Monday, May 31, 2010


So now it appears that our “National Security Strategy” is no longer confined to the “War on Terror” the way it was under Bush. All sorts of nice holistic words are being mouthed, implying that the U.S. is going to act less like the lone gun, or like the new sheriff hired to clean up the town. Who knows, charity might begin at home once again! Compared to the gun-slinging absolutism of Bush & Co. I guess things are going to start looking more relativistic, conditional, and open to debate, discussion, and compromise. Except for one thing, that is... the ultimate non-negotiable... namely, our relationship (that is, entanglement) with Israel. My feeling is that nothing else we do anywhere in the world, in terms of sitting down and reasoning together, means anything if we don't at least put the Israel question up for debate (by Congress, and by the American people -- since they have never had the slightest voice in the matter). It is, after all, the ultimate source of our troubles with Islamic militancy, and is the reason (primary, if not sole) we are fighting the “War on Terror”. The “Israel bill”, as I call it, continues to mount – well into the trillions at this point, because it includes not only 9-11 and its aftermath, but the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. We wonder why the EU is distancing itself from us politically, economically, and financially... and why China is getting nervous. The reason is simple. Nowhere else in the world is one country putting all of its resources, and its entire future, on the line for another country – no matter how noble the cause (and the Israel cause is far from noble, in my opinion). The situation, as I've said before, is unprecedented in history... and represents, I fear, a degree of delusion combined with short-sightedness that more than verges on insanity.

So we can talk all we want about “climate change”, education, energy, economic issues, “international institutions”, treaties, and so on... but Israel is the elephant in the living room that we refuse to even acknowledge. But everyone else sees it clearly and, if they're smart, they are acting accordingly. We may be big, and we may be scary, but our powers are limited, as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have shown... so our ability to intimidate and twist arms has suffered some severe blows of late. Plus, it's now seen that, when it comes to finance and the markets, when we sneeze Europe catches pneumonia... and they're going to have to do something about that before long as well. They have their own “foreign entanglement” problem, and its name is America. How long until the U.S. becomes the King Lear of the world? And we thought it was scary when Ukraine and Kazakhstan wound up with nukes...

Race to the Bottom

Here's another example of a line that would have been easy to miss. Regarding the public school system in Pennsylvania, today's paper says: “Student assessment is not among the state Department of Education's criteria for evaluating teachers.” Huh?? I'm trying to think of anything else besides student assessment that could possibly be relevant. But apparently there is an alternative, which is widely used – something called “classroom observation”. But it doesn't mention what is observed, or by whom. (If someone were to go into a school on the weekend and “observe” an empty classroom, would that count?) And there is also something called "professional development", which basically means that teachers are assessed based on the number of days spent on "continuing education" boondoggles. (What impact this has on the students is a question seldom, if ever, raised.) And I'm sure there are plenty of other measures of teacher merit just waiting to be pulled out and brandished at committee meetings -- you know, things having to do with having the right attitude and values (politics, in other words)... "caring and sharing" (AKA good intentions)... and so on -- all completely beside the point, of course.

Of course, there will always be a chorus of self-styled humanitarians who cry out that grades are unfair and discriminatory, and that they hurt people's feelings. Well, fine. It hurts my feelings that I didn't qualify for the Tour de France. But the funny thing about student assessment – AKA “grades” -- is that, in the long run, it's the only evidence we have of achievement. Grades are the biggest factor is college and university admissions... they are important to employers... they have a lot to do with scholarships of various kinds... and so on. A middle-aged person applying for a job is likely to be asked for his public school transcript, even if it's been 30 or 40 years since he was in a classroom. So if grades are this important to the student, and to the economy, and to society, why are they so unimportant to the teachers and the educational establishment?

Now, the reason this has come up at all is that there is a flavor of federal stimulus money labeled “Race to the Top”, that includes teacher accountability as a condition for receiving some of the largess. And for Pennsylvania, for example, the amount in question is not trivial – something around $400 million. So as you can imagine, public school officials are scrambling to figure out ways of making student assessment a “significant” (note, still not the only) factor in teacher evaluations. This attempt will, of course, run headlong into the teachers' unions, which have had an iron grip on public education for generations now, and you may rest assured that some compromise will be worked out which will turn on the money spigot without making any significant difference in teacher evaluation. In fact, the article admits that “a district's eligibility for Race to the Top money hinges on the support of its teachers union.” And, of course, job one is protecting jobs, as they will freely admit. Besides, these people are experts in coming up with words that make it sound like certain things are being done, when in fact not only are they not being done, but the exact opposite is being done. And we already know that every “crisis” in public education forms the basis for a new hemorrhage from the treasury (federal, state, or local), with the funds used, more often than not, in a way that simply aggravates the crisis. So it becomes a great merry-go-round where failure is turned into success on regular basis, with the only real losers – or should I say victims – being the students (and, indirectly, their parents, and society, and so on).

I continue to be amazed at how our public schools are not only allowed, but encouraged, to turn out hyperactive, ignorant, moral half-wits while at the same time we continue to represent ourselves as an advanced, “high-tech”, humane society with an “educated” populace. It has become a truism that the high-school graduate of a century ago had a better education than the college graduate today... and that doesn't even count the fact that there is so much more to learn now to prepare people for their “place in society”. Unless, of course, their place in society is meant to be nothing more than that of passive, gullible serfs – which does, in fact, appear to be the case. But even the greatest cynic might want to say that we've gone overboard on this a bit. You can have a society of passive, gullible serfs, but you still need a few smart people around to run things; but it seems we are even running out of those in some sectors – at least if you listen to the complaints of employers.

And then we have the problem (if it even is a problem) that not everyone on earth subscribes to our concept of what constitutes proper public education. Why, there are places that insist on quality... places where incompetent teachers can actually be fired... where the unions don't dominate the entire education industry (and thus, in the long run, the entire culture). And those places are showing signs of detecting our weakness, and taking advantage of it. We may indeed wind up intellectually colonized, with the “native-born” assuming the status of the native-born in a more traditional colony – doing the mindless, tedious, heavy-lifting tasks... or nothing at all... while people from somewhere else run things and reap all the benefits.

Frankly, I think the colonization of America has already begun – and certain aspects of it started a long time ago. We have certainly been politically colonized (by Israel, and also by a Eurocentric Regime) and financially colonized (by China, among others). It seems that education is intended to be the next major step – although in this case the colonization process starts within the society, with the increasing foreign dominance being an effect (intended or otherwise) rather than a cause. But what are the goals? Clearly, the weakening of any sense of American identity is at the top of the list. And what makes that so important? Because it lowers our resistance to domination by the world elite. Americans are already, by and large, a deracinated people, with no coherent cultural identity or heritage (except the one that is formalistically and ritualistically drummed into our heads by public observances). What's going on now, I believe, is a plan to render us doubly deracinated – not only cut off from any coherent cultural identity or ethnic consciousness, but also cut off from the more ideational substitutes that being an American has always entailed. And yet, paradoxically, part of what has always strengthened and stabilized American identity is the older substrate of more organic cultures – primarily, but not exclusively, those of Europe. The ideal for an Italian-American, for example, was to come up with a synthesis of Old World and New – and enjoy the best of both. But the part before the hyphen has been largely eradicated at this point, through the concentrated efforts of the government, the media, and the public schools... and now the part after the hyphen is on the ropes as well. All we will be offered by way of compensation will be the opportunity to become a “world citizen” -- and the last time I checked, that idea didn't appeal to anyone except old-time communists and NPR listeners. Everyone else knows it's a crock – and it is, because it offers no real identity to hold on to, nothing to defend, and no source of consolation in times of strife. Another way of putting it is that if everyone is a “world citizen”, then no one is a citizen... of anywhere. And this, once again, represents a weakening of the will to survive in any decent, self-respecting way... which is, in turn, the goal of the Regime. It wants to reduce self-respect and pride, and group identity, to the point of oblivion, so that people will adopt an attitude of resignation and not object to the gray, bland, serf-like existence that awaits. And one of the key elements in this very long campaign is the public schools. The last thing they want is for anyone to re-introduce Quality as an important consideration – especially since the ideal public school outcome is mediocrity. Truly educated people are dangerous, and a threat to the program; why would we want to rate schools, and teachers, based on their ability to turn out truly educated people? The whole idea is absurd.

So when it comes to the Race to the Top, so-called, expect the unions to take the money and run – but not to the top. Or, let's say, the teachers may run to the top of the pay scale but the students will continue to flounder in a pool of programmed mediocrity.

I'll close with a memorable line from the article: “The school code states that teachers can be terminated for incompetency, immorality, intemperance, cruelty, negligence...” What I'd like to know is, what would happen if we applied the same criteria to the public school system itself? Could it be terminated? One can only dream...

Da Boys in Chicago Ain't Happy About Dis...

It's one thing when you turn a rock over and find some loathsome, crawling thing underneath. It's quite another when you turn a different rock over, more than ten years later, and find the same loathsome, crawling thing underneath, virtually unchanged. Then you have to think there's more to it than meets the eye. And so it is with Bill Clinton – the Sultan of Sleaze in his own time, and now drafted as an errand boy by the Obama gang to make politicians offers they can't refuse. And he was working directly for Rahm Emanuel, a sleazemeister in his own right... but let's face it, in this business there's nothing like an old pro who has proven his worth time and time again. And to Joe Sestak's credit, he turned down that offer he couldn't refuse, which turned out to be a fine thing and a service to the Republic, since it spelled the end of the spotted career track of Arlen Specter. (Did you know that Specter was asked not to visit the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences during regular hours, because the last time he did, people thought he was a mummy come back to life, and a general panic ensued?) But in any case, Specter has now been dislodged, no thanks to the Democratic power hierarchy represented by Obama, Emanuel, and Clinton. Ever feel like you're watching some old B-grade mob flick? That's pretty much the image the Democratic Party is projecting these days... not that this is any big change, but for a bunch that invariably claims the moral high ground, it is refreshing when they, now and then, show their true colors.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Road Apples

So, having said that (previous post), I offer some gleanings from what I call the “on-the-road media”, which consist of, basically, crushingly boring local newspapers, USA Today (which was not called “McPaper” for nothing, being just about as bland as hospital oatmeal, with writing rivaling National Geographic for sheer inanity), and whatever can be gleaned from the Internet on those odd evenings when one can tap into WiFi. And I'll add, just for the sake of efficiency, some tidbits from what has occurred since I got back home, just to beef things up a bit.

Strangers in a Strange Land

“32 naturalized pledge allegiance” -- headline in the Pittsburgh paper, and I assume they mean naturalized citizens, rather than some form of processed milk that somehow has the capacity (and the desire) to pledge allegiance. And my thought always is, what are these people thinking? They have just signed on to the largest national debt per capita on earth, and it's only going to get worse. Unless they walked off the boat (or plane) with a few million dollars in their pockets, they're going to have to send their kids to public schools. They're showing up in the middle of a mini-Depression. The government here can't possibly be any less corrupt than the one wherever they came from. We have intractable racial strife... unemployment... environmental crises every five minutes... a middle class that's being systematically exterminated, and a proletariat class that's made up of mind-numbed wards of the state. And yet they want to live here! Are they insane? Or, are things really even worse wherever it is they came from – in which case “I pity the fools” that live in those places. Of course, they could be delusional... and one wonders how many will wind up with regrets. But then you look at our southern border, AKA the unguarded superhighway to “El Norte”, and you see the same thing. If this country is the lifeboat, there must be a hell of a storm brewing out there...

We Don't Need Your Educators

“Dems, Obama urge $23B teacher bailout.” This, in response to “an estimated 100,000 or more education layoffs”. And Arne Duncan says “we have to keep hundreds of thousands of teachers teaching”. But here's my question. Have public school enrollments plummeted? Because if they haven't, then clearly all of these layoffs will leave many classrooms without any teachers. Unless.. these jobs are simply examples of padding, or featherbedding. In other words, if there is a surplus of teachers then getting rid of a few won't have any impact... other than saving money. Or... is it possible that what they are calling “teachers” is really “support staff”, which, as we know, is at least half of the total of all personnel involved in public education. Here's the point. Nowhere in all this special pleading is there any indication that any children will be left teacher-less. Which leads me to believe that these layoffs will be of supernumeraries – i.e. of “filler” that the unions have insisted on. And sure enough, the same article points out that “skeptics... point out that the teaching force in recent years has grown faster than enrollment”. Yeah. It's like having a coal shoveler on a diesel engine. Pardon my skepticism, but all I see here is a threat to a tiny top layer of the public education empire. If anything, the cuts should be much deeper.

Value Voters

“Masked gunmen kill 15 in Baghdad gold heist.” Wow – it's just like the wild west. Or Prohibition. Or our “inner cities”. But at least the culprits know real value when they see it. Catch them robbing Iraqi dinars or American dollars. It's to laugh! When Iraqi thieves know more about currency and real value than American citizens – or their leaders – it's a sign of the times.

Let Them Eat Euros

The Associated Press, for all that it is a tongue- and tail-wagging tool of the Regime, still manages to get off a good shot once in a while. In this case, it's an article entitled “Queen calls for austerity in Britain”. And in it they just happen to mention that “the queen wore a crown studded with 2,000 diamonds” and that the festivities involved “canon (sic) fire, cavalry, red-jacketed Yeoman warders and glittering carriages.” All of this to advertise austerity. Well... “there'll always be a Britain”, as they say... and it promises to be a majority-Moslem country before long, just like the rest of Western Europe. And I guess when they are all under sharia law, no one will have to “call for” austerity – it will just be a fact of life. But in the meantime, the AP is having fun with Britain's foolishness... which I guess means we can have fun with it too. Until we contemplate our own, that is.

The Zen of Geezerdom

“Daily stress plummets after age 50” -- according to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (so you know it's true, just like global warming). More specifically, “worry holds steady until around 50, when it drops sharply”. Now... for an explanation, I nominate, first, all those “over the hill” greeting cards that people who are turning 50 get. (They have them for people turning 40 as well, but that's mostly for glamor professions like ballet and pro football.) I'm kidding, of course... but not entirely. What those messages represent is the idea that, basically, it's OK to give up – that anything you haven't already achieved ain't gonna happen, so you might as well just relax and stop struggling, striving, and worrying. And there is ample historical precedent for this notion, as we know – most of the significant achievements in any field (science, the arts, literature, etc.) are achieved by people younger than 50 – well younger in many cases. So in a sense, it's perfectly realistic for a person turning 50 to rest on their laurels... or, if they have no laurels, to rest on whatever is at hand. But is this all that's going on? “Perceptions of well-being become more positive after 50” as well. But again, isn't this a product of expectations? What is “well-being”, after all, but a comparison of things as they are with things as we feel they “should” be? But if we lower our expectations as the result of “facing facts” about our overall level of accomplishment, then – paradoxically – this exercise in realism becomes a source of – maybe – greater contentment. As the Zen masters say, striving is the source of all unhappiness; expect nothing, and that way anything you get will be on the plus side.

Passage to India

At the conclusion of a widely-publicized trial, “the judge said, 'The common man will lose faith in the courts if this man is let loose, if death is not awarded.'” Sounds like a pretty no-nonsense conclusion to me. And, as you might guess, the statement was made not by a judge in this country, but one in India. On our side of the great divide, we don't seem to care if the common man loses faith in the courts; in fact, it's assumed that he will, and that he already has. And by “the common man” we don't mean the common criminal, but the vast non-criminal (or, not-yet-criminal) class, AKA the middle class and the working lower class. These are the people whose opinions are valued the least by the Regime, the government, the media, and the culture in general. Our own great divide is between the controlling elite, who know everything (or pretend to) and the ordinary citizen, who knows nothing (according to Obama and the media). So why can't we – at least in this respect – be more like India?

Where's the Beef?

“Chavez cracks down on high meat prices.” And that makes me think that perhaps the main thing defining liberals is their total cluelessness when it comes to economics. As far as they're concerned, the proper and “fair” price of any goods or services is the price the government assigns to them – supply and demand have nothing to do with it, and neither do costs (materials, labor, etc.). And the funny thing is that whenever any government tries to control prices, the item in question disappears from the market – as is happening with meat in Venezuela. And the even funnier thing is that they never learn from experiences like this, and are perpetually waiting for the next excuse to impose price controls.

Nasty, Brutish, and Short

“Study finds Neanderthal traces in people today”. Well heck, I could have told you that. All you have to do is get stuck on a “T” (trolley) car with a bunch of Penguins fans.


“Ordinary people have the right to ask, how are you spending my money? Are you spending it on me? What are you doing with it?” Thus, the plea of a private citizen – in the People's Republic of China. And admittedly, this is in the city of Wenling, which has an “open-books policy” when it somes to municipal expenditures. But still, it's enough to make you think -- who asks questions like this over here? Mostly the “tea partiers”, who are regularly accused by the Obama administration and its media lapdogs of being traitors, rabble-rousers, and potential terrorists. And again I say – why can't we be more like... anyone except who we are?

That Thing We Call "Normalcy"

Current events are like a soap opera. You go away for a couple of weeks, come back, tune in, and nothing much has changed. It's as though you'd only been gone for a day... or an hour... or a minute. One almost gets the impression that the “news” is carefully parceled out at precisely the correct rate – not fast enough to cause paralyzing fear and panic, but not so slow as to cause complacency and apathy. In other words, the “fear factor” is carefully controlled... and we see this when something truly unexpected happens, like the oil leak in the Gulf. All of a sudden, the other stories disappear from the media, almost as if... well, as if they weren't all that important after all. Or – as if they were entirely made up just to “fill in” what would otherwise be a dull news cycle. We certainly see this in the print media – whenever there is a temporary lapse in “breaking news” they dig down into their reserves and come up with more conceptual, long-term stuff which is just as fear-provoking as “the news” and which has the added advantage of having a much longer half-life. However it's done, the goal is to keep the public in a more or less steady state of anxiety coupled with breathless anticipation – what's going to happen next? And – most importantly of all – how is the government going to save us from its consequences? If this were made into a cartoon, it would be an endless loop of “Boo! Just kidding. Boo! Just kidding.”... ad infinitum. And this is what people of our time seem to crave – some sort of vicarious emotional thrill ride, with all of its ups and downs and scary moments, even though we know that the roller coaster never actually jumps the track... almost never, that is – and that's what makes the system work. It's the thought that this time it might be for real... this might really be The End... and that's what makes people rush to give up their liberties and become willing wards of the state – infantilized, for all intents and purposes. The “nanny state” is always there, holding out its arms, promising to shelter us and shield us from all harm, i.e. from nasty old reality. So we become as babes – but the price is that we must remain as ignorant as babes. The real processes of the real world go on, but without any recognition by the vast majority. Most people are living in a dream (or nightmare, take your pick) world – and it's not even their own dream, but one that was created for them. So they are shielded from reality by many layers of “news”, propaganda, and just plain delusion. But this is the way they like it, apparently – since all that they do, in their own feeble way, is aimed at perpetuating the system. Try questioning the news... the propaganda apparatus... the ever-churning machinery of delusion... and the first to protest, and threaten you with violence, will be the very same people who are its main targets, and victims. This is the final victory of the controllers – that people will fight like demons to protect the delusions that they have been inoculated with by the Regime. The Regime itself doesn't have to lift a finger – it has all of its pawns, the citizens of the Servile State, to do its heavy lifting. The real revolution – if it ever happens – will occur when enough people wake up to the fact that they are prisoners of the Matrix, and opt for reality – real life – instead... with all of its risks and perils, but also with the rewards of living an authentic existence rather than consenting to being a two-dimensional cartoon character on someone else's wallpaper.

Friday, May 21, 2010

If Progress Is An Illusion, Why Do We Keep Clinging To It?

It’s kind of striking, really. Go into any large city and you’ll see various “legacy” buildings… monuments… parks… and so on, all signs of what is called “urban optimism”. This was an attitude -- almost impossible to imagine in our time -- when cities were considered to be our greatest achievement, the symbol of progress, the best hope for the future, and so on. Even at the time I was in college (mid 1960s) the cities were still a sort of magnet for youth -- everyone wanted to live in New York (preferably Greenwich Village). The cities were where the action was -- where anything worth doing could be done, and done better. But that was before the riots, and before people fully realized the toll that highway construction, “urban renewal”, ethnic cleansing (of whites), and mass taxpayer-funded warehousing of black people had taken. As cities descended into anarchy and became vast wastelands, the eyes of youth turned more toward the countryside, and you had the “communes” and other manifestations of a sort of latter-day back-to-the-land movement. This is still going on to some extent, and it has also created a new dynamic between the cities and the countryside, mediated largely by younger people who not only believe in both but believe they can be made symbiotic (as opposed to being at knife points culturally, politically, and economically). So we have the fresh food/local food movement, farmers’ markets, food co-ops, and even efforts on the part of some major grocery chains to get in on the action (as long as it enhances the bottom line, of course). And at the same time some areas of some cities are being re-colonized, again by young people who specialize in turning vacant lots into community gardens, and fixing up old houses that were somehow spared destruction by the urban renewal juggernaut. (They may have been part of a “blighted” area, but were saved when the urban renewal/highway money ran out.) And of course the people who remained in the cities all along -- like the underground inhabitants in some post-nuclear dystopia movie -- aren’t so sure they like all these fresh, smiling, mostly-white faces in their midst. It is, after all, their turf… their “hood”. They fought for it, and they have lived and died (especially the latter) there for at least couple of generations. So there will be some pushback now and then -- and even city governments aren’t sure which side of the issue they want to be on. Do they want to support urban homesteading or oppose it? After all, they have had a captive voting bloc all these years, as well as an “economic” base for gigantic social welfare programs and public education (so-called). And these newcomers seem a bit… anarchistic, frankly. They believe in doing things at a local level… they don’t buy “fast food”… they are too “arty”… and so forth. The ideal city model for the old timers is a bunch of power types who live either way uptown or in high rises, lording it over the hapless proletariat; grass-roots movements contradict that and get in the way. (Even legitimate community activism on the part of blacks is viewed with, at best, ambivalence. Someone might start asking questions!)

Thus, a very short summary of what became of urban optimism and why. Its demise was a convergence of political, economic, cultural, and historical trends -- but it’s not true that it “just happened” and that it was no one’s fault. Urban optimism was defeated because there were enough people with enough power who wanted to see the cities destroyed rather than see them prosper. The strictly mechanistic, anti-human model of a city as being only a place to work, but not to live, was the driving force -- thus the massive highway projects which brought things to a point where large areas of many cities are devoted entirely to roads -- no houses, no business, no nothing -- just roads. They lead in, they lead out, they lead around… but they don’t contribute anything to organic growth or sustainment. Our cities now resemble nothing so much as a patient in an intensive care unit -- hooked up to dozens of tubes, probes, wires, etc. and kept alive in a grotesque, artificial way -- but unable to sustain life on their own. And yet, in the midst of all this, stand the true radicals -- much more radical than the rural commune hippie types -- who refuse to give up on cities… on the vision that has stimulated mankind since… well, since the dawn of civilization, because “civilization” implies, and would not truly exist without, cities.

The irony, of course, is that even the most determined urban homesteader -- or any number thereof -- can only bring a city part way back to where it was a few generations earlier -- i.e. before the riots, before “urban renewal”, before the mass migrations from the South. Their efforts may result in a few small areas of tranquility, but they will fall far short of the vision of urban optimism or any of its associated utopian models. The ideal city, in fact -- the vision of the “city planners” -- does not exist and probably never has… and, we can say with some assurance, never will. But why is this? Is it because there is something wrong with cities -- with the whole concept -- or because there is something wrong with people… or a bit of each? And a more basic question is this: If cities represent civilization, in the literal sense, do they also, automatically, represent “progress”?

And right away we have to define what we mean by “progress”. Do a simple word association test with most people, and they will almost immediately say “technology”. (A few generations ago they would have said “industry” or “business“ or "gross national product".) And this matches the common, almost universal, notion that progress equals nothing more or less than “more” -- bigger, faster, louder, shinier, and so on. How many will, right off the bat, associate progress with quality of life? And, for that matter, what would they say if you asked them to define “quality of life”? You might be right back in the “technology” trap. So is quality of life only about “stuff”? Or about speed, which Kurt Vonnegut said was the great sin of our time? The average teenager seems to think so. But most societies up to the present day have not taken the priorities of teenagers as the basis of value for the society as a whole. (In fact, most societies up to the present day haven’t had “teenagers” at all. They’ve had “children” and “adults”. But that’s a discussion for another time.)

What if we thought of “quality of life” the way we think of water -- seeking its own level? How does one explain illegal immigration, for example? Isn’t it all about people seeking a better “quality of life” (according to their own value system, of course)? And some may find it, and others may be disappointed… and some may go back where they came from, enlightened and chastened. But at least they have had the opportunity to make comparisons. I’m sure that many people -- most, in fact -- would enjoy an enhanced quality of life (at least temporarily) if they could just wave a magic wand and be transported to any place on earth (of their choice) and allowed to remain there. (Although one wonders whether this act in the aggregate might not be self-defeating -- imagine if 5 million people all wanted to live on Waikiki Beach.) Or let’s say that there is a Master Assigner of Persons who could, on a worldwide basis, weigh each individual’s preferences against all available locations and come up with an optimal solution that represented the greatest good for the greatest number -- kind of like what the Army tries to do with job assignments. Not many people would get their first choice, but most people would wind up at least slightly better off, and certainly no one would wind up with their last choice. But, human nature being what it is, no sooner would some people settle into their new digs than they would start finding things to complain about, and go back to the Master Assigner, petitioning for redress.

Plus, of course, happiness or contentment are not simply about location and environment, they are also about other “things” as well as intangibles -- family, friends, social factors -- and opportunities to partake in cultural activities, educational opportunities, etc. These are some of the factors that weigh into the assessments we see, on a regular basis, of the “quality of life” in various cities and in various places around the world. So there is a sort of central tendency in what people consider good or bad about a given place and a given living environment -- and yet there is a remarkably wide range of tastes. There will always be people who prefer life above the Arctic Circle, for example… or life in the Amazon jungle, or in the desert. Some people can tolerate cities and some can’t. Some revel in the “low life” of cities, in fact -- they would be lost without sleazy bars, strip joints, and night clubs to go to. For them, the city represents not the optimism of its builders, but a sort of demi-monde in which one can become willingly lost. Others would rather have a small, white frame house in a small town, with tacky wooden cut-outs in the front yard. And so on. In any case, each person defines “quality of life” for him- or herself, and it’s somewhat of a miracle if a government bureau defines it the same way as any given individual would -- although they certainly do try, as we all know.

So can we say that “progress” is simply the fact of an increase in the aggregate quality of life? If more people are happier now than they were a year ago, is that progress, or is there more to it? (And note that, so far, it has nothing necessarily to do with “technology”.) Are wars, famines, and plagues interruptions of progress, or are they on a different continuum? And also, does the “vote” of dead people count? Are they still allowed to have a voice, albeit post-mortem, as to what is, or ought to be, of value to a society and its members? Let’s not forget that the paramount symbol of “progress” in the postwar era was the wrecking ball -- in other words, “progress” meant doing away with the old and building the new, regardless of any other considerations. And the citizenry of that era were sold a bill of goods by their political masters; you know, it was “excuse our dust” -- and everything would be back to normal -- no, better! -- before long. But that never happened, by and large; the temporary became permanent, and the building-down was never succeeded by a meaningful building-up. Many "blighted" areas were simply demolished and the luckless inhabitants shipped off to a suburban ghetto. And what was put in the place of the "blighted" but nonetheless dynamic and livable (on its own terms) area? Every city has these new moonscapes or no-man’s-lands… places that were “renewed” at great expense, and supposed to attract upscale businesses, residents, and so on… but which instantly turned into dangerous, depressed areas with “mixed housing” -- which is a euphemism for “projects” but with slightly more attractive facades. (You can always pick out these areas because they have what I call "ghetto street lighting" and there is no one on the street at any time, day or night.) The problem, as everywhere else and down through history, is that the young, the dispossessed, the insane, and the unemployed rule the streets… and the working residents are forced to scuttle between their triple-locked doors and their cars, drive to work somewhere else, drive back at the end of the day, scuttle back inside, and barricade themselves until it’s time to go back to work the next morning. What’s the difference between this and living in an untamed wilderness, with highway robbers and brigands running rampant up and down the countryside? The truth is, there isn’t any.

I don’t think anyone but the most delusional -- or politicians -- would see the above scenario as an example of “progress”. But we don’t have to confine our argument to the cities, whether bad or good. They are the most technologically-intense sectors of society, but agriculture is highly mechanized as well, and it is also a mixed blessing. To counterbalance the local food movement, we have other products being shipped halfway around the world… and we have all the delightful side effects (more of which are being discovered every day, and many of which, I contend, are yet to be discovered) of pesticides, fertilizers, hormones, food processing, packaging, storing, shipping, and so on. Eat enough “frankenfoods” and you become a “frankenperson”! And the same thing holds true for medicine, but even more so. We are all “products” of our environment in a radical way -- we contain, in our bodies (and, in some cases, to a much greater degree of concentration), all that is in that environment. And again, this is all about technology -- but I say that it’s the very opposite of progress, because it goes against quality of life. (But -- you might say -- I _enjoy_ having “fresh” raspberries from New Zealand in January, at $10 a pint. Well, maybe -- but what did they have to do to those raspberries to keep them pink and fresh all the way from the farm in New Zealand to the produce aisle at Foodland? Are we really eating emblamed corpses of what used to be fresh produce?)

And then we see what past generations, and other societies, have considered to be earmarks of quality of life, and we have to ask, were they onto something that we have missed, or neglected, or forgotten? We are reminded of these things on a regular basis anytime we’re confronted with “nostalgia” or anything “old fashioned”. But I can remember -- again, back in the golden age of the wrecking ball -- when the key words in marketing were “new” and “improved” -- usually followed by a parade of exclamation points (and printed on a yellow sunburst). “Old fashioned” was a term of derision and disrepute -- and the notion of anything being “hand made”, much less “organic”, was completely absent. (It took the hippies to rediscover those ideas and start the ball rolling.) So I’m saying that we tend to be a bit provincial and short-sighted when it comes to our assessments of quality. The venerable houses and buildings that were demolished a mere 20 years ago to make room for malls and parking lots are now mourned… and historical preservation societies are springing up in order to save what little remains. And yet some, even today, would gladly take the wrecking ball to anything that existed before their own lifetime. They are somehow threatened by the past, and by past judgments of quality -- as if they have doubts as to the validity of that which is now valued, and of their own personal values. In short, they don’t want to be reminded of past achievements, and have them juxtaposed with the present wasteland. So if they are neurotic on this issue, it’s up to the rest of us to stop them, it seems to me. If we never see another Robert Moses again, it will be too soon.

But this leads to my next point, which is -- given that quality of life is a highly subjective thing, and I have yet to see it linked definitively to “technology” (since there are as many good arguments against technology, from a quality of life point of view, as there are arguments for technology), what is it that sustains the illusion of “progress”? That is, why do people not only believe in it but insist that it is constantly happening all around us, and that it is futile to try and stop it? (And you’ll notice that the common claim, “You can’t stop progress”, is never accompanied by what should be the second half of the sentence… like, “… and that’s good”, or “… and that’s bad”. There is a kind of practiced neutrality in the statement, in other words.) I think part of it is fear -- firstly, fear of being “different”, of being seen as “against progress”, as though that were some sort of thought crime. But there is another kind of fear, namely that of progress itself -- or mainly of technology. It’s the kind expressed in the old saw, “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.” Technology seems so all-powerful, so all-pervasive… like a monolithic living thing… that I think people really believe that if they fight it, or deny its value, it will come back at them with a vengeance and crush them. (And anyone who interacts with computers on a regular basis knows that there is a real basis for this fear! But a previous generation thought of cars in this way.) Plus, we see how government has embraced technology for its own purposes -- chief among them being to spy on, monitor, and keep track of the citizenry (for their own good, of course). So if you fight progress, you are also fighting city hall, which is even worse. And we see how readily our fellow citizens are turned into robots or clones of the technology -- especially in the area of communications and entertainment, but also when it comes to food, clothing, and health care. Like the denizens of some sci-fi future world, their sense organs are glued to machines day and night, and virtually without ceasing. Even now, most conversations take place with people we are not face-to-face with in the same room… a drastic psychological shift from the way things were just a couple of generations ago. The person becomes merged with the machine -- and in many case cannot be distinguished from the machine. We now have machines that speak with better grammar, and much better diction, than most people -- and are at least as smart, at least in their areas of specialization. And yet all of this is seen as “progress” -- or at least as “inevitable” like any other technological “advance”.

So in one sense we can say that people believe in “progress” because they have been brainwashed, and they aren’t aware that there are any alternatives. (Everyone knows about the Amish, but they’re just “quaint”, and it only works because there aren’t that many of them. Plus, they “cheat”.) Besides which, people have a natural tendency to notice only that which has changed but is still in front of their noses. Things that have disappeared also disappear from memory. And things that only one’s parents or grandparents remember -- well! That’s a pretty hopeless case. Of course, we always have books, and even movies -- but again, those seldom get to the essence of what made an earlier time different from the present. (Mark Twain could not have contrasted his time with ours because ours hadn’t happened yet. This is obvious, but people tend to forget the fact.) There is a definite tendency to be rooted in the here and now -- for better or worse. But our “here and now” is, paradoxically, rooted in the “somewhere else and tomorrow”, i.e. in the illusion of progress, of its inevitability, of its desirability. We seldom stop to reflect that yesterday’s ideas of progress resulted in the world we have today -- that alone should be enough to sober us up on the notion. Of course, it wasn’t the urban optimists who destroyed the cities; it was those who came after -- those who had no ideas but to wreck, destroy, and thereby “improve”. (“They made a desert and called it peace” -- but it wasn’t even peace.) We can look back now and see that their program was one long orgy of deconstruction (and contemporary architecture continues to reflect this fact). They looked upon the works of man and decided that they didn’t like what they saw. Perhaps they lacked the vision and creativity of the past -- or even of the present, like Howard Roark’s enemies in “The Fountainhead”. So one might say that our cities, as they are today, represent the failures and neuroses of the powerful -- certainly nothing new in history, which is replete with grandiose follies of both construction and destruction. They were clearly trying to punish someone, or something -- mainly themselves, but by using others as scapegoats.

But how does anyone acquire the power to destroy a city -- especially with the apparent cooperation of its inhabitants? Again, is this an emergent quality of cities or of people? Have people decided, on some unconscious level, that they have had enough of the urban experiment, and that it’s time to do away with it the way the Khmer Rouge destroyed the cities of Cambodia and sent everyone out into the country side to starve? Do cities, in other words, contain the seeds of their own destruction? But again we have to return to the root of the word “civilization”. A society that consists only of farmers, hunters, or herdsmen is not usually considered a civilization at all -- only an accumulation of humanity, each of them going about their own relatively independent business. So I think it yet has to be proven that cities, by nature, “don’t work”. Some have been around for thousands of years, and they seem to work about as well as the alternatives. What I think is more likely is that people bring with them, to the cities, their own cultural tendencies and their own neuroses -- their sensitivities, their phobias, their agendas, their frustrations, their anger. In our time, people flock to cities seeking opportunity, adventure, and -- perhaps most important of all -- anonymity. In a city, you can do what you want and no one cares… and this is what many people want, despite the risks. For if you can do what you want, so can everyone else… and large tracts of our cities have become areas of anarchy in which people, basically, compete for survival just as vigorously as if they were in the midst of a teeming jungle. And yet many of them wouldn’t have it any other way. The alternatives -- the suburbs, small-town life, the countryside -- are crushingly boring by comparison. (So don’t feel too sorry for those types who “rule” in the “hood” -- they chose that life style, by and large.)

And in fact, I don’t think that our present culture is any more anti-city than it is anti-anything else. It is a profoundly negative, self-destructive culture we have here, which will turn anything it touches into dross. It’s just that cities are more vulnerable and labile because they are entirely man-made and are much more dependent on many and multi-layered forms of symbiosis, whereas the countryside is more rooted in the cycles of nature and is therefore much more stable. What makes the city exciting and attractive in good times, in other words, is the same as what makes it dangerous and fatal in bad times -- its almost infinite flexibility and lack of rules. It’s just that we have chosen, in our era, to have bad times -- not that we have any particular animus toward the city (although the urban renewalists of a previous era definitely did). Likewise, whereas the countryside and nature impose their own limits on the human concept of “progress”, the city does not. The buildings can extend to the sky -- until they come crashing down. So if the illusion of progress is strongest anywhere, it is in the cities… and if it is thwarted and leads to disillusion anywhere, it is likewise in the cities. This is one reason, I believe, why our notions of progress have shifted from tangible things -- buildings and roads, e.g. -- to intangibles, like the Internet. “On the Internet, no one knows you’re a dog”, as a New Yorker cartoon said -- you don’t have to prove anything, and there is no conclusive evidence of either success or failure -- it just _is_. It is, if you will, the ultimate existential experience -- technology for its own sake, and “communication” which is really mostly noise and very little useful information, also for its own sake. We “communicate” thousands of times more often, and more rapidly, than our grandparents did, but the total amount of useful or worthwhile information is the same (if that). That old network tagline, “We’re in touch, so you be in touch” should have been “We pretend to be in touch, so you can be brainwashed.” And now that the “big 3” networks have been replaced by hundreds of cable channels and millions of web sites, the most we can be sure of is that the brainwashing has increased in intensity and diversity, but it remains brainwashing nonetheless.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

How to Be Rich

I have just been on a pilgrimage to one of my favorite places in all the world, namely Boldt Castle in the Thousand Islands -- and it got me thinking about wealth, and what it can and cannot do. It is a popular pastime these days to think about “the rich” in purely political terms, and as predators and exploiters, basically -- and admittedly this is what many of them are, and do. And I suppose to a certain degree this has always been true -- people attain wealth through force of arms, political influence, family connections, and so on, and then spend the bulk of their time trying to protect it or increase it even further. In the case of our modern barons of industry -- businessmen, inventors, master marketers, and the like -- their wealth is considered, in this age of democracy, to be a bit more legitimate, a bit more “earned” (i.e. deserved) than that acquired in the old, pre-Industrial Revolution days. Whether this is actually so depends, I would say, on the specific case. If a moderately-successful businessman multiplies his fortune many times over through political influence, bribery, and a government-granted monopoly, one has a right to ask what part of it is really his and what part is the rightful possession of others -- those less aggressive, less corrupt, less influential. The pure case of a fortune made through success in the free market, with the laws of supply and demand allowed to operate without adulteration by government, is becoming increasingly difficult to find -- although it is still perfectly possible, at least in theory, to acquire great wealth simply by supplying people with the goods and services they want, need, and are willing to purchase via the free market.

Now, in the case of Mr. George Boldt, he made his fortune primarily in the hotel business, which is arguably among the least coercive of enterprises. No one absolutely has to stay in a hotel, and no one is ever forced to stay in one, or stay in any particular one -- so I think one could say that his wealth was, by and large, legitimate, i.e. not ill-gotten. But the point I’m trying to make is not so much about the “how” as about the “what” -- i.e., what one does with one’s wealth once one makes it. This is why I entitled this post “How to _Be_ Rich”, as opposed to “How to _Get_ Rich”. If I knew the latter, I’d be rich myself -- and I’d probably be a bit secretive as to the “how” (unlike all of these clowns who crank out “how to make a million” books -- on closer inspection, it seems like most of them have made their million by selling those books).

So what did Mr. Boldt do with his money? Did he turn it over to those countless charities whose mission seems primarily to “give a man a fish” rather than teaching him how to fish? Or -- worse yet -- did he turn it over to some unfathomably corrupt arm of the United Nations, the way some of our contemporary million- or billionaires are fond of doing? Well no -- he was much smarter than that, and had better taste. He built a castle -- or let’s say he _began_ building a castle, but stopped work on it when his wife died (since it was going to be a present for her). The structure, i.e. the building itself, was indeed built, and many of the furnishings had been purchased; but these were put in storage when the construction was halted. And yet the castle, and its various outbuildings -- spectacular in their own right -- remain, as a testimony to -- some would say -- ambition, grandiosity, conspicuous consumption, and folly. But I would, without necessarily arguing with those points, prefer to emphasize the positive. The castle is a monument, of this there is no doubt -- but a monument mostly to imagination, a sense of history, good taste, and -- yes -- romance.

And this gets us to the heart (no pun intended, but the castle is on Heart Island) of the matter. There is much that is being built in our time that is indeed a monument to ambition, grandiosity, conspicuous consumption, and folly. Do I have to mention the “tallest building in the world” race that is currently going on? Or Las Vegas? Or Donald Trump? But how much is being built these days that represents a healthy imagination, or a sense of history, or good taste? And as to romance… well! That motive seems a bit passe in this era of divorces that come along like clockwork, long before the wedding is paid for. There is, one could argue, a certain amount of imagination and creativity in some of what is being built now -- but much of it is of a decadent and/or deconstructionist sort. Imagination combined with a sense of history is virtually nonexistent, as is good taste in the classical sense. (A notable exception is the work of Thomas Gordon Smith.) And yet Boldt managed to accomplish all of this -- with the help of a top architectural firm and an army of skilled craftsmen (another resource that has practically disappeared at this point). (Imagine, if you will, trying to build a Chartres Cathedral now. I don’t think it could be done at any price, and in any amount of time.)

And I have to emphasize that I’m not trying to juxtapose the offenses of the “nouveau riche” with the tasteful products of “old money”. Boldt was nouveau riche, in the literal sense -- born and raised in modest circumstances in Prussia, on an island in the Baltic. But he had those things that the wealthy of our time largely seem to lack -- a baseline of his own good taste plus the intelligence to hire other people with good (or even better) taste. What we have now, in the equivalent area of operation, is an army of hacks working for philistines -- and the results are painfully obvious.

But -- you might say -- all of this is beside the point. He could have been “doing good” with his wealth rather than spending it all on “selfish” things. Well, for one thing, don’t forget that his “selfish” projects employed hundreds of people for many years -- they were the “economic stimulus act” of their day, on a slightly smaller scale. And if the castle had been completed and occupied, it would have employed at least scores of people on a full-time, permanent basis. This is “trickle-down economics” with a vengeance. The rich don’t just sit there on a pile of money like Scrooge McDuck -- they spend it on goods and services and thereby employ large numbers of people of all occupations and skill levels.

Plus, I daresay that Mr. Boldt did, indeed, donate to various charities in his time, either out of conviction or because it made for good “P.R.” But what’s the difference if it happened? And overall, he wasn’t much different from all of the other barons (robber and otherwise) of his time -- only that he managed to build the biggest, and that it has survived to this day, in which it is being restored for the viewing pleasure of the general public -- who, I daresay, enjoy wandering through its halls and over its grounds much more than they would enjoy knowing that the same amount of money had been turned over to some sketchy charity, or hapless U.N. agency, or -- even worse -- rolled into a “foundation” that seems to operate largely in secret and no one is sure whether or not its intentions are good or evil. (Not mentioning any names here… )

But there’s another point to be made. You can give a man a fish, or teach him how to fish -- but either way, all you wind up with is a man with a fish. You don’t wind up with higher civilization, or learning, or the arts, or anything else that benefits mankind (or even a small fraction thereof) in any way other than the purely material, on a subsistence level. Now, this is not to say that charity -- the corporal works in particular -- do not have their place. But what about works that raise the sights of people above “the mud below” -- above their everyday existence? These are the products of civilization (or should be) -- but they also _make_ civilization; they contribute to its growth and development, and to its noble and lasting qualities. When I see a monument to a “great” warrior, I have to ask, but what did he make? The truth is, he was a destroyer; he unmade much that was made by others. The same goes for most rulers and nearly any politician. These people are not in the “building-up” business; they are more in the slicing and dicing business. And yet what do we stand in awe of, that remains from ancient civilizations? Always the buildings and the works of art -- and, admittedly, very little else because it was either destroyed or decayed. So we judge a civilization, and a society, by works -- but actually by only a subset of works. And yet if we consider our own society, we have to admit that judging it by comparable works might result in a somewhat biased verdict -- but this is only because we have lost those things cited above -- imagination, a sense of history, good taste, and romance (the real kind, not the drooling ape-like sort that seems to satisfy most people in our time). So is a man who did his best to exemplify those virtues to be condemned? I would say he should be put in a place of high honor -- higher than any destroyer or mere ruler, higher than any manipulator of other men, and certainly higher than our present arbiters of taste, whose abominations dot the landscape and add up to a national eyesore (and a scandal as well, if we pretend to be “civilized”).

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Greece on the Skids

“Crippling” protests! “Private, public workers to decry austerity measures”! “Workers take to the streets… in a test of the government’s resolve to enforce tough budget cuts.” “Increasing anger among (people) who feel they are made to pay the price of their country’s crisis while tax evasion and corruption go unpunished.” “Social unrest could jeopardize government efforts to reform (the country).” “Rioting over harsh austerity measures.” “Years of living with less.” “Our country came to the brink of the abyss.”

Are these quotes about the U.S.? They could be. They could certainly be about the U.S. in the near future, as all the various financial chickens come home to roost, one by one. But no, these particular quotes are about Greece -- which more than one commentator has already pointed out is the future U.S. writ small. They are going through what we are bound to go through -- and the reaction here is likely to be similar -- although, admittedly, Greeks in general seem to be more volatile than Americans. But remember the urban riots of the 1960s and 1970s? And could even the “tea parties” start getting ugly? (The press claims they already are.)

It looks like Greece is getting bailed out -- but will it be like giving an alcoholic a drink to relieve the D.T.’s, or giving a heroin addict a fix? In other words, has Greece learned its lesson? This is highly doubtful, since -- as I’ve said before -- national character has so much to do with the governments people wind up with, and how they (the people and the governments both) think about money issues. People plagued by “innumeracy” are like the guy who said, “How can I be out of money? I still have checks.” They just don’t “get it” when it comes to money… to income and expenditures… to the most basic principles of resources. They believe, on some level -- not unlike American liberals and their underclass clientele -- that whatever one needs, or wants, should be provided -- by the government or somebody, it hardly matters -- and if it is not provided they are “deprived”, and it’s “unfair” and “discriminatory”. The notion of a day’s work for a day’s pay escapes them entirely -- they are caught in the Garden of Eden before the Fall, when everything was provided. The actual human lot is something they find alien, and alienating. Thus Greece, and much of Africa, and large swaths of this country as well. But unlike our own minorities, it’s not so much a sense of entitlement as a failure to grasp the basic facts of existence -- that we make our living by the sweat of our brow. They would much rather make their living by the sweat of someone else’s brow.

And the funny thing is that this attitude actually works. I mean, it pays off, up to a point -- that point at which the “tax receivers” so overwhelm the tax payers that the system breaks down. Any society can have a few “non-productive eaters” (in Lenin’s terminology)… a few parasites… and a few charity cases who really are helpless and dependent, and in need. No problem. It’s never a matter of the truly needy as much as of those who consider themselves truly needy -- or if not truly needy, then at least deserving. Does some “artiste” who spends most of his time with his head up his butt contemplating his navel really deserve to gorge from the public trough? The NEA seems to think so. We will never be truly rid of these types -- I imagine a few survived even under Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot -- but when they reach critical mass, the society is in trouble. And when an entire country assumes that role, the larger entity of which it is a member -- the EU, in this case -- is in trouble. And once again I ask, didn’t Germany and the rest of the level-headed, sober Nordic types see this coming? Apparently not. Either that or it was a conspiracy to enable them to eventually take over the economies of the weaker and poorly-managed countries. But does Germany really want to run Greece? Probably about as much as we want to run Iraq. But it seems we, and they, have no choice.

So in this sense, Germany and its ilk get what they deserve. They took the drunken uncle… the ne’er-do-well brother-in-law… under their wing, hoping to reform them by good example and by replacing their funny money with the all-hallowed Euro. But guess what, the all-hallowed Euro has become less hallowed by being diluted by the prodigal hands of these impulsive Mediterranean types. It’s not in as much trouble as the dollar, certainly -- even though we are helping out with the bailout process. (Something about the blind leading the blind… ) But they’re definitely seeing what it’s like when you open a joint checking account with a drunk or a drug addict -- it just doesn’t work.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Screaming Headlines

“Tax bills in 2009 at lowest level since 1950”, screams a USA Today headline. And, in the article, we find this: “While spending is up, taxes have fallen to exceptionally low levels.” Ah, well, then there’s nothing to worry about… right? But wait -- if spending is up and taxes are down, where is all this money that is being spent coming from? You guessed it -- it’s either being borrowed (mostly from China) or it’s being made out of whole cloth -- or paper. Which means that either the national debt is sharply increasing, or the dollar is being sharply devalued, or both. And this is preferable to taxes? At least taxes are semi-honest… but won’t the national debt sooner or later demand tax hikes in order to at least pay the interest? And won’t devaluation lead to inflation, which is at least as destructive as high taxes? And, in fact, won’t the national debt encourage further devaluation, if not actual default? So who is kidding whom here?

And along those same lines, a good chunk of the “fix” for Greece’s financial woes is going to come from, guess who, good old Uncle Sam -- which means that money (as in “dollars”) is going to be “shipped” (really? Like in container ships?) over to Europe to help plug up the Grecian hemorrhage. But wait -- isn’t that the same money that’s already being devalued in order to help ease our own national debt? How is that supposed to “help” anyone in Europe? Stay tuned for more madness…

“Church of England opens way for women bishops” -- which is sure to alienate even more members of the Anglo-Catholic (AKA “high church”) and evangelical (AKA “really low church”) wings. I imagine that sooner or later the Church of England will consist of nothing but a handful of female bishops and a gaggle of female priests. But no parishoners. Which is, just possibly, exactly the way they want it.

“Jimmy Carter campaigns for grandson in Georgia race”, screams an AP headline. And, in the article, we find this: “… with the Carter name comes high expectations for success.” REALLY?? Now, whose expectations might those be? Certainly no one who managed to live through the Carter years . Are these people totally delusional or what? Oh yeah, I forgot…

“Study: Poor, minorities shift into suburbs.” “Educated whites find opportunities in cities.” And this, according to an AP article, is a bad thing -- at least for the suburbs. And the Brookings Institution is wringing its hands. Check out this crackerjack analysis: “Analysts attribute the racial shift to suburbs in many cases to substantial shares of minorities leaving cities…” That’s like saying the temperature is going up because it’s getting warmer. And people get paid for this? But wait, there’s more: “Whites, too, are driving the trend by returning or staying put in larger cities.” Ah! So it’s those mean, hateful white people, as usual. And I suppose the Brookings folks would be the last ones to remember why whites left the cities in the first place -- they were driven out by “urban renewal”. The best way to “renew” cities, according to the tyrants of the postwar era, was to drive out all the productive wage earners and replace them with non-productive wards of the state. Well, it “renewed” the cities, alright -- the way cancer, TB, and AIDS “renew” the human body. What we’re seeing now is a voluntary (I repeat, _voluntary_) return to the city of the whites who were driven out a generation or two back -- a sort of “reconquest” if you will. And I guess that fact that it’s not part of a government “plan” or “program” is what offends outfits like Brookings the most. All they can talk about is the “problems”, and the “race and age divide”, and the “cultural generation gap”, and other such nonsense. Funny how they never worried about the problems that might arise from ethnic cleansing of the cities, forced integration, forced busing, and all the rest of the enlightened, utopian plans that have turned many of our cities into battlegrounds and no man’s lands, which continue to astonish visitors from everywhere else in the world. Personally, I’ve always thought our cities were too good to be thrown onto the ash heap of history -- as the “urban renewal” geniuses seemed determined to do. I’m glad enough people agree with me to start making a difference, and reclaiming their rightful heritage.

Conspiracy Crisis!

Among the core assumptions that any self-respecting conspiracy theorist will adhere to under any and all circumstances are: (1) There are no accidents; and (2) There are no coincidences. Corollaries to these assumptions are: (1) Things that appear to be accidents, or coincidences, aren't. (2) They only seem to be accidents or coincidences because most people don't understand what's really going on. (3) But to the people who do know what's going on, the appearance of accident or coincidence is important, because it help to conceal their activities and their motives. Therefore, (4) Many so-called accidents and coincidences are not only superficial appearances that are just allowed to happen, but they are actually programmed and manipulated for maximum effect. And, oh yes, another corollary is: (5) Those in charge are never surprised, and they never lose.

This is what I would call the core conspiracy model – or let's say “meta-model”, since it serves as a pattern from which other, more specific conspiracy theories can be derived. Without these essential elements, it would be difficult to justify calling something a conspiracy – not that there aren't plenty of other ways in which bad things can happen, but we would have to call them something else. Now – notice, if you will, that the above “rules” imply that conspiracies have to involve not only secrecy and disinformation, but also a power base. In other words, the conspirators have to be able to manipulate not only actual events, but the perceptions of those events – and that process inevitably requires a base of operations for communications, information, propaganda, etc. Either that, or they have to have a disproportionate level of influence with the media – as we see quite frequently, when the media provide elaborate coverage of one event, but no coverage at all of another – objectively much larger – event. Either way, the manipulation of information is key; leave the raw facts to fend for themselves, and people might start to get the wrong idea. It is absolutely vital to start the “spin” process as soon as possible – as we saw with the JFK assassination, Waco, Oklahoma City, 9/11, and the Ft. Hood shootings, among many examples. And of course sometimes the “spin” overtakes actual events – as in the case of 7 World Trade Center, which was described (by the media) as having collapsed when it was, in fact, still standing – and no one had any reason to expect it to collapse. (No one who wasn't in on the caper, that is.)

Now there are, as I've mentioned before, some potential flaws in this standard model – for instance the tendency to see any evidence as evidence in support of the theory. Take... well, take “global warming” for instance, which is not a conspiracy theory per se. Data that reflect a warming trend are, of course, taken as evidence in support of the theory – but so are data reflecting a cooling trend, through some sort of convoluted reasoning that only government-funded scientists are capable of. So, in a standard conspiracy scenario, “information leaks” are taken as evidence, but so is the complete lack of information – because that means that someone is covering up. So why, for instance, was every piece of the destroyed twin towers – right down to the tiniest speck – hauled away to a top-secret location? What were they trying to hide? Well, maybe nothing – but all that secrecy and paranoia gets people wondering. And any time there is a “rush to judgment”, suspicions naturally arise. The names of all 19 9/11 terrorists – the ones who were actually on the planes – were released within hours of the attacks. But how did the FBI know? They were all dead! Did they really leave that obvious a trail, that could be established and proven within hours – and if so, why weren't they apprehended prior to carrying out the attacks?

See how easy it is? All you have to do is make one tiny scratch on the surface of the establishment narrative – the conventional wisdom – and you uncover a horde of intriguing and unanswered questions. And the problem with all of that secrecy is that if we ever are shown who, or what, is behind the curtain, we are no longer willing to believe it, because it was kept a secret for so long. So the net effect of giving the appearance of conspiracy is indistinguishable from the net effect of an actual conspiracy – something the establishment never seems to remember.

So with that as background, I turn to a discussion of the recent stock market thrill ride -- you know, that “incident” in which the Dow dropped 1,000 points in approximately ten seconds. Now, the first thing you’ll notice is that this story has already disappeared down the memory hole. Why? Well, it’s because the stock market mysteriously -- miraculously! -- corrected itself… just as mysteriously as it plummeted, it pulled out of its fatal nose dive and started soaring again, including a gain (on Monday) of over 400 points. Ah, what a relief! All’s right with the world again -- and we can continue to play on, oblivious as to the future.

But what happened?? (as if anyone was still interested) Who, or what -- if anyone or anything -- was to blame? Was it Greece? Well… excuse my skepticism, but the entire Greek national debt doesn’t add up to much more than one year’s worth of (taxpayer-funded) bonuses for AIG and Goldman Sachs. I mean, Bill Gates could whip out his checkbook and pay off half of it right now -- and he’d wind up owning half of Greece… which, IMO, is a much better bargain than giving it away to some sorry-assed United Nations agency. So I’m just not buying the “Greeks bearing gifts that just keep giving” argument. (Plus -- you’ll notice that Greece is getting bailed out. By, among others, the IMF -- which means, by us.)

OK then, how about the “fat finger” theory? Well… if that were true, it would just show how at once mindless and fragile the stock market is. And this is, in fact, what they want you to believe -- that it’s all random, impulsive, volatile, and basically out of control. Why they constantly push this model is a question I’ll deal with in a moment. But first…

What about all those automated programs that “kick in” with no human decision-making or intervention? We’re supposed to believe that the entire market is now run by machines, i.e. computers, with no human beings to get in the way of all the lightning-fast (literally, because it’s all done with electrons) transactions. OK then, please explain the fact that we still have to put with all those pictures of red-faced guys in blazers, dripping with perspiration, frantically gesticulating to one another on the floor of the exchange or staring despondently at the “big board”. Who are they, actors? Are they just pretending to buy and sell stocks? No, the human element is still very much in play, and anyone who claims it isn’t is either shirking their responsibility or -- again -- pursuing some sort of agenda.

Basically, both of these models -- the “out of control” model and the “controlled by machines” model -- are intentional distractions to give the impression that the stock market is a kind of looney-tunes house of mirrors and that it can’t be trusted -- which means that investors have to take their chances -- and if they wind up losing money, well, it’s no one’s fault, not even “the market’s”, because “the market” is so insane and irrational. So no one is ever to blame. In other words, a wall of apparent chaos and disorder has been built up intentionally, in order to obscure and hide the real processes behind the overt non-process.

Now that we’ve dispensed with the conventional wisdom, let’s think about what a good, solid, level-headed conspiracy theorist would have to say about all this. Remember, there are no “accidents”, and everything happens for a reason. The only sense in which it’s a “crisis” is that your conspiracy theorist, in order to maintain his credibility, has to come up with an explanation -- and this event does not readily lend itself to an explanation… or, not nearly as easily as, for example, the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, which are elementary exercises by comparison. But if one applies the time-honored method that is used so skillfully by E. Michael Jones, and just asks “cui bono?” -- who benefits? -- then the puzzle starts to fall into place. Let’s say you’re out to make a fast buck. (And is there anyone on Wall Street who isn’t?) One way -- out of many -- is to sell (or appear to sell) a whole lot of stock in a given company or companies in a very short time -- a “dump”, if you will. In other words, sell as much as you can before your act of selling starts drastically lowering the price. This causes panic on the part of other people who own the same stock, and they proceed to dump their shares as well -- but only once the price has dropped a bit… so they may be choosing a lesser loss over a (so they think) greater one. The result? The price of the stock plummets. Then, at a certain point, when you think it has gone down about as far as it can, you buy back all the shares you just sold, and probably more as well. At the end of the day you wind up with at least what you started with, plus all the cash you earned by the sale -- mission accomplished! You adopted the time-honored rule of thumb, except in reverse order -- you sold high and bought low. (And of course some other poor chump had to buy high and sell low -- but we don’t worry about him. If he doesn’t like the heat he can just get the hell out of the kitchen.)

Now, this particular strategy is probably one that the average day trader can’t utilize, because they just don’t have the volume. And even a fairly well-off person with a lot of capital may still not have the right sense of timing. It truly takes an insider to pull this sort of thing off -- and that, I submit, is precisely what has been happening on a cyclic basis starting at least as far back as the all-time Dow high of 14,000-odd. And you’ll notice in all this that what we’re talking about is the price of stock based on supply and demand; it has absolutely nothing to do with any sort of true value. And to make things even worse, a large element of the supply and demand resides with people who are ignorant, impulsive, and panic-prone -- pure gamblers, in other words. It is, in effect, a manic-depressive or bipolar marketplace full of manic-depressive, bipolar people -- which is why it’s so easy for the few sane (and cynical) ones to take advantage.

So what am I saying -- that this is all it was? Just one person, or a few people, out to make a fast buck? No -- I believe that may have been a fringe benefit, but it wasn’t the main point. Consider the timing. Congress is hot under the collar to “do something about Wall Street” and all of its abuses. The public is up in arms. “Tea partiers” are running up and down the landscape with torches and pitchforks, demanding the heads of the Wall Street robber barons on a silver platter. Now, you might think this is precisely the worst possible time for the stock market to step on its own schvantz -- but you’d be wrong. Yes, that is what all the media think -- or pretend to think. “This just proves that something needs to be done.” And, “This will strengthen the case for more stringent controls”. And, “This will shut the Republicans (who are all on the payroll of the Wall Street barons) up once and for all.” That is the conventional wisdom on the matter -- which is precisely why it’s wrong. I see last week’s events as a kind of warning shot, if you will, off the bow of Congress and the administration. What the people holding all the strings were saying was, basically, “Look, you assholes, this is what we can do, any time we want to. You think 1,000 points is bad? We can drop the Dow 2,000... 5,000... you name it. So back off.” In other words, the market -- as represented by the Dow -- is now being held hostage in order to derail the drive to increased regulation and control. And sure enough, we already see compromises being made in the area of new regulation; it’s going to be business as usual again before you know it. Mission accomplished!

Now, I can see your objections to this theory already. Why would Wall Street want to, in effect, commit suicide -- or near-suicide -- just in order to coerce Congress and the administration into not adding any more regulatory constraints? Well, for one thing, it’s not suicide, any more than the meltdown that kicked off the Great Recession was. In this case it was more like the “cry for help” that an _attempted_ suicide represents; the people doing the manipulating knew that the boat would right itself -- they were just rocking it in order to get people’s attention. Plus, you have to remember that the stock market is only the stock market, and the Dow is only one measure of its alleged health. The stock market, all told, is still only a fraction of the world’s wealth, and it’s, by and large, a paper fraction at that -- which is one reason why it’s so volatile. When all you’re dealing with is, ultimately, paper -- or electrons -- there is no objective standard of value. It’s all a matter of impulse, of day-to-day and moment-to-moment vacillation based on pure speculation. We make fun of things like the great Tulip Craze that overcame Holland a few centuries back… but at least that involved tulips! -- real things! But wait, doesn’t the stock market involve real things -- real companies, providing real goods and services? Yes, in theory -- but that doesn’t explain all the wild fluctuations, and it also doesn’t account for all the ancillary types of securities -- “derivatives”, “futures”, and so on -- that are even less anchored to reality. If the real assets of a corporation vacillated as much as its stock…. well, it couldn’t happen; it’s impossible. Factories would have to appear and disappear on a daily or even hourly basis. So the stock market is already halfway toward an Alice in Wonderland world of illusion… and as these “instruments” get more exotic, they become harder to trace to anything tangible, until it gets to the point where even the insiders don’t know, or don’t care. The paper and electrons turn into reality -- they become, in effect, the only reality that counts. (At least in this sense Warren Buffet has more common sense than most; he prefers to put his money and that of his investors into things that the average person can actually understand -- although he’s clearly not a purist in this matter, since he is also a good customer of Goldman Sachs.)

So what I’m saying is that the stock market is only the tip of the iceberg. What it really is is the interface between the Money Power and the ordinary citizens -- either as individuals or in the aggregate (mutual funds, retirement funds, etc.). It serves as a kind of magnet to attract money and take it away from the ignorant, and put it into the pockets of the “knowers”. But if it were all that obviously a simple highway robbery scheme, it would cease to be attractive, wouldn’t it? So, like a gambling den, it has to pay off once in a while -- and we all know that people have an amazing capacity for considering themselves winners when they are actually losers. This is why banks can still get away with paying interest on savings accounts that doesn’t even keep up with inflation. If you are making money on paper, you think you’re making money -- whereas, in fact, you’re the only one _not_ making money. Drive into any city in the country -- or in the world, for that matter. Who owns the biggest skyscrapers? The banks, of course. And why do you think that is? It’s because of all those “passbook savings accounts”. Well, this may be a slight exaggeration, but you get my drift. The business of America is to transfer wealth from the stupid to the smart -- but not so blatantly that the stupid catch on. (After all, if they were totally stupid they wouldn’t have any wealth to take.) This is only possible, of course, in a system which allows stupid people to have resources (other than the clothes on their back, a grass shack, and a bowl of gruel -- the lot of many in the “third world” even unto this day). The magic of America is that it has managed to create and foster a middle class that is kept more or less happy and content (except for those treasonous “tea partiers”) -- and productive! -- while being in what amounts to a state of glorified slavery. Yes, they produce -- but at night when they’re asleep the Money Power flies in the window like a vampire bat and sucks just enough blood out of their veins to provide it ample nourishment and render the victim passive and intellectually anemic… but still able to produce. This is, truly, the miracle of our age -- and it’s a good question how much longer this system can remain in place and functioning. (The Obama administration seems to have decided that it’s time to liquidate the middle class. Whether this represents the consensus of the powers that be remains to be seen. The difference is that politicians have politically-based “values”, whereas the powers that be have… well, power, and also money. They couldn’t care less about politics, principles, democracy, or any of the rest of that nonsense. So in a weird kind of a way the Money Power may be the only thing holding back the liberals and collectivists from totally exterminating the middle class, AKA the “kulaks” and “bourgeoisie”. So the next time Congress fails to increase your taxes you can thank Lloyd Blankfein. Maybe.)

So if the stock market is only the tip of the iceberg, where does all the rest of the world’s wealth reside? In real things, as it turns out -- land, manufacturing capability, technology… and, above all, gold. Gold, silver, precious stones -- you know, all that old-fashioned, fuddy-duddy stuff that peasants used to lust after, and refugees would sew into their coats. But honestly, would anyone with a grain of sense keep their wealth in the form of dollars these days? With the Treasury cranking out billions more each day, backed only by “the full faith and credit of the United States of America” -- and pardon me while I fall on the floor laughing. The only currencies that are really worth anything -- as always -- are those backed by gold, or something almost as good. Or, obviously, currencies that _are_ gold. I mean -- I hate to say it… it’s just a silly metal, and in fact it’s nowhere near as rare as many other metals or elements, but there you are. It’s bright, it’s shiny, and it has been the preferred medium of wealth and exchange for the entire human race since the dawn of time. I mean, if you’ve got a better idea let’s hear it. But in the meantime, we have to deal with it as a reality. And you can bet that, behind all this maelstrom of paper and electrons and securities and derivatives and etc. etc. there is a very high, solid wall -- and behind that wall sit the people who are truly in charge, and they live in a paper-free and electron-free environment. Their economic base is confined to things that have universally-recognized and, for all intents and purposes, eternal value -- and they look upon those who chase paper as nothing more than fools. Fools who can be taken advantage of and exploited, of course!

There is, by the way, a very interesting corollary to all of this, which is that the amount of real wealth in the world is fairly stable. The media are fond of talking about all the “wealth” that is lost every time the stock market (ours or anyone else’s) takes a dive -- but this is totally untrue. What’s “lost” is amounts of money (with no backing anyway) on an electronic spreadsheet -- and in fact that money was never in the form of cash, but only as “securities” (an ironic term, when you think about it). The “money” never existed -- and neither, in the ultimate sense, did the securities. It was all a balloon… a bubble… an illusion. The true “wealth of nations” does not consist of paper, and it never has. Now, this does not mean that wealth cannot increase -- but that increase has to consist of tangible goods -- i.e. the products of labor -- or of “human capital” -- people + education + skills + “intangibles” like motivation, attitudes, values, etc. How do we judge, for instance, the wealth of a bygone civilization? By the number of promissory notes we can dig up or find etched on clay tablets? Of course not -- that would be absurd. It’s always based on what they were able to build or manufacture, and on our best guess as to their level of sophistication in things like agriculture, medicine, the arts, and so on. Real things, in other words -- “quality of life” things. Did “derivatives” ever enhance anyone’s quality of life? Not that I’m aware. How about “sub-prime mortgages”? Well, they enhanced some people’s quality of life for a short time -- before they made it downright miserable.

So what I’m saying is that most of these generally-accepted indicators of “wealth” are pure illusion, and nothing more -- but this is why they are so dangerous, and why the people who know the score can so easily manipulate them. You think these Wall Street types “believe in” stocks? Hell no -- they’re the only people around who don’t. They are the financial equivalent of The Grand Inquisitor -- totally cynical and totally manipulative. (And who are the last people on earth to think the dollar is worth anything? Why, the folks at the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department, of course.) So really, the way to “rebel”, if you will, against this totally corrupt system is to quit playing their game -- get out of their ballpark, and shake the dust from your sandals. But this is, of course, not easy to do, since we are all, to some extent, trapped in the web spun by the Money Power. We use this cursed “medium of exchange” even as we reflect on how meaningless it is. And when we accumulate a little bit extra (of what, no one knows) we don’t hesitate to exchange it for a different form of paper, AKA “investment”. The truth is that the most reasonable thing one can do with their earnings is to spend every cent of it immediately, on goods and services. Don’t save, but don’t go into debt either. Which is to say, don’t turn your money over to someone else to do with as they please, but also don’t commit to paying any of your future money back to someone else. You want to rebel? To sabotage the system? This is the way to do it. The idea is to neutralize, as much as possible, the Money Power -- to refuse credit and also to refuse to enter into the “churn” by which your wealth is recycled into someone else’s. If everyone adopted this strategy -- even for a year or two -- the Money Power would collapse. But every form of pressure is applied to make certain this doesn’t happen -- and government is, as usual, the biggest offender. Interestingly, it’s precisely when governments do collapse -- and their paper-based financial house of cards with them -- that people rediscover the things that constitute real value. The refugee with diamonds sewn into his clothes has a clearer vision of worth than all the victims of Wall Street combined. I mean, he may have had his problems, but at least he didn’t spend time worrying about the Dow.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

We're All Hutaree Now

Pay close attention, if you will, to the verbiage being traded back and forth with regard to the question of whether to keep the nine members of the Hutaree militia in custody. The judge says (and rightly so) that "offensive and hate-filled speech" does not automatically signal a conspiracy to levy war against the government. The feds, on the other hand, contend that there was indeed a conspiracy, as evidenced by talk of killing law officers. This assumes, of course, that "talk" equals "conspiracy" -- or, to put it another way, that the mere exchange of thoughts and ideas is sufficient to constitute a conspiracy; i.e., a tangible, feasible plan is not required. It is also contended that “the defendants pose a danger to the public” -- although no explanation of which “public” they have in mind was offered. The judge, on the other hand, who seems remarkably enlightened, says “Defendants are presumed innocent of all charges against them... This presumption of innocence is part and parcel of why, 'In our society liberty is the norm, and detention prior to trial or without trial is the carefully limited exception.'"

So what are we to make of all this? It seems to pit the traditional rights of defendants against claims that these are exceptional circumstances that require “flexibility” when it comes to heretofore-settled questions of law... “conspiracy” being the scare word du jour, the way “Bolshevism” might have been in an earlier era. And there are always people looking for exceptions to the rule of law, because the law, quite frankly, is a pain in the butt when you're trying to get something done. Just at the point when you think you've got someone dead to rights, it turns out they have rights after all. And this is the thing that has always irritated those with tyrannical or collectivist tendencies... and it's one of many reasons why we've evolved, with hardly anyone noticing it, into a perpetual-war system (and economy). Because if we're always at war, then wartime measures are always justified, and things like habeas corpus can be dispensed with for the duration.

Hence the Guantanamo controversy. If the president can wage war with neither the advice nor consent of Congress, then he can also take prisoners of war, right? And those prisoners can be held until the war is concluded. But when will the “war on terror” be concluded? How would we even know that we've won? We won't – which means that, perhaps for the first time, we have a truly open-ended war on our hands... which is, of course, exactly what the Regime wants. An open-ended war is ideal, because it means endless expenditures, endless “temporary” compromises in the area of citizens' (and non-citizens') rights, and endless opportunities for more concentration of power and resources at the federal level. And of course to fight an open-ended war, it can't simply be with another country or group of countries – because then it would be too easy to define what would constitute victory. No, it has to be with a nebulous, ill-defined entity of some sort that is not located in any particular place and has no discernible, coherent economic base. But it also has to be capable of eliciting vast and chronic fear in the populace (ours, that is). Hence the “war on terror” -- made to order for the Regime, the internationalists, the globalists... in short, the New World Order – which, as it turns out, is one of the things the Hutaree used to trade e-mails about between swigs of beer and training sessions for pit bulls. So yes, we now have guys who live in “double wides” arming themselves against the New World Order; how things have evolved over the last few decades! Time was when they would have been just peaceful deer hunters – except for the occasional barroom brawl. But now they have a sort of international consciousness. And whose fault is that? Did they dream this issue up out of thin air? Well, of course not; they didn't, and they couldn't. What they do see – if dimly – is that this country has long since submitted to, and come under the boot of, powers that have absolutely nothing to do with the United States in terms of loyalty, patriotism, or economic good faith. They see that the federal government has sold out and collaborated with what is, in effect, an alien force, and they would like very much to see that the same thing doesn't happen at the state and local level. This, rather than any sort of tangible conspiracy, is their real sin – and the fact that they are both hapless and powerless doesn't make it any less of a threat. (The town drunk in a small Russian village could be sent to the gulag for criticizing Stalin just as readily as an urban academician or journalist could.)

But I don't want to just talk about the Hutaree, and the other equally pathetic militia groups. I want to talk about you and me. Because we're conspirators too, don't you see? We think, we talk... by the standards of the World War I era we're all already guilty of sedition, a criminal offense. Federal authorities accused the Hutaree of having “dark hearts and evil intent” -- but didn't we hear the same things said about the “tea partiers” by the powers that be in Washington? What I see here is a kind of pincer movement on the part of the establishment – on the one hand, you do as much as possible to suspend the usual rights under the law based on claims of “a national emergency”. And at the same time, you (or your stooges in the media) start re-defining terms like “conspiracy”, “terrorism”, “freedom of speech”, “freedom of association”, “overthrow” (as in “overthrow the government”), “danger to the public”, and the like. The idea is to narrow the scope of allowable debate or protest until we reach the point where any debate, or any protest, is considered dangerous and a cause for legal sanctions. Which means that much of the current debate would – under conditions the Regime considers ideal – be off limits and illegal. And don't forget – we would still have “freedom of speech” and “freedom of the press” -- but only to the extent that those freedoms were exercised in a “responsible” way – i.e. a way that did not constitute any sort of threat to the status quo.

Impossible, you say? “It can't happen here”? I refer you again to the Sedition Act of 1918... and the martial law imposed by Lincoln... on the North! And how have many of the skeptics when it comes to the Kennedy assassination and the 9/11 attacks been treated? Some have not lived to tell any more tales. Whenever any other version of reality becomes “off limits” -- unpublishable and unspeakable – you know you're dealing with censorship of a totalitarian sort. And one might say, well, as long as it's just outfits like the Hutaree – i.e., ignorant rednecks – I'm not going to get too worried. But it has already gone way beyond that point. Again, I ask you to consider how Ron Paul was treated by his fellow Republicans when he expressed skepticism about our twin wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is censorship (not to mention character assassination) at the highest levels. On a more intermediate level, we have the “tea partiers” and the reaction to them by the mainstream media. You'd think the Huns were sailing up the Potomac and storming the Capitol! And the top-drawer liberals of the press and Congress have called them every name in the book – with the President and his underlings piling on when the mood strikes. They've been accused – by a certain ex-president – of being, basically, a bunch of little Tim McVeighs... based on what they write on protest signs?

The culture wars, just like most wars over the last couple of centuries, typically begin with words – and those words express ideas... ideas as to who is right or wrong, good or evil... who has a right to remain at liberty and who must be eliminated by one means or another. At present, the war – and yes, one could call it a civil war of sorts – is being fought primarily with words. But once the terminology is firmly in place, and all the names that can be called have been called, you can expect to see more direct action – not on the part of rag-tag militia groups, and certainly not on the part of solidly middle-class “tea partiers”, but on the part of the government itself, which has become, in our time, the main practitioner of intolerance.