Thursday, December 31, 2009

A Sign of the Times

I recently received a $20 bill annotated with two Bible passages, of which one, Revelations 20:15, is of particular interest: “And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.” This is on a $20 bill, mind you – the denomination that someone referred to as “yuppie food stamps”. And, I might add, to adapt a grossly-overworked expression, the $20 bill is the new $1 bill, owing to the government-managed inflation that continues to take its toll, year after year, on honest working people (although I have to acknowledge that there was no cost of living adjustment to my annuity this time around, because, allegedly, “the consumer price index for the quarter ending September 30, 2009, did not increase when compared with the same index for the third quarter in 2008.” So you see, even a severe recession has its benefits... I think.).

So what is the significance of a Bible verse referring to the book of life and the lake of fire, on a modest, unassuming $20 bill? Well, it is a Federal Reserve note, after all, and that provides some clues, even though it also says “In God we Trust”. I guess, when you have the Federal Reserve running the national economy (and much of the world's, for that matter), it makes trust in God an even more urgent attitude than it might have been otherwise. And, of course, there is also a picture of the White House – which only serves to bolster the case. But there is also a picture of Andrew Jackson, arguably America's first bonafide populist. So it's a mixed message at best. But it is starting to dawn on the populists of our time – the “tea partiers” and “town hall meeting” attendees – that the shenanigans of Wall Street and the government are, among other things, directly opposed to the idea of a sound currency, and a solvent treasury. In fact, much of what they do, or want to do, increasingly depends on a weak dollar, inflation, and the economic disenfranchisement of the bulk of the American people. But beyond this, the funny money issued by the Fed is part of the overall plan to, basically, rob anyone whose assets are in the form of dollars – either actual dollars, as in bank accounts, or things valued in dollars, as in securities traded on Wall Street. An economic populist will eventually come to the conclusion that we ought to “just say no” to fake money... paper money... and all the rest of it, and convert whatever we have in the way of government-issued waste paper into things with intrinsic value as soon as possible. In other words, if you're interested in sound money, don't just spend all your time trying to shut down the Fed – as worthy an idea as that may be. Sound money and honest trading begin at home, first of all with avoidance of credit and borrowing, because those are also major tools of the system designed to transfer wealth from the have-lesses to the have-a-lot-mores. Another weapon is barter – and we see how much the government fears barter by the energy they spend trying to figure out ways to tax and regulate it. As it is, any good barter system constitutes a black market of sorts, and as such is not only a statement for sound currency but also a statement against tyranny and totalitarianism.

So, while weaning ourselves away from the machinations of rubber currency and the abuses that go with it may not automatically get our names written in the book of life, it will certainly place us among the few who know the difference between real money and fake... and it might even keep us in the black, i.e. out of the financial book of death called “debt”. And as to the lake of fire – could it be, even now, being stoked up in readiness for the thieves and brigands on Wall Street, and in the international financial world, and in the Fed? There is still time for them to repent – and wouldn't be a fine thing if at least a few of them would?

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Sorriest President Ever

Christmastide is here, and what better way to celebrate, if you're a spectacularly-failed American president, than by apologizing to the Jews, and asking forgiveness? Now, to be fair, this is only a more personalized version of a ritual that has become a semi-annual requirement for the “mainstream media” -- namely, just like clockwork, sometime during what the faithful call “Lent” and “Advent”, media mavens like Time and Newsweek issue their mea culpa on behalf of the few remaining Christians in America – and especially on behalf of the few remaining practicing Catholics, who should have stepped up and apologized themselves, but you know how powerful “ignorance and superstition” are, so Time and Newsweek have to do it for them. What they are apologizing for is, of course, the Holocaust... but also for all mistreatment of the Jews down through history, going back at least as far as the Babylonian Captivity, if not to Pharaoh himself. And again – in lieu of the real thing – they are offering, as Exhibit A, the quivering remnant of practicing Catholics as the Guilty Parties. And yes, it's regrettable that this fancy called “freedom of religion” is enshrined in the founding documents, since life would be so much simpler, and much more pleasant, if these people and their crazy and hateful beliefs and world view could just be gotten out of the way. But one must be patient... and who knows, one day it might be possible. But in the meantime we can at least perform the apology ritual, in order to appease the gods of secular humanism, who might otherwise decide to strike us all dead with bolts of hyperinflation lightning.

But the essence of this cyclic apology (you know, the kind that merits what is called a “standing headline” -- one that is used so often that it is never melted down) goes even deeper than the politics of our day; it also has theological implications. They are that, essentially, Christianity did not add one jot or tittle to the merits of Old Testament Judaism, and that, therefore, the whole thing was a mistake, if not an actual hoax. (For an elaboration of the “hoax” aspect, see any of the countless Time or Newsweek articles on “the search for the real Jesus” -- which, most typically, conclude that he was a totally made-up character.) In other words, Old Testament Judaism was just fine, thank you, and it did not need the addition of any trouble-making “messiah” or any “gospel” -- to say nothing of the Epistles, the Church Fathers, the Magisterium, the Apostolate, the Vatican, the Pope, or any of the other accretions that have been proven – proven! By the secular humanists! -- to be totally unnecessary, not to mention “judgmental”, “dogmatic”, “paternalistic”, “hateful”, “anti-woman”, “anti-gay”, “pedophiliac”... well, you get the idea. The point they are trying to make – albeit unconsciously – is that the Protestants were quite correct in their return to Old Testament spirituality... i.e. they were quite correct in rejecting the Church and becoming, for all intents and purposes, Jews again. And this is in spite of the fact that the mainstream media will not come out in favor of Old Testament morality either, and will applaud every time a monument including the Ten Commandments is removed from public property. The argument they are making, in other words, is of what I call the ABC type -- Anything But Christianity. But media hypocrisy notwithstanding, what their argument implies is that it's only natural for a good, believing Protestant to awaken to his true spiritual roots... realize his culpability... regret his ignorance... and voice expressions of solidarity with the Jewish community, which, of course, means – first and foremost – with Israel. And that is precisely what Jimmy Carter has done, according to a recent news article.

What Carter has said, essentially, is that he was wrong in accusing Israel of setting up a system like the apartheid of South Africa in order to control and oppress the Palestinians. The accusation was supposedly made in his 2006 book entitled “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid” -- and, of course, said book caused no end of consternation and indignation among Israelis, Israel-supporters, and Zionists in general, first and foremost of whom is the ever-reliable and never-sleeping Abe Foxman of the ADL. Now Carter has issued his own mea culpa, which in essence – in true liberal style – says that he never said those horrible, hateful things, and that even if he did, he didn't mean them, because... well, because he didn't know what certain words mean in English (“apartheid” is a Dutch word, after all), and besides, he didn't realize, at the time, what a benign regime Israel has – even if you're a Palestinian living on Israeli soil. And just in case there's any doubt as to Carter's intentions, he is offering an Al Het, or prayer for forgiveness. In other words, he's making reparations to the Jews by becoming a Jew! (If they were smart they'd return his application marked “Rejected”.) And he is not just apologizing for “words” (i.e., the book) but also for “deeds” -- like the time he traveled to Gaza to hobnob with Hamas. (Talk about "eyeless in Gaza"! But Carter is no Samson either.)

But despite this public display of sackcloth and ashes (not literal, but it would have been much more amusing if it had been), I still find myself wondering, if he had known how much trouble his book would cause, why did he write it in the first place? Or, alternatively, if he knew but didn't care, why apologize at this late date? What's he got to lose, given that he's already one of the most despised and useless people on the planet? But – yes, I know – this would be to assume that logic has something to do with it, and as we all know – or recall, with a frisson of retroactive dread – logic was the one thing in shortest supply during the Carter administration, and the ill logic went “right to the top”, as they say – it was not just a characteristic of low-level operatives – you know, those clowns who would have been on welfare or running moonshine if they hadn't gotten lucrative posts in the administration. Yes, in the Pantheon of Really Bad Presidents, LBJ may have been more of a tyrant... Bush II stupider... Clinton a psychopath... but it took a Jimmy Carter to exhibit the most profound cluelessness. And the pity of it is, he's still around, and still under the delusion that he has ideas worth voicing and writing down. And frankly, I'm not sure I understand how valuable an apology from someone of this caliber is to the Zionist establishment; don't they realize that he's an idiot? They would be better off if Carter were neutral or indifferent to the Zionist cause, because that way they could say, “Look at the sort of person who doesn't care about Israel. You don't want to be a person like that, do you?” That would surely wipe out every last trace of skepticism. It would be like a wily marketing manager getting O.J. to endorse a rival's product. “Unconvicted murderers prefer Luckies” -- or some such. Brilliant! But you know, foreigners (and Abe Foxman surely qualifies as a foreigner) have always been a bit dense when it comes to American politics – they expect far too much logic, reason, and consistency. Mainly, they think that when a president – or ex-president – speaks, he is speaking for the American people, whereas nothing could be further from the truth. What he is speaking for is, first and foremost, the Regime – call it the established power structure – and, even then, only for the Regime at any given time, for example the period during which he was president. The Regime can change its priorities, its strategy, its tactics, its “public face”, as conditions require – and someone who might have been a good mouthpiece back in, say, the late 1970s looks like a fool today if he expresses the same opinions. And we know that when the Regime decides to throw a politician onto the “dust heap of history”, that politician stays thrown (and dusty).

Plus – and here's the best part! -- after all of this breast-beating on Carter's part, what does Abe Foxman say? “This is a good start.” A good start!?!? What does Carter have to do, pour gasoline on his head and light a match, in the time-honored fashion of the Buddhist monks in Vietnam? (And I suppose his Secret Service detail would keep him from even doing that.) But Foxman is reserving judgment: “To what extent this is an epiphany [note the pirating of a Christian word here], only time will tell.” Which is another way of spitting in Carter's elaborately-lined, sagging, and careworn face. And yes – time will tell whether Carter really “means it”, but who gets to say when? Foxman and the ADL, of course. So Carter will be on probation until that day, which may be long in coming, if ever. And I suppose that this lukewarm response will be another of those many things that take “Jimmeh” by surprise; I'm sure he expected to be welcomed back into the fold with open arms.

So, basically, Carter has been hung out to dry, with the help of Foxman and Co., and it's a fitting end for a career that will – as the saying goes – live in infamy.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Group Grope

Well, you can count on the Episcopalians to be on the cutting edge when it comes to Christian doctrine. Now – it turns out after nigh unto 2000 years of regrettable error on the matter – belief in individual salvation is heresy. This, not necessarily an exact quote, is attributed -- by William Murchison, in the December issue of Chronicles -- to Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, speaking at last summer's General Convention. Well, all I can say is, what a relief! And here I thought that my salvation was entirely my own to gain or lose – that it was all on my shoulders. But now I am assured by the high priestess of The Episcopal Church in America that this is not so at all – it's more like group health insurance. All of my many failings – which might seriously threaten my salvation if it were all up to me – can be watered down and counterbalanced by the efforts of my peers in the faith, just as my poor efforts can work to water down and counterbalance theirs, and so on -- the whole being infinitely more than the sum of its parts. Now, I suppose there might be some cause for apprehension in, for example, a case where everyone in the group is equally sinful... or, as it says somewhere in Scripture, “No man does good; no, not one.” How can any group having this level of moral turpitude possibly be saved? Wouldn't I be better off on my own than in the company of these losers? Ah, but the Episcopal Church has an answer to that as well, one that we should all be familiar with by now, and that is that what constitutes “sin” is actually only a matter of opinion, and that, in fact, there may be no such thing as sin after all (except maybe for “sins against Mother Earth”, or against gays, minorities, animals, and so on). And logically, if there is no such thing as sin – or no serious sin – then there is no need for Hell, therefore salvation is not only available to all, but _inevitable_ for all – and therefore, why even worry about it? Even the quaint concept that “my father's house has many mansions” -- why, isn't that discriminatory? What about “equal opportunity” in Heaven? Surely Heaven, if it even exists, would have to be a place where equal opportunity – at last! -- triumphed. Surely any lack of eternal equality would hold the potential for someone's feelings to get hurt... and we certainly can't have that.

There is one curious thing, however, and that's this notion that individual salvation is a heretical idea. But for heresy to exist, you have to have orthodoxy – you know, doctrine... dogma... all of that stuff. So what particular creed, or doctrine, or dogma, does the notion of individual salvation stand against? Nothing in the Christian tradition, I'm sure; she must be talking about Buddhism or something. And if so, it is a most curious thing for the head of... well, not really a large body, but a body nonetheless, of alleged Christian believers (though one wonders, “in what?”) to be contending that an all-important piece of traditional Christian doctrine is “heretical”. But this is just another example of the topsy-turvy world of Episcopalianism, where values, standards, and beliefs are turned upside down on a regular basis, for the amusement of all. When it comes to spiritual life in the Episcopal Church, it's like Strawberry Fields -- "Nothing is real... and nothing to get hung up about."

So the bottom line to all this, according to Murchison's reading of the Episcopal Church of our time, is that at a certain point it was declared – if implicitly – that “Sin was social. We were to repent of perpetuating social injustice. Social justice, it turned out, consisted in affirming and promoting the rights of discrete groups of Americans...” And he then provides a list of the usual suspects, which I won't bore you with here. What it boils down to is that the Episcopal Church is profoundly political in its orientation – maybe entirely political. It is the cause du jour, the victim group of the hour, that receives all their attention, to the detriment of the traditional concerns that, for that matter, justify the existence of a church – any church – in the first place. When it comes to political activism, there are plenty enough organizations out there to more than adequately represent the interests and grievances of any imaginable victim group; I honestly don't think they need the additional help of a handful of L. L. Bean-clad and Birkenstock-shod people with sensible haircuts and overly-long handmade scarves. When I gaze upon a classic Episcopal church – in the hunt country of Northern Virginia, say – with its ancient stone, its wooden beams, its stained glass, its meticulously-maintained organ (no electronics allowed, of course), its charming grounds and courtyards, its parsonage ideally situated for afternoon tea... I don't see an automatic connection to campaigns to legalize GLBT polygamy (or polyandry) (or what is it, when you're talking about that demographic? Who knows?). But as Murchison points out, somewhere along the line justifiable Christian humane-ness morphed into humanism, which became secularized, and now we have a bunch of political radicals in the clothing of the (formerly) faithful. And do the old observances and pieties suffer as a result? One's gaze falls from the ivy-covered bell towers onto scenes that would do justice to an old silent-movie version of Belshazzar's Feast... and blasphemies that might bring a blush to the face of Voltaire. And all for the sake of... what? Of being up to the minute, or – even better – being in the vanguard? Of not only being fully invested in every social movement of the time, but actually helping to define and oversee those movements (although, let's admit, the Quakers seem to be even better at it than the Episcopalians – maybe because they aren't constantly distracted by architecture, d├ęcor, and liturgy).

Murchison asks another good question as well: “If the Episcopal Church is so in tune with modern society, why is it shrinking instead of growing?” Well, as I implied above, most people who want to “do” political activism are content to just do that, without having to carry any baggage associated with religion (even if by only the thinnest of threads – as witness all of the “Reverends” associated with the civil rights movement). And he also comments on Schori herself as follows: “... all you have to do is look at our poor presiding bishop, who bleeds melancholy at every pore...” Ayn Rand could not have put it better when describing one of her humanist villains. Yes, the Episcopal Church does indeed seem to be led, and dominated by, a bunch of sad-sacks... no matter how much they smile in that scary way characteristic of utopian dreamers. But hey – if your attitude about life is predicated on how it's working out as a group endeavor, you've got a perfect right to be sad, if not suicidal. If I have to rely on the group – pretty much any group, of any size – for my salvation, I'm going to have a lot of sleepless nights. I guess I would be willing to put my fate into the hands of a group of cloistered Carmelites, but that would be about it; I wouldn't let a liberal Episcopalian take one of my grandkids to the rest room.

The main thing is that the Episcopalians – and groups of similar bent – think of themselves as ground-breaking... as leaders when it comes to social movements, “reform”, “change”, and all that. But the truth is, they are abject followers. They never get involved in anything that's not already popular, or on the verge of becoming so. All of their efforts are directed in not only politically correct, but politically safe in an airtight way, directions. They are forever “preaching to the choir” -- themselves as well as all the other furry activist types dotted across the landscape. But far from being radical or contrarian, they are terminally conformist and passive when it comes to the various fads, crazes, and hysterias of the day. And their ideas, far from being ground-breaking or radical, are as old as the hills... and as the oldest heresies (I mean the real ones, not the ones according to Schori). It is unfortunate that the Episcopal Church, which genuinely has a rich storehouse of tradition (even if most of it was stolen from the Catholic Church during the time of Henry VIII), should be at the epicenter of all the political lunacy of our time. It is a blatant and tragic -- in an ongoing way -- contradiction in terms. Maybe it really is true that the capacity for doing great good is also the capacity for doing great ill – that all it takes is one flawed premise or failure in logic to send a person, or a group, down the wrong path... in this case for generations. It would be nice, as Murchison says, if real reform would break out – reform back to faith, back to doctrine, back to... let's call it “awe” -- you know, that feeling we're all supposed to have in this season, when gazing, even if only in the imagination, upon the Christmas crib. The fads and fancies of the moment will indeed fade away... and when they do, what will become of the people who placed all of their faith (if that is the word) on the things of the world – on politics, social issues, and economics – and forgot what the true origin of faith is, and how it should be rightly directed – namely, to things above?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

There Oughtn't To Be a Law

It happened again, a couple of weeks ago, as it does with dreary regularity – and that it happened just before Christmas made it especially jarring. A policeman in a borough adjoining Pittsburgh was called to respond to a “disturbance” at a private residence which turned out to be a drug deal gone bad. By the time it was over, the man who had welshed on the drug deal was dead... as was the policeman. And my first reaction to stories like this is always, could this needless waste of life have been avoided if our national (and local, by default) “drug policy” was based on genuine public health considerations, rather than residual Puritanism, a kind of societal sado-masochism, and mostly just plain lunacy? Not to mention the zealous and unending quest for power and for “jobs” that characterizes such a large measure of our legal system? Now, I am not about to claim – as some seem to – that if only it weren't for our “insane war on drugs” -- as Harry Browne characterized it – all would be placid, peaceful, and well in the body politic. Just as the poor will always be with us, so will criminality – which can be broadly defined as the desire to reap more than one sows, with the added proviso that this desire be (1) acted upon, and (2) acted upon in an illegal way, i.e. in violation of the codified norms of the society at that time and in that place. For, as much as I believe in Natural Law, it can also be argued that there are few, if any, acts that are always, at all times and in all places, illegal... and likewise that that are few, if any, acts that are always, at all times and in all places, legal. This, I contend, is a symptom less of the conditionality of human societies and of existence in general than of the almost universal failure to correctly apply morality – as properly defined – to the construction and implementation of legal codes. So that, while the law appears arbitrary and cupidic – and those of the anarchist bent might contend that it is always so – there is, in fact, a grain of truth to the notion that the law, properly derived, serves to protect the many against the few, and the few against the many. The law is necessary not only because differences of opinion occasionally arise... or because ambiguities based on faulty judgment by otherwise good men arise... but because there really are men of ill will, driven by greed, lust, or just plain cussedness – all those tendencies that are summed up by the term “concupiscence”. Call this the "original sin model" of jurisprudence -- go ahead; I don't mind.

So because human fallibility as well as evil intent will always be with us, the law will likewise always be with us. However, it is the unique quality of laws of prohibition that they tend to criminalize people that would otherwise never come close to being criminals – as witness the madness of Prohibition in early 20th Century America... and much of what constitutes the War on Drugs of our time. And this is also not simply based on the stock theme of so many homilies, that most people believe in, and abide by, all of the Ten Commandments save one – that one (whichever it is, and it's not always the one about adultery) that requires them to relinquish their will in the interests of society. I'm talking about people who, by and large, are perfectly willing to, day in and day out, abide by all ten, and much more besides... except that even while doing so, they inevitably run into difficulties that are caused by ignorance, neurosis, and ill will in high places... by which I mean, laws that any sensible, truly humanitarian society would never dream of passing or enforcing. And curiously enough, these laws typically, when you get right down to it, are a form of persecution of some weak or despised minority – the strategy being (whether conscious or not), if you don't like a person or a group, you pass a law that will criminalize one or more of their favorite or preferred activities. What comes out of this process, then, is legalized persecution – but there is an associated tendency to forget, or ignore, this fact, and rather to attribute to the law in question noble and “necessary” qualities that it never had, and very possibly was never intended to have.

Another point is that there are, indeed, “criminal types” in any society – and if they aren't breaking one law on any given day they will likely be breaking another. So if you, for instance, struck all drug laws from the books it would not magically turn all of the drug dealers into law-abiding citizens; they would come up with another scam... another way to cut corners and pave the way to “easy money”. I'm under no illusion, for example, that most of the people in the drug trade are honest businessmen who just happen to be dealing in illegal goods; there may be some, in fact – but I would have to take a much closer look at each one before I decided whether their activities were benign or malevolent. Even the more ambitious types during the hippie era – the “righteous dealers” -- were not always nice people, long hair and beads and sitar music notwithstanding. Opportunities to make a fast buck bring a certain type out of the woodwork, and I don't mind applying the liberal label “antisocial” to many of them.

Drug users, on the other hand, are generally another matter – and of them it really can be argued that if it were not for the drug laws most of them would be perfectly good citizens; i.e., they “work and play well with others” (another liberal/educational establishment term)... they do no harm... and they mean no harm. And yet they too are hounded and persecuted and criminalized by the establishment for reasons which remain obscure until you start thinking about issues like political power and even – for those with a more esoteric bent – the “emotional plague” concept proposed by Wilhelm Reich. Another way of putting it is that a large portion of people are simply not content to leave everyone else alone; they have to exert themselves against them... mistreat, bully, and tyrannize... spoil everyone's fun (to put it mildly)... or, to put it less mildly, declare that everyone else is “wrong” (“except me and thee”, as the saying goes), and that they should, therefore, be punished. This attitude, of course, is in perfect “synch” with Puritanism in the broad sense, and with authoritarianism as well. And it also feeds into the perverse desire to raise oneself up by putting others down... assuming that the only way I can feel good about myself is by making everyone else – or a good proportion of them – miserable. It's a basic metaphysical attitude about the world and about life -- that it's a zero-sum game, therefore I can only gain by others' loss. Nothing, in other words, is "good", it is only "less bad". It's what Eric Berne referred to as the "I'm OK, you're not" attitude -- the most destructive and pathological of them all. In extreme cases, this premise produces the psychopath; in less extreme cases it produces politicians.

Now, the United States, with its historical heart of Puritanism, and with the authoritarianism that comes from deracination – i.e. when you give up racial, ethnic, and religious loyalties and substitute “loyalty” to a vague and chaotic structure of “ideas”, supported by a governmental infrastructure – has always been the ideal breeding ground for various kinds of collective madness and hysteria, and the War on Drugs is simply one of the more recent manifestations. What I'm saying is that it's not just “political”, and certainly not just economic or social or anything else; it's profoundly psychological. And one sign of this is that certain portions of our legal code have been declared out of bounds when it comes to any discussion of change – especially of lightening the load on our ever more heavily-burdened populace. (Even soldiers in Vietnam were told to “smoke 'em if you've got 'em”, reflecting at least a glimmer of residual humanity in the small unit leaders who were about to take them into battles that many might not survive. But catch any of the generals saying that!) In other words, you can talk about changing any other part of the legal code, but this part is off limits -- because it has nothing to do with objective right and wrong, and everything to do with collective psychopathology.

The result of all this is that, on top of what is already a huge, thick, intractable layer of laws that might have some small measure of validity, we have an additional, especially suffocating layer of laws having to do with individual conduct – conduct which would be, much more often than not, of no harm to others or to society in general... and yet, we are told, we “need” those laws, and the massive infrastructure that goes along with them, in order to... what? To maintain “law and order”, of course! To keep things under control, and so on. But that could be said about any law, no matter how absurd or arbitrary. A law prohibiting people from clipping their toenails on odd-numbered Tuesdays would certainly enhance “law and order”... and it would take a big bite out of uncontrolled toenail clipping. But would it be just? Would it even be sane? And – thinking about the “world stage” now – would it enhance our image overseas, or make us look like a bunch of hysterical neurotics, the way our War on Drugs now does? And yet these considerations never seem to occur to our legislators in their hallowed halls; they are “lawmakers”, after all, and if they do not spend day and night making laws, they are somehow remiss in their duties. The result is that we have a legal code that makes Hammurabi's stone tablets – and Moses' as well – look like bubble gum cards.

It could be said that a measure of the trust any government has in its citizens is the number of laws on the books designed to regulate the activities of those citizens. By that criterion, American citizens are the most distrusted – by their own government – people on the face of the earth, and possibly the most distrusted people in history. And the argument that the laws of an enlightened society are there for the collective good of the populace falls a bit flat when one reflects that, if the entire legal code were thrown into a dumpster (it would take quite a few just to hold one copy), not one law in a hundred would really be missed – except by whoever had the “special interest” and the influence to get it passed in the first place. And this is why we are, daily, faced with the paradox of people attempting to gain “freedoms” and “rights” through the passing of more laws. Every law that is passed will add to the sum total of restriction... every new “right” has to have a “wrong” that is now prohibited... and every alleged “freedom” entails a – usually unacknowledged – long list of things that are no longer allowed. The answer – as any good libertarian knows – is that, if you want more liberty, you need fewer laws. And again, this is not to entertain the anarchist's illusion of a law-less society, because that would indeed be “lawless”, with only raw power and violence having any chance to prevail. If we could – again in good libertarian fashion – reduce the legal code to only those laws that served to implement the Golden Rule, for example... that might reduce paperwork by, say, 99%. (The same could be said of any government programs that are unconstitutional – again, you'd have a reduction on that order.)

The main advantage would be that we would, finally, start treating American citizens as adults, and not as either criminals or retarded children. And, by the way, many fewer policemen would be killed in the line of duty because they wouldn't be charged with enforcing laws that should not exist.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Blog on the Run

Herewith, a few observations on stories that have not escaped my attention as I scurry up hill and down dale during the Advent season:

1. The sound of liberal heads exploding echoes once more, this time around the world! It seems that, in Nepal... well, first let me make a comment. Nepal, as you may know, is, and has been, the coolest of cool places to visit for... well, really, for many decades now, ever since the hippies discovered that it had the most killer weed on earth, and that it was right next to Tibet, which would have been the coolest place except it had no killer weed and was under the boot of the Chinese (even though Mao could do wrong, etc. -- I've already covered that one). More recently, it has been a yuppie rite of passage to “go trekking in Nepal” -- the way a devout Muslim has to make the hajj at least once in his lifetime. You simply cannot be admitted to the inner circle of hip yuppiedom without having done that trek – that's the law. And of course, the aura connected with killer weed morphing into the trekking Valhalla has extended itself to Nepalese culture, and even – in a pinch – to its religion (overwhelmingly Hindu – not as “cool” as Buddhism certainly, but way better than mean old monotheism). Ah, but there is trouble in paradise. Apparently there is – in one village (and it must be a rich one – read on) -- a requirement that, every five years, immense numbers of animals and birds be slaughtered “to appease the goddess Gadhimai” -- who must be a kind of Hindu version of Janet Reno -- “end evil” (just like Obama promised to do), and bring about prosperity (ditto). The rough estimate of this sacrifice, according to a temple priest, is “around 20,000 water buffaloes, 30,000 to 35,000 goats and countless birds and pigeons”. (No mention was made as to whether the remains are donated to a food bank.) So once again, we have this inevitable culture clash between ethnic/native/indigenous “coolness” (in the eyes of mush-headed liberals) and the ideational fetish du jour -- “animal rights” in this case. It's unclear whether Deepak Chopra will be parachuted in, Jesse Jackson style, to act as advocate for one side or the other – or maybe both.

2. Who out there is for large, intrusive government? Well, I sure am... at least when it comes to loud commercials. Apparently, despite all the complaints over the years, there is yet to be an FCC regulation requiring that TV commercials be no louder, on average, than the shows on which they appear. Well, I could have told you that. The minute any show I'm watching “cuts to commercial” I make a dive for the remote and frantically search for the “mute” button (that's that little one slightly to the left and below the middle of the total array of approximately 75 buttons) – all the while bracing myself for a blast of sound not unlike an air horn. But get the alibis offered up by the TV industry: “Managing the transition between programs and ads without spoiling the artistic intent of the producers poses technical challenges and may require TV broadcasters to purchase new equipment.” “Artistic intent?” Does that apply to daytime TV? Or reality shows? Please. And as for “new equipment” -- hey, just pick up one of those gadgets that OSHA uses to measure factory noise. You can probably get it at Radio Shack.

3. Well, it was worth a try. The foreign secretary of Britain announced, the other day, that they “no longer would tolerate legal harassment of Israeli officials” by people seeking to have them arrested for war crimes. Yes, it seems that Britain has a curious legal convention called “universal jurisdiction”, whereby any citizen can petition any judge to order the arrest of foreign politicians and military personnel found on British soil, provided sufficient evidence is presented to substantiate a war crimes accusation. So onerous is this British legal eccentricity that Tzipi Livni (and I always thought those were Polish dumplings) recently canceled a trip to London. Well – I have a few questions. To begin with, under which enlightened regime did that provision become law in Britain? (And who was it aimed at?) Secondly, if we were talking about anyone but an Israeli politician, would it be seen as a problem? I mean... there was a movement on at one point, as I recall, to bring George W. Bush up on charges of war crimes – until it was discovered that “general idiocy” carried a stiffer sentence. But now wait a minute! What about Pinochet? And what about all those Serbian dudes? And deposed African dictators? Clearly there is ample precedent for this sort of thing. Most curious that the issue has just now come up, now that it concerns “a strategic partner and a close friend of the United Kingdom”.

4. Dare I call it “blowback”? First “leaders of U.S. conservative Christian ministries” travel to Uganda to “promote therapy for gays to become heterosexual”. Next thing you know, the Ugandan legislature is considering making gayness a capital offense... and failure to “out” them to the authorities a serious crime. “Even landlords could be imprisoned for renting to homosexuals.” (No mention is made as to how the landlord is to make this determination in a definitive way – but one can only imagine.) But did they even try those therapeutic techniques? Why the rush to judgment? And am I being overly imaginative if I speculate that these American ministers are the same ones who were 100% behind the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, and who want us to nuke Iran? Gosh – it's enough to give capital punishment of gays a bad name...

5. And along very similar lines, we now have a call from the justice minister of Israel to make Jewish law “binding” in Israel. Will the people who are all up in arms about sharia even take notice? But apparently there is a vocal Orthodox minority in Israel who, for some reason, feel that a country that was established as a haven for a single religious and ethnic group should actually manifest that fact in its legal code. Imagine! What ever happened to “diversity”? Well... actually, they don't need it, even though they never tire of telling us that we do – and criticizing the small remnant of Christianity in our own legal code. But, it should be noted, “secular Jews make up about 80 percent of the Jewish population” of Israel – which means that, as many of us have long suspected, Israel and its welfare is not a religious issue at all, but only an ethnic/tribal issue. The religion piece is only trotted out to make that pill a bit easier to swallow, namely that the bulk of our national resources is being squandered in order to protect a tribe of people who not only do not share the religious convictions of the vast majority of Americans but who, by and large, have no religous convictions at all.

6. News from Honduras: “Drug czar assassinated 2 months before retirement.” Wow, they have “czars” down there too! But here's what I love: “... investigators were trying to determine a motive.” Um... OK, so you have a country the majority of whose GNP is tied to the drug trade, but everyone is baffled as to why the drug czar would be assassinated? Sounds like all those drugs had an effect on their brains. And, BTW, he was going to retire to Canada – or, as one commentator calls it, “Soviet Canuckistan”. Strange bedfellows indeed...

7. “Follow the money”, they say – and the money is more and more going into gold, gems, and “rare items” like high-end watches and wines -- at least on the international level. A high-level member of Christie's commented that “there is this talk that there should be inflation someday because governments have printed so much money”. He wasn't just talking about Zimbabwe. Everyone sees the Treasury Department oiling up the printing presses – and whoever has dollars, or dollar-based securities, is dumping them as fast as possible, and going back to the eternal verities, material value-wise. Assuming that the rich are smarter than other people, wouldn't it be prudent to follow their example as much as possible? Whoever holds onto dollars is going to be, more and more, left holding the bag for... well, for quite a while; maybe even until we go back on the gold standard (that would be in... about a hundred years at least).

8. Hey, how about that “Onion” spoof where the Swiss had supposedly voted to ban minarets? Talk about hilarious! Um... problem is, it wasn't a spoof; the Swiss really have decided that those masonry spires erected by the Musselman wherever he goes cannot be tolerated in the land of cheese, “apres ski”, and cuckoo clocks. But – lest we forget – Switzerland was also the birthplace of Calvinism. Maybe there is such a thing as too-fresh air and too-clean water...

9. “President tells top party to fight fair.” Yep – the president told the dominant political party to “stop trying to manipulate elections and learn to win fairly”. Oh – you'll say – how could I have missed this story? Because it happened in Russia. But... wouldn't it be nice if an American president would level the same criticism at the beast with two heads, AKA the “two-party system”? Yeah, I know... dream on. Even Medvedev's statement that “elections must express the people's will in free competition between ideas and programs” -- can you imagine if this had been applied to the Republican primaries last year? And listen to this: “Opposition candidates claimed they were hindered from campaigning and some were denied places on the ballot.” Can you say “Ron Paul”, or the Constitution Party, or the Libertarian Party? And – Medvedev again -- “Democracy isn't for parties, either ruling or opposition ones, it's for the people.” Wow – try telling that to the Democratic National Committee or its Republican counterpart. One again, the former communist slave states and the U.S. are passing each other going opposite ways...

10. And finally we have the gift that just keeps on giving, namely Hurricane Katrina. Now a court has actually come out and ruled that “monumental negligence” on the part of the Army Corps of Engineers contributed hugely to the disaster. And this, in turn, “could lead to a new deluge: billions of dollars in legal action from thousands of storm victims”. Now... I know this could never happen... but “what if” the awards for all of those lawsuits were taken directly out of the Corps' hide? You know – just take its budget (for as many years as needed) and reduce it by the amount of the awards. That could... why... that could even put them out of business! And what a blessing that would be. Yeah... it's one thing when a government agency is simply useless. In that case, it might be relatively inert. But the Corps has been destroying the landscape (and waterscape) and stomping on people for generations now; this could be the one thing that would be its comeuppance, and do away with it once and for all. But gosh, I guess it's just too big (and too evil) to fail...

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Pre-empting the Future

A headline from a few weeks ago still causes me to shake my head in disbelief. It was as follows: “'Pre-emptive strike' policy is revisited.” Now, that policy is, as everyone should know, the one invented by the Bush administration on the spot, in order to justify the invasion of Iraq – the idea being, do unto them before they do unto us. Of course, the capability of Iraq to “do unto us” was exaggerated by a factor of... oh, a few thousand or so. When we have one nuke for every hundred or so Iraqis, and our “ally”, Israel, has a hundred nukes for every one Iraqi... well, it's stretching things a bit to accuse Iraq of being on the verge of attacking us and declaring all-out war. But nonetheless, that was one of the major justifications, if not the only one, for our invasion.

We can see that, for one thing, the “pre-emptive strike” policy blatantly violates traditional Catholic teachings about “just war”. And it also – as if we cared! -- violates standards set down by the U.N., the Geneva Convention, and any number of treaties. What it really means is if “we” think that someone is fixing to attack us, we have the right to attack them just as if they really had attacked us... 'cause if we waited, it would be too late. Or something. Somehow, I don't think it would have been all that risky to wait for an Iraqi attack on American soil (if they can't reliably reach Tel Aviv with a Scud, how're they gonna get to New York City?)... but that objection was answered by our leaders' pointing to all the “smoking guns” linking Iraq to the 9/11 attacks. You know, the same smoking guns that were to mysteriously disappear, along with all the WMDs, once we got over there and had a look around. It was at that point that the invasion became all about freedom for the Iraqi people – although freedom from what, or to what, was never made clear. They certainly don't seem much freer now than they did then; after all, their country is occupied by a foreign power now, and it wasn't before. Plus, the Christians in Iraq have all been driven out – so you certainly can't claim they're any freer. So I honestly don't know what it adds up to.

But here's the real point. You take a policy that was obviously illegal, according to international law... unjust... immoral... and self-serving... and which was always represented as the brainstorm of one brainless president. Now why wouldn't a policy like that be declared null and void – automatically and without qualification – by the new president on the first day of his term? Why does it have to be “revisited” as though we were talking about a Constitutional amendment? Well, that's because there is a process, familiar to all of us by now, by which any policy – foreign or domestic – that increases government power, erodes the rights of the citizenry, or enables us to act more unilaterally and arbitrarily on the world stage, is very difficult to relinquish... not only by the people who came up with it, but by their successors, even if of the other party. For example: We know, historically, that Democrats and liberals set up a massive welfare state during the New Deal era. But was that socialist infrastructure dismantled by the Republican and relatively conservative administrations of, say, Eisenhower, Nixon, or Reagan? Not on your life – because once in place, it was virtually impossible to dislodge... and that, in turn, was because it produced certain habits of thought and behavior among the citizenry... certain expectations, and a certain helplessness. So ending any of those programs or shutting down the agencies charged with their implementation would have been politically suicidal and would have caused much more distress than simply not allowing the programs to get started in the first place. Think of it like heroin, or crack cocaine -- which is easier, to not start or to break the habit? It's the same with all forms of entitlement. Socialism actually works on the moral and psychological makeup of individuals; it is not just a custom, habit, or "system" of society. Why were the countries that emerged from the breakup of the Soviet Republic so slow, in many cases, to adjust to their new-found freedom? It wasn't a systemic problem so much as the aggregate of individual habits and attitudes -- the first and foremost being helplessness and apathy.

That's on the domestic policy side – but what about the military, and our massive defense spending, even in (relative) peacetime, that rivals what we used to spend on world wars? You wouldn't think that the Democrats/liberals would have any problem cutting those programs back to the bone, would you? But no – the same sorts of problems occur in that sector as well. To begin with, the defense establishment is, first and foremost, a jobs program – and Democrats/liberals are all about jobs for everyone, without a whole lot of concern as to what sorts of jobs we're talking about. And then it turns out that – behold! -- the arms makers contribute just as much to Democrats' campaigns as they do to Republicans'. And – the dirty little secret of the Democrats is that they enjoy being “war presidents” every bit as much, if not more, than the Republicans do, since it helps fulfill their fantasies of remaking the world in their own image (not to mention, it makes them look like something other than wimpy eggheads).

Thus, the bottom-line difference between the two major parties when it comes to both domestic and foreign (military mostly) policy is negligible. What does differ, of course, is the rhetoric – the rationalizations, excuses, and mealy-mouthings that accompany their ill-starred ideas. When it comes to the welfare state, the Republicans are “compassionate conservatives” -- a phrase that never fails to get a laugh from the left-leaning press (i.e., the vast bulk thereof). And when it comes to war, all the Democrats are trying to do -- or so they say -- is make the world safe for democracy – or insure human rights – or eliminate racism, sexism, and homophobia – or eliminate “hate”... you know, all the same things they do on the domestic front, but without quite as much reliance on armed force. They will assure you, time and again, that they hate war... but armed force is occasionally necessary to "back up" their noble humanitarian plans for other countries.

So this is why parties seldom do away with things originated by the other party; there is too much pressure to keep them in place, and little or none to get rid of them. A politician may campaign against the other party, the other candidate, and maybe against some of the other party's ideas, but he will very seldom campaign against _things_ – the tools the party in power uses – and will, less often than one might expect, campaign seriously against policies, unless those policies are politically marginal to begin with – i.e. they have more symbolic than real value to the majority of the voters. So in the case of pre-emptive strike policy, even if Obama and the Democrats found it distasteful as long as it was being wielded by Republicans, now that it's in their hands they are developing strange new respect for it and all of its implications – and all of the power it grants. So they decide they'd better hang onto it, because who knows, they might need it someday. What if homophobia erupts in Haiti? Or sexism in Swaziland? Or racism in Rwanda? (No problem – everyone there is black. That's why it's such a peaceful place.)

But then, why is the administration talking about revisiting the policy at all? Why not just carry on and say nothing? Well, because they feel they owe some of their loony, left-wing, peacenik supporters – you know, the usual gaggle of useful idiots – a nod. And I suppose they're trying to get us out of the doghouse with the U.N., because... well, because those third-world dictators really know how to throw a party, that's why. (Did you ever stop to reflect that a good third of the GNP of some of those places goes to support their embassy in Washington? But it's a good investment.) In any case, it is interesting to consider some of the lame things that are being said on the matter. Like for example, the world is “more complex” than it was back in 2002. Now this is something that only a Democrat or a liberal would be crazy enough to say. What, pray tell, has made the world that much more complex between then and now? Did 9/11 make it more complex, or did it just show everyone how complex it actually was? I mean, granted, when you have a president like George W. Bush – who's baffled when the folks working the checkout line at Whole Foods say “paper or plastic?” -- it seems like the world is a simple place because its only the simpletons who are dealing with it. But honestly, lets admit that all of this “complexity” has only become obvious since Inauguration Day 2009. And the complexity premise is essential to liberal thinking because it is symbiotic with the stance of relativism – and that is the slippery, spongy rock upon which all liberal thinking – and, therefore, politics and policy – is founded. Liberal politics is, in effect, the everyday expression of the relativistic premise – about not only society and economics but about humanity in general... which is why the pre-emptive strike policy in the hands of a liberal is like a shotgun in the hands of a small child. It is a policy based on absolutist thinking (even if totally wrong) and has no place in a highly-relativist administration whose key personnel have already shown a startling indifference toward what are considered traditional, or even “American”, values -- not to mention toward our survival as at least a semi-functioning republic.

Plus, hey, wasn't Obama just awarded the Nobel Peace Prize as a sort of incentive – as a way of declaring the U.S. “most improved” because it had elected a candidate who was, supposedly, opposed to impulsive and arbitrary wars? So what's he doing pouring more money and personnel into two of the most impulsive and arbitrary wars we've ever fought, hmmm? And when do they turn around and take back his prize? Oh wait – for a moment there I forgot some of the other blockheads who've received the same prize. I guess we can't expect any help from that quarter.

Plus, the policy is being reviewed as part of the Pentagon's Quadrennial Defense Review (“of strategy, force structure and weapons programs”). Wouldn't do to rush this process, would it? You see how the administration ducks responsibility here? Once a policy like this is locked in place, it can only be “revisited” every four years. Can't be helped, that's just the way it is. It's funny how they can revisit things like the “death tax”, and taxpayer-funded abortions and stem-cell research, every other week if they want to, but something like this – that involves invading other countries – is sacrosanct except for that rare, once-in-an-administration window. Do you think Bush waited four years to put the policy in place? But Obama is using the glacier-like pace of change in the Defense Department as a cover for his unwillingness to part company with this very large spiked club.

Well, we'll see. Maybe Obama & Co. won't have any “felt need” to pre-emptively strike anyone for a while. But one can't help but think of Iran, and all of the run-up to an invasion of that country that was going on during the waning days of the Bush administration. Are you telling me that this idea has been completely swept off the table by the Obamaites? I can't imagine. I suspect that Iran is still considered Job One on the current pre-emptive strike roster (now that Sarah Palin, who wanted to go to war with Russia over Georgia, has become a private citizen again), and that it wouldn't take that much of an excuse to set the wheels in motion – especially with Hillary Clinton as secretary of state, with all of her Valkyrie-like fantasies. (She gets the lead chariot, and is followed in close order by Janet Reno and Nancy Pelosi. Yeah... I can't get that picture out of my head either. Sorry.)

And another factor that minimizes the outrage that people might experience over our overseas follies is that there is no longer a “peace dividend” -- in fact there hasn't been one since, I guess, the post-World War II era. We're in a war, we're out, we're back in – it doesn't alter the level of “defense” spending one iota. This notion, so dear to hard-core liberals, that “if only” we weren't fighting in Iraq, or Afghanistan, or wherever, we could rebuild our infrastructure, and improve our schools and hospitals, and fund more subversive art, and eliminate “hate”, etc. -- that's all just a pipe dream. It doesn't cost much less to support the troops in Fort Swampy than in Fallujah... and besides, the average citizen feels no pain, because he's not being forced to give anything up (unlike, again, World War II). The budgeting process for defense is a straight line many decades into the future – this is an operating assumption on the part of defense budget planners. No one ever thinks to factor in whether we're at war or not, because it doesn't matter. If we are, then a few “line items” go up, and a few others go down. If we're not, the reverse happens. And you'll notice our foreign policy is carefully calibrated so that all of our wars these days are about the same size... and we can make a smooth transition from one to the other. You think this is an accident? We will not be fighting another world war very soon, if ever – although one might think that a war on Islam qualifies... but as long as we don't call it that we can get away with it. No, a steady diet of war is on our plate from here on out, because that is what pleases most of the people most of the time – especially those in power. It's just another one of those undeclared, if not hidden, taxes that would otherwise be more difficult to collect; why, we have to “defend America”, and anyone who objects is downright patriotic – a traitor, even! So once the terms are defined in that way, it's difficult to find anyone – even a single politician on Capitol Hill (except for Ron Paul, of course -- and maybe Dennis Kucinich on a good day) who will stand up and object. So yes, all have drunk deeply of the draught of war... and all “policy” questions are rendered trivial once that commitment is made. It will not end until the nation ends... and may, in fact, accelerate that end (in a way an intelligent leader might find paradoxical – but none of our leaders is intelligent enough to achieve that insight).

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Destroy All Kulaks!

Anyone who thought a Democratic Congress would stand still for a repeal of the “death tax” in 2010 had to be smoking better stuff that I can ever get hold of. The denial of people's right to determine who shall inherit their hard-earned wealth has been a centerpiece of populist/socialist/Democratic/liberal politics for time immemorial. The notion is, one might grudgingly allow people to keep a small percentage of money they accumulated through hard work and investment... but the idea of allowing them to pass this money on to the undeserving and unworthy – namely, their heirs and children – is simply too horrible to contemplate. The liberal ideal is that all wealth eventually flows back into the black pit called “the government”... and if we can't raise taxes on the living above a certain percentage without risking insurrection, well, we'll simply declare a 100% tax on the dead – at least that is the ideal. Imagine, a world without inherited wealth – where a person might be rich, but a family could never be rich, and every new generation would have to start over from scratch, and share fully in the lot of “the people”. What a fine thing that would be!

Of course, anyone with two brain cells to rub together knows that this is just towering hypocrisy, since liberals have never had any problem at all with people, or families, being rich – so long as those people or families were certified liberals. Witness the Kennedys! Or the Heinz/Kerrys! The list of rich liberals in this country is actually longer than the list of rich conservatives – for the simple reason that the Democrats have, for many decades now, been the party of the rich and the poor, whereas the Republicans have been the party of the middle class – you know, those people who are nearing extinction, like the dodo and the brontosaurus. So it's really – contrary to liberal protestations and propaganda – not about money per se at all; it's about “ideas”, and which side one is on. So when it comes to the “death tax” issue we're not dealing with giving everyone an equal chance at the mythical pie so much as doing all we can to beggar the middle class, because they just don't share our "values". The rich don't pay death taxes because they're smart enough (or smart enough to hire people who are smart enough) to shelter their money from the predations of government. It's like Leona Helmsley said about taxes – they are for the “little people” to pay (and I don't think she meant characters out of Irish folklore). The socio-economic bifurcation of America into the masses and the controlling elite received a huge boost with the recent and ongoing economic crisis – but were any of the truly rich wiped out, or even mildly inconvenienced? Hell no! They made out like bandits. Were the poor impacted? Well, no – how can you be any more unemployed than you already were? It was the middle class that paid the price for the endless frat party going on on Wall Street... and it continues to do so. So, to add insult to injury – or as the Gospel says, “even what little they have will be taken away” through the deathless death tax. And liberals everywhere are rejoicing, because the middle class has now slipped off the ropes and is lying in a heap on the canvas, helpless against the blows of the administration and its facilitators. Finally – a solution to the “bourgeoisie question” -- don't attack them physically like the Soviets did, just make certain that they gradually become poorer until they sink into the gray mass of the proletariat.

3 Bags Full

1. I doubt if the global warming e-mail scandal is going to be a “game changer” when it comes to the anti-technology juggernaut that is the global warming belief system -- and that is a centerpiece of Obama's economic (AKA "environmental") policy. And the reason the facts – or the lack thereof – will be irrelevant is simply that “global warming” has become a secular religion. It has become, in effect, a focal point for all the people who felt left behind when the Soviet Union broke up. It is now a matter of faith and belief, and the “science” behind it is only kept around to satisfy a few people who are on the margins of the discussion – call them “independents”. But the vast majority of the world's population – or at least the “First World's” population – has now taken sides in the debate, and no further facts are required. And what are the chances, at this point, of ever getting truly objective scientific data on the matter? Virtually nil, I'd say. The whole issue has been taken out of the realm of science and put into the realm of faith – and secular faith at that, if that is not a contradiction in terms. But you see, it makes perfect sense, since the global warming crowd is, by and large, faithless – i.e. few of them subscribe to any of the traditional creeds -- you know, the ones that propose values that transcend the merely material. Instead, like the populists, socialists, humanists, and communists, they have substituted a political/economic/environmental faith for the creeds of old. So it is no longer of any use to fight back with facts – assuming any “facts” can be objectively acquired at this point. From here on out, it's strictly faith vs. skepticism... and it will follow the same trajectory as all the previous faith vs. skepticism conflicts – impacting politics, economics, and the general welfare, but totally resistant to ever being resolved.

2. Headline: “Search for GM CEO could take (a) year”. Hmmm... but I'm wondering why? I mean, the main duties of a GM CEO – as for so many other high-end corporations these days – consist of suppressing innovation, seeking monopolies and favorable regulation, bribing Congressmen (oops – I mean “coordinating campaign contributions"), and periodically jetting to Capitol Hill to beg for bailout money from the taxpayers. Am I missing something? It seems like there is any number of guys (or gals, even) out there who could do this. Heck, I could probably do it myself; why don't they just hire me? But perhaps I'm being too hasty. After all, the chairman of GM has described the process thusly: “Will it be internal or external? I don't know. Will we make a valid look? You bet we will. Will we find the right person? You bet we will.” Sheesh... what is this guy, a football coach? He sound like he belongs on late-night TV, selling Veg-O-Matics. But anyway, I'm waiting for him to call...

3. Pat Buchanan – apparently, according to his column in today's paper – really believes that Obama's going to get us out of Iraq and Afghanistan (unless he's just being “ironic” -- but irony is not his style). And he does not disapprove – although he does point out some “jarring contradictions” in Obama's presentation of his case. It seems like the bottom line is that Obama is actually a peace president pretending (for the time being) to be a war president – sort of a sheep in wolf's clothing (as opposed to Carter, who was – as Winston Churchill said about a British politician of his time – a sheep in sheep's clothing). Personally, I'm not convinced. My theory – which is not shared by Pat Buchanan – is that Obama is not his own man (no matter whether he “stands up to the Pentagon” or not) and that he is following orders from higher powers (“above his pay grade”, as he himself might put it), and we are not going anywhere unless, and until, they say so. After all, the vested interests that got us into those wars are still in place, still in power, and still control everything they controlled in 2001. One might think that, with Bush out of office and blessedly exiled to North Dallas, the Evangelicals and Neocons would have less clout in Washington that they did before – but no such luck. They might not be as obvious, or blatant, or triumphant, but they are still very much in place and very much in control. Then there are the arms makers, who pretty much own everything and everybody on Capitol Hill. Add to this the Democratic Congress, who would hang their own grandmother on a meat hook rather than do anything to offend Israel... and you have the continuation of the same perfect storm that overtook George W. Bush. No... if we ever get out of Iraq it will only be because Afghanistan has turned into just as big a money maker. And if we ever get out of Afghanistan, it will be because we have, by then, invaded and occupied Iran. We're all perpetual warriors now.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The New Slavery

Mention the word “slavery” to the typical American, and it will immediately conjure up images of black people toiling in cotton fields under a blazing sun, with a cruel overseer on horseback cracking a whip and the plantation owner serenely lounging on his verandah, mint julep in hand, making small talk with the womenfolk in a long, deep South Carolina drawl like Fritz Hollings.

Or -- someone with a bit less solidarity with the black narrative might envision Ben-Hur on a Roman galley, glistening with sweat as he plies his oar to the beat of a very large drum manned by that big bald beefy guy.

What that person is less likely to think of -- or even consider at all -- is the image of the typical middle-class American, trudging off to work each weekday morning and, of a weekend, sitting back in a Barcalounger, armed with a six-pack and a pile of “snack” food replete with sugar, salt, and toxic fats. This -- he will say, if asked -- is the happiest of creatures, the culmination of the American dream. His life has a quality that the wretched citizens of an earlier time could barely imagine, even in song and legend. And, all of the many woes of that benighted time have been eliminated by “technology”. Well, OK, war is still with us, but there is a conspicuous lack of plague and famine this side of the line dividing “First World” from “Third World”. (And BTW, whatever happened to the “Second World?” Was there ever such a place, or was that just a space filler designed to separate us, conceptually, from the vast hordes of the unwashed?)

So if someone has the affrontery to refer to this fat, happy, smug, placid, apathetic specimen of humanity as a “slave”, they are immediately accused of raving, ranting, and talking nonsense -- and none of their accusers is more severe than the one who is himself an exemplar of the alleged slave class. This would be the one who believes, along with Candide, that we live in the best of all possible worlds… that our leaders have only our best interests at heart… and that our “system” is the best ever, in the entire history of the world, not least because it offers the citizens, on a regular basis, the opportunity to actually “choose” their leaders, by exercising their “right to vote”. And not only is our system the best, but it would be the best for everyone else on earth as well, if only they would get over their silly superstitions and traditions… but not to worry! We can facilitate that process, with the help of our ever-ready armed forces. So really, nothing more could be desired… and anyone who asks annoying questions or expresses cynicism or doubt should be ignored. And anyone who claims there is a man behind the curtain (or that there is a curtain at all) should be shunned and exiled from the body politic.

In how many ways is the lot of this millennial man different from the lot of the slaves of old? His standard of living, for starters, is the envy of most of the world, and would have been the envy of most of the world down through history. He is free from the bulk of the everyday aggravations that afflicted his ancestors -- sometimes even unto death. And whatever trivial “freedoms” they might have enjoyed, well… those weren’t really important, and frankly, we’re better off without them. They smacked of “cutthroat competition”, “lack of consideration for others”, and any number of other sins. And we’re certainly better off without all of the “-isms” that so thoroughly infected societies of old -- you know, things like racism, sexism, homophobia, superstition (AKA “religion”), “hate”, discrimination, and so forth. Not to mention nationalism and “chauvinism” -- those will most certainly not be missed.

But the main point is this. Modern man is, by and large, happy. He is content with his lot. He is satisfied that all the important problems have been solved, or are well on the way to being so. And, most of all, he is satisfied that all of those pesky “Philosophy 101” questions have either been answered satisfactorily or -- better still -- declared null and void. “Morality”, it turns out, is a delusion -- or so says Time magazine in its legendary Christmas and Easter issues. And likewise religion -- an illusion, as Freud so sagely pointed out. So, unquestioning contentment is his lot, and he will fight to the death -- or at least to the minor inconvenience -- to maintain his level of contentment and the privilege of having run out of questions to ask.

Now, this is not to say that his days are filled with cloudless sunshine. He will admit, at times, to a certain unease when it comes things like his income (never enough), his “portfolio” (not growing fast enough), and his health (occasionally beset by ailments of vague origin). He may even, on rare occasions, experience a moment of doubt as to whether his world is all it could be; is he properly exercising all of his “rights” (by which he usually means “entitlements“)? But there is an endless supply of tranquilizers and distractors with which to alleviate these flickering shadows; they are cheap, or even free, and they get the job done. With hundreds of cable channels on 24 hours a day, no one has an excuse any longer for being unhappy -- or unentertained.

There is certainly no comparison with days of yore, when slaves were acutely conscious of their lot and would not hesitate to detail its many inequities to whomever would listen (mostly other slaves). Slaves knew they were slaves, and free men knew they were free (and they were, in fact, free -- by and large -- by any criterion). No one was under any illusions, in other words; there was very little to compare to what we today call “propaganda”, because there was no need. No one needed a “morale boost” because their morale was boost-proof; it was directly predicated on their lot in life, and that, in turn, was out there, in the open, for all the world to see. It would have been futile (and false) for anyone to try and convince a slave that he was free, or a free man that he was slave. And this is because the conditions of slavery were physical, overt, and obvious… and likewise the conditions of freedom. Free men acted like free men; they exercised their rights (without worrying too much about the source of those rights -- up until The Enlightenment, that is) to the maximum, and on a regular basis. Slaves, on the other hand, had no rights to exercise, and no one spent time trying to convince them differently. Slaves served; free men were served, or were independent of the slave culture. Few arrangements of human society have been more obvious or -- apparently, at the time -- more immutable.

What, by contrast, do we have today? How is our society arranged? To look at it from without -- with the perspective of history -- it would appear that we are a society of free men. There is no one in an obvious state of slavery -- shackles are scarcely to be found outside of high-security prisons, and slave collars are reserved for highly-paid runway models. Certainly, there are those who serve, but they do so on a voluntary basis, and for due compensation. No one is forced to do that which he would rather not -- although, let’s admit, there are plenty of “thou shalt nots” on the books… but that is all for the greater benefit of society, and of mankind in general.

But let’s turn the question around the other way. Given that we have no obvious, overt slavery, how truly free are our “free men”? And the answer -- if you compare the mountain of laws and regulations impacting every aspect of existence -- is, really not free at all. In how many areas of human endeavor can one simply set out, and do what they want to do? And I’m not talking about the “golden rule” of doing what thou wilt, so long as it causes no harm to others. I’m talking about things that cause no discernable harm, and yet they are either prohibited or heavily regulated. So we wind up with a society composed of “free” men, but they are each in their own straitjacket -- a fairly loose one as these things go, but a straitjacket nonetheless. So this imposes a ceiling, or limit, not only on human action but on the human imagination, which is actually a bigger tragedy. And why are we all walking around wearing loose straitjackets? Read on.

But first, here’s another thing to consider. Whereas the bulk of humanity still, as far as anyone can observe, works to earn their daily bread, and has little opportunity to take advantage of, or exploit, others, there is a huge layer, like a very thick blanket, that has settled over them -- a parasitic layer that requires its share of blood and toil, and gives nothing in return. And I’m not talking here about the stereotyped “bourgeoisie” of old -- they are, in these times, as much victims as anyone else. And I’m not even talking about the run-of-the-mill businessman or prosperous farmer (the “kulak” of Stalin’s time). And I’m not talking about the “robber baron” industrialists and transportation magnates of old -- or their high-tech equivalent of our time. There is an additional layer -- a new accretion -- that puts all the exploiters of old to shame. Our leaders are, in fact, their servants… and all of the visible signs of commerce, trade, business, etc. are only one aspect of their overall empire. And, in fact, their empire continues to grow and become more oppressive with the help of our leadership and our military; what we call “foreign policy” is just a piece of their business model, and the American Empire is but a subset of their own.

Now, needless to say, compared to the level at which these “masters of space and time” (as Tom Wolfe might say) operate, the individual citizen -- of the U.S. or anywhere else -- is a mere speck… an insignificant mote of dust. Theirs is the privilege of controlling, or at least severely limiting the action of, other men… but to what end, you ask? Nothing too novel here -- for most of them it’s about power for its own sake; money for whatever it will buy; and simply the invigoration of playing the Master Game. But this could have been true of rulers and warlords down through the ages; what makes the current elite any different? Nothing, except that they seem to feel a need to cloak their activities in a cloud of often-contradictory ideas, or concepts -- as witness all of the “reasons” we went to war in Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s considered tacky and in bad taste to simply set out to conquer, and to build one’s empire, these days -- so we have to substitute more noble motives, because that will make it OK, and will make all the sacrifices of the citizenry worthwhile. Of course, the benefits of all of these crusades never seem to quite trickle all the way back to the home front -- but not to worry, our victories were nonetheless “important”, according to some grand scheme… and our losses were just “temporary”.

And what else contributes to the overwhelming force, and influence, of the Regime of our time? For one thing, it’s totally international, i.e. global, in scope -- national identity, not to mention racial, ethnic, or religious identity, has no place in the hierarchy. Now, this is not to say that the Regime is free from all ideas, and ideals, above and beyond mere self-seeking. One can take it for granted that its programs, and activities, are not inconsistent with what is called secular humanism… so its attitude toward true religion of any sort will always be that of persecution and suppression (as much as conditions in a given place and at a given time will allow). And its attitude toward the individual will be, basically, that the individual does not count -- and that something approximating “groupthink” is the best policy when it comes to mollifying the masses. I should also add that the efforts of the Regime are only made easier and more efficient by the technologies of the “information age”; the “global village” of Marshall McLuhan really has come to pass, but it operates more like a global tyranny than any sort of traditional village. And thus we see the impact of what is called “the technological imperative”, expressed as: Whatever can be done, will be done. If the rulers of the world can utilize the Internet, and the media, and technology in general to further their ends, they will do so. And the advantage of keeping things technological -- and therefore sterile -- is that the tyranny remains less obvious than if it were enforced through the physical coercion of old. In our time, it’s always ideas that come first, and once 99% of the people are on board, the odd hold-outs can be dealt with and no one will object, or even notice. No more “forced conversions” are needed -- people will clamor and crowd around for the benefits of world government and “rule by media”, because they are already convinced that this is the best thing -- that it is, in fact, the only thing protecting them from the chaos and danger that must result from things like “competition” and “the free market”, not to mention the media bugaboos of racism, sexism, etc. The media educate people as to the many dangers inherent in the modern world -- then proceed to show them a way out, which is to, basically, follow orders. They are then reassured that their dutiful following of orders has saved the day -- for now. But eternal vigilance is required! And while you sleep, we are keeping watch.

So… the answer to why this relatively new layer of oppression is so total, and so heavy, has to do with both goals and means. The goals include the complete control of every aspect of existence -- once again so that people can be kept in a state of servitude where all of their surplus labor or productivity is siphoned off for the benefit of those in charge (and I know this sounds very Marxist, but it can’t be helped… ). I mean -- for example, where did all that “bailout” and “economic stimulus” money go? Where did all the money go that people put into the stock market and real estate? No one knows. These are resources that we could have used, but they were denied us, because someone else had a greater need, or thought they knew better -- or, once again, because they could do it, they did do it. So the greatest transfer of wealth in human history took place right before our eyes, but what could be done? What I’m trying to say is that as historically prosperous as the U.S. is (even at this point), it should, by rights, be much more prosperous -- except that we are taxed, both overtly and covertly, at every opportunity by the government and by the people to whom it answers.

Now, as to means -- once again I cite the mainstream media, as well as “entertainment”, the colleges and universities, the mainline churches and congregations… everyone, in fact, who has anything to do with originating or spreading ideas. And those ideas are not, in our time, meant to inspire, but to mollify… to anesthetize… to cause the brain to turn off. And this process takes, as you might suppose, enormous resources; we are, in effect, taxed in order to support the propaganda machine that assures us that we are not being taxed -- or that if we are, it’s all for a good and noble purpose. (It’s like those toll roads whose entire income goes to pay the toll booth attendants.) So it is no wonder people have a heavy, oppressed feeling these days -- even in the face of the Messiah of Hope and Change who occupies the White House. But ultimately, no one is fooled -- we know that all of our real rights have long since been taken away, and all we are left with is tokens. But does this lead to rebellion? No, because -- as I said -- this time the ideas came first. There have been plenty of cases throughout history where the “rough stuff” got things rolling, and the ideas came along later on in order to provide a sort of retrospective rationale. But not this time! How much blood has really been shed? And yet, seen from a distance, we are every bit as enslaved as any subject race of ancient times -- but this time with little or no awareness, and therefore little or no chance of regaining our freedom.

Let the Absurdity Begin...

1. Just a hint of the cascading absurdities to come, once the “Obama surge” in Afghanistan is implemented: “An official” -- and you'll notice how they stay anonymous much more often these days – said, “... we do reaffirm our long-term strategic partnership with Afghanistan, but not at anything like 100,000 U.S. troops in their country.” At the end of the article we find this nugget: “The rapid dispatch of extra troops would bring the U.S. total there to 98,000.” Wow – thank goodness that 98,000 is nowhere near 100,000...

2. But on the other hand, what's with this mantra endlessly voiced by the MSM, that Americans are “war-weary”? I don't know anyone who's “war-weary” -- people who were against it to begin with still are, and those who were for it still are. It's not as if a significant percentage of Americans have suddenly turned against Wilsonism and globalism. Well, maybe the fact that we're losing has had some impact on morale... but in principle, most Americans (and voters) still reserve the right to invade any country at any time, and stay there for an indefinite period, in order to “spread democracy”, and “defend the American way of life”, etc. This much has not changed. I mean, think about it – how many small-town squares are graced with peace monuments? There might be a few in Vermont, but overall – no. It's always about war, and about the sacrifices “the men of (wherever)” made in order to preserve freedom, etc. etc. Of course, this is just cognitive dissonance at work, as I've said before – a sacrifice that great has to have been worth something, so we ignore the facts and instead cling to abstract concepts as a justification for the massive and needless loss of human life. And this, in turn, is because pride and a masochistic sort of self-respect are just about all we can hope to salvage from the endless round of military follies imposed on us by our “leaders”. Ultimately, the Marine who gets blown to bits in Beirut has to croak, “semper fi” from his hospital bed, because that image – that idea – is all he has left. And the rest of us very dutifully follow suit, because to do otherwise would be unpatriotic -- not to mention inconsiderate and disrespectful. And in the meantime, the cynical sociopaths who run our government and oversee our wars -- and profit immensely from both -- chuckle over brandy and cigars.

3. Henry Waxman, who Rush Limbaugh memorably dubbed “nostrilus giganticus”, has resurfaced the idea of government bailing out “struggling media organizations” -- by which I can only take him to mean the ones that are chronically in bed with the government and are, therefore, crashingly boring and are therefore losing “market share”, sponsors, and customers. Gee, you might as well propose bailing out churches that are losing parishoners. What ever happened to the “marketplace of ideas”? Are CBS, ABC, and NBC really too big to fail? Are Time, Newsweek, the New York Times, and the Washington Post too big to fail? Because you know that's what he's talking about. Lots of luck getting any bailout money to the Washington Times, or the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review – as if they'd accept it. No, this is just a way to subsidize media outlets that are already subsidized through preferential treatment. Apparently the media lapdogs of the administration are getting too skinny, and it's time to fatten them up. The thing to remember in all of this is that the administration and the media are all, ultimately, working for the same people – it goes beyond symbiosis and beyond “incest”... they are, basically, one and the same. The MSM might as well be a government agency, in fact, like Pravda and Izvestia – so it's no surprise that they're about to receive an overt handout. But that, of course, is not the rationale that's being presented. Waxman's position is that “quality journalism (is) essential to democracy” -- quite true, if democracy were what he wanted to preserve, which it isn't. What he wants to preserve is the government's propaganda apparatus, AKA the MSM. He also concedes that the media have a “failing business model”. Yeah – so did the buggy whip makers. Apparently this is one area of American business where competition is not welcome... but we knew that already. But the last word comes from an outfit called Free Press (a bit of irony, there). They refer to “the idea that news-gathering is a public service , not a commodity”. Well... again, it would be a public service if it served the public in some way other than anesthetizing it against the enormities of government... but what it actually does is just the opposite. When Big Brother appears on the giant, flat-screen TV, it's the MSM that bring him into our living rooms, free of charge.

4. On a lighter note – now that the Steelers have, basically, taken themselves out of playoff, not to mention Super Bowl, contention, how would it be if they just relaxed and played football for a change? My theory is that this constant obsession with “the playoffs” creates too much anxiety, and as a result causes a detriment in performance. Ever notice how, when a team is miles ahead in a game, they just start to have fun, and as a result actually play better than they do when in a pinch? This is a very familiar phenomenon to psychologists – although it seems to have escaped the attention of most NFL coaches. When you play because you enjoy playing, you do well; when you have a Sword of Damocles called “The Super Bowl” hanging over your head, you tend to screw up. Now's the Steelers' chance to play some really fine, elegant football for the rest of the season and let someone else worry about what happens in January.

Obama Doubles Down

What would you say to a guy who had spent all night gambling... was down to his last $100... and who said he was going to put it all on the table because that way he would win enough to recoup all his losses. Wouldn't you say something like, “Hold onto that $100 and get the hell out of here, you moron!” ?? Yeah. And that's what we should all feel like saying to Obama when it comes to Afghanistan. If the Cheney/Bush cabal, who really _believed_ in that war, couldn't make any headway, how much better is a guy who apparently _doesn't_ believe in it going to do? Even the headline in today's paper betrays the incoherence of the policy: “Exit in mind as surge begins.” Which is like saying, “I'm getting married in order to get a divorce,” or “I'm eating right and taking supplements in order to stunt my growth.” Clearly, Obama has drunk deeply of the poisonous draught of Wilsonism, globalism, empire building, and all-around meddling offered to him by Bush/Cheney on their way out the door. And that will be followed, in due course, by an equally toxic draught of frustration and defeat. Better men than he have met their political and military fate on the rocky crags of Afghanistan; and the notion that that place represents some sort of “vital national interest” for the U.S. is sheer lunacy. All we're talking about, really, is payback for 9-11; isn't that right? We're still, eight years later, determined to teach those ragheads a damn good lesson. The problem is, they are unteachable, and the reason they are unteachable is that their value system is, basically, the exact reverse of ours. If we try to punish them with bombs and bullets, they rejoice in their impending martyrdom, and in our deteriorating image in the world's eyes. If we earmark a huge portion of our national wealth for our war on Islam, they brag that they are bankrupting us – which they are – and that our empire is doomed – which it is. As a number of commentators have pointed out, how are you going to deal with people who would rather die than live? It's impossible. It's like the kamikaze fighters of old – or The Blob – or a Bobo doll – or Al Capp's Schmoos -- or the Tar Baby. It is an enemy far more alien, for example, than the Nazis ever were... or the Soviets... or even, perhaps, the North Koreans and the Vietcong. Even the kamikazes only made their appearance toward the end of the war in the Pacific, whereas the suicide enthusiasts have been with us since Day One.

But yes, it's true – dealing with people who are, basically, not punishable is a brand-new experience for us, and for our foreign policy mavens. We assume that because our value system requires certain things, and certain priorities, that theirs ought to as well. So we set out on the road to battle on our terms... but the battles we wind up fighting are fought on their terms, simply because we are fighting them on their territory. (And forget about the notion of al Qaeda not being a territory or “state” -- its territory is simply all of the Islamic world – which includes parts of Paris, for example -- not to mention Fort Hood.) And the notion of “preventing further attacks” by turning the U.S. into a police state totally misses the point (in addition to being another victory for them). They opened our veins with the 9-11 attacks, and the bloodletting began... and it continues in the sands of Iraq and on the rocks of Afghanistan. What more need do they have of attacking us on our own soil? None, as far as I can tell. Much better to keep up the attacks on our puppet regimes in Iraq and Afghanistan – that will keep us over there, and keep us hemorrhaging resources until we run out.

But then – you might ask – how were we supposed to respond to 9-11? Were we just supposed to sit there and lick our wounds? Was no retaliation even possible? Well... to begin with, one must refer to Ron Paul's surgically precise comment during the Republican debates, that “they're over here because we're over there” -- a comment that caused Rudy Giuliani to have an apoplectic fit in public, which in turn – I can argue – was the beginning of the end of his own campaign, for which we can all be eternally grateful. So if I'm a radical Islamist, my feeling is that 9-11 required no retaliation because it, in effect, evened the score – for decades of abuse, exploitation, interference, and meddling on our part in Southeast Asia. But of course that won't satisfy any red-blooded American; something else had to be done. Well... if you want to punish al Qaeda, you basically find them and kill them, which we have been trying to do for eight-plus years now. The problem is that al Qaeda is larded through the Islamic world, like the tares in the wheat... so for every one of them we kill, we also manage to kill a few dozen “non-combatants”. Dick Cheney would consider that a small price to pay, of course – since, after all, those ragheads aren't “real people” any more than the Vietnamese were. But in any case, total victory is highly unlikely, especially since they gain more recruits every time we bomb another wedding party.

Well OK then, if al Qaeda is like an inoperable brain tumor in the skull of Islam, how about the Taliban? They were the government of Afghanistan at the time of the attacks, and they presumably supported, or at least were sympathetic to, al Qaeda. So the answer to that was to do what we did, namely to blast the crap out of Kabul -- but we should have stopped there. Our mistake was not in turning a few thousand Taliban into fine powder, but in assuming that, to finish the job, we also had to land ground troops in Afghanistan and, basically, occupy the country and install a puppet regime; that is the source of our (and Obama's) present woes. (This is the puppet government, by the way, that we're supposedly about to build up so that it can continue to act against the wishes of its own people. Just see how long that lasts if we ever pull out; I give it about 24 hours. Because the truth is, we're not over there helping the “good” Afghans assert our values against the “bad” Afghans; we're fighting the whole country, and the only ones on our side are those who feel it's in their short-term interests to be so.) But it did not necessarily follow then, nor does it now, that this package was the only option. For example, what would be wrong with – and this has been proposed by a few brave souls – simply leaving Afghanistan but “standing offshore” with a few naval vessels. If they dare to install another Taliban government, just blast the crap out of them (again) with cruise missiles. No troops, no “drones”, no nothing – just nice neat, clean missiles. And we do that as many times as is necessary. This would be much more defensible to the international community (and to the U.N. -- as though we cared) than our present policy is. They declared war on us – or at least aided and abetted war on us – so we declare war on them. And the way we do this is to constantly threaten their power base. This is not the same as making Afghanistan into an American colony and expecting it to magically adopt the pomp and circumstance of democracy; if they want to give that a try, well and good – but that's their call, not ours.

Now, the above scenario is presented fully mindful of the fact that full, all-out, Old Testament-style vengeance for 9-11 is unattainable. In that sense, the pacifists are right – you can't unscramble the eggs of war, terror, genocide, murder, etc. All you can do is defend against a recurrence (which we are supposedly doing, although sometimes I wonder) and try to educate the rest of the world, on some level, as to the desirability of peaceful coexistence (which mission we are definitely failing at). “Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord.” And this is at least partly because it is ultimately impossible for human beings to achieve in a just way – or in any way at all, for that matter. It is the eternal frustration of the Jews, for example, that they will never be able to “get even” for the Holocaust, no matter how hard they try – and no matter how many old guys in hospital beds they drag into courtrooms. You can't do it; it's impossible. Ultimately, it has to be left up to God. But that doesn't keep people from trying, and from overfunctioning, and winding up worse off than before it all began. Haven't we lost more soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan than we lost people on 9-11? Does that make any sense to you? The way we return blow for blow is to sacrifice more people and wealth than they destroyed – and there is no sign that this process will ever end. If you want a good example of “perpetual war”, just say “Afghanistan”. The Russians didn't leave because they had won; they left because they were sick of the whole thing. Ditto us in Vietnam. That's the kind of victory that people in that part of the world are used to – the kind that requires infinite patience, attrition, and working on the mind of the enemy. And frankly, with our orderly, Napoleonic concept of war, we just can't handle that sort of thing. Those people just don't fight "fair". So we will be defeated whenever we go over there – whereas, when they come over here... well, that would be 9-11. So yes, it's “asymmetrical warfare” all right, and we're the ones on the short end of the asymmetry.