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The Other National Guard Story

People keep asking how the National Guard story is relevant to the election. Here's one way.

... [Lt. Col. (Ret.) Bill Burkett] was brought into the Texas Guard by recommendations from former Republican Governor Bill Clements and Jim Francis, one of the presidentâ??s closest friends and most prolific fund-raisers. Burkettâ??s job was to develop a plan to make the guardâ??s training and equipment more relevant to modern missions against enemies like terrorists. His years of work and recommendations, however, were never implemented and the governor is said to have turned down millions of dollars in federal money to pay for improvements when it was offered by the Clinton administration.

No one understood the decision to not upgrade the guard until Bush ran for president. In his first policy speech, given at the Citadel, candidate Bush told the assembled cadets, "If the commander-in-chief were today call upon all of our armed forces to defend America, at least one full division would be unable to answer that call." The only "full division" that was incapacitated at the time of that speech was the Texas National Guard. The governor of Texas is the only governor in the country who has command of a full division. It struck Texas Guard commanders then, even some who supported Bush, that they had been used as a political ploy and their lousy training and equipment was part of a plan....

[James C. Moore, "Men of Destiny", on Buzzflash]

So let's make this clear: When George Bush was Governor of Texas, he studiously avoided taking the steps that would lead to the Texas National Guard becoming prepared to "answer that call," up to and including the expedient of refusing aid from the Clinton administration. And then he proceeded to insinuate that the Clinton administration was to blame for the ill-preparedness of the Texas National Guard.

Brilliant. Positively brilliant. Crooked, sleazy, and dishonest as hell, but brilliant, nonetheless.

Oh, wait; that's not the "National Guard Story" you were thinking of? Sorry.

Warriors of the Light

â??Hitler may have lost the war on the battlefield, but he ended up winning something too,â? says Marek Halter, â??because man in the twentieth century created the concentration camp and revived torture and taught his fellow men that it is possible to close their eyes to the misfortunes of others.â?


Perhaps he is right: There are abandoned children, massacred civilians, innocent people imprisoned, lonely old people, drunks in the gutter, madmen in power.


But perhaps he isnâ??t right at all, for there are also Warriors of the Light.


And Warriors of the Light never accept what is unacceptable. [Paulo Coelho, Warrior of the Light: A Manual]

And, Marek Halter most likely would not disagree that there are also Warriors of the Light. Both Halter and Coelho could be in closer agreement than Coelho surmises above. Marek Halter identified what he considered â??evil,â? but he also â??could never accept the notion that the whole world was against the Jews.â?

... he began his own search for "the righteous," as he puts it: gentiles who risked their lives to protect Jews during World War II. He wanted to pay tribute to their bravery. Above all, he wanted to ask, "Why did you save Jews?"

He was most interested in their motives. His conclusion was that â??good can survive even in the most evil of circumstances.â?


Itâ??s easy to view our world as some kind of insane asylum. Yet, those â??righteousâ? or â??warriors of the lightâ? who would strive to strike the flint of compassion amidst the hellhole of fear, divisiveness, bigotry, and war realize our common bond of humanity and act magnanimously.


Paulo Coelho writes,

The Warrior always listens to the words of certain thinkers, such as these by T. H. Huxley:

â??The consequences of our actions are the scarecrows of fools and the beacons of wise men.â?

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The Real Paris Underground

"La [société] Mexicaine de la Perforation" (roughly "the Diggers from La Mexicaine") are "...a clandestine cell of 'urban explorers' which claims its mission is to 'reclaim and transform disused city spaces for the creation of zones of expression for free and independent art'...." Earlier this summer, they ran a seven-week film series in an underground cinema complex (including restaurant and bar) of their own construction. [Guardian, "Paris's new slant on underground movies"]

And boy, were the gendarmes pissed.

Not that they've been able to quite figure out what they're pissed about. Paris police still don't know what to charge whem with. After all, the group adheres strictly to its rule of leaving each "crime"-scene "cleaner, if anything, than when we found it".

"They freaked out completely," Lazar, their spokesman, said happily. "They called in the bomb squad, the sniffer dogs, army security, the anti-terrorist squad, the serious crimes unit. They said it was skinheads or subversives. They got it on to national TV news. They hadn't a clue."

....

[The cinema] was constructed in a series of interconnected caves totalling some 400 square metres beneath the Palais de Chaillot, across the Seine from the Eiffel tower. Former quarries, they were partly refurbished during the 1900 Universal Exposition when one of the galleries was clad with concrete to represent a future Channel tunnel and a wall was artfully terraced.

But the caves were sealed off for the last time at least 20 years ago and subsequently "ceased to exist officially", Lazar said. "We knew them well because we used them to get into the Palais de Chaillot every Bastille Day. The roof is the perfect place from which to watch the fireworks."

Indeed most of the LMDP's underground happenings are organised in places the city authorities are not aware of, he added. "There are so many underground networks - the quarries, the metro, the collective heating, the electricity, the sewers - and each is the responsibility of a different bureaucracy," he said.

"Urban explorers are the only people who, between us, know it all. We move between each network. We know where they link up - often, it's us who made the link. The authorities, the police, town hall, they don't know a hundredth, a thousandth, of what's down there."

There's something really appealing about all of this -- and it only gets more amusing when you learn that the police were so upset about it. It's hard for me to imagine a major police department in a U.S. city getting so upset about such a thing (at least, until some security mom pointed out that they could have been TERRORISTS).

Then again, it does give one pause: Maybe the London Underground really is a terrorist movement....

(Link courtesy two rather pedantic discussions of the proper translation of "La Mexicaine de la Perforation" at LanguageLog.)

Dawn of the Google Era

The "Google OS" meme takes its next logical step: Signs indicate that Google is at work creating a Google-customized browser based on the Mozilla trunk. (My bet is that they would use Firefox, since the kewl kidz love Google so damn much.)

Last summer, Anil Dash suggested that it would be a good move for Google to develop a Google browser based on Mozilla. Give that kid a gold star because it looks more than plausible. Mozilla Developer Day 2004 was recently held at the Google Campus. Google is investing heavily in JavaScript-powered desktop-like web apps like Gmail and Blogger (the posting inferface is now WYSIWYG). Google could use their JavaScript expertise (in the form of Gmail ubercoder Chris Wetherell) to build Mozilla applications. Built-in blogging tools. Built-in Gmail tools. Built-in search tools. A search pane that watches what you're browsing and suggests related pages and search queries or watches what you're blogging and suggests related pages, news items, or emails you've written. Google Toolbar++. You get the idea.

Mozilla is currently getting some good press due to Microsoft's continuing troubles with their browser and the uptick in usage compared to IE is encouraging. But it's nothing compared to what could happen if Google decides to release a Mozilla-based browser. A Google Browser would give the Mozilla platform instant credibility and would be a big hit. The peerless Google brand & reputation and their huge reach are the keys here. Mom and Dad know about Google....

[Jason Kottke, "More evidence of a Google browser"]

"It's been obvious for awhile now that Google isn't a search company," Kottke says, pointing to earlier ruminations:

With their acquisition of Pyra and new Content-Targeted Advertising offering, it should be apparent that Google is not a search company. What they are exactly is unclear, but their biggest asset is: a highly annotated map of the web.

Unclear, indeed. But whatever it is that they are or become, it will control truly unprecedented amounts of power.

The relentless techno-optimism around Google is fascinating and frightening. That this "highly annotated map of the web" should reside in the hands of one closely-controlled company with strong profit motives and utterly unprecedented stores of information is, frankly, terrifying to me.

As a private entity, and as such not subject to public oversight (and no, stockholders don't count as "public oversight" -- and especially not at Google), Google is much more greatly to be feared than Government. There is effectively no control over what information they can collect and use internally, as long as they don't resell it. And if they are a one-stop-shop for all information usage, there ends up being effectively no limit to the uses they can put that information to.

In future, in fact, I can envision the Government outsourcing Total Information Awareness to Google. It would solve so many of their problems: No longer would the Government be hampered by silly "pre-9/11" rules that prohibit it from domestic spying; they'd effectively be able to get whatever they want, from Google. Sure, some kind of suitable chinese wall would have to be erected, but that's a trivial matter considering the power at stake, here.

(Leads courtesy Boing-Boing and the Register.)

On Moral Film-Making

Every now and then I go back and re-read a wonderful piece by SF writer David Brin, contrasting the moral universe of George Lucas's Star Wars pictures to that of Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek franchise. Lucas's vision doesn't come off well:

[George] Lucas defends his elitist view, telling the New York Times, "That's sort of why I say a benevolent despot is the ideal ruler. He can actually get things done. The idea that power corrupts is very true and it's a big human who can get past that."

In other words a royal figure or demigod, anointed by fate. (Like a billionaire moviemaker?)

Lucas often says we are a sad culture, bereft of the confidence or inspiration that strong leaders can provide. And yet, aren't we the very same culture that produced George Lucas and gave him so many opportunities? The same society that raised all those brilliant experts for him to hire -- boldly creative folks who pour both individual inspiration and cooperative skill into his films? A culture that defies the old homogenizing impulse by worshipping eccentricity, with unprecedented hunger for the different, new or strange? It what way can such a civilization be said to lack confidence?

In historical fact, all of history's despots, combined, never managed to "get things done" as well as this rambunctious, self-critical civilization of free and sovereign citizens, who have finally broken free of worshipping a ruling class and begun thinking for themselves. Democracy can seem frustrating and messy at times, but it delivers.

[Salon, '"Star Wars" despots vs. "Star Trek" populists: Why is George Lucas peddling an elitist, anti-democratic agenda under the guise of escapist fun?']

It's too good of an essay to summarize easily, but one way to cast the difference is by saying that Roddenberry's heroes are ordinary people, exceeding their own expectations of themselves, while Lucas's heroes are extraordinary people -- anointed by fate or chosen by the mitichlorians.

Does Brin expect too much? Perhaps. But perhaps Lucas does have an agenda. I wonder who he votes for... Brin's persuasive; and I can see how the Lucasian vision has seeped into my own consciousness. But still I resist it. Perhaps it's time I got around to reading John Gardner's On Moral Fiction.

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The New Pinkertons

"Libertarian anarchists" often smugly trot out the idea of privately-funded security agencies as the great solution to all of the obvious crime-related objections to -- well, to libertarian anarchism. DynCorp is the great, one-word counter-argument. If you can afford to hire DynCorp, "right" and legal oversight become irrelevant.

DynCorp specializes in outsourcing security. Other names are more public, but there may be no company more deeply and richly integrated into the fabric of governmental security outsourcing. For example, DynCorp currently holds contracts with the U.S. government to manage American drug interdiction efforts in Colombia and Mexico-US border posts, and to advise the new Iraqi government on law-enforcement and security issues. They have a specialty in field helicopter maintenance, so the Army often contracts DynCorp to operate forward Apache attack helicopter bases, like "Camp Commanche" in Bosnia.

They also run the Bosnian police forces.

Sometime in early 2000, two DynCorp employees approached officers of the Army's Criminal Investigative Division with evidence that DynCorp contractors were heavily involved with the local sex-trade -- in many cases even "purshasing" young (as young as 12 year old) women as personal sex slaves. You can guess what happened next, right?

You got it: DynCorp fired the whistelblowers, and covered up the rest: Several (but far from all) perpetrators were fired, a few more shipped back to the states (to be shipped out again somewhere else, presumably), but most went scot free. Why? Well, I'm guessing they aren't clearly under US jurisdiction.

But what about Bosnian jurisdiction? Couldn't they be arrested and prosecuted by Bosnian law enforcement authorities? Ah, but remember: DynCorp is Bosnian law enforcement....

Ultimately, the grievances of the whistleblowers were upheld, albeit in a less than gracious manner on DynCorp's part: One made an out of court settlement for wrongful termination, and the other was able to get relief under a Brtish whistleblower statute. DynCorp itself, of course, has yet to admit that it fired either for cooperating with the CID.

It's curious to note, here, that we're coming full-circle (well, full-spiral, at least): As for one-word retorts, "Pinkerton" should have been sufficient. But it's my experience that people who self-label as "libertarian" usually don't have much consciousness of history; the only image they get from "Pinkerton" is a bunch of middle-aged guys in armored trucks and ugly uniforms. Great American fortunes have been built in no small part by private armies, not to mention dynasties with histories both notorious and obscured, and we mythologize the private use of force to this day.

I sometimes believe we are not really a civil society, in America. Much of the rest of the world sees us as a lawless place, in one sense or another, and in a way they're right. One reason that we can instinctively see private armies as a good thing, that we instinctively believe we need to own assault rifles to defend our homes and Glock .40s to defend our persons is that we don't have coherent and consistent traditions of civil behavior. I fear that the same lack of homogeneity that has generally protected us from fascism, also renders us unable to trust civil authority, however it is vested.

[Link courtesy The Tutor.]

Time to Choose: Selective Service, or National Service

There's a lot of noise lately about the reinstatement of the draft. The Bushites are said to favor it; there are a couple of different bills working their way through Congress that would implement a new draft. The Selective Service Administration is said to be planning for it.

The military don't want it: They say it would dilute their force-readiness, and reduce the quality of their troops. Since Vietnam, they're deeply concerned with morale, and one of the worst things you can do for the morale of a fighting force is to inject a bunch of unwilling conscripts into the ranks. (And no, "conscripts" does not imply "unwilling".)

Yes, conscription and mandatory service work in some places, like Switzerland and Israel. But those are places where there has been a strong sense of civil society, and that's frankly something we haven't had in this country. I would say we've never had it; certainly we haven't had it in a long time, at least. We're a nation of individualists, and there are strong anti-civil strains in our culture.

All that having been said, National Service is actually a really interesting idea. It's been supported by advocates ranging from Charlie Rangel to Bill Buckley. But it's not without its cost. For example, as long as it's not mandatory for everyone, it will be exploited to get choice posts for the children of privilege. That's just how things work in America. (If it's voluntary and incentivized -- or anti-dis-incentivized, as Buckley would have it -- there are different pitfalls. But those are another subject for another time.)

And if a national service term is mandatory for everyone, regardless of lottery number, then we're talking about an enormous quantity of people. Back of the envelope (250 million divided by average age of 70 times 2 years) ... that's about seven million people in compulsory national service at any given time, conservatively, give or take.

What would we do with them?

Injecting seven million people into the Armed Forces -- or even into "National Defense" -- is a recipe for chaos. If it worked, it would be either an accident or a tribute to damage control. Whether the top-down mandarins in the Bush White House want to admit it or not, there is actual expertise down on the line. You can't just plug in bodies and make it work. (I like to refer to this as the "lost knowledge" problem.) And there's significant communications overhead from increased staffing. (In computing and engineering, this is known variously as the "one baby, nine ladies" or "mythical man-month" problem, a.k.a. "Brooks Law".)

So it makes more sense to spread those seven million out over a wider area of service. We can deploy them to make America a heavily-patrolled camp, but we can derive a corrollary of Brooks Law to predict that making it a heavily-patrolled camp will not make it a well-patrolled camp. Just to make sure my meaning is clear: Rapidly increasing the number of bodies applied to national security will probably result in decreased security.

To me, it makes more sense to apply these people to public works. For heaven's sake, if it keeps the foaming-mouth brigade happy, don't call it "Americorps" or even allude to that successful Clinton-era public service program. But talk sensibly about making national service have something to do with making the nation better, not just increasing our focus on "terror".

Nevertheless, there will be consequences to pumping seven million inexperienced workers into the infrastructure -- most notably, the injection of seven million inexperienced workers into the infrastructure. You'd have to pay them, which means increased "revenue" (i.e., taxes) (and note, some of the biggest backers of this idea are Republicans). At least initially, they'll displace a lot of people already doing these jobs. Initially, a society-wide national service plan would have a hugely disruptive economic impact.

I've said this is an interesting idea, so I'm not about to just shoot it down. There are huge potential advantages. Such a large quantity of civil labor could improve small aspects of our quality of life -- our streets could be cleaner, our highways better maintained (and aren't those good uses to put these folks to?).
The greatest potential benefits are the very ones that Buckley and others imagine: If we all give service, then we all have a real sweat-equity stake in the country, for the first time in its history.

The competetive advantage for America of such common spirit shouldn't be ignored. We'd raise laggard aspects of our standard of living, as a practical matter (those roads and streets, a generally better-maintained infrastructure). But if run correctly, it could have terrific unifying effects by forcing us to mingle across socioeconomic classes, geographic regions, religious orientations.... The Swiss have long argued that forced integration of service units across language barriers is a major factor in preserving the unity of a nation with four national languages. (The fourth is Romansch, in case you're wondering...)

Again, though, the nature of the incentives used to drive compliance could have a major impact on how well that would work -- and again, that's a separate issue.

"If we leave and there's no civil war, that's a victory."

From the Guardian, via American Samizdat:

[Retired general William] Odom said: "This is far graver than Vietnam. There wasn't as much at stake strategically, though in both cases we mindlessly went ahead with the war that was not constructive for US aims. But now we're in a region far more volatile, and we're in much worse shape with our allies."

[Army War College Professor W Andrew] Terrill believes that any sustained US military offensive against the no-go areas "could become so controversial that members of the Iraqi government would feel compelled to resign". Thus, an attempted military solution would destroy the slightest remaining political legitimacy. "If we leave and there's no civil war, that's a victory."

[Retired general Joseph] Hoare believes from the information he has received that "a decision has been made" to attack Fallujah "after the first Tuesday in November. That's the cynical part of it - after the election. The signs are all there."

He compares any such planned attack to the late Syrian dictator Hafez al-Asad's razing of the rebel city of Hama. "You could flatten it," said Hoare. "US military forces would prevail, casualties would be high, there would be inconclusive results with respect to the bad guys, their leadership would escape, and civilians would be caught in the middle. I hate that phrase collateral damage. And they talked about dancing in the street, a beacon for democracy."

General Odom remarked that the tension between the Bush administration and the senior military officers over Iraqi was worse than any he has ever seen with any previous government, including Vietnam. "I've never seen it so bad between the office of the secretary of defence and the military. There's a significant majority believing this is a disaster. The two parties whose interests have been advanced have been the Iranians and al-Qaida. Bin Laden could argue with some cogency that our going into Iraq was the equivalent of the Germans in Stalingrad. They defeated themselves by pouring more in there. Tragic."

Of course, these are all retired men and military academics, but still, one has to wonder: How do the Bushites expect to succeed when they are determined to dictate reality to their experts?

Tsk. Such defeatism. If we'd all just get with the program, then we'd beat those darn terrorists, for sure! (Better still if those pesky Iraqis would get with the program -- get with our program.)

But then, we never would 'get with the program', would we? Because, after all, if we think we're right, aren't we supposed to fight for that? Isn't that the very definition of moral courage -- not being swayed by the admonitions of others? Wouldn't it make as much sense for us to expect anti-abortion activists to give up their position because they're a divisive minority and are just causing everybody grief? And if not -- why?

Answer: "Why do you hate Freedom so much?" (Funny...I thought I loved it...I must have been wrong...)

In the market, no one can hear you scream

Shelley Powers' elderly father had surgery. True to modern ideas, he was to be released into home care. But it didn't go so well:

The surgeon who operated on Dad sent him home without any further instructions for physical therapy, care, and medicine, particularly pain medicine. All the assisted living home could give Dad was regular Tylenol. My brother hit the roof and had a frank discussion with the head of the assisted living house who directed Mike to the hospital discharge nurse who also had a frank discussion with Mike.

The long and short of it was that the surgeon felt Dad was going home to die anyway, and didnâ??t need any additional care. Including physical therapy, special care to help Dad once home, and pain medicine.

That was a mistake on his part.

I feel a grim ennui on hearing stories like this, and like Christian's. That this kind of thinking is typical is made clear by comment after comment, and my own knowledge of similar situations in my own family, and in the families of friends and acquaintances and of people I barely know...

This is the dark side of the free market. Free markets are efficient, we're told. Like machines that automatically seek a level. Like water seeking a level during a flood. Like snow seeking a level in an avalanche. Grinding people and homes beneath them.

Markets are efficient. They efficiently slot people into their tracks and grooves and efficiently grind up anyone who slips out of those tracks and grooves. Humanity becomes maladaptive, so long as you remain within the system.

What the market "wants" is a separate system, that exists "outside" the market, to support it. The efficient market will grind humanity to such a find spray that it will leave no knots of initiative or innovation or humanity anywhere, leaving us with a robotic society worthy of a J. G. Ballard story.

What the market "wants" is a system to maintain humanity for it, while seeming not to have any relation to it: It wants charity to be a personal matter, for just enough of the elderly to be maintained to make us think it's possible, and to make churches and cultural leagues and community charities take care of everything. So the Market can absolve itself of any responsibility for anything human. (Peace Be Upon The Market.)

(Not unions, of course. Let these social organizations have nothing to do with work -- it must be possible to look at these safety-net organizations and allow yourself to not understand that the Market relies upon them. The Market must be sacrosanct, after all; it would be blasphemous to suggest that anything in the human world is not market-driven at its base....)

At the end all I'm left with is a knot in my gut.

MemoGate: Approaching Real Data

The Dallas Morning News has finally managed to do what reasonable folks have been suggesting for almost a week, and tracked down Colonel Killian's secretary, Marian Carr Knox. For the first time, someone has bothered to actually talk to someone who might actually know something.

And according to Mrs. Knox, both sides are right: As far as she can recall, she never typed that memo, and no, they don't look right. But she's also adamant that they do accurately convey Colonel Killian's state of mind at the time.

But both sides are also wrong. She did have the superscript "th" key on her manual Olympia; and she didn't have proportional spacing. But Colonel Killian did routinely write "CYA" memos to "cover his back" on issues just like the one the memo purports to cover.

Regardless, it remains as true today as it was on Monday that fine-grained analytical techniques aren't valid when they're applied to coarse-grain data.

And perhaps more important, the cues that she used to definitively say that it wasn't authentic were completely different from those used by the brigade of attack-monkeys. For example, she notes that:

  • The signature block on the "CYA" memo is on the right; hers were always on the left. (That would be an standard signature block position for many institutions, FWIW.)
  • "Billet" and "administrative officer" are Army Guard terminology, not Air Guard.
  • The memo distinguishes between refusal to take the physical and failure to "meet military standards"; Mrs. Knox says that in her experience, that distinction wouldn't have been made.
  • While General Buck Staudt would most likely have tried to exert improper influence -- and Colonel Killian would indeed have wanted to "cover his back" on it -- he wouldn't have been in a position to exert influence after retirement. (Again, this could represent an Army Guard culture-bias.)

The Army Guard influences could end up being important, as the Dallas Morning News suggests that the CBS documents may have been provided by a disgruntled Army National Guard veteran.

"I remember very vividly when Bush was there and all the yak-yak that was going on about it," Marian Carr has remarked. But memory... it's non-sporting to question the memory of an 86-year-old woman, but it's also sensible. Just as sensible as questioning the memory of anyone. How certain can she be of things that did or didn't happen more than 30 years ago? Not very -- but she can reconstruct, and make judgements, and sometimes (if they're done consciously) those are better than memory. For example, she reconstructs that the placement of signature block and the terminology are wrong.

What will be interesting will be to see how the Right Wing attack brigades handle this. Will they focus on the forgery angle and ignore everything else? (That's my bet.) Or will they ignore it? And on the left -- will they bow their heads, or will they point out that the attackers were right for the wrong reasons -- and that, by that token, they were, in fact, wrong?

In the end, this does still come back around to different conceptions of truth and evidence -- I would say that it's basically a conflict between empiricism and lysenkoism. One side looked at existing data; the other side constructed new data. Now that something like a decision is being approached, the side that constructed data will most likely be prepared to jettison all of that data and still claim ownership of the conclusions they drew from it. It's a bit like reasoning that Smith is a killer because all redheads are killers, and then saying "See? I told you so!" when he's revealed to be a killer, but also blonde. They were right; it doesn't matter how.

And Once More Into The Mind Of A Right-Wing Lysenkoist

ParisParamus speaking on
MeFi about the hyperinflation of probable casualty figures with regard to hurricane strikes in New Orleans:

"... Don't you realize how everyone in the process (of planning for a disaster) has an interest in inflating figures, to inflate their importance, get as much funding as possible, etc?"

Lysenkoism rearing its ugly head, yet again: It couldn't possibly be the case that these folks make honest best estimates, based on their experience, expertise, and knowledge of the domain. Nope: They must just all be out to enhance their status...

"I pay your salary. So yes, I CAN tell you how to vote."

"The only thing a free man can be forced to do is die." So when Lynne Gobbell got an ultimatum from her boss to remove the Kerry-Edwards sticker or find another job, she had the choice to comply and stay, or to defy and go.

She had the choice to listen and obey when her lawful employer told her what to do in order to continue to earn a paycheck. Or to disobey, and not earn a paycheck.

Did she know that fealty to President Bush was the price of continued employment? Look for plant owner (and bankrupcy attorney) Phil Gaddis to take the position that she did, and that she understood the risks. After all, he'd inserted a slip of paper into everyone's pay envelope that read (in part):

Just so you will know, because of the Bush tax (cut):

  • I was able to buy the new Hammer Mill
  • I was able to finance our receivables
  • I was able to get the new CAT skid steer
  • I was able to get the wire cutter
  • I was able to give you a job

...

You got the benefit of the Bush tax cut. Everyone did.

So is it really Phil Gaddis's fault if Lynne Gobbell is too pig-headed to know who her betters are? Of course he can tell her how to vote: He owns her labor power. She sold it to him. Voting is work. End of discussion. When you own this country, you can vote however you like. Until then, get back to work.

Grover's World

A peek inside the mind of Grover Norquist:

Last, a Bush-Cheney victory in November will create the conditions for a constructive contest among leading Republican governors and senators for the presidential nomination in 2008. Dick Cheney's heart troubles mean that he will retire with Bush in 2009. Usually the sitting vice president is the natural enemy of all ambitious politicians of his party, but now all Republicans want a Bush-Cheney victory in 2004, so they can run for an open presidential ticket in 2008. The Democrats face the opposite dilemma: Every ambitious Democrat hopes Kerry-Edwards fails, so that the presidency will open for her (or him) in 2008 rather than in 2012, 2016, or 2020. [emphasis added]
[Grover Norquist, "The Democratic Party is Toast"]

"No brag. Just fact," says Norquist earlier in the piece, echoing the ubiquitous Freeper boast. Everyone, in the end (so goes the Gospel According to Grover -- or is it the Gospel According to Rove? ... or does it matter?), is always only ever concerned with his/her own dominance, and always only ever looking out for his/her self-interest.

After all, isn't bipartisanship just "another term of date rape"?

MemoGate Circle Jerk

"I've not seriously doubted since that afternoon that any lie will receive almost instant corroboration, and almost instant collaboration, if the maintenance of it results in the public enjoyment of someone else's pain, someone else's humiliation." ['Phillip E. Marlowe', The Singing Detective]

I need to leave off MemoGate, at least at the detail level. It's making me insane. But I will take a couple of parting shots.

On Saturday morning I took the trouble of mapping out a few of the point by point reasons why most of the "challenges" to authenticity are completely irrelevant. For the most part, they end up being quite a bit like arguing that the Mona Lisa must be a forgery because it's possible to make a digital represenation of it that looks the same when viewed on a computer monitor...

And yet, people keep treating these amateur forensics as though they mean something, even when they're carried out by incompetents. (That's being charitable; when someone repeatedly states that "x typeface didn't exist on typewriters", even after it's been shown that it was actually common, what you really ought to call that person is a liar, not incompetent. And when people proceed to create elaborate arguments based on detailed exegesis of of the minutiae of typefaces, while looking at a fundamentally corrupt dataset -- in this case, a digital image of a fax created from an nth-generation photocopy [alas, his popularity has swamped his website] -- you have to wonder why it never occurs to them that their dataset is fundamentally corrupt. So maybe I should settle for "willfully incompetent." That would at least be consistent with Our President's approach.)

Someone at PC Mag has been bothered by this same thought, and took the trouble to point out via a visual example that it's not terribly surprising when systems designed to make things look consistent actually (lo, and behold!) accomplish that goal: So, using word processing software, I can make a document that looks a lot (note: "a lot", not "completely" -- anyone claiming the latter about these "forensic exercises" is [ahem!] willfully incompetent) like a document that was done 30 years earlier on a typewriter. And that's surprising...why?

Anyway, I'm glad I didn't bother to buff up my own inventory. Media Matters for America has done a much better job than I could have in my exasperated state. They take a different tack, too, ignoring the blogosphere's circle-jerk to concentrate on the second-order circle-jerk that's been infesting media circles.

It's worth reading; they isolate the core charges, debunk them briefly, then proceed to demonstrate the failure of "journalists" across the spectrum to raise the obvious questions. I'm tempted to accuse these journalists, also, of willful incompetence; does it make a difference whether they're just protecting their jobs, or piling on?

Ultimately, of course, and so very, very sadly, none of this matters. The fact that the lie has been uttered so widely and in such an unquestioning, uncritical manner, will make it true, in the public eye. This is, again, the big lie. It's been refined and honed since it got this modern name, but of course swindlers and despots have understood it since the dawn of humanity: It's an intellectual circle-jerk, where each participant understands (at least, at some level) their own failure, but (willfully) (and oft uncharacteristically) presumes the integrity of their informant. Why? Because it's in their interest to do so. Because it protects their rice bowl. But mostly, I fear, becaues it lets them harm someone else without taking the blame for it, themselves. ("If everybody's guilty, no one's guilty.")

ADDENDUM: Maha at Daily Kos -- a bona fide type expert -- has talked extensively about (among other things) the fact that the data being used for these "analyses" is so degraded as to be nearly useless. He points to Jeanne d'Arc (blogger, not saint): "In general, people on the left face uncertainty the way I did in that post -- asking for answers, and weighing evidence (and often giving people with an ax to grind more credit than they deserve). On the right, 'evidence' is just whatever supports what you want to believe."

In the end, Maha bids us to:

Stop it. Just stop it. Could the Killian documents be forgeries? Could Paul Wolfowitz be a space alien? Anything is possible.

But there is no evidence I've seen so far that has persuaded me the documents are forgeries. And I'm the best expert I know.

Golf-Pants Nihilists Redux

It's fairly sad what passes nowadays for an "intellectual" conservative, now that Bill Buckley's easing himself into retirement, and Pat Buchanan has been effectively barred from the national discourse. But they still try. The chief tactic seems to be to assert repeatedly that which gives lie to itself, in the conviction (probably justified) that if you say it enough times, a lot of people will believe it on the principle that you wouldn't say "I know you are but what am I INFINITY!!!!!" unless you really really really meant it.

(Many moons ago, one who shall remain nameless coined a term for this: "The Big Lie." But we're not supposed to talk about him; we're supposed to forget anything we learned from his example, because That's All In The Past, Now. All the better to swallow Anne Coulter's bile-flavored diet shakes....)

Case in point, on a website called (oxymoronically?) "Intellectual Conservative", Gary Larson calls Garrisson Keillor to task for his inspired epithet for modern Republicans, "nihilists in golf pants" -- "juvenile hyperbole", he calls it, retorting a few lines later: "A touché to his 'freelance racists' tag: Thomas Sowell defines racists as conservatives who win arguments with braying liberals."

Methinks that Mr. Larson needs to look up the most common use of the term "juvenile" as applied to intellectual effort. Sowell is given as an example of mature discourse for simply making an flat assertion in uncreative language; Keillor is given as an example of juvenile discourse for demonstrating mastery of a large vocabulary and a rich gift for metaphor...

Now, puerile, that has some possibilities. "Puerile", even Garrisson might go for. It is an angry piece, to be sure, but it should carry more weight for that fact, considering that it comes from a man known more for tolerance, (perhaps too much) restraint, and quiet amusement than anger.

Then again, "juvenile" probably is a good choice, for just that reason. The "big lie" tactic only works really well when the lie has almost no bearing on reality. It's like inserting a contradiction into your argument: Anything can follow, then. Similarly, if the lie has no bearing on the truth, then there's no traction for answering it. (Hey, Gary: Have you stopped beating your wife, yet?)

Sometimes I don't like being right

Spirit of Ontario at full cruiseThe Spirit of Ontario is a beautiful ship, in her own way. Sure, she looks a bit like a building, but she's fast and well built. Sure, I never thought there was really a business plan in a fast ferry between Rochester, NY, and Toronto. (Note that there's no need for me to say where Toronto is. Case made.)

But it's still depressing to hear that "Canadian American Transportation Systems" -- one of that class of risk-shielding partnership entities that ensure that the brain-farters get off and their fellow-travellers eat dirt -- has pulled the plug on the "Breeze" starting tomorrow, September 8, 2004. Just a few months after starting.

I made a bet with somebody a few years back. I told him that if the ferry was still in operation 18 months after it started, I'd take him out for a night on the town, my treat. I'm not in touch with him anymore, but I wouldn't have minded losing that bet.

So many people here got taken for a ride, from the crew who advocated restoring the Hojack Swing Bridge in Charlotte (at the Port of Rochester), to their fellow-travellers who advocated restoring the old trolly service from Charlotte to High Falls, or installing a comprehensive light rail network into a geographically dispersed metro area of 200,000. Pipe dreams -- millions of dollars of labor and material cost, powered by the fantasy of providing something interesting in Rochester for tourists from Toronto. The future of the ferry was always regional, in Finger Lakes tourism: The many "wine trails", the nigh-alpine scenery from the shore of central NY towns like Geneva and Canandaigua, the outrageous density of festivals from June through September. These were things that made our area at least a bit special. But they weren't Rochester -- they weren't smugtown.

Mayor Johnson is struggling to keep the ship running -- if not on its current twice-daily 7-day schedule, at least once a day, four or five days a week. I think he believes that if it stops, it won't ever get started again, and I believe he'd be right in that. The most sensible course of action for the CATS board right now is to preserve their reputations (of course, at that level of investment, there's no really personal investment stake -- these guys will all come out of this deal having made money) is to sell the boat, sell the concession, somehow -- maybe move it to Buffalo and run it to the Thousand Islands.

What the hell.

Emergence as the Happy Horse-Hockey Du Jour

The Tutor is pessimistic about "emergence":

I think some folks on line are making an Hegelian case, without being Hegelians. They seem to think that the Zeitgeist is smarter than we are, freeing us from personal responsibility. We should all do what we please and emergence or the market, or God, Nature, or evolution will bring order out of choas, netting our errors to a wonderful whole.... I don't believe in emergence as a metaphysical principle. In my 55 years what I have seen emerge is increasingly malignant. What emerges most often in evolution are dead ends, of individuals, communities, species, and soon our planet. If left to itself, the mob will not get any smarter. And what will emerge will be a black ball floating in space.

[Emergence is Volkish Nonsense]

The Tutor finds fuel for his skepticism in the demonstrably poor qualifications of American voters:

Of course, if Converse is correct, and most voters really donâ??t have meaningful political beliefs, even ideological "closeness" is an artifact of survey anxiety, of people's felt need, when they are asked for an opinion, to have one. This absence of "real opinions" is not from lack of brains; it's from lack of interest. "The typical citizen drops down to a lower level of mental performance as soon as he enters the political field," the economic theorist Joseph Schumpeter wrote, in 1942. "He argues and analyzes in a way which he would readily recognize as infantile within the sphere of his real interests. He becomes a primitive again. His thinking is associative and affective." And [political scientist Morris] Fiorina quotes a passage from the political scientist Robert Putnam: "Most men are not political animals. The world of public affairs is not their world. It is alien to them &endash; possibly benevolent, more probably threatening, but nearly always alien. Most men are not interested in politics. Most do not participate in politics."
[LOUIS MENAND, New Yorker, "THE UNPOLITICAL ANIMAL: How political science understands voters"]

What do we do, then? Do we hand over governance to an elite? And who gets to choose who that is? If Menand is right (and though he tries to end on an optimistic note), we already have. Or, at least, we do it all the time, by basing our "heuristics" on elite opinion, by letting party loyalty stand in for assessing policy.

My own 40 years of experience tell me that Menand's "third theory of democratic politics" is more or less correct: People tend to judge who the "right" candidate is to vote for based on heuristics such as whether he knows how to eat a tamale (Gerry Ford didn't, so he couldn't have understood the needs of hispanics), the kind of phrasing that he uses to make points (Bill Clinton and George W. Bush share the repetetive cadences, the repetetive stressing, the repetetive repetition, of the southern protestant church).

So I'd like to be more optimistic than The Tutor, but I'm not. I still believe that The Cluetrain and the idea of emergent techno-democracy are dangerous libertarian techno-fetishist fantasies entertained by people who ought to know better and who should be making much, much more productive use of their time.

On the flipside, of course, the Cluetrain is very very useful to some other people who would like to keep smart folks asking the wrong questions -- or entertaining unachievable pipe dreams. In that sense, perhaps Cluetrain-think is the opiate of the elite.

When They Pay You, They Own You

Lesson for the day: "Free speech" is a governmental concept. It doesn't apply to private enterprise. So you can lawfully say anything [non-threatening] that you want about Dick Cheney or George Bush (well, in theory), but if you start talking about your employer -- hey, man, nice knowing you, we'll send your redacted belongings by UPS Ground. And just make sure you don't say anything that might get our lawyers excited, once you're out the door.

It's an axiom of American Libertarianism that we negotiate (explicitly or implicitly) with employers for the right to use our labor power. (Hell, it's an axiom of Marxism, for that matter.) But what terms have we negotiated? What have we given up?

Joyce Park (a.k.a. "Troutgirl") is a PHP expert, who until 3pm yesterday was a development manager at Friendster. Today, she's a fired dev mgr at Friendster. The reason given was that she had blogged about the company.

Let's be clear: She hadn't revealed any business confidential information, and she hadn't said anything really even very bad about them. The worst thing that I've found so far was a snarky, weary comment about app performance ("hopefully we can now stop being a byword for unacceptably poky site performance"). But she's out the door, with her blogging activity given as the stated reason.

Again, let's be clear: She was fired for things she did on her own time, with her own resources. She was fired for voicing an opinion about matters of public record. She was fired for putting into words thoughts that were in her head. And if I may judge, in a fairly judicious way.

What surprises me so far is not the groundswell of peer support (there's a movement among geeks to cancel Friendster accounts in sympathy); what surprises me is how many folks think this is a perfectly appropriate thing for Friendster to do. The prevailing wisdom in some quarters seems to be that this is basically just business ethics 101. Hell, they owned her labor power, right? That must mean they also own the right to dictate what she can and cannot say about them, right? (I'm thinking back to a similar case a few months ago. Typical comment: "It's all so simple, if your employer doesn't tell you to blog, don't. At least don't while mentioning your employer." Simple, indeed...)

But this just sounds less and less "right" and "appropriate" the more I think about it. After all, it's basically a logical progression from that to arguing that any corporate-specific information in her head should be restricted to use by Friendster, only. So that means that they can make a case for owning things she learned while working on that big JSP-to-PHP conversion that Friendster finished a couple of months ago.

In 2001, the Supremes handed down a ruling in Kyllo v. United States [250KB PDF] that found a scan of Mr. Kyllo's home using thermal imaging equipment to be an illegal search. It's the grounds that were interesting: It was found to be an illegal search because the thermal imaging device was not "in common use." If such devices had been "in common use", by the ruling, the "search" would not have been illegal.

In other words, once everyone knows that it's become feasible to search non-invasively, it'll be legal. Just like looking into open windows.

That's analogous to this situation in that, presumably, as soon as it becomes feasible to erase or otherwise control content in someone's brain, there will be corporate masters who regard it as their right to take that action when an employee is "discharged" -- or leaves voluntarily.

Wikipedia: The Latest Threat To American Civilization

It's fashionable in many circles to trash on Internet information resources. And worst is any information resource that's driven by "community." Take the recent story from the Syracuse Post-Standard by would-be technopundit Al Fasoldt.

Wikipedia, [Liverpool High School Librarian Susan Stagnitta] explains, takes the idea of open source one step too far for most of us.

"Anyone can change the content of an article in the Wikipedia, and there is no editorial review of the content. I use this Web site as a learning experience for my students. Many of them have used it in the past for research and were very surprised when we investigated the authority of the site."

"I was amazed at how little I knew about Wikipedia," Fasoldt continues. I'm amazed at how little he still does. For example, he doesn't correct Ms. Stagnitta's fallacious assertion that there's "no editorial review". In fact, Wikipedia articles do, absolutely, receive editorial review. All the time. Twenty-four-by-seven.

That's how Wikipedia works.

The research required to correct this misapprehension wouldn't be difficult: Fasoldt (or Stagnitta) could start by scanning the Wikipedia Community Portal, look at the Wikipedia Village Pump for discussions of policy questions, or look at their Policies and guidelines entry. If he wanted to be really adventurous, and really interested in testing how reliable Wikipedia is, he could experiment by trying to hack the system and drive an inaccurate edit; if he did that, he'd discover that there is, in face, editorial review -- it's just not performed by an anointed editor, but rather by people who might have some kind of actual knowledge on the subject. (Mike at Techdirt.com suggested such an experiment, and was rebuffed.)

But there's more at play here than sloppy research. In correspondence with Mike at Techdirt.com, Fasoldt used terms like "repugnant" and "outrageous" -- terms which are clearly driven by fear or anger (the latter in any case usually being driven by fear). So I have to sit here and ask myself: What is it about Wikipedia that inspires such fear and rage? And I think I know what it is. It's the very idea that information not sanctioned by some kind of official authority could be taken as reliable.

Because, after all, if information is "free", then information gate-keepers have empty rice-bowls.

Let's look for a moment at who's complaining: A high school librarian (well, we assume she's a librarian, Fasoldt's piece actually doesn't identify her as such), and a would-be pundit with a penchent for John Stossel-ish ranting. These are both people in eroding professions, most likely looking to avoid challenges from "authorities" who aren't designated as "authoritative" by membership in their guild. Heaven forbid that some student should rely on a Wikipedia article that's the collective work of three or four entomology graduate students in different universities, rather than one from Brittanica that was written by one grad student and then signed by his advisor. Such things will certainly and truly cause the end of civilization as we know it.

This is another one of those false dichotomies that frightened practitioners of marginal professions use as leverage to get their heads screwed still deeper into the sand. Wikipedia is a good thing. It's not a good thing because community-driven content is an inherently good thing (though that last is almost true); it's a good thing because they do it well. That's partly a function of size and critical mass; but it's also partly a function of rigor in management. The rules get enforced, and editorial quality stays generally good, because like most successful "open source" projects, there's really a fairly high degree of central control in the areas that really matter.

It's easy to see why Wikipedia would be very, very threatening to a public school librarian; it's also easy to see why it could suddenly seem very threatening -- or, at least, like a blood-spotted chicken -- to someone who's set himself up to be a mediator for technical information. In the more "elite" echelons of librarianship and technical journalism (visit the reference desk at a good-sized college or public library for examples of the former, or read Dan Gillmour or ... for examples of the latter), the practitioners for the most part have a deep understanding that they are not gate-keepers, but guides. In the margins, that sense seems to get lost. Whether that's primarily due to the general noise of trying to make a living, or due to more petty fear of the future, is hard to tell -- and in any case, they're probably not so often mutually exclusive.

All that said, and as a final word, the free and open creation and maintenace of public information resources by the public that uses them is an inherently good thing, provided the quality of the information remains high. In that sense, Wikipedia could and probably should be a poster child for the proper and proportional application of [American] Libertarian and Anarchist ideas. It's an example of the "direct action" of many participants aggregating into an objectively good result.

One final point: Curiously enough, the quality of information never actually seems to be at issue for Stagnitta and Fasoldt. You'd think that if they're so concerned about reliability of the information, they'd want to actually test the information. But they seem more focused on explaining why it couldn't possibly be reliable, versus testing whether it actually is. Well, I guess I can't expect them to be scientists.

ADDENDUM: I got some of the links wrong, herein. The original story lead was via BoingBoing, and that's where the terms "repugnant", "dangerous", and "outrageous" appeared.

".... And, Oh, Don't Worry -- We'll Just Blame It On You!"

And just in case anyone had any doubt that the media really is owned by rich white Republican lysenkoists, the RNC has apparently admitted that it will be actively seeking to pin blame [NYT, reg req'd] on the Democrats for anything that goes wrong next week at their convention, in NYC. Well, at least they're up front about being deceitful scumbags, unlike those impish Freepers.

"When We Do It, It's Funny; When You Do It, It's Pathetic"

Just in case there remained any doubt that the GOP was the party of choice for bullies, a cadre of helpful Freepers have been volunteering their homes as crash-pads for people coming to NYC to protest the Republican National Convention. Well, not their homes, exactly. Well, not anyone's homes, exactly. As a matter of fact, they're fictional homes:

.... The people were very friendly, giving me wonderful directions to their apartment and telling me that I could crash there until I leave on the 5th. Hmm. That's generous. Too generous, actually.

....

But then, I had that nagging feeling. Wouldn't it suck to fly all the way there and find out that we were being duped? I figured I could Google their email address and see what was up. Well, there was nothing except the aforementioned cc.org housing listing. So I removed the "@hotmail.com" from the email address and Googled the handle instead. Surely if they were not on the level they would be smart enough to not use a handle that would lead to incriminating evidence. Well, I forgot that Republicans in general and Freepers specifically are a bunch of heartless, brainless fucking assholes.

Oh, golly, that's hilarious. Gosh, those Freepers sure do have a great sense of humor -- making sure those "moonbats" end up sleeping on the street in New York City during the five days of the year that the NYPD is most likely to be hauling in every "vagrant" they find on the street; wouldn't that just serve those liberal pussies right? It's almost as funny as when they used to call Chelsea Clinton the "dog faced girl."

The Swift Boat Telephone Game

The Swift boats controversy [free reg req'd] seems to me to be a great illustration of the "Telephone Game" in action.

I remember one time in fifth grade, there was a rumor. What it was, or who it was about, aren't important; what matters is that it started small, and got embellished along the way, and in the course of it I got introduced to the game of "Telephone" and the rules of human communication that it illustrates. I've been fascinated by them ever since.

You know the game, even if you've never heard of it: You start at one end of the line with a whispered but inane truth ("Jeanne couldn't find her favorite socks this morning") and end up at the other with something dramatically different ("Jeanne's ex-boyfriend broke into her house last night while she was out with her new boyfriend, and cut up all her clothes with a 12-inch Bowie knife, then he stabbed the knife into her bed right where her heart would be").

In the parlor-game version, the rumor gets passed person to person, sometimes around a circle -- embellished a little at each retelling, to be sure, but each person knows that what they're saying is at some level fabricated. In a real world version, though, people don't know they're playing a game: They take what they hear as true. So even if tellers know that what they've said is false, they assume that what they hear is true.

The SwiftVets appear to me, basically, to be playing a sophisticated and un-acknowledged game of Telephone. Each of them knows (or at least, at one time, knew) that they're editing events to suit their anger. But at the same time, each is "honor-bound" to take each of their shipmates at his word.
(Well, not each of them. They discount the word of the traitor, John Kerry, on principle; and if he's lying, so must be anyone who agrees with him.)

In this manner, they're able to get a nice little round-robin going. As each sailor hears the next's embellishments -- which, remember, they are honor bound to take as true -- they're encouraged to add them to their own. Those in turn are taken as true by the next person in the vicious circle.

That we're looking at Telephone and not group discovery of truth is supported by the fact that when Swift boat vets who aren't part of the Swift Vets for Truth circle are polled, they don't support the SVFT gospel. They may not support the Kerry-boat story completely, either -- but they do tend to support the general terms of the Navy's version.

What is it about nursing and advertising?

Via American Samizdat, a story about a graphic designer who was fired for heckling President Bush:

"I'm mad less about losing the job -- I'm more mad about the reasons," said Glen Hiller, 35, of Berkeley Springs. "All I did was show up and voice my opinion."

....

The father of two young girls had worked at the design firm for five months, doesn't plan to appeal the firing, and holds no grudge against his boss.

"To some degree I can see her point of view," Hiller said. "Advertising is all about having the perfect tan and driving a cool car. It's all about image."

Hiller said he now plans to pursue work as a registered nurse, a field in which he worked for 10 years before landing the design job.

There must be some strange psychic connection between nursing and advertising. Glen Hiller is at least the fourth person I've heard of who left nursing for advertising and then went back. (I wish him luck; I think he'll probably be happier as an RN. Less stressful -- at least, that's what my advertising friends tell me....)

"I go all over the country, and all I see are supportive crowds," I recently heard The President remark. Small wonder: His vocal critics are fenced off into "protest zones", and the stealth critics weeded out by being forced to sign affidavits that they support the president. Unrestricted events such as the one Hiller got into are relatively rare, and yet we keep hearing whispers of heckling. Even with their best efforts, critics seem to be getting through the cordon. Their voices are quickly drowned out in un-ironic chants of "four more years." (I chanted that at a Reagan rally in the summer of '84, and got dirty looks from the Broome County Republican Faithful. Irony, it seems, has lost its ability to be ironic.)

When Pat Buchanan is a voice of moderation, I fear for the country. I fear for this country in the next four years. This profound schism between "conservative" and "liberal" Americans is Ronald Reagan's unanticipated legacy, brought to fruition by Newt Gingrich. Whoever wins the race, as Shelley points out, will most likely do so in one of the narrowest races in our history. The "losers" in 2000 were patriotic enough to concede, and the "winners" ungracious -- frankly, unpatriotic -- enough to govern as though God were at their collective shoulder. And the consequence is that whoever wins in November will be fiercely, passionately loathed by about 30% of Americans. So fiercely and passionately loathed that the losers will do whatever they think they have to in order to smear the winner. Whoever it is.

Oddly enough, I think we have Pat Buchanan to blame for this, at least partially. He's a fierce competitor, and has said a lot of things in anger and taken a lot of absolutist positions, and by that example has made it easier for others who followed to get away with the same. His successors, alas, have not had his intellectual honesty (or, for that matter, his intellectual capacity).

The Never-Ending Campaign

At a certain level, campaigning pop/rock/punk/country musicians have an important role to play in defining the cultural territory -- and it's not really an ideological role, or even an economic one -- though it has economic consequences.

Campaigning roots-rocker Steve "John Walker's Blues" Earle has still another album coming out, and has sat for a Q&A with The Onion's AV Club:

Look, I'd love to sell more records. But you can make an embarrassing amount of money–for a borderline Marxist–selling 100,000 records a year, if you're willing to go out and work. I make what I consider to be an obscene amount of money. I do have to work for it, but I'm totally okay with that. I think everyone's going to have to do it. I think the music business is changing. Artists that don't want to tour and just want to collect royalty checks and stay home are not going to be able to do that anymore. And the more I think about it, the more I think that's the way it should be. I feel like I owe my audience something. They feed my kids. And I really like my job, a lot. Thank God, because the reality of the business is that people have to tour now. I always have, so it's not like something I have to get comfortable with. But that's the way the business is going. There's no way that file-sharing and downloading aren't going to affect the bottom line. But I really believe that if I make records that are indispensable to my audience, they'll go out and spend money to buy them, even if they've already downloaded them. If they can afford it. If they can't, I'd rather they be able to download it than not get it at all.

[Steve Earle in The Onion AV Club] [Steve Earle on Django]

The "reality of the business" at Steve Earle's level was always that you had to tour; and an awful lot of people felt just like Earle, that that was just how it should be. Until quite recently, BB King played something like 300 dates a year, long after he had to to make ends meet. Duke Ellington quit only when his doctors told him he had to, and then promptly wasted away.

The world is full of musicians like Steve Earle. I went to see New Model Army a few months back, surprised at the time to see that they were still around. Not only still around, I learned, but going as strong as ever, without having really ever stopped. And while older and wiser, perhaps, still as outraged as ever on behalf of the downtrodden -- and perhaps more so, in the wake of our countries' joint invasion of Iraq.

If you go to the Bug Jar (where I saw NMA) any Tuesday, Thursday or Friday night, you'll see live music played by people who will never be famous. Sometimes they're doing it because they do expect to be famous; sometimes (and I suspect this is more often true than these folks like to admit to themselves), they're just doing it because, damnit, they like doing it. Expectations of success are more of a rationalization than a real dream; the real dream is to someday be remembered and found "left of the dial." There are hundreds, if not thousands, of venues like the Jar, all across North America; hell, all across the western world. And there's been something analogous to them as far back as the middle ages. There's something primal and human ("honest" is too hackneyed a way to put it) about folks who do this kind of thing because they love it -- whether they love the music or the life or can't decide which, probably really doesn't matter.

There's been a lot of maundering about how digital recording technology and the mass-personalization capabilities of the Internet age will make it feasible for anyone to 'become a star' -- well, at least, to make their own records. And that's more or less true; it's also true that if everyone is making music on a large scale, and enough regular folks want to start listening to that music instead of the processed mainstream music made by those folks who "just want to collect royalty checks and stay home", it will break the power of the big labels. Which is, of course, the real reason that they're scared of "file sharing" and fair-use.

And it's also true that the majority of record-buying Americans alive today prefer to wash down their Packaged Music Product with a stiff draught of Marketing. I won't say that's OK, but it's a fact of life. I don't regard it as a necessary truth, but I do believe it's pretty much inextricable from our Capitalist culture as we know it.

The likely truth of the matter is that things will continue more or less as they always have, or at least in an analogous way. Troubadors will continue to travel and play in tiny venues, some of them pretty nasty. [FWIW, the current proprietors of the Bug Jar have recently renovated -- though they've kept their famous ceiling...] Recent history (American Idol, Britney Spears, Jessica Simpson, etc.) might seem to imply a resurgence of programmed "corporate pop" (to paraphrase Dave Rawson); but "indy" labels have risen rapidly at the same time to fill a middle tier. What remains to be seen is whether the bottom-end rennaissance will occur as predicted, or whether such interesting projects like GarageBand.com will struggle in the same obscurity as the bulk of the bands they encourage, until they run out of money or get co-opted from above.

We shall see. The only thing I feel certain of is that wherever I go in North America, I'll probably be able to find a place to see someone I've never heard of plaing music more or less just because they want to. That may be a small consolation, but it's an important one.

Summer harvest

I've been feeling prickly lately and that is not at all my usual disposition. Maybe it's partly an overload of media exposure creating a sunburned psyche. I like people. I really do. And, I'm unquestionably appreciative of the ups and downs of being human. But, truly, we're bombarded daily with gross examples of human selfishness and brutality. I need to seek affirmation of human compassion. I really dislike moods bordering on misanthropy.


Discussions centering on morality/ethics have flourished, and that theme has pervaded Antikoan of late. What's moral and what's amoral? Would that depend on definitions of a specific, functional system of morality,... morality of a given "herd," as Nietzsche was wont to say? Systems of morality abound, and what constitutes morality might be debated. Do any of our children's history books portray Columbus or the Puritans or Neocons as sociopaths?


Regardless of a system, how basic are human empathy, compassion, respect, and yet how incredibly warped are our human sensibilities that we continue to fail to achieve the needed introspection required to stop projecting our dark side on others. Or is empathy not basic? Is humanity doomed to be essentially nothing but a flock of wrangling ingrates?


I am determined to not become immersed in cynicism. Yes, the Puritans of Massachusetts Bay murdered native Americans, but descendants of the Pilgrims (the "Separatists") of Plymouth make a point of describing their Pilgrim ancestors' friendly relations with native peoples, among other attributes, in contrast to the Puritans' ill treatment of the indigenous people.


Can we then reach back and grasp a seed of decency from some of our American forerunners, one that can be replanted and nourished, even though plagues of bigotry and selfishness have attempted to weaken the germ of tolerance? I don't believe in an earthly utopia; however, I choose to don my protective garment of light and water the kernel of hope. And I'll happily break my nails weeding the garden.

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The Moral: Morality is for Chumps

What happens to a whistleblower? Usually, nothing good. Case in point: Joe Darby has to be hidden by the Army to protect him from the people in his own community who regard him as a traitor. (Remember Joe Darby? He's the guy who was the first to blow the whistle on the big S&M party that was Abu Ghraib Prison.)

His story is far from unique. (All three courtesy TedW.) The whistleblower who is honored for his act is by far the exception.

Of course, there are different species of "whistleblower." Matt Drudge and Ana Marie Cox get praised for blowing the whistle. People who get caught and then rat out their (former) compatriots usually end up getting cast as "shrewd" or "smart" (unless they end up getting cast as "dead"). What's the operative difference between these folks and Joe Darby?

There is a simple answer: Someone powerful is usually served, or someone's prurient interest piqued, by what Wonkette and Drudge "expose". And by contrast with a rube like Joe Darby, who stuck his neck out for a bunch of Iraqis, the rat is playing it smart. At least, until he gets caught by his compadres. Then, well, that's cool, 'cuz you gotta defend your honor, yeh?

We are developing interesting ideas about honor here in America. On the one hand, we have such high-minded expressions of honor's subtle difficulties as the denoument of Aaron Sorkin's and Rob Reiner's A Few Good Men. If you ask most people how that story ends, they'll say, "Tom Cruise wins the case." But what actually happens is that his two clients -- GiTMO Marines -- are found innocent of murder, but guilty of "Conduct Unbecoming", and discharged dishonorably. ("We were supposed to fight for the people who couldn't fight for themselves," Lance Corporal Dawson explains. "We were supposed to fight for Willie.") But Sorkin's nuanced take -- which would allow us to say that both the military hierarchy and the offending soldiers were wrong -- doesn't appeal to the American sensibility.

On the other hand, we have a kind of schizophrenic ideal of omertà, where loyalty to the group -- the band, the herd, the organization -- is a harshly judged criterion, and yet the freedom to act on one's own whims is taken as a God-given right. The crux of the dichotomy lies in our worship of strength, and our near-pathological obsession with not playing the patsy. (This, too, is tied to our "exceptionalist" ideals.) These lead us to both idealize and demonize police, to loathe and admire mobsters. I'm not talking about obvious class or race divisions, here; those certainly exist -- I'm talking rather about the admiration and fear we each find within ourselves if we look for it. Maybe this isn't a purely American thing, but we certainly do commodify it well. The identification is strongest when it's seen from it's lowest level vantage point, as with the street-level thugs in Scorsese's Goodfellas, or the in-the-shit grunts like "Hoot" Hooten in Black Hawk Down: "They won't understand why we do it. They won't understand that it's about the men next to you, and that's it. That's all it is."

And therein lies the problem: The whistleblower is seen as a traitor because s/he violates the sanctity of the team. The worse things are -- the more depraved the situation, the more under threat the "team" members feel -- the more the whistleblower will be seen as a squealer, not a hero.

And it's naive, of course, to ever expect that the actual organization -- the real, formal organizational entity, the corporation, the battallion command, the federal or state agency, the hospital management -- would treat a whistleblower with respect. This is a person who has pointed out the emperor's nakedness, and embarrassed the management. And that will never do.

And that, ultimately, is Joe Darby's great crime: He pulled the loose thread that unravelled the whole garment. And as much as the Pentagon has wanted this to be "... about getting up in the middle of the night and going somewhere you weren't supposed to go, then beating and raping people there," it was also about several people at fairly high level authorizing civilian contractors to go and recruit people to do just that. As has been said again and again and as has been lost again and again, that Charles Graner and his droogies got a little more excited and indiscreet than the civilian interrogation contractors planned does not absolve the Pentagon of guilt for a stupid, profoundly amoral plan.

For whatever small thing it's worth, the Army seems to be taking care of Joe Darby. For now. For now, he's useful to them, in their cat and mouse game with their amoral civilian overlords, so for now he gets their protection. But make no mistake, you will find few in the regular Army hierarchy who have any respect for him. After all, he did the unforgiveable: He obeyed his own conscience over his orders. Not that he actually had any orders. Which is probably how the Army, at least, will come to understand this issue: What Joe Darby and Charles Graner shared was the experience of living in the absence of discipline and leadership. Graner found in that license for perversion; his droogies found in that license to sign over their conscience at his urging. Joe Darby, apparently, found his own conscience staring back at him. Does anyone really have any doubt which of the two s/he'd rather be stuck in shit with?

And if the Army draws that as its conclusion, they'll be right, as far as they go. Real leadership, with an actual, accountable command -- instead of the fake, subverted command that General Karpinski apparently had -- might well have prevented the worst and most embarrassing of the excesses of Abu Ghraib (or at least limited them to the ranks of civilian contractors). But an actual moral compass, that pointed to actual humanity, was what was needed, and that was needed at levels much higher than the military command in the field.

One final thought: I find it interesting that the lead sadist in the little drama was, in civilian life, a corrections officer with a documented record of abusing his power. And that the man who took steps to stop it was a diesel mechanic, assigned to corrections work by the Army. Perhaps the moral there is "Never trust anyone who volunteers to be a prison guard."

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Wealth Bondage Pr0n Starz

It seems to me that pornography and its analogues are becoming more and more mainstream. I'm not alone: The Tutor has noticed the same thing:

.... You would find News Anchors interviewing a whore at 9:15 pm about oral sex and the President's Chief of Staff on Iraqui Freedom at 9:22 pm, with no change in tone, that of admiration. In such a society, CEOs are honored for "growth," without regard to negative social impact; attorneys are honored for winning cases for the guilty; PR firms boast to clients of successful hoaxes; Intellectuals are raised like little girls in a Brothel that they might work for Wealth in a Think Tank. We have praised what we should despise and dishonored all that we should hold holy. The result is what you see. Brands where God should be. Whores endorsing Whores for office, as the Pimp counts the money and calls the show a Success.

So who am I to object? .... All over American parents would spank sense into their kids. Citizens would spank their elected representatives. The CEOs would run from the lash. Rich and Famous Clients would come to me. ... A Resurrection in the Spirit; when it comes those who have sold piety for votes, or for celebrity, will not find the holy ghost to be as easily manipulated as they take the American people to be. Truth is a wind, not a shape. And it rising uncontrollably in defiance of all mortal shapes imposed upon it.

Alas, I fear the Tutor gives too much credit. He assumes a sense of guilt, where I suspect there is no sense of guilt at all. These are not Carnegie, Rockefeller or Theodore Roosevelt, possessed by the spectre of divine approval: These are Nietzschean Calvinists, convinced that their prosperity proves their purity, and willing to define new Master Moralities on the fly to keep the unwashed masses confused.

Conservatism as Monarchism

Liberals in the United States have been losing political debates to conservatives for a quarter century. In order to start winning again, liberals must answer two simple questions: what is conservatism, and what is wrong with it? As it happens, the answers to these questions are also simple:

Q: What is conservatism?

A: Conservatism is the domination of society by an aristocracy.


Q: What is wrong with conservatism?

A: Conservatism is incompatible with democracy, prosperity, and civilization in general. It is a destructive system of inequality and prejudice that is founded on deception and has no place in the modern world.

[Philip E. Agre, "What Is Conservatism and What Is Wrong with It?"]

Talk about throwing down the gauntlet.

Funny thing is, once you think the proposition through, it's not so extreme: Conservatism, by definition, aims to preserve the status quo. The status quo by its own nature favors moneyed interests. And all else being equal, money will flow like blood through generations, conveying a powerful advantage on the descendants of the wealthy. It worked well for the Medici, or more recently for the Rockefellers and Kennedeys.

Agre continues: "From the pharaohs of ancient Egypt to the self-regarding thugs of ancient Rome to the glorified warlords of medieval and absolutist Europe, in nearly every urbanized society throughout human history, there have been people who have tried to constitute themselves as an aristocracy. These people and their allies are the conservatives."

Of course, most conservatives don't have any such conscious agenda. They don't think this is how it works.

Well, most of them don't. That disingenuous carpetbagger Alan Keyes seems to be an exception. After all, what other real argument could there be for abolishing the direct election of US Senators? Well, according to Keyes:

"The balance is utterly destroyed when the senators are directly elected because the state government as such no longer plays any role in the deliberations at the federal level," Keyes said at a taping of WBBM Newsradio's "At Issue" program.

He said it was one of the reasons "there has been a steady deleterious erosion of the sovereign role of the states."

So it's a "states' rights" issue, I guess -- "Stop the electoral abuse of California citizens by Wyoming!!!" Or, for that matter, stop the annoying tendency of American voters to cast their local or federal votes outside of party lines.

Because, let's face it, that's what this is all about: Getting those disloyal voters back in line with their party, damnit. Keyes should just bite the bullet and advocate a shift to parliamentary government. That's what he's describing, after all: Solidification of the party system by letting the ruling parties send their Senators to Washington. Heaven forbid the Senator should be from a different party than the legislative majority leaders...

Put another way (though Keyes must at all costs avoid putting it this way): Individual voters are not qualified to make decisions such as senatorial representation. We're too stupid. Or something. Maybe we don't have enough money.

Knee-Jerk Libertine

The Washington Post is adding another minute or two to "Washintonienne" Jess Cutler's Warhol Clock:

.... Jessica and her friend slid onto stools in the cool dimness of Bullfeathers, a popular Capitol Hill watering hole. Jessica ordered a Southern Comfort. It was the middle of the afternoon on May 18.

"What happened to you today?" the bartender asked.

"I got fired. I lost my boyfriend and my job, and it's my birthday," Jessica remembers telling him.

["Blog Interrupted", Washington Post]

Of course, this is all so three-months-ago, now, but it's rearing its ugly head again, and I'm tempted to wonder why; but here it is, so I'll put into bits some of what I thought at the time, aged by a couple of months to bring a little nuance to the brew. Sit back and listen to a story, then, children, all about a girl who thought she was invisible. Or maybe she just didn't think at all. The details are sordid, and while some of the details are a matter of dispute, the core sounds disturbingly familiar: A young woman takes a quasi-glamorous job in a Senate office that doesn't pay enough to support her in the style to which hip modern young middle-class people believe they should be accustomed. She discovers that she can use sex to improve her position, often through direct cash payments. One day, she begins to blog; her day to day life has the sordid cachet that seems to connote credibility among the denizens of the Fox Generation. And this time, unlike the Plain Layne soap opera, people can actually corroborate the story.

One day, again, she counts her lovers and they total six. "There are seven days in the week," she says in her own defense. The "boyfriend" she "loses" is only one of six men she is sleeping with on an ongoing basis. Two of the others pay her regularly. One of those is a married political appointee, who is only interested in anal sex.

I have some empathy for poor little Jessica, but little sympathy. She bragged about her job and her connections and talked up her exploits as though they were something she was proud of -- though reading between the lines, she seemed to me to be running on bravado as much as anything. After all, bravado -- the willingness to take that dare, even if it's from yourself -- leads an awful lot of people into trouble who are otherwise perfectly "nice". I see her as buying into a set of ideas about what she ought to be like, and how she ought to use her sexuality -- market-based ideas, really. She had an "asset" to sell, and she "sold" it, and she's selling it still, looking for ways to drag out her 15 long enough to close the book deal. All stuff, by the way, that I'm quite sure all her friends are eager to tell her are "smart" things to do.

But even if it's all bravado, all behavior to impress her herd-mates, she still had to choose to live that way. It probably wasn't one big choice. It would have been the result of a bunch of little choices, like making up an imaginary boyfriend to impress the other girls in school. And it's interesting to note that the style of her presentation is much like that men use to tell their own sexual lies. (And while the fake-boyfriend story isn't substantiated, a pattern of other lies-to-impress has been.) It's not that I regard it as scandalous when women adopt male sexual behaviors; in fact, I rather think it's kind of pathetic. After all, what does identifying with the oppressor ever really get you except self-repression?

I also lack sympathy for the Conservative backlash. It's unexamined; it lacks credibility. After all, this "girls gone wild" culture is pushed most assiduously in the broadcast realm by "Conservative" stalwarts like Fox Broadcasting and Murdoch's News Corp. That tells me that there's more than a simple "conservative" v. "liberal" opposition going on here. It seems clear that in a culture driven by consumption, business prospers as we become more neurotic, and the simplest way to drive that is to increase the degree of sexual stimulation at the same time that you increse the pressure to conform to conservative sexual moral strictures. This is nothing new, and it's not driven by any genuine philosophy of enlightenment: It's as old as advertising, and it's driven by the desire to make profit.

So both the Conservatives and the Libertines are fellow-travellers in this, as far as I'm concerned.

Hideous hoax

An aspiring politician and video game designer who faked his own beheading by Iraqi militants set off a short-lived media frenzy Saturday after media around the world began showing his homemade video of the gruesome hoax. ["S.F. Man Says Beheading Video Is a Hoax," The Associated Press, August 7, 2004)]

Apparently Benjamin Vanderford wanted to make a statement on how easily this type of video can be faked. He really thought that kind of statement needed to be made? Humans have always been gullible.


The fact is that people are actually being beheaded. I wonder at his lack of empathy. Vanderford has offered no apologies.


Consider a famous hoax, The War of the Worlds (radio hoax):

The drama has been rewritten to apply to other locations and rebroadcast, with similar results. In 1944, a broadcast in Santiago, Chile resulted in panic, including the mobilization of troops by the governor. In 1949, in Quito, Ecuador, a broadcast panicked tens of thousands. Listeners who were enraged at the deception set fire to the radio station, killing fifteen people.

Yes, people were enraged. And Vanderford's "statement" was about real people, not Martians. Maybe he is spending too much time in his virtual world as a video game designer. If I were he, I'd be watching my unvirtual butt.

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