Thursday, April 30, 2009

That's an Ordure, Soldier!

The first time I read about Obama's reasons for not prosecuting the CIA personnel accused of torturing “terrorist” prisoners, I had an attack of deja vu. The main reason given (aside from “putting the past behind us” -- tell it to Elie Wiesel! -- and “not wanting to divide the country” -- as if the election brought us together!) was that “they were following what they thought were legal orders”. Has anyone asked them what they thought? I seriously doubt it. But as to the deja vu? Why, the trial of Adolf Eichmann, of course! He was also “just following orders”, which were, in fact, perfectly legal according to the established legal system in Germany at that time -- so in that sense he was on firmer ground than our own CIA boys. But this was not considered a sufficient alibi – so his trial proceeded, and he found himself at the end of a hangman's noose, a la Saddam. (In fact, he was hanged by the very same people, for all intents and purposes.) So... if that excuse wasn't good enough for Eichmann, why does Obama think it's good enough for CIA “operatives”? Well, clearly, their offense doesn't belong in the same category... it's hardly a “war crime”... more people die by Tasering every day than have ever died from “waterboarding”... and besides, the CIA didn't just lose a war. That's the main thing. You lose a war, and the victor decides, post facto, what constitutes a “war crime”. If you win a war, then, by definition, you could not possibly have committed any “war crimes”. It's quite simple, really. Of course, Obama did have to do some backtracking on one point. Even if the low-level operatives are off the hook, the people who gave them the impression that what they were doing was legal may not be. This awkward reversal was apparently a concession to the forgotten left wing of the Democratic Party, which is feeling about as unloved as a frat guy's date for a “bowser ball”. They supported him, campaigned for him, and voted for him with the full expectation that, once in office, he would bring out the long knives and many Republican heads would roll, especially those involved with the war in Iraq and the totally bogus “war on terror”. But they forgot – actually they never knew – that there is only one Regime, and it's not going to let any of its good and faithful servants fall to any cuckoo-butt lefty ax. Obama knows this full well; in fact, he knew it way in advance of his election, but that was not the right time to make it generally known – there were, after all, votes at stake. Now that he's in office he has no trouble letting the lefties know, in no uncertain terms, that they've been played for fools again. But he's still going to throw them a bone and “look into the matter” of who declared what legal when, etc. And this will result in precisely zero prosecutions, zero losses of jobs, and zero changes of policy. But at least he can say to his lefty friends, “Well, I tried.”

But hold the phone! Salvation may be at hand in the form of an audacious Spanish judge who has every intention of trying U.S. military and intelligence personnel who were stationed at Guantanamo – and those who issued their orders -- for violation of international law. Well gosh, “those who issued their orders” could include everybody up the line all the way to “W”. That's the appreciation he gets for taking all the trouble to learn Spanish! (Especially when he can barely speak English.) Now, you would think the Democrats, and the Obama administration, would be fully supportive of this, and already preparing extradition papers for “W” and his crew. Not only that, but the judge – Baltasar Garzon – was also a tireless pursuer of Augusto Pinochet, another unsavory character that the State Department had about as much use for as it had for Eichmann (never mind that Pinochet got rid of Allende, the “Jimmy Carter of Chile” -- for which the world owes him at least some grudging respect). And his pursuit of El Augusto set the precedent, with which we heartily agreed (at the time), that “certain serious crimes can be prosecuted anywhere in the world” -- i.e. they don't have to be prosecuted in the country in which they occurred, or in the country in which the perpetrator enjoys citizenship. So the United States could, for example, prosecute a mullah in Mali for the crime of female circumcision. What are we waiting for?

The problem is, well – W and his crew may be fascist, warmongering criminals, but they're _our_ fascist, warmongering criminals, and national pride is going to weigh in as a factor when it comes to actually turning them over to the mercies of an international foreign court. And what if they were found guilty, and sentenced to prison? What would the Secret Service's duties be in that case? Would they have to rent out an adjoining cell? And yet, we're perfectly willing to give up our sovereignty in many other areas to the faceless, gray lumps at the E.U. So it's all very mysterious. One minute we believe in the “one world” notion, and the next minute we're harboring our own war criminals. It's enough to make you think we're “inconsistent” or something.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Through the Looking Glass Darkly – Some More Random Thoughts

I'd like to begin this meditation with a quote:

“There are crackpots with crazy ideas all over the world, and what evidence was I giving that I was not one of them?”

The quote is from Robert Pirsig, author of “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”, and it's contained in a book by Mark Richardson called “Zen and Now: On the Trail of Robert Pirsig and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.” So, to sum up, it's a quote from a book about a book... and it's the author of the book about a book quoting the author of the book. Are we straight on this? But I guess part of the charm of this self-referencing circularity is that it illustrates one of the main themes of the first book, namely Zen, which, in my opinion, is a philosophy much more than a religion. In fact, it's not even a philosophy so much as an anti-philosophy; it's, as much as anything, an attitude, or an approach to the world, and as such (again, in my opinion) it can, potentially, coexist, complement, and enter into symbiosis with other aspects of philosophy as well as with religion. It seems to involve an attitude of what is called “non-striving”... “being here now” (that's from Baba Ram Dass)... “nothing special”... and focusing on what is right in front of one's nose – which someone once called the most difficult thing to do. It stands in gentle opposition to the compulsion to always have our mind on something else -- something besides what we're doing, somewhere besides where we are; someone other than who we're with. It's in opposition to the chronic striving and dissatisfaction, therefore the constant frustration, that infects many people, and is particularly exemplified in good old American middle class ambition and boosterism. And in this it's not really all so different from various forms of Christian meditation and the notion of acceptance – not of the despairing type that characterizes much of what is called Existentialism, but of the type that believes in Divine Providence. Are pain and suffering, for example, merely absurd and meaningless, or are they – can they be taken as – providential, as opportunities for spiritual growth as well as for sacrifice (“making holy”) in reparation for our sins and the sins of others? What, in other words, do we “make” of pain and suffering? It's easy enough to accept good things – the bounty of the earth, friendship, families... we don't question the “why” of such things. We only ask “why” when things go wrong – and how many priests and ministers have stood up at a grave site and attempted to answer that question and provide some consolation to those present? This is not only the great philosophical challenge; it may, in fact, have been the origin of philosophy itself. And every religion, or school of philosophy, provides an answer of some sort – either that or no answer at all, which is also an answer. And for the individual, the choice is always between absurdity and meaning – between seeing oneself as a passive victim vs. attempting to give structure, and definition, to one's experience. Does life “go better” with meaning? The psychologist Viktor Frankl thought that it did – in fact, he considered the will to meaning to be a significant survival mechanism.

So the first book – i.e. the one by Pirsig – attempted to, among many other things, relate the concept of Zen, i.e. of immediacy and focus, to something most of us would consider just about the least philosophical activity of all, namely the maintenance of a fast, loud, and dangerous motor vehicle. But he successfully calls to mind an old chestnut that people would not consider a typical Zen tenet -- “Anything worth doing is worth doing well.” (To which some wag responded, “Anything worth doing is worth doing badly.” I imagine the Zen answer would be yes to both.) An equally important theme in the Pirsig book is that of Quality – and it's easy to see the interface between the Zen idea and the Quality idea. We can better perceive, and appreciate, the quality (in the sense of merit or value) of something if we take a calm, unhurried approach to its consideration. And, we can, in a sense, add quality, or value, to things by giving them the proper sort of attention. (This is a recurrent theme – or issue – in the philosophy of art. Does the “quality” of a work come only from the work itself, i.e. from the artist, or does it come from the “appreciation” of the work, or from some symbiosis of the two?)

An interesting thing about the Pirsig book, from the social history point of view, is that it has always been considered a kind of “hippie book” -- you know, the man who travels far and wide in search of the Truth, etc. This, despite the fact that it was published in 1974, well after the hippie wave had crested and we were well on our way to the next era – that of “Disco” (with its attendant lime-green double knit leisure suits and other cultural enormities). But here, at least, was a home-grown philosopher who had made The Great American Road Trip in the spirit of Jack Kerouac... who was an intellectual but not a mainstream academic... who had had a run-in with the psychiatry racket (I call it the “Ministry of Sanity”)... and who was, at once, insightful and profound but also uncertain and not entirely coherent. An ideal American “type” for that time and place, in other words. If his book was, in a sense, still a work in progress at the time it was published, it's because _he_ was still a work in progress at that point – and still is, for all I know. And the extent to which his view of things trickled down into the culture at large was, I'm guessing, not great; he was dealing in concepts that were simply too counter-cultural – i.e. they were opposed to the dominant culture as well as to the “conventional counter culture” of that time (you know, on the protest sign or bumper sticker level). As he well knew, everyone is too involved, too restless, too dissatisfied with things as they are. But still, he reserved the right to see things as he saw them, and to critique the larger culture for its manifest muddled frenzy.

The second book – very briefly – is an attempt to, in a way, “channel” the first book, and/or its author, by following his footsteps (OK, tire tracks) across the country as one of a well-established and ongoing group of “Zen pilgrims”. Isn't this the American way, though! Do what The Great Man did – go through the same motions – follow the same trails – and you might wind up with Understanding. But as some sage once put it: “Don't be me! Be you!” And frankly, isn't the experience of others – even of the wisest – impacted, given flavor and tone, and even corrupted, by “accidents” of their own specific lives? How much of what they taught is really their own baggage? This is always a challenge when trying to sort out things said, or written, by “wise men” -- especially the wise men of the hippie era, who were, as often as not, prisoners of their own subjectivity (not to mention lusts and substance dependencies). So whenever I read literature – from this era in particular -- I think things like, do I have to worry about that broken engagement when he was 22? About his attack of smallpox? About his run-ins with the local political strongman? There is always a translation problem – from “there and then”, and that person, to “here and now” and me. But I also feel that, when it comes to philosophy, especially of the “popular” type, the motto should be “If the shoe fits, wear it.” People can talk to us across the centuries without even intending to at times... and wisdom is where you find it, etc. So the idea is to remain open, but not make a fetish out of anything or anybody, the way Richardson kind of did with Persig. (And I'm not saying that Richardson was not better off for having made the journey; he apparently was. But there is no reason to recommend that as a one-size-fits-all formula.)

Now, what does all of this have to do with... anything, in fact? And why did I offer that quotation at the beginning? Simply because there is, for anyone engaged in inquiry of any sort, a constant struggle to find the right “focal length” (and also depth of field, for you camera buffs). One could, of course, if one were so inclined, emulate the stereotypical sage sitting in the Zen garden and meditating on (or upon, or both) a single smooth rock. That might, in fact, be the most philosophically sound activity it is possible to engage in. But this takes – needless to say – a certain type of person, and few of us are that type, or could be, even after great exertions (which would be very non-Zen in any case, so the situation is truly hopeless). Well then, how about basing one's philosophy on the sum total of all observables? Sounds easy – but whole libraries have been written on how one is to know that something – anything – is real, is “the case” -- not to mention the problem of assigning, to say nothing of proving, causal connections. Is a world of unconnected facts that only appear to be connected any more to be preferred than the world of the single rock? This is why people seldom stop at that point.

They might then want to explore the – also observable – inner workings of that which they observed in the first place, and posit causal connections and processes; this is what is called “science”. Or, they might go off in another direction and explore the process of acquiring knowledge, and speculate on the meaning, or significance, of both what is observed and what can only be inferred; these are some aspects of what is called “philosophy”. Or, they might prefer to relate their observations and inferences to the world of the spiritual and immaterial, in which case they might be doing “theology”. Now these are all respectable academic disciplines, and they have at least one thing in common, which is what is called “model building”. You have a number of facts at your disposal, and some notion as to how those facts might be interrelated (conceptually, physically, chemically, spiritually, whatever). You don't have enough facts, or connections, to, as yet, flesh out a theory about what is going on... but you'd like to, nonetheless, establish a framework to guide further inquiry, and into which additional data or ideas can be placed. So you come up with a “model”, which you fully expect is not the ultimate theory, or matrix, or blueprint... but it's convenient and helpful, and will do until something better comes along, as long as one avoids the danger of confusing it with reality and insisting that new information must fit into it (rather than adjusting it to account for the new information).

Now, here's the point. The vast bulk of humanity is not, by any stretch of the imagination, scientists in the strict sense, or philosophers, or theologians. But they are nearly all model builders – i.e. they have a natural tendency to come up with notions about the way things are, how things work, and why. This has, in fact, been described as a natural, almost instinctive trait of the human species, and I'm inclined to agree. And the marvelous thing about so many of these models is that they are valued to the extent that they “work”, even if they are wildly “wrong” according to more disciplined criteria. Think about primitive peoples and their amazing variety of “theories” about natural phenomena – plants, animals, the weather – reproduction – illness and medicine – nutrition – and so on. It's all about what connects with what – or what seems to. And that's the point. If the theory works, it stays in the body of collective tribal knowledge. If it no longer works, or is replaced by something better, it eventually goes away – although this may take a while... many generations, in fact. (Think about political theories in the West. Think about Marxism!) So yes, it is “man the builder” to some extent, but even more it is “man the model builder”.

Now, this is at the societal level – the pragmatic, survival level, if you will. But clearly individuals build models as well, usually with the help of, and with reference to, the group model, but occasionally one will go off on their own and, in effect, found a new “school” of philosophy, or science, or theology, with a single person as both teacher and student – themselves. And in some cases, their one-man schoolhouse may expand and become a real school, or religion, or branch of science, or maybe a cult. (A “cult” is what we call a point of view, or area of interest, held by a small minority with whom we do not agree.) (And, oh yes, they must seem to be slightly subversive or dangerous. This is why Chicago Cubs fans are not considered a cult, even though they meet all the other criteria.) In fact, there are even words for the one-man cult – so as not to leave anyone out. The words are “crank” and “crackpot”, as in:

“There are crackpots with crazy ideas all over the world, and what evidence was I giving that I was not one of them?”

Why, here we are back at that quote! And Pirsig's existential dilemma at that point was that he felt – and rightly so – like a minority of one, in his views about many things... and it wasn't just because he was stuck teaching at a state school in Montana, although I'm sure that helped. And when you find yourself a minority of one, you start to wonder – maybe there's a reason. Unity of vision, and unity of purpose, are more common among sane people than among the insane; one of the risks of insanity is that of a great existential loneliness. But was Persig insane? Some of his family, friends, and colleagues thought so. But the issues he was concerned with do have a certain universality. And the most important issues were – so he felt – the most neglected. Like that issue of Quality. But what is “quality”? Well, that's part of the issue, isn't it? Everyone knows what it is – or thinks he knows. But not everyone agrees. So he started to feel a bit stressed out, hence the motorcycle, and the road trip, etc. I'm sure we can all relate to that on some level. Plus, ironically, even a successful crank or crackpot – one who, say, starts a new religion and becomes rich – is no less a crank or crackpot just because he succeeds. And conversely, even if a man remains a minority of one, if he's right he's right. The truth is not subject to popular vote, no matter what the Democrats say. Much better to fall back on the utility argument than go by success, I would say. And what is “utility” if we're not talking about things with objective criteria for success – like a model for how to hunt deer, for example? I think most people – those who are “into ideas” -- would say that utility, roughly, equals explanatory power. But what does it mean to “explain” something in this sense? It means that our model – as far as we've developed it up to that time – fits many, if not all, of the known facts, and does not blatantly contradict any of them. But, let's admit, the model also has certain premises built into it as to things like human nature. So we tend to interpret the “facts” according to what we know, or think we know, about the way people are, and the way they operate, in the more general sense. These don't have to be “universal”, like some kind of reflex – only in accord with the known, or suspected, nature and motives of the class, or classes, of people we are discussing. So if I'm speculating about the motivations of the Food and Drug Administration, for example, I might not feel any need to bring in anthropological data about African witch doctors. On the other hand, I might! So there are a lot of judgment calls in this business.

Thus, the perennial dilemma of the man who deeply cares about things that most other people barely perceive, or think about. It may make him a bit of an oddity, but does it make him a crank, or insane? Not necessarily. Let's say a few people – a small academic or artistic coterie – agree that his concerns are worthy of attention and investigation. And let's say that they are relatively well-adjusted to their social milieu. Then we can say that he's probably onto something, but it is likely to remain rarefied, and esoteric, and he'll never make any money at it. That's fine; knowledge is its own reward, as is insight. But then some other issues arise. One is that of the “mainstream” vs. all that is not. And there is a natural tendency, on the part of most people, to assume that whatever is “mainstream” is more likely to be correct – a sort of implicit process of natural selection of ideas. The only problem with this is that we see, historically, how the “mainstream” has shifted – often drastically – over time. This may be most dramatically illustrated in the case of medicine, but it's also true of history, economics... even the so-called “hard sciences” in some cases.

Corollary to the somewhat authoritarian faith in the “mainstream” is the notion that today's conventional wisdom is superior to that of any previous era – call this the “illusion of progress”. In fact – again, historically – there are plenty of examples to be had where a given discipline experienced regression, i.e. where its practitioners were actually more ignorant than those of a previous generation. Then there's the simplistic notion that when it comes to the really important issues – like “global warming”, for example -- the issue has been settled, and anyone who persists in disagreeing can safely be labeled a crank or crackpot. But again, this can be fairly easily demonstrated to be false. And when politics get involved, it is most assuredly not the case.

Now let's have a look across the broad spectrum of knowledge, or alleged knowledge. Heaven knows, there are enough controversies in the “hard sciences” -- and when it comes to “the arts”, it's a wonder that fistfights don't break out more often. But if you want to really descend into chaos... well, start with history. Then, if you dare, wade into economics. But for the truly fearless, there is nothing like “current events”. This is an area where the ratio of “information” over actual facts is stunningly high – and, seemingly, getting higher every day. And why is this? It's because there is no area of collective life where there are so many vested interests – or conflicts of interest. And this is based on the fact that nearly all political debates boil down to economics – and as an economist friend of mine commented recently, “People hate economics because it says that in order to get one thing you have to give up something else.” (He was talking about real economics, not the political kind that says you can have as much of anything you want forever, and never have to worry about paying for it. People _love_ that brand of “economics”.) So in a situation where there is much to be gained or lost, information is at a premium, and the truth (assuming it exists at all) is at an even greater premium. We have to distinguish, of course, between “political truth” -- i.e. the truth (so-called) of the moment – and the kind that is a bit more lasting, and that corresponds to what has traditionally been thought of as “the truth”. It is commonly said that politicians are master manipulators of the truth – but this isn't quite right. What they are master manipulators of is “information” -- but what connection that has with the truth is an entirely different matter. Now, some people will say – perhaps with a cynical tone – that the “truth” doesn't matter in politics anyway – all that matters is what people believe, or want to believe, at any given moment. And that's – um – true, in a limited way. But it is funny how, time and time again, the real facts tend to bubble up, and go prowling about the world, seeking whom they can devour. Politicians can cover up, but they're not quite so good at covering up the cover-up, and so on. Every once in a while a glimmer of light breaks through the smoke screen, and then we get a brief glimpse of what is (or may be) actually going on, before the clouds converge again.

And this brings us back to levels of knowledge, and levels of inquiry. The Zen master contemplating the rock knows that other things exist, but he is content with his rock. That rock has sufficient “thingness”, “suchness”, “here-and-now-ness”, to satisfy all of his meditative needs. But the guy next door has a different focal length. He wants to take in, and account for, more of the world – which means that he needs, for starters, a more elaborate model. And as one's focal length expands, the models one needs to deal with all the data that come pouring in get more and complex and, ultimately, unwieldy – so at point that most people (with a few exceptions, like Isaac Asimov) draw back and become “specialists” of some sort. Thus we have a division of labor when it comes to knowledge, facts, models, theories. But there's another factor as well, and here's where it gets curious. No one ever criticizes the historian, economist, philosopher, scientist, or theologian for wanting to get “deeper” into the subject matter they have chosen – in fact, it's considered a mark of merit, even more than how “broad” one is, to have gone “deeper” into it than anyone else. Thus, even in the top ranks of something like physics, you have specialties and areas of emphasis, and they generally defer to one another whenever appropriate; anyone in the field can readily name “the world's expert” in a given specialty – or at least the handful of top experts.

Historians, philosophers, and social scientists tend to be a bit more grandiose, and start to think that their findings and insights in one area are readily translatable, and transferable, to other areas. Thus we have the B.F. Skinner syndrome; his scientific techniques were innovative and impeccable, but he had no problem at all leaping from findings on rats and pigeons to speculating about what motivated human beings and – even worse – how human society ought to be designed. Historians tend to study people, and societies, of the past as if they were just like us (psychologically) – which is manifestly untrue, but it makes things simpler. And no one has to worry about a historian from 2,000 years ago making those assumptions about us... so the game is clearly tilted in favor of “here, now, and us-ism”. The best historians, however, avoid this error, and wind up doing much better history as a result. Social scientists, on the other hand, are only concerned with the here and now, but make a similar error in that they assume the distribution of human talents, motivations, and pathologies that they observe in today's society is normal and natural, and that people have always been this way, so why question it? In other words, they take too much as given, and wind up asking too few questions instead of too many. There are even similar flaws in medical research, as far as that goes. And when it comes to psychology -- well! Today's pathology was yesterday's normalcy, and vice versa. (This is what R. D. Laing referred to as "the politics of experience".)

So, as I said, no one ever criticizes the historian, economist, philosopher, scientist, or theologian for wanting to get “deeper” into the subject matter they have chosen. In fact, if they're content with just the “top layer” of observations, they're considered to be superficial, underachievers, hacks (no matter how many books they sell to a gullible public, or how many “chairs” they occupy in large universities). But! The minute anyone tries to go deeper into current events, and analyze the real motives, and the real agendas, behind what appears in the “news”, he is accused of... yeah, you got it... being a crank, a crackpot, a conspiracy theorist, paranoid, and -- the latest term, right off the press at DHS -- a “potential terrorist”.

And why is this? Well, again, it's a matter of vested interests – economic, social, racial and ethnic pride and self-image, and suchlike. The “information” disseminated by the media is designed to convey just the right amount – not too much, not too little – of fear, anxiety, and insecurity... and then, in the same spoonful, just the right amount of reassurance and consolation. To break through that barrier – through that delicately constructed and balanced facade – is a threat, not only to the media and their masters, but also to the people who believe in, and rely on, the media to, basically, tell them all they need to know about the world – their world – on any given day, at any given moment. The media are spinning instant myths, by the thousand, 24 hours a day, and some of them will be “just the thing” for any given person – they will latch on to those stories the way pollen latches on to a pistil. And just try and convince them that they've been conned (again)! They will not welcome the news, and you're likely to get a good thrashing for your trouble. (The worst thing you can tell a prisoner of the mind is not that he's in jail, but that the door isn't even locked.) So, in sum, it's the very superficiality of the media, and of that which they disseminate, that is of the essence. If one starts to probe, and explore, the game is threatened, and defensive action is taken. And a major part of this defense is not violent retribution so much as what I call “alienation” -- i.e., turning the questioner, the skeptic, into a crank or crackpot in the eyes of everyone else. So the media and the “crank” stand on the same field of battle, each pointing a finger at the other and shouting, “The truth is not in him.” But the “crank” is only one person, after all, and... don't we have a “spirit of democracy” in this country? Isn't the majority always right, by definition? Or, at the very least, it stands a better than even chance of being right. Plus, the “crank” is clearly (according to the media) “not our kind” -- marginal, oddly dressed, poorly groomed, talks funny, a “loner”... you know the litany. He's just the opposite of the slick, perfumed, perfectly-groomed and coiffed princes in Congress and the business world, in fact – so why listen to him? In fact, it would be a public service to shut him up.

So the dice are thoroughly loaded in favor of the media, and those they facilitate, being able to maintain a superficial level of dialog and discussion that would be considered ridiculous in any other area of life. And this puts the person who wants to “dig” a bit at a distinct disadvantage... and the disadvantage increases in proportion to the depth of the digging. If you're willing to stick with the media's fairy tales about current events, you'll get along fine – you won't be shunned around the water cooler, you'll be invited to luncheons and parties, asked to coach Little League... you know, all those marks of bourgeois acceptance for which the only price is voluntary, self-imposed brain death. Show yourself as a bit of a skeptic, or cynic, or “independent”, and you may get into the occasional heated discussion but it will never come to blows – and your social life may erode a bit, but it won't entirely disappear. At worst, you'll be known as “opinionated”. But dig a little deeper – and keep those around you updated on the progress of your digging – and those around you are likely to be... well, not around you any more. Suddenly you have become what, in current foreign-policy parlance, is called an “existential threat” -- not threatening other people's physical existence so much – that's easy to deal with, you just call “security” -- but threatening what I call their philosophical existence – their epistemology and their metaphysics.

Wait a second. What?? Most people don't even _have_ an “epistemology” or a “metaphysics” -- or, if they do, they don't know it and don't care. But this is not correct; they do know, and they do care. A person's epistemology, in the non-academic philosophical sense, is basically their sense of how they know things – and also, how do they know they know? They find things out, for example, from their parents first, then their (usually public) school teachers, and the media, and college professors and textbooks, and then... well, then they generally quit finding things out, except for the fact that they are wedded to the media, i.e. to the organs of the Regime, which means that, from that point on, they will only “know” what the Regime wants them to “know” -- no more and no less. (And don't be fooled by the alleged “diversity”, “fairness”, and “balance” of the mainstream media – they are basically all shoveling the same load of stuff in the same way, day after day, and the “differences” only exist to reassure people that there _are_ differences, and that they have a choice. Even the most abject conformist doesn't like to think that he's conforming on all counts.)

As for “metaphysics”, again in the non-academic sense, that's another word for the truth – the real truth. The way things are, or “that which is the case”. It can also mean “that which is important”, i.e. a subset of the facts. Nothing too mysterious about this, except – how do we determine what is the case? Through a process of inquiry, and that gets us back to the epistemological question, and... see above. “Rinse and repeat”. It is, for most people, an endless circle of deception and delusion – which is why they cling to it all the more fervently. On some level, they realize that it's all a myth, a house of cards... but it's all they've got, and woe unto the one who attempts to wean them away and “detox” them.

So, it can be said with some degree of confidence – and there are plenty of “media critics” out there who do, on a regular basis – that, although the American public is not “brainwashed” to the extent that, say, the citizens of China under Mao were – or that the citizens of North Korea are today – it, ultimately, amounts to the same thing, because even though there are allowable differences of opinion at the margins, the basic premises are never presented as anything but absolutes – i.e. they are not to be questioned. Another way of putting it is that, even though Americans can enter into open debates about relatively trivial differences concerning the facts, their epistemology and metaphysics are cast in concrete – and is the latter that “count”, when issues of real, profound change are concerned. Without what is called a quantum shift, or a sea change, or a seismic shift, in these factors, nothing of any consequence is going to change in this society.

But there's nothing unique about our society in this respect. It is, sadly, the baseline of human societies down through the ages, and ours is no exception – in fact, it's the same thing but writ large through the media and the plethora of “information”, which is anything but. Information theorists speak of a “signal to noise ratio”, which is another way of expressing the proportion of truth vs. lies and propaganda. Can anyone doubt that this ratio is abysmally low in our time? We have an “information explosion”, thanks to the media and the Internet, but a paucity of truth, and all of the “fact-finding” commissions on earth can't make a dent, since the “facts” are the one thing they fear the most. Or, rather, what they fear is that the facts might be revealed to any but a select few. So the vast bulk of what we take to be “information” is just so much stuffing. What if you received a package in the mail that contained nothing but packing material, but no “thing”? And yet when we read, or hear, or watch “the news”, that's exactly what we're getting – a bunch of shredded nonsense and nothing worth keeping. But that is the lifeblood of the Regime, as I call it – and the ignorance doesn't stop with the “street people” or the complacent middle class – it goes way up the ladder and even to what we think of as the “top” (e.g., certain presidents who will remain nameless). And yet it seems as though there must be someone “up there” who really understands what's going on, and is able to manipulate events at will – not with complete success, but “good enough for government work”, as the saying goes. And shame on anyone who wants to lay an ax to the root of the tree – they are deluded, obviously... “paranoid”... and aren't we all in the same boat?

So – to return to the “depth of field” problem. How deep do we dig? And, more importantly, how deep can we dig before the picture becomes hopelessly fragmented and pixilated, and no longer adds up to anything on a conceptual level? One example is the popular “ad hominem” approach, by which we judge, for example, the soundness of a given foreign policy according to the quality of the toilet training of the secretary of State. (Sound ridiculous? There are libraries full of books based on arguments of just this sort.) Then we have what I call the “helplessly buffeted by the winds of fate” approach, by which human beings, and politicians in particular, are just unthinking cogs in a much larger historical machine, that rumbles on of its own accord regardless of any individual human action. Then there is the opposite theory, that of the “great man”, by which history is determined, by and large, by the actions of certain key individuals, without whom things would have been markedly different. And there are many other approaches as well... and, guess what, the one that I prefer is the one that basically says, if a given historical event looks like the result of some great historical movement or cycle, it probably is. If it looks more like the result of the actions of a single individual (given that he has considerable persuasive powers), it probably is. And, if it looks like it's all the aggregate of the separate psychological states of the people involved... it probably is, at least to some extent. And of course, most events will be the sum of interactions among these three, plus other factors as well. Now, this approach is not designed to “simplify” anything, needless to say. In fact, it more or less guarantees that things will remain intractably complex. But in this case as in many others, when realism comes into conflict with parsimony, I tend to opt for realism.

But wait! There's more! The “historical movement”, “great man”, and “psychological” models – and their synthesis (notional, I admit) – still only deals with surface phenomena most of the time, i.e. with “facts” and events that most people can agree really did occur. But I don't think that's enough – and this is where I part company, on a permanent basis, with the media, our “leaders”, politicians, most academics, and everyone else who seems to, somehow, mysteriously, receive the same talking points on a daily basis from the same source. Every once in a while an event occurs, that – as one commentator said – reveals, like a flash of lightning on a dark night, what is really going on – or at least what is going on one layer below the surface. And even this one-layer-down level of inquiry is anathema as far as the media are concerned. Now, you might say, but what about “investigative reporting”, and all these committees, and inquiries, and investigations, and “special counsels”, and so on? Sorry – no dice. These are all designed to _appear_ to be “looking into things”, but their job is, in nearly all cases, to come back with “findings” that will reassure the public that there is, indeed, no “story behind the story”, and that everyone should just relax. They are engaged, in other words, in cover-ups. (Imagine the small-town cop in any old movie saying, “Nothing more to see here, folks – you might just as well go home.”) What you will find is that, in every case where someone is persistent enough to dig up some real “pay dirt”, he is ruthlessly attacked from every angle by the Regime and its media slaves. So yes, beneath the calm, reassuring voice of "Uncle Walter" Cronkite saying, “And that's the way it is”, is a deadly hive primed to attack anyone who contends that “That's the way it isn't”. And of course, it is the very vehemence of these attacks that convinces anyone who is the least bit skeptical – let alone a die-hard “conspiracy theorist” -- that something's up. Surely attacks of this magnitude would not be mounted simply on the basis of a person being wrong. The threat to the Regime is that they are _right_ – and that they won't shut up about it. And what we're seeing now – e.g. from the Department of Homeland Security – is an expansion of the definition of “threat” to include anyone who openly questions the party line on... well, just about anything.

So the question is not one of whether to dig – for “dig we must”, as they say in New York City, if we're to get closer to the truth and be anything but mind-numbed serfs. The more important questions are, how far to dig, and how to know when we've dug far enough – or too far. And, if you want to get “metaphysical” about it, there is also the question of how many distinct “layers of truth” there are to each issue, or question. We might be somewhat satisfied with the information that we come up with at one level, but we're certain that there's more. And there probably is more, but at what point to we begin to encounter diminishing returns – and how do we know? That's the aggravating question. Sooner or later, we're going to have to quit worrying about providing evidence to others that we're not crazy, and start worrying about providing that evidence to ourselves. And it is apparently true that “conspiracy theorists”, so-called, love nothing more than to wallow in conspiracies – and the deeper, the more complex, and the more vast, the better. Sooner or later, someone's likely to ask, does it even matter? Isn't it more important to simply live? But that gets us back to the guru and the rock. Yes, “simply living” is enough for many people, and more power to them. But they still have a problem. They have to, for example, live somewhere – in some society – either this one or some other. And they may be called on to, from time to time, go through the charade of voting, or at least asked their opinion about some political matter... and is their answer going to be, “Don't bother me; I've got my rock”? It seems like current events almost force one to adopt, at least on a tentative basis, some sort of model, subject to update as often as need be, as to what is really going on and why. I, at least, would feel like a total airhead if I didn't at least have a few “theories” kicking around. But at the same time, I'm perfectly aware of the risks involved, as discussed above. I can get on the Internet at any time day or night and start “digging” into a given issue, or event... and as I descend deeper and deeper into the “conspiracy mine” my response pattern goes through a fairly predictable sequence. To begin with, it's “Well, that's just propaganda – there's obviously much more to it than that. It's just a cover-up.” (That would be a response to the MSNBC version.) Then it's “OK, this guy is a bit more skeptical, but he still doesn't quite get it; he's still way too invested in conventional attitudes, values, the stuff he learned in school, etc.” (Rush Limbaugh.) Then (with any luck) it's, “Aha! Finally someone who isn't afraid of the truth! This makes a lot more sense than anything I've read so far.” (Any good issue of The American Conservative.)

It would be easy enough to quit right there – at that delicate balance point of optimum satisfaction. But one is occasionally compelled to probe deeper. And then the reaction is likely to be: “Yeah, well... cold be, but I think he's giving the Regime (Establishment, whatever) a bit more credit than it's entitled to. They're only made up of fallible human beings, after all – not all-knowing, all-powerful, demigods.” (Some stuff in Culture Wars.) And then, “OK, this guy's gone totally off the deep end. If he's right, the whole world is absurd and nothing means anything.” (Some of the conspiracy sites, and anything ever written by Lyndon LaRouche.) And then... well, who knows how many more layers there are? When I get down to this level the bed starts looking awfully good. But here's the point. We each choose our own ideal, optimal level of inquiry – into anything. And, of course, our optimal level of inquiry varies according to the thing, or issue, in question. (Who was it who said, “A man will propose marriage in dimmer light than he would require to select a necktie.”) But whatever level we choose will represent, for us, the truth – or at least the proper focal point at which the truth is to be found (assuming we have the energy or inclination to persist in the task). Other levels may be of interest – the adjoining levels, for example (this is the “depth of field” dimension) – but we will more or less take our stand at our generally-preferred level... and even if we suspect there is “more to it”, we will choose (not be forced, note) to remain more or less satisfied where we are. Thus, you can step onto any city bus and you'll wind up sitting with people who are perfectly happy with the mainstream media version of things... with people who are more into the “in-depth” level of analysis... the marginal conspiracy theorist... the hard-core conspiracy theorist... and the guy who fell through the looking-glass and never looked back. And I'm not going to sit here and judge any of these positions – only say that the one I have carved out for myself works for me because it explains more of the phenomena I observe, and more of the (observed or inferred) causal connections, than the alternatives do... and it doesn't make me feel totally crazy.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Class Dismissed

It's amazing how the terms of reference change on a daily basis during these times. Of course, the battlefield is already littered with the bloated, decaying corpses of all of Obama's promises – his “hope” and “change” -- but none of this is the least bit surprising to the realists among us. Anyone who really and truly expected him to disentangle us from Iraq and Afghanistan, for example, was smoking much stronger stuff than anything I've ever been able to find, that's for sure. And as to the economy – well, Obama did have the advantage of taking the baton from the Republicans and thus enjoying a honeymoon of blamelessness. And that blamelessness is still more or less in effect, except that it's starting to wear thin with all the false starts, dithering, about-faces, exposures of cronyism, manifest cluelessness, etc., as well as the government's absolute impotence in the face of the cleverness and greed of those in the business world, as exemplified by the daily bonus scandals. As far as the middle class is concerned, well... they entrusted some of their money to the business community, and it's gone up in smoke. And the rest was confiscated by the government, and it has also gone up in smoke. And as for the illusion that our currency has any intrinsic value – it doesn't! It can be inflated, deflated, and manipulated at the whim of the Federal Reserve, the Treasury Department, the bankers, international currency speculators... just about anyone, in fact. Looking at the situation from the “ten-mile-up perspective”, it would seem that what we call “money” is, ultimately, a con. It's a way of “compensating” people for working many more hours a week than they would have to if they were only concerned with survival and a decent living for themselves and their dependents. What is (or was) called “savings” and “investment” was basically a massive wealth-transfer operation in disguise. But now the disguise has been removed, with a flourish, and – shazam! -- it turns out that all those people you entrusted your “savings” and “investments” to traded your money for goods and services for themselves (or for hard currency, i.e. some other country's) and left you with a bunch of worthless paper. Before, you saw it; now, you don't. But what did you really “see”? An illusion, basically. All of that “gain” on your investments never really existed – it was just ink on paper. “Gain” -- “appreciation” -- “return” -- these were all illusions. The real money was being made by the people running the system, not by the slobs who were conned into putting their own money into it. Oh sure, a few regular people had to make out in order to draw others into the game – this is what pyramid schemes are all about. Every investor had to know someone with a place in Palm Beach and a yacht, who retired at age 35, because they invested with Bernie Madoff, or some other sharp dealer.

But really, what were the alternatives? One alternative would have been to keep one's money in nothing but tangible, at least semi-liquid, goods -- but that's difficult, time-consuming, and requires quite a bit of dodging, because it's the very thing the government, i.e. the Regime, fears the most -- that people will turn up their nose at all that paper and save wealth in more traditional ways. Another alternative -- call it the “Atlas Shrugged” alternative – would have been to starve the government (and its cronies in the business world) by staying poor, i.e. by making no more than what would cover the basic necessities. This is the way the vast bulk of humanity has lived anyway, since the beginning of historical time. The few who didn't live that way put their money into things that were real – things like precious metals, gems, art, houses, livestock, arable land, racehorses, etc. Call it primitive, old-fashioned, Medieval, whatever – it worked. But then, along with democracy, came the middle class, and along with them came trade, commerce, currency, banks... and the Protestant ethic, which says that one should “save for a rainy day”, and also that it's considered tacky and in bad taste to spend all of your excess on “stuff” (but try telling that to some of the McMansion owners in Great Falls, Virginia). So they looked around frantically for “places to put their money” in order to make it “work”, i.e. earn interest, so that they would wind up even better off than they started. But all that middle-class, “kulak” wealth attracted the leering eye of the people who were running the system, and, being much more clever fellows than any mere bourgeois, they started to device schemes and scams by which the middle class could be, first, turned into an unwitting cash cow for the Regime, and, secondly, ultimately eliminated. And this process, mind you, has been going on for many decades. Some of the highlights (not necessarily in chronological order) include: the issuance of paper currency; the establishment of the Federal Reserve; the creation of publicly-held stocks; the creation of savings accounts; the demonetization of first gold, then silver; the establishment of the income tax (with the taxes on interest and capital gains being of particular note); planned inflation; "free trade"; foreign aid; and the establishment of perpetual war as the cornerstone of our foreign policy. And this was even before the government got into the mortgage, student loan, etc. business – and way before the current era of government backing up bad debts incurred by any and all banks, large businesses, mortgage companies, insurance companies, and so on. Concurrently with all the above, we had inflation of entitlements, beginning with Social Security. But, one might ask, aren't entitlements the way the government gives money back to the middle class (among others)? And the answer is, they collect much more than they give back, so it's more like a protection racket.

What makes the current phase of this process unique is that the Regime is, at long last, and for reasons of its own, killing the golden goose. It has bled the middle class white (no pun intended!) for many decades, with barely a peep of protest from the people who have been impacted the most. But the illusion of being, and remaining, middle class, has been fostered and encouraged -- it has become, like so much else in the declining days of a society, a fetish. Nowadays, all politicians can talk about is “protecting” the middle class, which is a sure sign that it's about to be exterminated. You can always tell, when a given group is singled out as needing special attention, that its days are numbered. Now, why they have chosen to do this now, and in this particular fashion, is something I really don't have the answer to. Surely, as a cash cow of many decades' standing, the middle class has been of value to the Regime... their willingness to be sheared on a regular basis is legendary... their eager cooperation in their own exploitation is likewise legendary... their “reliability” at the polls has served to prop up the "voting" fetish, and keep the Regime in total control, for many years... they have served as a kind of buffer between the rich and the poor, between the controllers and the underclass... a kind of social laughingstock/scapegoat... so why get rid of them? All I can think of is that the lust for power has gone totally ballistic, and that the middle class, while valuable, is seen as a kind of barrier (albeit passive in the extreme) to the ultimate consolidation of political, social, and economic power of the few over the many. It has certainly been seen this way -- and quite explicitly so -- by liberals and “progressives” for a good century now... and the Democratic Party has long since rid themselves of the dull, complacent middle class, preferring to become the party of the rich and the poor (and, thus, a kind of hologram of nearly any large city in the country).

Let's admit – it takes plenty of imagination and creativity to picture the United States without a middle class... and yet, this is the dream that the liberals, Democrats, and Obama's team in particular are pursuing with a kind of lustful delirium. Get rid of those stodgy, boring people and the world will be renewed in our image! A world of only controllers and helpless victims seems to appeal to their aesthetic sensibilities, for some reason. Well, fine – it's going to be interesting to see how it works out. But they may be in for a few surprises. Like so much else about America, for instance, the existence of a prominent middle class has always been seen, by its enemies, as merely coincidental... and, moreover, as a kind of unfortunate accident that we would have gotten along much better without. They say this about religion as well, and about qualities like thrift, sobriety, morals, intact families, tradition, ethnic consciousness... ever personal hygiene. These are all hopelessly old-fashioned, fuddy-duddy habits that the Utopian society of tomorrow will not need, want, cultivate, or (they hope) permit. But do they really know what a world without any of these things looks like? Have they checked out sub-Saharan Africa lately, for example? Or certain lost corners of Southwest and South Asia? Because it is not, by any means, impossible for us to morph, fairly readily, into that sort of squalor... heaven knows we have, at various times and in various places, for at least short periods of time – take post-Katrina New Orleans, for instance. The thin veneer of civilization is, after all, held together by the middle class, who very dutifully apply a new coat once in a while, and do all they can to defend it against predation by both the proles and the rich. Do the social-change experts think that middle class habits and attitudes -- especially the long-suffering, submissive, nose-to-the-grindstone-for-scant-reward life style -- will survive the impoverishment of its members? If so, they need to study what happens to people who grow up middle class then become poor – and especially to their offspring. It's as if that middle class thing never happened --- as if it was only a dream. Truly, the baseline, or default setting, of humanity does seem to be, by and large, a life that is “nasty, brutal, and short” like the lives of most sub-Saharan Africans of today. What sort of person would sentence the largest single portion of the American populace to this fate? Clearly, someone who would rather be an Idi Amin than one of many leaders of a free people.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

An Honorable Man

Wasn't it just recently that some politician suggested that the honorable thing to do, for the business executives who were responsible for the economic crash, was to commit suicide? Well, he obviously had American businessmen confused with Japanese businessmen, some of whom may still have a modicum of honor, and who tend to favor suicide as a way of ultimately saving face. Our problem is that, without anyone realizing it, a bunch of sociopaths gradually moved into nearly all the key positions in business and finance, and they are totally unabashed about the massive failures that occurred on their watch – not only that but they are insisting that they be kept on the payroll and offered things like “retention bonuses” -- presumably so they can pull the same stunt again in a few months, thus justifying still another round of bailouts (this has already occurred in the auto industry, note). It's truly amazing to me that these guys are totally incapable of experiencing any feelings of shame, humiliation, or remorse; maybe that unit got cut back in business school, who knows? And were they selected for this trait by corporate "headhunters"? In any case, we certainly can't expect any of them to be the least bit interested in preserving “capitalism” -- even the watered-down and co-opted version we've had in place for the past few decades. They are actually much more at home with socialism, and, in fact, have been at home with it for quite a while, the only difference now being that it's completely out in the open. They will walk off into the sunset, arm in arm with the government, never looking back on the wreckage they have wrought.

But the reason I'm bringing any of this up at all is that at least one of the heavy hitters in question, namely the CFO of Freddie Mac, David Kellermann, really did take all of this to heart and, as a result, committed suicide early yesterday. Who knows what pushed him over the edge? Maybe it was guilt over the $850,000 retention bonus he was receiving; some people can tolerate being amply rewarded for failure, and some can't. In fact, it's not even clear if he was one of the most-failed executives; he apparently was promoted at the same time Bush (not Obama, note) fired two other top people in the company. In any case, the man apparently had a functioning conscience – which made him somewhat of a freak in the contemporary world of big business and high finance (not to mention government!). And of course, the troubles are not yet over for the likes of Freddie Mac – they can't just cash in their chips and leave town. They have to stay chained to the government millstone for the indefinite future, and put up with non-stop humiliation -- “cruel and unusual punishment” indeed, even if largely merited.

Personally, I think it would have been more constructive if Mr. Kellermann had committed a different sort of suicide – namely by pulling a Joe Valachi and detailing every sleazy bit of the Freddie Mac operation – shining light into the darkest corners – naming names – and, in particular, “outing” the Congressmen, bureaucrats, and regulators who facilitated the process. That would have been a significant contribution – a historical one. And, he would, of course, have become an instant pariah in the business world, but a hero to millions of ordinary Americans. But I guess this never occurred to him... or if it did, he decided that he'd had enough stress for one lifetime. Who knows? It's just too bad when someone who might have retained a glimmer of honesty, morality, and ethics is the one who winds up victimized, and paying the ultimate price – and the ones without a conscience go free and enjoy all of their ill-gotten gains for years to come.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Ahmadinejad's Inconvenient Truths

You'd think it had been rehearsed, and maybe it was. The president of Iran gets up in front of a United Nations conference on racism, and the instant the word “Israel” passes his lips, the entire EU delegation rises as one man, and leaves the room. And let's not forget that these people are, supposedly, diplomats – experts in the art of compromise, masters of relativism, of seeing the other side of any argument. But even in the rarefied world of diplomacy, there are absolutes – and the one absolute that is absolutely non-negotiable... that towers above the rest... that puts a fatal chill on any discussion of some of the most urgent issues of our time... is that nothing negative, or even neutral, shall be said, or thought, about the State of Israel, ever. Israel is that oddest of oddities on the world scene – a country – and a basically artificial one at that – which is assumed to never be wrong, and whose actions are assumed to always be wholly justified. It is the sacred cow of the world... the untouchable... and “she who must be obeyed” (especially by any U.S. administration).

Of course, the above is true of the diplomatic community of Europe, the English-speaking world in general, and probably – by default – most of Latin America. Sub-Saharan Africa is too busy annihilating itself to care, and Asia east of Pakistan couldn't care less. The Arab/Islamic world, on the other hand, is as dogmatically committed to Israel's eventual disappearance as Europe and America are to its perpetuation – and we wonder why we have such a hard time reaching “understandings” with one another. Still, it is curious how the U.N. can organize a conference, invite the president of a major Islamic country to speak first, then become a scene best characterized by the phrase, “I'll take my dolls and go home.” Clearly, the delegates who headed for the nearest exit weren't interested in what Ahmadinejad had to say – probably because they assumed they had heard it too many times already. But that's not usually a reason to walk out of a conference that they spent a lot of time and money to attend. Clearly, they arrived with every intention to “make a statement” -- and make one they did. So let's explore, for a moment, the issues that were – either actually or allegedly – involved.

To begin with, it should be noted that Ahmadinejad actually vetted his speech with the Secretary-General of the U.N. before giving it. This is somewhat remarkable... but it was, you'll admit, a very clever ploy. Now he can say, “Well, the Secretary-General didn't mind it – in fact, I took some material out at his suggestion – but you people are too gutless and brainwashed to even sit and listen.” And he would, of course, be right. The occasion, furthermore, was a conference on “racism” -- and as we well know, one man's “racism” is another's simple desire to defend the way of life of his own racial/ethnic/religious/national group. I doubt if the word “racism” has ever been used, since it was coined, to refer to _all_ racism, of every type. It always refers to bad, or non-allowed, racism as opposed to the kind that we tolerate because it comes under the heading of payback, or reparations, or “social justice”, or some such drivel. So when the white racism of Rhodesia is replaced by the black racism of Zimbabwe, for example, it's not called that. And when the racism of the American South is replaced by the racism of “affirmative action” and quotas, it's not called that. And so on. In fact, one might ask whether the term “racism” adds anything at all to the meaning of a more general, and less inflammatory, term, namely “discrimination”. If “racism” is simply “discrimination on the basis of race”, then it doesn't add any meaning – unless we consider race to be a unique trait in that, since one is born with it and it cannot be altered (except in the case of Michael Jackson), it's extra unfair to use it as the basis for discrimination. But is ethnic group any more amenable to alteration than race? How about gender? How about age? (For that matter, how about weight, or height, or looks?) How about religion, even – most of the world does not consist of people who “shop around” for the church in which they feel most “welcome”; they stick with the one they were born into. And I guess it doesn't help that some of the few honest anthropologists have pointed out that what we call “racism” is, most likely, an instinctive response to people who don't fit in... i.e. it's a primitive way of preserving the integrity of, and protecting, one's own racial group – i.e. one's DNA. But in a society for which Charles Darwin is worshiped as some sort of secular deity, things that really do represent evolutionary mechanisms are considered politically incorrect, and beyond the pale. (Cue sound of liberal heads exploding – as usual.)

But let's get back to our man Mahmoud. What did he actually say? Well, he's supposed to have said that Israel is a “racist regime”. But surely the Israelis – who are Jews, i.e. the most open-minded, tolerant group of people on the face of the Earth, couldn't possibly be “racist”, right? But think about it. What if a country were established for the – for all intents and purposes – exclusive use of one racial, ethnic, or religious group, for whatever reason? And what if, in the process of establishing that country, people who were not part of that group were forcibly driven out -- “ethnically cleansed”, if you will – and the ones who remained were confined in refugee camps – not for weeks, or months, or years, or decades, but for entire lifetimes? And what if those not in the camps had perpetual second-class status in the society? Wouldn't it be fair to refer to that country as “racist”, or “discriminatory”? Wouldn't condemnations be in order – economic sanctions, like in the case of South Africa – perhaps severing (or never establishing) diplomatic relations? The answer, of course, is yes – and that's precisely what we would have done in any other circumstances... except in this case, because Israel is special, exceptional, unique, and the experience of the Jews before and during World War II has exempted them, forever, from the standards of conduct – both international and domestic – that the rest of world feels compelled to adhere to.

But Ahmadinejad described the Israeli regime as not only racist, but “cruel and repressive”. Again, I can only cite the refugee camps and Gaza as evidence – and the massive destruction of Palestinian resources whenever they get “in the way” of West Bank settlement. If this isn't cruel and repressive, what is? And there are, by the way, plenty of Israelis, and other Jews, who feel this way. This is not a "Semitism" issue at all, but a humanitarian issue -- as even Jimmy Carter has pointed out.

And what else did he say? “The United States and Europe helped establish Israel after World War I...” -- the last time I checked, this was called “history” -- “... at the expense of the Palestinians.” Oops! Tilt! Surely we would never have helped anyone establish a country at the “expense” of anyone else. That's why western Palestine (the area between the Mediterranean and the Jordan/Red Sea) was chosen, because it was “a land without a people”. Oh sure, there were cities and towns and villages there... but they weren't inhabited by “people”. Maybe by field mice... or space aliens... or out-of-work actors... but not real people. So we're totally off the hook on that count. And this is the sort of thing that inflames the diplomatic community of today – presenting obvious facts that no one wants to hear or acknowledge.

“They resorted to military aggression to make an entire nation homeless under the pretext of Jewish suffering.” Military aggression? No way – the Palestinians were simply encouraged to leave homes they had lived in for centuries, and move into squalid refugee camps. Maybe the issue is whether the Palestinians constituted an “entire nation”. Well, half of them wound up in Jordan... so I guess, technically, only half an entire nation was evicted from Israel/the West Bank/Gaza. That's makes it OK I guess. Was Jewish suffering a “pretext”? It was all too real – but would the Zionist/Israel operation have been possible without it? Highly doubtful. Zionists had been trying to establish a Jewish state for decades up to World War II, but had gotten a cold shoulder from the European powers.

Well then, surely Ahmadinejad went off the deep end when he “blamed the U.S. invasion of Iraq on a Zionist conspiracy.” Other than the well-known pressure the Israel lobby was putting on Congress and the Bush administration to invade Iraq in order to accomplish “regime change” even before 9-11, there's absolutely nothing to this accusation. Other than the fact that Israel considered Saddam Hussein to be Enemy #1... other than the fact they had already bombed his reactor... other than the fact that the most radical of Zionists consider the entire territory up to the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers to rightfully belong to Israel... other than the fact that the Neocons, nearly all ex-Trotskyite Jews, were the prime movers behind the invasion... other than the fact that the Evangelicals, or Christian Zionists, have been pro-invasion from the beginning, and continue to be, even in the face of massive failures, massive casualties, and massive debt... there's nothing to it. Wouldn't you walk out on anything this silly? I sure would.

So... for daring to talk about the Israel question at all, and for laying out facts that many perfectly reasonable people have long since agreed on, Ahmadinejad's speech is termed “vile, hateful, inciteful” and a “spectacle” by the U.S. deputy ambassador to the U.N. So... who is being reasonable here, and who is being unreasonable? Who is sabotaging the chances for a thaw in relationships? Ahmadinejad is telling many “inconvenient truths” -- and the EU, the U.S., and their stooges, are denying them. I suppose that, in order to win friends and influence people in the West, the Iranians are supposed to embrace all of the myths, memes, and rationales that are called upon to support our benighted foreign policy... i.e. they are supposed to deny, and disown, their own version of the truth, as well as the evidence before their own eyes and those of the rest of the Moslem world. “We'll work on your grievances as soon as you deny you have any justified grievances” is the message. Well, this just isn't going to work, and a bunch of doughy, dumpy diplomats walking out of a meeting like a bunch of thwarted grade schoolers isn't going to contribute to the dialog either. Would it be asking too much of this group of wimps to just sit down and listen, for once, and consider whether there might be some substance to Ahmadinejad's complaints? OK, sure – maybe he exaggerates now and then, maybe he is provocative (intentionally, without a doubt), maybe he even qualifies as a "Holocaust denier" – but aren't diplomats supposed to seek out the pearl of truth hidden behind every thicket of rhetoric... the grain of legitimacy behind every diatribe? How would we feel if people kept walking out on speeches by Dick Cheney or John McCain, for instance? (Oops – they did. And rightly so.) I just think it's amusing... and sad. But we're still claiming to be P.O.'d at Iran for the “hostage crisis”, even though it was, arguably, brought about by the actions of our most incompetent president ever – up until George W. Bush, that is. And once Iraq was neutralized, the next place on our “to do” list – you know, the one kindly provided by AIPAC – was Iran. So in a way it's a miracle we haven't already invaded... and, in fact, Ahmadinejad knows this and takes great delight in mocking us for it on a daily basis. Israel would be even happier than they are now if we moved into Iran... but a funny thing happened on the way to Tehran. We discovered that we couldn't even keep the lid on Iraq and Afghanistan. We're also experiencing a bit of economic unpleasantness – and I'm certain that the twin debacles in Iraq and Afghanistan have a lot to do with it. And who knows, there might even be a small speck of skepticism floating around the State Department as to whether it's always in our best interests to do exactly what Israel tells us to do. Well, I know – that's a crazy idea – but still, “what if”? Now, it's a given that we'll never declare our independence from Israel as long as either they or we still exist... but a bit of pushback might be in order, or, failing that, a total economic collapse which will render us incapable of doing any more heavy lifting for our “little brother” on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean. As that day seems to get closer, don't you think Israel would take notice and do whatever it can to help us stay in business? And yet I haven't seen any signs of that – or even of any particular sympathy. All they want is for us to stay in Iraq and spend our last dollar on invading Iran. Nice folks. They're treating us like the old plantation slave who is just allowed to wither and die, and is buried in an unmarked grave. Problem is – that headstone has two halves, and the other one is marked “Israel”.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Not Yet Charged, But Guilty

Well, it's now official, and I, for one, am relieved. Yes, relieved... because now that I have been “outed” by the Department of Homeland Security, there is no need for me to continue to cover, conceal, dissemble, and use subtlety and metaphor in my discussions of current events. I can now stand up, tall and proud, and say to the world, “Yes, I believe in limited government, local rule, and low taxes. In fact, I could almost be described as [slightly shaking, hysterical edge to voice at this point] a pro-Constitution federalist!” Gee, I feel better already – not because saying that makes me a potential terrorist of the right-wing, white-supremacist stripe, but because DHS _says_ that it does... and since DHS has an unbroken record of being wrong about just about everything, I can rest assured that I am not one of those slavering, skinheaded, neo-Nazi beasts -- sporting a tattered leather vest and a bevy of jailhouse tattoos -- that has the Establishment so up in arms. But that may not be good enough. The Regime knows which political party I belong to, which means that it has a pretty good idea who I voted for this last time. It also has agents scurrying around who do nothing but read bumper stickers and keep track of what church one attends. And surely they've photographed me at the annual March for Life, and picketing local abortion clinics. And for all I know, they take time out every few days to catch up on this blog! So they have me dead to rights, and I might just as well start training pit bulls right now and avoid the rush. That, and put in a 10-year supply of moonshine, Slim Jims and Mountain Dew. I admit that I'm a bit skitterish around guns, but a stash of Bowie knives and some throwing stars ought to do the trick. And of course, I mustn't forget to erect a makeshift altar to Tim McVeigh in my sub-basement – you know, right next to the cordite and blasting caps.

But seriously, folks – this drastic expansion of the definition of “potential terrorist” is... well, for one thing, I saw it coming. But it's a perfect example of not only the “paranoid style” that seems to infect liberals much more virulently than conservatives, but also of the sort of collectivist dogmatism that sees any level of dissent – no matter how minuscule – as an “existential threat” that must be annihilated immediately. It's also an example of how the liberal establishment, and their media mouthpieces, continue to despise the military, even as they continue to exploit it in order to implement their internationalist Utopian schemes. They also, of course, fear and despise real, genuine lower-class and/or rural white people (as opposed to “farmers”, “the working man”, or “the people”, whom they profess to love). And don't even get me started on what they think of believing Christians, especially those of the Catholic variety! I suppose any discussion, in public, of distributism or Catholic social teaching would be considered a “terroristic threat” by today's standards.

But here's the real difference – the one I saw coming. I've already stated, just the other day, that the primary thing motivating the American middle class is fear – not just physical fear, e.g. of riot, insurrection, war, crime, pestilence, etc., and not just economic fear – although there is plenty of that going around, and it is amply justified. No, what makes the middle class unique, in any society – but particularly in ours – is its morbid fear of trouble, of “getting involved”, of being conspicuous, standing out, winding up on some “list” or “record”. Unlike the traditional fear of the “knock on the door in the middle of the night”, this fear is much less tangible and much less traceable to any given action, fault, or false move – hence it is all the more powerful, and more easily used as a motivator and basis for manipulation and exploitation. If you accept that premise, then juxtapose it with the content of the DHS paper, you see something very striking. Up until now, most of these cautionary documents issued by the government described behavior and attitudes that most reasonable people would consider genuinely radical – genuinely “fringe” if not actually “lunatic”. The polite middle class in America has always kept its safe distance from raw, blatant anti-Semitism, for example... and, in recent decades, from racism as well, with “homophobia” gaining fast and "sexism" definitely on the ropes (the worst offenders on all of these counts being, as always, the lower classes). Religious bigotry – at least of the anti-Catholic kind – has always been one of the dirty little secrets of our Republic, but even that has eroded considerably since the days of the Know-Nothings. So whenever the government warns itself – i.e. those who work for it – about certain attitudes being likely to lead to certain actions, the attitudes in question are safely confined to things only an extremely lowbrow, ignorant person would ever hold or express. Thus the middle class has traditionally insulated itself against accusations of being anti-Establishment -- in fact, they foolishly and naively consider _themselves_ the Establishment. This is not to say the middle class has ever been totally “off the hook” for its traditionalist/conservative attitudes; authors and social commentators ever since the days of Mark Twain have been sticking pins in a wide variety of bourgeois voodoo dolls. But the main line of social and political dialogue, supposedly representing the Establishment, has always appeared, at least, to be on the side of the middle class, and vice versa.

This all began to change, as we know, with Roe v. Wade, a decision, which, among other things, split the American middle class in a more profound way, perhaps, than any differences in religious creed ever had. Suddenly we had, as someone once put it, “two Americas” -- the “pro-choice” America and the “pro-life” America... and what followed, and continues to this day, is a sort of civil war – mostly, but not entirely, non-violent – between the two. (I say “mostly non-violent” fully recognizing that the act of abortion itself is the epitome of violence.) But even at that, it would have seemed far-fetched for any government agency to come right out and say, in an official document, that pro-life people were high on the list of potential terrorists. However, in lieu of that we did have extensive prosecutions (persecutions) of pro-life people under the aegis of RICO... and the situation was not helped by the fact that there were, on occasion, violent acts committed against the lives and property of abortion providers. But even so, most middle class people – even of the pro-life persuasion – could distance themselves from the radicals and from the consequences of their (the radicals') actions. They could remain safe – warm and dry – and mainly not fear being called out, put on trial, made an example of.

But now we have a new regime (small “r”, note) in Washington that knows nothing of moderation when it comes to identifying The Enemy... and suddenly, almost literally overnight, the definition of who, and what, constitutes The Enemy has been drastically expanded to include – guess who – a whole lot of formerly-non-radical, formerly-non-potential-terrorist, middle class people. Fear is at the door! The Gestapo, or Thought Police, have just pulled up with that blaring siren – you know, the one that goes “EE-AA-EE-AA-EE-AA” like in the Holocaust movies. The comfortable middle class is now – as to its relationship with the Regime, and before long with the law – part of the lower class. They are about to become more familiar with "trouble" than they ever imagined they would.

A number of years ago a survey came out purporting to demonstrate how much tougher, and more hardscrabble, life was for black Americans then for white Americans. One data point was “the number of people I know who are in jail” -- and the answer for blacks (whether urban or rural – or even middle class) was something like 8 or 10 on average, whereas the answer for whites was typically zero (accompanied by great huffs of indignation -- “Well, not only that, but I've _never_ known anyone in jail, and don't intend to.”). When middle class (and almost invariably white) people started getting arrested, tried, convicted, and jailed for things like embezzlement, a new term had to be invented -- “white-collar crime” -- but it might as well have been “white middle class crime”, because it was so highly correlated with that group, and so novel. But again, if you did your job and didn't take a dip in the till from time to time, you were OK – no one was going to get on your case, even if you did occasionally express a belief in “family values”. And back then, it was still not fully appreciated how dangerous literal belief in the Constitution was. But all that has changed, and not in a subtle way, either – it is now official doctrine, courtesy of DHS – and one wonders, how long is it going to be before there is no one left whose homeland DHS is charged with securing? If the middle class is now to be considered a criminal class, simply by virtue of their attitudes about some things, at what point does the label become the accusation, arrest, etc.? We may wind up with a society in which, for most people, their “homeland” is a jail cell... or concentration camp bunk. Welcome to North Korea! But hey, they will have brought it on themselves... by believing in something other than the servile state.

Text Me In Texas

A good bit of the historical revisionism concerning the Civil War revolves around the question of whether the Southern states really did, in fact, have the right to secede. The question was answered in the usual way by their crushing defeat at the hands of the North – but like most questions that are “answered” by brute force and nothing more, it has arisen again, and now it's even (for the first time) making headlines in the case of Texas, and Governor Rick Perry's recent statement that he sympathizes with Texans who might want to secede, given the federal government's burgeoning habit of grand theft on behalf of itself and its cronies on Wall Street. Of course, to “sympathize” is neither to advocate or condone, but that doesn't satisfy the hair-trigger, paranoid, hypersensitive statists of the media who consider that anyone who even breathes a word about secession – or federalism, for that matter – has, for all intents and purposes, bombarded Fort Sumter all over again and deserves to be treated accordingly. Thus, the “tolerance of opposing views” which liberals pretend to advocate is shown, once again, to be a total sham. Liberals are reacting to Perry's statements the way Kim Jong-Il would react to anyone who wanted to escape from the People's Paradise.

Now, the secession question might not be solvable merely by the application of legal experts, historians, and Constitutional scholars, but it certainly couldn't hurt to take a cool-headed, detached look at the issue. But what are the chances this will ever occur? What are the chances, moreover, that any department of the federal government will be interested enough in the issue to support a study? If the federal bureaucracy is unable to get to the bottom of global warming, are they going to do any better with secession? I think not. And yet, it is curious how, after all this time, this country is still referred to as “the United States” and not just as “America”, or “Columbia”, or “Obamia”, or some other monolithic appellation. But apparently – once again, as “proven” by the Civil War -- the original “uniting” process was a one-way street and cannot be undone, even in the case of Texas, which – according to the common impression – never really did fully adjust to being part of anything else. The Republic of Texas was an interesting place. Texas as just another state – with no more senators than Arkansas, say, or Delaware – is a bit like Gulliver being tied down by the Lilliputians. One gets the impression that most native Texans (as opposed to the rootless cosmopolites who flood into Dallas and Houston to get high-paying high-tech jobs, and think that Applebee's steak is the real thing) would really prefer to live in a country where just about any argument can be settled quickly and with finality by means of six-shooters... where Mexicans are at once indispensable (for music, cuisine, and stoop labor) and a lower life form... where the only true measure of a man's worth and merit is the fatness of his wallet and the number of oil wells he owns... where one thinks nothing of driving 100 miles to see a movie, provided the drive can be made in an air-conditioned gleaming white-with-gold-trim custom Cadillac equipped with HDTV. Texas could have been an interesting, simple (albeit atavistic), but very rich, country like Kuwait. Instead they have to send representatives to Washington, DC to sit in Congress with a bunch of sissies, eggheads, parasites, and degenerates – some of whom have never been on a horse in their life, if you can believe that! Texas – where men are men and proud of it, and women never gave up the frilly prom dress and the beehive hairdo... where they don't “do” gay, or lesbian, or “bi”, or transgendered, or anything else of that sort... where “old money” is anything your daddy earned wildcatting before World War II... where size not only matters, it's the only thing that does – why should a place this noble, with this level of self-confidence, be forced to repeatedly cast its lot with a bunch of apologetic, “metrosexual” wimps? Who wouldn't want to secede? And in fact, I would think the rest of the country would find the idea appealing – especially the liberals, who are squealing like stuck pigs at the very mention of the idea. Think of the great weight that would be lifted from the political scale if Texas should be wiped off the U.S. map... think of the number of illegal immigrants who would no longer be illegal (or immigrants). Of course, we would have many fewer Miss America wannabes, debutante ball attendees, kiddie beauty contest freaks, and trailer park residents to make fun of... and the guys who did “Greater Tuna” would have to come up with a different story line. And about half the country-western singers would become foreigners overnight. But on the other hand, we could quit worrying about the Waco massacre because it would be some other country's problem; in fact, we could extradite Janet Reno to Texas to stand trial for mass murder – now that would be a load off everyone's back! We could also declare that LBJ had never actually been president of the United States (thus removing the last barrier to finally trying Robert McNamara for treason). And the Texas authorities could go back and finish the job they started with those oddball FLDS folks, without worrying about interference from some Commission on Civil Rights, or the ACLU. And in that regard, I suppose that a newly-independent Texas would immediately pass a law requiring everyone to be a member of an Evangelical church. This would, of course, mean that Texas would immediately become an even closer ally of Israel than the United States now is... and that Texas would, without a doubt, take over some of the heavy lifting in Iraq and Afghanistan. Wouldn't that be a good thing? They would probably also take the wind out of Sarah Palin's sails by attacking Russia in order to help Georgia regain its lost territories... and attacking any Arab/Islamic nation that supports the Palestinians... and attacking Vietnam just on general principles. But if this happened, would the U.S. rush to the aid of Texas? Hopefully not; don't we at least need to have a treaty in place in order to do this? I mean a treaty other than a peace treaty; all the latter would do is guarantee that the U.S. wouldn't send General Petraeus down there to burn a 100-mile-wide path all the way from El Paso to Galveston.

Plus, frankly, wouldn't getting Texas off our plate sort of raise the overall tone of the rest of the country? I have always considered Texas to be a uniquely barbaric place, and have long held a morbid fascination for its arcane rituals and customs. But stupid me, I went and married a Texan, and that means that my kids are all half Texan... and, even worse, two of them live there. But that's no problem, in fact it might be a good thing to have a bit of foreign “cachet” in the family. Like, we could change our family name to something classy sounding by adding "von" and “und Texas”. We could start exchanging our U.S. dollars for Texas currency (fully backed by oil, of course) instead of fooling with those nasty old Swiss francs... we could invest in Texas banks and real estate, which are still operating in the black... invest in the newly-formed Texas Stock Market. Why, the possibilities are endless! We could even set up “sister city” programs between Texas and the “old 49”. (Oh, right – we'll need a new flag. Texas can just keep the one they already have.)

Really, this sounds like a win-win situation for everyone involved. So what are we waiting for?

Saturday, April 18, 2009

For Whom the Bill Tolls

Of all the pathetic excuses for humanity to slouch across the scene over the past couple of decades, none, perhaps, is more difficult to comprehend than the so-called “Friends of Bill”. This term refers to the loosely-structured gaggle of reprobates, toadies, groupies, and half-wits that had at least one thing in common – namely that they were unquestioning, adoring, and obsequious slaves of Bill Clinton. I have spoken about these people before, and pointed out that their primary flaw seemed to be a complete lack of what is sometimes referred to as “ego strength”. In other words, their own identity and self image were on such shaky ground that they felt compelled to subsume themselves under the all-embracing (if that is the word), all-powerful, all-knowing, and admittedly charismatic super-identity of Bill Clinton, to live vicariously through him, and to become his supporters and facilitators... to actually cease to be their sorry selves and _become_ him, in the heart of their delusional thinking. They wanted to emulate his aloofness and his immunity to harm and to troublesome human emotions... to bask in his glory... to appear at the edge of the picture... to have his signed photograph on their wall... to be the Kato Kaelin to his O.J. Simpson. In short, their personalities were vacuums waiting to be filled, preferably by an irresistible, brutal, and heartless force that would render them invincible as well. In this, they did not differ significantly from people who have, down through the ages, aligned themselves with a powerful figure – generally political or religious – primarily for the sake of feeling truly alive, and being part of something much greater than themselves (not that it would have taken much). The down side of this syndrome is: What else do they get in return? Do they win love and respect from their idol? No – only contempt. Do they win his loyalty? No, because he has none, except to himself. What they get is exploited, burned, used up, and thrown away like toilet paper. But do they care? No – that just makes things worse (or better – for them. There is a strong element of masochism in all of this.).

This topic came up again about a month ago when one of the pantheon of Clinton supergroupies, namely Susan McDougal, failed to acquire transcripts of her own grand jury testimony in the Whitewater probe. Why did she want those transcripts so desperately? Why, she's writing “a screen play or a novel about the investigation into her business relationship with Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton.” Thus we see that the delusional system never stops producing new fruit – a screenplay or novel about an investigation into a business relationship? I see Oscar or Pulitzer Prize material already. But to a Friend of Bill, any event in which one encountered The Great Man, in any capacity, is a fit subject for an epic – because, to them, it _is_ an epic. It is, in fact, their whole life. Please recall that Susan McDougal is the one who went to jail rather than testify in the Whitewater matter. She stood by her man! (I wonder how Hillary felt about that. And did Bill visit her in the pokey, or send her any “care” packages? Not bloody likely!) And in this she actually made out better than her actual man, namely her husband Jim McDougal (AKA “Lex Luthor”, per Rush Limbaugh), who ended his days in jail.

But just to give you an example of the typical fate of a “Friend of Bill”: “McDougal was convicted of fraud and conspiracy in the probe, which produced no charges against Bill Clinton or Hillary Rodham Clinton, now secretary of State.” Thus, as always, the slaves take the hit while the masters go free and move on to exploit other weaklings and blight other lives. It is also noted that “[McDougal] served 18 months in jail for civil contempt based on her refusal to answer grand jury questions. She then was indicted on criminal counts for refusing to talk to the grand jury in 1996 and 1998.” Why did she refuse – other than standing by her man? “McDougal said she thought she would be charged with perjury unless she falsely implicated the Clintons.” Gee, and here I thought “the paranoid style in American politics” only applied to conservatives. So she thought that by telling the truth (as she understood it) she would wind up charged with perjury. But a perjury charge can only be based on a comparison between a person's testimony and the actual truth, independently determined. Was she afraid that the grand jury would pick and choose which “truth” it preferred, then throw her in jail for testifying otherwise? But this is nothing more than a reflection of the perennial approach of the Clintons to the truth, which is that there is no such thing in reality. Bill Clinton expressed this eloquently at one point when he used the expression “which truth”. To these people, truth is not an absolute; it's strictly political, and it can change based on the whims of the electorate or the elected... on political expediency... or on one's mood upon getting up in the morning. The Clintons are not merely, as has been said, “strangers” to the truth; they don't recognize it as a meaningful concept. In this, they are in league with Pontius Pilate. Now, if they were just a couple of moral imbeciles living in a trailer park somewhere in Arkansas, or in tenured positions at some university, it would be one thing. But they are at the pinnacle of the Democratic Party, and one of them is currently secretary of state, representing America to the world (when not dodging bullets in Tuzla, that is). And, I suppose, when you're heading up the diplomatic corps, you have to be a bit “flexible” when it comes to the truth, and to principles in general; after all, in the diplomatic world, everything is relative. But our strength in dealing with other countries has traditionally been that we actually believe things – we believe that “A” is good, true, and right, and that “B” is not. This position is widely derided by the blasé cynics of Europe, of course... but it is the way we are, for good or ill. And now we have a secretary of state for whom the concept of truth is as alien as some life form on Neptune. It's going to be interesting to see how that plays out. But in the meantime, we have the ongoing spectacle of the likes of Susan McDougal carrying the torch for someone who ran roughshod over nearly everyone he ever encountered in life, and destroyed many of them. In fact, there are people who have actually gathered data on this. One source is a web site entitled “The Clinton Body Count”:

Another is called “Dead Men Don't Talk”:




And I'm sure there are many more people out there keeping similar counts. These are the sorts of data that historians usually collect about people like Hitler, Stalin, or Chairman Mao – but this is an American president! And one who is still very much in power, and whose influence extends world-wide – anywhere, in fact, that there are still “Friends of Bill” waiting to be next on the list.

In the light of our current economic unpleasantness, it may seem a bit obsessive or at least quaint to be bringing up “ancient history” of this sort. But the mindset that the Clintons represent – other than the truly frightening fact that they are still in positions of power – is the same one that, arguably, led to our current woes. And my feeling is that those woes will continue unless we can, somehow, recover a few of the principles that contributed to our productivity and prosperity for so many years. And yes, I realize that the American myth of “moral superiority” is vastly exaggerated and overblown. But in moderation, it certainly beats the bleak, depressing relativism that has always come out of Europe – or the moral anarchy that characterizes most of the rest of the world. We could be an example again – but first we have to start from scratch, and eliminate people like the Clintons from positions of power and influence in our national life. Otherwise, the rest of the world will see us – and rightly so -- as “just another damned country”.