy baton will be passed from Bush II to him without the slightest drop in momentum -- which basically means four more years (at least) of catastrophe. On the domestic side, he doesn't represent anything very radical one way or the other... except for the possibility of extending McCain-Feingold to a total prohibition of all political speech at all times, including not even being allowed to mention the names of the candidates in any upcoming election. Oh yes, and lifting all restrictions on immigration. That kind of stuff. But nothing ground-breaking. Obama, on the other hand, will give us the usual liberal dithering in the foreign policy arena -- call it Carter Redux -- and very possibly also emulate Carter in the areas of economic self-immolation and military auto-castration. In the meantime, we will be treated to a new New Deal/Fair Deal/Great Society which will make Lenin's Five Year Plans look like a bit of pastel-tinted nostalgia. The good news about Obama is that the Evangelicals (the white ones, at least) will be driven out of Washington at the point of a flaming sword. The bad news is that Joycelyn Elders will be called back from the public housing where she is living and made Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Oh yeah, it's gonna be fun either way.