Friday, December 30, 2011

War Rains On Our Parade

Now here is a headline that is truly sad (from AP). “Big parade unlikely for troops back from Iraq: Some say celebration improper while Afghanistan war continues.” The idea being, why celebrate the (alleged) end of one war while another (nearby and presumably for the same cause) is still going on? Well... we did have “V-E Day” (May 8, 1945) four months before “V-J Day” (September 2, 1945), but those were more coherent, less ambiguous times. In those days, one of the main goals of any war was – believe it or not – actually winning. How much more sophisticated and realistic we've become since then! We pull most active, uniformed, combat (add as many more qualifiers as you like) troops out of Iraq, and within about five minutes the terrorist bombings begin again. Hey, wait a minute – aren't we supposed to stick around for a while after “winning” a war? How does retreat constitute winning? See what I mean about how much more “nuanced” we are now in our approach to these things?

The problem is that even though this may all be perfectly acceptable to the powers that be in Washington, New York, and elsewhere, the American people may be starting to catch on. On the most basic – some would say primitive – level, the entire vindication for war comes in the victory parade. And this has been true from time immemorial. At that moment, one can, at least temporarily, forget those left behind (POWs), those who came back in body bags, and those who came back missing body parts or their sanity. The iconic significance of the victory parade is not to be underestimated, because of the statements it makes: It was all worthwhile, and shame on anyone who nitpicks or quibbles. We have, once again, proven our manhood (or womanhood) and the supreme worth of the American way of life. We have taught another bunch of baddies not to screw around with the U.S.A. (even if that's not what they thought they were doing). And – best of all, perhaps – we can now settle back into our accustomed lifestyle, surrounded by war heroes, and proceed to train up the younger generation in preparation for the next war.

Yes, Americans can't get along without triumph. It's never enough to sit under our vine and fig tree and mind our own business, as long as there are wrongs to be righted anywhere in the world. And the satisfaction that comes from having righted those wrongs – ah, that is not to be matched. And as to what it costs us to be the policeman and enforcer for the entire world? Well worth it, we say. Because the resulting pride and triumph are things that most other countries can only dream of. Who else ever got to police the entire planet? Not the Romans... not the Moslems... not the British (although they came as close as anyone)... not the Soviets. And besides, doesn't it all vindicate our origin myths – our original self image as embodied in the founding documents? We always knew we were special, and so it only makes sense that we have to go out and prove it on a regular basis. Otherwise, the world might forget. _We_ might forget!

But now here we are – slouching home victory-less, and with nary a word of thanks from the beneficiaries of our exertions... no parades, no ticker-tape (is there even any such thing any longer?), no big open cars (ditto), no iconic photographs of sailors kissing nurses (same-sex or otherwise)... but mainly no victory, no winning. And it's not as if we're totally new to this experience; after all, it happened in Korea (although we were loath to admit it), and it happened in Vietnam (which resulted in an orgy of self-flagellation over many years). We did get a taste of victory the old fashioned way in the Gulf War, but that turned out to be only a prelude to the debacle that followed.

So we really are in a new era when it comes to warfare, and the causes are many. One is, of course, a change in the nature of war itself, which has ceased to feature set-piece battles by opposing armies in uniform and evolved into, typically, a dispersed, small-unit-based army fighting natives, rebels, insurgents, and “terrorists”. And behind this trend are things like geographical, cultural, political, and religious differences – not to mention economics. World War II was, perhaps, the last pure case of rich countries fighting each other – which meant that they had the same general concept of war and of strategy... and the similar level of economic development and industrialization led to a kind of symmetry in tactics, armaments, munitions, transportation, logistics... even down to unit organization and uniforms. That symmetry persisted with the Korean conflict primarily, I think, because we were fighting a clone of a much larger power (China) or fighting the much larger power itself. But then it all broke down with Vietnam because, guess what, the other side was not only fighting on its home turf but it was fighting in the ways that worked there – whereas we were still trying to get them to “fight like a man”, you know, with flags and uniforms and bugles and all that. (And this, by the way, is a non-trivial matter as well. As long as we were fighting Europeans, we and they shared a certain set of expectations about how war was to be done; this was eventually codified in the Geneva Conventions. But those Asians (whether East or Southwest) -- well! They're just dirty little beasts, and that's all there is to it.)

So yeah, I guess there were probably “victory” parades after Korea, although I certainly don't remember any, having been a bit young at the time. But I also imagine that people might have been standing there on the curb with a flag in their hand, kind of wondering in the back of their mind, now what exactly are we celebrating here? Did we really “win” anything, or did we just break even? And was it worth it? Et cetera. Vietnam, of course, by the time it was finally over, had shown itself to be a debacle of cosmic proportions... and many Americans hung their heads in shame, and insisted that others do the same. But did we learn? Not really. When it came time to kick the Iraqis out of Kuwait all those scars had healed – there was a new generation in charge, and plenty of new toys that the military was anxious to try out. And the thing about that conflict (the Gulf War) was that it actually worked – I mean, it resulted in an unambiguous victory, and was, arguably, a bargain (relative to what's gone on since). So that sharpened our appetite – ah, maybe the days of glory are not past after all... maybe Vietnam was an anomaly. And thus was paved the way to folly and absurdity in Iraq and Afghanistan.

So yes, much of it can be attributed to the ongoing history of warfare, world politics, the evolution of technology, and what not. But those are minor concerns compared to the forces that are keeping us in a state of perpetual war. I've gone over this before, but I'll at least mention the continued existence and dominance (over both major parties) of the unholy cabal that is primarily responsible for our current situation – namely the Neocons, the Evangelicals, the armaments makers, and the Israeli lobby... not that those groups don't overlap considerably. And what makes this such an effective cabal is not that the various groups have the exact same agenda. On the contrary, the armaments makers are interested in profits, the Israelis in security, the Neocons in power (and Israeli security), and the Evangelicals in fulfilling the promises found in Revelations. Their strength is that they have found common cause in perpetual war in the Middle East – what I refer to as the War on Islam.

And by “armaments makers”, I don't mean only people directly involved in the design, manufacture, and sale of weapons; it has to include the vast array of suppliers, shippers, and support personnel as well as financial interests, investors, and so on – an entire sector of society, in fact, that thrives on war and fears peace like the plague. (And, by the way, in case you hadn't already noticed, the vast bulk of support and “advice” to the Republican contenders for the presidency comes from this cabal. They are to the Republicans what the unions, minority activist groups, and trial lawyers are to the Democrats, even though the Democrats, once in office, follow their orders as well.)

So when this many people are making money, and acquiring power, by means of war, what difference does it make whether those wars are won or lost? The truth is, it makes no difference at all – as long as the wars persist. Which means it's actually most convenient if we neither win nor lose, but keep struggling – and you'll notice that our wars these days are designed with that in mind. But there are always alternative plans in someone's back pocket, “just in case” something happens like our ostensibly getting out of Iraq. Resources can then be redirected to Afghanistan in a seamless manner... or to Iran... or North Korea... or China. The possibilities are endless.

But even though winless wars may make some people happy, they have to be eroding our self-image as a nation, and they have to be creating a state of chronic depression among the citizenry, do they not? And, as the article points out, “(m)any troops who fought in the Iraq War could end up being sent to Afghanistan.” In fact, many already have been. So there you have it – perpetual war, an endless rotation among third-world pestholes, an endless cycle of provoking even more enmity which we are then compelled to combat, and so on. And so far this technique has been limited to Southwest Asia, but who is to say? We're rattling sabers at Iran and China now, and have rattled them on and off at Russia and North Korea – not to mention here and there in Latin America, and even sub-Saharan Africa. Truly, the world is ripe for the picking, and there are any number of American politicians and leaders who will rush in without counting the cost -- and presidential candidates who promise to do so.

So the article in question ends – as it should – with a whimper: “A parade [I guess that means any parade – a kind of generic parade] might invite criticism from those who believe the United States left Iraq too soon [! -- When were we supposed to leave? In ten more years?], as well as from those who feel the war was unjustified. It could also trigger questions about assertions of victory.” That's for sure. But wait – who, exactly, is “asserting victory” in this case? No one that I know of. Oh sure, we read interviews with returning troops who are programmed to say stuff like, “we helped the Iraqi people obtain their freedom”. But guess what, bub? That's not why we went over there. Anyone remember WMDs? Oh well...

And finally -- “President George W. Bush's administration referred to military action in the Middle East as part of a global war on terror, a conflict that's hard to define by conventional measures of success.” Excuse me, is this an “Onion” article? No – the behavior of the Bush and Obama administrations is beyond satire. Just consider the expression “global war on terror” for a moment. Number one, “global” -- meaning anywhere in the world, regardless of whether we have any vital interests or not. If “terrorists” from Mali attack the Central African Republic, we're there, dude. And it's because “terror” is just... well, it's bad! Evil! And it has to be wiped off the face of the earth! Little attention is paid to what any military scholar knows, which that “terror” is just a loaded term for “unconventional warfare” or “asymmetrical warfare”, which is, in turn, simply the way poor countries make war on rich countries (or their surrogates). And what is it, after all, that makes what _we_ do in the Middle East not “terror”? It feels the same to the civilians who wind up getting killed and wounded. I'll tell you what it is. We wear uniforms and have a flag. Yeah, that's about all it boils down to. If the “terrorists” wore uniforms and had a flag, we'd have to call them an “army” and give them a lot more respect.

And as for “conventional measures of success”, well... that's what I've been calling “victory” or “winning” all this time. So... what would non-conventional measures of success be? “Helping the Iraqi people obtain their freedom?” But there is no guarantee that we've even done that much; the jury is still out. And as far as suppressing “terror” overall, it can be argued that we've only made things worse by our actions. No, the true non-conventional measures of success are the increased riches and power that have accrued, and will continue to accrue, to the people who sponsor these wars, and their political servants. The problem is that these measures cannot be admitted to in public, leave alone bragged about (except in corporate annual reports and “think tank” position papers). And they represent values that are, for some mysterious reason, simply not shared by the public at large – you know, “You go to war and get killed so I can make money and gain power.” In their na├»ve, simplistic way Americans still long for victories – for something they can take pride in. But this is all to be denied them, because they have no voice and no standing in the world as it has become.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

No Pall on Paul

Suddenly, and seemingly overnight, some of the major house organs of both liberalism and neoconservatism are evincing what appears to be a strange new respect for Ron Paul and his candidacy. Some have even hinted that, to use the words of Chris Berman, “he might go all the way!” -- at least as far as the Iowa Caucuses are concerned. So what's going on here? I mean, Ron Paul has inspired equal parts fear and loathing among both liberals and neocons for years now – and they have responded in typical fashion by labeling him “crazy”, “a fringe candidate”, “radical”, and all the rest of it. Have they changed their minds? I suspect not.

Once again, I think that the mainstream media have been running their own version of Rush Limbaugh's “Operation Chaos” for these many months, namely by setting up a succession of Republican candidates as “the front runner” then proceeding to shoot them down as only the mainstream media can do – by, if necessary, digging deep in order to find that one unforgivable sin that will doom their candidacy. Up until recently, Mitt Romney has gotten more or less of a pass, and no one seemed too terribly threatened by the idea that he might wind up getting the nomination, for reasons discussed in previous posts. To the liberals, he's seen as the least threatening candidate (in terms of what he might do if actually elected), and to the neocons he's “one of us”, with no discernible populist baggage. The idea being, in the unlikely event he were elected he would cause the least damage to liberal interests and require no bringing-up-to-speed on neocon interests – and do I have to belabor the point that those interests are, in most cases, indistinguishable? -- especially when it comes to foreign policy.

But then a funny thing happened, and my theory is that some people started to think Romney might actually win. But rather than attack him directly at this point, the decision was made to start giving Newt Gingrich more “face time” and to ignore most, if not all, of his “issues” and offenses against good taste. But Gingrich turns out to be way too much of a temptation, and what I see is that he has already passed his high water mark. He had his fifteen minutes (weeks, months, whatever) of fame as a candidate, and is now being gently, but firmly, ushered out of the limelight.

And that leaves us with whom... or what? No one wants to backtrack and start putting Rockjaw Goodhair front and center again... and after all, the whole idea is to divide and conquer, right? And who better to divide (but not conquer) than Ron Paul, who has already been termed “divisive” simply because he's not in lock-step with the other Republicans on foreign policy (or domestic policy either, for that matter). So the thing to do is stop calling Ron Paul crazy, and start reflecting on the very real possibility that he might be a viable candidate – even though they know he can't win. This might be enough to keep some voters in his camp, and even attract new ones. But Ron Paul has a built-in “ceiling” when it comes to Republican voters, and any attempts to attract a following beyond a certain point has to encounter diminishing returns. After all, even people who “sort of like” some of his ideas will still shrink from the idea of actually having him as the nominee – to say nothing of president. Because, well... he might actually mean what he says! And he might be the first winning candidate in generations to not go to Washington and immediately get that plate surgically implanted in his head that turns everyone else into a neocon killer-robot “war president”, and into a socialist on the domestic side.

I think the fact that Ron Paul scares the daylights out of both the liberal establishment and the Republican neocon establishment says a lot about his ideas... like, for instance, that they might be right. Not only right, but sane. But truth and sanity are, like “rare earths”, the commodities that are in shortest supply in Washington these days – and always have been, in fact, but especially now. When people call him crazy or radical, what they're trying, in their feeble way, to do is express their lack of capability to understand what he's talking about... or if they do understand, their complete disorientation. After all, this country has been running on about the same set of principles and ideas for generations now – at least since the 1930s; there is no living memory of anything else. What was once radical has become established, and what were once “emergency measures” have become business as usual. And after all, the system has “worked” all that time, right? I mean, the Republic still stands; we have not descended into chaos or anarchy – just the opposite, in fact. Our political options have been narrowed and compressed until we're all drinking through a conceptual cocktail straw... comfortably and contentedly, it seems... unaware that there are any other possibilities. Our foreign policy has taken on a perpetual war aspect, and our domestic policies are impacted... petrified... frozen in place. The biggest arguments that break out on Capitol Hill concern maybe 1% or 2% of the national budget... and here Ron Paul is, saying that he would eliminate entire departments – close 'em down! Fire everyone! Drive the bureaucrats out of Washington with guns, hounds, pitchforks, and flaming torches! (At least that's what it would seem like to big-government types.) And then what would happen to all of our “benefits” and “entitlements”? No, surely, this is something that cannot be contemplated – and, in fact, is not contemplated by the majority... not even by the Tea Partiers or the Occupiers. Only a few nut-case “survivalists” living out in the mountains of Idaho would feel good about something like that.

So why is Ron Paul suddenly being presented as a possibly-sane candidate whom possibly-sane voters might vote for? Again I say, it's all about divide and conquer. You split off a good chunk of Republican voters, the way some of the third-party candidates of the past have done, and you have a guaranteed Democrat victory. You don't even have to try and make Obama look good; that act has gotten a bit stale of late. And you don't have to make anyone look bad either. Just present two (at least) Republican candidates as “viable”, and you've done your job.

But – you'll say – in the end, the Republicans can only nominate one candidate. True, and I'm sure the media are hoping that Paul will peel off at that point and try a third-party run, which would pretty much put the icing on the cake. But even if he doesn't, you might wind up with a good number of Ron Paul supporters sitting out the election, or going with some other third party, because once people have tasted the fresh, clean air of Ron Paul's ideas they're unlikely to slouch into the voting booth and go back to Rockjaw Goodhair, or whomever. There is, in fact, an alienation process going on, which the Tea Party is a symptom of – what the media call “disgust” with Washington and all of its pomps and works. But note, that disgust is almost entirely on the conservative side. The Occupiers are not disgusted with Washington – not really, not in principle. As far as they're concerned, the federal government is still the answer to all their woes, if only it can be redirected a bit. All we have to do is “reprioritize”, from bailing out banks to paying off everyone's student loans. And they have yet to say anything bad about Obama, right? So the Democrat base is firm, and solid – and even the few who say that Obama doesn't “deserve” a second term will vote for him anyway, because what choice do they have?

Let me put it another way. The bulk of the Democrat, therefore Obama, base is made up of tax receivers, vs. tax payers. It's really that simple. And we know now that half the populace is in that category. To which must be added people who are liberal on principle – academics, media types, “entertainment” types, East and West Coast elites... small in number but highly influential. Not to mention the vast majority of career politicians and lobbyists. This includes the people who are chronically afflicted with what is termed “liberal guilt” -- they don't mind supporting socialism as long as they still get to keep most of their own “stuff”. And the tax receivers – the bulk, again – get to keep _all_ their stuff, and maybe get more besides! So it's the perfect coalition. In the long run, economically, it may be unsustainable, but since when has that bothered anyone? No one worries about the national debt if they don't think they'll ever have to pay any of it. See, that's the beauty of socialism, and of collectivism in general – you get all the benefits but none of the responsibility and none of the accountability. No one's ever going to show up at your door with a bill. And all the pleading from the “reality-based community” (I love that term) about the long-term corrosive effect of economic insanity... well, that's easy to ignore, even by people who are starting to feel the effects (like not having a job, for instance).

Now, I'm not saying that this newfound respect for Ron Paul among the establishment elites is going to go on indefinitely; it will depend, to a large extent, on what happens in the Iowa Caucuses and other pre-primary and primary events. The media are quick on their feet, no doubt – once Cain was out of the way, for example, it was as if he'd never existed. There wasn't even any time spent gloating; there was more important work to be done. And if Gingrich continues to slide, there won't be any gloating then either – in wartime, those sorts of niceties tend to get neglected.

And it's funny too because, as I've always said, the Republicans have a built-in handicap when it comes to national elections. They don't own the big-city political machines, and therefore have a much harder time stealing votes or doing other sorts of shenanigans than the Democrats do. So you can count on a lot more Democrat than Republican votes being cast by dead people, or non-people, and legitimate votes being misplaced... but even at that, the Democrats don't win every election. And this doesn't bother the people at the very top of the heap, because they're in control and will continue to be no matter what. But it does upset the political junkies, who still seem to think it makes a difference who's in the White House. Well... it would if it were Ron Paul, but again, that's simply not in the cards. The difference between Obama and Rockjaw Goodhair might be an aesthetic one for some people, but for the controlling elite, as for the international financial elite, it's a trivial matter. In fact, all of American politics is trivial from that ten-mile-high perspective... but it wouldn't be if people starting taking Ron Paul's ideas seriously. Which means that he has to be dealt with – and there's no one better equipped to perform that function than our mainstream media.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Our Long National Nightmare is Not Over

Well, it looks like we're just about out of Iraq. Just about, kinda, sorta... except for the troops that are staying for “security” purposes, and as “trainers” and “advisors”. (Remember how Vietnam started?) And of course, we will stand offshore, at the ready, in case anything goes wrong, fully prepared to go in again in order to protect “American interests” -- which can include virtually anything, including nothing.

But shame, shame on the people out there who would claim that Obama is only getting us out of Iraq in order to contrast himself with the would-be warriors of the Republican party, who have, basically, promised to drastically escalate the war on Islam the minute they get into office. Why, those are the real war mongers, aren't they? -- compared to whom, the Democrats are the party of peace, etc. Well, it all depends on whom you ask, and the time frame of reference. World Wars I and II, Korea, and Vietnam were all Democrat wars – or at least started during Democrat administrations, and then (in the case of Korea and Vietnam) a Republican administration had to go in and do the clean-up (successfully, more or less, in the case of Korea, and disastrously in the case of Vietnam). But more recently, there has been a bit of a sea change, and now the roles have been reversed – the Republicans start wars, and the Democrats are expected to go in and do the clean-up... and so far the only “success” in this regard has been Iraq, which is ending in more or less of a stalemate, not unlike Korea. Heck, we could pull out and the terrorists and insurgents could move on Baghdad five minutes later; who knows? And as for all the troops who were sent home in body bags having died in vain – well, those are words that will never cross any mainstream politician's lips. Wars are worth fighting more or less by definition... and you'll notice that the criteria for starting, and ending, wars have deteriorated of late so that now there really are no effective criteria. An American president can attack any foreign country on the globe for no damn good reason, and then turn around and leave, or stay, for no damn good reason. (And, BTW, so much for "division of powers".) And yet the populace at large still fails to realize that this is the way things are, and insists that we “support the troops” by supporting the tyrants who send them off to die for unworthy causes. We have become numb to absurdity to the point where the perpetual war program doesn't seem to bother anyone; no one sees anything amiss in being on a war footing at all times, and in devoting the bulk of our national wealth to fighting other nations and entities that really don't have bad intentions toward us – or, if they do, it's typically our own fault.

So yes, Obama and the Democrats are only continuing the madness that started under the Republicans – but that madness has overtaken the entire nation, so it doesn't really matter who's in office. One would be tempted to think that, as Pat Buchanan has suggested, a vote for the Republicans in next year's election is a vote for war. Perfectly true, but a vote for the Democrats is also a vote for war. Would the Republicans attack Iran (or North Korea, or China, or Russia) any more readily than the Democrats? They claim they would (speaking primarily about Iran), but who knows? History shows that the Democrats are enamored of war, not least because it creates an opportunity for government to grow by leaps and bounds, both in power and in resources. The Republicans, on the other hand, are enamored of war because they're still enamored of the Monroe Doctrine (especially as applied to places like ex-Soviet Georgia), Manifest Destiny, “spreading democracy”, and “defending the American way of life” -- which, again, can include almost anything. The Republicans have the added advantage of being dominated by the Evangelicals, who are completely unabashed about desiring a holy war on Islam, not only on their own behalf but for the benefit of Israel. It somehow makes perfect sense for the United States to go to war in order to speed the realization of some (alleged) Biblical prophecy – even though we are, supposedly, a “non-sectarian” nation.

So if you're a pacifist these days – as some of the “Occupy” crowd seem to be – times are tough. But they have never been good – I mean, there have been periods in our history when we enjoyed a “peace dividend”, but the most recent was the 1920s and 1930s, and look how that turned out. As a nation and a culture, we definitely do a much better job at war than at peace. We find peace disorienting, somehow – after all, there are ideas and causes worth fighting for, and we hold a brimming hand of those ideas and causes... enough to justify wars into the foreseeable future and beyond. When, for instance, one of the causes is spreading American-style democracy around the globe, we find that this is, in fact, a fool's errand and can never be achieved, and yet we keep at it -- much to the delight of our military leaders and armaments makers. Wars with a definite goal – like conquest, or peace – are just so out of fashion these days; it seems almost quaint to recall that we felt our work was done when the armistice was signed at the end of World War I... or when the Germans and Japanese surrendered at the end of World War II. What an idea, that wars can (and should) actually end! We know better now – or, at least, our thinking is programmed better now by the powers that be. Now there is no “morning after”, or hangover, from war, because it never stops. Neither are there any “peace dividends” because they only spoil people into thinking that things are going to stay that way. No, we have become like one of those “rogue states”, like North Korea, that considers itself at war continuously with the rest of the world – and we're doing our best to make this a reality. I mean, when you take on Islam, and then start threatening China and Russia... well, who's left? Sub-Saharan Africa? Oh no, wait, we've gone in there too at this point. I guess maybe New Zealand doesn't have much to worry about, but you never know.

In any case, Obama has – perhaps cynically... OK, for sure cynically – now positioned himself as a war-ender and peacemaker, even as Hillary marches up and down Southeast Asia huffing and puffing about the “law of the sea” vis-a-vis China. Is he only trying to free up resources to go elsewhere? I mean, the stalemate in Afghanistan should be enough to satisfy anyone. What I think he's trying to do is contrast himself with the Republican candidates, who – with the exception of Ron Paul, as always – are all foaming at the mouth to start as many wars as possible as soon as possible after they get into office... believing in what they say, and believing that's what the American people want, and, unfortunately, they're probably right. Or if the American people don't exactly “want” what amounts to a world war on six or seven fronts, they at least won't object, and will ever be willing to “support the troops”. Obama, on the other hand, must think, or suspect, on some level, that Americans are truly “war-weary”, as they are so often described by the mainstream media – so he's willing to take a chance of letting peace break out in Iraq.

But I always argue with this; I don't think Americans are “war-weary” at all. I think they are a combination of misled, conned, numb, and delusional... and that war is about the only thing that brings light and life into their otherwise dull and despairing lives. OK, this is somewhat of an exaggeration, but you get my point – I hope. We are a warring nation because we are an ideational nation, and one of our ideas – the “meta-idea”, if you will – is the insistence that everyone else on the planet should share in those ideas, and be willing to adopt them... or if not, we will be glad to help them along... to gently change their attitudes through persuasive techniques like bombing. One idea that has never really taken root in this country – or, if it ever did, it was quickly uprooted – was the simple one of “live and let live”. We think we believe in it – you know, with the Bill of Rights, the “Four Freedoms”, etc., but we really don't. We may believe in it, up to a point, for individuals, but we believe just the opposite for nations, cultures, and even religions if you're talking about Islam. In those cases, whenever their ways are not our ways, we pronounce their ways “evil”, and do everything in our power to change them. And one of the perennial rationales for this is that it will make people freer, happier, more content – they will enjoy the many fruits of democracy (think “inky thumbs”). And indeed, many of the “beneficiaries” of our largess have become adept at putting on an act of being, or feeling, freer, happier, more content, etc. -- except that when it's only on our terms (as in the case of Iraq) then they are forced to deny their cultural (and maybe also religious) heritage... and this, in turn, causes resentment, hostility, and rebellion, and in the long run things wind up worse than if we'd never interfered.

As much as we are loathe to admit it, other nations and cultures prefer to be left alone – yes, even in what we consider to be their benighted state. They may be ruled by tyrants... be fond of “cruel and unusual punishment” (as if we aren't)... embrace ignorance and “superstition” (AKA traditional religion of the non-Protestant kind)... eat funny-smelling foods and wear weird clothes. But dammit, it's their culture and it's where they feel at home. We step in, trash what they have, and offer what in return? A sort of watered-down and distorted version of American culture, which as we all know is succeeding so admirably these days, ahem. An American overlay where all the bad things are amplified, and the good things are minimal or non-existent. A mess of pottage in exchange for a birthright! But we are all too familiar with this bad deal, since we've imposed it on so many of our own – so many immigrants as well as non-conformists among the native-born.

And really, what, after all, is this all-hallowed criterion of what it means to be an “American”? I guess if you wouldn't fit readily into a Norman Rockwell painting you don't qualify. It all comes, ultimately, out of New England, which was settled by religious fanatics who got thrown out of England. And they set the tone for the rest of us, from that day forward. Yes, don't ever think that we are not still a Puritanical society. Nothing proves it more readily than our foreign policy and our attitudes toward other nations and cultures – and, in fact, toward the bulk of our own citizenry. It is the most bizarre of things – oppression by a dead minority. I have yet to see an active church or congregation up in New England, or anywhere else, identified as the “Puritan Church of...”, and yet their cold, clammy hands continue to reach out, after lo these many years, to influence everything we do. Consider, as one case, the “War on Drugs”; pure Puritanism! (And what, after all, was Prohibition?) The buckled, blunderbuss-toting Pilgrim fathers could not be more proud. Consider the domination of anti-life attitudes in our culture – not just abortion, but the ridiculous battles about breast-feeding “in public”... about medicine and health care... about diet and nutrition... and so on. Behind them all, looming in the background, is the glowering visage of Puritanism – hating life, loving death, counseling despair. It is so ubiquitous that we can hardly imagine what its opposite is... what life would be like without that constant, nagging fear of living and resentment of those who seem to know how to do it. I actually suspect that most of the nations, and cultures, we wage war on are better at embracing life and existence than we are – which is, I suspect, one reason we are so anxious to wage war on them, because we see them as a metaphysical threat. Their cultural successes only serve to point out our cultural hollowness. People in those places squabble, fight, and kill each other cheerfully and with abandon... but in the meantime they “live large” -- at least much larger than so many Americans, with their pinched, intimidated, fear-ridden approach to things. I always marvel at photos of sub-Saharan Africans, living in some of the most horrendous, violent, flea-bitten places on earth, and they have bigger, and more genuine, smiles on their faces than almost any American I ever see. What's their secret? Are they idiots? Or do they know something we don't? They are part of an authentic culture, the value of which we've long since lost track of – and maybe that turns out to be the most important thing for true quality of life, as opposed to just “stuff”. Their lives may be “nasty, brutal, and short” to our way of thinking, but what if they're really living, as opposed to merely pretending to live, as so many of us do? Doesn't that mean they have taken the better part? And what does it then say about our attempts to destroy them?

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Gingrich That Stole Romney's Christmas

One of my readers has commented that he thinks I'm wrong about the mainstream media's love affair – or, should I say, non-hate affair – with Mitt Romney, AKA Rockjaw Goodhair. He thinks they are definitely swinging over to the Gingrich side (while ignoring Ron Paul, of course – as well as those they have already succeeded in shooting down), and the question is why? Especially considering the roasting they gave Newt back in the “Contract with America” days. Remember then? Ah yes, those bygone times before 9/11 “changed everything” -- and, wouldn't you know, it happened on the watch of a Republican president, or we might never have gotten the Patriot Act, the war in Iraq... maybe not even the war in Afghanistan. But that's all a pipe dream at this point. Besides, we're “getting out” of Iraq, aren't we? By the end of the month! Well... anyone who has a one-square-mile embassy in Baghdad isn't exactly what you'd call “out” of Iraq. And as I've said before, what about the CIA's private army? They'll be over there until this country sinks into the ocean... and probably beyond.

But I digress. As I said, if you go back to 1994, the Contract with America, honchoed by Newt Gingrich, was described by the MSM (and comedians everywhere) as the worst thing to ever come down the pike – pure hate speech on paper. And of course it lies, unused and neglected, on the ash heap of discarded ideas, just like everything else that accompanies elections. All it takes to derail good ideas, and set the country back decades, is another war... and, sure enough, the events of 9/11 were just what the doctor ordered in this regard.

So Gingrich left Congress in 1999, under a multi-layered cloud... and that cloud remains; not a jot or tittle of it has been washed away. In fact, new layers keep getting added... and yet here he is, the apparent beneficiary of “newfound respect” by the media.

Well, it's all nonsense, of course. The media are no more interested in having Gingrich as our next president than they were having Romney. But here's the difference. The idea now – or so I'm told – is that the media are starting to worry that Romney might just be able to beat Obama next year. Unlikely, true... but not impossible. See, the rationale for supporting, or at least not pillorying, Romney was a classic case of bet-hedging. The media are sure Obama's good to go for a second term, but in case there is a shadow of a doubt, they want the least-threatening (to their agenda) Republican candidate to be nominated, so that if he (or she) gets in, he'll be easily co-opted... or, more likely, already be co-opted upon taking office. But again, it's based on the premise that he doesn't have a chance; otherwise they'd put their full weight behind a less-likely candidate who couldn't be elected in a million years.

So if Romney has become too threatening, then the media have to shift the limelight onto Gingrich – once again hoping that he'll win the nomination but be unelectable... but if elected (one chance in a million) wouldn't be all that much of a threat. Forgotten are all the fears, hysteria, and condemnations of 1994... but, I guess, if the alternatives are the likes of Michelle Bachmann and Rick Santorum, Newt is going to look like a cute little fuzz ball. Gingrich is, at least, someone they can “work” with, since he's a known flip-flopper, compromiser, and “pragmatist” -- i.e. a politician. Whereas some of these others... well, who knows? They might turn out to have principles, and surely we can't have that.

So anyway... perhaps we've identified a trend here, or maybe it's just an anomaly. But it is striking how a guy who was Pure Evil back in 1994 almost seems acceptable now... that is, until you realize what the agenda is. And if Gingrich is the MSM's second choice, imagine how they must feel about the other candidates! And with many months still to go before the convention, what happens if Newt develops some blatant, non-ignorable fatal flaw... some political sucking chest wound? Do they switch back to Romney? Do they finally discover Huntsman? Who knows? I'm glad it's not my problem.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Great Transition

It's always risky to call a given span of years an “age” or “era” while it is still going on. Events that seem so salient at the time might turn out to be not all that historically significant, or trends that we thought were the start of something really big might fizzle. When's the last time, for example, that you heard anyone refer to “The Space Age”? It sounded good when we were ready to establish colonies on Mars, but now look – most of the NASA program is ending with a whimper rather than a bang, and it seems highly far-fetched at this point that we'll even get back to the Moon. Things that fail to live up to the hype tend to make for bad “ages” and “eras” -- and I guess one disadvantage in our time is that everything is so hyped that it's impossible for even successful enterprises to live up to expectations. Right now we're supposedly living in the Age of Automation, the Digital Age, the Post-Industrial Age, the post-Christian era, and so on, with other ages and eras hot on their heels. When the present gets redefined every few months, one suspects that it's based on a longing for historical significance – but unfortunately that cannot be forced. Only future generations can offer a final verdict on what is historical and what is ephemeral.

(If Mount Rushmore were carved today, would one of the four heads be Teddy Roosevelt? Seems kind of unlikely somehow. Of course, if it had been carved in the 1960s it would have included both FDR and JFK... so let's be thankful for small favors.)

(On the other hand, how many prognosticators and “futurists” have predicted a short life for something that turned out to actually define an age or an era? Rock 'n' roll comes to mind, as does the computer. I suppose the automobile qualifies as well... and the steam locomotive... and the airplane... and so on. ) (Funny how often it has to do with transportation. No one ever talks about the “Age of Penicillin”.)

(And does anyone else remember when computers were supposed to be the size of a football stadium by now? That was when they still ran on vacuum tubes. And the aesthetic movement called “steam punk” is, in a way, an exercise in nostalgia for an era that never existed because electricity took over from steam as the major power transmitter.)

With that note of caution, I will proceed, nonetheless, to hypothesize that the current era – socially, economically, culturally, politically – will be seen by future generations as... well... let's call it The Great Transition. And by that I mean the transition from a three-class society to a two-class society, a process that is well underway, so there is already ample justification for this idea.

I refer, of course, to the no-longer-gradual, no-longer-subliminal, reduction in the state of the middle class from prosperity to (relative) deprivation... from complacency to fear... and, perhaps most importantly of all, from the class that exerted cultural dominance to the one that is chronically under attack and feels like a persecuted minority. In the broadest sense, if the old three-class system consisted of the “doers-to”, i.e. the upper class, and the “done-to”, i.e. the lower class, and those suspended in between, i.e. the middle class, we are now seeing the middle class being moved into the “done-to” category at a rapid rate. A vast gulf is opening up between the ruling elite and everyone else -- and I'm only about the 1,000th commentator to point tht out. Or, to put it another way, we are seeing the middle class being forcibly shifted into the lower class – but without having been born in that environment, and without having lower-class expectations (characterized by low locus of control and metaphysical despair, as I've discussed before). If you show me, in two adjoining houses on the same street, a lower-class family that has never known anything else, and a middle-class family that has fallen on hard times and therefore now has the same household income as the lower-class family, I guarantee you that the middle-class family will be the one that is stressed out. It's all about expectations, in other words – and although this is a feature of human nature in general, we are seeing most of the symptoms these days among the “no longer, or at-risk, middles”, as represented by the Tea Party movement.

Now, this whole class thing, when it comes to history, economies, forms of government, and so on, is an extremely complex subject, and you could fill a large library with books on it. But my overall impression, at least when it comes to “modern”, by which I mean post-Industrial Revolution, history, is that a three-class system is highly correlated with democratic forms of government as well as with commerce, technology, and urbanization. After all, who were the original “bourgeoisie”? I would say mostly merchants and traders. And where did they live? By definition, in towns and cities, particularly in areas and countries that, for whatever reasons, had a thriving commercial and trading sector. And to their number were eventually added what are called “professional” people – doctors, lawyers, and the like – followed by other “white-collar” groups like teachers. And this arrangement held true, more or less, for centuries – right up to the mid-20th Century, in fact, since it's the way things were when I was growing up. Can we at least agree that this lasted long enough to define an “era” or even an “age”? At least in Western Europe and North America?

I would never have imagined, as a kid, that the social-cultural-economic arrangement I grew up with was, in fact, the last flowering of something that had been around for centuries... and that a revolution was at hand. Well, of course, as we all know, the bourgeoisie are always the last to know when it comes to revolution. There might have been early signs (the beatniks? Jazz? Rock 'n' roll? Sack dresses?) but no one was willing or able to see them as such. And I guess this is one of the defining things about the middle class – that it's in the perpetual position of being that frog in the pot on the stove. If only we were more sensitive to the signs of the times – as sensitive as the proletariat are, even! But then we wouldn't be middle-class any more, would we? At least not in the strict sense. We would then be revolutionaries who came out of the middle class, and who despise their heritage, as so many revolutionaries have down through the centuries.

Now, I'm trying to make as “value-free” a presentation here as possible, because I'm not one to carry a torch for the middle class. It has its “issues”, its serious flaws, its absurdities... and in some ways maybe it's due for a cleansing experience. But I do think that it is being assaulted in our time by people who are no better -- and usually worse -- and who have evil intent... so I don't think it's out of place to offer a bit of sympathy, even though it can be argued that most of the middle class's woes have been brought on, or at least aggravated, by its own actions (like always voting for the wrong candidate, for example – and not starting to protest things until it's too late).

And allow me also to dismiss, with a single wave of the hand, people who claim that “class analysis” is a thing of the past... or that it was never a good model anyway. Nonsense! You can debate all you want as to the fine points of class distinctions, and how many sub-classes there are, and how this correlates with other factors like race, ethnicity, religion, etc., but the phenomenon we call “class” has been with us always, and always will be – no matter how “democratic” or “egalitarian” we are, or fancy ourselves to be. And in fact, you'll notice that every time a government tries to eliminate social class, they only succeed in substituting a new kind of class structure that is typically more oppressive than the one it replaced. So social class really does seem to be, on some profound level, a universal aspect of human nature in groups – an inevitable thing that arises at all times and in all places, whether this is willed by people and whether or not it is conscious. It's as hard to eliminate as are differences in intelligence or athletic ability for individuals – i.e. impossible. And yet we have never seemed to learn to live with it – at least in this country -- which is an interesting thing since it's been taken for granted and not questioned in most societies down through history, and in the bulk of societies in our time, I would say. I guess if one were compiling a list of bad ideas – i.e. ones doomed to fail – eliminating all class distinctions would have to be at the top of the list. And yet this is what has motivated all revolutions in the modern era, and it's what motivated all communist and many socialist governments over the past century or so. And it's what continues to motivate and energize liberals/Democrats in the present day -- or so they claim.

But if we accept class analysis as a valid approach, we cannot thereby fall into simplistic assumptions. The most obvious and simplistic in our time is that it's just a matter of money, and nothing more. You can find a chart in most any issue of most any periodical in the land that shows you exactly what “class” you're in based on your household income – completely ignoring other factors like values, taste, life style, political attitudes, social customs, diet, dress... and so on. And much of this adds up – or did at one time -- to that mysterious thing that has become virtually extinct in our society (and in most others), namely breeding.

There, I said it! That most feared word, since it denotes, inescapably, a class distinction that cannot be erased by winning the lottery, or by government mandate. And yet its utility in our time can be questioned, since it's so rare that one seldom sees it even among the super-rich. When one does see it, it's most likely among European royalty or “old money”. And it is, of course, blatantly un-democratic; no one gets to vote on who is well-bred and who is not, and you can't buy it in a showroom or on eBay. It is something that few people have the time or money or motivation to cultivate any longer, and yet it is, I would say, the most reliable and traditional sign of true “class” that we have.

In trying to think of an example from post-war America, I come up with a mere handful, which probably means that I've spent way too little time (i.e. none) in the correct social circles. But who's going to argue when I say that the last well-bred resident of the White House was Jackie Kennedy? Her husband's family had more money, but she had the upbringing. She was a shiny, gleaming, finished product of all that the upper reaches of society have to offer – and it is offered in a straightforward, unabashed way. After all, who wouldn't want to be well-bred, if they had the choice? Other White House residents have been perfectly nice people – some of them at least – but I would be hard-pressed to call any of them, even the rich ones, well-bred. I'll spare you the most blatant examples; you can consider that homework.

So if breeding is “out” as a practical criterion, because it's basically extinct, then what do we have to take its place? Money, and nothing more? That might work in places like Texas, but most people suspect there is a bit more to it – even though the expression “nouveau riche” has fallen on hard times. And when it comes to rich people who happen to have good taste, which came first, the money or the good taste (a possible sign of breeding)? I can point to guys who give millions a year to the symphony but whose taste in food is limited to steak and lobster, and who insist on driving abominably-designed big-ass American luxury cars. And who live in the mansions that the “McMansions” are designed to emulate. Maybe we should be satisfied with partial solutions when it comes to such things as taste; after all, this is still America, a rough-and-tumble frontier wilderness territory, where a man has to be hard, steely-eyed, and rock-jawed to stay alive. All of that decadent, sissified European stuff can come later. (Well, isn't this the attitude?)

The subject of taste is incredibly complex – more so than the subject of class, even – so I'm not about to get bogged down in it at this point. Suffice it to say that it is a factor, and nothing distinguishes the three classes in America more than the composite of clothing, grooming, houses, cars, food, and drink. You tell me where a person stands in these areas and I will ring up a class designation for that person, guaranteed accurate or your money back.

OK then, how about education? Yes, that counts, as long as we recognize that a “college education” is no longer a guarantee even of literacy, to say nothing of becoming an “educated person”. No, it takes much more – way more – than what is offered in the typical college or university at the undergraduate level. There are exceptions, of course – redoubts of the “liberal arts” in the true sense – but they don't contribute to social class precisely because they are so rare. Our society doesn't know what to do with scholars – assuming it ever did. But there was a time when “a classical education” meant something. I guess that was at the same time that not everyone who was not brain-dead (not to mention some who were) went to college. It was also a time when there were other paths to success, and being self-supporting in a respectable occupation, than having to get the college ticket punched. But the advocates and propagandists of “higher education” have had their way, and now anyone who didn't attend a “four-year school” is considered somewhat of a second-class citizen. Needless to say, if everyone goes to college, it's as if no one went to college, and we have to start all over again.

Now, when I dismiss “higher education” as a reliable criterion, I don't want to, by doing so, dismiss the symbolic and literal value of attending the “right” school. There are, clearly, schools that the “good” families send their offspring to, and it has nothing to do with education, and everything to do with appearances, contacts, and “networking”. There are schools – preparatory and collegiate – that are simply the property of the ruling class, and the riff-raff are simply not welcome (even assuming they could afford it). So while “education” per se is of little consequence, having the right colored school tie most definitely is.

To get back to money for a moment – do you need money to be considered upper class? I refer you to the film “Gray Gardens”; it might stimulate your thinking on the subject. The short answer is – yes, and a lot of it, except for a very few freakish exceptions. OK then, do you need money to be considered middle class? Yes, if it's only about money – but I hope I've at least suggested that it's also about taste and education (genuine or symbolic), and I will extend these to a concept of “life style”. There is, like it or not, a middle-class life style, and a lower-class life-style... more than one of each, I suppose, but there is no mistaking them, and no possibility of confusing the two. And yet even though it's about money, and taste, and education, it's also about attitudes and values... about the entire approach to life... about one's premises when it comes to dealing with the world, and the way in which one deals with it. And this, I suspect, is actually the most profound difference, and why we find, especially in this country as in all “new” societies, people who seem upper-class in every way except... they just aren't. And people who are middle-class in most respects except you can tell they're well-bred. And middle-class people who obviously just last week clawled their way up out of the lower-class muck. This is something people can tell about each other; call it unfair, call it “undemocratic”, whatever – it's undeniable, and it would be folly to try and eliminate it from our psyche. (Might as well try to elminate cliques from middle schools, or gangs from the inner cities.)

So really, it's these intangibles – these undefinables – that are the surest sign, and yet they are in some ways the most subtle, and are certainly the most difficult to change. At what point in our upbringing did we acquire our world view? I can't remember ever having been without it, although I suspect it has evolved quite a bit over time. I have often commented on the fatalism that characterizes the lower class – that and the self-destructiveness, and there's no doubt they go together. But at what age does this attitude enter the thinking and feeling of the person? At what age does the child of wealth realize that he is rich, special, exceptional, privileged, superior -- and eminently deserving of all of it? At what age does the middle-class person define his place in the firmament – above the unwashed but below the privileged... a state much more precarious and challenging than it appears, and one that requires an exceptional effort to follow the rules, conform, and exercise self-control?

So what I'm coming around to is that class is not simply a matter of any one thing in particular, but is a complex matter. And yet, there are predictable correlates – at least there used to be, and this is part of what I'm working up to. There was a time when rich people, with breeding, acted like rich people with breeding across the board, with few exceptions. They had a self-contained, highly-reinforcing (or highly regulated, depending on one's point of view) culture that offered all who stayed within its bounds great rewards. There was really no reason to leave, or to stray – and very few did. The middle class as well, although there was room for ambition and advancement, had well-defined social, economic, and cultural boundaries within which there was very little “wiggle room” (with small allowances made for ethnic and religious heritage – but not too much!). In terms of political attitudes, the vast bulk of both groups was “conservative” in that they wanted to maintain the life style to which they were accustomed – or better yet, acquire more of the same. The middle class might have envied the upper class, but the most they would ever do about it was to study books on etiquette, and try to act rich on those few occasions when they could afford it and were not in danger of too many derisive comments from the neighbors.

Then we had the vast lower class – the “working class”, “labor”, “blue collar”, the proletariat... the “people”... and they came in many shades and varieties, but their social stratum was what it was, and no one would mistake it for anything else. And it was, of course, the primary source of raw energy in favor of “change” if not for outright revolution – a force for populism, equal rights, “fairness”, economic liberalism... and the elimination, as much as possible, of class distinctions. And this is not to say that the bulk of lower-class people thought about these issues all the time, or even some of the time, or at all – but they wound up being represented by institutions, like labor unions, the NGOs of their day, and political parties, that did. In fact, that's about all they thought about, 24-7. So we have the basis for class conflict, class warfare, whatever you want to call it, which brings us right up to the present day. Every other word out of any politician's mouth, regardless of party, has something to do with class and class conflict. It might be euphemistic... it might be “coded”... but it's there. In fact, one could say (and I do) that politics is the natural outgrowth of social class, which, as I said, will always be with us... and so will politics, I fear. Another way of looking at it is that politics is about economics, nearly all the time... and economics is about money, and so is social class. So you're going to eliminate politics from the human experience about as soon as you eliminate money, or social class – namely never.

An elegant, elderly Southern lady I knew had a succinct piece of advice for her granddaughter: “Don't act like trash.” She didn't say “be rich”, or “have good taste”, or “get a good education” -- even though those would all be considered fine things. The main point was not to act like “trash” -- i.e. not to betray your upbringing, and your social class -- not to mention your family -- by “acting” (vs. actually being, which was impossible) like people on the low end of the scale (said scale being composed of all the complex factors discussed above, and many more besides). And of course there are always temptations for people to wander far from their roots, and to rebel against their upbringing (especially its associated signs and symbols) – and sometimes a permanent shift is made... and sometimes it even seems to succeed. But I suspect that few people stray very far, firstly because it's a lot of work, secondly because it takes the kind of imagination most people simply don't have, and thirdly because things are found, in the long run, to be safer, more secure, and more familiar back on one's home turf (socially speaking). This has, of course, been the topic of any number of books, plays, movies, etc. -- and it always comes back to the question of what, precisely, is social class, and can it/should it be changed, altered, defied, done away with, embraced, made fun of... the full range of possible responses is put on the table on a daily basis, and yet the problem persists. And, as I've discussed before, this country is an “ideational” culture, and among its ideas are those of endless progress and advancement, unto a secular utopia (which seems strangely elusive considering how long we've been working toward it). This idea is, of course, focused on the society in general, but it readily trickles down to the individual level, so that everybody feels that if their standard of living is not “better than their parents'”, they've failed, somehow. (And I don't know how many obituaries I've read in the local paper in which the subject was described as being “the first in his family to go to college”. I can hardly wait to read one where he was the last... ) What this means is that, in the long run, the goal is to make everyone at least middle class (not unlike Lake Wobegon where “all the children are above average”); this is certainly the picture that politicians paint for people, especially at election time. It's not quite the “Every Man a King” of Huey Long, but it's every bit as demagogic and delusional. I would much rather live in a society where people at all levels had self-respect rather than all of the gadgets and fripperies that, they believe, make them middle class (or better). I met people in Mexico who lived in houses with dirt floors, and yet they had a dignity that I have found in very few people (of any class) up here. There is clearly something seriously wrong with our concepts of self-worth, and I think it has a lot to do with endless striving after unattainable ideals -- not just "stuff" but notions and fancies. Even within the middle class, the notion of being satisfied with things just as they are seems suspect; one ought to want more... to have “ambition”... “get up and go”... and all the rest of that Horatio Alger stuff. What is this country, and this society, if not one of doers rather than thinkers... people of action rather than contemplation... supreme self-confidence based on the quixotic pursuit of ideas? No wonder people elsewhere think we're kind of nuts.

Now, the only reason I've indulged in this brief (ahem) introduction to the concept of social class is to provide background for the main point of this post, which is that we're in the middle of a revolution when it comes to many of these factors. Not only have many of the traditional lines of class started to fray and break down (not always for the worse, I hasten to add), but, paradoxically, “class consciousness” has reached a new high – higher, even, in some ways, than during the populist era or the New Deal. And a big part of this is that the middle class has, at long last, acquired class consciousness – which they did not have, at least in the political sense, before. What class consciousness means politically is simply that you come to want something for your social class, and therefore for yourself, that you didn't have before... or you want to regain something you've lost, or keep from losing that which is at risk. In other words, it's, psychologically, a non-”conservative” mind set – and imagine the trauma for the typical “bourgeois” person when he or she is forced, at long last, to not only acknowledge that things are not as they ought to be, but to actually go out into the streets and say so. This is what has happened with the Tea Party movement, and it's hard to overstate what a shocking change that represents when it comes to the basic premises, and world view, of the middle class, which is rightly considered fat, happy, and complacent. To actually take to the streets! Like union organizers, civil rights demonstrators... or plain rabble! It's unheard of! And this is one of the many reasons why the media can't cope with the phenomenon. They don't understand it because they don't realize how big it is – how “radical”. They just think it's the usual grumbling and griping on the part of the “uptight squares” -- but it's not. And because they don't realize that, they also don't realize what it took to get those people out into the streets. It wasn't just the usual government harassment of the middle class by taxation and social/cultural attacks; that's been going on for generations. It has now occurred to the middle class – the way it occurs to horses and cows in a Gary Larson cartoon – that their number might really be up... that they might be on the way to the slaughterhouse. This is, if you will, the “great awakening” of the middle class – and might serve to at least partially define the present era.

Now... I've said that this process has been going on for a while. Certainly the maintenance of the middle class as milch cows, to be tapped periodically by those in charge in order to bribe the proletariat and stave off revolution, has been going on since the New Deal. But a system like this, even if it involves exploitation of the middle class, cannot require its elimination; that should be obvious. If you have a dairy farm, you have to keep the cows happy, sheltered, and fed – and also fenced in. This has been the strategy up until now. I always say there are two major types of propaganda -- the pro-change, or rabble-rousing, kind and the “don't worry, everything's under control” kind. The former has been the steady diet of the lower class throughout the modern era, and the latter the steady diet of the middle class. But now it appears that the “reassurance” diet has turned to ashes in the mouths of the middle class, and they have adopted their own version of the pro-change diet -- another phenomenon that has the mainstream media totally baffled, upset, and hostile. And, by the way, it has not escaped the attention of the more traditional rabble-rousers that they now have competition for room on street corners, and they kind of resent the fact. “Who do these boozh-wah people think they are, anyway?”

On the cultural front it's a different matter. In that area, the middle class, and its tastes and values... its life style... have been under continuous assault since... oh, I would say in a serious way since the cultural revolution of the 1960s. And it's not as if the hippies took over – although they did in some respects. It's that the media, that already had left-wing, populist, collectivist leanings dating back to the 1930s, and were initially skeptical about all the cultural upheavals of the 1960s, eventually decided that this was just the thing to start seriously attacking the middle class “where they live” -- in terms of values, habits, life style, and, yes, taste. The beatniks had failed as shock troops of cultural change because they were too intellectual and there were too few of them. Rock 'n' roll softened up the battlefield, but it was largely non-conceptual. But the hippie movement and all of its cultural accompaniments – ah yes, there was the ticket! So the revolution that may have begun in hippie enclaves was embraced, and spread, by the media, which had been looking, lo those many years, for something with which to deal a stunning blow to the middle class... to, basically, neutralize it or co-opt it politically, and put it on the defensive culturally, so that it would no longer constitute a serious hindrance to the achievement of the long-wished-for socialist Utopian society. If the middle class had stood in the way of the complete triumph of New Deal liberalism thirty years earlier because it was the culturally dominant class of its time, it would no longer be able to do so once hobbled by the cultural revolution of the 1960s.

But that's not all. At about the same time, one of the most formidable upholders of tradition, and traditional values, in this country was also under assault, both from the larger culture and from what has been dubbed “the spirit of Vatican II”. Yes, the Catholic Church in America was undergoing its own “cultural revolution”, which served many purposes. One was to neutralize it politically, and this in conjunction with the elimination, by the government, of the old-time urban white ethnic enclaves by means of “urban renewal” and its mutant offspring like “blockbusting” and forced busing. The Church, partially through its own folly and partially as the result of political and social attacks, ceased to be a source of moral authority in this country – and I'm not even talking about the much later “pedophile priest” scandals, which did little more than put frosting on the cake. This was an attack on the Church by attacking its people – just as the communists in Eastern Europe had done, but in a less blatant and obvious way.

So, to the extent that “middle class” and “Catholic” overlap (yeah, I know, we're not talking about Episcopalians here... ) the woes of the Church and of Catholics were, and are, a subset of the larger class war. Even working-class Catholics were impacted in such a way as to arrive, once they had climbed the socio-economic ladder, deracinated – and therefore politically neutered -- in the middle class. Plus, in the case of Catholics, who have generally been much less class-conscious than other groups, it's not about income or social standing as much as about values. Do I have to mention that any present-day politician who brings up Natural Law is going to be laughed off the stage? I don't think this would have happened in the 1950s (not once he explained what Natural Law is, I mean).

So to review, briefly, the assault on the middle class on many fronts: Politically beginning in the New Deal... socially and culturally beginning in the 1960s... so what was left? Economics, by which I don't mean the slow bleeding that also began in the New Deal, but the greatly-intensified assault which is under way in our time, and which, by necessity, has to be accompanied by endless streams of political rhetoric and propaganda. The most blatant of these, paradoxically, is the endless prating by our politicians about the middle class having to be “protected”. Well... the minute a politician starts talking about “protecting” something, you can be sure that whatever it is is on death row – this is just the way the political discussion works in this country. Once something is no longer a threat, it's OK to talk about preserving it (as a museum piece, I suppose). I mean, think about it... has any politician, in our lifetimes, up until the last couple of years, ever used the term “middle class” in public? Not that I'm aware. This is huge. What it means is not only that the middle class is in danger, but that many members of the middle class know it, and many of our politicians know they know it. So it has become a “talking point”, whereas up until recently it was a term that was simply never heard in the public forum.

But right away we can see a danger, which I'm sure the politicians sense with their ever-keen political insect feelers. You can only talk about the middle class when you're talking to middle-class people. Try it with a lower-class crowd and all you'll get is boos and guffaws -- “Hey, they're finally starting to hurt just like us. Cry me a river!” The lowers have never had any use for the middles, and I'm sure they laugh and punch each other every time they see a Tea Party rally – the way the black slaves in “Roots” shook their heads when they heard about the revolution, and the whites' war for “freedom”. You can, on the other hand, talk about the sufferings of the lower class to a middle-class audience, assuming they're of a mind to offer sympathy and “contribute” more in the way of confiscatory taxation.

The problem with those fine distinctions is that, in our hyper-media age, the word tends to leak out. When Obama talks to a lower-class audience about giving them a fair share of “the pie”, middle-class people who read about it know full well whose “pie” he's talking about. When Obama criticizes bankers and Wall Street to a middle-class audience, he can be sure that the bankers and Wall Street are listening, and ready to yank on his chain if he starts sounding too militant. And so on. It's getting much harder for politicians to promise different things to different groups and get away with it – and for that, at least, we can be thankful.

But if we go beyond the political rhetoric – which has, I would say, much less truth value than the average Chinese fortune cookie... if we go to what is actually happening... the vast economic, or tectonic (or teconomic?) shifts... we see that the time is at hand for the middle class to be offered up in sacrifice. But what has changed? The lower class, as I said, has never had any use for the middles, and will be glad to see them go... so we have to look to the upper, or ruling, class for an explanation, and apparently they've decided they simply don't “need” the middle class any longer – that when the cow runs dry and the sheep is sheared naked, they can be sent off to the dog food factory.

But if, as I said, there is a high, if not perfect, correlation between the existence of a middle class and the prosperity of a society, as shown by modern history... then won't the overall prosperity of the country suffer if the middle class disappears? And won't that, in turn, impact the fortunes of the ruling elite? Plus, who wants to be in charge of a nation of serfs? Isn't there something more “enlightened” about a three-class society than about one on more of a Medieval or Third-World model?

Frankly, I wish I knew. I wish I knew what makes the “masters of space and time” tick. It really seems like they'd rather rule over a desolate wasteland (economically at least) than be part of a more prosperous, democratic, three-class system. Look what's happening in Europe, for instance – and it is a cautionary tale for us, you may be sure. The less-rational, less-responsible countries (or governments, if you want to claim there's a difference) were offered the most addictive drug there is, for people in positions of power – namely loans with which the politicians could, basically, buy votes. I mean, that may not have been what happened literally, but that's what it amounted to in the long run. Well, this went on for decades, and everyone got thoroughly hooked... to the point where there is little or no living memory, in those countries, of living under any system other than borrow-and-spend socialism, where virtually everyone was able to live above their rightful means. (See why we should be paying attention to this?) And then came the day of reckoning – the loans were called in, and no more were offered... and people woke up one morning to find that, not only were they poor, but they had been poor all along – only fooled into thinking they were rich, or at least prosperous. And they reacted the way people usually do when they feel they've been conned – with protests, rioting, strikes, and so on. And it would be easy enough to say, well, you have no one to blame but yourselves... or your rulers, and therefore yourselves for voting them into office, or allowing them to remain in office. And this would be true, but it's about as effective as lecturing a junkie. If he were amenable to that kind of reasoning he wouldn't have gotten addicted in the first place, would he?

So... what happens is that the junkies fall into the hands of the pushers (Germany et al.) and are in the process of becoming officially enslaved to them. So much for the grand design of the E.U. -- it was never anything more than a plot to put Germany back on top. (Well... I'm not really sure about that, but it is something to ponder.) The point is that whoever winds up running the show is going to be, basically, a slave owner. Europe will be divided between slaves and slave owners, basically – and I have no doubt that it could have been otherwise, but the people in charge prefer it this way for whatever reasons. Likewise, our own ruling class (not unrelated to that in Europe, I hasten to say) apparently prefers to be slave owners rather than mere “participants in democracy”. I won't delve into their possible motives or ways of thinking here; I just want to point out what seems to me an obvious fact. The ruling class is perfectly content overseeing a class of slaves... they just don't want the middle class getting in the way and marring the purity of the landscape. And in this, they bear a striking (and non-accidental) resemblance to the ruling classes of communist countries over the years. To reign in Hell rather than serve in Heaven – that is every collectivist/totalitarian's fondest wish... and, truth be told, the wish of many of our present-day liberals. Of course, a society of that sort will, in one sense, be free of politics. If politics is about money, and “the 1%” has all the money, then politics will wither away the way the state was supposed to under Marxism. A three-class structure is a fertile basis for political life as well as economic life; a two-class structure with nothing but the rulers and the ruled is a recipe for eventual death and decay... and yet, again for reasons of their own, that seems to be what the international masters of finance want. Call it short-sighted... inhumane... reactionary... whatever. It could be that, as some have theorized, the age of democracy is coming to an end because the whole democratic idea was limited, in its viability, to certain times and places, and certain cultures, but not others. This remains to be seen. Perhaps we will have an era of warlords, like in medieval Japan – except with banks, investment houses, and corporations making war on one another rather than states, provinces, and tribes. That, at least, could make for some interesting viewing.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Current Events 101

Well, I guess it's time to, once again, trip the light fantastic through a selection of current events, since no one story seems big enough to devote an entire post to... unless you live in Pennsylvania, and I'll deal with that as well.

The Republicans

As I've pointed out before, the media have already made their selection among the motley crew of presidential candidates – namely Rockjaw Goodhair, of whom no fault can be found... at least not until he finds himself running against Obama, and then the truth will come out: Don't you realize he's a Mormon? With that totally wacked-out theology? Et cetera. But that's a phase we'll have to wait until next summer to witness. In the meantime, the other candidates are being picked off one by one, like ducks in a shooting gallery – the latest being Herman Cain, who had committed the unforgivable sin. And what is that, you ask? Surely not by being found black... or even a Republican... or even an alleged conservative. And as to all of these adultery/affairs allegations, those are things that are laughed off when the perp in question is a Democrat and/or liberal, and anyone who dwells on them is dubbed a “hater”. No, his sin, in the eyes of the liberal establishment, and therefore of the mainstream media, was that of being black _and_ Republican _and_ conservative (allegedly again). This is the one thing that simply does not compute among the media, and therefore anyone who exhibits these traits has to be declared a social pariah and relegated to the outer darkness. After all, who would want anyone as president who is “a traitor to his race”, an “Uncle Tom”, and so forth? Heaven forbid anyone who is black should question the maintenance, by the liberal establishment, of blacks as a permanent underclass that will need special attention, preferences, and “help” from liberals until the end of time. A highly-achieving, self-confident black man who did not attain to success thanks to affirmative action and with the help of the public dime? Theory forbids it. He is, in other words, a liberal's worst nightmare – which is why he had to go. And believe me, if they hadn't managed to dig up the current pile of dirt on him they'd have come up with something else. So he will be relegated to political history wearing the newly-defined mark of Cain.


Now there is something at least semi-new under the sun – namely Hillary Clinton making nice with both the rulers of Myanmar and their opposition – an impressive balancing act, if only it weren't part of a blatant attempt to move in on China's turf. The timing is interesting too – just as we're supposedly “winding down” in Iraq and Afghanistan, up pops Southeast Asia and the South China Sea. What a coincidence! Now, a cynic (ahem) might say, well, this is just to distract from our manifest failures in the Middle East and the tremendous cost of said failures. Think about that cop in the movies who always says “Nothing to see here, folks, you can go back to your homes now.” Well, no – the Middle East is going to remain a festering sore for generations to come, is my guess... and going up against China is, to put it mildly, a fool's errand. Which is, in fact, why Obama has sent Hillary on her mission... and frankly, it amazes me that she was even able to find the place. I mean, here's a country that not only changed its name, but also changed the name of its capital, and then moved its capital out somewhere in the middle of the jungle. All designed to fool the Yankees, I'll bet – and yet there she is, wearing that diplomatic grin that required complex surgery to implant on her face. But hey, she's no stranger to delusion; this is a woman who still thinks she was the target of sniper fire in Bosnia. So... let her parade on, I say; it sure couldn't hurt, and it gives the late-night talk-show hosts ample fodder for their monologues.

Imitations of Life

I always say that you can find more out about the people who are running the world from art auctions than from any other single source. And sure enough, in the midst of world-wide economic woes (except for China, I guess) the high-end art market (and its spin-offs, like gems and cars) is doing a bang-up business. An article about “Art Basel Miami Beach” points out that “Those attending... will include some of the world's most well-heeled art investors, many of whom appear to be impervious to the global economic downturn.” I couldn't have put it better myself. And, “Gallery owner Marco Berengo says that, for the most part, the attendees 'don't really feel the impact of the financial crisis'.” Gee, I wonder why? Maybe it's a “crisis” for everyone else but not for them. Maybe it was planned that way! Could this be a sign of the times? Well, when were all the Duesenbergs sold? During the Depression, of course! There is something about hard times that brings out the divide between the classes in sharp relief – and there is no divide more palpable in our time than that between the people in charge and everyone else. Now don't get me wrong – I'm not a “redistributionist” like the Occupy crowd, or like Obama pretends to be. In fact, I firmly believe that the vast bulk of higher culture, both in our time and historically, can be attributed to the benevolence – or whims – or tax lawyers – of the wealthy. You show me a society where radical socialism, communism, and “leveling” have taken place, and I'll show you one where most cultural activities of any value have come to a screeching halt – or where the ones that remain (think Bolshoi Ballet) are holdovers from an earlier, less egalitarian age. Collectivist societies build monuments, certainly – but they are monuments to bad ideas, and they look like it. The cities of Eastern Europe are still festooned with some of the most tasteless buildings of all time, holdovers from the Soviet/Warsaw Pact/Iron Curtain era. And for that matter, what do we see when we tour a really ancient site – in Italy or Greece, for example? We see things that rich people built; the stuff poor people built for their own use crumbled to dust centuries ago. So I'm not objecting to wealth per se, but to “ill-gotten gains”, and I wish I could tell you whether the wealthy of our time have more of a criminal bent than the wealthy of former times; I truly don't know. Maybe it's true that, as Balzac is supposed to have said, “behind every great fortune there is a crime”. I hope and wish this is not the case, since I can very easily imagine a great fortune being made simply by inventing, marketing, and selling goods and services on the free market. But when it comes down to actual cases, one is hard pressed to find a pure example like this – especially in our time, when so much depends on things like no-bid government contracts, government-granted monopolies, bribery, and various forms of fraud and deception, made even more virulent by the use of digital communications. At any rate, it is clear that the people at the top aren't worried about a thing, even as the ground appears to be quaking beneath their feet. Perhaps they're deluded; perhaps they're living in a dream world... but I suspect that all it means is that they know something the rest of us do not, and that our leaders and the media pretend not to know – namely that everything is firmly under control.


And speaking of the “Occupy” movement, it seems that it is past its high water mark, thanks to inclement weather and local authorities losing patience with Woodstock-style detritus marring the otherwise-pleasing vistas of our major cities. All perfectly predictable, of course – and I, for one, am shedding no tears, because it has become obvious (tho' always suspected) that the core agenda of the Occupiers has always been the elimination of private property and the elimination of “wealth” of any sort (legitimate or otherwise – although they would not regard any form of wealth as legitimate, as discussed above). And who better to undertake that task than the government, even though it has failed spectacularly in every other regard of late? I mean, the mere sight (and scent) of a gaggle of anarchists is not going to be enough to cause the “masters of space and time” to descend from their blue-tinted glass towers and mingle in a penitent way with the rabble, so the answer has to be the government. And sure enough, Obama has said enough to encourage their delusions, even as he builds his election war chest from contributions from those very same captains of industry and finance. So as usual, the lumpen proletariat is feeling used, deceived, exploited, and made fun of – and rightly so. Populism of all sorts is the kind of thing that crops up time and again in this country, only to be bought off, compromised, and co-opted, leaving its advocates no happier and primed to rise up again under the right circumstances. And one might say, well, isn't this part of the dialectic? Don't we “need” people of this sort to take to the streets now and then, just to serve as a counterweight to the oppressive, manipulative, greedy controllers? The problem with this is that it presents a false dichotomy. The temptation is to think – as they want us to think – that the Occupy types are all for individual freedom, social justice, “small is beautiful”, “green is good”, capitalism is bad, tailored suits are bad, and so on... and that the denizens of the glass towers are the greedy oppressors, akin to the robber barons of old, or to the royal families of even older. The problem is that, in this day and age, both sides are thoroughly committed collectivists. In other words, on the most basic metaphysical level they are in complete agreement, and this is why true conservatives and libertarians shun (or ought to) both sides. The Occupiers believe that the only truly legitimate human institution is the government – and the more centralized and totalitarian the better, as long as that centralization and totalitarianism is for the right cause, namely a radical leveling of not only opportunity but outcome – to say nothing of social status. The government, in other words, is the answer for everything. The Wall Street types, on the other hand, not only believe in government, they have basically taken it over and made it an appendage of the world financial system. How else can they make sure that it does all the right things – like keep getting us into endless, but immensely profitable, wars... debasing the currency... engineering inflation... collaborating in the engineering of various financial “crises”, “panics”, and so on? The government in our time (if not always – the jury is still out on that) basically exists to do the bidding of the kings of finance, and if the outcome is not always to the Occupiers' liking, well, that's too bad, but it has nothing to do with any real difference in world view.

The Schoolyard Gates

And speaking of rich people and what they do with their money... well, didja ever notice that people who know how to make money seldom know how to spend it? And people who might know how to spend money (like me! Ahem.) don't know how to make it? I've commented before that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation seems especially adept at tossing money down rat holes and flushing it down toilets, and anything given to either the U.N. or to public education certainly fits both metaphors. Well sure enough, now it seems that, according to an article in the local paper, a full one-third of the Gates money given to the Pittsburgh Public Schools has been spent on “consultants and contractors” -- that's 1/3 of $40 million, folks! Hardly chump change. But you throw it at the large and bottomless maw called “public education” and it can be consumed in a jiffy, with the recipients crying for even more. Hey – I worked for the government, and I ran into plenty of “consultants”, OK? A few of them knew their stuff and were even worth the money... but the vast majority were windbags, con artists, and hacks. Some of them, I swear, if they hadn't landed a consulting gig would have had a hard time holding down a job as fry cook for McDonald's. Oh, they were good at organizing, and directing, “off-site” meetings in fancy resorts with five-star buffets, but if you wanted to see any bottom-line impact – something that actually aided the “mission” -- you'd better look elsewhere. Of course, I'm one of those people who says that if you think government workers are bad news, you ought to see government contractors. They do less, but earn more – a lot more. So basically, it looks like Bill 'n' Melinda have been chumpified by the Pittsburgh schools – but, well, they can afford it, and who knows, otherwise the money might have gone to something even worse.


Now this is genuinely interesting. As a result of our latest ham-handed escapade in Pakistan, which resulted in the deaths of 24 of their troops, we have been given notice by the Pakistan high command that “the country's troops (will) return fire should they come under attack again from U.S.-led coalition forces.” So... what this means is that we could wind up in an undeclared war with a country that we are also giving billions to in foreign aid each year. But, see... in this age of perpetual war, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with an arrangement like this. Foreign aid, first of all, is only intended to enrich the leadership of the recipient country; that has long since been established. Any other “intended use” is poppycock. And our many wars, both overt and secret, have long since been relieved of the burden of having any mission or goal, or having to result in “victory”. The goal of war nowadays is self-perpetuation, pure and simple... and it's an easy goal to achieve. We are currently in what is alleged to be a “drawdown” phase in Iraq in Afghanistan – even though you can be sure that the CIA and its mercenary army are still firmly in place in both countries, as well as in most other countries around the world. But are they looking for victory – assuming that can even be defined these days? No, and the primary reason is that the military, like all other government activities, is basically a jobs program. You don't protect jobs in the military by winning wars – you protect them by not winning... but also by not giving up, not “cutting and running”. The alleged withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan will be amply balanced out by upticks elsewhere, you may be sure – the groundwork for this is already being laid in the South China Sea area. And if a Republican should win next year, heaven forbid, we'll have troops in all of the breakaway republics of the former Soviet Union – or at least all that will take us. The American dollar still goes a long way in those places – but apparently Pakistan, for one, is growing weary of our bad habit of showing up for dinner then staying for ten years. It's actually harder for our “friends and allies” to get rid of us than for our enemies to do so (especially if those enemies managed to kick our ass, the way the North Vietnamese did). In any case, it's a highly intriguing situation that bears watching. Pakistan may decide that the price of American “friendship” is just too high.

Hugo and Our Gang

Elsewhere on the international front, the Latin American countries are having a party, and we're not invited (and neither is Canada – like they can't tell the difference!). “We are sentencing the Monroe Doctrine to death” -- thus speaks Daniel Ortega. So... what Hugo and the gang have come up with at their summit in Venezuela is something unheard of – namely an organization that actually unites all of Latin America in a common cause, namely not us. This is held up as a contrast to the OAS, which has never been more than “the U.S. and some other guys” -- the same way NATO is “the U.S. and some other guys”. We've always been in the position of getting together for baseball with the neighborhood gang, but we owned the bat and the ball. So right away, everyone else was a second-class citizen. It's been a long time since the U.N. wandered off the U.S./Europe/New World Order-dominated reservation; NATO has not done so yet, and probably won't, since it's a synonym for the American-European cabal. But here's Latin America, feeling a new sense of empowerment – led by the old communist guard (Chavez and Ortega, among others) but also sporting one of the so-called “BRIC” countries, namely Brazil, that shows every sign of becoming an economic powerhouse (and which, by the way, may be the only country on Earth without a “race problem”, which has to be contributing mightily to its prosperity and morale). Frankly, I don't blame these countries one iota – they've lived out behind the big house in sharecropper shacks for long enough. And what has our ceaseless meddling in their affairs ever done for them – or us? Wouldn't it be nice to get an entire hemisphere's worth of countries off our “to do” list? I think so.

It's Alive!

Hey, anyone out there remember AIDS? I thought it was one of those countless things – like homelessness – that had disappeared the minute Obama took office, but it turns out, no, it's alive and well (so to speak), and Obama, just in time for next year's election, has “recommitted” to the “war on AIDS”. In fact, he's about to “redirect” $50 million to said war. (As to where the money is being “redirected” from, you can bet it's not from war – don't we spend that much each day in Iraq and Afghanistan? And “recommits”? When did he “de-commit”? Oh, never mind.) But the article (from the L.A. Times) doesn't hesitate to point out that “Obama's announcement drew praise from activists at a time when he hopes to renew the devotion of the liberal base that helped elect him in 2008.” Just another blatant, sleazy political ploy, in other words... or maybe not. It's just funny that issues like this only seem to enjoy popularity in the 12 months preceding an election, and the rest of the time they might as well not exist.

Penn State

OK, I said I'd mention this, and I will... but fair warning! I've had an animus toward big-business college “sports” since I was in grad school and had to put up with the sight of gleaming athletic palaces on large university campuses, surrounded by the lowly huts of the peasantry – i.e. “academics”. Do I have to point out the obvious, that “football schools” and “basketball schools” are seldom known for anything else? I mean, if you were a professor of English at Clemson, would you admit it to anyone outside your immediate family? My modest proposal is that the government (Arne Duncan, call on line 1) simply declare some schools to be sports schools, which are allowed to exist for that purpose and that purpose alone, and move all the academic departments elsewhere – namely to schools that exist in order to be... hold onto your hats... schools! Hey, it could work! I mean, there are art schools, acting schools, music schools... why not sports schools? And anyone who was serious about academics – about real learning – could avoid them like the plague. Well... a guy's gotta dream, right? But in any case, Penn State is a perfect example of what happens when football becomes a religion and its coaches the high priests – they become a law unto themselves, and constitute a political, social, and economic monolith that no one dare touch. And I think a lot of the reaction that is sweeping the commonwealth is based precisely on this – that the most hallowed institution we have has developed serious cracks, and many of its heroes are turning out of have feet of clay. And this is totally aside from the merits of the accusations. It sounds bad, I'll admit – real bad. But does anyone remember the child sexual abuse witch hunts of the 1980s, in which prosecutors and their minions scoured the land like a plague, arresting people left and right? There was “overwhelming evidence” then too, but the vast majority of those cases fell apart because they turned out to be pure fabrication and the result of political ambition and mass hysteria. And we see some of this hysteria, and some of this piling on, in the Penn State case as well – things that, I suspect, hide something even deeper and more embedded in the American psyche. But having said that, I have to admit to a certain schadenfreude when it comes to seeing a big-time football “program” brought to its knees – because those programs have become a monstrosity, and maybe it's only events like this that can start to sober people up as to their value vs. their deleterious effects.