Thursday, October 30, 2008

Taliban Left With the Old Left Hand

It seems that the push is on, from various officials and leaders in Afghanistan, to treat the Taliban as something other than a caste of Untouchables when it comes to discussing the future of that ill-starred country. (Well, maybe not so "ill-starred", since they managed to eke out a victory over the Russians, the way North Vietnam eked out a victory over the U.S., albeit with a little help from their friends.) This notion has, of course, caused great consternation in Neocon/internationalist ranks, because, after all, there are certain people, and groups, that one simply never talks to. Better to bomb them back to the (take your pick) Age. Plus, the Taliban in particular represent everything the true-believing internationist is not -- they are "theocratic", absolutist, "Medieval", dogmatic, provincial, "primitive", and haven't yet discovered the benefits of personal hygiene.

And it never ceases to amaze Americans, with their "unconditional surrender" mindset, how, for example, the South Koreans have no trouble sitting down and talking with a civil tongue to the North Koreans... or how, to give an even more extreme case, the post-Khmer Rouge government of Cambodia included, and continues to include, quite a few suspiciously Rouge-ish characters. Our point of view is somewhat different, of course. No one who ever so much as served a beer to a Nazi was allowed within a hundred miles of the postwar German government... and ditto the Japanese militarist warlord samurai. They had to be driven out with a flaming sword (much to the benefit of Paraguay, in the case of the Nazis) and never ever -- no, never! -- given a voice in any government ever again. That's the American way. Sow the ground from which they sprang with salt, is the rule. And it's funny how a society such as ours, with all of its moral and ethical relativism, can be so absolutist and dogmatic when it comes to _other_ people's societies. They must be kept pure, and virginal, even if ours is a moral and ethical crazy quilt. They must be prime rib, even if we are sausage. But, of course, they live there and we don't (no matter who you're talking about) and maybe, just maybe, they know something we don't -- like for instance how to survive, and how to build coalitions (or at least uneasy truces). And thus the latest enormity, by which the Taliban are being invited in out of the cold, asked to shed their sheepskins and AK-47s, and spoken to -- "consulted", even! And to further the insult, some of our allies, e.g. the British, are not as bothered by the notion as they ought to be. Ah, it's nice to have, still, after all these years, the vast oceans to divide us from the hardscrabble realities of the "Third World". Western Europe is under assault by vast, unwashed hordes of Moslems... kind of the way we are vis-a-vis Latin Americans, in fact, and we're working out compromises with them every day of the week. So maybe the Taliban are just juvenile delinquents who need a hug; who knows? In any case it's still another test of American parochialism vis-a-vis the other hemisphere, and we're failing as usual. "They can't talk with 'our' enemies!" But of course no one ever asks why they're "our" enemies and not the enemies of the people who live in those same countries. Ah yes, our ham-handed diplomacy, which served us so well as long as we held all the cards, is starting to look a bit silly to the rest of the world. We're also telling the Iraqis that they can't throw us out because... well, they just can't, that's all. We invaded their country, made great sacrifices, and now we're in charge -- can't they see that? And just wait until they appeal to the U.N.! The laughter coming from the White House will echo across the entire Mall. The problem is, one of these days someone is going to say, "Thanks, but no thanks", and we're not going to be able to back up our argument to the contrary. This will be the real beginning of the end of the American Empire.

Will He Walk the Talk?

One of the more dire predictions concerning an Obama presidency is that he will waste no time reviving the so-called “Fairness Doctrine”, “which is intended to shut down talk radio”, according to Michael Barone in yesterday's paper. Well yes, of course anything that includes the work “fairness” is inevitably designed to discriminate against someone, and discriminate for someone else. That's the essential meaning of the word “fairness” as it is bandied about our political landscape. “Fairness” in this sense is not to be confused with impartiality, which has a bit more of the blindfolded-spirit-of-Justice feel about it. “Fairness” is more likely to be aimed at righting past wrongs – like slavery, for example. Thus it knows no limits of time and space, and has no use for the concept of individual responsibility. White people in the U.S. today are every bit as responsible for slavery as were the actual slave owners of the early 1800s – and they must be made to pay. An American president can go to East Africa and apologize for slavery in America, even though all of our slaves came from West Africa (but they all look alike anyway, right Bill? I swear, these Southern white males!). Any German who was alive before V-E Day, even if a babe in arms, is responsible for the “Holocaust”. In fact, every German alive today is responsible, as is every German who will ever live. (I wonder if this extends to all the Turkish immigrants now living in Germany. Isn't Armenia enough bad karma for them?) Any woman who was ever raped gets to blame any man who ever lived... with the possible exception of gays, I suppose.

And so on! You'll notice in all of this that there is not the slightest hint of holding individuals responsible for injustices, but only groups, as defined by race, ethnicity, language, gender, gender identity, and what not. It is one of the more extreme manifestations of the collectivist mindset... which is why it is so solidly enshrined in our legal and political systems. And by the way, all the “reparations” in the world are of no avail – nothing can ever make up for past offenses. But this fact doesn't dim the cries for reparations, not at all. I mean, it's better than nothing, right?

And as a matter of fact, I will claim – and justly, I believe – that virtually every law on the books in this country – tax law in particular -- is based on someone's concept of “fairness”, rather than any sort of absolute judgment about what is good, true, and right. Just take a look at the tax code sometime. You can very readily picture, for every single provision, that at some point someone whined, "It's not fair!" and thus did the code grow like the mother of all tumors. And since “fairness” is a purely subjective notion, and its manifestations are purely political, it follows that our laws, and our legal system, have a purely political base, with very little to do with traditional concepts of justice. It's more a matter of who has the upper hand at the moment, and who is in a position to yell, “Gotcha!”

So let's forget about the notion of any sort of “Fairness Doctrine” representing principles that one might regard with respect and honor. It is, and can be, no such thing. Hence it is another one of the political menagerie of grotesque ideas that, once they are turned into The Law, become a weapon which a grievance group can use against its alleged tormentors. But! Having said that, three questions (at least) remain: (1) Will Obama and his worshipers in Congress in fact revive the Fairness Doctrine; (2) Will it, in fact, spell the end of “talk radio” and its TV counterparts (O'Reilly et al.); and (3) Why is the “right” so helpless in face of this prospect?

As to the first question – if you subscribe to the notion that I discussed in a previous post that an Obama administration will need the “Neocons” just as much as Bush & Co. need them, the answer is not so clear. We've already concluded that Obama isn't going to do squat about getting us out of Iraq, because the decision will not be his to make. It's also true that the Neocons are the primary political and intellectual (if I can abuse that term a bit) engine that is keeping the “War on Terrorism” (and the “War on Drugs” as well) moving along at full speed. And what is the primary and indispensable interface between the Neocons and the American public? Why, talk radio, of course. Do you suppose that public support of all of these Neocon “wars” would be anywhere near as strong as it is without the constant drumbeat of talk radio – Limbaugh et al. -- all these years? Highly unlikely. And it is that public support that is the bread and butter of any politician, or party, or administration that chooses the Neocon road to the New World Order, or whatever it's called these days. Do American corporations lobby the public directly to continue to support the war by voting for pro-war politicians? Not that I'm aware. Do the Evangelicals lobby the public directly? Yes, if you're talking about that portion of the public that attends one of their “mega-churches” or watches them on TV. But otherwise no, and the Evangelicals are going to have a hard time holding on to their Washington, DC base in the event of an Obama victory. Does Israel lobby the public directly? Heck no – if you've got the politicians in the palm of your hand you certainly don't need the hapless American public. So who does that leave to keep the rolled-up-sleeves, we'll-teach-those-ragheads-a-lesson-they'll-never-forget, American fighting spirit in top form? The Neocons, and their primary media outlet, namely talk radio. And this fact will mysteriously dawn on Obama at some point soon after he takes office, and this whole “Fairness Doctrine” issue will wind up on the back burner if not in the ash can.

But -- “what if” the Fairness Doctrine were, in fact, revived in order to pay back all of the sorely aggrieved Obama supporters who expect some payback for their efforts? I doubt very much if the doctrine would actually include the terms “talk radio”, or “right-wing”, or “conservative”. Why couldn't the stations, or networks, that host “talk radio” programs simply expand their format to include left-wing talk radio programs? Wouldn't that fill the bill? Surely the folks who listen to Limbaugh are perfectly capable of twiddling the dial whenever James Carville, or someone of that ilk, comes on. Unless, of course, the FCC is going to monitor every single radio set in the country to make sure it's actually turned on for as many “left wing” hours as “right wing” hours... and that someone over the age of 3 is actually listening at the time. (Don't laugh – it could happen, and it has, in such hotbeds of free speech as Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia.)

Now, as to the alleged helplessness of the “right” in the face of the Fairness Doctrine juggernaut – what would be wrong with, for example, taking all of the major networks (the MSM) to court the minute the doctrine is reinstated, and suing for equal time for conservative viewpoints? It should not be difficult to demonstrate that the bulk of the material currently broadcast is decidedly leftist. I mean, Air America and Pacifica Radio are low-hanging fruit, and could be dispatched with no trouble, but I can't imagine CBS, for example, getting off Scot free either. In other words, why can't conservatives get up off their white bread-fed butts and start playing the game too? This could, in fact, more than any other strategy, send the Fairness Doctrine back to its grave faster than anything else. Actually, it might be interesting to just let the campaign for it roll on, but then get ready to hit the mattresses the minute it's passed. The problem with conservatives is that they still value politeness and civility – but those qualities are wasted when it comes to the “culture wars”. Better to fight the left on their terms and in their ballpark, since that's where the American political landscape is located anyway. Think, for example, of the “hate crime” campaign, which was clearly designed to punish white male heterosexuals for any and all “crimes” against non-white and/or non-male and/or homosexual “persons”. But the laws couldn't actually say that, so they were passed with more or less “neutral” language... and guess what! A large portion of the people hauled in for “hate crimes” turned out to be black! Oops! Never mind! But by then it was too late. I say, hoist them on their own petard, and let the chips fall where they may... and... OK, I'm running out of shopworn metaphors.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Who Are the Puppet Masters?

There was a very interesting comment in an article by Michael Matt that I referenced in a recent post. In discussing the (non-) impact of who wins the presidential election on our foreign policy, he said:

“As for the war in Iraq and wherever else the Neocons in their madness wish to invade next, this is another matter. But Obama and McCain will both do what they’re told when it comes to America’s wars—we have little say in that because they have little say in that. And if you doubt that this is so then you’ve been drinking as much Kool-Aid as Sean Hannity. We’re way beyond that in this country.”

Remember now, this was an article in which Matt advocated voting for McCain! But that was based on domestic policy, i.e. abortion. When it comes to foreign policy, he realizes that it makes no difference who we vote for, since the decision is totally out of the hands of any elected official. But if that is the case – and I agree that it is – then who _does_ make these decisions? Who _does_ “run the country” when it comes to foreign policy, if not the president – the head of the executive branch -- or Congress, which has the exclusive power to declare war (unless they vote to give it away to someone else, which they do on a regular basis).

Now, one can say, right off the bat, that one of the more prominent domestic influences on our foreign policy, at least during the Bush administration, has been the “Neocons”, and their stated agenda usually revolves around something called “spreading democracy”, AKA Wilsonism. Their _unstated_ agenda is to expand the American Empire and increase American power and influence world-wide, regardless of the form of government other countries wind up with in the process. That's on the “idea” side.

On the more practical side, we find that large corporations, both national and international, and especially the war industries, can always be found to favor expanding the American Empire, preferably by force of arms in the case of the war industries, but always by economic force. (Look at the threats our senior military leaders have been reduced to using against the Iraqis to pressure them into signing the "accord" -- we'll take our (economic) dolls and go home!) Political influence is just a means to an end for these folks.

But getting back on the political side, we also have the “Israeli question”, and no foreign policy is even going to make the first cut unless it includes unquestioning, unwavering “support” (whatever that means – and it can be made to mean almost anything) of Israel. This, of course, is a political issue because, from an economic point of view, our support of Israel makes no sense whatsoever. (They don't even have any oil, for gosh sakes! What kind of Near Eastern country winds up with no oil?) It's also a political issue because, despite the mythological “wall of separation between church and state”, the Evangelicals have had a stranglehold on American foreign policy ever since Bush was inaugurated. And the politics of dealing with the Evangelicals is a two-edged sword – they will provide energetic support verging on fanaticism if they think you're on their side, but will do everything they can to destroy you if they think you're against them. (In this, one might say they provide a nice counterweight to the mainstream media and organizations like ACORN, etc. But read on.)

The next question might be, surely the Neocons will be rounded up and thrown out of Washington the minute Obama takes office. Right? Wrong, says Leon Hadar in the latest “Chronicles”. He feels that the Neocons are just too entrenched, and that they are not being sufficiently blamed for the Iraq debacle. And I might add that they will, at most, simply do what they did during the Clinton hiatus – retire to their various Beltway think tanks, wait out the leftist storm, than come racing back into the White House next time around. Plus, Hadar points out that since both major parties believe in American military and economic intervention virtually anywhere in the world, and since the Neocons are the ones who have perfected, and who tirelessly promote, this concept, that they will be needed as “an intellectual caste whose members help legitimize the political elite's power at home and abroad.” Thus, both McCain and Obama are likely to want to defend Georgia against Russia... which up until less than 20 years ago would have been like Russia promising to defend the _state_ of Georgia against the rest of the U.S. Leftist outfits like ACORN, on the other hand, are concerned almost exclusively with domestic policy these days. Otherwise, we'd be having “peace marches” all the time the way we had during Vietnam, but where are they? No, the American left has been rendered impotent in the foreign policy era, mainly by the simple fact of the Cold War having ended, and the Soviet Union having broken up (and the Chinese becoming better capitalists than we ever were). Without a strong foreign entity with which to align themselves, the American left really has no interest in anything outside our borders – a fact which has surely pleased the Neocons no end, since they could now move in and fill the vacuum.

Now let's have a look at a slightly different perspective, namely the conventional wisdom coming out of Iran. According to an on-line MSNBC article, typical Iranians:

“... didn’t think it mattered who became the next president because they believe U.S foreign policy is predetermined in a negative way toward Iran and that America will do anything it needs to in order to keep Israel happy. 'The American people have no choice in these elections, the decision will be made by a powerful Jewish cartel,' said Hamid Nagat, a businessman. 'If a presidential candidate does not stand behind Israel like a mountain, they will never get voted into office,' said Salah Mohamadi, a student in his first year of university. Majid, an accountant who gave only his first name, said that the difference of opinion between Iran and the U.S. over Israel was really at the heart of the differences between the two countries. 'It does not matter if it’s McCain or Obama because whoever becomes president, their first priority is going to be Israel – and we don’t recognize Israel as a country, so we will always be at odds,' he said.”

Now, I'm not claiming that the Iranian man on the street is the most objective person on earth with regard to Israel, or with American policy vis-a-vis the Near East. But he does, after all, live there, unlike any of the foaming-at-the-mouth Pat Robertson types who can't wait to nuke Tehran. And I don't believe Iranians are all mind-numbed robots simply parroting the latest outbursts from Ahmadinejad. I think they think what they think, and say what they say, because they see what they see. And what they see is that Israel is fighting a proxy war with the rest of the Near East – i.e. with the “Arab world”, and by extension the Moslem world -- and that the U.S. is the proxy. Now, how this bizarre and topsy-turvy situation arose is another matter which I won't trouble to go into here. Suffice it to say that this is the viewpoint of the Iranians, who believe themselves – with just cause! -- to be the next place to wind up in the crosshairs of American foreign policy.

So we have Michael Matt, on the one hand, referring to a mysterious someone, or something, that is making all the foreign policy decisions, no matter who is president. And we have the Iranians claiming that it's all about Israel, first, last, and always. It's not hard to equate the “powerful Jewish cartel” with organizations such as AIPAC and with Israel's roving ambassador Joe Lieberman. And is it really true that no candidate who doesn't support Israel can be voted into office? It might be more accurate to say they can never be nominated... but then is that true? There's no way of knowing, because it's never been tried. Sarah Palin, for example, was already a hard-core "Christian Zionist" when she was picked by McCain -- but just in case, she dropped off radar for a while within 24 hours after she was picked so that her brainwashing could be topped off by AIPAC and Lieberman.

In any case, when you look at the things that are likely to change as a result of the election – especially in the likely event Obama wins – among the things that should _not_ be on that list are (1) our foreign policy in the Near East; (2) the influence of the Neocons; and (3) preferential treatment for Israel. One thing that might change is the visible presence, and influence, of the Evangelicals. But I don't think they could have tipped the balance all by themselves over the past few years, without the help of the Neocons. For one thing, the Evangelicals are very clear on the “what” -- i.e. what they want our foreign policy to accomplish, namely the perpetuation of Israel on the one hand, and the acceleration of the “end times” on the other, unto the Battle of Armageddon and all of its attendant features. (The fact that said battle may well include the destruction of Israel doesn't strike them as problematic – the idea is to keep Israel alive so that it may be properly destroyed, i.e. as a legitimate part of “salvation history” and not just because some Palestinians have a grudge.) What they are not so clear on is the “how” -- and that's where the Neocons come in. They are the master manipulators of public opinion, and also stand at the crossroads where the executive and legislative branches, the military, and the mainstream media meet. They also have academic and scholarly “credentials”, unlike the typical Evangelical, and don't seem, as individuals, all that hungry for power for its own sake – it's more like they are all enlisted in the same crusade and if some don't survive, it was nonetheless worth the effort (which is why, e.g., none of them is bothered in the least by the fact that George Bush's administration will go down in infamy as one of the worst ever).

I would say that, in the most general sense, the Iraqi catastrophe is the result of a “perfect storm” representing a convergence of interests of the Neocons, the Evangelicals, business interests, and Israel. They are all profiting from this war in some sense, regardless of the toll it is taking on the American economy overall, and on ordinary Americans. They are also profiting, as I said above, regardless of the toll it is taking on Bush, his administration, and the Republican Party. Do you think that the Republicans going down in crushing defeat next week is going to “punish” the Neocons, or the Evangelicals, or the war industries, or Israel? Not a bit of it. They will simply set their sights on Obama (they already have, in fact) and before you know it, it will be back to business (or whatever) as usual, with Obama the new patsy/scapegoat/chump/fall guy. How's he going to feel in a year or two when he looks in the mirror and sees George W. Bush? “Not good” is my guess.

And, by the way, the next sound you will hear after Obama's inauguration will be the sound of his countless leftist supporters taking to the streets once they realize they've been had when it comes to getting out of Iraq. (It will be not unlike the reaction of conservatives every time a Republican does squat about Roe v. Wade -- except with Molotov cocktails added to the mix.) In fact, with any luck we'll see a reprise of what happened to the Democrats and LBJ after he massively escalated the war in Vietnam, after campaigning against Goldwater who was portrayed as a dangerous psycho because of his anti-communist positions. Me, I can hardly wait for the 2012 race.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Sunday Evening Sundries

I run, Iran

According to The Washington Times, Iranians are “riveted” to the U.S. presidential race. Yeah, I'll bet. They know that if McCain wins, they'll have approx. 2 ½ months to move elsewhere before he turns their homeland into a sea of glass. I guess they could try Iraq. Oh, no, wait – how about Afghanistan? No... Pakistan? Doubtful. They really need to go somewhere they won't be in imminent danger of being carpet bombed by the U.S. Air Force. How about Georgia? Can they all fit? Might be worth a try.

Dial B for Bipolar

Turns out a woman who claimed she was attacked because of her McCain bumper sticker is some kind of nut case. The first clue – which everyone missed – was that the letter “B” (for Barack, I guess) that the attacker carved on her cheek was backwards, i.e. a mirror image – more or less what you'd expect if the person actually did the work herself. “But it looked right in the mirror!” It's people like this who give the McCain campaign a bad name. Oh, wait – everyone in the campaign is like this. Never mind.

The Blue Surge

It keeps coming up, even at this late date – the notion that because the “troop surge” in Iraq “worked” -- by someone's criteria – it was a good idea, and anyone who criticized it at the time was wrong, and the people who advocated it have been vindicated, and we should vote for them and not for those other lily-livered cowards, pessimists, and naysayers. But this is to completely miss the point, which is why are we in Iraq in the first place? It shouldn't matter what “works”, or what fails, when we're judging the validity and legality of our incursion into Iraq. The question remains, should we have gone over there, and should we be staying there – regardless of results. This is a distinction no one in our military can ever possibly understand – but that's OK because they're military, and “understanding” is not in their job description. But our politicians and leaders are a different matter – they're paid to think, among other things. And right now clear thinking about the “status” of the Iraq operation is in very short supply.

Dems and D-Con

“Scientists have developed a way to erase specific memories in mice while leaving others intact.” But can, or should, this technology be extended to human beings? The scientists involved say no to both. But I'm not so sure the Democratic National Committee isn't already studying this as a potential way to make people forget what happens every time they elect a Democrat to office.

President Placebo

So was Joe Biden right that Obama will be “tested” by the terrorists soon after he takes office? My question is, what would be the point? Obama will be part of the same Regime that coughed up (like a hair ball) George W. Bush, and his approach to the Near East will not differ significantly from what we have already seen for the last eight years. Or maybe the terrorists haven't yet figured that out. But since they've been playing Bush & Co. like a violin all this time, that seems unlikely. When it comes to domestic issues, Obama may at least attempt to act as an “agent of change”. But foreign policy-wise, the transition will be as smooth as that passing of the baton in a relay race... for the simple reason that the American president really has little if anything to say about American foreign policy. That is left to much finer minds – those who have the long view of things. And no one's going to get into office who is not willing to capitulate to their higher wisdom.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Lost Accord

The sheer audacity of the Iraqis continues to amaze. They are still holding out, for whatever reasons, on signing the “agreement on the status of U.S. troops in Iraq”. Why, heck, people, all it is is a document that, basically, makes Iraq into an American colony forever, and what on earth is wrong with that? These people take that old-fashioned “national sovereignty” thing too far, it seems to me. I mean, look, we still have troops in all the countries that lost World War II, and none of them ever registers a complaint (although they might, once the dollar sinks below the yen). We also have colonies in the form of make-believe countries like South Korea... although Panama slipped out of our grasp for some unfathomable reason. Oh yeah, it was Jimmy Carter; told you it was unfathomable. And don't they realize that becoming part of the American Empire is their last hope against... _not_ being part of the American Empire? Of course, every time this issue comes up, all you hear from our military is a lot of tut-tutting, huffing, and puffing: “serious consequences”... “great potential for losses”... “you can kiss McDonald's goodbye” (OK, they haven't said that yet; it's being held in reserve as the ultimate threat).

An interesting possibility, however, is that if Obama wins next week's election the Bush administration may just put the whole business on hold, in typical passive-aggressive fashion. They clearly want to pave the way for McCain's foreign policy success... er, I mean, as much success as Bush has enjoyed... but if he loses, then what do they have to gain by making things easier for Obama? But wait, if the agreement were to be signed before he takes office, then he would just have to live with it, wouldn't he? And that would be the perfect excuse for him not to get us out of Iraq – the dead hand of the Bush administration. Ah yes, now it all becomes clear...

International House

The non-enlightened self-seeking I described in my post, “The God Who Failed”, could have a silver lining, in the sense that it might constitute a natural limit on what is called “internationalism”. Think about it for a moment. Your typical self-seeking corporate warrior, as described in the post, is looking exclusively to his own bottom line, and apparently for these people money is more important than power, i.e. they will more readily give up power to get (or keep) money than they will give up money to gain power. (In this, they clearly differ from many government officials, who give up extremely lucrative jobs in order to take government positions – although, let's admit, they sooner or later return to the private sector and merely pick up where they left off.) The true internationalist, on the other hand, if he belongs to the “old school”, is less concerned with money, or with power in the short run, than with having a lasting impact on whatever facet of the world's existence he fancies. For some, it's economic; for others, the form of government. For still others, it's social policy. It may even have to do with religious institutions. Also, the internationalist of old is not particularly concerned with fame – in fact, he tends to shun it since too much exposure could carry with it the risk of compromising his self-assigned mission. In short, there is a sacrificial (not to say altruistic) attitude in the true internationalist – the man with a “cause”. And he does not mind laboring for years in total obscurity in order to further that cause; one only has to think of Lenin. He will give up any number of short-term gains and comforts for a program which might not even be realized in his lifetime; he is, in this sense, a “true believer”. And it's this attitude that seems essential to success in any sort of long-range internationalist scheme or program; the temptation to “skim off the top”, to take dividends and “perks” along the way must be studiously avoided. Of course, rewards may come and they will not be scorned; but they cannot be the primary motive.

Now, based on this description, how many of our present-day CEOs would be considered fit to take on an internationalist role? Precious few, I'd say. When you look at how invincibly short-sighted and selfish they are, and how soon they bail out in order to enjoy their ill-gotten gains, you have to conclude that any sort of “cause”, with any sort of idealistic or utopian slant, would be lost on them. And this is not to say that CEOs of the internationalist stripe do not reap great material benefits from their positions – but again, this may only happen after a lifetime of laboring in obscurity and working their way up the ladder – whatever that might consist of. And fame is the least of their concerns. How many of us know the name of even one Swiss bank CEO, for example? Fewer than know the names of any number of Swiss Winter Olympics medalists, I'd say. And to the true internationalist, it's never just about money, or even temporal power in the usual sense. Their goal is to remake the world in their image – to look at the world and see a reflection of themselves, as in some sort of magic mirror. This cannot be accomplished by keeping one's nose to the usual grindstone. Ideas have to take precedence over short-term considerations, and money and power are more apt to be used as tools – as a means – than to be ends in themselves.

So let's say – just as a “for instance” -- that you're on the recruiting team for the next cohort of internationalist power players – you know, for the people who will be put in charge. (I have no idea that this is how it actually works, by the way. There's also evidence that it's largely hereditary. But allow me to pursue the point, remembering that every hereditary ruler needs at least a prime minister.) You scan the globe in a sort of top-level “headhunting” operation, and your gaze falls on a group of fast-talking, larcenous American CEOs. Do you consider them prime candidates? Do you call them in for interviews? I doubt it. You're not going to be interested in the white-haired, pink-skinned dude who can't stay away from the country club, the yacht club, or the opera for more than a day at a time. You're going to look for the one who, basically, couldn't care less – but who has ideas... ideas of his own, but which he's perfectly willing to share with the right people, who are in turn willing to share their ideas with him. This is the guy who you want to bring in at entry level (which is still above any elected official on earth) and groom to join the high priesthood of secularism, and offer up sacrifices in the unholy of unholies. Problem is, people of this mettle may be getting increasingly hard to find, not only in the U.S. but elsewhere as well, I suspect, and no one wants to leave the farm to anyone who is clearly not up to the task. This is why internationalism may -- “may” -- start to run into diminishing returns, if it has not already done so.

Tea for Tuva

I've just gotten back from a concert that represented what I'll call a more-esoteric-than-usual branch of what is known as “world music” -- namely, Tuvan throat singing. Now, for the less enlightened among my many readers, I'll briefly explain what that is. Well, first let me explain what Tuva is. Tuva, or Tannu Tuva – the place concerning which Richard Feynman famously asked, “What ever happened to Tannu Tuva?” -- is a country in central Asia. Or, it was a country, of sorts, very briefly, between World Wars I and II, after which it became the Tuvan Autonomous (right, sure) Soviet Socialist Republic. Since the Soviet breakup it has been known as a “republic” but is part of the Russian Federation.

In any case, Tuva is, among other things, about as land-locked as a place can be outside of North Dakota. Another way of putting it is that it's sort of suspended between Tibet and Siberia on the north/south dimension, and between Mongolia and Kazakhstan on the east/west dimension. Sound remote enough for you? It can be characterized as “largely rural”, which is another way of saying that when two people encounter each other in the middle of the vast, treeless prairie, it takes them a while to realize they're the same species. So, as one might expect, the music to come out of Tuva is, essentially, country music – i.e. “folk”, i.e. “world”, and that's where the attendees at tonight's concert come in.

I mean, what is it about these “world music” people, and especially about the types who go for the esoteric-within-the-esoteric? For one thing, they're all furry. I don't mean they wear actual furs – heaven forbid! -- but everything about them is furry – their clothes, their hair, their faces (I don't exclude the women from this!), and, I suspect, their brains as well. They are, by and large, throwbacks to the hippie era – except for the ones who really are hippies, i.e. unreconstructed for lo these many years. In truth, they resemble the crowd that assembles to protest WTO meetings in Washington, D.C. every year – sort of a gaggle of simpletons dressed in outfits that would make Marcel Marceau blush with shame. But they're good-hearted and harmless enough, I guess. And they are not poverty-stricken, by any means! I stopped by the CD table during intermission and the tens and twenties were flying like the playing cards in “Alice in Wonderland”. It was all I could do the wrestle the last copy of the CD I wanted out of the gnarled hands of a “hippie hag” dressed in an Inca cap and serape, and wearing wooden shoes and a string of wampum beads. But I will say this about that crowd – being a counterculture within the counterculture, they do much that is commendable. For example, they would never be found at a heavy metal concert – much too loud, much too negative, much too sanpaku (try looking that up in Wiki!). But here's the thing – besides being “furry” in all respects, they all dress in layer upon layer of said furry garments, like refugees. You'd think they were wearing everything they own at once (maybe they are). And this was indoors, in a perfectly normal, moderately-heated building. There were people there wrapped in blankets, like the Indians in “Cheyenne Autumn”. Maybe it's that macrobiotic diet – you know, the same one that gives them all pasty complexions and makes them smell like onions. But whatever, I felt positively naked in just a shirt and slacks.

So much for the crowd – now let's talk about the music! Throat singing could only have been invented by people who live outdoors in a stiff wind all their lives. It seems to involve very efficient use of energy but produces very penetrating tones, which (I assume) can travel long distances. It starts with extremely low, guttural notes, and how they are produced I have no idea. These guys' regular speaking voices are in the tenor range, but when they sing they make Popeye sound like Tiny Tim. So you have that, and on top of that you have a very high, whistling, pure tone that represents the harmonics of the basic low tone, and the progression of these harmonics sounds to me a lot like the pentatonic scale -- it may not be, but that's what it sounds like. So you have these two contrasting sorts of tones, plus accompaniment on a variety of what appear to be fairly primitive (but probably aren't) stringed instruments, with the occasional accordion (!) thrown in for good measure. And there is, besides the three men, one woman singer, who reminded me of the Bulgarian women's chorus style of singing. (The instruments, on the other hand, brought back memories of some vaguely Hungarian/Romanian/Bulgarian instruments that make a very similar sound. None of this is coincidental, by the way, since Hungary is, after all, a sort of cultural outpost of Central Asia in Europe, and Bulgaria has undoubtedly been impacted by many of the same influences.)

And lest you think this whole business is just too esoteric for words, let me inform you that, in Tuva, they have competitions in this sort of thing, and all the musicians on stage were prize winners. (And I'll bet they don't have any tacky “Tuvan throat singing award shows” on prime-time TV.) In any case, it was an excellent show, but it still amazes me how something that is so normal over there becomes a kind of fetish for all the social misfits over here. (This is what I'll call a “cross-cultural mystery”, and I hope to explore the phenomenon further at a later date.) I wonder what sorts of Tuvans are attracted to American beer, pizza, NASCAR racing, and football? I shudder to think...

Is Osama For Obama?

It's always an interesting exercise, at election time, to speculate as to who not our friends and allies, but our enemies, might prefer as the next president. And this call has, historically, never been all that tough. The Soviets of old were notoriously in favor of the Democrats, starting with FDR with whom they got along so well, because the Democrats were perceived as being "soft on communism" and ever willing to capitulate and compromise. Well, that's not what the Soviets called it in public -- it was "socialists like us". No, that wasn't it either -- it was more like "not all Amerikanskis are capitalist running-dog bourgeois". Yeah, that about sums it up. The Chinese of a slightly later era were all in favor of the Clintons, for the simple reason that the Clintons let them have... well, pretty much the run of the store, including major weapon system components. At present, the Georgians are rooting for McCain and Palin, who have promised to defend them -- at all costs! -- against any further Russian invasions. On the other hand, American Jews are leaning toward Obama because of the Democrats' record on "social issues", whereas the Israelis are leaning toward McCain because, like Bush & Co., he has vowed to defend them -- at all costs! -- against "terror", which, freely translated, means "anything the Palestinians or those other filthy Arabs try to pull".

But when it comes to Osama and outfits like Al Qaeda, things get a bit more subtle. For one thing, Al Qaeda and other "terrorist" networks do not constitute a state or nation with clear nation-type priorities. They're less interested in traditional things like land and wealth than in things like getting us out of the Middle East, and our little dog too (i.e., Israel). So, well, you'd think that, in that case, they would favor Obama, who seems a bit less devoted to the Neocon/Evangelical idea of foreign policy and a bit more willing to engage in "dialogue". But that would be to forget that "dialogue" is a weapon of choice for people who already have a tangible, visible power base, and have something to negotiate with other than the threat of more terrorist attacks. For example, "dialogue" is something that Israel and the Palestinians might be capable of engaging in someday -- Israel having a military power base in the region and the Palestinians having a demographic one, plus a few more friendly neighbors than Israel has. Al Qaeda, on the other hand, wants mainly to increase its power and influence, and to add more pressure on us, and Near Eastern governments, to get us out of the area. And the way to do that is, number one, recruit more members -- and the way to do that is to provoke more conflict, and in particular more actions on our part that they can advertise as "atrocities". So who, on that basis, would they prefer to see in office? Why, McCain and Palin, of course. If our invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan were dreams come true for Osama, then an invasion of Iran would be a bonus beyond his wildest dreams. He could stop recuiting altogether, because young men by the tens of thousands would be knocking down his door begging to be admitted to the organization, trained as fighters, and ultimately made into suicide attackers so they could strike out against the infidel.

This is the perverse nature of things as they are today in the Near East, and of course we have only added to the distortions by our actions over the past few years. Christians who have lived in Iraq almost since biblical times are now being ethnically cleansed out of the country as a direct result of our presence -- and, I might add, with the full knowledge and tacit consent of our military and civilian authorities. One would expect the Evangelicals who were so gung-ho about this war to have a problem with this, except that -- oops! -- those Christians all happen to be Iraqi Catholics, so they clearly don't count. So our invasion and its aftermath is already having one historically significant effect, namely to turn Iraq into an entirely Islamic country. Isn't that the sort of thing that keeps Osama warm as he beds down in his cave for the night? And isn't that the sort of thing he could only want more of?

So forget all this noise about, since Obama is a crypto-Moslem, or at least a sympathizer, and not quite as joined at the hip to Israel as the Neocons are, the "terrorists" should prefer him as president. That would be just the latest mistake concerning their motives and methods -- the latest of a countless number, that is, stretching back years if not decades. You can count on them to want things to get a lot worse before they can be made better. The goal is to get us to pour ever more resources (money and manpower) into the area, get even more wasted and demoralized to the point of impotence or just plain giving up, at which point we leave and Israel is left all alone. I'm not saying this strategy of theirs is going to work, but that's what it basically consists of, so we should be prepared for many more years of paradoxes.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The God Who Failed

Alan Greenspan has conceded that "the (financial) meltdown had revealed a flaw in a lifetime of economic thinking and had left him in a 'state of shocked disbelief.'" The "flaw"? Read on. "Greenspan acknowledged he had made a mistake in believing that banks, operating in their own self-interest (note the Any Rand subtext there), would do what was necessary to protect their shareholders and institutions." Well, that might actually have been an accurate model back when banks were run by people who gave a damn. The people in charge these days, however, seem to be, by and large, sociopaths who want nothing more than to grab the money and run -- i.e. to loot whatever institution has the misfortune to hire them, drive it into the ground, and get out on the last lifeboat just before the whole thing goes under. So Greenspan's "model that defines how the world works" might have been OK way back when, but things have morphed considerably since. And why has this occurred? I believe one of the main culprits has to be government itself, which spreads the virus of non-accountability to everything it touches. If there are no punishments for poor performance, and no sanctions for stealing, what you're going to get is both... and people who aren't interested in taking part in the racket will leave in disgust, and apply their talents elsewhere. The "robber barons" of old may have been ruthless, but at least they weren't whores for the government -- at least not at first. And their stockholders could count on them to be aggressive in pursuit of profits, not just for their own benefit but for the benefit of everyone who had an interest. What happens now is that boards of directors hire warriors, hoping they will lead the firm to victory over its competitors. But what happens is that the warriors sell out the interests of their companies at the earliest possible opportunity, pull a few scams and con games, and then get out at exactly the right time, leaving everyone else, right down to the poor schmuck with mutual fund shares, holding the bag. And the way is paved by government, which is ever ready to cushion the fall by stepping in with a bail-out, which adds even more largesse to the already-bloated pie that the "wheels" are keeping all to themselves. So yes, the system as it is now is designed to encourage, aid, abet, and reward failure -- but that's only "failure" to the many, not to the few... and it is the few who hold all the cards... especially the ones with high government officials' faces on them. So when we hear talk about "some structural changes" being needed, we can take that as another way of saying "business as usual" and thanks anyway, but we'll just wait for the next round of suckers.

The Mark of McCain

When it comes to political controversy, there is no use talking with people who either actively promote and advocate evil, or have a high tolerance thereof. They are coming from an entirely difference place... they inhabit a different metaphysical and moral/ethical world than the rest of us. It's fine to pray for them, but it seems like a waste of energy to try and "engage" them in any sort of "dialogue".

Then once we narrow things down to what I'll call "men of good will" (which includes women, of course) we can still make a meaningful distinction between people who consider the Constitution negotiable, and those who consider it, if not an absolute standard, then one that is violated at great risk -- primarily to individual liberties.

So let's say we narrow our "discussion group" down to what I'll call "moral Constitutionalists" (which, one hopes, is a redundancy), the question then is, what are the remaining options (if any)? That is, in a typical election -- or in the one being contested at present -- are there _any_ candidates who are not disqualified under a "moral Constitutionalist" set of standards? And in the unlikely event there is more than one, how does one then decide between or among them? This question has arisen in the ranks of what I'll "Catholic Paleocons", but a more complete description would be "Traditionalist/Latin (Tridentine) Mass Catholics who respect the Vatican's statements regarding the War in Iraq and other Neocon crusades". I offer that admittedly awkward definition to distinguish them from the more typical "family values" Catholics who are just about as likely to be "legacy Democrats" as Republicans, and if Republicans, are almost certain to be "Neocons", i.e. to be in synch with the Evangelicals, albeit unconsciously. And this group -- probably the majority in this country among Catholics -- is still relatively "conservative" compared with the Catholic leftist activist fringe, but in their case I would seriously question whether it's even proper to call them "Catholics". If it is, then one almost has to add "fallen-away" or "disobedient", if not "at serious risk of damnation".

With those various contingents sketched in, let's get back to the group in question, and my observation is that there is a very intense, if "sotto voce", controversy going on regarding the candidacy of John McCain and Sarah Palin. Of course, none of these people would be caught dead voting for Obama -- that goes without saying. And, as I've indicated already, one cannot call these people "Neocons", at least not in the strict sense, although many of them probably did not start questioning the Iraq operation until it turned into an obvious debacle. And they are certainly not Neocons in the sense of placing Israel's interests above those of the U.S. In fact, I doubt if many of them think about Israel at all, from one day to the next, unlike the Evangelicals, for whom Israel and its well-being take precedent over almost every other consideration, both foreign and domestic.

So the question before my "Catholic Paleocons" is whether to vote for McCain -- an admitted Neocon -- and his running mate, who is apparently a "Christian Zionist" fanatic -- on the basis of an anticipated opportunity to nominate one or more Supreme Court justices in the next four years and thus provide a chance to "overturn" Roe v. Wade... yes, it's a slender thread, I'll admit... or to vote for someone whose positions are much more in line with those of the Catholic Paleocons, i.e. Chuck Baldwin (in lieu, if you will, of Ron Paul). And thus begins a short dialogue between me and one of my regular correspondents. The starting point was an article by Michael J. Matt, Editor of The Remnant, called "Who's Drinking the Kool-Aid? -- Last Stand for the Soul of America". I mentioned that I had heard a talk by Matt a couple weeks previously, and that it was after a Latin Mass in Aliquippa (down the Ohio River from Pittsburgh) & was (mainly) about the Battle of Lepanto. It was a very good talk, which included an in-depth view of the spiritual as well as historical significance of the battle, relating it to the Rosary etc., and Our Lady of Guadalupe. I said that it got into "current events" as well, and Matt came out for McCain, and that's where we parted company. My correspondent replied with this quote from Matt's article:

"Unless it were mortally sinful to vote for John McCain (which it is not), it seems clear—given the manifest evil of his opponent’s agenda—what we must do. As Pat Buchanan recently noted: 'Support for Roe v. Wade is a litmus test in today’s Democratic Party, where the right to an abortion has been elevated to the highest rank in the Constitution. Bottom line. If Obama-Biden wins, Roe is forever. If McCain-Palin wins, Roe could be gone by the decade’s end.'”

To which my correspondent added: "It has been made clear by many Traditional priests that if one votes for a 3rd party candidate, who has no viable chance of winning in order to make a point or as a type of 'protest vote', and thus allows Obama to win with the consequences regarding vital moral issues which his win would entail, then that voter is culpable of grave sin."

This is my reply:

Yeah, I know. But Bush has been fighting a war in Iraq that the Pope (both) has described as "unjust" by Aquinas' criteria, and a lot of other Church fathers' and theologians' besides. McCain will perpetuate that war if not escalate it, and probably extend it to Iran. So is pursuing an unjust war which results in thousands of American deaths, and _hundreds_ of thousands of civilian deaths in the war zone, any better than being "pro-choice"? I can't believe that adult human deaths are any more acceptable than pre-born human deaths. And the motives involved, when you get right down to it, are no more noble or humanistic than those involved in abortion -- it's basically about extending the American Empire and making a lot of money.

Anyway, what's wrong with Chuck Baldwin? See, a third-party vote is not a "protest vote" if you really want that person to win. This "wasted vote" notion is a product of mainstream media brainwashing.

Plus, a _real_ wasted vote would be for McCain & Co., not only for the reasons given above but for the fact that Roe v. Wade is not going to be reversed no matter who wins. It's just too entrenched. The most that could ever happen would be to return the question of abortion legality to the states, where it did reside for about five minutes prior to Roe v. Wade. This would get us into a pre-Civil War posture of having "abortion states" and "non-abortion states" -- better than what we have now certainly but would the total number of abortions decline? Doubtful. Bottom line, no one is ever going to make abortion illegal again, nation-wide. That is a will-o-the-wisp. So for that to be the only reason to vote for McCain, when he would certainly get us into an even more disastrous war than the ones we're already in, is a bit fanciful, IMO.

And yeah, I read Pat Buchanan's column and I agree with him about 90% of the time. If you look at his magazine (The American Conservative) he's not at all happy with McCain, and if you look at Chronicles, they consider McCain and Obama to be Tweedledum and Tweedledee, for all intents and purposes. I can't just vote on what people say, I have to vote on what they are likely to do once in office.

And as to the mathematics of third-party voting, I suspect Obama is going win by many more votes than the total earned by all third parties -- or at least more than the difference between Nader and McKinney, on the one hand, and Barr and Baldwin (and Paul write-ins) on the other. So a third-party vote this time around is extremely unlikely to, all by itself, "allow Obama to win". Plus, I'm not voting with the intent of allowing Obama to win -- that's an "unintended consequence". I can only be held responsible for who I vote for, not for everyone I don't vote for.

Plus, sooner or later we have to take a stand against the tyranny of the two-party system. It's not in the Constitution, and it's basically a device to keep the Regime in power (the Regime consisting of both major parties) and thus perpetuate not only their power but all of their misbegotten policies. Any significant change is going to have to involve breaking the two-party grip on American politics. When do we start, if not now?

And note that Ron Paul, who's extremely pro-life, has endorsed Baldwin.

But aren't these "interesting times" ?

[end of reply]

So there you have it. On the one hand, you have priests in "mainstream" Catholic parishes tearing their hair out because most of their flock intends to vote for Obama because their parents voted for Bob Casey. They breathe a sigh of relief when they notice a few McCain stickers in the church parking lot -- forgetting that McCain wants nothing more than to ramp up the many Neocon wars which have already been condemned by the Vatican. Then go down to the Latin Mass parish, and the Obama stickers disappear -- thank God! -- but there are still plenty of McCain supporters as well as a fringe of Ron Paulites who -- dare one assume? -- might wind up in the Baldwin camp (or Barr -- but that's a whole other discussion). So do we "hold our nose" and vote for McCain because he's not Obama -- even though his running mate wants to preach the next Crusade? Or do we vote for a candidate whose positions we respect even though he'll be lumped with "Other" in all the MSM vote counts on election night?

Interesting times indeed...

Friday, October 17, 2008

Empire to the Last

Pat Buchanan is more optimistic than I am. No, I don't mean that he's “starry-eyed”, far from it. But in yesterday's column entitled “Liquidating the Empire” he asks, basically, where we're going to get all the money to support the government takeover of the financial sector. “As Americans save nothing [I guess that's what will keep the government from simply confiscating our savings – hey, I'm glad I bought that PT Cruiser instead of socking it away in some sorry-assed bank!], where are the feds going to get the money? Is the Fed going to print it and destroy the dollar and credit rating of the United States?” Well, he doesn't answer that question, but you know my answer – yes, that is exactly what they're going to do. Because printing more money will result in “mission accomplished” (where have we heard that term before?), at least on paper – which is all that counts anyway, as this current crisis attests. What happens to the dollar and America's credit rating overseas is... well, it's what's already been happening to it, but on an accelerated basis. No one cared up until now, why should they care when the process takes a quantum leap? And by the way, is there any chance that the "big players" in the current crisis, and the ones to come, are already converting their holdings over to other currencies? I would be willing to bet on it.

But to go on with Buchanan's argument – he says budget cuts will be needed. But virtually everything in the budget is “untouchable” -- including pervo art funded by the NEA I guess – except! Ta-daa! Defense! Which means The American Empire, which may now have to be deconstructed in favor of keeping the other part of America – i.e. America – from dissolving into green goo. But ah, Patty me boy (fake Irish accent here), don't underestimate the perfidy of our elected, and even more our unelected, officials. They will, in fact, impose a life style on the average American that would do justice to Kim Jong Il, if it means keeping the Empire alive. Because the Empire includes... well, jobs, of course, and contracts to cronies, and pushing our weight around, and massive ego trips on the part of our "leaders", and flights of fancy on the part of the Wilsonian utopians who they serve, and, last but not least, Israel. Well, I don't mean that Israel is part of the American Empire per se, even though this is what the Iranians think. It's more like we're part of _their_ empire, and they simply will not permit us to shirk our duties, the foremost being to “defend American interests” in any rat-infested shithole in the Near East that might, if otherwise unattended, manage to slip a few Scuds into Tel Aviv. So no, the Empire not only does not “have to go”, it will not go, period. You have to understand the concept of “catastrophe” as explained by Jared Diamond – it's that short-sighted self interest will typically prevail even when it spells serious devolution or even annihilation of a society. We are on that road already, and have been for quite a while, the first significant wave of folly being, as Buchanan points out elsewhere, our entanglement in World Wars I and II. Yes, altruism (however defined) played a role, but if the war industries hadn't been behind it, it wouldn't have happened. And likewise now, there is no discernible benefit to any average American from the Empire (unlike with the British Empire, which really did raise the standard of living of the average Brit, at least for a while, as Buchanan has also pointed out). It's only about benefiting the people in charge – and that for only what remains of their life span. Future generations can go to hell, is the general attitude... and they will, but it won't be called that, just “the way most people have lived down through history”.

Fascism Now? Ask Me How

“Wealthy Americans shift support to Obama, survey says."

So is it “liberal guilt”? I doubt it. Just plain idealism? Possibly... but idealistic people don't usually get rich – too many conflicts. OK then, how about old fashioned elitism? More likely, but still not enough. Ah! I have it – since the path to wealth these days typically involves heavy government involvement – you get yourself the right contracts with the right agencies by bribing the right members of the executive or legislative branches – bigger government means more money for me (I can hear them saying). Bingo! No longer is the concept of “big government” considered incompatible with making your pile – in fact, the most assured way of making it is, indeed, to jump on the government gravy train and stop trying to make it “on your own”, “in the free market”. What an old fashioned idea! Do you think any of the robber barons in charge of the stock market, the mortgage lenders, the banks, etc., were ever operating as true free-market capitalists? Forget about it. They were in the government's pocket from Day One, and vice versa. In fact... well, it might be a coincidence, but the whole situation reminds me of the classic definition of “fascism” -- I mean the real thing, not the kind the liberals accuse you of if you question affirmative action. Now, this is not to say that the “country club Republican” is an extinct species, far from it. But once you're hooked on the government teat, you start looking around for an even bigger one, and by gosh, the Democrats have it. When it comes to government, the Republicans can do “big”, but only the Democrats can do “huge”, and this is what they all want. There is nothing like transferring wealth from people who provide goods and services on the free market, to those who have the government on their side. We see now that this process, which has been focused mainly on the defense industries since, say, around the Civil War, is now undergoing a quantum expansion – the last piece of the puzzle, if you will, in the process of government and business becoming, basically, synonymous.

So here's my question. How long until we have special stores that are only open to the nomenklatura, i.e. the bureaucrats? Oh sure, there are “exclusive” stores and “shops” now, but any schmuck can at least get in the door. This might not always be the case. After all, the people who are “running the country” and the economy need their perks. As the Gospel says, muzzle not the ox that trods out the grain.

The Bear Hug

Excuse me while I pick myself up off the floor. That was a close one! I might have been seriously injured. The reason for my uncontrolled fall was the fit of hysterical laughter I had when reading the lead article in yesterday's paper, the subject being, of course, the economy. (Election? What election?) Here's the quote that put me in danger of an emergency room visit: “The joint ownership [of banks] is expected to be temporary, perhaps three to five years...” Right. Sure. The Mall in Washington, DC is lined, over its entire length, by massive buildings housing “temporary” agencies, most of which date from the 1930s. Their job was to administer “emergency” programs – kind of like the one the government is taking on now. When I first moved to the DC area, there was an old, wooden, barracks-like building sitting right _on_ the Mall, called "Tempo A", that the Army had built during World War II (probably to provide relief for the already-overcrowded Pentagon). The place was an eyesore, but I kind of liked it -- it had that WWII "vibe", like victory gardens and butter rationing, and the people who worked there could actually open their windows, unlike the denizens of all those hermetically-sealed tombs that house the bulk of the Washington bureaucracy.

But in any case, what people still fail to understand is that government is like a tropical disease, or a malignant tumor – once it has a foothold, it never goes away, and in fact will keep getting bigger, along with its mission, and there is apparently no power on earth big enough to stop it. I'll bet there are any number of government agencies and programs that are so totally obsolete, so woefully useless or redundant, that almost any Congressman (even) would agree that they really ought to be put out of their misery. But is it ever done? No. And this is for the same reason that lobbies, and special interest groups, always get their way despite not being in the best interests of the taxpayer. There is something about the focused effort of a group, or gang, with a mission that is irresistible to an elected official... something about the winning combination of pleas, threats, bribes, and plain persistence that eventually leads even the most skeptical among them (ERP – Except Ron Paul. I'm going to start using that abbreviation from now on to save keystrokes) to sign on the dotted line at the bottom of the document innocently titled, “A Bill”. So no, mere obsolescence won't do it, and neither will the fact of an agency or program's being wasteful, annoying, or a laughingstock. (Can you say “HUD”?) Because said agency is staffed with – what else? -- people, and remember what I said about every government program being a jobs program. And the programs in question, as inane as they may be, always benefit someone, i.e. they are not a total loss. And that someone, for some reason, has a better chance of gaining the ear of a Congressman than do all his other constituents.

Plus, you have the power factor, and now imagine that Congress, which has been feeling pretty helpless of late (e.g., they sit around dithering while George Bush singlehandedly, and without advice or consent, pursues an insane foreign policy and disastrous wars), all of a sudden have a chance to teach those damn greedy “capitalists” (which they very surely are not) up in New Yawk City a lesson. So what the writer of the article described as “engagement” with business really amounts to a takeover. He admits that “it's a move toward socialism”, but contends that “it's far short of nationalization”. Well, how far, I'd like to know? The financial sector will, from this day forward, be micromanaged by the government in a similar manner to the way they've been micromanaging the agricultural sector since the New Deal, with comparable results, I expect. (But don't expect any “money surpluses” to be sent overseas labeled, “From the people of the United States of America.” I mean – don't expect any more than we already send.) I imagine what might happen is that government will eventually loosen its grip a bit and give some of these outfits a bit of autonomy – you know, like the Postal Service, and like the kind Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac had for a while. But believe me, the chicks will go running back under the mother hen at the first sign of trouble; the “addiction to government”, i.e. to socialism, will never go away, since there's no known cure this side of the grave.

Plus, get this – the people being hired to “oversee” the process are the same ones who created the crisis to begin with. Sort of like hiring inmates to design jails; where do we put the jacuzzi? So, in this mother of all scams, those who started out fat and happy get to stay that way, and the rest of us get to see what life was like in East Germany (except with fewer string quartets). The good news, perhaps, is that interest in spiritual matters tends to go up under conditions of material impoverishment. Maybe a revival of sorts is in the making for this country, and it can't be too soon. That would make the whole affair worth it, in my opinion.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Sun'll Come Up Tomorrow

Well, it seems that the stock market has bounced back from its 8,000-odd "floor", to around 9,300 at this moment. As Chris Farley of Saturday Night Live would say, "whoop-de freakin' do"! A couple of weeks ago anything less than 10,000 would have caused mass migrations of penitents, dressed in sackcloth and ashes and scourging each other with birch switches, doing penance and seeking forgiveness. Now it's just business as usual. Amazing how readily the unthinkable becomes thinkable -- like, "I would never wear a colostomy bag", and the next thing you know those airport security guys are checking that suspicious bulge under your coat and going, "eeewww!" And of course, we don't know for certain that that 8,000 floor is really a floor, or a flimsy piece of balsa wood ready to give way and lead to further plummeting. And I suspect one reason for this is, as I've said before, it's hard to know how to value something no one is all that interested in when the entire value is based on that degree of interest -- added to which, the "valuation" of stock is based on the dollar, which is itself starting to look like the proverbial Continental. But, having said that, I suspect that the market will, eventually, level out at some point, thanks mainly to the government effectively nationalizing the entire financial structure of the country (to which the Europeans are probably saying, "It's about time they got with it"). But that brings us to the next act of the current drama, which is: How precisely are the Treasury and the Federal Reserve going to pay for all of this nationalization? Last time I checked, it wasn't in the budget. And to suddenly raise taxes enough to do the job? Can you say "revolution"? Well then, how about another loan from China? So solly, roan officer not available today.

The answer, of course, is they're going to pay for it by printing money -- lots of it. The "money supply" will gradually be increased by whatever is necessary to pay for all this stuff (and this is even before Obama takes office, note), and what will happen then is the dollar will become the next piece of road kill on the world financial scene. So if you thought you were smart getting the hell out of the stock market before the crash, you're going to have to think some more -- and soon -- about what to do with that pile of cash on the kitchen table that you're guarding with a shotgun. You're going to have to, in other words, get rid of it. So what to do? Put it back into stocks? Ironically, at current levels, that might not be the worst idea. One thing is sure -- if you put it in an "instrument" that basically maintains it as cash, and pays some piddling amount of interest, you're going to wind up with a bunch of wallpaper... or fireplace kindling. In fact, as the dollar starts its own slide as a result of the bailout, we might even see an apparent improvement in the market -- but that will simply be the effect of inflation, i.e. stocks will go up about as fast as everything else simply because the dollar is worth progressively less.

So rather than a simple roller-coaster ride, like we've been having for the past few weeks, we're in for more of a double loop-de-loop, whereby whatever measures are taken to stabilize the financial sector will inevitably have a deleterious effect on the currency, which, in turn, means that whatever people have left in their portfolios is going to start taking a second major hit before long. Of course, the dollar has never been as volatile as the stock market. Even with a steadily increasing supply, the corresponding demand, of late, has been either level or steadily decreasing. But what happens when all of these foreign investors and currency speculators decide it's time to "dump the dollar"? Is it then going to start looking awfully like many of the major stocks?

Of course, it's also bitterly amusing that our socialist friends in Europe, who are not fighting two major wars and/or preparing for a few more to boot... who were not directly involved in the subprime mortgage scam... and for whom "race" is not the be-all and end-all of politics... they have been impacted by this situation as well. So no one is immune, as it turns out. What I suspect is that they, on a less blatant level than China, had decided that the U.S. was easy pickings because of our foolish policy of deregulation while still backing up anyone, or anything, that threatened to go under -- sort of like requiring no insurance but still picking up the tab for things like hurricane damage and... oops, we do this too; never mind. In any case, they, just like our home-grown wheelers and dealers, saw a golden opportunity to make some fast money at the expense of the bovine American middle class, and they took it, like any smart person would. So they became much more "exposed" than they had any business being, mainly because of greed. It's as if a bunch of natives started carving up a beached whale and consuming the meat, then discovered it was badly tainted. I suppose some of the smart ones got out before the deluge, but the rest clearly got caught with their culottes down. In any case, some of the bit players are getting what they deserve; I suspect the high rollers got free and clear a while back, as they always seem to do.

But even this may not be as gross an insult to the world economy as it appears to be. I mean, what do people do when they have a lot of money -- ill-gotten or otherwise? Do they keep it in a floor safe and get it out every night like Ebenezer Scrooge, cackling gleefully while they pour the silver and gold from hand to hand? Maybe they have a money bin, like Uncle Scrooge, complete with diving board. No -- what they do is invest it, and also they buy things -- "stuff" -- goods and services. And who ultimately provides these goods and services? The average schmo, of course -- people like you and me. This is what's called "trickle-down economics", and I don't know why it shouldn't work just as well with stolen money as with money that's rightfully earned. Now, granted, they could also invest overseas or spend most of their money offshore. But I suspect that, by and large, they distribute it right here on the home front. And frankly, they probably keep much better track of it than the government does our tax money... and they probably spend it on much more useful and attractive things than the government does. In other words, if we're going to be poor anyway, we're better off in a country where a few people are rich than in a country where only the government is rich. Even a shoe repairman in Monaco probably has a pretty decent life, whereas how high on the totem pole did you have to be to avoid lines at the bread store in Soviet Russia? What I'm saying is, there are worse things than to live with people who know not only how to steal, but how to spend. Why, right here in Pittsburgh there are many high-flying executives -- not mentioning names -- who are the beneficiaries of "corporate welfare" of all sorts. And yes, they have very large "manor homes" in Fox Chapel, and yachts, and Lear jets, and all the rest of it. But, doggone it, they also donate to the symphony and to the museums, etc. Think of them as government agencies and you'll feel a lot better: They take, but they also give back -- and in most cases with more efficiency, taste, and judgment than any agency.

And as someone said, I'd rather be poor in a rich country than rich in a poor country.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Sunday Funnies

o A guy in Germany who lost both arms in a farming accident is now sporting two transplanted arms. Among “his ultimate goals” is to ride a motorcycle. Um... is it too late to take the arms back? Which is to say, Germany clearly needs more arms control.

o “Winter will start early this year”, according to AccuWeather. But it will, of course, be blamed on global warming. What's it going to take to convince people that “global warming” is the meteorologists' equivalent of the stock market bubble? Another Ice Age? No, that wouldn't do it either – any more than all the revelations about the Gulag have changed the minds of any of our chic communists. Ah, the true believers – they will always be with us.

o Why can't this country be more like... India? In the resort area of Goa, an Australian tourist was beaten to death by waiters for “being 'arrogant' while ordering a beer in a restaurant”. Well... having shared space at bars with various loud and obnoxious characters, I can fully sympathize with the waiters in question. I don't know what, if any, punishment they're in for, but it certainly can't be as bad as “sensitivity training”, American style.

o And speaking of tourists, it turns out that many traditional inns and hotels in Japan don't want foreign guests. It kind of makes sense until you reflect on the impression Japanese tourists usually make over here. I wonder if those same places would be willing to accept _Japanese_ guests?

o A politician in Norway got into hot water for having run up phone bills making calls to fortune tellers. Well, gee, it was only a phone bill. Look at how much our government pays “consultants”, and then look at how accurate and useful those consultants' advice is... then tell me who got the better deal.

o So North Korea is being removed from a list of nations that sponsor terrorism because they've agreed to some inspections of their nuclear facilities? Could someone please tell me how one relates to the other? We could be doing all the inspecting in the world over there and they could still be feeding guns and ammo to terrorists. File it under “apples and oranges”.

o So Obama's campaign – well, ACORN actually, as if there's a difference – is registering all sorts of bogus, fictitious, and dead voters, in true Chicago style. I don't even know why they're bothering, frankly – if the Republicans were dead meat a month ago, now they're dead meat that has already been devoured by vultures (and whaddaya know, there was not one spine among them!). I predict a crushing defeat for the Republicans that will effectively put them out of business – and deservedly so. But will that really change anything? No.

o BTW, Pat Buchanan thinks McCain still has a chance. Well, right – and there's also a “chance” -- in some alternate universe – that the Tinfoil Hat Elvis UFO Bigfoot party will walk off with all the electoral votes. No, I think in a month Sarah Palin will be back in Valhalla – or whatever the name of that town is – where she belongs.

Our Long National Nightmare is Beginning

A few more random thoughts on the financial meltdown:

  • Hey! I thought things were under control! All those government regulations... massive bureaucracies... high-paid executives and consultants. What have they been doing all this time? (I'm afraid I know.)

  • Hoist with their own petard: All these clowns, AKA “our leaders”, who – when times are good – claim to be “managing the economy” or “running the economy” are suddenly nowhere to be seen. Hey, I think it's only fair to hold them responsible for the current mess, since they claimed to be “running things” all along. Let's see how soon claims of that sort are made again – if ever.

  • But it really is kind of like a reverse nightmare. When we were all asleep, and nourished with the narcotics of “growth”, “prosperity”, an ever-rising stock market, and ever-rising real estate prices, it all seemed so real, didn't it – so solid and so important. But like a dream it has all vaporized and here we are in a cold sweat realizing that our actual lives – not the dream lives we thought we were living – are going to be a lot harder for a long time to come. Did you ever think back on a dream and realize how ridiculous it was to be getting so excited about things that, as it turned out, had no significance – no meaning, and no substance at all, in fact. Now think about the mile-high pile of paper called “the stock market” and what all of that paper really represented, in terms of tangible things of lasting value. The answer is, basically, nothing. Now think about those few remaining dollars you're holding onto with an iron grip, unsure where to stash them so they'll at least stay intact, if not “grow” or “work”. You'd better figure it out soon, because our currency is just another mile-high heap of paper. It only has value to the extent people feel they can exchange it for something of real value. Little children know this. They don't want money, they want “things”. The minute they get a dime in their pocket, they run out to buy a dime's worth of “stuff”. Would that adults had intuitions that accurate! But no, we save and hoard currency on the theory that it's worth something, when it decreases in value daily even when times are good. What's going to happen from this point on is anyone's guess – but I say again, remember those Hungarians with wheelbarrows. How would Bill Gates like to have his entire fortune in Zimbabwe Bucks? We may all get to share his pain before long.

  • It would be easy to start thinking that somewhere there is a group of middle-aged men puffing on cigars and laughing their asses off about how they put one over on the American public – not only directly, but also by way of the government and our “leadership”. Was it all a gigantic sting operation? It sure feels that way. But one can't always judge by results. Yes, a lot of people got rich quick, and bailed just before the crash. Does that make them master conspirators? (A similar argument has been made about Joseph Kennedy re: the crash of 1929. He came out of it smelling like a rose – um, so to speak.) It's also true that this crisis amounts to the most massive transfer of wealth from the middle class to the ruling class ever. But was that the intent, or was it just dumb luck? The only way we might start to get answers on this point is if Congress held a full-scale investigation. That would be the same Congress that's been in the back pocket of these same people for decades now, so... forget about it.

  • There's another thing people tend to forget. As I've already pointed out, the only way the value of a stock is defined is by the price at the time of sale -- and that's only the value of _that particular piece_, not necessarily of all that firm's stock. Stocks don't just sit there increasing or decreasing in value. If no one buys or sells, the declared value stays the same. That's one thing. Another thing is that – and this should be obvious but it's apparently not – for every seller, there has to be a buyer, and vice versa. So when the media cry about a “massive sell-off” they could just as easily be describing it as a “massive buy-on”. When the Dow was over 14,000 there were just as many people buying as selling... and now that it's hovering around 8,000 there are also just as many people buying as selling. Now, the people who sold at 14,000 “sold high”, as it turns out... and the people now buying are “buying low”. In other words, they're doing just the opposite of what the panic-stricken amateurs are doing – or what those same amateurs were doing at 14,000, during their manic phase. Why doesn't someone ask the people who sold at 14,000 what they knew then that no one else knew? And even more importantly, why don't we find out what the people who are buying now know? I just can't get over the feeling that there's a gigantic scam going on here. Let me put it another way. I don't think the stock market is a zero-sum game in the strict sense (like a friendly game of poker among friends, say) – but it stands to reason that for everyone who has lost their shirt of late, someone else has ordered up a whole new wardrobe. Again, it could be a matter of luck, but...

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Mixed Nuts

Can’t They Do Anything Right?

A Zimbabwean soccer player turned up missing after the team was ordered to take a swim in the “crocodile infested” Zambezi River, in order to “cleanse” them of “bad spirits”. Um… next time, I suggest a good, old-fashioned shower. Oh, wait – not one of those kind our troops have to use in Iraq. Lemme get back to you on this.

Iran My Stocking

Would you “nuke” a country that is about to produce cars especially for women, featuring, among other things, “a jack for changing tires without getting grease on their chadors”? The cars “come in a range of feminine colors and interior designs” – which, in Iran, I guess means “other than black”. Shouldn’t we be reinforcing them for making significant strides like this? And doesn’t it indicate that the entire population of Iran is not lying in the sand with rifles in hand pointed toward Israel?

No Sense of Hummus

Now here’s one time I’m on Israel’s side. Lebanese businesses are threatening to sue because they contend that Israel is “marketing hummus and other regional dishes as Israeli”. The head of the group said, “It is not enough they are stealing our land. They are also stealing our civilization and our cuisine.” Well, Israel is obviously not stealing Arab civilization because they don’t believe Arabs _have_ a civilization, so that charge is clearly without merit. Land? OK, no argument. But cuisine? Hey, when you’re sitting there on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean with all that heat, what are you gonna do, eat stuffed cabbage and knishes? I don’t think so, bubby. You’ll eat what’s available locally, and what makes sense for the climate, i.e. Near Eastern food – which, by the way, overlaps quite a bit with what they eat in Greece. So are these yo-yos going to sue Greece too? I’ll felafel about it if they do.

They Aren’t Such Bad Chaps (If You Stay Upwind)

“Britain’s commander in Afghanistan has said the war against the Taliban cannot be won”, and recommends actually sitting down and talking with those… why, they’re not even human! They’re like those little yellow devils we were fighting in the Pacific during World War II. Well, we knew the Brits would get weak-kneed when the chips were down; look at how they gave up India with hardly a fight. Where’s Winston Churchill now that we need him? He’d be carpet-bombing the Taliban back to… well, they were already in the stone age, maybe the Paleolithic?

Meet the Jeffersons

OK, it’s already starting. Communities in northern California and southern Oregon are trying to form a new state, “Jefferson”, in reaction to the incompetence of their respective state governments. It can’t be long before they’ll appeal to Russia to move in and help them cement their drive for independence. Following upon the heels of the Russians will be U.N. “peacekeeping forces”, which might well include U.S. troops – maybe even members of the California National Guard. So things will have gone full circle. I suspect the “Balkanization” of the U.S. is under way, and this will just accelerate the process. Who knows, maybe the folks who are trying to get New Hampshire or Vermont to secede will meet with success. We know the Southwest is already getting ideas… and Texas never really did make the adjustment to being just another state among many.

Juice in the Calaboose

“O.J. isolated in jail for his safety” – from whom? His ex-wife’s relatives? Her boyfriend’s relatives? I doubt if any of them are in the clink. Souvenir hunters, maybe? No matter, what counts is that he is, in fact, in jail, and in a cell smaller than a football field “living a lonely life” according to his attorney – as if his life of late has been one big party.

Picture This

Some of the art selling in the tens of millions is no longer vulnerable to the criticism, “My kid could do that.” It would be more appropriate to say, “My kid better _not_ do that.”

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Death of a Sayresman

There is an obituary in today's paper for Francis B. Sayre, who was dean of Washington National Cathedral for 27 years (starting in 1951), and it appears that his life, and tenure, more or less exemplify the convoluted path of liberalism over that period. (I should note that his retirement home was on Martha's Vineyard -- which is right out of Central Casting.) To begin with he was a grandson of Woodrow Wilson -- which, I guess, means he would have had absolutely no problem with the "Bush Doctrine" -- but who knows? In any case, during his time on "Cathedral Hill" he represented the best (if that is the word) in liberal approaches to issues both domestic and foreign, "preaching the social gospel", which is the Episcopal Church's more up-to-date substitue for the Gospel. One of his early accomplishments was taking a firm stand against Sen. Joseph McCarthy and "McCarthyism", which required him to line up with approx. 99% of the American media -- a true feat of courage, I must say. Of course, the fact that all the information which has subsequently come to light more than supports McCarthy's position and his efforts -- this has yet to sink into the Episcopal mind (or many others). To them, communism was simply an alternative political system -- no better and no worse, and in fact motivated by much purer and more humanistic motives than nasty old capitalism. This near-mystical belief was jarred not the least by the many revelations concerning Stalin's purges and genocides, the Gulag, and other communist "experiments" in, e.g., China and Cambodia. On the domestic side, of course, all that tended toward socialism was given the imprimatur.

But let's give credit where credit is due. According to the article, Dean Sayre "once likened Lyndon B. Johnson's ethical foundations to a termite-ridden house." Well, we can all agree with that. And he also pulled a "Jimmy Carter" at one point when he "criticized Israel for 'oppressing' Arab residents of Jerusalem." (I'm sure he had to do many months of penance for that one.)

On the other hand, he also opened the doors of the Cathedral to "often-raucous youth religious Masses" -- a euphemism, I'm sure, for what actually went on up there. I don't know if the Abomination of Desolation was ever actually enthroned there, but it certainly could have been, and few would have uttered a peep of protest. The place was, in a word, a freak show -- and as far as I know it still is. But of course, it was established to serve the political establishment, which is a freak show in itself -- and to offer them a place to pretend to pray for things they pretend to believe in. And that's an important function! And as far as I know, the Dean performed it well. Heck, he even let a rag-tag Renaissance music group that I happened to be a member of perform there a few times.

Under the Spreading Apathy

The campaigns shift into high gear. The candidates smell blood. The goal is near. Within a month, the lifeless carcass of the American voter will, once again, be dragged in a victory lap behind the chariot of the alleged "people's choice", thus closing debate, for another four years, on the sham our elections have become. But that's down the road -- for now, it's enough to note (as the media do -- endlessly -- on a daily basis) that the campaigns have become "personal", "nasty", "hard-hitting"... "partisan", even! It has gone beyond saturation in the broadcast media... and I'm getting at least a half dozen phone messages a day urging me to vote for one or another of the presidential candidates, or a local wannabe. And yes, the voters appear to be "engaged" -- the campaign is the leading topic of conversation (after sports and the economy, of course) in sandwich shops and barber shops across the land. And yet I accuse the American voters of apathy, simply because they refuse to consider -- run from, in fact -- the real issues. The real issues? Yeah -- like, not these trivial marginal issues of whether to increase or decrease a given government program by one or two percent. Is anyone talking about simply eliminating any government programs? No -- way too scary. Is anyone talking about simply pulling out of Iraq? No -- not really. It's all a matter of how to "handle" the "next phase" of the conflict; the desirability to remaining _in_ the conflict is never questioned. How about... oh let's see... the elimination of the income tax? You know, like -- poof, it's gone, and the massive IRS bureaucacy along with it. Nope, no can do. How about declaring the "War on Drugs" over with -- no winners, no losers, it's just finished. Unh unh. How about telling it like it is re: the "Global War on Terrorism" -- that it's basically a hoax? Wow -- I just can't deal with that. How about some honest answers as to what really happened on 9-11 and why? And of course, the last word in never-to-be-discussed topics, our "relationship" with Israel -- why is that never even brought up in any public forum?

Now, the politicians and our "leaders" may have their reasons for avoiding all of these topics -- and there are vested interests a-plenty. But why do these questions scare the average citizen -- the average voter -- to death? Just breathe a word of any of them and they either clap their hands over their ears and go "waawawawaa", or run the other way. Why was Ron Paul universally censored by the mainstream media? For the good of the citizenry and their peace of mind, undoubtedly. But enough people heard what he had to say, especially during the debates -- and they just shut it out, like a neurotic on the psychiatrist's couch. Too hot to handle. It "blows my mind". It threatens everything I have come to believe in, thanks to public education and the media.

So basically it is fear of dealing with the real issues that is driving the electorate, once again, back into the arms of the establishment, AKA regime, in the form of McCain and/or Obama, because I assure you, with regard to all of the issues mentioned above, there is no discernable difference between the two... and there will be no difference once one of them takes office. Each of these men is "The Man", and job one will be to perpetuate, and further strengthen, the phobia that the American public has about thinking the unthinkable.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

What Ought To Be Done, and With Despatch

“What to do? What to do?” – the cry goes out. As the American economy turns into a pile of green slime, like the monster at the end of a “B” horror movie, and the perpetrators head for the tall grass, there is a natural desire for vengeance. Somebody has shattered our dreams, and they’ve got to pay. As it happens, I was just reading a classic essay by Florence King, in which she quotes, from a collection of Cato’s letters, the following. (This is Cato – actually a pseudonym for two polemicists – call them the bloggers of their day – “channeling” John Ketch, “England’s legendary executioner”.) The issue was the South Sea Bubble, which, much like the stock market of today, turned out to be “air surrounded by wind”, as my father would have put it. So here is the executioner’s plan for how to deal with the perpetrators:

“I did likewise bespeak, at least, a dozen curious axes, spick and span new, with rare steel edges; the fittest that could be made, for dividing nobly betwixt the head and the shoulders of any dignified and illustrious customer of mine… Being bred a butcher, I can comfort my said customers with an assurance, that I have a delicate and ready hand at cutting and tying; so let them take heart, the pain is nothing, and will be soon over… And so, for the ease of my mind, I beg that I have those sent me, whom I may truss up with a safe conscience. My teeth particularly water, and my bowels yearn, at the name of the brokers; for God’s sake, let me have the brokers.”

Can a more satisfactory resolution of our current difficulties be imagined? I think not.

Cracked Is As Cracked Does

One of the more amusing tributes to a departed eccentric is: “Before they made him, they broke the mold.” But this statement can be applied almost literally to the Episcopal Church… particularly in its original formulation as the Church of England. That body was formed, all protestations to the contrary, for the most carnal of reasons – ones that would make Bill Clinton blush. A nice side effect was that it put all Church (Catholic, that is) property into the hands of the power elite of the day, and that is, in fact, the basis for many of the still-remaining great fortunes and estates in England. In other words, it is a society founded, in its modern incarnation, on a massive act of thievery. Of course, some will quibble, what society isn’t? – including the United States, and I say point taken. But that establishment also set in place the Episcopal Church’s heart of darkness, if you will – that same heart which has eventuated, in the 20th Century and the present one, in all of the chaos and socio-political folly that comes to mind whenever we think of that organization, especially its American branch. So it comes as no surprise that some people are seeking to reclaim – or, I would say, claim for the first time – some sort of spiritual and moral legitimacy for a denomination that, let’s admit, has, despite its many flaws, given us some of the more noble and inspired liturgies, hymns, and architecture over the past few centuries of Christendom. I would say – and using C. S. Lewis as an example would not be inappropriate – much of what keeps the more traditional Anglicans from “going back to Rome” is precisely the fact that their church has aggregated unto itself some of the highest aspects of English culture… and this is something not lightly given up.

But in the course of time, it has occurred to not a few that, cultural and aesthetic benefits aside, the Episcopal Church in general, and especially its American branch, has drifted, in fits and starts, away from the awe and worship of the Almighty into a social activist organization that sees “diversity” as one of the highest human values. Its attempts to be all-inclusive would cause laughter and derision in the offices of the Democratic National Committee. Its embrace of all other “faith traditions” as being as valid as its own has made traditional missionary work seem the vocation of fools. And its additional embrace of every New Age, Feminist, “Queer”, etc. fad to come down the pike has more or less sealed its fate in the eyes of the traditionalists – thus the current split, exemplified by Pittsburgh’s Bishop Duncan leading his flock into the strangely-named Southern Cone. And in a fit of high irony, the Presiding Bishop accuses him and his followers of “schism”! But hey, if the Episcopalians weren’t good for a few laughs from time to time, why would we keep them around?

Which brings me to this modest exercise. Let’s say you’re asked to describe the sorts of people who might join Bishop Duncan and abscond to the Southern Cone, vs. the sorts who are determined to remain with the Episcopal Church U.S.A. Or, based on words and deeds, who is likely to wind up in which group? So to speed things up, I will provide a list – which you’re free to add to – based on whether they are likely to “Go” or “Stay”.

Go: The ones who prefer votive candles
Stay: The ones who prefer flaming torches (but watch out for that “carbon footprint”!)

Go: The ones who like incense
Stay: The ones who like incense (but of the “New Age shop” variety)

Go: The ones who like the 1940 Hymnal
Stay: The ones who like “charismatic” and “renewal” ditties

Go: Shake hands in a dignified way at “the greeting”
Stay: Leap over pews to smother others in a bear hug

Go: Vestments
Stay: A clean T-shirt

Go: A sanctuary
Stay: A “gathering place”

Go: An altar
Stay: A bare floor

Go: Get an annulment before re-marrying
Stay: Hire a limo before re-marrying

Go: Sunday morning Mass
Stay: Saturday night or Sunday evening Mass… or let’s just skip it this week

Go: Attend Mass when on the road
Stay: Attend Sunday champagne brunch when on the road

Go: Revere the saints
Stay: Revere the latest guru to hit town

Go: Priests take (and keep) vows of celibacy and poverty
Stay: Priests have “partners”, wine cellars, gourmet kitchens, and Porsches

Go: Priests wear clericals at all times
Stay: How do you like my new Don Ho shirt?

Go: Priest attends church carnival
Stay: Priest attends opera

Go: Priest lives in the rectory
Stay: Priest has “his own place” somewhere – no one’s quite sure where

Go: Priest eats casseroles brought in by "church ladies"
Stay: Priest eats at the most chic restaurants in town

Go: Priest is male
Stay: Priest is male, female, or “miscellaneous”

Go: Nuns
Stay: Episcopal nuns? You’ve got to be kidding. (No – they do exist.)

Go: Seminaries turn out holy priests
Stay: Seminaries turn out candidates for the Chippendales

Go: The ones who practice fasting and abstinence during Lent and Advent
Stay: The ones who serve sushi, caviar, or lobster thermidor on Fridays in Lent

Go: The ones who kneel at the rail to receive Communion
Stay: The ones who prefer to receive on the run (i.e., on their way out the door)

Go: Needlework cushions on kneelers
Stay: Folding chairs made of "recycled materials"

Go: The ones who prefer their Communion in the form of small, smooth wafers
Stay: The ones who prefer fat loaves of crumbly bread (but “whole grain” of course!)

Go: Large families
Stay: Couples with one child – and that one is adopted from the “Third World”

Go: Happy gray-haired grandmothers
Stay: Angry iron-haired lesbian ex-nuns

Go: Altar boys
Stay: Altar girls

Go: High Mass
Stay: Clown “mass”

Go: Sanctus bells
Stay: Bongo drums

Go: Pipe Organs
Stay: Electronic keyboards

Go: Polished wood
Stay: Formica

Go: Ballroom lessons in the parish hall
Stay: Hip-hop in the parish hall

Go: Rest on the Sabbath
Stay: Go to Bloomingdale’s and Whole Foods on the Sabbath

Go: Go to Confession on a regular basis
Stay: “Sin” – such an old-fashioned idea, really! And who is to say?

Go: Feel kind of bad about St. Thomas More
Stay: Would have fought on the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War

Go: Solzhenitsyn is a hero
Stay: Gorbachev was a sell-out

Go: Pray for the conversion of the Jews
Stay: Pray for acceptance by the Jews

Go: Reserved Sacrament
Stay: “Where have they put my Lord?”

Go: Marriage is the union of a man and a woman.
Stay: Two signatures – or paw prints – on the application are all we need.

Go: The Devil is real.
Stay: “Mental illness” is real.

Go: Heaven and Hell both exist.
Stay: Heaven might exist, but Hell – no way. Except maybe for Hitler and Nixon.

Go: Prayer is a great resource.
Stay: “Direct action” is a great resource.

Go: Man was made in God’s image.
Stay: The world just happened – except for the human race, which was some kind of cosmic mistake.

Go: Evolution is debatable.
Stay: Evolution is a fact.

Go: Capitalism works.
Stay: Communism would have worked, if we’d only given it a chance.

Go: “Compassionate conservatism”
Stay: Ruthless liberalism

Go: Observe All Saints Day and All Souls Day
Stay: Observe Halloween

Go: Observe Christmas
Stay: Observe “Midwinter Holiday”

Go: Observe The Circumcision, AKA The Solemnity of Mary
Stay: Observe New Year’s Day (by watching TV)

Go: Observe Easter, including the Triduum
Stay: Fit Easter Mass into the Easter egg hunt schedule

Go: Send missionaries out to preach the Gospel
Stay: Send missionaries out to fight for “social justice”

Go: Church windows depict Bible events and the Saints
Stay: Church windows depict humanistic ideas, politicians, and scientific breakthroughs

Go: Stations of the Cross
Stay: The United Nations Charter

Go: Adult “inquirers’ classes”
Stay: “Mixers”

Go: Believe in the Real Presence
Stay: Believe in the Real Symbol

Go: Sunday evening Benediction
Stay: Sunday evening football

Go: Annual picnic at a local park
Stay: Voter registration drives

Go: Protest at the local abortion clinic
Stay: Counter-protest at the local abortion clinic

Go: Consider McCain too liberal
Stay: Consider Obama too conservative

Go: "Talk Radio"
Stay: NPR

Go: Ask, “what would Jesus do?”
Stay: Ask, “what would _I_ do?”

Go: Respect the Pope
Stay: Respect the Dalai Lama

Go: Support Israel
Stay: Support Israel (well, they can’t differ in _every_ respect, can they?)

Go: Attend pre-marriage classes and counseling
Stay: Attend bachelor and bachelorette parties

Go: Trust the church to properly administer the sacraments
Stay: Trust the church to properly administer advice to illegal immigrants

Go: Extreme Unction
Stay: Some New Age incantation

Go: Family attends church together
Stay: Everyone has their own car. Who knows where they spend Sunday morning?

Go: Rights of the unborn
Stay: Rights of animals, trees, birds, reptiles, insects, “oppressed minorities”, women, gays, the “other-abled”, immigrants, prisoners, primitive tribes… everything but the unborn, basically

Go: March in the Columbus Day parade
Stay: March in the Gay Rights parade

Go: Considers the split with the Catholic Church a “sad division”
Stay: Considers it “liberation”

Go: Sees other religions as a missionary field
Stay: Sees other religions as, very possibly, superior to one’s own

Go: Raise their children in the church
Stay: Send their kids to public (or private) school, and hope they “find their own way”

Stay: Ex-Catholics
Go: Future Catholics

Go: Altar Society
Stay: Social Justice Committee

Go: Might be home schoolers
Stay: Consider home schooling subversive

Go: Might be patriots
Stay: Consider themselves “world citizens”

Go: Read the Bible
Stay: Read the Tao Te Ching

Go: Prefer organs and choirs singing in Latin
Stay: Prefer guitars and some guy singing in Swahili

Go: Put on “The Play of Daniel”
Stay: Put on “The Vagina Monologues”

Go: For holiday entertainment, prefer Handel’s “Messiah” or Bach’s “St. Matthew Passion”
Stay: Prefer “The Revels”

Go: Dress up for church
Stay: Put on clothes – kind of – for church

Go: Traditional grooming
Stay: Finger-in-the-light-socket hair

Go: Pray for healing
Stay: Hire a Native American shaman for healing

Go: Buried in a cemetery, preferably on church grounds
Stay: Ashes scattered on Walden Pond

Well, this is just a sampling. I’m sure there are many more telling differences – but this should be enough to help anyone who is unsure of their position decide which group to go (or stay) with.