Sunday, May 29, 2005

The Good Son

One needs to look no further than the words of John Quincy Adams to see what degradation American politics has endured from his time to ours. The Adamses were the country's first political dynasty; JQA was the first, and only, President's son to also take the office -- until George W. Bush (Benjamin Harrison was a grandson of a President). The Adamses weren't good (small d) democrats by any stretch of the imagination, but neither were they kleptocrats like the Bushes, and the Adamses took seriously, even idealistically, the responsibilities of honest public service, they had a real sense of noblesse oblige.

True, there was a bit of snobbery in them, they thought their kind was most worthy, but they didn't enter public service simply to enrich their class. Put another way, they had consciences. Also, they had something to be snobby about. They were intelligent, endlessly curious about the world; and if they were a bit overbearing, this negative trait is mitigated by the fact that they were harder on themselves than on anyone else. Contrast this, of course, to the vapidity and crassness of our current ruler, who is a canting hack where the Adamses were genuine moralists.

Though some would argue that JQA was a free-trader and a bit of a hegemon when it came to Latin America, any comparisions to modern freetraders and imperialists break down when one considers JQA's positions were not so ideological as all that: his positions were a reaction to British meddling in the same region. And his positions were consistent: hence the Monroe Doctrine, which was actually JQA's (Monroe's Secretary of State) geopolitical baby, and which was nullified forever by American participation in WWI. Needless to say, our downhill slide has accelerated since then.

JQA was for big government; in his era the slogan was "internal improvements":

The great object of the institution of civil government is the improvement of the condition of those who are parties to the social compact, and no government in whatever form constituted, can accomplish the lawful ends of its institutions but in proportion as it improves the condition of those over whom it is established.

This is distinctly against the libertarian-Republican "government is evil" mindset, as well as against the neoliberal belief that the welfare of American citizens must be subservient to economic dogma.

I pretty much knew this about Adams. What has surprised me, though, is that he wasn't so much the credulous Puritan I'd thought; on the contrary, there's a lot of admirable skepticism in him, and he apparently didn't officially join the church until late middle age, during his Presidency, and around the time of his father's death:

The miracles in the Bible furnish the most powerful of all arguments against its authenticity, both historical and doctrinal; and were it possible to take its sublime morals, its unparalleled conceptions of the nature of God, and its irresistable power over the heart, with the simple life and death narrative of Jesus, stripped of all the supernatural agency and all the marvellous incidents connected with it, I should receive it without any of those misgivings of unwilling incredulity as to the miracles, which I find it impossible altogether to cast off.

Amistad is a great movie, not because it is literal history (it is not), nor because it is a nuanced drama (ditto), but because of its portrayal of the heroic character of Cinque and because of the performance Anthony Hopkins gives in it as JQA. Physically, Hopkins is perfect save that he isn't quite as plump as JQA and he ignores the fact that the former President had a condition which made his eyes constantly water. But Hopkins does great justice to JQA's character: he is, rightly, gruff, severe, distracted, disinterested, principled. His character is that of a man who knows he is an heir yet also a relic; who knows that he, despite being regarded as a failed President, but because of his lineage, has unique credibility in speaking in the voice of the Founders. The performance is beautiful; the closing speech is among the most affecting I've ever heard in a movie.

Friday, May 27, 2005

An Act Of War

Matthew Yglesias drops a stupidity bomb, "liberal" casualties are inflicted (though some return fire), then he flies his craft to the safety of Josh Marshall's base.

"Mission Accomplished".

Yglesias, you see, has come out as a chickenhawk, and a condescending one at that:

Politics and policy aside, I think those of us who'd classify ourselves as being among the more "hawkish" brand of liberals have a media strategy problem. Roughly speaking, a lot of Democratic voters don't like us very much. What we need to do is convince more liberals that they should like us. That means spending more time trying to convince liberals of the merits of our views, and less time re-enforcing the impression that we're just opportunists searching for votes out there in some ill-defined center. Give the people a convincing argument for a plausible hawkish policy (Kosovo, for example) and plenty of liberals will come along for the party.

To which Atrios responds:

Well, look, the reason why a lot of left of center types don't like the "'hawkish' brand of liberals" begins, of course, with their support of the Iraq war. Nice move that turned out to be. Then, you know, that group tended to think monitoring liberals for insufficient enthusiasm for painted schools and turning-the-corner-lights-at-ends-of-tunnels was more important than pointing out the obvious clusterfuck that was unfolding in their pet war. Once regret set in and the election passed we were told that the real reason we lost the election was because Fat Michael Moore and the Move On crowd were insufficiently enthusiastic about blowing shit up generally and supporting more George Bush led wars, and these "softs" tainted the Dems so much so that they should be purged from the party.


While many "liberal hawks" have in one way or another admitted that their support for the Iraq war was perhaps misguided, few if any have confronted the fact that the mess they helped make isn't just the mess in Iraq - it's the mess of the incoherence of Democratic foreign policy. The perfect chance to establish a "tough but different" foreign policy stance happened when CooCoo Bananas decided to manipulate the country and the gullible press into going to war. It would've been right on the merits and right on the politics to oppose that obviously bad idea.

So, liberal hawks, it's your mess - figure out how to clean it up...

The primary conceit of the "liberal hawks" has been and is that only they are "serious" about the security of the nation. Support for the Iraq war demonstrated that seriousness, no matter how misguided it was. The truth is concern for our national security was a very real reason to oppose the Iraq war, and the primary reason for lots of its opponents.

Mmmhmmm. Steve Gilliard has more. That pretty much takes care of that. But there is a larger issue, too, one that is brought up in Yglesias's post's comments by "Robin the Hood":

The last time I checked Iraqis and Afghans were not American citizens, and therefore not the direct responsiblity of the American government, or the American people. It's one thing I think to recognize that we are in fact an empire with a "homeland" for the purposes of realpolitik, but you seem intent on raising the wages of empire to the level of both virtue and moral necessity. I'm more willing than other Democrats to see the war in Iraq in complex terms (ie other than blood for oil and Chimpy McBush) but at the same time I'm not prepared to bullshit around the central issues.

A functioning democracy may be the ultimate result of the war in Iraq, but no one in their right mind should believe that a) 9/11 would've ever happened to us if we were not running an imperial protection racket throughout the Arab and Muslim world, propping up repressive detectors with our military presence therein and that b) we'd be running said imperial protection racket if we weren't dependent on mideast oil and that c) we wouldn't have treated Saddam Hussein's Iraq exactly as we're treating North Korea if Itaq wasn't sitting atop the world's third-largest reserves of oil.

We should do nice things for other peoples when we can (and preferably when it is vital to our national interest), but I wish that there would be even a faint recognition on the part of committed liberal hawks (not to mention neocons) that America cannot afford her current domestic and foreign policy commitments

This is well-put, and the first sentence's common sense is lethal to certain strains of internationalism. The American government owes its citizens protection and rights. American tax revenues should first be spent in ways that benefit people who live here. We are wealthy, and should give money to people abroad, but only after our needs are first addressed.

John Kerry was right; contrary to this goofy argument by Christopher Hitchens, government money is a zero-sum game, and, by god, if we need a firehouse here but so do the Iraqis, and there's only enough money for one, it's a no-brainer who should get it.

I suggest there is a philosophical relation from Yglesias's hawkish internationalism to his neoliberalism: both come from the belief that the American government is an international rather than national entity. I suggest that from this ova of belief, imperialist babies gestate and are eventually born, gun in hand, ready to fight a Vietnam here and an Iraq there and a Philippines yonder. It is also born ready to argue that the American government should hold as sacrosanct "laws", invented by economists, which have the effect of "improving" the lifestyles of extra-national peoples to the express detriment of American citizens whom the American government is exclusively bound to protect. For Yglesias, everyone in the world is an American, or should be. Actually, the only duty that the American government has to people outside America is to not blow them up and to not force them into any political or economic course against their will except in cases of belligerence, which should be rare. It'd be nice if it fulfilled that duty, but then that's the irony: when "first, do no harm" flies out the window in favor of "higher ideals", most often harm is absolutely done to those abroad and at home.


There is a meaningful moral distinction to be gleaned from studying this subject, as well. Yglesias is a hawk; along with every other hawk, he caused the American government to do this, this, this, this, and that, which stains every American and I absolutely believe there is a guilt here that does not exist when Saddam Hussein, say, commits atrocities. Saddam Hussein is not my responsibility as an American, but the criminality and depravity in those links is my responsibility because my government caused them. True, my guilt is less than Yglesias's, since I was always against this stupid war and he was for it, but I'm still responsible.

Hawks would have it that "to do nothing in the face of evil" is the same as causing evil. It is not. Not for nations and governments.

John Quincy Adams said,

America goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy…. She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself, beyond the powers of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom…. She might become the dictatress of the world; she would no longer be the ruler of her own spirit.

Note that this philosophy would not have kept us out of WWII, nor would it have kept us from hitting Osama bin Laden. But this attitude would have kept us out of all the other wars we've fought, Iraq included, all of which, since the Gilded Age, have been pointless, stupid, ideological or opportunistic, and fucking bloody as hell of course. To the extent that Saddam Hussein was ever our responsibility was because Ronald Reagan's adminstration armed him. First do no harm, and then you shall suffer no blowback, no unintended consequences, no quagmires.

It's quite enough for me that my government doesn't install dictators or aid those that have installed themselves. If this policy had ever been followed, it would have served the cause of democracy, here and abroad, far better in the long run.

**Update: See also Crooked Timber.

The Shorter Kenneth Baer

Security Measures:

Liberals had better become more hawkish or I'll turn into Norman Podhoretz.

Go ahead, fucker. Why should anyone respond to that sort of tribalist blackmail?

See Matthew Yglesias, whose larger argument is at least equally fatuous (which I'll get to later):

Baer offers a very strange reason for doing it -- that this step is necessary to halt the erosion of Jewish support for the Democratic Party. All else being equal, of course, halting said erosion is a good thing. But it'd be mighty odd to orient one's entire approach to national security for that reason. Among other things, erosion of Jewish support for Democrats isn't really a huge problem. The areas where Baer sees it happening -- New York City, Northern New Jersey, some inner NYC suburbs -- just aren't vulnerable terrain. It's almost impossible to imagine a scenario where Democrats lose an election because they lost New York (which is to say that if they lose New York, they'll have lost enough other stuff that winning New York wouldn't have won the election). The reason to do what Baer suggests is that it's right on the merits.

The Shorter National Review Online Of 5/27/05

Jay Nordlinger:

Silly Europeans! Saying that rightwing America doesn't understand Islam. Muslim extremists must be counterbalanced by ignorant and sectarian Western reactionaries. Trust the Europeans with their "desire to understand the other" to not grasp that we need to lower ourselves to the worst of the enemy, in pretty much every way.

No, the Euros don't read MEMRI, or Jerry Falwell, or Pat Robertson, or Norman Podhoretz, or the old racial theories of Dr. Maimonides, or The NRO, for that matter, which is why most of them have a better grasp of the subject than Nerdlinger does, Oriana Fallaci excepted.

Rich Lowry:

John McCain, kissy-kissy with Ted Kennedy, he's a traitor to Party, King, Country! Closing the border to Mexico would have stopped 9-11, and nefarious Ted Kennedy wants to open it more! Damn John McCain for helping him!

Lowry's screed has more to do with payback for McCain's role in the filibuster compromise and Lowry's preternatural hatred for Ted Kennedy than anything else.

William F. Buckley:

Tut, tut! It's really a pity the culture has become so liberal that MLK is considered resolutely good and Joseph McCarthy resolutely evil. But so it is, therefore the media that mirrors such beliefs is objectively distorted, biased, liberal.

That Buckley and the National Review took a precisely opposite judgement on the two above figures, and was rightly seen by the majority as bigoted and reactionary for that judgement, still sticks in the old man's craw.

Victor Davis Hanson:

Anti-imperialists and anti-globalists, infiltrating good old American institutions! Damn you all to hell! What happened to the good old film industry, which would have blacklisted people like Lars von Trier? What happened to the good old PepsiCo I once knew which would collude with the likes of Richard Nixon to topple leftist democracies in the third world, instead of employing commie scumbags like Indra Nooyi?

For Hanson, if you've ever bought American you are then forbidden, in perpetuity, to criticise anything about America. This contract is globally binding, natch.

Rivken & Casey:

U.S.: Purely Good; Amnesty International: Partisan, Anti-American, Objectively Pro-Terrorist, Evil.

Good God, A.I. wants nations to accost suspected US war criminals as if they are common Pinochets! Sweet Jesus, A.I. compares our legal (sic) gulag with the commie gulags Solzhenitsyn wrote about! It's all because A.I. is leftist and hates America. But NRO is too fair! Look! We admit that Dear Leader's immaculate orders have not always been followed, and that's why we have a military justice system to slap peons on their wrists. The point is, Dear Leader's policies are infallible. No evil can come from them. To disagree is to hate America.

Carney & Freddoso:

Lincoln Chafee, with his Rockefeller Republican style politics, doesn't understand that our Party under Dear Leader is no longer conservative but objectively reactionary. Frist and DeLay are the proper Republican congressional templates now, and because Chafee can't be like them it's time for us to fill his seat with someone who can.

Chafee's independence and antique Republicanism is, well, chafing to panicky Repugs. This column can also be construed as a warning to softies like McCain and the Maine ladies. NRO says, dammit, we're a kleptocrat theocracy now, and even if you self-identify as Republican, you're either with us or against us.

Larry Kudlow:

Economy: No worries. Let the good times roll, baby!

Sorry, Larry, you're alone at this Kool-Aid stand.

Alan Reynolds:

Alternative energy won't work because cheaper oil and various embargoes didn't work in the past, so I'll be driving my Excursion until the cows come home and don't you silly liberals even think of raising my fuel taxes.


Ross Douthat:

I went all the way to Harvard -- Harvard! Harvard! Harvard! Look at me, I went to Harvard! -- and I still couldn't get laid.

Aside the frustrated Virgin Ben leitmotiv of the interview, I especially like how he could say with a straight face that he learned about the American "meritocracy", and then allow that Harvard is still the incubator of America's ruling class, the larvae of which made its way to Harvard (to become pupils and pupae) because of their parents' class-status and clout. Not much merit in that. But then oligarchy and plutocracy labeled as meritocracy is the American Way.

See also Aunt Jenna.

Commissar Thomas S. Madden:

Professional historians such as myself know that Ridley Scott's new movie insufficiently shows how saintly, benign and rational the Crusaders were and how congenitally dastardly, malevolent and fanatical the Saracens were.

The Kingdom of Heaven is an ahistorical film dedicated to the PC concept of tolerance. Stupid tolerance, I'm intolerant of you! Now let me refight the Crusades in this review. The Christians had all the right motives, they all were the most pious people, while the Muslims were sadistic murderers, as is typical for them. Did I mention that I'm a (sic) historian? I know what I'm talking about! Silly Ridley Scott, making his heroes out as pragmatists! Doesn't he know that anyone who'd fight with a cross on their chest had to be a True Believer Christian?! And they were exactly that, Mr. Scott, which is why they were right to conquer the Holy Land and be righteously intolerant of Muslims putting their filthy bare feet on Our Jerusalem! Saladin was evil in real life, a real bin Laden, where the Templars were infinitely just. Scott appears to think that the Holy Land was a sort of first stab at colonialism. In my sage view -- I am an expert -- this is wrong; The Crusades were a restoration. The Holy Land was never meant to not be Christian.

I know that was a long time to stay in character, but Christ what a piece of commissariat shit Madden's column is. In his version of history not only is every Crusader on the side of good, none, neither foot-soldiers nor leaders, were less than zealots, and the evidence for this is that they wore a cross on their tunics! No shit they did, and Madden might well remember what phrase the Nazis had on their belt-buckles: it didn't make them behave any better, either. Scott's movie is probably ahistorical. I'm positive there are errors. Yet Scott seems to be saying with it that it is an exception, that reason and tolerance even could prevail in such fanatical conditions. Madden doesn't like tolerance and he doesn't like Muslim fanaticism and he refuses to admit that there were fanatical butchers who were Christian. Actual history shows that there were plenty of fanatical butchers on both sides, an equivalence, but in the broad view the benefit of the doubt goes to the indigenous and against the invader. This is the position that Madden and his kind above all else hope to undermine, for obvious, current reasons.

Gregory Wolfe:

A genuine aesthetic is theologically-based. False, sub-standard, even naughty aesthetic theories like postmodernism come from the romantic tradition.

Oh boy. He had me with separating the artist from the creation (judicious citations from Wilde, Amadeus, Thomas Aquinas), then he lost me, and rather quickly. This is sophisticated wingnuttery, almost highbrow. It's one thing to say that creativity is like a religious experience; it's another to say that "proper" creativity is derived from religion. He's not advocating religious art; that would be too preposterous, too easy; he's more subtle. He's saying that "proper" art derives from a Creationist aesthetic; the product may or may not be overtly religious, but it always comes from a religious mindset.

Myrna Blyth:

Cher, in the If I Could Turn Back Time video, doesn't have shit on me.

Typical wingnut jock-sniffing. Blah.

Jim Lacey

I'm dazzled by the Pentagon brass. Watch me reflect, with lazer precision, their glory up onto their civilian leaders and the sancitity of The Cause. Less importantly, let me direct a bit of it on the grunts below them too.

Lacey's aim is the same as Blyth's, but it's far more insidious and the jock-sniffing is less heartfelt, more superficial. Also, this may pass for the wingnut "answer" to all our complaints about the hush-hush put on the press with regard to American casualties: what do you mean they don't care? Look at General Myers at the rainy funeral!

Stephen Mansfield:

G. I. Joe loves Jesus.

It's really hard with that evil church & state separation thing, but somehow we get it done, Kathryn. To the extent that Abu Ghraibs happen, it's because those naughty soldiers didn't have a good relationship with a chaplain. Evangelical fanaticism should be encouraged in all the services, not just in the Air Force academy.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

The Shorter Tom Friedman

C.E.O's, M.I.A.

I resent that Big Business, after forcibly exporting its unsustainable model on the rest of the world, has not requested even more corporate welfare at home.


What the hell happened to the corporate-government marriage that produced such successful enterprises as the I.M.F. and the World Bank, and such treaties as NAFTA?

You shouldn't worry, Tom.

See also: TBOGG, who catches Friedman slyly employing the tactics of the advertising industry.

Related: Everyone's already read them, but of course Friedman was recently destroyed by Taibbi and bitchslapped by the Guardian (for a not so recent Friedman-thrashing, see here). But I still have a question: Why does Tom Friedman think he can rip-off Kansas? Of course Tom Friedman long ago reached the Point of No Return. Must he be so insufferably coy in admitting it?

An Emphatic "Fuck Yes" To This Column


After 9/11, the Bush administration creates a huge cabinet-level agency whose entire purpose is to be relentlessly, stringently paranoid about the possibility of terrorist attacks. Simultaneous to the creation of the DHS, the administration creates the color-code alert system, which has absolutely no concrete purpose beyond generally scaring the shit out of the population.

Now it comes out that the Bush administration routinely overruled its own house paranoiac to unilaterally declare orange and red alerts. The White House, of course, doesn't have its own intelligence apparatus. In making a dissenting assessment of intelligence, its judgments were entirely political.

We already knew that the timing of these alerts was extremely suspicious. The public has forgotten already, but it's worth recalling now that just four days before Christmas in 2003, at a time when the country was still somewhat divided over whether or not to go to war in Iraq, the DHS announced a code orange alert. Just as the population was settling in for the holidays, Donald Rumsfeld made an unequivocal announcement:

"Indications [are] that [the] near-term attacks," he said, "will either rival or exceed the [9/11] attacks."

Then there was the code red in New York on July 29, 2004—the same day that John Kerry made his acceptance speech at the Democratic convention. We were told, among other things, that al-Qaeda was planning on blowing up the Citibank building. News leaked out later that this intelligence was at least three years old.

At the time, everyone blamed Tom Ridge for this. It was Ridge, after all, who said of the Citibank threat: "The quality of this intelligence, based on multiple reporting streams in multiple locations, is rarely seen."

Now it comes out that it wasn't Ridge at all, but the White House, acting on its own initiative. Considering the timing of the alerts—before elections in 2003, in a period when the administration was garnering support for the Iraq invasion, and before the 2004 election—the idea that the White House just pulled these stunts willy-nilly is criminal. Watergate started as a bunch of cheap frat pranks to knock Ed Muskie out of the race. This would be terrorizing 270 million people to go to war and win an election, if that's what they did. What does it look like?

Didn't most of us on the left pretty much know this all along? Or at least suspect it? Most everyone in the early 70s assumed everything Richard Nixon did was done in bad faith. I assumed the same thing of Bush where I wouldn't and don't of, say, John McCain (if someone thinks my appraisal is merely partisan). I think this vindicates me.

It's good that Taibbi has made the case so clearly, and made the appropriate historical analogy.

Do cynics inspire cynicism in others? I wonder, though I think a healthy cynicism about any politician is the best attitude. Do paranoids inspire paranoia in others? Apparently they do, and this White House is the most paranoid since Nixon's. It is also the most corrupt since Nixon's. The Bushies have obviously and consciously inspired and profited from paranoia via the DoHS. In reaction to them, I think everyone becomes a bit paranoid now out of necessity -- and not paranoid over terrorism, but paranoid over our own government. I assume, now more than ever, that anything Bush does starts from bad faith and is done to aid or cover his and his minions' massive corruption. There's nothing they will not do or try to do to get more power.

Wit & Invective

I finished reading The Fine Art of Political Wit, and does it have some choice stuff in it.

Here's Aneurin Bevan, a real prole, laying into the British rightwing:

"Political toleration is a by-product of the complacency of the ruling class. When that complacency is disturbed there was never a more bloody-minded set of thugs than the British ruling class.

[They have] the deepest nostalgia for a dying order, and from nostalgia nothing comes but inertia and self-pity.

The Tories always hold the view that the State is an apparatus for the protection of the swag of the property owners... Christ drove the moneychangers out of the temple, but you inscribe their title deeds on the altar cloth.

Regarding the allegedly Tory-Lite Anthony Eden, Bevan gave an appraisal that would well apply to our allegedly compassionate conservatives and even to our allegedly leftist neoliberals:

He is more pathetic than sinister. He is utterly outmatched by his international opponents. Beneath the sophistication of his appearance and manner [well, that may not apply -- R.] he has all the unplumbable stupidities and unawareness [now that's more like it! --R.] of his class and type.

Attractive in the narrow, conventional sense. Always a possibility as a stopgap... League of Nations society at Geneva introduced him to a whole range of ideas strange to a Tory. There he acquired a progressive vocabulary, and this, allied to the amiability that flows from weakness of character, deceives many people into thinking that his political intentions are honourable. Actually there is nothing in his conduct to justify such a conclusion. His resignation from the Government of Mr. Chamberlain over our Italian diplomacy provided him with a balance at the political bank on which he has drawn generously ever since. His behavior during the civil war in Spain proves conclusively that whenever he has to choose between his Tory instincts and his progressive inclinations his instincts can be relied upon to win every time.

And with regard to a certain vainglorious Prime Minister's penchant for military costume, Bevan said, "I wish he would recognise that he is the civilian head of a civilian Government and not go parading around in ridiculous uniforms." Quite so. It would have been better if the heir of Marlborough had emulated in this regard FDR rather than his other ally, Stalin. Anyway, you can imagine the certain fucktard I thought of as I read that one: Dear Leader. And at least Churchill had served in the Boer War, was honest when he said he would have ran away from it if no one had been looking, and, as leader of his country, though he might have had improperly Peron-ish tastes in clothing, by God at least he was fighting a real war.

The wit and snark of other personalities are covered: Ben Franklin, Disraeli, JFK, Lincoln, Lloyd George, others. Not one was a conservative save Disraeli, possibly the wittiest of the lot, though he personally wasn't of any ideology unless opportunism counts as one. But one chapter is devoted to a classic reactionary. As opposed to strict conservatives, by nature a bovine lot, certain reactionaries can be engaging, pleasantly outrageous, brilliant. It's rare but it happens. One such reactionary was John Randolph of Roanoke, cousin of Thomas Jefferson and John Marshall (all hated each other's guts: such was family values for the Founders). A sample:

[Edward Livingston] is a man of splendid abilities but utterly corrupt. Like a rotten mackerel by moonlight, he both shines and stinks.

on the floor of the House: "Mr. Speaker, I have discovered the Philosopher's Stone! It is this, Sir: pay as you go! Pay as you go!"

on Richard Rush being selected as Sec of the Treasury: "Never were abilities so much below mediocrity so well rewarded; no, not when Caligula's horse was made Consul."

on Thomas Jefferson: "I cannot live in this miserable, undone country, where, as the Turks follow their sacred standard, which is a pair of Mahomet's green breeches, we are governed by the old red breeches* of the prince of projectors, St. Thomas of Cantingbury; and surely, Becket himself never had more pilgrims at his shrine than the Saint of Monticello."

In a toast to a delegation of Pennsylvanians: "I want to offer a toast to the two greatest Pennsylvanians who ever lived; Albert Gallatin, a native of Switzerland, and Benjamin Franklin, a native of Massachusetts."

To a gladhander who said, "I have had the pleasure of passing your house recently", Randolph immediately floored him by saying, "I am glad of it. I hope you will always do it, sir."

*This requires some explanation. TJ, though the Ur-democrat, loved luxury items and was something of a fop. He kept the best table in Virginia or Washington; he dressed in Turkish style clothing (bright baggy pants, curved slippers) when at home. Given a choice between Randolph and his cousin TJ, one would of course pick TJ every time (though I'd probably not pick him from, say, 1803 to 1809), but that does not mean Jefferson didn't frequently deserve harsh criticism.

Fucking Technology

First Viagra, now this crap:

a new drug introduced in the United States aims to make it last longer. Much longer...

The new wonder medicine named dapoxetine unveiled at an annual meeting of the American Urological Association is designed to help millions of men around the world cope with premature ejaculation wreaking havoc on their sex lives.

Although much less publicized than erectile dysfunction, premature ejaculation affects a significantly greater number of men, scientists said.

According to the association, between 27 percent and 34 percent of males of all age groups are suffering from this condition, which is usually diagnosed when sperm release occurs two minutes or less into the sexual act, or even before penetration.

Another pill for the rich and the old and the spoiled. Don't they know how many poor "pool boys" and "gardeners" this is going to put, not exactly out of business, but out of pleasure?

More competition is a bad thing; personally, I'm glad when every single sexually-dysfunctional male stays that way. But they don't stay that way anymore. If you're really old or you've had a genuine medical problem, then okay, fine, by all means you should have a pill. But if you're just not naturally up to the task, then I resent this sort of cheating. You should just drop out. I'm the coldest sort of darwinist in these matters.

Oh Cap'n, My Cap'n!

This is a post addressed to this blog's only faithful reader, Cap'n Redneck, whose nom de net honors the working class radicals that must be reunited with the Democratic party as well as the halcyon days of Memphis WMC-5 Wrestling.


I'm okay with the recent deal and here's why. If we'd lost, I have no doubt O'Connor and Rehnquist would have immediately retired and Robert Bork clones would have been immediately rammed through the Senate. Also, with Rehnquist out, some fascist like Gonzales or Scalia would have been made Chief Justice. Now, we at least have a chance at stopping such scenarios. See Kos. As a bonus, the deal is pissing off the right people.


The King's website has changed since I'd last visited, but he's still got a few old vid files up. It's mostly McMahon-era crap now, though. But, man, a couple of years ago I downloaded clips from the best fight in Memphis history, the infamous Tupelo concession stand slugfest-foodfight with Lawler, Dundee, Ferris, and (best of all) Larry Latham. Email me some time and I'll send you the clip.

A friend of mine saw Jimmy Valiant in a gun shop not too long ago. He said Handsome Jimmy still looked fairly spry, though pickled, of course. It came up in conversation about a local character, a man older than even Valiant, back home who got tattoos on his earlobes "because getting them pierced seemed like it'd hurt too much". Hah. Of course this reminded me of Mr Barbedwire-Across-The-Forehead, not to mention Handsome Jimmy's spiderweb tatts in his ears.

I was a kid but lived in Memphis for the most part during the glory era. I remember Andy Kauffman explaining, hilariously, what soap and toilet paper were for (who says poor Southerners can't laugh at themselves?). Never saw him in person, though, but I did see the next best thing: The Universal Hearthrob, Austin Idol. Saw him and Jimmy Valiant and Lawler beat down Jimmy Hart's Interns and some other dipshit (Ken Patera? Kevin Sullivan?). I saw the original Fabulous Ones. I saw those two dumbasses Ricky Morton and Robert Gibson. I saw Exotic Adrian Street, with his feather boas and Adam Ant music.

You can find tapes from this era on ebay, but I've never given them a shot. I imagine McMahan would be unhappy if everything were to come out of Channel-5's vault and get remastered: the scripting was so much better then, it'd show how derivative and tired the new stuff is.

There used to be a great site called "kayfabememories" that you might still be able to see through google's cache. It's been a few years since I read it but it had a month by month history of Memphis Wrestling that was very detailed.


You mentioned before A Face In The Crowd. Haven't seen it since I was a kid but it was a cousin's favorite movie, and I remember being amazed at him telling me that Kazan had to get Andy Griffith drunk off his ass to do that "I have these people in the palm of my hand" (or whatever the direct quote is) scene. Andy Griffith! Drunk. Didn't seem possible. Still doesn't.


I'm still suspicious but I think posts like this, which I've noticed are more frequent from that corner, might mean that he's the only economist from the DeLong wing of the party who might, finally, get it.


I don't know what your religious allegiances are, but as for me, I'm an agnostic who's pretty hostile to Belief. But I hope to be pragmatic, too, and so think there's a lot of merit in the points raised in this entry.

In the Scopes dialectic I'm on Darrow's side, against Bryan. In the silly parlance of the times that makes me blue against red. But I also know that just because Bryan made a fool of himself in Tennessee doesn't mean everything he believed in and fought for was silly or wrong. The "Bryan Problem" in history neatly explains a lot of the difficulty we have now on the left. We're throwing the baby (conscientious populism that is a check against the social darwinist machine of the neoliberals) out with the bathwater (a streak of fundamentalist Christianity).


Baseball. You've probably learned of the site through Answer Guy, but we argue about all kinds of shit, often politics and culture too, at BTF's Baseball Primer. When I'm burned out on blogging or otherwise not up to it, I'm still likely found there.

With regard to baseball philosophy, growing up with Whiteyball Cardinals, I'm a traditionalist. I also hate the steroids-cheaters and so I, along with a bloc of a few other posters, am often reduced to arguing against the whole rest of the site.

The site has a lot of smart members.

As for this season, I hope my (our?) Cardinals win, rejoice when the Mutts, Yankees and sCrUBS lose, and sometimes catch myself hoping that the Brew Crew does well. And as for TLR, he's all right, though I don't buy the "genius" tag that insufferable nerd George Will applied to him, and he can't hold a candle in the creativity department to Whitey. By the way, the genius thing is ironic. If I remember correctly, it is Herzog who's actually near genius level in the literal IQ-sense, according to the Army tests he was given. But TLR's a lawyer and you know how that suckers writers.


You paid me the supreme compliment by saying Duane (not Gregg) Allman the other day. I do have a flat top nearby but I can't play it for shit, it's not tuned to an open chord, and I have no Coricidin bottle, but I do own the Allman Brothers box set (it's the only boxed set cd collection I ever bought). As for transportation, I drive something only barely cooler than Clark Griswold's Family Truckster, but that's because I'm sensible now. Back in the day, though, it was a 66 Fastback I worked a whole summer in high school to have painted, then a 70 AMX in my early 20s. The Fastback was pretty but not so fast except for top end, but dear god that AMX (4 speed, 360 4bbl) would tear your head off. I fucked around on some dirt bikes as a kid, and several friends are bikers (and not, thank God, completely in the yuppie sense), but I never owned one. Peach-pickin: Heheh. That's more of a Crowley's Ridge thing, but I'm a flatlander. Most of the kids in my area pitched melons for summer money, which is a damned hard job; my scrawny ass was usually stuck on a plowing tractor at that time or, soon after, in hip-waders cutting levees and pulling spills (and avoiding water moccasins). Still drive a tractor every once in a while when someone from home needs help.

I'm so glad no one called me Kid Rock in that post. I'm really sick of that shit.


Farm Stuff. You read things like this and see how it worked for small farmers who didnt have much switchover costs, and think of how such scenarios are plausible, but how they couldn't apply here.

Then you read shit like this. Neoliberal nutjob.

They ought to make it based on acreage: it'd encourage smaller and organic farmers as well as cut out the 10,000 acre operations that don't need government help and whose owners drive tax-deductable humvees to high-priced duck clubs. Also, someone needs to write on these matters who knows that farming is unlike other businesses in that it cannot pass on higher operational expenses to the consumer. The problem with farming is simple: it grows incredibly more expensive to farm year by year, a usual thing with equipment costs but with the oil surge, it's really crazy the last two years, yet the prices recieved for commodities, except for a brief spike two years ago, have been stagnant since, shit, since Gerald Ford's regime. You can make that up by raising more grain per acre, and we still havent hit the ceiling on that, but we're getting close, I think -- and in pushing that front, we're encountering new dangers.

One thing's for sure, intensification sucks. I always hear elderly people complain that meat has lost its flavor and I believe them. I pity those poor people who live near the huge pig operations. I'm with Kunstler and Berry on this: we're going to have to go to an Amish -- or, at least, Mennonite -- model for the sake of the environment and food quality. But the government will have to help with the crossover.

The drought of 1980 turned my area into a mosquito factory. After 1980, everyone started levelling their land so that they could irrigate. But it also had the effect of introducing so many thousands of new acres into rice rotation, which replaced cotton and, in many places, milo, as an alternate crop to soybeans. Go outside after dark or during the day but in the shade between May and late August and you will inhale mosquitos. You know Arkansas: after 1980, once livable areas became like the Stuttgart area always was. Now, of course, after 80 years of intense rice production, Stuttgart is running out of water, and the post-1980 rice colonies will follow suit. Rice is mostly to blame for this on its own, but so too is the repeal of the layout-ground subsidy. The swampy parts of fields were turned to production (wetlands conservation has done exactly squat in preventing this), and fencerows are a thing of the past. County roads that were shady lanes have been widened for new combines and wide-assed 12-row implements; people farm to the road's edge now. It's so much more dusty and hazy in the summers than it was, and this has happened in the last 15 years. There are farmers whose fields lay sometimes 100 miles, very commonly 30 miles, from each other.

It's a mess, but I think it can be fixed, though I doubt it will be. Some of the co-ops, like the one I belong to (I wonder if Land O'Lakes still is one?), do things pretty well by the farmer, but by and large the grain companies are concentrated evil and should be put out of business. For a future of small farms there will have to be an infrastructure in place that is not based on the Wal-Mart retail model with regard to produce. And for grain farms, and more on the production side of the equasion, something like how Canada's Grain Board used to be needs to be put in.

I wish we were fiesty and quasi-unionised like a lot of the EU farmers are. They dont get help, they raise hell and threaten to drive their tractors to town. My friends at home nearly salivate thinking about pulling a French union-type shut-down of infrastructure until demands are met. I don't blame them. I do too.

If production remains constant, I hope bio-diesel can make more demand on soybeans, and ethanol can make more demand on corn. Not only for the sake of energy concerns and farm revenue reasons, but for reasons of food quality and diet. I've never, nor has my family, raised corn except for sweetcorn in a garden. Still, the production of it is growing in the area, not that it brings much, but because of so many years of rice-soybean rotation and the effect on weed control and soil quality that has. Plus, you have to fertilise the living shit out of fieldcorn, which of course contributes to its minimal profitability, but has, with corn's early harvest property, the good effect of making for a nice double-crop of winter wheat behind it. But corn sucks as a mass-produced commodity for consumers. I can remember how sodas used to taste when they were made with cane sugar; I could see how real chocolate tastes when I got it from Poland or Australia. HFCS sucks. Mass production of soybeans has its drawbacks, too.

Hemp ought to be cultivated more and should be used to replace cotton and those fucking ugly-looking pine stands that are used for cloth and paper, respectively.

General Glut offered a temporary outside-the-box remedy to some of the subsidy situation by (my interpretation) asking that, instead of subsidies to all farmers being cut, why not cut the research programmes? If most of the problem is overproduction (even if we went protectionist to the nth power, which we should since that fucking Bush helped to ensure that China will buy all its future soybeans not from US, but from Brazil), and I think it is, then why not cut all the govt-subsidised R & D that makes for all this overproduction? The idea is appealing to me for another reason, too: most R & D is put into chemical and frankenfood research (and, eventually, use).

Anyway, I hope farmers by now know that Republicans aren't their friends.


As for blogs by folks who are, or at least know of and are sympathic to, our kind, the previously-mentioned General Glut is good. So is John Emerson (check these out). Norwegianity is good, grew up on an Iowa farm.

Steve Gilliard is also a left-populist, in my opinion often correct but also often so silly it defies description. No, our problems are not caused by the Old New Left and 1970s-era Ralph Nader, and his claim that the US Army was angelic in Vietnam compared to the French is intentionally misleading, something that Henry Kissinger would say. Some of his complaints aren't class-based but, rather, are explicitly anti-intellectual; and I dont see how he can say "blogging is action" but imply that 1960s pamphleteering was not, that it was masturbatory and divisive instead. Of course he's right that the Old Left was based in the working class, and we need to get back to that -- and that belief means a lot, and makes up for a lot of other bullshit.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Malleus Maleficarum

I'm not much for the "name the caption" sort of post (except when Norbizness does it), but this example from the ladies at Blondesense is different. I laughed. At their caption and those in the comments.

Have a look.

Super Macho Men

I'm really sick of these jock-sniffing fuckwits in wingnuttia who keep mouthing off, German-like, about manly man-ness, masculinity, ramrod strength and so on.

For one thing, it's so damn gay. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but, you know, wingnuts usually do have a problem with gay people. So I'm getting mixed messages. It's so confusing when manly men like Colin Powell dress like a Village Person.

Remember, wingnuts, it takes a village, not the Village People. Must you be so butch?

Oh, it's not just through fashion that they are so en fuego. And at least Colin Powell had some physical courage at one time. From Richard Nixon's jock-wannabe schtick to Ronald Reagan's screentime pseudo-soldiering, from the roundmouthing blowjob Max Boot has made a career of bestowing upon the bloodiest sort of imperialism to Dear Leader's very own Top Gun moment, wingnuttia has long had the habit that perennial towel-boys, certain kinds of wimpy or bovine sports fans, and delta-male/army-reject specimens such as author Tom Clancy can appreciate: the combination of the urge for reflected glory and a certain sort of penis envy. Combined with innate cowardice, this is a hell of a psychological cocktail.

Thus, chickenhawkery and chickenshittery -- and the worship, with teutonic undertones, of the physical strength of others whom they control or hope to control. And not just control physically or politically (in the conventional sense), but control through propagandic history.

Therefore the figure of Theodore Roosevelt has become as totemic to rightwingers as that of Alexander Hamilton. But where the latter flatters their anti-democracy sentiment, the former serves an altogether other purpose: historical testosterone. True, there are similarities between them; both were physically courageous in a way that a fat pussy (see, the style is infectious) like Jonah Goldberg could only dream of; both were the most insufferable sort of snobs, the sort of top-down class warriors that the fans of plutocracy in wingnuttia truly admire. But TR is the poster-child for mindless, reckless action on the hugest scale where Hamilton's butch recklessness only managed to get himself, not others, killed.

Not so mindless, says middlebrow wingnut Harvey Mansfield. But, yes, mindless, Perfessor. TR had tons of purpose, I grant, in his silly Nietzschean Will To Power way. But then so do most monsters, and in some very important ways, TR was just that. TR was also a charicature as well as a character, or as we say around these parts, a real card. Busyness is not a virtue, especially for a thorough bigot (even considering the times) like TR.

(Incidentally, what is with the wingnut worship of not just manly men, but those characters in general, apparently more common than one would suppose, who are at once sinister and ludicrous? TR was the type of super macho man who would not only joust with windmills and lead and cheerlead genocide in the Phillipines, but also of the type that would offer to arm wrestle a toddler for a piece of candy [TR was a bit of a fatfuck in middle age]. And, of course, we live in the shadow of the ludicrous and sinister George Bush, language-mangler and public cretin who is nonetheless the most powerful man on earth, and who is Dear Leader to them.)

But it is too a virtue, argues the Perfessor. He also roundly if inadvertently slags Charles Darwin and William James by claiming it was their influence that helped TR become a global and domestic menace. Actually, if TR "lived" a philosophy, it was that of a little ersatz Nietzcheanism and a lot of the absolute worst of Herbert Spenser's.

Actually, the Perfessor admits that James disliked TR (he doesn't mention that so too did the other James, Henry, and for good reason), but insists that TR absorbed and lived Jamesian pragmatism, the "toughmindedness" tenet of which the Perfessor finds synonymous with masculinity. Bzzzt. Sorry. TR was a moral coward, as he demonstrated when he made common cause with the corrupt wing of the Republican party so that his early reformist actions would not be held against him by the elite which he more or less served for the rest of his career. James's tough-mindedness, which it may be superfluous to say but say it I will anyway, is nastily sexist when Mansfield makes it synonymous with masculinity, better applies to someone like James's friend and admirer John Jay Chapman who actually displayed physical and moral courage thoughout his life.

Manliness is also, according to the sage Perfessor's TR, equivalent to the Protestant Work Ethic. I get it, Perfessor: femininity = sloth = lack of purpose = shirking of duty.

Mansfield also equates masculinity with empiricism, with what we call in our circles the reality-based approach. Is the Perfessor implying that wingnuts, then, are girlymen? Of course not! It's only the feminine homo-fagfag liberals who are, after all, so fanciful, so dreamy, so impractical, so lazy, so weak-minded.


There are things to admire in TR, though. For one, he's probably the only person in the world who ever shook his fist in J. P. Morgan's face and was not killed by hired goons or swatted with the arch-plutocrat's cudgel. For another, one must feel sympathy for a person whose spouse and mother both died within hours of each other.

But do me a favor, reader. Read the butch Perfessor's essay while doing your best, I trust, to ignore his buttless chaps. Then read this character sketch of TR by a real historian. Whom do you believe?

No doubt about it, aside the ugly, obvious mass psychology of it all, wingnut love of TR is based on one pressing current need, a pragmatic one for them: the war. TR was the most extraordinary warmonger the United States has ever produced, a true war lover whose image is naturally irresistable to so many armchair cowards who also love the idea of war, but unlike TR (and to give him his due) aren't so keen on fighting themselves. TR's smooth and smug analogies used to justify the massacre of Filipinos (General Aguinaldo was compared to Sitting Bull), his oozing jingoism, his certitude in the righteousness of any American aim, his condescending attitude to small countries, his utter bigotry to other cultures, peoples and races: these are all traits that wingnuts can admire and can use. And they do. But TR was so overblown, such a windbag and so plainly a lover of blood and guts that they must be careful and "intellectualise" it, as per Prof. Mansfield's essay.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

For Roy

Roy Edroso wrote a nice lengthy post on Thomas Carlyle's not quite so reactionary as supposed but still, evidently, pretty fucking reactionary History of the French Revolution, in which Roy asserts:

Oh, have I mentioned that this is among the most gorgeous English prose ever written? And that it defies comparison to anything, literary or political, in our own poor, benighted age

I admit it's purpley, even genius. But -- such is individual taste -- it's not pleasing to me like, say, Oscar Wilde's; it's too dense, like Henry James's. I admit that this is not a "fault" of such Masters, but my own.

Anyway, there's something I can lean on, since I'm a lightweight in such matters. This is from an A.J.P. Taylor lecture on Carlyle and Macaulay:

His style is like nothing else in English. Carlyle acquired it by translating Goethe, and his writing is, in fact, German put into English word for word. If put back into German, it appears simple and unaffected. It sheds a quaint light on the two languages that Goethe, the most classical of German writers, should have inspired the most uncouth writer of English. His ideas are those of a man of the people who has suddenly become articulate -- if only in Anglo-German: ideas spluttering and half-formed, ideas of revolt and rejection with nothing constructive to follow, but rooted in humanity, not in class feeling or good taste.

Regarding Carlyle's point-of-view, also of some interest to Roy, Taylor says:

Carlyle was Macaulay's opposite. He was the greatest master of English prose to spring from the people. This does not mean that he admired the people or got on with them. He despised the class to which he belonged and ran after Lady Ashburton as eagerly as D.H. Lawrence, his twentieth-century equivalent, cultivated Lady Ottoline Morell. Yet there was no escaping his origins...

Carlyle sensed the masses as no other writer has done. He expressed their outlook, against his own conscious convictions. He was shaped in the turbulent years when the masses of England straightened their backs and shook off respect, the great age of the Chartrists. Carlyle had all the Chartrist hatred of privilege, their contempt for 'the grouse-shooting aristocracy'. He knew what was at stake in 'the Condition-of-England question'. But when Chartism really stirred, Carlyle backed away. He should have been the greatest of the Chartrists. Instead he went sour. Betrayal is too common to need an explanation, but few have paid so high a penalty. Emerson once asked an anti-slavery agitator in prison: "Friend, why art thou here?' The other answered: 'Why art thou not here?' The question rang through Carlyle's mind. Why was he not there?

Taylor goes on to mention that Carlyle valued everything that he personally was not, "denouncing things that he did well". Then he gets into his real appraisal:

He was a nihilist, a destroyer, despite his doctrine of toil and the heroic virtues. He once found a perfect subject, the French Revolution. That really was the end of the world, and Carlyle wrote of it like a man possessed. There is little narrative; a great many innacuracies; none of that simplifying that we expect from the ordinary historian. Though he worked hard before he wrote it, he did not even keep up with the scholarship of his time, and Darwin was no doubt right when he said: 'As far as I could judge, I never met a man with a mind so ill adapted for scientific research.' No matter, The French Revolution is the only work in which the past is not merely narrated, but re-created. Carlyle has no gift for historical movement; he never describes how one situation developed into another. There is the lightening flash of genius, in which every detail stands out to remain vivid in the memory for ever. And, after it, new darkness, until broken by another vivid flash. The French Revolution is the most frightening of all works in history; and Carlyle was as frightened as any of his readers. He had meant to escape from Chartism into history; instead he found a Terror worse than before.

It needed the end of the world to find a use for Carlyle's gifts. There is nothing more impressive than a prophet who comes off; nothing more absurd than a prophet who does not. And for most of the time Carlyle did not come off. The world he lived in was not coming to an end. It was not being ruined by democracy and materialism. On the contrary, it was becoming more sensible, more tolerant, a better place to live in -- and no thanks to Carlyle... [He] regarded liberty as an aristocratic fad which would be blown away when the people came into their own. Liberty is indeed the touchstone of every man's career. Do you respect the judgements of others as much as your own? Or are you so confident of your own judgement that you would trample that of everyone else under foot? Macaulay gave the answer for liberty, Carlyle for tyranny. The worse cause had the more powerful advocate. All the same, it was the worse cause.

I have a soft spot for snotty reactionaries who write well and who remain human (two caveats -- possibly one? -- that cull 99 percent of the contenders); I suppose Roy does, too. One can find things to admire in the Carlyles, Menckens, even the John Simons of the world.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Fuck The Haters

I liked Revenge of the Sith.

Roy has already covered the wingnut fallout.

Random thoughts:

It's only a movie.

All Empires are bad; all resemble each other.

I do like the political overtones in the completed saga, but one can read what one wants into it, of course, though within some boundaries. When Episode I came out, the fanboys were saying the clone-droid battle forseen for Episode II would be Lucas's take on the Battle of Gettysburg. Didn't happen.

I hate to commit to such a nerdly discourse, but what I really like how Star Wars, and the LOTRs trilogy as well, makes heroes out of of characters who are diminuitive. Sure, this can be seen as simplistic irony ("judge me by my size, do you?"), but I prefer to see it as deeper than all that. Hobbits have no powers, are not long-lived; all they had was heart. Yoda, of course, has awesome power. But he is also the most human of all the Prequel Trilogy characters, not only the most wise, but the most wily and the most ..weary.

What good people want to believe is that they can combat the wrongs of the world without sacrificing their own principles. This is seen on a macro level in the Star Wars arc, but also on a character's level on Yoda's use of the force. Jedi do not use Force Lightning; it is an immoral weapon and ipso facto proof of a Sith. Yet this weapon can only be deflected by lightsabers -- except in Yoda's case, who is so knowledgable that he can deflect it with the Force.

The world is not absolute. The world is complex. But humans often think simplisticly, which is not always a bad thing. We also tend to appreciate it when complexities are neatly dispensed with, contradictions are heightened, near-absolutes are conveyed -- through art.

Nothing is ever as simple as good vs. evil, but we like to watch representations of these concepts battle anyway. Yoda -- small, old, seemingly frail, alien, fighting only in defense, having fewer weapons at his disposal because of his ethical code -- battling devious, amply arsenaled Palpatine to a stalemate was almost as good as Yoda battling Count Dooku in Episode II, which was the set piece of that film.

Years ago I had a cat named Yoda. Fuzzy, colored like a Siamese, small, affectionate. Damn I miss that cat.


These are the thoughts on Episode III by wingnuttia's hugest nerd (in a crowded field). They are what you'd expect. But what Fivehead (copyright, TBOGG) approvingly links to is worse. It is analysis written by a fucking absolutist. Clue to Geraghty: if Lucas is indeed sending a message about such things, it doesn't prove that he thinks these things are absolutely evil in and of themselves, but that they can be, and, often or occasionally, are. Only True Believer nutjobs who have no capacity for ambiguity or context would disagree, which is why the rightwingers are collectively burning their Chewbacca costumes in protest over this movie.

Well, that and, maybe, this.

The Times has a pretty good section on Star Wars.

** Another Update:

I might as well steal from alicublog again: Here's Lance Mannion's destruction of Mormon hack Orson Scott Card, and how sweet and thorough it is. I've previously blogged on Card's hackery here. Would it be mean and sectarian of me to say that Card would be better off spending some quality time reading A Study In Scarlet while considering that Conan Doyle only much later got into good graces with the LDS after he'd sadly plunged into abyss of spiritualism -- in other words, when he gave up all reason and was regularly suckered by fraudulent (there is no other kind) mediums? It would? Oh well. How about Riders of the Purple Sage, then, or maybe a little history for Mr SelfRighteous to chew on, like something on the Mountain Meadows Massacre?

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

You Can Call Me Duder, His Dudeness... Um, El Duderino ...If, You Know, You're Not Into That Whole Brevity Thing, Man

Pretty silly, huh?

That is a "caucasian" I'm drinking, but, paraphrasing Mister Burns, I say, "you fools, I'm not Wavy Gravy Jeffrey Lebowski, and all this time I've been smoking harmless tobacco!"

What I mean is, the High Times is for show. That's a Marlboro burning between my fingers. I can't -- and don't -- smoke pot anymore, but I couldn't throw away those precious back issues. But I still support the cause.

Yes, the shirt says "CCCP". I really wanted a "Nihilist" shirt but missed that auction on ebay. Anyway, the commie shirt is what I wore to DC when I made my pilgrimage. Shock value, you know. Yeah, so it's juvenile. Blow me. For wingnuts: No, I'm not a communist, I'm a democratic socialist. I have no sympathy for Stalinism, but I do think the Revolution was a good and necessary thing and could have supported the Soviet Union until 7 March 1921. After that, forget it.

But the movie. The movie! The Big Lebowski is a fucking comedy masterpiece.

This is my homage. The Dude Sweater was a lucky find in a thrift shop (yes, I know the pattern is different).

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

A Menace Defined

Johann Hari gives as good a definition of "neoliberalism" as I've seen.

This in reply to a series of questions which included,

I wonder why we don't identify these people as fiscal conservatives of the old school and their policies as being the same old reactionary "markets fix everything always" that have failed time and again in the past?

As Hari mentions, why such people aren't defined in these terms is probably due to confusion about the word "liberal". Though the assumption of the query is correct -- we are dealing with reactionaries here, and of the vilest sort -- a label containing the word "liberal", at least in America, leads to some head-scratching. Add to this the fact that most neoliberals are "realists" or even somewhat progressive culturally and it makes for more confusion. But I think Hari makes quick work of sorting them out -- at least for Brits.

For Americans, let us consider the taxonomy: neo-laissez-faire "markets, markets" economics? check. moderate or progressive on social issues? check. What we have here, then, is libertarianus nutjobus, a libertarian, though a subspecies to be sure: the neoliberal does not have the unhinged animus to even a small amount of entitlement programmes (when pressed, he will concede that food stamps may be a necessary entitlement "in principle") that most libertarians, wacko social darwinist-like, have.

Like any other ideology, neoliberalism is a continuum: some are dabblers while others are True Believers. But one thing is certain, they aren't progressives or, as Hari comes right out and says, social democrats. The problem is, far too many of them self-identify as Democrats; or put more precisely, it's not that so many of them are Democrats (the more, the merrier) but that they hold so much power over the Democratic party. More or less -- some far more than less -- neoliberals are people like Matthew Yglesias, Kevin Drum, Sebastian Mallaby, Tom Friedman, Mickey Kaus, Terry McAuliffe. Terms associated with neo-liberals include: "triangulation", "fucking sell-outs", "NAFTA", "fuck the unions", "loses the election", and "So what? I just saved 10$ at Pier 1!".

Sunday, May 08, 2005

The Third Way: A Ramble

Chomsky defines his politics as Libertarian Socialism, an honest enough label that, like a Jedi mind trick, has the effect of confusing the simple-minded. Guh, they say, drool streaming down their chins, that's an oxymoron!

Except it's not. Libertarian Socialists understand that power accrues to capital as well as to the state. They see both as despotic. They oppose both on such grounds. Thus Libertarian Socialists are, righteously, consistent. They know that pure communism results in a tyrranic bureaucracy or dictatorship; they also know that pure capitalism leads to plutocracy. This is as opposed to typical libertarians who detest the state but who are quite comfortable with, say, General Motors running the world, and to classic commies, who understandably relished the thought of shooting the crapitalists, but are too comfy with the concept of an Iron Man and politburo running the world.

If the worst of both worlds, capitalist and communist, is modern China -- and I think that it is -- what is the best? Well, probably some place in Western Europe, but really, we've never had the best of it, though we've come close in the past. Thing is, each time we've progressed, we've been thwarted, and most often and most forcefully by that ultimate collusion of capitalism and statism: war.

Here is Christopher Hitchens writing about Gore Vidal, who rejects labels like "Libertarian Socialism" but who has, like most modern leftists, continued to oppose unbridled capital while also maintianing a post-communist skepticism of classical socialism:

The Smithsonian Institution revisits and refines several Vidalian tropes. There is, first, his long-held view that 'entangling alliances' are death to republican virtue, and that they become domestic entanglements as well. This belief, that a warfare state may evolve into a domestic tyrrany, was first set out at length in an essay published in the month of the first Kennedy assassination...
(My emphasis.)

Hitchens then goes on to quote from Vidal's essay, "Edmund Wilson, Tax Dodger":

The line between Thoreau and Poujade is a delicate one. Yet it is perfectly clear that it must one day be drawn if the United States is not to drift into a rigid Byzantine society where the individual is the state's creature (yes, liberals worry about this, too), his life the property of a permanent self-perpetuating bureaucracy...

Hitchens continues,

Vidal claims that it was he, and not Milton Friedman [ed. note: rightly -- Retardo], who first coined the satirical line about the symbiosis between state planning and corporate power: 'Socialism for the rich and free enterprise for the poor.'

Hitchens then closes out analysis of that particular "Vidalian trope" by wondering why Vidal never writes about Charles and Mary Beard. The short answer of course is: he does.

Earlier in the same essay, Hitchens remarks of Vidal's novel The Smithsonian Institution, in which the hero, T., must stop a historical event, that

The only way to avert all these undesirable outcomes is to derail the locomotive of history well back on its track. This in turn necessitates a judgement of taste as well as mass -- which past president could we do most without? From a strong field of contestants -- most entertainingly reviewed -- T. does what I would have done and culls Woodrow Wilson. At one stroke, with some judicious blackmail, he removes the most sanctimonious and -- high-mindedness notwithstanding -- the most warmongering of the chief executives.

I could blog about this paragraph all day, but for the purposes of this entry, let us consider just what Woodrow Wilson wrought, the example of the executive template he not so much established as perfected, in which war and a malevolent version of internationalism is the best and typical engine by which the state-capital complex destroys the liberty of individuals abroad frequently and at home constantly.

In the back of Hitchens's mind here must be the small, annihilating study of the causes of American involvement in World War One by Charles Beard, The Devil Theory of War, in which a forceful chronological reading of the documentary evidence for all time damned American business interests as the intigators who caused Wilson to break the promise of neutrality that had got him elected. Simply speaking, these interests demanded that the US government insure the loans and credits they had given the Allied governments would not be defaulted -- insured the loans by means of making certain that the Allies won the war. Of course a capitalist will say that risk is part of the game, but in practice, when capitalists have the power to override democracy (as they almost always do: this is the crux of all our problems), they want the government to act as enforcer to ensure that their risk is minimal or slight. Beard quotes Wilson's pro-neutrality Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan's (who was of course eventually overruled and who then resigned out of principle) flawlessly reasoned rebuttal to the crapitalist tendency of wanting to have cake and eat it too:

...[A]n American citizen who goes abroad and voluntarily enlists in the army of a belligerent nation loses the protection of his citizenship while so engaged... why [should] dollars, going abroad and enlisting in war .. be more protected[?].. As we cannot prevent American citizens from going abroad at their own risk, so we cannot prevent dollars from going abroad at the risk of the owners, but the influence of the government is used to prevent American citizens from doing this. Would the government not be justified in using its influence against the enlistment of the nation's dollars in a foriegn war?

Of course we know Wilson's eventual answer and the outcome. Yet what does this have to do with domestic tyrrany in wartime? or with the general tendency of a nation at war to curtial, cease, or even rollback progressive interests? Well, obviously, war in itself put domestic reform on the back-burner. Hitchens, in another connection, and with a sneer, an unforgivable twist, and a stupid interpretation afterward, puts it like this:

I think this is more than just instinct on my part, the reaction of a lot of Democrats and liberals to the September 11th events was obviously in common with everyone else, revulsion, disgust, hatred, and so forth. But when they consider politically I think a lot of them couldn't say this, but they thought that's the end of our agenda for a little while. We're not going to be talking very much about welfare and gay marriage. We're going to be living in law and order times. Now the instinct is to think well, that must favor the right wing. Surely, that creates a climate for the conservatives--law and order and warfare and mobilization and so forth.

Now ignoring the bad faith on Hitchens's part, the instinct he describes here is sound: war does favor the right-wing domestically, which is one reason why right-wingers are quintessentially jingoists. People on the left know this. And Hitchens karmically deserves being pied for employing that crappy euphemism "law & order" in the context he describes. "Law & order" as practiced by the United States in wartime has always meant that the bill of rights was about to endure a body-blow, and often it meant that a bumpkin form of proto-fascism was setting up shop.

The undeclared war with France produced the awful Alien and Sedition Acts, which effectively nullified most of the Bill of Rights. The Mexican War didn't produce such an obviously egregious instance of tyrrany, but it did make for a disgusting millieu of jingoism and racism even by American standards. During the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln jailed newspaper editors, and the relish with which his Attorney General Edwin Stanton went after the free press can be compared to that of the grimiest 20th century regimes. The Indian Wars of the Gilded Age cemented the marriage of business and state; though the civil liberties of non-Indians were not infringed as a direct result of the wars, the infrastructure of government-business corruption was perfected. The Spanish-American War was a welcome diversion from domestic turmoil and the nascent progressive-populist agenda, and was of course the product of business-state collusion: an American Empire in the Pacific through formerly Spanish colonies was a boon to buiness interests which were salivating at the prospect of gaining access to Chinese coalfields and consumer markets. This war also perfected the use of the press as an arm of the government-business plutocracy, an arm which would come in handy under Wilson's watch.

William McKinley, while not the architect of the Spanish-American War, nonetheless presided over it and therefore over the torture and murder of thousands upon thousands of Filipinos in the "mopping-up" operations there after the fall of the Spanish colonial regime. Karma put paid to this debt in the form of Leon Czolgosz's bullet which killed the President in Buffalo, New York. The only problem was that Czolgosz wasn't a Filipino, but was, however, an unhinged nutjob tangentially connected to anarchists. That's close enough, fellow-traveller-wise, to the Progressive movement, which the plutocrats greatly feared and wished to destroy. thus the counter-revolutionists moved to squash the forces of progress, waving Czolgosz's guilt around like the bloody shirt. But the movement to destroy political progress couldn't become overt until, you guessed it, wartime.

Under Wilson's Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer, counter-revolution moved with alacrity. Since war provides great opportunities to call one's political enemies traitors, and it also provides the state with the power -- legally but also public-relation-wise from an often paranoid (inculcated, largely, through that new arm of plutocracy, the Yellow Press) populace -- Palmer enthusiastically undertook a de facto repeal of the Bill of Rights. The result, The Palmer Raids, flushed the concept of due process down the toilet as aliens were deported without hearings, labor unions were smashed, and communists and anarchists, real and imagined, were jailed simply for their beliefs.

Thus under Wilson we see the perfection of wartime methods of domestic tyrrany. And we also see the first American use of mass-market lying, also known as propaganda, to persuade the citizenry to act -- and later, to consume -- against its own interests. Note the symbiotic relationship between business and state implied in the following:

During World War I, Lippman and Bernays were hired by the United States President, Woodrow Wilson to participate in the Creel Commission, the mission of which was to sway popular opinion to enter the war on the side of Britain.

The war propaganda campaign of Lippman and Bernays produced within six months so intense an anti-German hysteria as to permanently impress American business (and Adolf Hitler, among others) with the potential of large-scale propaganda to control public opinion. Bernays coined the terms "group mind" and "engineering consent," important concepts in practical propaganda work.

The current public relations industry is a direct outgrowth of Lippman and Bernays' work and is still used extensively by the United States government.

Of course it didn't stop there; the acts hostile to individual liberty (and here let me say, real liberty -- the kind that matters -- civil liberty, that is, and not the typical libertarian version of the concept, which instead places the right to property effectively above all others) became institutionalised -- so much so that the state-business complex could flex its muscles even during times of crisis that may have included foriegn wars, but were atypical versions of those wars.

Chronologically, the next egregious instance was during Prohibition. But even this was related to war, because it's highly unlikely that the law could have been put into effect had not so many voters been away from the polls, stationed overseas fighting first Huns and then Commies. That it was an outgrowth of state-business marriage may not first be so obvious (since the brewing industry, after all, was crushed in the process) but consider what H. L. Mencken had to say about it, which I think is spot-on:

Big Business, in America, is almost wholly devoid of anything even poetically describable as public spirit. It is frankly on the make...Big Business was in favor of Prohibition, believing that a sober workman would make a better slave than one with a few drinks in him. It was in favor of all the gross robberies and extortions that went on in [World War One].

Later, WWI would still have a direct effect on the relationship between business-state masters and citizen-slaves. This was seen when the Bonus Army, a group of WWI veterans, congregated in Washington to protest the government's denial of the care and monies promised to them for their war effort. The result here, from business-government's terror at the mass of poor angry protestors (during the first days of the Great Depression, which was itself a creation of business-government collusion, the buying by business of the Republican party in return for mostly laissez-faire economic policy), was the effective repeal of the right to petition for redress as well as the right of free association.

The marchers were cleared and their camps were destroyed by federal cavalry troops under the command of General Douglas MacArthur, in a possible violation of the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878. This is debatable since the incident took place in federal territory rather than state lands. Dwight D. Eisenhower, as a member of MacArthur's staff, had strong reservations about the operation, and George Patton was also ordered to take part in the operation. Tanks and troops with rifles were sent into the Bonus Expeditionary Force's camps. Hundreds of veterans were injured, several were killed, such as William Hushka and Eric Carlson, a wife of a veteran miscarried, and other such casualties were inflicted. The army burned down the BEF's tents and used tear gas. Reports of US soldiers marching against their peers did not help Hoover's re-election efforts; neither did his open opposition to the Bonus Law due to financial concerns.

Next we have World War II, in which the populace, who by then knew they had been burned by pro-war propaganda during World War I, was devoutly isolationist. Here we see another unfortunate result of World War I: the government had cried wolf in such a shameful manner, previously, that it had the effect of making the populace, understandably, too skeptical. No one believed tales of the Nazis not because they were Nazi sympathisers, but because it was too damn much like the lies told by the American and other Allied governments about German behaviour in Belgium during WWI. Big Business, of course, was for war, and proved as much by dealing with the Nazis when they could. When Pearl Harbor turned American opinion and made it possible for FDR to enter the war, of course this was a boon too, since business knew it could enjoy fat government contracts. Accidentally, some real political and social progress was made in that women and black became for first time included in American society, but don't worry, the rights of some domestics were still repealed, in the case of the internment, so admired by modern wingnuts like Michelle Malkin, of Japanese-Americans.

Next was the Cold War, which gave us witch hunts in the form of HUAC and McCarthyism, also greatly admired by modern wingnuts like that awful fascist drag queen Ann Coulter.

Then the Vietnam War, which "coincided" with crack downs on Civil Rights leaders, pacifists, dissenters, hippies, etc. The FBI was used to spy on political enemies of the various adminstrations in power at the time, which is to say that the Feds spied on, harassed, and likely worse things, various forces of domestic progress.

Now we live in the era of the PATRIOT Act, open talk of racial internment, institutionalised torture, you know the litany. The adminstration responsible is bought and paid for by corporate interests whom we may safely assume smile benignly on Bush's more or less open war on secular values as well as domestic dissent. Bush's goons have doled out massive amounts of corporate welfare and are obviously a part of, or in thrall to not only what used to be called in the days of clear speaking the "military-industrial complex" (think Halliburton) but also the oil companies and various industries which benefit from globalisation. War, and the constant waving of the bloody shirt of 9-11, has afforded the Bush administration ways and means to push through its domestic agenda that would not have been possible otherwise.

Technological infrastructure has made possible means of coercion that Wilson's Mr. Palmer could only have dreamed of. War provides the state with the excuse to coerce. But business has always liked wars, has always benefited from them, at least among western so-called liberal democracies. Business has also provided, or jointly developed, much of that infrastructure to and with government, and together they share ways of exploiting it. It is important that citizens remember that their fears of the government being too nosy and coercive are exactly the same as their fears of businesses being too nosy and overbearing, and just because the former can throw one in jail and the latter cannot does not make them appreciably different if one bears in mind that it is through their mutual agenda, and by their joint stranglehold on power, that one is coerced in the first place.

Just how different is society now than before the turning point of World War I? Here is A.J.P. Taylor noting the changes in the country that is our closest equivalent:

Until August 1914 a sensible, law-abiding Englishman could pass through life and hardly notice any existence of the state, beyond the post office and the policeman. He could live where he liked and as he liked. He had no official number or identity card. He could travel abroad or leave his country for ever without a passport or any sort of official permission. He could exchange his money for any other currency without restriction or limit. He could buy goods from any country in the world on the same terms as he bought goods at home. For that matter, a foreigner could spend his life in this country without permit and without informing the police. Unlike the countries of the European continent, the state did not require its citizens to perfomr military service. An Englishman could enlist, if he chose, in the regular army, the navy, or the territorials. He could also ignore, if he chose, the demands of national defence. Substantial householders were occasionally called on for jury service. Otherwise, only those helped the state who wished to do so.

Oooh, the classic libertarians, Randroid nutjobs, and various atavist reactionary nutsacks of the right are already salivating at that description: it sounds like their crypto-fascist paradise of laissez-faire! Except that it wasn't. Taylor, after noting that the English were taxed, though modestly, describes how the English had already by then learned the lessons of the callousness and stupidity of laissez-faire:

The state intervened to prevent the citizen from eating adulterated food or contracting certain infectious diseases. It imposed safety rules in factories, and prevented women, and adult males in some industries, from working excessive hours. The state saw to it that children recieved education up to the age of provided a meagre pension for the needy over age 70... it helped to insure certain classes of workers against sickness and unemployment...

In other words, here was a society that had made progress and was continuing to make it. To be sure, there were reactionary elements, but nothing like those in the United States, which screamed and squealed when such profitable enterprises as child labor were legally taken from them. Put still another way, here was a society that was coming to view the individual as something to be respected by the state, and to be protected from the powers of business. What democracies do when they aren't hijacked. Then the war came:

Five million men entered the armed forces, many of them (though a minority) under compulsion. The Englishman's food was limited, and its quality changed, by government order. His freedom of movement was restricted; his conditions of work prescribed. Some industries were reduced or closed, others artifically fostered. The publication of news was fettered. Street lights were dimmed. The sacred freedom of drinking was tampered with: licensed hours were cut down, and the beer watered by order. The very time on the clocks was changed... The state established a hold on its citizens which, though relaxed during peacetime, was never to be removed and which the second world war was again to increase.

In America, partly because we are stupid and slow, partly because the forces of reaction here are so powerful, we hadn't come as far as the English with reform before the war. But then during the war, while our government's restrictions and coercions on the citizenry were similar, they were also much more harsh, more lasting, more apt to be in the future cited as positive precedent and emulated as a template.

But then, also, we were as citizenry before the war more "wild", less "trackable"; we could appear and disappear in society. Though we have always had a class system in America, people in certain parts of the country could move up in class as well as down. We could opt out of obligations that would easily jail modern people. In a post on "traditional marriage" in which she smacks around that nutty (and as is typical with Randroids, thoroughly humorless) libertarian (a.k.a. objectively pro-wingnut) Jane Galt, elementropy-favorite Aunt Jenna references a book that, if I recall correctly, described the social conditions of 19th century America, specifically with regard to -- as Aunt Jenna corroborates -- the, well, fluidity of the institution of marriage. I'm pretty sure this is the same book I remember reading about; if so, it was argued (in a Hobsbawmish way that annihilates falsely and connivingly held notions of "tradition") that especially along the frontier of the times, but also in more settled parts of the country, people often dissolved marriages in an ad hoc sort of way, without the legalism of divorce. Now what does this have to do with the subject at hand, you ask? Well, the same principle applies. There was a mobility that the closing of the frontier had begun to curtail, but was absolutely destroyed by the business-government-implemented, top-down changes placed on society and its structures during World War I. Sure, there had been a draft before then, during the Civil War, but it was preciously more difficult for the government to jail a draft-dodger then than it became during and after WWI. Rationing, like what was done during WWII, would have been impossible to enforce. Borders, both state and national, were extremely porous. An ID card, a number for a name, a government or business database on citizens, would have been unthinkable. There was a healthy anarchy, and so long as the big players, the powerful (which is to say, business) were policed as they were beginning to be in Britain, this would have been ideal. Now, though, the the powerful are the police, and the citizen is tracked, tabulated -- we live in a "show your papers" society.

Who could resist, then, doing what Gore Vidal's protagonist in The Smithsonian Institution does to Woodrow Wilson? Though T. does it to avoid WWII (had there been no Wilson the Allies would not have prevailed in WWI as they did; WWI would have been a stalemate, with no Versailles to inspire a Nazi reaction in Germany; the chain of causality is plain: no Wilson, no Hitler), and this is the noblest reason, one might as well cull Woodrow Wilson from history for the awful template he established for warmongers and domestic reactionaries. No other President -- and Hitchens is right to say that there are many contenders, several of whom used Wilsonism even before Wilson himself -- presided over and was however intentionally or unintentionally the cause of, such dreadful changes which retarded social progress and helped to make slaves of us all.

There has been exactly one war, WWII, worth fighting in the last 110 years of our history. The rest, of which there are many when you count proxy wars, were wastes of lives, debasements of civilisation, and had the entirely unwelcome effect of establishing tyranny at home. Is it any wonder why so many of us are knee-jerkly anti-war? Is it any wonder why so many of them are knee-jerkly pro-war?

Just who nowadays claims to be "Neo-Wilsonian"? Oh yeah, these sacks of shit. To the extent that Woodrow Wilson was decent was in the emphasis he put on foreign countries' right to self-determination. Of course, those who would and do call themselves "Wilsonian" elide or ignore this important -- even redemptive -- concept, but in everything else Wilsonian, abroad and domestically, they are worthy heirs. We'll have to deal with the their likes and their lies until we establish an effective and united Third Way.

--Edits were made for typos, grammar, and word-choice. One shouldn't blog while inebriated.