Saturday, November 29, 2008

Saturday Night in the Provinces

Some idiot – whose name I've already forgotten – once declared Bill Clinton our “first black president”, based primarily on his chaotic personal life. (Note that this comment was not considered racist because it was made by a black person.) By the same logic, should we now refer to Obama as our “next white president” because, as far as I can tell, his personal life is strictly Mr. Clean-ville?

Last night I had the strangest dream. I dreamt that our government had taken over the insurance, banking, and mortgage industries, and the stock market, and that it was about to take over the auto industry. And no one had pointed out that none of this was in the least way constitutional. In fact, everyone was in favor because “desperate times call for desperate measures” (which is another way of saying that government interference in the markets calls for government interference in the markets). And – to cap it all off with a huge dollop of irony – all of this happened during a Republican administration! So the incoming Democratic administration basically had nothing left to do; the economy was already completely socialized. And then I woke up, and... well, you know the rest.

Just when you think the “War on Drugs” can't get any more insane, it does. Regarding that local FBI agent killed a few days ago in the line of duty, i.e. while conducting a drug raid on a suburban home, rumor now has it that the alleged drug dealer was working as an informant for another agency. So what it means, basically, is that Agency A (unidentified) didn't tell Agency B (the FBI) about this guy, so they raided his house and an agent got killed. Hey, why do we have a “drug czar”? Isn't someone supposed to be coordinating all this stuff? Or was it just “the fog of war”? In any case, the madness will continue until someone (like Obama – except he won't do it) simply takes everyone involved, abolishes their positions and the programs that require them, fires them, and prohibits them from ever obtaining government employment again. This entire generation of drug war fanatics has to be relieved of duty and allowed to die off of natural causes, and not replaced. But, of course, it won't happen – not on Obama's watch nor on anyone else's.

This Isn't Your Father's Ant Farm: A guy in China has been executed (!) for leading a bogus scheme involving ants which were supposed to be processed into “liquor, herbal remedies, and aphrodisiacs”. Apparently it was nothing but a con game – but think about it. Would you pass up a serving of ant liquor? And how do ants wind up in “herbal” remedies? And as to aphrodisiacs, think of the amount of weight the average ant can carry – many times its own. It's easy to see this as a metaphor for... well, you know. Like in those Viagra ads. Plus – with China's one-child policy, who on earth needs aphrodisiacs? I'd think they would be developing the opposite – oh wait, state television is already carrying “The View” -- that ought to do the trick.

I see where they restored Donatello's “David” -- you know, that bronze statue of a naked youth in a somewhat effeminate pose (albeit holding a sword) wearing what appears to be a bonnet? Gee whillikers, if a guy over here got caught with something like that in his rec room, he'd be accused of “hebephilia”. (No, it's got nothing to do with Christian Zionism. Look it up!) But the Italians are apparently a lot more chilled out on this issue, as I'm reminded every time I see a photo of the Sistine Chapel ceiling.

Lend Me a Felon: Apparently the Bush White House is being besieged with requests for pardons, or commutations, or whatever, by jailbirds, and the women who love them, all over the fruited plain. But unlike Bill Clinton, he doesn't have a scores of contributors to his own campaigns behind bars to shower favors on. So in this case, an actual judgment as to the worthiness of the candidate for pardon has to be made. So OK -- “judgment” and “Bush White House” -- doesn't compute! These guys better settle in for the rest of their sentence.

The violence in Mumbai reminds us that India is not just the land of the Maharishi, meditation, and ethereal sitar music. There's a lot of violence over there, and there always has been. And it's based, about 99.999% of the time, on religious differences. We get a whiff of that over here once in a while, but nothing compared to the pitched battles that India suffers, which for utter mindlessness even rival what is going on in Iraq these days. Everyone jumped on Pope Benedict when he quoted a centuries-old discussion concerning the high correlation between Islam and violence – but we see it happening every day. We can be thankful for at least this much – yes, we live in an increasingly socialistic, collectivist society, but so far the Regime has more or less kept its mitts off religion and churches – except for extreme cases like the Branch Davidians and the FLDS, whose rights no one was interested in defending. The real moment of truth will come when they start applying the “Fairness Doctrine” or “hate speech” laws, or “hate crime” laws, to religious publications, discussions, and sermons. And, of course, the threat of taxation is never too far below the surface of any church-state discussion. And lest this seem paranoid and far-fetched, please note that these are already accomplished facts in Europe, and as close to us as Canada. And we all know how enlightened those places are. We can expect some feelers on this issue from the Obama camp not long after he takes office; hopefully the pushback from traditionalists will be strong enough to stave off catastrophe.

Friday, November 28, 2008

The Old Economic Shell Game

It's amazing to me that public opinion regarding the countless "bailouts" by the government of the financial sector is rapidly coalescing around the notion that it's basically a massive redistribution of wealth from the (mostly) middle class to the (entirely) rich. This is a rare case where the "average Joe" actually figures out the agenda in fairly short order... unlike most other cases of government hoaxes and scams (like the "Global War on Terrorism") where they never do figure out that they're being had. At the same time, people in this area are already seeing the new, glittering, riverside casino which is under construction as, basically, a means of redistributing wealth from the (mostly) lower class to the (entirely) rich. You see all the "gaming" billboards dotted along the highways, and you might almost think that "gaming", formerly known as "gambling", is something that only young, attractive, prosperous people do, and that they never gamble more of their own money than they can afford to lose. But then you actually walk into a casino and it's a different story. Most of the people there just got off an excursion bus after a long, stifling ride, and they are betting more of their money than they can afford to lose, and thoroughly stressing themselves out in the process. Not to mention, a substantial portion of them are chain smokers and heavy drinkers, who look as if they will be lucky to get home again without a side trip to the ER -- and that doesn't even include bus crashes, which, for some reason, those gambling buses are especially prone to. But when they finally get back home, they'll declare that it was a "fun trip" and that they can't wait to do it again. (Plus, they'll claim that they're "ahead" when it comes to gambling... but I've discussed this delusion previously.)

Of course, the more traditional redistribution vectors, at least in this country, involve wealth going _to_ the lower class, in the form of welfare payments, food stamps, subsidies, affirmative action (a form of welfare -- there, I said it), and so on. The source of this wealth is, of course, "the taxpayer" -- a term devised to avoid pointing out that we're always talking about the middle class. Now, this form of wealth transfer is still alive and well, but "gaming" adds another stage to the pilgrimage of the humble dollar. Now it doesn't just go from the middle class schmuck to the lower class dude; it goes from there to the rich casino owners, who in turn... well I don't know. Bank it in Switzerland, maybe? It sure as hell doesn't wind up back in the hands of the middle class. We're not talking about rainwater here. But the bottom line is that the lower class doesn't feel used or exploited, because the money that is taken back from them at least represents "fun". The middle class knows damn well it isn't having any "fun", but custom and etiquette prevents them from taking it out in the form of riots and setting fires.

And I don't want to represent the middle class as perpetual victims and nothing else. They may never be in line for "direct payments" from the government (and this includes farmers -- it's the rich corporate types who get most of the subsidies), but they form the vast bulk of the actual working force of the government, i.e. of the bureaucracy. When it comes to income redistribution -- on the collecting side, i.e. the IRS, or on the paying side, i.e. HHS, HUD, etc. -- they are the foot soldiers. So in this sense they're to blame as well, since their hands are stained with the traces of confiscated income, wealth, and property.

It has often been debated whether those who work for "the machine" are as guilty as those who own and operate it. This came to a head in the Vietnam era, where the question arose, if it's OK to "out" members of the local draft board, is it OK to also "out" the clerical personnel, etc., who work for it? Or are they just poor working stiffs who deserve our sympathy for working in such a rotten place? I'm not sure if this dilemma was ever satisfactorily worked out before the draft ended, but it's a good question in ethics, in any case. The Nazi hunters seem capable of distinguishing between, e.g., people who worked as guards in concentration camps, or people who purchased and shipped Zyklon-B, and people who installed plumbing or painted walls. If you hold everyone guilty, then you're basically saying that there are no gray areas, and that seems unrealistic. You're also claiming that everyone should be expected to consider the full implications of what they're doing at all times, which is even more unrealistic. Even the Church has at least one major distinction, i.e. between mortal and venial sins, and it admits plenty of other factors as well.

I wrote the other day about the FBI agent who was killed in the line of duty, just up the Allegheny River from here. He was working a drug bust, of course (does the FBI do anything else these days?). Now, did he sign up for the agency in response to an ad that read, "Foot soldiers wanted -- to work in, and support, a wrong-headed, Puritanical, evil, cruel, heartless, oppressive, and blatantly discriminatory government program"? Doesn't seem likely. Even the fact that this guy apparently got a charge out of undercover work and out of "moving in" on targets doesn't make him entirely to blame; there are many reasons for liking one's line of work other than "because it's evil and hurts people". I mean, who knows, the scenery around Auschwitz might have been very pleasant -- assuming one could get a weekend pass. (Maybe they just liked live polka music.) Anyway, I'm not going to try and "resolve" this issue, just present it as a question that perhaps deserves a bit more "nuance" than it normally gets from, e.g., our ever-vigilant media, "agents of change", and all-around scolds.

And lest I get too far afield, I should relate all of this back to my original point. Our politicians, and the media, tend to talk as if "class" (lower, middle, upper -- AKA working, middle, rich) is a permanent condition, like eye color or shoe size, when in fact there is a considerable amount of movement up and down the economic ladder. So whenever they come out for a program that blatantly favors one class over another, they're forgetting that a given individual might be _both_, at one time or the other, and that they will remember the "disfavor" part more than the "favor" part. Plus, all the class warfare talk reveals a zero sum game world view, which also -- despite the current crisis -- doesn't accurately reflect real economic (including political and technological) history. Their excuse is, "Because I _want_ to give more to A, I _have_ to take more from B." This is a far cry from _creating_ the conditions for prosperity, i.e. for technological advances, economic freedom, property rights, and so on. These benefits fall on deaf ears in the liberal camp, because they don't satisfy the lust for "fairness". Plus, it's much easier to achieve equality by making everyone poor than by providing everyone the same freedoms, i.e. to get rich, or merely become prosperous, or stay poor, as they see fit. Plus, redistribution of wealth is a guaranteed "full employment act" for politicians, appointees, and government workers.

So, basically, the shell game that is being played with the biggest stakes ever at this point is based on class consciousness and resentment -- and the notion that "I don't care what the government does to the other guy, as long as it gives me my due." This attitude can, of course, backfire virtually overnight -- either you move from the preferred class to the non-preferred class, or government policy shifts. Does anyone remember, for example, the very first "poverty program" under JFK? It was aimed entirely at Appalachia, i.e. at middle-Southern white people. Can you imagine a program of that sort getting through Congress now? Some things really do change, and permanently. I don't have any problem with moral absolutes, but I get impatient with "class absolutes" when they are imposed by the government and the media, for purposes of political exploitation. And, sure, the concept of "class" is a very useful one sociologically; I use it all the time in the descriptive sense. But the Regime treats it more like the Indians treat "caste" -- as something that involves fate, and destiny. They also treat it as something that is based, primarily, not on income per se but on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual preference, physical health, and so forth. So it becomes an entirely political concept, and therefore a club that various groups can take turns beating each other over the head with. This is not what I call "enlightened government". Rather than aggravating these ideas they should be doing all they can to ease and alleviate them -- by, again, providing for _real_ "equal opportunity" rather than this bogus fraud that goes by the same name. But, again, that would entail giving up political power, and how many are prepared to do that?

Put the Judy Garland CD down, soldier, before someone gets hurt

The latest item on the ever-lengthening list of Obama's broken, modified, delayed, or "I never actually said that" promises is the one about "gays" in the Army. Now it appears that this burning issue, which was supposed to be Job One... or at least Job One and One Half... upon his taking office is going to be put off until 2010. This is based on a perceived need to -- guess what -- actually consult the military on the issue, rather than issuing a diktat. In this, at least, Obama (or someone on his team) is showing a bit more level-headedness than his Democratic predecessor, who reasoned that, "Hey, the pen is mightier than the sword, right? So I can make the military do anything I want it to." At the time of the first "gays in the Army" flap, I was working for an Army agency which shall remain nameless (to protect the guilty who are now out of reach anyway). We had just received "guidance" to commence researching the issue, i.e. what would be the "impact", and of what sort, of admitting overtly gay (including lesbian) individuals to the service? We were not expected to come up with recommendations, of course -- that was left to the political appointees and the top echelon of officers -- but the data we produced were expected to "inform" the process. Of course, I saw right away, based on bitter experience with other "social issues", that this program was a no-win proposition for the agency. My basic point was, if the data seem to be in favor of admitting gays, the military will kill us... and if they seem to be in disfavor, the liberals and the media will kill us. Either way, we wind up dead. But I was a lone voice crying in the wilderness, and everyone prepared to bring the program on line asap. And then, like manna from Heaven, came the pronouncement that the issue would be settled, without any need for research, by the "don't ask, don't tell" policy. Great relief (on my part)! We had dodged a huge bullet. Great disappointment for the people who had jumped on the bandwagon and who expected to make a name for themselves by performing the research. So we see that not only is military research heavily impacted by politics, it also interacts with human folly.

But the broader point, for the here and now, is that one of the many "granola coalition" elements that threw their support behind Obama (so to speak) was the gays, and they are nearly unanimous in favor of allowing openly gay individuals to join the service. And I, for one, have always felt they would do a perfectly good job in whatever jobs they were assigned to. I've also felt that their "gayness", even of the overt sort, would be no more disruptive in the military workplace than the usual "studness" that is displayed there. But, having said that, awkward situations could arise, and I also believe it's the right of the top commanders to make this sort of call. After all, readiness is supposedly their main mission... they've been given high rank, and great power over many people... so I don't think this is one of those decisions that should be grabbed away from them and turned over to politicians and political appointees. But in any case, there are gays and lesbians all across the, ahem, fruited plain waiting with baited breath for Obama to take office so he can open the doors of the military to those of their persuasion... and they are about to receive a crushing blow. "Not yet, folks." And what do you suppose their reaction will be? Oh, the usual round of rallies, marches, protests, candlelight vigils, and what not. (I can hear the chanting now -- "Hey, hey, Barack! Put me in the barracks!") They will feel betrayed, and rightly so. So they can join the ranks of all the other special, and not-so-special, interest groups that will be out there picketing the White House the minute their every wish is not granted by The Great One.

Now, do you think Obama will also break his promise to reverse the Bush tax cuts? No, I think that's the one he's going to keep come hell or high water.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Is Israel Necessary?

I imagine most people's first reaction to the title of this post would be something like: “What? 'Necessary?' Of _course_ Israel is 'necessary', I mean, the Jews have to have some place to live, don't they? I mean, sure, they live all over, but they have to have one particular place that's set aside just for them, 'cause if they don't, well, look what happened with Hitler and the Nazis and the Holocaust. That proves that they have to have some place that's their very own and that they can't be kicked out of, and where they can't be persecuted.” And I expect this fairly standard argument, which also represents, by the way, a dominant “meme” in American education and politics, would be delivered with a kind of sputtering, indignant tone, with much huffing and puffing, as if to imply that not only is this the way things are, but it's the way things have to be, and anyone who questions it is, well, some kind of “anti-Semite”. So the proposition that the Jews need their own country, even though no other religious group on earth does, is accepted without question. In these times, even correlating countries with racial or ethnic groups is a fuzzy kind of affair, but in the case of Israel we have a country established for a single religious group of one race (allegedly) and one ethnicity (by definition). And this was accomplished by, arguably, two of the “freest” and most “diverse” countries on earth, namely England and the United States. The fact that this situation stands in opposition to American concepts of freedom of religion and racial/ethnic tolerance is ignored... as is the even more obvious fact that a very large group of people who live within the political boundaries of Israel but who do not share in the mandated religious or ethnic makeup of the country, namely the Palestinians, has been discriminated against, mistreated, and ethnically cleansed (when possible) ever since the nation of Israel was established, i.e. for sixty years and still counting.

The political movement that was the precursor to Israel as a nation was, of course, Zionism, which has been around in its modern form since around 1860. But the concept – the idea of Jews having their own nation (again, as in Old Testament times) – goes back much further, at least to the 17th Century. Not only that, but not all the Zionist movements were aimed at settlement in ancestral lands in the Near East; there were proposals for Zionist settlements in North and South America, Asia, Australia, and even Africa – in addition to proposals for set-aside areas in Europe (other than the Pale, which was imposed by the Russian government and which was, to say the least, unreliable as a source of shelter or protection). In any case, the retrospective notion – held by the Evangelicals, for example -- that all of history has been aimed at the restoration of the Jews to Israel is hard to defend based on the evidence, or on precedent. Whoever makes this argument would also have to explain why it only applies to the Jews, since virtually every racial, ethnic, and religious group on earth has been kicked out of somewhere at some point, and forced to migrate to some other location. How many of them are demanding to be “restored” to their “homeland”? How many of them even know for certain where their ancient homeland is? I'm sure I don't. I mean, I could say England, but how about prior to that? Think of all the invasions. Maybe my real “homeland” -- where my ancestors lived in Biblical times, say – is Scandinavia. Or who knows, I might have some claim to Germany, or Holland, or even Spain! So this notion that everyone on earth should, by rights, be restored to the homeland of their ancestors of 2,000 years ago is a bit far-fetched. And the notion that they might have some inherent “right” to said homeland – to property and resources – is even more far-fetched. And yet that is exactly what is claimed by the Zionists in Israel and their supporters in the U.S. and elsewhere.

But of course we are dealing with more than mere historical evidence here – we are dealing with articles of faith, belief systems, concepts of fate, destiny, and particularly -- for the Evangelicals -- what they refer to as “salvation history”, for which the Bible is the original source, but which gets added to by each generation in the form of interpretation, analysis, scholarship (of varying degrees of competence), and especially, as I see it, by a whole lot of wishful thinking. For some reason, certain religious people, and Protestants in particular, always like to see themselves as living at a pivotal, critical time in history – or, better yet, in the “end times”. This term refers to the period leading up to the events described in Revelations – that is if one assumes that those events have not yet occurred, and this in itself is the subject of much debate – and, again by some reckonings, those events themselves. And one of the more common “end times” events deemed – by the Evangelicals -- critical to the culmination of “salvation history” is, in fact, the restoration of the Jews to Israel, i.e. the Israel of old, i.e. the Holy Land. This is why the Evangelicals, of all the political interest and pressure groups in the U.S., are the most enthused about maintaining our unwavering “support” of Israel – and how that “support” is defined is, basically, whatever Israel says they want, or need, or whatever the Evangelicals _think_ Israel wants, or needs, or ought to have. Regarding this latter point, it's not unusual to find more unquestioning allegiance to Israel among American Evangelicals than among American Jews – or even among Israelis! They know enough to know that, number one, Israel is not politically monolithic, and this is plainly reflected in its politics. So how does one “support” a place that is highly fragmented and where controversies about things like foreign policy dominate political discussion? It would be like saying that someone “supported” the U.S. Well fine – but then, “which” U.S.? Which political party? Which administration? Which foreign policy? Which trade policy? And so on.

But having said that, the common element, which everyone agrees on, is that Israel must continue to exist as a nation, and therefore (implied) as a political, military, and economic power. And this must be because... well, go back to the points discussed previously. If Israel didn't exist, where would the Jews live? Well, they'd live where they live now – all over the world, but especially in the United States. It seems to me that the Zionists of the late 19th Century could have just looked at the U.S., which was taking in millions of Jews, and said “mission accomplished”. Why worry about setting up a Zion in the Near East, home to millions of hostile Arabs and/or Moslems, when the Promised Land was already being settled in North America? From a purely practical standpoint, the issue should have been settled right there. But that would have violated the meme at that time, which was that simply setting up a Jewish nation wasn't enough – it had to be in the Land of Zion, i.e. the land in which the Jewish religion and the Jewish “tribe” originally flourished. And I've already asked why this had to be the case for the Jews even though no one else on earth was making similar demands. I suppose it has to do with insecurity – but again, can one imagine a more secure place to be a Jew than New York City, say? Aren't they a lot safer there than in Tel Aviv? Well then, maybe it's about land. But Jews of today -- unlike in the past, in many places -- can simply buy any piece of land they desire, if they have the resources. But that's not good enough either.

So there is no answer – it's just something that, somehow, had to be. And one could live with this level of zeal if were confined to the Jews themselves – but somewhere alone the line the Protestants, first in England and later in America, got enlisted in the cause, and most recently the Evangelicals have taken it up and made it a cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy. And this brings the question closer to home because, for example, it's just possible that we would not have invaded Iraq if we had not been urged to do so by Israel and its supporters – which means we would have saved thousands of our own citizens' lives and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives, trillions of dollars, and just possibly avoided the current economic meltdown. In other words, the war in Iraq, which is not being fought for any discernible American interest, is not only a catastrophe in its own right, but it could be the key to all of the other catastrophes that have afflicted us since the war began, on both the domestic and foreign fronts. As Nixon once said to Kissinger, “You gotta think big!” Imagine if we had been allowed to continue the “vacation from history” that we enjoyed under the Clinton administration – no 9-11 (which can also be traced to our policy vis-a-vis Israel --- Osama himself has said so)... no Patriot Act... no “Gitmo”... no Halliburton... no Blackwater... no borrowing money from China to fight the war... no stock market/banking/insurance/housing crash... not to mention, the Republican Party is going to take years if not decades to recover from all this. How thankful do you think they are that, when Israel said “jump” they said “how high”? Now, of course, there are other things entering into current events than this one chain of cause and effect... but, like the subprime housing meltdown, sometimes things that don't appear to be that big a deal are enough to tip the balance. But then disaster strikes, and everyone lies there, battered and bruised, and thinks “was it worth it?” -- and the answer, in retrospect of course, is “hell no”. But then it's too late. And the final irony is that not only does a rigid, fanatical focus on a single mission, or a single priority, lead to disaster on all other fronts, it doesn't accomplish the primary mission either. Is Israel really safer for our having invaded Iraq? Well, the invasion mobilized the entire rest of the Arab and/or Moslem world against us and against Israel; I imagine they're more united on this point than they have ever been up to now. Would Iran have put their nuclear program into high gear – with the help of all of our old Cold War enemies? Maybe, but probably not. And would those same old enemies now be circling like vultures as we crawl across a dry desert of economic chaos and catastrophe, with no one on our side politically except England (maybe)? Highly doubtful. So our exertions in Iraq may have done more than any other single factor to hasten the demise of the American Empire... and some (me included) will say “about time”. But here's the irony. You get rid of the U.S. as an effective military/political/economic force, you also get rid of Israel. They can't live for five minutes without our support and backing. They are on a lifeline... a tether, like an astronaut floating outside a space station. If we go, they go... and the whole world knows this, particularly the militant Islamists and their opportunistic allies. So this could go down in history as one of the great follies – and tragedies – of all time. But who, knowing this in advance, could, or would, have tried to prevent it? Once a belief, or an idea, takes hold, even the most cynical politician is likely to let it carry him, and the country, off a cliff. I don't know why this is; it's a form of madness, perhaps. But we see it being repeated time and time again, and can only look on in amazement.

The bottom line – if there even is one – is that the first question Obama will have to ask himself, on Day One of his administration, is: Is Israel Necessary? -- because, as incredible as it is, it seems that that question is ours, and ours alone, to ask, and to answer, over and over again. A “no” answer – which is politically impossible – would plunge Obama, as it would his predecessors, into the same problems that tormented European leaders for so many centuries. But a “yes” answer will mean more of the same, foreign policy-wise... more wars, more invasions, more occupations, more death and destruction, more corruption, more scandals, and more negative economic impact. It's one hell of a dilemma, even if seldom recognized as such. And how one small country in the Near East managed to acquire this much leverage over the foreign policy, and therefore the economy, of “The” Superpower is a story in itself. In fact, it's almost a miracle. It's almost.... Biblical.

Pre-Cooked Turkeys

Killing Me Softly With His Meal

It was inevitable – now there's an article on MSN, written by the usual food Puritans and scolds, warning us as to how horribly fattening and unhealthy all our favorite Thanksgiving foods are. Folks – it's one frickin' meal out of the whole year! Can't you just chill out for once? Guess not...

The Real Grunts

The latest question in scientific ethics – should we “bring back the Neanderthal” by using recovered DNA? But I've got a better idea. Throw away all those test tubes and gadgetry. Just raid the campus of the nearest large state university and pick a few football jocks out of a fraternity house, and go study them. That's close enough for government work.

For the Birds

Today may be the first day in weeks when the stock market neither “soared” nor “plummeted”. What the heck is it, a bird of prey? (The poor schmucks who invested their retirement money in it might think so.) I think the media need to recalibrate their lexicon in this area. Yeah, the market is volatile, but the way the media describe it, it sounds like a cross between NFL football and a Las Vegas casino. Hmmm... well, maybe that analogy is not so off-base. And what would our media be without eye-popping, vein-bulging "crises" to report every five minutes? I think Thoreau was right when he advised people to ignore the "news".

Tutti Duce

Picture a soccer game between the U.S. and Italy in 20-odd years. Everyone on the U.S. team is named Obama, and everyone on the Italian team is named Benito. At least that's the trend on our side, and if a right-wing political party in Italy has their way, parents will be naming their male children Benito (after Mussolini, for those of you in Rio Linda) in order to collect a reward of nearly $2000. This is in Potenza province in southern Italy. I drove through there once, and the place makes West Virginia look like Beverly Hills. So I imagine quite a few parents will be taking the party up on their offer. But can you imagine German parents being paid to name their kids Adolf? I doubt if it would even be legal. But those wacky Italians... you gotta love 'em.

The Secret Sharers

Let's say you're a medical researcher who has developed a – hopefully – life-saving treatment of some sort. You'd like to try it out on a few patients – the ones who are the most likely to benefit. But you realize that if it works – or even if it doesn't – you're going to catch hell from all the other people who have the same ailment but whom you decided not to treat, for whatever reason. So you administer the treatment to the preferred group but swear them to secrecy, and don't let on to the others that anything special is being done for those few. Ethically, this is a bit on the shady side – but pragmatically it could make a lot of sense. This is why I'm changing my mind somewhat as to the rationale for all the secrecy, i.e. “non-transparency”, surrounding the by-now-innumerable bailouts the government is providing the “private” sector in an attempt to avoid a complete economic collapse. No one knows where the money is going or who's getting it, or what they're supposedly doing with it, and no one knows what, if anything, the government is getting in return for its “investment”. Now, this could well be just a gigantic scam and con game – the biggest in history. That's a possibility. But if it's not – at least not entirely – then it might still make sense to not completely expose the process to everyone on earth, especially to people who might get indignant and go to court to claim their “rights”. In a way this reflects the sea change in people's thinking that started with the New Deal, but has reached new heights during the current crisis. It's not just the government's job to bail out troubled financial entities for the overall good of the economy – it's their job to bail everyone out, on all levels – to make everyone whole, and restore everything they might have lost over the past few weeks, months, or even years. In other words, don't take all the uncertainty out of the system – it's still fun to gamble – just make sure that everyone's losses are covered, in the event they lose. Well, how much do you have to tax winners in order to bail out all the losers? My guess is, about 100%, like in Sweden in the old days. And does this remind anyone of total economic collectivism, but with the elite still getting a bigger share of the pie (or the whole pie, for that matter)? And can we expect Obama & Co. to do anything to back off this position, now that it's been established by the good old pro-capitalist, pro-free enterprise Republicans? Yeah, I know... it's a joke.

Schools for Scandal

A column in yesterday's paper by Cal Thomas bemoans the fact that the “products” of the American educational system continue to underperform on tests of basic facts about America, and he adds: "Ignorance of America's history and heritage is a setup for politicians and others who want to manipulate us into a way of thinking that allows them to make decisions that are unconstitutional and unwise.” What he doesn't do – 'cause that's my job – is to propose that this is precisely the reason general ignorance is not only tolerated, but aided and abetted, by our public schools. I mean, if ignorance feeds into the agenda of politicians, demagogues, and “agents of change”, and if those same people, and their lackeys, are in charge of public education, why is anyone still surprised at the result? Why does anyone pretend to be amazed and upset, and claim to be “seeking solutions”? This is another one of those cases of “mission accomplished” that no one wants to own up to – kind of like the situation in the inner cities. Every time a proposal is made that might yield real change, it is ruthlessly suppressed, and the people responsible pilloried in the public square. (Kind of reminds me of the way third parties are treated, in fact.) Consider also that many of the people who voted for Obama really and truly expect him to fix things so that everything is “free” -- free housing, free food, free medical care, free gasoline, no taxes, and no one will have to work. Doesn't this betray just a tiny bit of ignorance as to how the world operates? But is anyone disabusing them of these notions? And I daresay the people who believe this are all, without exception, products of the public education system. So yes, ignorance may be bad for the country, but it's good for politicians, and they're the ones who count the votes.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Altered State

The notion of Hillary Clinton as secretary of state brings up all kids of nuances. To begin with, it may reflect a very clever strategy on Obama's part. It is said, "Keep your friends close and your enemies closer." Who is closer to the president than the secretary of state? Most of the time, no one. So he can keep an eye on her, which could defuse the fact that she remains his single biggest potential rival and challenger within the party. A related benefit is that, whereas in the Senate she would have sat there for his entire term, resentful, underemployed (in her own mind), plotting and scheming, this job will constitute a position that she feels she is entitled to, and it will keep her very busy. Then, making her secretary of state gets her out of the way of whatever he may want to do on the domestic side. What if he'd made her secretary of health and human services? She would have taken to the job with enthusiasm (just like she did the first time around, albeit without portfolio) and, I'm sure, dominated the proceedings regardless of what he had in mind.

To all of this I should add that making her secretary of state gets her out of the country a good deal of the time, which I'm sure no one could possibly object to. And who knows, it might even wake up the diplomatic corps, which is notoriously filled with political supporters and hacks, and is chronically infected with the diplomatic ailment of not rocking the boat at all costs. Hillary lives to rock boats -- and she is a holy terror when it comes to her subordinates, or to people she considers her subordinates, i.e. everyone. So maybe this is just the sort of kick in the striped pants the diplomatic corps needs.

It's funny, though, how concerns have arisen as to potential "conflicts of interest" between her as secretary of state and her husband's "charitable work". Gee, I wonder if those are the same conflicts of interest that arose when Bill Clinton received campaign contributions from China. That didn't seem to bother anybody -- at least not on the Democratic side. Besides, if he's really and truly engaged in charity work, and not just further bolstering his titanic ego, isn't that generally consistent with what the State Department is trying to do with things like "foreign aid", and "supporting democracy", and so forth? (Just kidding!) The truth is, anyone who hands Bill Clinton money for any reason clearly expects to get something in exchange -- after all, he is still the spiritual (if that is the word) head of the Democratic Party, with Hillary as the co-head. Personally, I wouldn't trust Bill Clinton with fifty cents to go feed a parking meter. But apparently a lot of people do, and I admit to being skeptical as to their motives. So the idea of Hillary somehow influencing State Department policies and activities to favor Bill's "charities" strikes me as... well, as something that is well-nigh inevitable. How can the two most self-seeking people in America fail to work out deals of mutual benefit every chance they get?

But I don't think this is even the main question, which is would Hillary as secretary of state be good for the country, or at least less bad for it than, e.g. Condi Rice or Madeleine Albright? Would she, for example, advise against further wars, invasions, and occupations? Unlikely. Don't forget, she has already demonstrated false memory of being "under fire" in Bosnia. I'm sure that, not unlike Dick Cheney, she fancies herself one of those 1950s war comic characters, like G.I. Joe or Sgt. Rock. Well then, would she do anything about our insane and tyrannical "drug policy" as it impacts foreign governments and peoples? Ixnay. If her husband did nothing about these issues during his time in office, she won't either. Well then, will she be under the hypnotic influence of the Neocons and Evangelicals, as Rice seems to be? This seems a bit less likely, and that could be a good thing. Even though she is imbued with the warrior spirit, she might be slightly less inclined toward saber-rattling than the Bush crew. And she is certainly not personally interested in any sort of religious crusade. But let's not forget that another reason for Obama making her secretary of state is precisely to counterbalance (for public consumption) his lack of experience, and possible naivete, in these matters. So now they can play "good cop, bad cop" with other countries and maybe deflect criticism from all sides on the home front.

So yeah -- I think he made a good choice, from the perspective of the health of his administration. From the perpective of the citizenry (of this country and others) it's likely to be more of the same, i.e. America as intimidating bully and the guest that never leaves.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Friday Follies

It Really _Is_ the Economy, Stupid!

I recently mentioned the economic pressures on Afghan farmers to raise food instead of opium. Now we see that the flood of illegal immigrants from Mexico has abated somewhat, due to – you'll never guess – economic considerations! Again, we violate the law of parsimony when we assume that people do things for abstract or obscure reasons when there are other far more obvious possibilities. The Mexicans come up here because they want to be “Americans”? Because they envy our “life style”? Hell no, they just want more money. And as if to prove this painfully obvious point, they aren't coming up here at quite the same rate since our economy ran aground – and yes, this also proves that they keep up on current events and aren't just a bunch of illiterate peons napping under a huge sombrero against an adobe wall. OK, so let's see... what lessons can we learn from this? To cut down on opium production, we have to subsidize corn for ethanol production and therefore threaten the Third World with starvation. To cut down on illegal immigration, we have to voluntarily trash our own economy. Hmmm... these aren't the solutions that would have immediately come to mind. But still, it's good that there's a silver lining to almost any catastrophe.

Wide Body Jets

Canada, in another spasm of terminal humanism, has decided that fat people get two for the price of one – airplane seats, that is. Now personally, I'm all in favor of that innovation since I've had to sit next to what I call an “occuphant” on many a plane ride. I'm not exactly svelte, but having half my body buried under a mound of someone else's flab is not my idea of a pleasure trip. And the funny thing is, fat people have long since lost any concept of “personal space” -- they're perfectly happy just plopping down and establishing a blanket-sized interface between their body and yours. It doesn't bother them a bit! I guess that's a form of adaptation in a way. But what the Canadian authorities obviously have not yet considered is this – who defines “fat”? I mean, who decides how fat someone has to be to get the free extra seat? Is it a simple matter of weight? Or how about the ratio of weight over height (AKA the Body Mass Index)? Or... will they actually get out a tape measure and see how wide someone is when the person buys a ticket? (Try doing this over the Internet.) Plus, we all know that people who are already wide get even wider when they sit down. Plus... who brought this suit in the first place? Probably a guy big enough to qualify as “class-action” all by himself.

Finns in Space

A Finnish woman had a baby on board an airplane as it was flying over Kazakhstan. So... does the kid wind up with dual citizenship, in which case they might be the first person in history to be a dual Finnish-Kazakh citizen. Wonder what “Borat” could do with this one...

Real Retirement

Every few weeks I read about another ancient mobster or white-collar criminal who is declared “too old to stand trial”, or, if convicted, “too old to go to jail”. Well, let's see... they weren't “too old” to commit the crime, were they? Or to order someone else to commit the crime. And why isn't that argument ever used for the guys still being rounded up by “Nazi hunters”? They're brought into courtrooms in wheel chairs or oxygen tents, and on life support. Where in the law does it provide an exemption for people who just happen to get old before they're caught? I'm not aware of a “get out of jail free” card for geezers. And yet it keeps coming up. And a similar mind set is shown when a middle-aged person receives a long sentence. The complaint is invariably, “That's the same as a life sentence.” I wish, just once, a judge would look down from the bench, smile, and say “Yep, that's the idea.”

Why Didn't They Just Drive?

I have a new hero, and he is, of all things, a Democratic Congressman from California. If he accomplishes nothing else on the political scene, and retires into obscurity, this one act should be enough to enshrine him in a pantheon of the Inspired. The occasion was a meeting on Wednesday between legislators and officials of the “Big 3” automakers. To quote from the article:

“... Rep. Brad Sherman asked company executives to raise their hands if they'd flown to the nation's capital on commercial airlines. No hands went up. Then [he] asked the heads of General Motors, Ford Motor Co., and Chrysler LLC... whether they were planning to sell their corporate jets and fly home commercial. Again, no hands went up.”

Can anyone imagine a cleaner, more surgically precise means of “outing” corporate parasites than to show them enjoying their perks as usual, while begging for handouts from the taxpayers? The sheer beauty of this scene is positively breathtaking. Oh, I'm sure they won't go home empty-handed, at least not in the long run. The auto industry is not only “too big to fail” (even though it already has), but it's the corporate symbol of America; nothing else even comes close (although Coke, Wal-Mart, McDonald's, and Starbucks certainly deserve honorable mention). But to see, just once, the naked truth on display in the hallowed halls of the Capitol – that is truly a pleasure.

Schori About That

Among the local news stories that were lost in the pre-election shuffle – but are still worth commenting on – was the whirlwind visit of Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori to Pittsburgh to console the remnant of the Pittsburgh diocese that has opted to remain within the sheltering arms of the American church, rather than fly the coop to join the Southern Cone, i.e. the Episcopalians of southern South America. This breakup of American Episcopalians into stayers and leavers has been characterized by the hierarchy as a “schism”, which – as I've said before – I find just a bit ironic considering the history of the Episcopal, or Anglican, church. It's sort of like saying it was OK for the American colonies to separate themselves from England, but it wasn't OK for the South to separate itself from the North. In both cases we're presented with... what? Hypocrisy? A double standard? Or just somebody getting their ox gored... which is the most likely explanation. Episcopalians have been accused of many things, but “not being prosperous” isn't one of them. Some of the greatest piles of stone and stained glass in any American city are Episcopal churches... and think of the furnishings! And the vestments! And the needlework (for kneelers, which are seldom, if ever, used any longer)! If there is a generally-accepted church for American “royalty”, it is definitely the Episcopal; nothing else even comes close. In the old days, anyone who made a fortune was expected to leave the denomination of their birth and become Episcopalian; that was the law. (As I recall, the Rockefellers were one of the few families who bucked that trend. They remained Baptist. But hey, when you're the world's first billionaire you can get away with a lot of things that mere mortals can't.) But now we have dissension in the ranks, and church members, parishes, and even bishops are jumping ship (probably before lightning strikes from on high, and sends the whole affair to the bottom).

In the case of Pittsburgh, it was not a matter of a few isolated nut-case parishes deciding to drop out; it was 50 out of 74 plus the bishop. This was not the first diocese to have this experience, and others are considering it very seriously. Clearly, there is something afoot, and just mewping about “schism” and calling it “tragic” isn't gonna cut the mustard. Clearly, the Episcopal church has to do some serious soul-searching (rather than soul-selling, i.e. to the forces of secularism, which is what has been keeping them busy of late).

And make no mistake – I started out the serious part of my Christian journey as an Episcopalian, and still have a bit of a soft spot for the noble high liturgy and all of the traditional accoutrements. Of course, the ideal solution is for individual parishes – or even dioceses – to join the Catholic Church under the Anglican Rite; it has been done. But that may be a bit too much to ask of everyone who is dissatisfied with the “revolution within the form” the Episcopal Church has undergone over the past few decades. They are just trying to reclaim what they once had but was taken away from them... much as Latin Mass Catholics are reclaiming their rightful heritage after the New (but blessedly shorter) Dark Age of “post-Vatican II”. And I don't blame them. If one's church isn't the place where one expects one's heritage to be preserved lovingly and skillfully, where on earth is? We look about the American landscape and see, basically, nothing but ruins – first the cities, then the public schools, then the infrastructure, and now the economy. And don't even mention morality, and the media, and entertainment. And all the “agents of change” are on the wrong side of the River Styx. So it is good to see so many of the “frozen chosen” finally – after decades of suffering in silence -- standing up and asserting themselves, and voting with their feet.

What a Waste

Harry Browne (Libertarian candidate for president in 1996 and 2000) called it “the insane war on drugs”, and it was... and still is. The social, political, economic, and even international consequences of the government's treatment of drugs as a criminal issue rather than a public health issue are enormous and beyond reckoning. And yet the madness persists, and earlier this week the Pittsburgh area was witness to the consequences for two families. As a result of an early-morning raid on a suburban home, an FBI agent – a husband and the father of a pre-schooler – is dead, and the wife of the drug “perp” is in jail on murder charges. She is a housewife and the mother of two children. This incident alone should be enough to bring people to their senses concerning the “War on Drugs”, which is perhaps the most prominent of our many holdovers from Puritanism. It is widely acknowledged that this so-called war is fraught with authoritarianism, hysteria, and bad law. Its consequences are often cruel and unjust... wildly disproportionate to the alleged “offenses”... and clearly discriminatory in terms of race. (And where is the “black leadership” on this issue? Doing the usual, which is shuffling and nodding in agreement with the white establishment.) Other countries – most other countries, in fact – have found much more reasonable, humane, and economical solutions to their drug problems; but, oh no, not us! Somewhere along the line we decided that drug use (well, certain drugs by certain people, that is) is “wrong”, and that the users, and their suppliers, have to be punished rather than educated, counseled, or rehabilitated (or – heaven forbid – simply allowed to pursue their habit unmolested, as long as it doesn't hurt anyone else). One result is that we have the most “jailed” population on earth, proportion-wise... worse than “oppressive” regimes like China, for instance. And a huge chunk of it is based on the “War on Drugs”. Plus, the effects spill overseas without any trouble. Our drug crusades raise the prices many fold above the actual costs of production and distribution, with the result that entire countries wind up with the illegal drug trade being a primary component of their economic base... and with drug lords basically running the country, and wars among drug gangs endangering their own citizens and impacting their economies. And on the domestic side, the anti-drug hysteria has given rise to a situation similar to that during Prohibition, namely that we are raising generations of young people with no respect for the law, since they can plainly see that, in this case, the law is an ass, and they are not hesitant to extrapolate this idea to other elements of the law as well. How many millions of Americans could claim never to have broken a single law... “except” one or more drug laws? And yet we expect people to respect the “rule of law”. But the societal need – also part of our Puritan heritage – to have a permanent imprisoned underclass... and the thousands of jobs provided by the anti-drug bureaucracy... both insure that none of this is going to change in the near future, if ever... not under Obama, and not under anyone else. It is, perhaps, our most deeply-rooted “meme”, or cultural thought habit. You can question almost anything else about American society, but the “War on Drugs” is sacrosanct. And so we can expect to see more tragedies like the one described above... and more steadfast refusal to see the situation for what it is, and do something about it.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Capitalism Buried in an Empty Casket

Now that the Bush administration has nationalized most of the financial sector, and Obama has been elected to fill those ever-expanding shoes, and capitalism stands, in shackles, in a tumbrel lurching along the street to the place of execution, it's worth asking – as many have – if the whole affair was really capitalism's “fault”. And the general agreement from the “conservative” side seems to be that it was not capitalism or its ideological base that was at fault, but the fact that it had been both corrupted by government incentives and crippled by government regulations. I would expand on this a bit to point out, as I have before, that a large piece of the blame also lies with the so-called capitalists, and their fault lies on the moral and ethical side of the divide. If they wanted to be a wholly-owned subsidiary of the government, they should have just said so. But it was better to keep pretending to be “private”, and “competitive”, and “free enterprise”, and to keep skimming off the top and then jumping ship just before the whole structure collapsed -- when, in truth, they had benefited from government subsidies, monopolies, and preferences all along. These are the moral depths to which these “industry leaders” and “mangers” fell before the crash, and the ones who haven't already headed for the tall grass are still wallowing the same moral and ethical mire (and no one is the least bit surprised, which tells you something right there).

But having said that, I'll go further. Back in 1966, Ayn Rand produced a book called “Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal” (including three articles by Alan Greenspan -- “Lo, how the mighty have fallen!”). Among the points was that capitalism, when done right, i.e. truly without artificial props from, or interference by, government, is a powerful expression of, and engine for, human freedom and prosperity. But it is “unknown” because it is typically practiced in an imperfect way (not the capitalists' fault, but government's) and because the spirit of the times runs directly against both the ideas of capitalism and the acknowledgment of its benefits. (The book came out two years after Goldwater was flattened by LBJ in the 1964 election. The National Review was 11 years old, and The American Spectator wasn't born for another 11 years.)

I would add that capitalism, even when practiced imperfectly, as it was in the 19th Century, say, is still far preferable as an economic model to any of the alternatives, particularly if the society we have in mind is based on ever-expanding technology. (If you're content to spend your life sitting around a smoldering campfire like an Amazonian Indian, I guess it doesn't matter much what “system” is in place.) And of course there are all sorts of arguments against the “robber barons” and the evils of factory work in the cities (but if it was so evil, how come millions of people walked off the farms to go to the cities and find factory work?). But American civilization as it is today would certainly not have turned out this way without the (relatively) unbridled capitalism of the Industrial Age; that much must be admitted, whether we always like the result or not. (Pittsburgh is an excellent case in point, since the city was built, and prospered, during the Industrial Age. It has also become a major center for medical research and treatment due, I suspect, to the high rates of chronic illness brought on by a lifetime of work in the mills or of living in a severely polluted environment. But would the people who live here have rather lived their lives as farmers, hunters, and trappers, the way the rural folk did at the same time the city was a boom town?)

But over the years, things changed – and, as usual, I think the first major blow was the New Deal, which was as much a “new deal” for business as for “the people”. The deal was – and I believe FDR had this in mind all along – “We (the government) protect you (business) from the wrath of the people...” – i.e. from violent revolution and collectivism, which was the dominant political/economic movement in the world at that time – “...and in exchange you accept laws, regulations, the unions, and a generally bad press. But you can keep most of your profits, and heck, we'll even toss in a war from time to time to keep the armaments makers (and Detroit) in the black. Deal? [Sound of angry crowd of victims of the Depression banging on the front gate of the estate.] Good. I knew you'd see it our way.”

Thus began – or accelerated – the long decline of capitalism, and the eventual reduction of American businesses from a noble estate to being the pet poodle of the government (or vice versa). One consequence, of course, was that what the unions wanted, they usually got – which is a big part of why Detroit has its hand out at this time. On the other hand, business had the autonomy to, in many cases, avoid the union curse altogether, especially on the retail side (Wal-Mart etc.), and even managed to push NAFTA through – under a Democratic administration, no less! -- and start “outsourcing” and relying on overseas labor in a big way. So overall, the contest between management and labor has been about even over the years, except that they have both been severely co-opted by government; they are indebted to it, they rely on it, and they can't, in their wildest dreams, imagine getting along without it. So when things get this incestuous, is it any wonder a monster is born once in a while? In the present case, the monster is the government, like a huge amoeba, surrounding and absorbing major chunks of the business and financial sector, once again in exchange for “stability” and keeping the pitchfork-toting peasants away from the CEOs' gated estates. No one wants to mention that it was the government that peddled the "junk" that business has been injecting into its veins all these years. And all the CEOs have to do is publicly admit that they're a bunch of whores, collect their bonuses, and go back to the office. No muss, no fuss. The unions are thrown a bone or two – like the end of the secret ballot for voting for unionization – but not a thing is done about jobs going overseas or disappearing entirely, except in certain privileged redoubts like Detroit. And everyone goes away a bit tired but basically satisfied, and they wake up the next morning refreshed and wondering what all the fuss was about, since they now live in an even braver, even newer, collectivized world.

So what I'm trying to say in all this is that the current government bailouts/takeovers don't constitute a “loss” of anything of significance. It's more like the final payment on a deal that's been going on for decades... the culmination, the denouement, the consummation. It's all out in the open now – business is just another branch of government (or vice versa)... “labor” is no different from “government workers”... and that silly old thing called “capitalism”, well, where did it ever get us, anyway? It just led to a lot of strife and “unfairness”, and we're better off getting rid of it (which is like saying, I'm better off with nice pearly dentures than with those old, somewhat crooked, but still perfectly functional, natural teeth). So don't mourn the demise of capitalism. You should have done that back around 1933, if you'd been around at the time. And really, we may never have had it in “perfect”, ideal (a la Rand) form... but what we did have gave us fairly dramatic results, and I don't think we can expect anything comparable ever again from the current crop of perfumed corporate princes, parasites, and lackeys. What we're going to get now is the sort of decadent torpor that characterized the Byzantine and Ottoman empires in their declining years. But that's OK, because we'll never have to “stand and deliver” again the way we did in World Wars I and II. The U.N. is taking care of all that now. Right? But... psst... don't tell Al Qaeda, OK?

Wednesday Whims and Woes

Well, I'm Floored

Hey – what ever happened to that 8,000 “floor” for the Dow? Well, I guess 7,997 is not statistically different. But could it be that floor has termites? Like for instance, the beneficiaries of the “bailout” who are doing pretty much as they damn please with the money, and the taxpayers can just eat their shorts? Maybe what we're seeing these days is the final flame-out-and-die of the “Me Generation” that really doesn't care about anything but its own momentary pleasures. Seems that our giants of industry and finance haven't been immune from that attitude either, in which case maybe they and the rest of their peer group deserve each other...

This Side Up -- Maybe

Now, I'm not one of those philistines who walks into a room of abstract expressionist paintings and huffs, “My kid could do that.” Because if this were true, I'd _have_ my kid “do that” and start raking in the big bucks. Still, it's amusing when things like this happen: “In England, two famous modern works by American artist Mark Rothko have been displayed incorrectly on their sides for years in a British museum.” And this was the Tate, not some small-town gallery run by a little old tea lady (as if!). But in any case, doesn't it tell you something about “modern art” -- especially the stuff that is going on the block for tens of millions per each – that even the experts can't tell which side is up? Isn't that a kind of metaphor for the entire art world, in fact – if not the world of Western culture overall? Now personally, I like Rothko's stuff. Those brooding blocks of fuzzy-edged color have a kind of presence. And frankly, if I owned one I'd feel entitled to hang it any old way I wanted. But that would be so... well, philistine.

Don't Take the Money, but Do Run

“Seven top executives at Goldman Sachs announced they were foregoing bonuses in 2008.” Oh, isn't that big of them! Well, it could be bonafide altruism... or maybe just good business... or maybe they hear the roar of the crowd of pitchfork- and torch-carrying peasants approaching the castle gate. In any case, it's a start, and I guess it's about all we can expect. They certainly aren't going to go skulking off with their tails between their legs. A Japanese businessman who screwed up this badly would have long since committed suicide – but they still have a sense of honor over there.

It's What's For Virtual Dinner

It turns out that 65% of all Internet spam – world-wide! -- was coming through one Silicon Valley hosting firm. So people who laugh at the idea of one single, massive, overarching world-wide conspiracy can take this as at least one sobering “but what if?” case in point.

Right, Schmight; Left, Schmeft

I've read it many times since the election. Despite the outcome, the country is still politically “center-right”, based on what people say their overall political position is. Now comes Tod Lindberg of the Hoover Institution, who says that's a myth, and that Americans are really “center-left” overall. Well, as usual, it's the use of outmoded terms, nebulous definitions, and bogus distinctions that has everyone confused. This results in things like people who think it's OK to invade other nations to cause “regime change”, and turn them into democracies, being called “conservatives”. The real truth is – and I didn't need the election to tell me this, but it certainly did reinforce the idea – Americans are, by and large, pro-big government, statists, and socialists. I say “socialist” as opposed to “communist” since I don't think most Americans are quite ready for out-and-out collectivism... although the agricultural sector seems to have made the adjustment quite nicely, and the unions aren't far behind. But overall, most Americans like to have their own “stuff” and their own “place”. They like having “titles” to things, and enjoy “ownership”. So communists we aren't. But as far as government regulating every last jot and tittle of existence, that's just fine – as is the current takeover of major sectors of the economy (AKA “statism”). Because, well, surely we can't be expected to take care of ourselves, can we? Or, watch out for our own well-being without substanital help? And as much as people may gripe about taxes, or about regulations they don't care for, they will fight like demons to keep their favorite programs and entitlements from going away. So – bottom line – we are all big-government socialists now.

Patty, I Hardly Know Ye

Pat Buchanan, in today's column, comes out for the bailout of Detroit, AKA the “Big 3” automakers. He gives some semi-sound economic and strategic reasons for this, but I suspect that behind it all is a sort of patriotic tic that says, what is America without General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler? Well, I guess it could be a more reasonable country that doesn't have an aristocracy of labor in the auto industry. And he admits that the Wall Street bailout is “the biggest bait-and-switch in political history”, but apparently he isn't afraid of something similar happening with the automakers. And, he says that “if the GOP blocks these loans and the industry dies, the party can forget about Ohio, Michigan, and the industrial Midwest." Hmmm... well, what about NAFTA? Did that hurt the Democrats in those states? Apparently not, since every one of them delivered for Obama. So it seems to me that the auto industry and related businesses are already a lost cause for the Republicans. And what would a bailout of this sort reinforce, i.e. reward, i.e. assure that it keeps happening? Extravagant “bargains” with the unions, for one thing. Gas-guzzling cars and SUVs that were designed back when gasoline cost almost nothing and we weren't fighting the entire Arab world for control of the Middle East. Engineering with “safety last” as a rule of thumb. Collusion with tire makers, road builders, oil companies, and politicians to destroy public transportation. Collusion with developers to stick everyone out in the suburbs, miles away from where they work, in order to force everyone into cars on a daily basis. (And who decided that suburban neighborhoods can never have sidewalks, hmmm?) Oh yeah... these are among the many blessings that Detroit has showered on our battered heads over the years. And now we're going to make it possible for them to stay in business for who knows how many more decades? I think Mr. Buchanan needs to splash some cold water on his face and admit that Detroit is part of the problem, and that a bit of “creative destruction” is in order. He can be just as patriotic about some other industry, I'm sure.

We Are Not G-Men, We Are Evo

It looks like the DEA has been permanently ejected from Bolivia, which gives great credit to President Evo Morales. Of course, he says that Bolivian authorities will fill the gap. Right, sure. Morales is “the former leader of a coca growers union”. It all sounds a bit mouse-that-roared-esque... but don't underestimate the significance this has for American dominance and hegemony in Latin America, not to mention world-wide. The leading edge of our brand of imperialism over the years has been to talk, or bribe, other nations, i.e. their leaders, into crushing their own citizens under the drug-enforcement boot, which is, in turn, motivated less by public health considerations than by a desire to spread our ancient and most vicious forms of Puritanism across the globe. What happens every time we invade another country (for their own good, of course)? Hot on the heels of “women's rights facilitators”, who are parachuted in on Day One, are the heavily-armed forces of the War on Drugs. Only later – far down the road, if ever -- do we start getting serious about things like infrastructure (which we destroyed in the first place) and “democracy” (which is typically a totally alien concept to the people involved). It has been said that “every good war is a religious war” -- maybe literally true in ancient times, and still true if you count communism and its offshoots as religions. But as to the “religion” of American-Puritanical “wars” on “drugs”, that is something that is best buried with the likes of J. Edgar Hoover. Evo is right – keep those fanatics and Rambos off Bolivian soil. They've got enough trouble without our bluenoses descending on them in droves and disrupting age-old economic entities and social customs.

Poppies – We'll Make Them Wheat

On the other hand, farmers in Afghanistan are starting to switch from raising opium to raising – guess what – food! This, because food prices have gotten high enough so that food crops are competitive with opium. Now – this is just a wild guess – but the last time I read about food costs going up, it was because of ethanol, which is, of course, a uniquely American vice. So it looks like one piece of folly – the ethanol craze – is helping to counterbalance another piece – the “war on drugs”, which is the primary reason for the high price of opium in Afghanistan and elsewhere. It's good to know that stupidity can't multiply itself indefinitely, and that eventually one part of it creates a silver lining that helps neutralize the other. Of course, all of this could have been avoided if our politicians had just... but no, that would never happen. It was about to say “been sensible, rational, sane, and humane”.

Bush Pull Out – Your Father Should Have

Admiral Michael Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says “it would take the United States two to three years to withdraw from Iraq completely.” Wow – this shows a singular lack of logistic creativity. How long did it take us to put those troops into Iraq? A few months at most. As Ron Paul said, they were sent over there, they can be brought back (implication: in the same amount of time). What is this torpor that overtakes out military leadership whereby an invasion can happen in weeks or even days, but a withdrawal has to take years? Just run the tapes in reverse, guys. It's easy.

Bare Bear Market

I don't know if this is some consolation, but the Russian government is also considering bailing out some of the “oligarchs” who struck it rich during the “privatization” era. So let's see – these were the guys who were smart enough to be at the head of the line when the former USSR sold off most of its publicly-owned (so to speak) industries and properties. They bought the stuff at a steal, got it running better than ever, made fortunes, and are now looking to that same government for a bailout. And the funny thing is, they'll probably get it! The difference between them and our own home-grown oligarchs? Morally, not much. Historically, most of our guys built up their businesses with, admittedly, a lot of help from the government, but it would be an exaggeration to claim that the government actually handed those businesses over to them in a neat package. Interestingly, the response of the Russian government might just be based on the desire to re-absorb some of those enterprises back into the state system. The difference, once again? The U.S. Government is absorbing businesses that it has never had a controlling hand in – regulating yes, but not really in charge. Does our government have a “yen” for taking over the private sector? In Russia's case it's more like nostalgia – gee, remember when we had a “planned economy” and no unemployment? In our case it's more like, we know how to run businesses as well as those greedy CEOs – just give us a chance. After all, look at the fine job we've done with things like urban renewal, agriculture, health care, and so on. It's going to be very interesting to see these parallels develop – unto total folly, undoubtedly.

Post Toasties

The most shocking thing about retiring from the federal government is that I finally found out how much Post-It notes cost. Those things are damn expensive! Up until I retired, I never bought any. The few that I – ahem -- “utilized” at home were more than balanced by the decent pens I bought on the open market and took to work, in lieu of those dreadful, leaky government “low-bidder” ballpoints that they persisted in handing out year after year. Don't tell me bureaucrats don't have plenty of survival skills!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Middle in a Pickle

The following memo has been obtained from one of our “moles” on Obama's “transition team”. Although marked “Top Secret”, it has apparently been circulated and discussed widely among team members, who are apparently expected to use it as a conceptual basis for all social and economic policies, whether ones taken over from the Bush administration or ones to be originated under Obama. Here is the memo in its entirety, with only the name of the signer deleted:


Memorandum for: Transition Team

Subject: Why the Middle Class Must Be Eliminated

1. They Are Boring. Middle class people watch boring TV shows and listen to boring music. They live in boring houses, have boring jobs, drive boring cars, play boring games, take boring vacations, wear boring clothes, have boring hair styles, and eat boring food. Their lives are not “nasty, brutal, and short” like those of our brothers in the inner city – they are terminally boring, which is actually worse. The America we envision will be one in which being boring – while not a capital offense – is strongly discouraged, and any and all means will be utilized to produce a non-boring citizenry. Allowing boring middle-class people to stick around will only delay and interfere with this work.

2. They believe in “family values”, which is thinly-disguised code for racism, sexism, homophobia, and being against alternative lifestyles. The word “family” is also code for “more than replacement level of reproduction” which will also be prohibited under the new administration, using the highly-successful one-child program of China as a model. The outmoded “family” concept also includes things like the Mormons' notorious “family home evenings” where the whole family sits down together for dinner, and no one watches TV for the entire evening (or goes out to play soccer, or to the mall, etc.). This is clearly a seriously subversive custom and one of the first priorities of the administration will be to have it declared illegal, along with things like “Thanksgiving”, which creates a colossal carbon footprint from all the travel it entails just in order to participate in hollow and outmoded “family” rituals.

3. They are patriotic. One of the biggest challenges we face is eliminating old-fashioned, war-mongering and racist patriotism from the American scene, along with its implications of American “exceptionalism”. It discriminates against citizens of other nations by implying that their places of birth are not up to our standards, and it interferes with our willingness to cooperate with more enlightened and humane organizations like the EU and the U.N.

4. Middle class people typically live in nuclear family units. Larger group living arrangements – sometimes referred to as “colonies”, “communes”, or “compounds”, will be authorized if not religiously-based, and public school attendance for underage children will be a minimum requirement, in order to prevent them from becoming dogmatically attached to their parents' belief systems and lifestyles. (Note that this guideline is already being enforced in places like Texas.)

5. Middle class people are hypocritical. Many of them pretend to be “pro-life”, but if their daughter gets pregnant they are off to the abortion service provider in a heartbeat. Our only request – backed up by law – will be that they cease claiming to be something they aren't.

6. Many of them attend a main-line church where the primary mission is something called “worship” rather than political action. All non-governmental organizations not involved in correct political action will be subject to heavy taxation, fines, and possible closure under the new administration.

7. Religiously-based holidays – another middle class fixation – will be abolished in favor of non-discriminatory national holidays, to be named at a later date (suggestions solicited).

8. The middle class can't be trusted to spend their money properly, as President Bill Clinton pointed out. More of their income must be confiscated to save them from making any more bad decisions of this type. (See also paragraph 1, since most of their expenditures are for boring things.)

9. At the same time, they have a kind of obsession about “holding onto” their money, especially for things like “retirement” (which will be prohibited, since it discriminates against people who are unable to retire). These misconceptions need to be corrected as soon and as thoroughly as possible. The money they think of as “theirs” is the property of the United States; this has been unambiguously established in the courts but administrations up until now have been lax in enforcing it.

10. They also have the strange idea that their children are, in some sense, “theirs” to supervise, raise, provide health care for, and educate. This misconception must also be corrected at the earliest possible opportunity. They may be granted temporary custody of certain children (their own biological children – a mere technicality -- or others) at the discretion of the state, but this cannot be confused with any sort of “right”, and poor performance (especially the teaching of wrong ideas) will constitute grounds for immediate termination. (Note that the social service industry has already made great strides on this last point.)

11. Related to the previous item is the need to eliminate all non-public schools (for the middle class – the wealthy will be allowed to keep their private schools open as long as they demonstrate correct thinking on other issues, and continue to support progressive candidates). Church-based schools are in clear violation of separation of church and state, and “home schooling” is a contradiction in terms, since we know that only professionally-trained and certified teachers who are union members are qualified to instruct the next generation of citizens in the proper modes of thought and behavior.

12. Likewise, the middle-class notion of “freedom to seek, or not seek, and to choose, specific medical care providers” has to be thoroughly debunked, as Hillary Clinton pointed out when she proposed her omnibus health care program, which was unfortunately derailed by right-wing fanatics and haters.

13. Likewise, the notion of “freedom to choose one's sources of nutrition” and other consumables like alcohol and tobacco, persists among certain classes. A massive re-education program will be put in place to correct all wrong ideas in this area.

14. Likewise, their notion of “freedom to choose education providers, career tracks, and jobs” will be replaced by assigned training and jobs programs based on the most pressing needs of the people.

15. They are also obsessed with “home ownership” and with owning private cars and other luxury items. The new administration will provide ample public housing and transportation for all citizens, and they will be expected to use it without argument. Resources they currently “own” will be turned over to redistribution agencies for use in the people's interest, e.g. by administration officials and supporters.

16. On the bright side, it can be noted that certain “freedoms”, such as speech, the press, and association, that the middle class formerly valued have been watered down and compromised to the extent that, once officially abolished, they will not be missed. We intend no overt action in this area because to do so might provoke some people to remember when those alleged “freedoms” were actually taken advantage of.

17. Middle-class people are physically incompetent. They can't jump, dance, or run, they have no sense of rhythm, they're afraid of spicy food, and they're lousy in bed. For these reasons and for many others, they interfere with the proper lifestyle that we all strive to enjoy. So they have to go.

18. And finally, they are clearly mentally incompetent, since they can't see that their days are numbered, and they have not taken appropriate action to prevent their extermination. In fact, many of them voted for our candidate. People who are this stupid cannot be allowed to live.

19. Note: In response to objections that “there are, after all, black, Hispanic, Native American, and other 'minority' middle-class people”, this is actually not true. Minorities cannot, by definition, be middle class. When you see what appear to be “middle class minority” citizens, what you are actually seeing is poor people who just happen to have temporarily gotten a slightly larger slice of the pie. (The pie does exist, by the way, contrary to rumors. It is housed in a large building formerly used as a dirigible hanger in Lakehurst, NJ.) But rest assured, they are still all victims of discrimination on all levels, and are entitled to preferential treatment for the foreseeable future.

20. The only significant exception to item 19 is the existence of what appear to be GLBT “middle class” households. This is the most prominent minority that is not defined by race or ethnicity. Discussions are under way as to how to deal with these, and no program or policy decisions should be made for this category until further guidance is provided. (The question being, are they enough of a minority to merit a special exemption from the overall requirement that all citizens be either rich or poor?)

21. Final instruction: Supervisors should pass this out to all subordinates, inviting questions and offering clarifications. Group discussions are authorized. Later additions may be made, but deletions are disallowed. These guidelines will be a non-negotiable element of all developing programs and policies unless otherwise directed.

Up Against the Wall

The residents of Rittenhouse Square, which is apparently the snootiest neighborhood in Philadelphia – probably 'cause it's the only one with no crack houses – is up in arms (figuratively, of course) about a mural which has been designed for a currently blank brick wall in the area. The theme is “justice”, which is fair enough, I guess, although it would be better to call it “poetic justice” and move it into the urban-renewed “ghetto”. But this is precisely the point. Apparently word has gotten out – and who's in charge of these things, anyway? -- that “murals” sponsored by the city are an earmark of bad neighborhoods. And sure enough, when I drive around Pittsburgh all I need to see is one of these overblown pieces of “civic art” (especially the kind with “diversity” themes, which is code for “anything but white”) to realize that I'd better lock my doors and not come to a complete stop at corners. Naturally, the whole business is very awkward because, of course the denizens of the Square are all for supporting the underprivileged and so on, but to have a mark of urban blight right down the street – well, that just won't do. Personally, I give them credit for staying in the city and not moving out to the upper-crust suburbs, which are a different, and much more insidious, form of blight. On the other hand, I would be willing to bet that these folks overwhelmingly voted for Obama. So they really can't complain.

Goodbye Joe, Me Gotta Go

It's amazing to me (well, actually, it isn't) that every time the question, “whither Joe Lieberman”, comes up, no one wants to talk about precisely why he supported McCain rather than Obama, even though the reason is perfectly obvious and Lieberman himself is totally unabashed about admitting it. McCain and his Evangelical/Neocon supporters were rightly considered more reliable “friends of Israel”, in the Bush mold, than was Obama, who has more than a whiff of Islam about him. (And forget that inner-city “Christian” church he attended – those places are more Islamic than most mosques.) Relevant to all of this is another unmentionable issue, which is the uneasy relationship blacks and American Jews have had all these years. For all their mutual empathy in the “let my people go” department, there has been some resentment on the part of blacks at what they perceived as exploitation by Jews, both in business and politically. And Jews, for their part, have come to see blacks as being a bit on the ungrateful side vis-a-vis things like civil rights, affirmative action, and quotas – you know, the “after all we done for you” thing. Overall, they continue to march arm in arm toward a collectivist utopia, but they will always be strange bedfellows – if that is the word. Plus, Democrats and liberals in general are so fickle, and their loyalties so unsure, they could just as easily start to see Palestinians, for example, as even bigger “victims” than Israelis, and that would be very bad news in certain foreign policy circles. So Lieberman – and I give him credit for consistency at least – has chosen to cast his lot with the side that has vowed to fight to the death for Israel, not the side that might or might not, depending on the political winds and whims of the day. The mainstream Democrats, being a bit more relativistic about these things, can't quite grasp this, so are having a hard time figuring out what to “do” with Lieberman at this point.

My 300th Post

OK, I knew, when I started this blog, that I had a bunch of stuff to say about a bunch of things, and that this would be a good outlet – immediate, accessible, amenable to comments and updates, and so on. What I didn't suspect was that I would have quite this much to say about quite this many things... but hey, if I don't say it, who will? (Not to be grandiose or anything, but who else says, or even thinks, a lot of this stuff? Of course, that could also be a sign of insanity... but I prefer to give it a bit higher valuation.) Essentially, my rule of thumb is, “Say the unsayable, think the unthinkable.” And in this age of crushing “political correctness” that is a fairly radical program, especially when you're not consistently aligned with any political party, organization, or “cause”. I like to think of myself as falling in some sort of n-space among libertarianism, paleoconservatism, and traditional Roman Catholicism, with a 60s bohemian twist, a strong sense of irony, and a love of wordplay and hyperbole. What this all adds up to when, for example, one walks into the voting booth is a bit of a conundrum, as I experienced last week. Conservatism, and traditionalism, are certainly steadfast bulwarks against the collectivist fantasies and utopian delusions of our time. And yet some of what constitutes conservatism, or traditionalism, is either a holdover from Puritanism or represents an even more primitive fear of the life force, and life processes. In Reichian theory it's known as “character armoring” or “emotional plague”, and I think our society suffers from way too large a helping of each, even as we fancy ourselves “liberated” (especially in the sexual arena), free thinking, “liberal”, and so on. Scratch the surface of, say, an “abortion rights” activist, or a “tree hugger”, and you're likely to find someone who has a profound hatred for humanity, which includes his (or her) own human nature. The Catholic Church, while far from blind and not in denial about human nature with all its foibles, does believe in improvement and progress toward salvation, but primarily on an individual level. The notion of an earthly socialist utopia that solves all human problems by, basically, wiping out or suppressing all individual differences is completely foreign to the Church – rumors (like “liberation theology”) notwithstanding. There is a difference between obedience and conformity. Obedience has to do with morals, which are supposed to be in synch with, and in fact derived from, Natural Law, which in turn is based on man's real human nature (rather than the one the Marxists ascribe to him). Conformity, on the other hand, involves the suppression of personality, which is one of the things that makes us uniquely human. The Church has always asked for obedience, because it feels that that is the straightest path to salvation, but beyond that there is more room for individual uniqueness and variety than any one person can possibly take advantage of. So if you're looking for a herd of mind-numbed robots, don't peek inside the doors of a Catholic church, go across town and take in a faculty meeting at the local state university, or a party caucus, or a meeting of the local NEA chapter... or, even worse, the Monday morning get-together at the local “social services” agency. That's where you'll find people whose spirit has been crushed by dogma, i.e. of the secular kind, rather than the “religious” kind that turned the citizens of Salem into hallucinating witch-hunting psychos – but with, in many cases, very similar results. It's this sort of thing, and many others, that I'm attempting to point out, shed some light on, and analyze for the benefit of anyone who will listen, but especially for my kids, who might, some day, start wondering what the old man was thinking all that time, and here's their chance to find out as it's happening! I mean, family albums and assorted old letters are nice, but who among us wouldn't love to know how our parents felt about events as they were happening? What insights might they not bring to our attention, that official “history” completely neglects, and that the media of the time were too afraid to deal with? So I hope to be able to cure that problem – at least some of it, while at the same time commenting and theorizing about broader issues.

Of course, no “blog” worth the electrons it's printed on would be complete without a theoretical base. Why search the Internet for the same bland pabulum that you can scoop up by the handful from the MSM any time day or night? There has to be some sort of synthesis going on, by which events are juxtaposed with a certain view of the world, and of humanity, in order to come up with the occasional insight, explanation, theory, speculation... or just a ribald comment, and let it go at that. (Sometimes that's enough to burst the bubble.) And it's not just about current events, it's about how those compare with one's lifetime of experience. When you get to the point where everything that happens has happened at least once before in your lifetime, you kind of feel entitled to comment on the fact. Iraq? Bring up Vietnam. The bailout? Bring up the S&L debacle, and Chrysler. Obama? Bring up Carter. Clinton? Bring up Nero. (OK, that's a stretch.) Of course, no one ever believes that history is really repeating itself, because “this time things are different”. Well, they may be different in significant ways, but they're also the same in significant ways, and that's what requires our attention and analysis. If involvement in the Near East created a “giant sucking sound” of lives and money for the British, the French, and the Russians, what made us think the outcome would be any different for us? If the New Deal served primarily to prolong the Depression, what makes us thing the current bailout will be any different? And then there's just plain old human nature. Behavior that's rewarded tends to persist. What does that say about all the billions in “bonuses” being paid to the robber barons who got us into this mess? On the other hand, behavior that's punished tends to diminish. What does that say about confiscatory tax rates on savings and investment? Laws of economics just follow naturally from laws of human nature. They don't have to be enforced by the government because they enforce themselves, the way gravity does. We can ignore them, and pretend they aren't there, but that will not make them go away, and they are likely to return with a vengeance.

And speaking of “the return of the repressed”, what is the relationship between school shootings and abortion? Some writers think they are very closely linked. When we cease to value the next generation, and see to it that half of it is killed off before it sees the light of day, this seems to make an impression on the “survivors”, and it's not a good one. A teenager drives past an abortion mill, and thinks to himself, there but for the grace of... “whatever”... go I. Yes, his parents might have valued his life enough to let him live, but how about the rest of society, that exterminated half his peers in the womb? Do they care any more about him? And what do they – might they – deserve in exchange for this level of calculating coldness and indifference? Perhaps the school shootings are simply a kind of primitive, instinctive way of saying, and making good on saying, “From those who have little, even that which they do have will be taken away.” An entire generation – two, in fact – cries out from the grave. What happens when someone who feels little self worth but much anger hears those cries?

And far from Bill Clinton's flip assurance that “the era of big government is over”, we have now embarked on the biggest collectivist project since the Cultural Revolution in China. Agriculture, schools and medicine weren't enough, now the government has taken over the banks, the stock market, and the housing market. This isn't “big” government; this is _total_ government. An afternoon in the public library reading about the “achievements” of collectivism in Russia, China, and elsewhere, might have deterred this madness, but... oh wait, I forget, this is one of those cases where “things are different this time”. Except that they aren't, and they won't be. People who thought, a mere few months ago, that an Obama administration would have its collectivist work cut out for it can now relax – the Republicans have already done 90% of the work. All Obama and Co. will have to do is police up the battlefield. (Hopefully, they'll get at least some of the blame for the catastrophe that is sure to follow – that would be “karmically” valid, at least.)

So really, there's never a lack of things to comment on – and, lest anyone think I'm just trying to deliver dogma and iron-clad conclusions from on high, this is not at all the case. Most of my posts represent “work in progress”, i.e. part of the development of a model, or theory, about the way things are. I hope I don't have to press the point that mere facts – i.e. “current events” -- without analysis are basically worthless. We have to know what to make of the facts and events, and in order to do that we have to develop, as we go along, a story or narrative... you know, some causal links, allowing for some randomness here and there as well, and all heavily informed by insights about human nature (psychology, sociology, politics, economics) as well as history. You can throw in the other sciences too, if you like, as appropriate. And of course we can't move an intellectual muscle without some sense of philosophy and theology (other people's as well as our own, I should add).

But it would be a mistake to assume that everything that happens has a coherent, conscious cause and that's it's part of a “plan”, or “program”. There is still much noise in the system. On the other hand, I think people often fail to detect what seem to me to be pretty clear trends, i.e. an accumulation of evidence that says “someone wants this to happen for a reason”. There is also a tendency to think in terms of “unintended consequences” when, in fact, those consequences may be very much intended... or at least when they occur they are found to be of benefit to someone so whatever process yields them up is maintained and kept on course. One of my strategies – as should be clear by now – is trying to detect this and point them out, i.e. to “out” the whole process and, by implication, the people who are responsible for the outcomes and their perpetuation. The main problem with this approach is that it can very readily start edging into what is called “conspiracy theory”, which, in the most generic sense, is the notion that there are no “accidents”... that everything is part of a master plan that was originated at the “highest levels” and is being implemented by mostly low-level serfs who have no idea what the big picture looks like, or even who they work for. The funny thing, though, about this kind of idea is that once in a while it turns out to be exactly right, as in the case of international communism from the Bolshevik revolution up through at least the early 1950s. All you have to do is read Whittaker Chambers' “Witness” to realize that this is exactly how it operated. In other cases, however, this tendency to connect dots can get a bit out of control, as in the relatively benign case of that classic PBS series “Connections”, with James Burke, where some of his so-called “connections” were totally outlandish – or just simply wrong. (But it did make interesting viewing, let's admit.)

But this question too has to do with human nature. My limited observation of psychotics – I mean people who are really crazy, not just a little bit frayed – is that they fall into one of two major types – the ones who make too few connections and the ones who make too many. Different brain wiring? Maybe. The former case would, as an extreme, include catatonia, i.e. total lack of response to the environment on all levels. And the latter case would include the more familiar “paranoid” types, who see connections everywhere, and in most cases take those connections personally, i.e. it's not just one vast conspiracy run out of CIA headquarters, but it's all about _me_. It's this radical egotism that distinguishes the true paranoid type – the need to take everything – every event, world-wide – as personal. Your typical “conspiracy theorist”, it seems to me, takes a somewhat more level-headed approach to things – it's not about them per se, but about a certain group as the target or intended victim... or maybe even the whole country... or the whole human race (if we're talking about hostile UFOs, for example). The main point being, things are not as they seem – or as advertised by the MSM or the various other outlets of the Regime. (A rather solid and consistent premise is that the MSM are, in fact, nothing more than mouthpieces for the Regime – and I think this is pretty much the case. Read on.) And once again, while this can be carried to extremes (And what about competing conspiracy theories? They can't all be right, can they?) there is often more than a grain of truth, especially in retrospect. Why are so many government records “sealed for a hundred years” or some such nonsense? Because they consist of school lunch menus? Not bloody likely. There are secrets out there, and someone is keeping them for a reason. Once in a while the cover gets blown, then we find out, well, that was really no big deal (sexual foibles of leading politicians as carefully chronicled by J. Edgar Hoover might be an example). But sometimes we think, hey, that really was a big deal, and no wonder they kept it covered up until all the people involved were dead. Then we start wondering about, once again, “current events”. Who, or what, killed Vince Foster, just to name a class-B (at best) scandal. Was Monica an Israeli spy? (In which case, they must be awfully hard up for spies over there.) Has Dick Cheney really been running things all this time? (I don't think that one even merits debate. Ahem.) And so on. Now, the extent to which speculations of this kind help to clear up the mystery surrounding current events is a relevant issue. If the mystery simply deepens and becomes less penetrable, that might not be a good thing. Or, it might reflect the underlying reality. The tendency of the MSM -- “Job One” if you will – is to explain everything, to everyone's complete satisfaction, every evening, so we can all go to bed secure in the knowledge that, as insanely bad as things might be, or appear to be, they are basically under control, and that people much wiser than ourselves are at the helm through the night, with unblinking eyes. I mean, think about it. Every news story on TV has, basically, the same structure: “Things are terrible! But it's OK. We'll be right back after this, to scare the crap out of you some more.” So we have engineered and programmed fear, followed by reassurance. This is what the recently-deceased Michael Crichton pointed out in his book “State of Fear” -- that the system (I call it the Regime, as does E. Michael Jones of “Culture Wars”) thrives on – depends on, for its very survival – creating the optimum level of fear and anxiety in the populace, then offering its so-called solutions, answers, “programs”, and various consolations in order to alleviate that fear – but not too much, because there has to be enough fear left over for the next round. (Do I have to mention that Al Gore, if he'd been elected president in 2000, would be an absolute master at this?) In any case, this does, in many instances, seem to be the overall strategy, and certainly all the evidence we can glean from the MSM support it. Once again, the “facts” are not enough – it's what we make of them. And how many individual citizens have the time, inclination, or ability to sort it all out on a daily basis? But turn on the network at 6 PM and it's already been done for you – neatly packaged, a little scary, but not so bad that you'll lose any sleep. And so it goes until 6 PM the next evening, ad infinitum. So is this a “conspiracy” or is it just the easily demonstrable way things work? In either case, once we start to see things in this light our natural tendency is to not just accept “the news” at face value, but to ask, “cui bono?” -- “who benefits?” The financial sector melts down. Oh my, how terrible, whatever shall we do, etc. But “cui bono”? Someone has walked off with a lot of money, and someone else is about to walk off with a whole lot more. Is this an accident or was this the idea all along? Was the whole thing planned from the beginning? And if so, by whom? (And would we recognize their names if we heard them?) The war in Iraq is a debacle and a bottomless pit. But “cui bono?” And the answer is, all sorts of people. The inner cities are pestholes of violence, drug addiction, and idleness. But “cui bono?” It's not that we can always come up with clear answers, but sometimes merely asking the question goes a long way toward clearing up some of the mystery. Surely life in America, at this time, can't possibly be as disorganized, random, chaotic, and folly-ridden as it seems to be. This is not to say that there is one single “master plan”, or one single “Dr. Evil” or master organization overseeing it all. I mean, there might well be, but there doesn't have to be; there are plenty of points on the continuum between utter chaos and total control. And besides, while for each “failed” government program, for instance, we can fairly readily identify people who might not only benefit from the program but also from its chronic failure, can we identify one single interest that clearly benefits from every event – good, bad, or indifferent – that happens to make the news? Can the chaos that we see on a daily basis possibly add up to “the good” for _anybody_, on a consistent basis? Coming up with an answer to that one is above my pay scale, as Obama would say. I think it's more likely that there are “interests” out there, that they keep their agendas and their tactics a secret or at least out of the news most of the time, and that they select certain areas of concentration on which to focus their efforts. Do these various “interests” cooperate? My theory is that yes, they do, up to a point. They at least work out ways to coexist. And there are certain things they are all consistently opposed to, and those can form the basis for cooperation, coordination, and combining resources. But do they all, ultimately, want the same thing? There is no particular reason to think so... except that, again going back to human nature, once you eliminate sex, power, and money, or any combination thereof, you've about run out of motivators for the vast bulk of humanity, especially as it is aggregated into large, secretive, and subversive organizations. But even so, the collectivist dream of a socialist utopia has ranked high as a motivator since at least the days of Rousseau, the Obama administration that is being fleshed out as we speak being only the most recent manifestation. So history does repeat itself, at least in the broad sense. But the “true believers” always have to conceal their agenda, and their priorities, from the plain people, who typically have much more common sense. “Ideas” may be OK, but “ideas plus guns” are a recipe for disaster, as demonstrated so often over the last couple of centuries. And it's not that “the people” don't get sucked into these conceptual maelstroms now and again, but they would never have originated them – for that you need “thinkers”, “eggheads”, “Ivy League tenured professors”, and other such cerebrally-hypertrophied parasites. (Minor footnote: Nietzsche's “Thus Spake Zarathustra” was popular reading by German troops in the trenches during World War I. Those troops, once defeated and back home, formed the core of the Nazi Party.)

So – if you can make anything of this blast of free association – these are among my main goals, ideas, and reasons for continuing this blog. But I wouldn't spend one more instant on it if it weren't a heck of a lot of fun – please be assured, I am smiling the whole time (and no, I'm not living in my parents' basement and subsisting on cold pizza and diet Coke). And dare I admit, making up titles for the posts can be the most fun of all. Beyond concern, and anger, and outrage, and indignation, there is laughter – and in the face of absurdity this is the best weapon of all – and the most intolerable to the powers that be. There is an old German saying, “the Devil can do much, but he cannot sing”. So I say, sing – even if not tunefully – and drown out the forces of darkness that are so threatening in these times.