Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Show Me the Dirty Money

I’ve finally gotten fed up with the stock statement of conservative columnists to the effect that “the top 1 percent of taxpayers paid 40 percent of all federal taxes”, or some such figure – the point being, the Democrats and/or liberals should stop trying to “soak the rich” because the rich are already being soaked. And this is a perfectly reasonable argument given the premise that the “rich” (however that term is defined) came by their wealth in a legitimate manner, subject to the whims of the marketplace, the laws of supply and demand, and so forth, within the capitalistic/free enterprise model. But can this really be claimed? Now, I’m not one of those populist types who claims that, as has been said, “behind every great fortune is a crime”. I believe that it is not only theoretically possible but not at all uncommon for a person to become rich by providing goods and services that other people really want, and are willing and able to pay for. However! It would not take more than a glance at the fortunes of most of those we define as “rich” to see that the basis for those riches is highly suspect. To begin with, do they own or hold stock in a company that enjoys “tax increment financing”, government contracts (especially of the noncompetitive or “sole source” variety), outright subsidies, a government-granted monopoly, trade barriers or tariffs, government regulations that suppress their competition, or some other form of “corporate welfare”? And, is this rich guy one of those types who makes out like a bandit even when the company he runs crumbles to dust under his feet (with strong implications of fraud or at the very least gross mismanagement)? Again, I’m no populist, but call me a skeptic when it comes to the “purity” of most of today’s fortunes. In fact, I would be willing to bet that the cleanest money out there is held by people in the entertainment business, since the last time I checked, their success or failure was based strictly on market forces and not on subsidies or coercion, with the exception, maybe, of a few geeks on NPR and "public television". (For anyone tempted to add professional athletes, I would ask them to point out a single American city without at least one gleaming, taxpayer-financed athletic palace.)

So – bottom line – we could, if we were so inclined, think of the “confiscatory” taxation rates on “the rich” as being merely a way of forcing them to give back some of their ill-gotten gains – not because (as the liberals would say) wealth per se is evil, but that this form of wealth is something that should not be found in a free society. Of course, the ideal solution is to eliminate the income tax altogether, and also all forms of government subsidizing of business – but that’s one ray of hope that’s just too audacious for any of our political geniuses to imagine.

We're In the Jailhouse Now

You know how I’m always raving on about every government program being a jobs program? And people say, well, there must be exceptions – things like, say, prisons. So here’s a recent article in which it is contended that there is “little, if any, economic spinoff in jobs, businesses and new housing” when the Big House comes to town – i.e., when a sizeable prison is built in or near a community. This, of course, contradicts the major premise by which state legislators in particular continuously lobby prison bureaus; there’s nothing like a nice new jail to at least temporarily satisfy the cravings of a porkoholic and supposedly win him enough votes to stay in office. So the meme (that word again!) that “a prison is good for the community” stays in place, and data be damned. Of course, at no time in the usual dialogue is the question ever raised, why do we need so many prisons anyway? No one cares who is locked up or why, only that the jail generates jobs – or so they think. This basic outline could be applied to nearly all other government programs – the people who have the jobs, or want jobs, are the ones who put all the pressure on legislators and bureaucrats, and the ones who pay (including those same people, by the way) are too dispersed to have any impact. This is, in fact, the principal cause of growth in government, and there is virtually no limit to how far it can go as long as the Constitution is ignored by everyone involved.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

I Had a Dream

More than a few writers have pointed out that the dominant "meme" -- i.e. the story we tell ourselves, over and over and over, not unlike a myth but more in the present tense -- of America, at least in the economic area, is one of inevitable and perpetual prosperity, expansion, and "growth", i.e. an always-increasing standard of living which might or might not be shared with less-deserving nations and peoples, depending. This, of course, is always accompanied by the political meme of "democracy" (our way, of course -- you know, like the two-party system, unlike those messy affairs over in Europe) and the social memes of "equal rights", "non-discrimination", and the relative newcomer, "diversity". And then there are all the mini-memes that sort of feed into the larger ones, like "we're hard workers", and "we believe in 'family'" (like, what culture doesn't? I suppose the ones that are dying), and "we can take a joke" (tell Ahmadinejad!). But in any case, the dominant economic meme, as those writers also point out, had a grain of truth to it as long as we enjoyed virtually limitless supplies of free, or at least cheap, land and the resources that went with it -- like wind and water power, soil fertility, natural avenues of commerce, and a relative lack of opposition from the natives. (At least the U.S. has never fallen for the myth that it was "a land without a people for a people without a land", the way the Israelis have.) To put it another way -- as long as there was a frontier, i.e. a leading edge of settlement that had not yet reached the Pacific Coast (or converged somewhere in between) it was not unrealistic to "believe in" things like growth, perpetual prosperity, and the like. And sure enough, a funny thing happened just about the time the frontier "closed" (except for Alaska, I guess, which was not a state at the time) -- we started looking beyond our borders for new challenges, new lands to conquer (or at least peoples to dominate), new "markets", new sources of cheap labor, and all the rest of it. This began in earnest with the first shots of the Spanish-American War, and reached a spiritual peak, if you will, with Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson. In their day, it was perfectly acceptable to boost, and boast of, a growing American Empire. Since World War I our empire-building activities have had to become a bit more subtle, but they have remained one of our main foreign policy agenda items. I would say that the first, and most serious to date, incident of "pushback" on our empire building was Vietnam... but we are getting pushback a'plenty in Iraq and Afghanistan right now, and at least some healthy skepticism in other quarters, including among our "allies". And the point is that one of our goals -- whether stated or not -- in all of this was to extend, in time, our period of economic expansion -- i.e. to maintain growth and prosperity on the home front by gaining control and dominance over various economic entitites overseas. In this, of course, the effort was aided by American businesses, who had everything to gain and very little to lose by encouraging us to move into an area (militarily, most likely), co-opt the right people, take over the right functions, and then basically turn the whole business over to "the private sector" until such time as they had a rebellion on their hands, at which point the Marines would come sailing in and make everything right. And this was, in fact, the "business model" for much of our overseas dealing for many decades. And of course it made the people at the top of the heap very rich, but it also benefited ordinary people as well. For example, would Americans have adopted bananas as one of their favorite fruits if we hadn't taken over vast reaches of Central America with all of its cheap labor? What if bananas in 1950 had cost what melons cost in Tokyo today? I don't think you'd be getting them in smoothies. So yes, even though we no longer had a visible, palpable "frontier", we continued to reap all of the benefits, thanks to our international reach.

But then more funny things started to happen. I've already mentioned Vietnam. But we had also had the Depression -- all the banana plantations in the world couldn't keep us out of that. And as a result, a form of semi-soft socialism was instituted in this country, which continues to this day. This, in turn, is responsible for titanic inefficiencies, waste, and corruption -- which is to say, socialism was the first, and is still the biggest, single drain on our resources (by "drain" I don't mean from us to someone else, but from the productive sector to the non-productive sector). Another major blow was taking our currency off the gold, or silver, or chopped liver, or any objective, tangible standard, which rendered it of no intrinsic value and completely dependent, for what value it did have, on the confidence of the citizens, and the rest of the world as well, in the American economy. The dollar, in other words, acquired the status of a stock certificate in America Inc., and as a result it would rise and fall solely on the basis of the uncertain fortunes of the American economy and the American empire. Add to this the crushing legal and regulatory burden of doing business in the U.S. -- especially for small businesses -- and you see that there has been a suppression, or chilling, impact on free enterprise through the machinations of the government -- again, having accelerated greatly after World War II, although the groundwork had been laid decades earlier.

So what do we have? Socialism/collectivism (which includes all the "welfare state" entities and programs as well as public schools and government-owned or overseen enterprises that ought to be strictly private), funny money, and a mile-deep ocean of red tape. Something had to give, and it wasn't our aggressive foreign policy -- that's still alive and well, and still pursued primarily for the benefit of the war industries -- so it had to be on the domestic side. And no one president, or administration, or government agency, or program, is to blame -- the point is that they're _all_ to blame, along with all parasites in every rank of life, from street people to corporate CEOs, who live off the public dole... and the voters who keep all these clowns in power... and the citizenry in general, for not rising up in revolt on a more frequent basis. And the "psychology" of it is well established -- everyone thinks that if they vote for a government program -- or vote for someone who will -- that program is going to benefit them more than the sum total of all other government programs is going to hurt them. It's like people who go to Las Vegas expecting to come home rich, completely ignoring the fact that the casinos are all located in luxurious, multi-million-dollar buildings and that their owners are extremely wealthy. Where do they think all that money came from? But the power, and the charms, of self delusion are very strong. So we have the gambling addict, and we have the voting addict -- i.e. the guy who still believes he'll be better off under more socialism.

So now we get to the perfect storm -- the intersection among the frontier-empire complex, the increasing inefficiency and increasing corruption of government, and the increasing delusional state of the citizenry, combined with their actual total helplessness in the face of forces much bigger and more powerful than they are, or ever will be. Mix it all up and what have you got? The last two weeks' economic news. And it's not as if one really bad thing happened that set everything else off... there was no economic equivalent of the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand; not really. It was more like what happens in mid-ocean, where suddenly a huge wave appears that no one expected -- a combination of forces that might have been vaguely, if at all, perceived ahead of time. Or you could think of it in that folksy way that I tend to favor: The termites quit holding hands. There is not one crashing-down piece of the economy that hasn't been "troubled" for quite a while, and in fact many have been on thin ice for years, if not decades -- not only in terms of balance sheets but in terms of incompetent, greedy, and corrupt management. To paraphrase Winston Churchill, never have so many gotten away with so much for so long. But now the laws of economics (which most "economists" have yet to discover) are kicking in, just like the laws of physics determine which rockets will escape the Earth's pull and which ones will come crashing back. And many of the folks who -- quite innocently perhaps, since no one ever told them any different -- "had a dream" -- from the standard "home on a golf course in Florida" to the slightly more modest "trailer on a good fishing lake in Central Florida" to the slightly more grandiose "condo in Key West" (Florida) -- are seeing this dream shattered and being replaced with a stern reality, also known as "what most people in the world down through history have had to look forward to in their old age, and what made you think you were so damn special?" And of course it's also drearily true that those responsible will walk -- i.e. back to their mansions and yachts and Lear jets -- and that the good old middle class, reliable and uncomplaining as ever, will pay the price. Don't expect the people who created this mess to "swing" (from the nearest lampost, as they ought) or even be mildly inconvenienced -- they are above it all. (All I need to provide as evidence is the current state of the art market.) No, it's the guy who expected his home in the 'burbs to give him a nice nest egg for retirement, since, after all, housing always goes up, right? And the guy who "invested" in the stock market the way a blind cow "invests" in clover since, after all, the guys running those companies know what they're doing, right? (Yes, they do -- they're taking your money and turning it into their money.)

But I don't just blame the "bourgeoisie" for clinging to God and guns -- oh wait, that's the rural poor, I meant "clinging to stocks and real estate". After all, those nice little savings accounts we grew up with have gone the way of the dodo -- thanks, once again, to the inflationary policies of the government. And not everyone is smart enough to deal in the "eternals", like precious gems, gold, and the like. (Throw in art if you want -- and antique cars.) So that nest egg money had to go somewhere, 'cause otherwise what was going to happen to that house on the 18th green? So it went into stocks, which were formerly the concern of people who actually knew something, but some genius realized that _he_could make even more money by talking ordinary middle-class chumps, er, honest citizens, into starting a "portfolio". And in fact, he could make even more by getting things like union retirement funds into the stock market. And... well, it's too late to privatize Social Security, and a lot of people are extremely grateful that we dodged that bullet. And the nest egg money also went into real estate, based on the "growth forever" model, which assumes that everyone else will also have more money to spend as time goes on. So in this sense it was the eradication of traditional "savings" that helped inflate the bubble. If you could still put money in a bank and watch it "grow" (albeit modestly) it would be one thing -- but you can't. Money that just sits there is going to shrink (and if it "grows" on paper, you'll be taxed on the growth part). So the government basically takes away the savings option, to the point where "savers" feel like fools. Then that same government turns around and complains about the poor "savings rate" of Americans! Talk about chutzpah! No, much better to chase people into stocks, real estate, and other high-risk (for them, not everyone) ventures, and then when the big boys decide to cash out -- which is, in some respects, what's happening now -- they're left holding... well, not much of anything. So the great American middle class gets shoved a few more notches down toward the poverty line, and the dream of a two-class system becomes more of a reality every day. Yes -- not _all_ dreams have been shattered, only the ones in the heads of the people who weren't vicious or ruthless enough to make them come true.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Who, Me ?

This just in -- there is, as it turns out, such a thing as "racism" among... guess who... Democrats! Yes, an "AP-Yahoo News poll that found one-third of white Democrats harbor negative views toward blacks — many calling them 'lazy,' 'violent' or responsible for their own troubles." Well, I must say I'm crushed by this news. Here I had always thought of the Democratic Party as the veritable bastion of enlightenment and "color-blindness" when it comes to politics and social policy. But lurking in its midst are people who see blacks as, of all things, "responsible for their own troubles". Of course, there are many black commentators out there who have said the very same thing. (But they're not Democrats, so their views don't count, I guess.) Even the "lazy and violent" (if that's not a contradiction) part can be traced, in many ways, to the basic attitude problem, or "meme", among blacks, especially of the urban "ghetto" type, which considers not working, and committing violent acts, as political statments in protest against white oppression. Never mind that blacks who do work, and are not violent, seem to have very little problem, these days, with white oppression. Of course, these are all common-sense observations, which is why it's all the more amazing that members of the Democratic Party might have made them as well. But in any case, the thinking was that this factor might become important in a close race. (Somewhere Hillary Clinton is smiling... )

I guess what I'm trying to say here is that there is, in fact, such a thing as genuine racism, which is a form of prejudice. But there are also observable facts, and the poll results are not clear as to which of these we are talking about. The article also said that "Lots of Republicans harbor prejudices, too, but the survey found they weren't voting against Obama because of his race. Most Republicans wouldn't vote for any Democrat for president — white, black or brown." Yeah, well, I could have told you that. Republicans would be perfectly willing to vote for, say, Clarence Thomas, or Thomas Sowell, should they be on the ballot as Republicans.

But the truth is, I'm just playing cat-and-mouse with the real point, which is that the Democrats have wallowed, for decades, in the form of racism that sees blacks, ultimately, as incompetent and inferior, and needing help -- in other words as perpetual victims -- who must be kept in a state of dependency on government in order to constitute a reliable voting bloc. They must, in other words, like the proverbial mushroom, be kept in the dark and fed bullshit in order to keep the Democratic/liberal socialist/collectivist power structure in place, with all of its charming features like redistribution of income, urban blight (caused by "urban renewal", which is always justified on the basis of "blight"), and -- most vicious of all -- the effective "triaging" of the black ghettos into no-man's-lands of violence, illegitimacy, and drug abuse. These are all things that, far from being accidental, are designed to feed into the socialist, i.e. Democrat, agenda -- and which are, besides, characterized by secularism and an overall attitude of doom, gloom, and despair.

The Republicans may "protest too much" when it comes to "compassionate conservatism", but I'd like someone to show me a truly compassionate liberal -- just one! Or a truly compassionate liberal program. I think we can judge well enough by the results. So, while the traditional good-ol'-boy, gun rack and axe handle type racism is gone from the Democratic Party (maybe because all those guys are voting Republican now), the more insidious form of racism is alive and well. This poll only tells a tiny part of the story.

Saturday's People

What a Relief!

Now that the government has, for all intents and purposes, nationalized the securities, insurance, and real estate industries, and is about to do likewise with the banking industry, we can all relax. Instead of a bunch of greedy, grossly-overpaid, and incompetent CEOs running these organizations, they will now be run by modestly-paid, dedicated, and self-sacrificing government officials. The good news is that government officials know more than anyone else about running organizations that are constantly losing money and are chronically in the red. The bad news is that when the government-run organizations fail, who’s going to bail them out? (China would be my guess.)

That Voodoo That You Do So Well

Add to the ever-expanding list of “why Africa is the way it is” this recent item: Fans at a soccer match in Congo recently rioted when rumors started to circulate that a member of one of the teams was using witchcraft – presumably to help his team win, but that was not made clear. Well frankly, I think they should have relaxed and waited to see the results. Heck, the Pittsburgh Pirates could use a little bit of that mojo, if it really works. It could become one of Congo‘s leading exports (OK, it’s only export, unless you include refugees).

Lines Are Open Now

OK, so first it’s idiots using cell phones in cars, leading to crashes on the highway. Then it’s a railroad engineer “texting” while on the job, leading to a crash on the rails. How long until we get gadget-addict airline pilots poking away at some little hunk of plastic instead of flying the plane? And be assured that none of the messages or “information” being conveyed by any of these devices is in the slightest bit important. It’s, basically, idle chitchat by people who have nothing better to do. I foresee the day when all these gadget-oholics will be isolated in special rooms, like “smoking rooms” at airports, where they will be free to feed their addictions without being a danger to anyone else’s life and limb.

Throwing Out The Babes With The Bathwater

In South Korea, authorities “confiscated and destroyed” beds and bathtubs in a crackdown on massage parlors and brothels. Implication: Massage parlors and brothels are the only places in South Korea where one can find beds and bathtubs. Otherwise, the authorities could have sold them for surplus (after proper fumigation, of course). So… I guess Korea is a land of sleepless, smelly people. Who knew?

See How I Feel

On the exact same topic, blind masseurs in South Korea have demonstrated against “a government decision to reverse a policy… allowing only blind people to practice the profession.” So it turns out that those massage parlors were all sheltered workshops! (It's nice to hear that those things are good for something, at least.) But that’s not all. In the course of the demonstration, the protesters set a truck on fire. Now… when’s the last time you heard of a blind person setting a truck on fire? I smell something fishy here. Oh… that’s because of the bathtubs.

Due Diligence

A youthful offender accused of killing a policeman was strangled in his jail cell in Upper Marlboro, Maryland (which, I happen to know, is in Prince George's County, Washington D.C.'s answer to the South Bronx). Wow, now there’s a real mystery. Who on earth would be motivated, and able, to kill someone, right in their own cell, for killing a cop? Another inmate, maybe? Not bloody likely. So once again the law shows that it can, if need be, take a few short cuts.

You Said It, Girl

It’s “on a one-way path to self-imposed isolation”, and their aggression cannot be allowed to “achieve any benefit”. And, any “attempt to consign sovereign nations and free peoples to some archaic sphere of influence” will be resisted. Tough words, but not off the mark, when applied to U.S. foreign policy. Problem is, they were applied, by our Secretary of State, to Russia. Ho hum, another day, another instance of the pot calling the kettle… um… well heck, I can’t even use that metaphor in Condi’s case. Guess I’d better get back to harassing Dick Cheney, who at least has the virtue of being as white as biscuit dough (and about as shapely).

End Of World On Hold – Please Excuse the Inconvenience

It seems that the so-called “Big Bang Machine” over in Europe suffered damages during its initial test, and will have to wait for two months before being started up for real. Apparently the accident also released large amounts of helium, with the result that the entire staff is now talking in Munchkin voices, adding further to the embarrassment. But not to worry, there’s a black hole with your name on it just waiting to be created.

Duncan Do-nots

The Episcopal Church in America continues its long, slow, painful meltdown with the ousting of Bishop Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh. The bishop has now joined something called the Anglican Province of the South Cone, whose members are known, by mainstream Episcopalians, as “Coneheads”. Seriously, though, what it boils down to is a fairly simple question – is the Episcopal Church a real, bonafide church – i.e. an organization dedicated to the worship of God – or is it a combination social club and activist organization, not unlike a political action committee? Bishop Duncan and many in his flock have opted for the former model, whereas the bulk of the American church, including the local “Across the Aisle” group (call them “loyalists” if you like), have opted for the latter. There is nothing new about these fault lines. They were already present back in the day when I was an Episcopalian. The diocese of Washington, DC was, overall, liberal in spirit, but included at least one very traditional, “high church”, “Anglican”, “smells and bells”, etc. parish – the one I attended, of course. It also included charismatic parishes where the services were virtually indistinguishable from those at an Evangelical church, except for the vestments. And it included parishes which were, basically, socialist cells in quaint old red-brick buildings. Well, they would have some liturgical activity from time to time; it was typically some sort of modern dance around a bunch of flaming torches to celebrate "the mid-winter holiday" (the word "Christmas" could not be used because it was too "exclusionary"). This was the kind of diversity that quickly morphs into total chaos – except, apparently, not so much chaos that the “House of Bishops” can’t get together once in a while and decide to kick someone out. (It’s amazing how hierarchical and authoritarian liberals can get when the occasion calls for it.) And of course, it would also be very un-Episcopalian to ignore the money aspect of all this. If a parish leaves a diocese, do they get to keep their church building and grounds? It’s kind of like a divorce. Who gets what? Who gets the lovebirds? And of course it often winds up in court. Thus, the “spiritual life” of this one, admittedly small, body of the faithful in our time.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Old Neocon Game

Pat Buchanan, in today's paper, contends that "Sarah Palin is no neocon" because "she is a traditionalist whose values are those of family, faith, community, and country." Well... OK, that latter statement may be perfectly true. But since when has any of that been inconsistent with Neoconservatism? Given that the vast bulk of Neocons are Evangelicals (vs. the top layer of reformed Trotskyites), is there any doubt that they hold, without exception, values based on "family, faith, community, and country"? The problem is not with the values they hold, but with the way they choose to express them -- namely by pressuring, and encouraging, an empty suit of a president to sell off our economic future and crush civil rights in order to "fight terrorism" in the generic sense, and to send troops overseas on a bunch of very expensive, and very hazardous to life and limb, wild goose chases. I doubt if there's one Evangelical on the fruited plain who can't draw a direct line between "family" and the "Global War on Terrorism"... or betwen "faith" and the need to "defend" Israel at all costs... or between "community" and the need to stay in Iraq and/or Afghanistan until the very last vestige of militant Islam in those countries is crushed -- which means, basically, until every Islamic citizen of those countries is either killed or driven out -- which means, basically, until those countries are emptied of everyone but our troops and "contractors", and a handful of bought-off government officials. And as to "country"? Why, isn't it obvious that America's greatness has nothing to do with the freedom and prosperity of its citizens, and everything to do with its ability to go anywhere in the world any time it wants, and make loud noises and kill people, in the name of such universal values as "democracy"?

Buchanan himself points out that Sarah Palin has already had "the talk" with Joe Lieberman (Israel's unofficial ambassador to the U.S.) and AIPAC... which means that she has had that same mysterious titanium steel plate embedded in her head that every member of the Bush administration has -- you know, the one that makes them totally blind to the wrongs committed by Israel, and perfectly willing to offer up the entirety of America's human and economic resources to its "defense". And as if that weren't enough, she has that second steel plate of slightly more recent vintage, the one that requires us to see Georgia (the country, that is) as, basically, a part of the U.S.

Buchanan says "the battle for Sarah's soul is not over", but I think that it is. On the other hand, why are we even worried about this because, after this week on Wall Street, the Republicans have about as much of a chance to win in November as... well, as the Libertarians (who could have avoided _all_ of these problems if they'd been given a chance).

A Golden Opportunity, Which Will Not Be Taken

Hey, it could happen -- George Bush could do it, without even leaving the comfort of the Oval Office. He could declare a national emergency in response to the economic collapse (or let's say the first phase of it) and, basically, say that charity begins at home, and this is a real emergency, and the very survival of America is at stake, and therefore we are withdrawing -- immediately -- all our armed forces from all overseas bases and deployments, and, yes, that includes Iraq and Afghanistan, and also Germany, Japan, and so on, right on down to the most abject, flea-bitten pesthole where we have seen fit to deploy troops. We're bringing the troops home, and we're turning that _other_ army, that of defense "contractors", loose so that they can go out and get honest work for once, and we're going to put our resources where they belong, i.e. in the rescue and recovery efforts that are so badly needed here at home.

This would, of course, not be inconsistent with our alleged determination to liberate captive peoples, spread democracy, protect Israel, etc. -- it would just be a simple statement of priorities. We have a national emergency, so we simply can no longer do any of those things, which are otherwise totally good and honorable, but sorry guys, the house is on fire and we've got to go. So it would not be a matter of "cutting and running" in the face of overwhelming hostility, or failing to "stay the course" in whatever we choose to call our current missions in Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. And it wouldn't even be an admission that we've lost the "Global War on Terrorism" -- only that said war will now be confined to defending our borders. And speaking of which, it would also be a great excuse to tighten things up a bit between McAllen, TX and San Diego, CA. Take some of those returning troops and station them along the border, with night-vision goggles, sniper scopes, and large-caliber ammunition, and see how much longer the "illegal immigration crisis" lasts.

What I'm saying is, the current situation offers a golden opportunity to completely re-form our foreign policy without "losing face" in the least. Any other country in as much economic trouble as we're in would have called everyone into the castle months ago, lifted the drawbridge, bolted the doors, and stationed guys on the battlements with pots of boiling pitch, just in case. Why, heck, it could even be an excuse to de-fund some of the more prominent parasitical entities that continue to suck on the public teat, like NPR, PBS, and NEA. And who knows, a bit of digging might reveal other "programs" that could be eliminated, or severely reduced, by the same reasoning.

But instead, what do we have? Business as usual, and a bunch of generals in Iraq saying, let's not be in such a hurry to get out of here. So while the economy at home melts down, we're going to keep fighting a war halfway around the world? Now, this would be a good point for... well, not McCain... for Obama to make, wouldn't it now? But do you think he'll make it? Heck no, he's already sold out. Too bad, 'cause the events of this week on Wall Street have virtually insured his victory in November. The Republicans are as doomed as a guy on the way to the gallows. In fact, they're _more_ doomed than a guy on the way to the gallows. They're as doomed as the same guy, with the noose tied around his neck, just after the trapdoor opens and he's starting to fall. He's still very much alive, but no power on earth can save him at that point. And believe me, the Democrats are going to take full advantage of this situation, but the answers they come up won't cure anything. Obama will paint Bush as another Herbert Hoover and himself as another FDR. But the cure will be worse than the ailment, as usual. No, what it will take is not just a recession, or a depression, or a scare, or a panic, but the absolute and total crippling of the American economy -- its annihilation, for all intents and purposes -- to get us out of the empire-building business. And when that happens, "poor little Israel" will last about as long as a hamburger in a kennel full of starving dogs, and all of our fine talk about "spreading democracy" will be tossed on the ash heap of charmingly quaint but totally impractical ideas. But who knows, our "allies" might just breathe a sigh of relief, and the rest of the world -- especially the Islamic part -- will throw the party to end all parties. "This is the way the world ends" -- for us, at least -- "not with a bang, but a whimper", i.e. of the last guy to walk out the door on Wall Street... not even bothering to lock it behind him, 'cause there's nothing left to steal.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Meet Joe Cool

One of the most revealing photographs of the 20th Century -- "the" definitive photo of the century, I might say -- is that of the "big three" conferees at the 1945 Yalta Conference, deep in the heart of Russia, where the still-warm -- but in its death throes -- body of the Third Reich, which had recently been renamed the Great German Reich, was being carved up for the delectation of the victors. But some victors, to paraphrase George Orwell, are more equal than others. There sits FDR, looking like death warmed over... Churchill, looking like a fat, pink baby clutching a cigar, like a character out of a W.C. Fields comedy... and "Uncle Joe" Stalin, resplendent in his immaculate marshall's uniform. Churchill, as Pat Buchanan points out, was about to lose an empire, and it was never to be regained. The U.S. had asserted its rightful inheritance as The Power of the West, and Uncle Joe was lying in wait, like an evil toad, for the smoke to clear so he could take over half of Europe, which he subsequently did, with amazing efficiency and ruthlessness, considering Russia's staggering losses in the recent unpleasantness. One can only speculate as to what was going through his mind at that point. He knew that England was already "history". America was something to be reckoned with, but guess what, Stalin had his agents larded all through the Roosevelt administration -- the most prominent (in retrospect) being Alger Hiss -- and had established a firm footing among the liberals, socialists, collectivists, and various hangers-on in the U.S. -- starting with the academics, of course, but extending to many of the unions, populists, entertainment media, news media, and even portions of the American military. So he really had nothing to fear from the U.S., and in the back of his mind might have been humming the tune, "Today Eastern Europe, tomorrow... the United States?" Hey, it could have happened, and it would have if it hadn't been for some awkward incidents down the line, like the Berlin Blockade and the Korean War. Stalin had come to power on a platform -- if you will -- of "socialism in one country" -- or at least one country at a time. It was a war of attrition, rather than a frontal attack. The fork that he stuck into Eastern Europe had many prongs, and they included not only brute force but political subversion, old-fashioned spying, intimidation, and what we now call ethnic cleansing -- with the Gulag already well in place to absorb the results. By comparison, Britain had a vanishing empire, and the U.S. had -- what? An administration that had toyed with socialism and collectivism on a enormous scale for, at that point, twelve years, and which was bursting at the seams with "friends" of Russia and of communism, who were also enemies of "isolationism", "America first-ism", and any return to the old values and old ways that had characterized this country from its founding up through at least the 1920s. So he was cool... he waited... and sure enough, Eastern Europe fell into his lap like an overripe fruit, with nary a peep of protest on the part of his erstwhile "allies", at least until it was too late.

Now, of course, we know what happened next -- we call it the "Cold War", although it could get pretty darned hot at times, like in Korea and Vietnam... and I don't know what the Russians called it, probably "progress". At any rate, the new Russian empire, pronounced (at long last) "evil" by Ronald Reagan, eventually collapsed of its own weight, with probably not a little help from Reagan, Thatcher (England redux!), and Pope John Paul II, along with many minor players like Lech Walesa. So the "peace" that _should_ have been established in 1945 finally came about during the Bush I administration -- leading directly to the "vacation from history" that was the Clinton administration. This vacation was, as we know, rudely interrupted by the events of Sep. 11, 2001, and the rest is... well, it's not history yet, but it will be some day. In any case, Stalin managed to work out a 45-year delay in what should have been the collapse of the Soviet system right after World War II, the way the Czarist system collapsed in the midst of World War I. And thus, freedom was reborn circa 1990... or was it? Russia took her own vacation from history for a while in order to lick the wounds of her contraction from an empire back to a single country with a few vaguely allied former Soviet states, but then along came all that gas and oil money, and those former states were not all turned, overnight, into gleaming "democracies" on the American model. And what we have now is an even newer Russian empire -- the Russian Third Reich, if you will -- and the guy in charge (no matter what his official title is) is Joe the Second, AKA Joe Cool, namely Vladimir Putin.

And why do I call him Joe Cool? (You'll recall that "Joe Cool" was one of Snoopy's fantasy personas -- you know, the guy you see on every college campus sporting the shades and leaning back with one foot planted against the wall. Say what you want about his academic achievements, he is large and in charge.) Well, because he knows exactly which buttons to push, and which strings to pull, and when. He's playing us, and our hapless president and his minions, like a violin, talking tough (and backing it up militarily, in the case of Georgia) one minute, and being the complete gentleman the next. On the heels of the recent five-day war in Georgia (Was it five days or five minutes? Does it matter?) he is now sitting back and calmly saying that "he expects the next U.S. administration to improve the two countries' strained relations", citing -- guess what! -- our alliance against the Nazis in World War II as an example of our "mutual interests". No mention, you'll notice, of the Cold War, or espionage, or the army of agents Russia had planted in Washington from the 1930s until at least the early 1950s, and no mention of Afghanistan ("Russia's Vietnam"), since, I guess, that place has turned out to be a wash. (Afghanistan kicked Russia's butt with our help, and is now in the process of kicking our butt with... well, with our help too, I guess.) Putin has already fired the first volley in the next round -- namely the squaring away of Georgia (and do you think that put a damper on Georgia's NATO fantasies? For their sake, I hope so.) -- he has made his move on the chessboard and is now waiting for our response, all the while assuring us that, hey guys, it's only a game, after all. Is he thereby expressing some kind of regret that Russia took things a bit too far with the Georgia foray? Not at all! It was a significant move, both for what it told Georgia, and the other former Soviet republics, and possibly also the former Warsaw Pact nations, about the way things are, but also for what it told us about what we can do something about and what we can't. Is he quaking in his boots every time Sarah Palin starts waving her moose-hunting rifle around and talking about defending Georgia next time around? Sorry, but no. He is, rather, painting a... well, actually pretty rosy picture of a new world order, Russian-style, in which we're free to preach the gospel of democracy pretty much anywhere we want, but kindly stay off his turf and out of his face on this point because if we don't, this is what's going to happen. So do we "blink", the way the Russians supposedly did over Cuba (although they got a fair trade out of it from JFK, as we all now know)? Or do we start mumbling, like some sort of drugged-up Rambo, about "not cutting and running" and "staying the course"? Is he, in other words, overestimating the sanity of the American regime? (You'll notice he said "the next U.S. administration" -- he didn't say "Democrat" or "Republican" because he knows what most Americans don't know, namely that, foreign policy-wise, they're one and the same and are going to stay that way.) Is there any country, or nation, or state in the world that Russia is determined to "defend" (i.e., keep in its own camp) at all costs, the way we are with Israel? I doubt it. Everything is negotiable. But the position he is taking, namely that the old Soviet empire still belongs to them, and that the Warsaw Pact could, at least in theory, be reclaimed at any time, is crystal clear.

Now, of course, George W. Bush has said he trusts Putin. He "looked into his eyes", etc. Well, OK -- but Bush trusts Dick Cheney too, so how much does that say about his judgment? Putin is not talking to Bush anyway, or to Cheney -- he's talking to whoever might take over American foreign policy next, and saying -- not unlike Rodney King -- can't we all just get along? But, unlike Rodney, he has the wherewithal to back up the "or else" part that is not stated explicitly. And, he rightfully sees NATO as an obsolete organization (according to its original charter) which has become, basically, a surrogate for the U.S. and its foreign policy. Don't try to disguise American empire building as a "coalition of the willing" -- it just won't fly. We know better.

So, as I've said, the next move is up to us, no matter who wins in November. And the former Soviet republics have been put on notice not to be so eager to join the American empire. And this, I submit, is not unreasonable. It's realpolitik, and in a sense it's an ideal way to contain the ambitions of both China and militant Islam. (Why should we do all the heavy lifting?) And yeah, each side will continue to plot, and intrigue, and engage in empire building in some way, shape, or form. But it doesn't have to turn into a hot war, which McCain and Palin so desperately seem to want, nor does it even have to turn into another cold war. All it has to be is a deal. (Call it a "Cool War" if you like.) But where are the absolutists, fanatics, and utopian idealists who are determined to squelch anything so "relativistic" and "unprincipled"? Where are the people who are all for "self-determination" as long as the selves that are determined are on our side? Clue -- they ain't in Moscow.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Let My Sperm Go !

Ah yes… isn’t it great to live in an age when reproductive technology has solved so many of the age-old problems of humankind, and significantly increased our control and decision-making power over this most balky of organic processes, i.e. the process of creating more humans out of existing human material? It can truly be said, from enlightenment came science, and from science came technology, and from technology came control, and… well, isn’t “wisdom” in there anywhere? Oh, who cares. The point is that the Technological Imperative – “what can be done, will be done” – has once again been shown to be the all-powerful, overarching law of our age. Or has it?

Now a woman in California (wow – didn’t see that coming) is suing a “fertility medical center” (the one housed in the actual set for the original “Frankenstein” movie) (just kidding) in order to obtain her deceased husband’s preserved sperm in order to become pregnant. This is in direct contradiction to her husband’s known opposition to the idea of having children, and his wish that the sperm should be destroyed in the event of his death. (Then why’d you have it frozen in the first place, dummy? And don't say, "I was drunk".) Her argument is that he was, indeed, willing to have a child with her, besides which he didn’t leave a will. But he did check a box marked, “discard”. So the “dead hand” – if that is the word – seems to have spoken. The court’s decision not to turn the sperm over to the widow was based on the finding that the sperm was the “sole property” of the husband, unlike the case if “a preembryo” had been in contention, a “preembryo” supposedly being the object of joint custody.

Not surprisingly, a lawyer for the deceased husband’s parents, who opposed the request, said “there is little related case law”. “This is one of a handful [yes, he really said that], and it is likely to have some effect in future cases.”

Well – the Church has been saying for decades that once you separate the procreative from the unitive aspects of human sexuality, all sorts of chaos and confusion results, and this case is a perfect example. An entire industry has grown up around a set of false premises concerning human sexuality and reproduction, and the results – far from liberating – have entangled the people involved in an ever-deepening morass of moral, ethical, and legal ambiguities. At least it didn’t take so long that a clear line can’t still be drawn – but the reproductive industry itself isn’t drawing it, and its victims – er, “clientele” – are typically too desperate, deluded, or stressed out to do so. So it devolves to those who must watch the sorry proceedings from the sidelines – with amazement, pity, and regret.

So _That's_ What It's All About!

A recent AP article about a Francis Bacon retrospective quotes the co-curator, Chris Stephens, regarding Bacon: “He was passionately atheist and saw that as the key thing about living in the 20th century. He set out to express what it is to be alive when God does not exist – (when) man is just an animal.” So let’s speculate at the outset that Bacon was, at the very least, an honest atheist (how one goes about being a “passionate” atheist is a bit beyond me – I always think of atheism as representing a singular lack of passion) who did not shrink from the short line to be drawn between atheism and absurdity, and from there (implied, at least) to despair. So the answers to those Philosophy 101 questions wind up being very concise – assuming there even are any answers: Why are we here? No reason at all. What is our destiny? Death and decay (not necessarily in that order). What, then, should one do? Pretty much as you damn please – or, in Bacon’s case, paint. As I said, this is honest atheism. Dishonest atheism is the kind that agrees 100% with the current cohort of anti-God writers, but then turns around and says that having the “correct” political views, and the “correct” views about economics, history, art, culture, and so on is extremely important, and not at all incompatible with a viewpoint that tends much more directly to the absurd. These people will go so far as to trot out some version of the Golden Rule, as though that will smooth over the roughness of their basic premise – but in fact, the Golden Rule itself is a value statement which is based on a decidedly non-absurd, non-despairing view of life – and which requires a theological, not just philosophical, premise; at least that’s my conviction. Frankly, I would rather have a person who acted out their despair through riotous self-centered living than one of these liberal-arts hypocrites. Because the hypocrites want to have the best of both worlds – all the benefits of civilization and human achievement, and all the trappings of whatever power and wealth they may accumulate, but at the same time no ultimate moral responsibility. My feeling is, you’re either part of the human race or you’re not, and if you choose not to be, stop pretending you are.

It is odd, though, that among those artists and other creative souls (oops – I mean “persons”) who adopt the atheistic-absurdity-despair premise, their output tends to fall along very similar lines, i.e. there is a central tendency -- there is nothing random about it. The review points out that Bacon dealt with “twisted forms, mottled flesh and screaming mouths” – or, with “bestial human figures, contorted bodies and screaming mouths displaying jagged teeth.” Now, one would think – OK, let me back up a bit. A true atheist, i.e. a person who saw no transcendent purpose or meaning in human existence, and who saw nature, i.e. the un-created order, as being totally indifferent to our welfare or whether we live or die, and who in fact saw people – especially in the aggregate -- as, basically, totally indifferent to the sufferings of others… who, in sum, saw the world and human existence as basically a series of random events… shouldn’t that person be more or less indifferent to the value judgments of the bulk of humanity? Shouldn’t they be willing to give equal weight to every facet of human experience, i.e. to what most people think of as “good” as well as “bad”? And shouldn’t this consideration inform their artistic or creative output? And yet, one finds that output to be, overwhelmingly, on the negative (again, according to the value judgments of most people) side.

Let me put it another way. Why wouldn’t an artist who has adopted the atheistic-absurdity-despair premise, by which nothing is any more meaningful or significant than anything else, be just as likely to paint pictures of bunny rabbits and merry-go-rounds and children with balloons -- and I mean in a non-"ironic" fashion -- as they are to paint “twisted forms, mottled flesh and screaming mouths”? If nothing has value, then everything has equal value – i.e., none – and therefore there is no reason, a priori, to represent, in art, any one thing over any other, particularly to represent things which most people consider bad over things which they consider good.

Ah, but – you might say – it is their rejection of the world, i.e. of its absurdity, that determines their artistic choices. To emphasize death, decay, and destruction is a way of saying, this is the truth about things. It is even a way of saying, this is what the world deserves for being the way it is, i.e. for being meaningless and absurd. And yes, one could hold to that point of view… but it would necessitate overlooking some important (in my opinion) facts – for example that many people, even in midst of all this absurdity, are in fact happy, and capable of enjoying life. They are relishing small, everyday pleasures as well as the broader epic of life in general, and of their part in it. And no, they are not “in denial” or afflicted with terminal Candide-ism; they have simply decided to emphasize one category of life’s experiences over the other, i.e. the good (admittedly, a somewhat subjective assessment) over the bad. So why shouldn’t their choices be at least respected, perhaps with the occasional artistic representation? (I don’t think Norman Rockwell qualifies as being of the “atheistic-absurdity-despair” school – he would anchor the other end of the scale.)

In fact, I can go a step further with this. Those who relish, and value, the good can nonetheless explain the bad, or evil, in terms of poor choices, flawed will, temptation, concupiscence, and any of a thousand ways of falling into one or more of the deadly sins. They may even come to the conclusion (as Aquinas did) that evil is not a thing in itself, but is the lack of good. In other words, evil is “explained”, in a sense, in terms of that which it lacks, i.e. the good. But the person with the atheistic-absurdity-despair view of things cannot explain the good in terms of evil, or in any other way. To him, the good – or that which people consider the good – is an anomaly, and probably a delusion besides… and believing in it, or believing that it’s possible, is a sign of weakness. In other words, the strong know that there is no meaning to be found, and they aren’t afraid to admit it. (I see this attitude every time I read one of these current “chic” atheist authors – “I am the tough guy and the rest of you are wimps because you’re afraid to admit how rotten things really are. The truth is, life sucks then you die. Now where’s the advance on my next book?”)

So with that in mind, let’s get back to Bacon for a moment. Despite his alleged philosophical premises, he did, in fact, make artistic choices, and coincidentally made the same ones that nearly all other students of the absurd have made. Every work he turned out represented the statement: “This is important; that is not.” So he was making a statement of value in an allegedly valueless world – i.e. he was saying that death and decay are more important than life and health, even though, strictly speaking, he had no philosophical basis for saying that. Why are death and decay more important, if nothing has any meaning? And why, for that matter, is despair a more valid point of view than the view that life has meaning? And if – bear with me, now – life has no meaning, is it any less meaningful, or more absurd, to pretend that it does? Are you saying that my bunny rabbits are less meaningful than your mottled flesh? But you have no basis for making that claim, according to your own premises.

What, then, makes an artist, given that he lives in a world where nothing matters, take up art at all, not to mention troubling his mind with complex artistic decisions? I think it’s because even the most militant, the most “honest”, atheist is nonetheless trapped into making decisions, because he is, by his very human nature (despised tho’ it might be), trapped into having preferences – likes and dislikes. There are philosophers (and Eastern religious teachers) who deny the very existence of the body – i.e. they contend that the body is an illusion that arises within the immaterial mind. (They are, of course, in stiff competition with psychologists who contend that only the body exists, and that the so-called “mind” is an epiphenomenon. I say, let those two camps fight it out.) But most atheists, I daresay, are perfectly willing to admit the existence of bodies – at least of one, i.e. their own, even if everyone else’s is in their imagination. But actually, most of them would be willing to admit that the observable world is real, on some level, if only temporary. But then we come to our relationship with the world, or what characterizes our existence within it, and thus we are faced with the brute fact of, or requirement for, self-preservation. This, of course, is where the philosophical community starts to fragment in a big way. Some will contend that, since life is absurd, so is wanting to sustain it. But they then have to explain the self-preservation drive, since it’s so, well, anti-philosophical. Mostly they just figure, that’s the way it is, it’s just part of the overall absurdity – we strive and strain to stay alive only to experience another day of absurdity and despair. But they certainly would not fault anyone who decided, on that basis, to end their life and had the courage and resourcefulness to do so (Bacon lived to age 82, BTW – none of this “early out” nonsense for him). But in any case, once one admits that “the body in the world” seems to have its own priorities, regardless of the philosophy of the brain that inhabits it (call this the “existential stage” of development), then we can, if we so choose, admit that the self-preservation urges of others are no less valid (call this the “humanistic stage”). But here’s where a funny thing happens, because now one finds that the most basic self-preservation urges of certain other people – i.e. their very existence – are not, in fact, granted automatic validity by everyone, and certainly not by any adherent to one of the collectivist or totalitarian schools of political and economic thought. Under those systems, many will have to die before the world can be remade as it ought to be – and now we’re deep in heart of “values”. And to make things worse, the benign humanist has no good arguments against the malevolent collectivist. (This is the mistake our “secular humanists” make when they argue against totalitarianism – well OK, against totalitarianism of the “fascist” hue vs. the “socialist” hue.)

So the absurdist, to be consistent, should jump back in horror at this point, and disown any notion of human values, at least as they might be forcibly applied to others (even though the use of force per se cannot be judged, because it’s no more absurd than pacifism). But sure enough, intellectual history is full of cases of people who not only did not make that perfectly logical move, but did just the opposite, i.e. jumped headlong into some form of collectivism – Sartre being, perhaps, one of the more prominent cases. And this in itself could be considered a form of absurdity – but it’s never identified as such. It’s more along the lines of, I can’t prove (using the tools of philosophy) that such-and-such is true or good, but I’m going to act along those lines anyway, and I expect others to do likewise. Which makes just about as much sense as a rocket scientist filling an Atlas booster with bat guano instead of rocket fuel, and expecting it to work just as well, because, why not?

I guess what I’m coming around to with all this is the notion that what I call the atheistic-absurdity-despair world view, while it appears to be nihilistically simple and intellectually undemanding, is really full of contradictions and of metaphysical and epistemological accidents waiting to happen. The adherent of this world view has to get up every morning and “esplain” (as Desi Arnaz would say) to himself why things are as they appear to be – and, admittedly, one of the preferred media for this sort of self-explanation is art. And just as admittedly, the artist never succeeds in his quest for an explanation, because if he did he could stop doing art and go do something else. But no such luck – the artist has to go over it and over it again, as Bacon did… which ought to be a clue that what he is trying to explain to himself cannot be explained, perhaps because it’s simply not true. But that’s the last thing that will occur to any of them.

Loose Ends

Hitler Was Ashen, Not Waxen

Madame Tussaud’s in Berlin has reinstated a wax image of Hitler – his “tragic last days”, as the National Enquirer would say – in his underground bunker, after its beheading by “a 41-year-old German” (undoubtedly an art student). What I always find amusing about Hitlerphobia in Germany is that it’s not based on dislike and hostility, or even shame, but on the fear that Nazi-era icons might inspire some sort of nostalgia, and that Hitler likenesses might inspire some sort of cult worship. Funny how no one in China worries about this, vis-à-vis portraits of Chairman Mao. Even Stalin has a hard-core remnant of admirers in Russia – mostly people who got fat military pensions from his regime. But poor Adolf. No one loves you when you’re old and – defeated. But look on the bright side -- he's the only character in history who will never be referred to by the American media as "The ____ Hitler".

Take a Gandhi at This

A museum in India has put a replica of “the specially built mobile lavatory” used by Gandhi on display. Now, why did he even need a “mobile lavatory”, since he was fasting most of the time? And, didn’t he trust the local facilities? Was he just being a tourist, in other words? This bears further investigation.

Fools Fall For Fish Foot Feeding Fetish

So what’s this latest craze of having small fish nibble dead skin off your feet? And it can’t be cheap. Aren’t there enough weirdos around who would be willing to _pay_ to do it? How many nanoseconds before this one goes into the “craze box” along with pet rocks and CB radios?

One Hump Or Two?

“Ancient jawbone may be of tiny camel species.” Well, I guess now we know where “Camel Lights” came from.

I Thaw It Coming

“Ice-Free Arctic Routes” are now being opened up for navigation, thanks to global warming or whatever. It didn’t take long for someone to figure out how to turn a profit from what everyone else seems to consider a catastrophe. (For example, the melting of the Arctic ice cap is referred to as a “death spiral”. Not if you own beachfront property on Spitsbergen!)

And Speaking of Shorelines...

How long before a few thousand homeowners along the Texas coast will apply for government, i.e. taxpayer, handouts to compensate them for the damages caused by Hurricane Ike? Wouldn't it be great if, some day, the government would just tell people who build in places like that: "You're on your own. If you choose to build there we're not going to bail you out." For that matter, has anyone said this to New Orleans yet? Highly unlikely.

Couch Humans

According to a recent news item, research on the genome of the potato reveals that it has 840 million DNA base pairs, as compared to 3 billion for humans. But hold on, with fully 28% of the base pairs of the human species, and according to the usual scientific reporting on these issues, the potato ought to be, on average, 28% as intelligent as the average human -- which puts the potato about on par with the typical fraternity jocks in large state universities. Or maybe the numbers imply that 28% of all potatoes are equal in intelligence to the average human -- in which case, maybe we should incorporate potatoes into the ranks of "undecided voters". In any case, it's encouraging to know that we have close relatives in the vegetable world, ones that might, in fact, be the last to criticize American TV viewing habits.

What's Up, Doctrine?

It’s been pointed out that Sarah Palin sounded a bit confused and incoherent during a recent interview when she was asked to comment on the “Bush Doctrine”. Well, I would have been blindsided by this question as well, since, up to the point of that interview, no one had ever heard of a “Bush Doctrine” – in other words, the term was apparently made up just for that interview, and in order to confuse Gov. Palin. However, rather than dwelling on the past, let’s concede that now that this term, or concept, is in play as part of the election proceedings, it ought to be defined so that it can become a handy talking point for candidates of either party.

But first let’s look at the very first foreign policy “doctrine” ever formulated by an American president, namely that of James Monroe. His doctrine can be defined as “opposition to extension of European control or influence in the Western Hemisphere”. Implied in this doctrine was our reciprocal determination to not interfere in European affairs; in other words, it was a quid pro quo idea, and an early expression of hegemony, AKA "dividing up the turf". One consequence was our opposition to the establishment of new colonies in North America by European powers, and the doctrine also supported the recently-achieved independence of numerous Latin American nations. It was, in short, a hemisphere-based doctrine, which essentially divided up the world between areas of our direct interest combined with areas consisting of newly-independent countries whose independence we supported; and the rest of the world, i.e. Europe (and, implied, Asia and Africa). The concept was later extended to the establishment of military and naval installations, regardless of the formal status of the countries where they were located. (This concept came into play, of course, during the Cuban Missile Crisis.)

Now let’s have a look at the “Bush Doctrine”, at least as defined by Wikipedia with annotations (in brackets) by moi:

"The Bush Doctrine is a phrase used to describe various [that’s for sure] related [to what?] foreign policy principles [now why abuse that perfectly good term?] of United States president [right – keep saying that and it might come true some day] George W. Bush, created in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks. [Actually, they were "created" long before 9-11, which was just used as an excuse to implement them.] The phrase initially described the policy that the United States had the right to treat countries that harbor or give aid to terrorist groups as terrorists themselves, which was used to justify the invasion of Afghanistan [but not Saudi Arabia, note]."

[OK – so right away, you have this supposed right to attack any country that harbors terrorists. Problem is, we’re the ones who define “terrorist”. Pretty handy, isn’t it?]

[Please note that, based on usage by the current administration, a "terrorist" is anyone who fights in an "unconventional war" -- which means, basically, that they don't wear uniforms and march in formation. So by this criterion, the "embattled farmers" who fought at Concord Bridge were terrorists.]

"Later it came to include additional elements, including the controversial policy of preventive war, which held that the United States should depose foreign regimes [even “democracies”?] that represented a threat to the security of the United States, even if that threat was not immediate (used to justify the invasion of Iraq), a policy of supporting democracy [so-called] around the world, especially in the Middle East [where democracy is way more important than it is in, say, Africa or Asia], as a strategy for combating the spread of terrorism [same objection – we define what “terrorism” is], and a willingness to pursue U.S. military interests in a unilateral way." [That means without asking the U.N., which is itself not a bad principle.]

[But what it adds up to – if you combine these two major elements – is that we assert the right to invade any country at any time in order to prevent even the remote possibility that they might, some day, be in a position of harboring or giving aid to terrorist groups, by which we mean – as usual – “terrorist” as defined by us. So if England, for example, is less than diligent in rooting “terrorist” groups out of its vast tracts of public housing, we should have the right to invade England in order to deal with that fact.]

[And of course, let’s not neglect the core element of this doctrine, which the Wikipedia article mysteriously fails to mention, namely that all of the above considerations, even assuming they are occasionally sincerely held, take very much of a back seat to Job One, which is the “defense” of Israel at all costs. In fact, for each of the above points, if given a choice between it and Israel, Israel will always come out on top.]

And here’s the quote that gets Sarah Palin off the hook (or ought to): “These principles are sometimes referred to as the Bush Doctrine although the term is often used to describe other elements of Bush policy and is not universally recognized as the single concept.” Yeah – one kind of gets the feeling that the real doctrine is that we can go anywhere we want at any time, and kill anyone we want to, and destroy the infrastructure and economy and political stability of any country, and whadda you gonna do about it, pal? The sad thing is, it appears that Palin has signed onto this idea and is all ready to carry it forward in whatever capacity she can. Of course, she has to get around John McCain first, and… no wait, he’s in full agreement with the idea himself. So when the Democrats talk about “four more years of the same”, what they should really be saying is, “four more years of the same, with turbochargers and earlaps”.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Let's Get Real

Pat Buchanan, in his column in today's paper, points out the stark differences between Obama/Biden and McCain/Palin on the issue of abortion, and says -- this is the title of the column -- "Fate of Roe in the balance", i.e. "If Obama-Biden wins, Roe is forever. If McCain-Palin wins, Roe could be gone by the decade's end." This assumes, of course, that Supreme Court vacancies really do occur at some point in the next four years -- a likely scenario, but far from assured. It also assumes that those vacancies would be filled, by McCain, with strict constructionists and pro-lifers in the mold of Scalia, Thomas, Alito, and Roberts. But how pro-life is McCain, anyway? No one seems to know. And it assumes that a justice who talks the talk (during confirmation hearings -- and, BTW, how is a pro-life justice going to be confirmed by what will surely be a Democratic Congress for years to come?) is also willing to walk the walk. These assumptions, while they all might come to pass, are, again, far from assured, given the sad history of "conservative" appointments to the Court. Something funny always seems to happen on the way to Capitol Hill, like a scene out of a "body snatchers" movie -- the justices show up for the first day of work strangely changed, and suddenly sympathetic with all kinds of special pleading on the part of social-change promoters, liberals, "humanists", and the like. The metal detectors at the doors of the Supreme Court Building have yet to register a metal plate or other foreign object embedded in the skull of a justice, but it's clear that something, indeed, does happen -- to most if not all of them.

But even if this long string of "what ifs" yielded up one or more new bonafide pro-life justices, is there any guarantee that they would get the opportunity to reconsider Roe v. Wade? Remember, the justices don't bring cases before themselves, someone else has to do it. This is something liberals and conservatives alike invariably fail to understand. They think that when the pro-life contingent on the Court reaches the magic number 5, Roe vs. Wade goes out the window, just like that. Not true. Someone has to sue someone, and the suit has to have merit, and it has to work its way up the judicial totem pole, a process that can take years. And yet Pat Buchanan says that "this election is America's last hope to reverse Roe v. Wade." Well, maybe and maybe not. Every election that comes along, right down to deciding who's going to be dogcatcher in Wahoo, Nebraska, is "the most important election ever", and "will determine the future of our nation", etc.

Finally, Buchanan wants the Catholic hierarchy in this country to provide "moral counsel" to Catholics regarding the election -- presumably counsel to vote for McCain, or to not vote for Obama, based on the abortion issue. Of course, they can't recommend or dis-recommend any specific candidate by name, or there goes the tax-free status of the Church (not that it ever has this effect on black churches, of course). But they can, at least, strongly recommend voting for pro-life candidates and not for "pro-choice" candidates; the IRS doesn't seem to have a whole lot of trouble with that idea. Of course, it's hard to see how a bishop or cardinal who serves communion to a "pro-choice" politician on Sunday is going to come out against them, or their position on abortion, on Monday -- this is a bit of "going along to get along" that the Church hierarchy is a long way from remedying.

But even that isn't the point. The Church -- as represented by the Pope, if not the American hierarchy -- has come out, repeatedly, against the war in Iraq as being unjust, according to centuries-old criteria for "just war". The war is known, by now, and by anyone with a grain of sense, to be not only illegal, immoral, and unconstitutional, but to be, basically, a hoax and a fraud, the main purpose of which is to make a lot of people very rich, and secondarily to "spread democracy" (as if that were an absolute moral value), and "protect Israel" (ditto). (The so-called "Global War on Terror" has nothing to do with it, for the simple reason that the Global War on Terror is, itself, a hoax.) So we have that, and we have two candidates who not only see nothing whatsoever wrong with the war, but want to escalate it, extend it into perpetuity, and clone it as many times as possible. McCain is not the least bit bothered by the prospect of our being over in Iraq for 100 years, and Palin is chomping at the bit to get into a nuclear showdown with Russia over Georgia. And these are the people Buchanan wants to put into office in order to overturn Roe v. Wade? Believe me, if these maniacs get into office, abortion will be the very least of our worries. We've already aborted our economy with this damnable war, and are well down the road to miscarrying the rights of our own citizens. And the moral catastrophe of the Iraq war is, in fact, threatening to eclipse that of Vietnam. In the name of all that is holy, this war has to come to an end. Now! Today! But Buchanan chooses to ignore the issue based on a long, drawn-out, and highly speculative chain of events that "might", someday, have an impact on Roe vs. Wade.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Use Me, Abuse Me

I remember that one of the more remarkable things about George Orwell’s “1984”, which I first read way back in high school, was that the object of most of the brainwashing and propaganda was not the lower orders – who were left pretty much alone – but the middle class, i.e. the white-collar types, who had a few resources and a bit of education, and who had more or less functional cerebral cortices. It wasn’t until much later that I understood this phenomenon. Whenever the regime – any regime – wants to exert control over a segment of the populace, it chooses, for its means of control, the technique which will most reliably appeal to that particular segment. You can also call this “finding their Achilles heel”, or “getting them where they live”. So, as E. Michael Jones (of “Culture Wars”) points out, the method of choice when it comes to the lower classes – the proletariat, if you will – is to appeal to, and manipulate, basic organic or animal or vegetative needs and desires – sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll, in other words. And we see how effectively the regime used these amusements to put the lid on things like the “black power” movement, which really did threaten – back in the late 60s and early 70s – to throw many of our cities into states of anarchy. (The “sex” part was adventitiously augmented by the advent of AIDS – not necessarily invented by the government for that purpose, as the Rev. Wright contends, but a “found blessing” in the world of social control.) Of course, on a broader scale, the same triumvirate (“ruling three”) has been used to manipulate and control young people of all races, since shortly after World War II. It might almost be said that teen-agers and “young adults” – AKA “youth” – are, at least temporarily, treated as members of the lower class regardless of their actual origins. The evidence to back up this idea is pretty much overwhelming, in my opinion. But in any case, the primary means of manipulation and control of the lower ranks of society are, by and large, crude but effective.

But now wait, you’ll say – how about the ranks of the lower classes that occasionally rise up in protest? What about the “lumpen proletariat” that hang on Al Sharpton’s every word? What about La Raza? Aren’t those genuine lower-class political and social movements that don’t fit into your “animal or vegetative needs and desires” paradigm? Well, they might be, except that behind every demagogue’s sloganeering, protest march, and riot lie a fairly conventional handful of – once again – very basic organic needs and desires. The words constitute a unifying, energizing force, no doubt about it. But once people have what they want – or think they want – all those fine theories go out the window, and the radicals, theoreticians, and organizers are faced with a bunch of people sitting on their collective ass. This also has been proven, in many cases, to be a typical and predictable development. The people marching up the street with signs and torches really aren’t “idea” people at all. We find this out the minute one of those torches goes through a store window. If there is loot to be had, you can be sure that very few of the marchers will get as far as city hall – more likely, they’ll already be home plugging in that new plasma TV. This again is… so typical. Sad but true. Nearly every “idea”, or slogan, or buzz word uttered by the demagogues of our day (or the recent past) has boiled down to the same thing – I want what I ain’t got – or, I want more of what I have got. Nothing all that subtle or theoretical here.

No, for true abject submission to the power of ideas in the long term, you need a middle class – i.e., you need people who have little or no power (economic, social, political) but who fancy that they do, and who are just educated enough to have formed a belief in “ideas” – or, even worse, “ideals”. In other words, you need people with imagination but no real creativity, and with collective courage but little or no individual courage. They also need to be firm, unbending believers in not only the “right” to vote, but in the questionable credentials of anyone who doesn’t care to exercise this right every second November (and in between, as needed). They need to be “patriots” – perhaps even “nationalists”, but that could cause problems for the internationalists – and believe in the entire propositional underpinning of “America” and “the American way” – you know, ideas like “freedom” (but not too much), “rights” (but not too many), “democracy” (as defined by the regime, of course), “the two-party system” (oh yeah – there’s an absolute principle for you), and – most importantly of all – the uniquely American right – nay, obligation – to impose our will, and our way of life, and our political system (in all its peerless perfection) on any other society that we feel needs it imposed on them. And, the corollary to this is, if they don’t know what’s good for them, we’ll show them, by gosh, and we’ll start by sending in the Marines. Now, these are all core, and absolutely essential, middle-class values – or such is my contention. The upper classes – the regime, those in charge – have no need for any of these ideas, because to them what matters is being in charge and staying in charge, through any means possible. The utility of these notions to them is confined to one thing, namely that they constitute a thicket of conceptual and emotional hooks with which to snare the middle class.

Likewise, the lower classes have no use for these ideas – and sure enough, we find them almost universally rejecting them whenever they encounter them – because they already have what they want, i.e. sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll, or the equivalents thereof. And I give credit to the lower classes of this country. They know how to “game” the system for all it’s worth, and they know better than to fall for any of the regime’s propaganda, which is not directed at them anyway; it’s directed at the middle class, AKA “chumps”. Because they’re the ones, you see, who must be made to _believe_. Simply manipulating fleshly factors isn’t enough, because, for one thing, the American middle class is still very much heir to Puritanical ideas about the flesh, and the body, and pleasure, and the world. To appeal too much to “animal drives” might constitute an occasion of sin, and we certainly can’t have that. Much better to appeal to ideas, and concepts, and things that, if only more people would believe, the world would be a better place – in fact it would be a utopia, heaven on earth! So this is, ultimately, what the middle class is looking for, though they might not be aware of it on a day-to-day basis.

So what we wind up with – the “bottom line”, if you will – is that whereas lower-class people will only die by accident, and upper-class people won’t die for any reason if they can help it, middle-class people are perfectly willing to die for “ideas” – or, preferably, to send other people out to die for ideas. Thus, we have a news item from Canada in which a man who lost a son in Afghanistan complained that a plan to withdraw Canadian troops from Afghanistan (in 2011!) was “irresponsible” because “he said his son will have died in vain if Canada pulls its troops out of Afghanistan before that country is stabilized.”

Now, can you imagine, in your wildest dreams, a lower-class person, or an upper-class person, making a statement like that? I know I can’t. This sort of totally brainwashed, delusional thinking is unique to the middle class – which is why you hear or read about statements like this every day, because the “media”, by and large, are instruments of manipulation and control of the middle class, by the upper class, i.e. the regime. As far as the media are concerned, the lower classes are fly-over country – they have their games and circuses (including, of course, some segments of the media, but not one ones that really count). The people who have to be kept in line at all costs are the middle class. Hence, we have a truly astonishing statement by a man who has lost a son – tragic enough in any case, but even more so when it was in pursuit of empire-building and cynical money-making goals of the U.S., and the Bush administration – and he wasn’t even from the U.S., he was Canadian! What on earth do the Canadians have to gain from involvement in our follies? And yet there they are, and they are getting killed, and yet the people who have lost the most from all this are the most supportive of the effort continuing.

Just take a look at the “memes” involved here. His son “will have died in vain”, i.e. without having been part of an accomplished mission, i.e. a decisive victory. But a victory for what, and for whom? American war industries, politicians, fanatical Evangelicals? Are these people and their ambitions worth a single hair off the head of a single Canadian soldier? I think not. Canada, of course, made a dreadful mistake in getting involved with this debacle to begin with. The 9-11 attacks didn’t happen to Canada, and they were not in response to anything Canada has ever done. And yet, the honor of the English-speaking world was at stake, etc. etc., so they offer up their youth as cannon fodder for the likes of Dick Cheney. Does that make their politicians even worse than ours? In a way, it does. And then, how about that “stabilization” business? Can anyone in the room tell me the last time Afghanistan was “stable”? I don’t think it ever was. And in any case, what the hell do we care? In fact, given the penchant of countries in that part of the world to get aggressive with us, I would think “stabilization” would be the last thing on our minds. Better to aid and abet their slipping into total chaos! (Oh, wait – that is what we’re doing in Iraq. Smart folks, these Bushies.)

I hope I’ve managed to eliminate any doubt as to who gets, most often, used and abused in this system, and by the regime. And I haven’t even touched on things like taxes (income, inheritance, etc.), public schooling, affirmative action, “reparations” (notional at this point, but just you wait), and the corporate/media/academic culture that requires undying loyalty (don’t ask “to what?”) and a refusal to question the premises one was spoon-fed from pre-school on. The proles can be left to their own devices – and usually are. They can think, and say, anything they like, ‘cause we’ve got their number. (Don’t think the universal availability of drugs in the “inner cities” is an accident, or a failure on the part of “law enforcement”. And don't think that our drug laws are solely the result of residual Puritanism.) The people who are connected to the MSM by a ring in their nose – and to the regime by a life-long delusion of “democracy” – are the great American middle class. I pity them. But I’m one of them! But they’re threatening to throw me out for misbehavior.

Sitting Ducks

Doogie Howser He Ain’t

OK, so a 30 year old guy – a “sex offender” -- in Arizona managed to pose as a 12-year-old for two years in order to get into public schools? Sounds like the Arizona schools have a bigger job to do than just instituting “bad touch” training.

The World That Time Forgot

According to a recent installment of Ripley’s Believe It or Not, "An estimated 100 indigenous tribes live without significant contact with the outside world.” What they didn’t mention is that one of the “tribes” consists of people who listen to NPR all day. (Remember, they said “significant” contact.)

Kim Jong Ill

It’s a good thing communist countries don’t have anything like that old-fashioned “royalty” thing, AKA “hereditary rulers”, or we’d have butt-heads like Kim Jong-Il running places like North Korea just because his father did, and people would be trying to figure out which of his sons would wind up in charge after he pegged out. Oh, wait…

Sam Can Cook

The Prime Minister of Thailand, Samak Sundaravej, has been forced to leave office “for taking pay to host a TV cooking show.” Well now, wait a minute. Of all the possible offenses that could be committed by a public official, in Thailand or any other place, being part of a cooking show has to rank pretty close to the bottom in terms of severity. Plus, hey, he was supporting Thai cuisine, which, as we all know, is quite tasty. When’s the last time any of our home-grown politicians did anything that useful? (pause) I’m waiting for your answer…

Friends of Pill

A Church of Scientology group in France has been indicted on, among other things, a charge of “illegally acting as a pharmacy”. But wait – doesn’t that mean things like pills, and “drugs”? I thought their position was that it was all in your mind. Maybe they were just looking for short cuts.

Mister No-Jangles

According to a recent news item, “Israeli airport security officials made an [sic] black member of the New York-based Alvin Ailey dance troupe perform steps for them before letting him enter the country.” Well, the guy’s name is Abdur-Rahim Jackson, so I can see how that might have raised a few suspicions: “OK fella, show us that padded butt isn’t hiding WMDs!” Plus, Jackson is engaged to “a fellow dancer who is Jewish with a large family in Israel”. “Oy vey! A 'schvartze' in our family?” Just another tidbit in the long history of the uneasy relationship between Jews and blacks. Now when does Al Sharpton race over to Israel to put his two cents in? Any minute now, I expect. And I don't think they'll even ask him to dance...

Don't Keep on Truckin'

“The House voted Tuesday to end a pilot program giving Mexican trucks access to U.S. highways.” Yeah, this sounds a bit petty and mean-spirited, and, after all, we do have NAFTA, which basically erases that pesky border for all intents and purposes. But I know something most people don't. I’ve been to Mexico and have encountered Mexican truckers on the road, and have heard the stories. Basically, they’re a bunch of homicidal maniacs – and that’s during daylight hours. At night, no one with a grain of sense is out on the road, because the truckers own the night. They roar over the highways at breakneck speed, and I pity the fool who’s still out there. It’s not “my way or the highway” – it’s “the highway _is_ my way”. So we’re supposed to import this charming tidbit of highway culture up here without a murmur of protest? I sincerely hope not. Of course, Congress isn’t thinking about the welfare of U.S. citizens any more than they usually do – it’s more about pressure from business and the unions. But hey, doing the right thing for the wrong reasons beats doing the wrong thing, right?

When Worlds Collide

By the time you read this, we may already have been sucked into a black hole created by the new Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN, which is in France – er, I mean Switzerland – er, some of each, apparently. (Must be some kind of tax scam, like those “duty-free” stores at airports.) But – you’ll say – in that case, I won’t be reading this, ‘cause I won’t exist any longer. Not necessarily! We don’t really know what goes on inside of black holes (although listening to a speech by George Bush provides a few clues). We could get sucked into one, and still be living pretty much the way we are now, and doing pretty much the same things – but on a much smaller scale. For example your brain might wind up the size of Jimmy Carter’s. (But wait – his would be smaller too. Oh, never mind.) But hey, in any case it’s all in the name of “science”, and as we all know, “science” can do no wrong. (Well, there was that small matter of the atom bomb, but the only people who got hurt were little yellow devils, so that was OK too.)

BTW, and all kidding aside, a very interesting book on the whole cutting-edge particle physics issue is one by Lisa Randall called "Warped Passages". Did I understand all of it? Heck no. But it did provide some intriguing clues, and it made a pretty good case for the LHC (once we get over the black hole issue, that is).

Que Sarah, Sarah

Wow! Sarah Palin is clearly out to make John McCain look like a limp-wristed wimp by comparison to her yee-hah, Calamity Jane image. It’s already clear that, according to today’s news, she “favors NATO membership for Georgia, even if that raises the risk of war between the United States and Russia.” You know… I guess the guys who wrote the Constitution didn’t anticipate anything like this, or they would have added a clause having to do with, what happens when one of the nominees is clearly insane? Here’s a person who wants to be one very sketchy heartbeat away from the presidency actually saying she’s perfectly willing to risk nuclear war (‘cause what else would it be?) for the sake of some little shit-ass place in the Caucasus that very few Americans ever heard of up until the last few weeks. So basically, if you vote for her, and for that old geezer on the same ticket, you have no one but yourself to blame when the world goes up in flames. Well? If that’s not correct, please tell me what is. It’s truly amazing that each new generation of politicians is born completely empty-headed and without the slightest sense of history, or economics, or reasonable priorities. The only thing more amazing is that we continue to vote them into office.

BTW, I have yet to read a quote from Palin that doesn’t sound like some hung-over sorority girl trying to explain herself to the cop who finds her sleeping on the grass at 6 AM.

Oh, and BTW, she also says “We cannot second-guess the steps that Israel has to take to defend itself.” Which is to say, they should have carte blanche, and we shouldn’t interfere. So when do they start implementing the Final Solution to the Palestinian Question?

Kill All Kulaks

I love this. Obama criticized McCain’s acceptance speech because he (McCain) ignored “the struggles of the middle class.” This is funny, coming from a guy, and from a party, that has been dedicated, for well-nigh 80 years, to the extermination of the middle class as an economic, social, political, and -- yes -- moral influence in this country. The collectivist/liberal/Democratic ideal, as expressed time and time again in their policies, is to return to what is basically a Medieval (or Soviet, for that matter) model of society, i.e. a ruling elite (them) and a servile underclass consisting of peasants (the rural poor) and workers (the urban poor), with no one in between. This would, of course, represent the final stage of their relentless campaign for totalitarian power. As it is, the middle class is the only thing standing in their way, and many of them have, in fact, been co-opted by bad ideas, “white guilt”, and their academic training. It can be truly said that the American middle class is complicit in its own destruction, and that when it finally disappears it will have no one to blame but itself. But even so, it’s a bit irritating to see someone like Obama, who would just love to march all the “bourgeoisie” off to concentration camps for “re-education”, claim to have middle-class interests at heart.

Trapped Gas

Here’s the headline of a recent regional news story: “Pa. highway funding at risk as drivers log fewer miles, buy less gas.” In other words, because people aren’t driving as much, the share of federal highway money going to Pennsylvania is going to decrease. Oh, the humanity! Imagine the economic chaos that would ensue if the Keystone State received less of a highway handout. Anyone who has driven Pennsylvania roads during the summer months realizes that highway maintenance and repair in this state is one of the biggest patronage scams on earth – virtually every mile of highway is bedecked with orange cones, announcing the presence of “crews” who are, typically, nowhere to be seen, or if they are, are doing anything but working. These guys make the Pasha of Baghdad, sitting on his perfumed cushions, look like a Chinese coolie. So now they’re afraid of – what? Obviously of a “jobs” cut based on the fact that – shazam! – people are driving less. But wait – doesn’t the fact that people are driving less mean that the rate of wear and tear on our highways will decrease? And that new roads, and improvements to old roads, won’t be as necessary? In other words, aren’t we talking about, basically, good news here? One would think so – but to the state highway bureaucracy it’s a disaster in the making.

Meditation on 9-11

I'm not going to provide my own meager thoughts on the occasion, but rather forward a stunningly profound article from the Internet. I am humbled by this person's insight. Please read it -- believe it -- live it ! !


Monday, September 8, 2008

We'll Leave a Slim Jim on Your Pillow

One of the most on-target, and also hilarious, books on social class in America is the one by Paul Fussell published in 1992, called “Class: A Guide Through the American Status System”. Of course, in a dynamic society like ours, the earmarks of class do evolve over time, but the book is still 99% on-target and 100% hilarious. However, being, after all, only a single book, it cannot have covered all the various subtleties and nuances of class-based behavior, customs, and mores in America – so I’m taking it upon myself to remedy this situation in a small way, from time to time, and I’m going to start with a less-than-obvious topic, namely motels. And by this, I’m not talking about motels per se – that topic has been covered quite well by a number of writers. I’m talking about motel _behavior_, or let’s say why it is that people check into motels to begin with.

Now, I shouldn’t even have to mention that upper-class people simply don’t stay in motels – not ever. They stay in hotels, resorts, and occasionally in luxurious hotels that might _appear_ to be motels, simply on the superficial basis of their having only two floors, but the resemblance ends there. No, the American motel is exclusively the domain of the middle and lower classes. But this does not mean any given motel has to be entirely “middle class” or “lower class”. Granted, there are motels that are simply a bit too pricey for the average truck driver or factory worker… and there are other motels that no self-respecting middle-class person would be caught dead in. (Well, they _might_ be caught dead in one, but certainly never alive.) But many motels – dare I say, the vast bulk – are relatively indifferent to class. They are a kind of melting pot, if you will, of people who might otherwise never, or rarely, rub shoulders, or spend the night under the same roof (red or otherwise). And this is where the culture clash comes in – because middle-class people, by and large, check into motels in order to have a place to spend the night, and get some sleep. Which is to say, they check in, go to their rooms, pour a drink after getting some ice out of the ice machine down the hall (and why are those things still _so_ damn noisy after all this time?), watch a bit of TV, and retire after having set an alarm or requested a wake-up call – or both, if they’re extra-conscientious. This is the middle-class way – it brings back memories of Babbitt, Main Street, Death of a Salesman… you know, all those boring-unto-death life styles in which pleasure is subordinated to duty, not just for the time being, but for keeps.

Contrast this, if you will, with what happens when a lower-class person, or persons, check into a motel. For one thing, they aren’t necessarily on the road – they may, in fact, be within walking distance of home. So the fact that they’re checking into a motel already has a threatening element to it: What are they up to? Well, I can tell you for certain that “sleep” has nothing to do with it. Five minutes after check-in, and after turning the TV on full-volume (where it will remain the entire night), someone has to “go out for beer” – or for some other form of adult refreshment. Then the party begins, which seems to involve some sort of rough rotation among the following activities: (1) laughing and hollering; (2) singing (loud and out of tune, of course); (3) physically thrashing around, with much furniture being moved and bodies hitting the wall, doors slamming, etc.; (4) boisterous sex involving two or more persons, gender unspecified; (5) changing the channels on the TV; and (6) going out for more beer (or, etc.). These activities are typically punctuated by the arrival and departure of various unregistered guests, which has its own separate scenario of whooping and hollering, honking car horns, screeching tires, and the like, with perhaps a few barking dogs thrown in for good measure. And after a full night of such goings-on, do you think the folks in that room next door to mine fall into a blessed stupor for a few hours? Not a bit of it! They are up, dressed, and ready for the day not long after dawn, having slept not a wink (just like me) and having partied all night (not just like me). Truly, their sheer stamina (if not their life style) is inspiring.

Now, you’re going to say I must have just run into a few bad apples along the way. Surely there are lower-class people who check into motels, settle down, and get a good night’s sleep like regular, civilized people. Well, that might be possible in theory, but I’ve never encountered any. Whenever I see even the slightest sign of lower-classedness in the people in the next room, I resign myself to a night that would be the envy of a North Korean brainwashing expert. I don’t know when these people sleep – I guess at home. But when they’re out, they’re out for a good time, and if you don’t agree with their priorities that’s just your tough luck.

Oh, and by the way, in case you're wondering if this can all be avoided by staying in "nice" motels rather than flea bags, I guarantee that, to paraphrase Mae West, niceness has nothing to do with it. Some of my more peaceful motel nights have been spent in flea bags, and some of the most disrupted in "nice" places. So yeah, hit the road, take that trip, but be prepared to take your chances when it comes to getting a night's sleep.