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Radical self-interest faiths (Libertarianism, Objectivism) -- contrast anarchism.

Bruce Fein: Snobby Conservative Elitists Like Me Are The Only True Judges Of Exceptionality

Bruce Fein is getting his ducks in order to say "I-told-you-so":

None of the presidential or vice presidential candidates would have been worthy of the constitutional convention of 1787 or the Federalist Papers, the high-water mark of political erudition and profundity in more than a thousand years. Among other things, they all subscribe to the delusions that the government can outfox the efficiencies of free markets; that the United States can be made safer and freer by sacrificing the lives and limbs of tens of thousands of American soldiers abroad and squandering hundreds of billions of dollars in quixotic adventures to transform incorrigibly tribal or feudal societies into friendly secular democracies; and, that international terrorism justifies a permanent global war crowning the president with perpetual war powers, including the authority to detain American citizens as "enemy combatants" for life without accusation or charge; to spy on Americans without warrants in contravention of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act; and, to employ waterboarding against detainees with impunity.

Translation #1: "Those Founding Father guys were, like, total gods, dude. Like, I read that their shit didn't even smell bad!"

Alternate Translation: "Don't blame me -- I voted for Kodos!"

Anyway, those are all strong statements Fein's making. Mostly false, and obviously so, and where not false, off the point:

  • The people who were there at the constitutional Convention of 1787 weren't "worthy" of it; and in any case, would certainly not be "worthy" to face the challenges we face now. We face our challenges with what we have, not with what we wish we had. (Don Rumsfeld got that much right.)
  • The Free Market is not a god, and it's not a law of nature, Fein and the Marketistas contentions to the contrary notwithstanding. We make choices about how our society is to be structured, and right now, the dominant choices are favoring Marketism. That was not always the case and there is no reason to suppose it will always continue to be in the future.
  • At least Obama, and arguably also Biden, have been quite clear in their belief that sacrificing the lives and limbs of Americans overseas does not make us safer, and if Fein were being honest he'd admit that he knows that.
  • Similarly, it's not at all clear that Obama and Biden support the continuation of Presidential war powers. But I'll just argue that Fein is too strong on this point, since neither Obama nor Biden has explicitly said they'll roll them back.
  • Both Obama and Biden have, though, been clear that the FISA must be honored by the next President, and ought to be honored by the current one.
  • Finally, Obama for his part has been quite clear (and I actually believe McCain would probably backtrack to his older, more ethically-grounded position on this once he was in office) that torture is simply not acceptable.

Moreover, this is all stuff that Fein should know if he's been paying attention, and if he's not been paying attention, there's absolutely no reason anybody should listen to his opinon on anything of consequence. So, what's the point of this exercise in late-term sour grapes?

It has to be so that Fein claim blamelessness and moral high-ground. He's pretending this is really about "mediocrity", it's really about America not turning to its elites anymore. There may actually be some wisdom in such a view -- but Fein's got no ground to stand on, since he doesn't actually know what the real capabilities of the candidates actually are. He hasn't allowed himself to see them. Other discerning people have looked at Obama, for example, and seen a confident, capable politician -- as qualified to lead America as, say, John Adams or Abraham Lincoln at the time of their ascension. What had they "run"? What could we look at in their records to say that they had the "experience" required?

The answers are all questions of either the good fortunate to participate in momentous decisions (in Adams' case), or in a judgement of character based on reputation and rhetoric (in the case of Lincoln). Neither had "executive experience" of any kind prior to assuming office. But in Fein's worldview, they're unassailable giants. What he's blind to is the fact that their stature is a matter of hindsight (and what I like about these examples is that either one would readily admit as much -- well, maybe not Adams, since his stature is really only now being so elevated). 

What this is really all about is that Fein's not getting to specify who's "exceptional." (Which is a damn good thing, since he's clearly got some problems with seeing what's actually going on in the world.) What this is really all about is that Fein's opinion isn't coinciding with the direction the electorate wants to go.

What's really going on is that there are these kids playing on (what Fein thinks is) his lawn, and he wants them to pull up their pants and show him some deference, dammit.

Which they might be willing do, if it wasn't clear that he isn't interested in actually listening to anyone else's opinions.

Before Bruce Fein expects anyone to take him seriously as a credible arbiter of who's exceptional and who's not, he should first demonstrate that we ought to listen to him (by showing he's been paying attention), and that he's got some  awareness of actual history (by recognizing that people were often as small, petty and unprepared in the past as they are now). Until then, he's just a snobby, snooty conservative elitist.

The Nordlinger Effect

Those wacky NRO guys -- Jay Nordlinger has spent a weekend in Vermont, and now he Understands The Noble Working Man:

.... here’s how I understand it: Modestly off people — “real Vermonters,” as some people say — are voting for McCain and Palin. Comfortably off people, such as those who own ski chalets, are voting for Obama and Biden. And the following has been frequently noted about the city of my residence, New York: The rich are voting Democratic. And those who work for them — driving cars, cleaning rooms, and so on — are voting Republican.

(I guess we know what "the math" is, now.)

Commenter Landon at Matthew Yglesias's blog describes this as the Nordlinger Effect:

The Nordlinger Effect is when non-rich people respond they’re voting like the rich jerk asking them who they’re voting for just so he’ll shut up and leave them alone.

For his part, Yglesias himself has pointed (unnecessarily) to the work of Andrew Gelman to demonstrate that rich folks in poor states (like Vermont) do in fact tend to vote for Republicans, while poor folks in poor states (like Vermont) do in fact tend to vote Democratic. Others in Yglesias's comment thread take the trouble to note (among other things) that you're not a real Vermonter unless you're born there (at least), all the ski chalets are owned by "flatlanders" from Connecticut, Massachusetts and NY (who won't be voting in Vermont, anyway), and that all the actual data demonstrates amply that "Vermonters of modest means" will be voting overwhelmingly for Obama. (As for housekeeping staff voting Republican: If he believes that, I've got this bridge I'd love to sell him...)

And how the hell Jay Nordlinger can use the phrase "of modest means" without blushing, I don't know. Maybe it's an internal manifestation of the Nordlinger Effect: Jay telling Jay what Jay wants to hear, so his brain will leave him alone.

, nordlinger effect

"But I might wake up king someday, and if I do...."

Deep in the middle of a surreal attempt at social analysis that reads more like a bad acid-trip, Mark Levin at the NRO stumbles upon one true thing: "Obama's appeal to the middle class is an appeal to the "the proletariat," as an infamous philosopher once described it...."

Congratulations, Mr. Levin: You've defined Populism. To paraphrase Aaron Sorkin's great fake-president, the problem with an America where anyone can become rich is that everyone thinks they will, and makes their electoral choices accordingly. Unfortunately, that doesn't mean making a workable plan to become rich, or even necessarily working especially hard: It most typically means a lot of day-dreaming, lotto-buying, and planning to make sure that THE GOVERNMENT doesn't get a chance to take away any of your wondrous, hypothetical, chance-gotten gains.

Put another way: We act in the interest of the person we fantasize about becoming, instead of the person we actually are.

Of course there are a lot of people who work hard for what they get. But it's more or less never been true that wealth or status has a direct relationship with how hard you work -- or, for that matter, how smart you are. In fact, even some conservatives take great pains to make it clear just how much of it is down to the opportunities you have.

Cleverness, though -- now that's very important. You have to know how to work the angles, to work people. You have to have social intelligence, at a minimum, but that's not usually enough. No, to really become wealthy or important, you most often have to have a willingness to hurt other people to get what you want.

Incompetence Abets Malice In Alaska

Napoleon famously remarked that it was best not to attribute to malice that which could be explained by stupidity. But sometimes one gets a little help from the other.

AP asked for documents using Alaska's freedom of information laws. The state informed them that the tab will be over $15 million. The State of Alaska is getting a lot of these requests and its IT staff has been "overwhelmed" by them. Superficially, the problem seems to be that they don't know what the hell they're doing:

How did the cost reach $15 million? Let's look at a typical request. When the Associated Press asked for all state e-mails sent to the governor's husband, Todd Palin, her office said it would take up to six hours of a programmer's time to assemble the e-mail of just a single state employee, then another two hours for "security" checks, and finally five hours to search the e-mail for whatever word or topic the requestor is seeking. At $73.87 an hour, that's $960.31 for a single e-mail account. And there are 16,000 full-time state employees. The cost quoted to the AP: $15,364,960.

.... And this is what they're doing every time someone makes a request. That is, they're apparently not taking any effort to save time or effort by, say, just extracting the mailbox once, or setting up a data warehouse of old emails. But hey, if they can get someone to pay for it every time, isn't it the American way to exploit the situation for gain?

I suppose I should leave it at that, but as someone with a much better than average grasp of IT operations principles, the situation irks the hell out of me. Let's just leave aside for the moment that if this description of activities required is accurate, they've got a hopelessly incompetent IT staff (both at the level of execution and architecture). Implausibly incompetent, in fact. Let's just look at the activities themselves. If we do that, we can see that somebody is scamming somebody somewhere, because there's no way it should take five hours of "programmer" [sic] time to extract a mailbox from an archive. (I can imagine that it might plausibly take an hour or two for the server to execute the extraction, but there's no way that a person should be billable for that entire time unless they've got some really gross problems with employee slacking up there.) (And by the way, "programmer" would just be a job title for that person -- at least, I bloody well hope so. If an actual programmer is required for that task, then in addition to being fired, the system architect should be stripped of any professional IT certifications he/she possesses.)

What the "security" checks are, I don't know, but I suspect that it amounts to auditing the mail spools for the presence of passwords or "secret" server names. In any case, the two hour figure is implausible in two ways. First, if they're audits for specific vulnerabilities, they should be automated, and thus would require at most 10-15 minutes of billable time, not two hours. (If they're not automated, that's a problem, because there's a probability that some steps in these "security" tests are going to be missed.) Second, the security checks would probably be more comprehensive and more difficult than the actual search operations, and take more time -- here, they're estimated at a lower cost. 

Finally, five hours to search for the offending words or phrases is quite absurd. It's true that Exchange and Outlook don't search that quickly (and I'm given to believe that AK is an Exchange shop), but they search much faster than that. And in any case, again, most of that "search" time is going to be time when the operator (who will not be a "programmer", except maybe in job title only) is just sitting at his/her console twiddling thumbs. I.e., the time bloody well should be spent doing something else.

The "five hours to search" figure, actually, though, might be the one slightly realistic figure. Redaction isn't itemized in the total above, but it is mentioned in the article, so one could imagine that the five hours includes redaction time. That said, we know that the state uses an absurdly time- and labor-intensive redaction method. Saying that they're 'not set up for' digital redation, they print hardcopies and redact those, then photocopy the redactions. Now, if you're redacting hardcopy, then yes, you absolutely photocopy, because otherwise it's possible to read the redacted text in many cases. But if you redact digitally by deleting the redacted text and replacing it with, say, the letter 'X', then there's no possibility of reading the redacted text and you haven't had to take the time and effort to to print, magic-marker and photocopy all that hardcopy.

Plus -- and here's the best part -- every PC in the AK state governmenment is "set up" to do this. After all, they all have 'Delete' and 'X' keys.

... In fact, Joe Wurzelbacher is a flat-out shill.

He's a registered Republican, who appears to have voted in the Ohio primary (in which most Republicans apparently stayed home or voted Democratic because McCain was unopposed), and (and this is the best part) he's 'closely related' to Robert Wurzelbacher, son-in-law of Charles Keating, and former VP of Lincoln Savings and Loan parent company American Continental. I'm sure we all remember Charles Keating.

Steve Schmidt is supposed to gone ballistic as soon as he heard the guy's name. So I can actually believe this was not a plant at all.

I'm just dying to hear Joe the Plumber spin about how he really was undecided, and he really wasn't just pretending to be an independent to sucker Obama into pandering to him. Instead of giving him a detailed and honest answer to his question.

So, Joe, I hope you enjoy your 15, because, yes, we do now get to see how good of a tap-dancer you are.

(It's so easy to forget just how damn good Sammy Davis and Gregory Hines were. Joe's got some serious shoes to fill.)

Joe Wurzelbacher is kind of not such an honest guy, it turns out...

Ohio's voter registration deadline has passed Joe "The Plumber" Wurzelbacher by, and he's not actually registered to vote. So you have to wonder how sincere his question was. Fortunately, he's given us something to go on in that regard:

JOE WURZELBACHER: Initially, I started off asking him if he believed in the American Dream and he said yes, he does — and then I proceeded to ask him then why he’s penalizing me for trying to fulfill it. He asked, “what do you mean,” and I explained to him that I’m planning on purchasing this company — it’s not something I’m gonna purchase outright, it’s something I’m going to have to make payments on for years — but essentially I’m going to buy this company, and the profits generated by that could possibly put me in that tax bracket he’s talking about and that bothers me. It’s not like I would be rich; I would still just be a working plumber. I work hard for my money, and the fact that he thinks I make a little too much that he just wants to redistribute it to other people. Some of them might need it, but at the same time, it’s not their discretion to do it — it’s mine.


PM: Now did Obama tell you that you would receive some sort of tax cut?

JW: He talked about suspending capital gains to a certain amount… To be honest with you, I don’t want to say I tuned him out — because as he started, he pretty much regurgitated what he said in his debate, first one, second one, and a lot of his rallies. What he said to me was pretty much word for word what he’s been saying for the last couple months. So when he started down that path, it’s like, ”Okay, I’ve already heard this, Obama, give me something different.”

PM: There was nothing new in his answer?

JW: No, there was nothing new. You know, I didn’t appreciate that, actually.


PM: Do you think your question surprised Obama, caught him off guard at all?

JW: Well that was actually my intent. Most people, you ask them “do you believe in the American Dream?” Nine times out of ten they’ll sit there and go, “Yeah, of course!” That’s where he messed up, because as soon as I asked him that, his answer shows that he doesn’t believe in the American Dream. You know, like the question you asked before — he pretty much contradicted himself. “I don’t want to punish you but — “ Well, you’re going to anyways.

So, Joe, the point of the question was to give yourself a platform for making a statement about your own beliefs, not to inform your choice as a voter by actually finding out what Obama's were -- you already knew that, so when he told you, you tuned it out. Fair enough. We live in a culture where attention-whoring is regarded as not just a valid lifestyle choice, but everyone's god-given duty. (It's one of the ways that Americans tell if they're members of the elect. And like the good neo-Calvinist you seem to be, what's most important to you is that everyone see that you are among that elect.)

But at least pretend to be honest about it, OK?

But hey -- he sounds just like a pundit, so I guess he's doing something right.

ADDENDUM: He might be registered, after all, as a Republican. But there's so much more to this story it deserves a new lead....

Scientology via Cruise

Several years ago I attended a cocktail party for a group I belonged to which was hosted by a couple of nice people with whom I was barely acquainted. As I admired the antique furniture in the living room, a gal I was chatting with casually mentioned that the hosts were in the process of moving. This would be their last party in that house. And, oh, they were planning on auctioning off all their furniture and donating the proceeds to the Church of Scientology (CoS). I almost choked on my canapé.

CoS has come to the fore recently through the antics of Tom Cruise. Of course, I know you already know this unless you have been holed up in a cave or meditating on a mountaintop of late. And usually I wouldnâ??t even broach the subject of such celebrity nonsense except that Tom Cruise has been really annoying, plus heâ??s dragged into his corner a sweet, innocent young thing unawares, or so weâ??re led to believe. And he has so offended Brooke Shields with his Scientology mumbo jumbo, criticizing her for seeking medication and therapy for her postpartum depression, that she felt compelled to defend herself in The New York Times.

Mark Morford irreverently summarizes all the current, creepy Cruise news in his column today at

Morford concludes:

So anyway. Thanks, Tom, for all the decent movies, agroo performances, that mega-intense, frat-boy-on-'roids stare. But please, before you get any weirder, would you maybe consider exiting calmly? Is it too late to ask? If we all buy a copy of Hubbard's silly little "Dianetics" and send it to Brooke Shields, will you go away and leave us alone? Damn. I didn't think so.

And heâ??s right. Going away, leaving people alone, doesnâ??t seem to be elemental to Cruiseâ??s disposition. Many in the general public might consider him a harmless, misguided fool, but CoS that he represents can turn out to be a toxic lure for those ill-equipped when it comes to reliable information about this organization.

For anyone interested, take a gander at one of the informative websites linked by Mark Morford. One especially poignant testimony comes from a former Scientologist who recommends ways to approach a Scientologist you want to help. Itâ??s not easy.


What Is Neo-Calvinism?

In a nutshell: Neo-Calvinism is Smith's and Weber's Iron Cage. Except that instead of holding the Neo-Calvinists, it restrains the lesser beings that would trouble them -- namely, the poor.

More prosaically, "Neo-Calvinism" is the idea that the rich are more morally worthy than the poor. Their wealth does not confer virtue -- rather, it signifies it. It is the most potent and dangerous of several modern Capitalist sects, because it unifies moral righteousness with an ideology of power.

Calvin, along with notable reformation successors like Martin Luther, believed that a person's salvation was predestined: God (being infallible, omnipresent, omniscient, etc.) had determined in His own time that you or I should be saved or damned. Nothing that we do in our lives can affect that; the decision is already made. In pure Calvinism, this doesn't let you off the hook for moral behavior, because moral behavior is said to be an indicator of your fate.

So good people are good not because they do good things, but because God said they were. "Goodness" is merely an indicator.

As is prosperity. Wesley once famously lamented that as Methodists lived good lives (rising early, working hard, practicing thrift and sobriety), they tended to prosper -- which had the unfortunate side effect of causing them to focus on that worldly prosperity.

Neo-calvinism essentially forgets about God, and makes commerce itself the religion. Prosperity is still a signifier of moral worth -- but instead of being a secondary signifier, it's primary. It indicates stronger character, superior "fitness." It's a close kin to Greedism, but it's more powerful because it marshalls concepts like virtue and fairness to its service. It's related to Objectivism -- and I daresay most Objectivists are Neo-Calvinists -- but it permits a spiritual dimension that can be lacking amongst Randians.

Neo-calvinists are everywhere, all around us. Wherever you find someone who cries "It's not fair!" when they notice that the wealthy pay proportionally greater taxes than the poor, you have found a Neo-Calvinist or one of his fellow-travellers.

Most of the people, most of the time is good enough

Or bad enough, depending on your point of view. And it's most fun if you can fool yourself while you're at it. The tutor points out this morning that most Americans are pretty profoundly confused about what's good for them:.

We live in a democracy where most of those on the verge of bankruptcy are more concerned to repeal the Death Tax on estates above $2 mil, than they are with preserving their own home when their credit card debt catches up with them. This is a testimony to the relative power of marketing versus education. Who can blame Congress for making an honest buck off the passing of bills? Meanwhile, the media look more and more like the WB Studio Productions, what in the trade actors call "Industrials."

My point of view is from the bottom. Or down below, at least, if not on the rocks. I made a bunch of money last year; but I've made hardly any this year, and that's much more typical. I'll freely admit, that if I got badly sick, I'd be pretty screwed.

The really fun and interesting thing about all of this oppobrium about deadbeat consumers who are ruining America is that it's the culture of over-consumption that these people exemplify that keeps America going. Responsible consumption would destroy the American way of life faster and more certainly than any market crash. So the forces of Right are really fooling themselves, too, if they actually think that this is at all about helping the economy. Personal bankrupcy is the expansion grid on the American economy.

So clearly, that's not what it's really about. It's about a long-range re-solidification of the American economic class structure. The class structure broke apart in the 20th century, and (excepting the 1920s) especially since 1950. It became possible for working class families to reliably place their children into the middle and upper-middle classes; now, those at the upper end of that spectrum would like to solidify their hold on the higher strata of neo-calvinist blessedness by setting skid-traps to the underclass: Below a certain threshhold, any wrong step can take you all the way back down. And once you're down, those new bankrupcy laws will make damn sure you don't get out.

But this is America. And in America, anything is possible. The longer the odds, the bigger and sweeter seems the dream.

Libertarianism as Inverse Marxism

A thought for the moment:

The most fundamental problem with libertarianism is very simple: freedom, though a good thing, is simply not the only good thing in life. Simple physical security, which even a prisoner can possess, is not freedom, but one cannot live without it. Prosperity is connected to freedom, in that it makes us free to consume, but it is not the same thing, in that one can be rich but as unfree as a Victorian tycoonâ??s wife. A family is in fact one of the least free things imaginable, as the emotional satisfactions of it derive from relations that we are either born into without choice or, once they are chosen, entail obligations that we cannot walk away from with ease or justice. But security, prosperity, and family are in fact the bulk of happiness for most real people and the principal issues that concern governments.
[Robert Locke, "Marxism of the Right", in American Conservative]

It strikes me that many people will find American Conservative to be an unusual venue for this kind of analysis. But this is Pat Buchanan's rag, and it bears his stamp; this is Buchanan Conservatism, speaking loosely -- the "Buchananite" camp (for lack of a better term) has always been something of a herd of cats, by comparison with their more ends-means-challenged fellow-travellers on the Republican Right, like Rove and Norquist. They prize analytical thinking and intellectual independence and integrity, though they're not above swallowing a bit of that independence to take one for the team on occasion.

I've argued in the past that Pat Buchanan is more or less personally responsible for the debased state of popular political discourse in America. But I like to think he'd have exercised more restraint if he knew it was going there. And while my parents will gleefully describe me as a "flaming liberal", I still regard myself as, in many ways, conservative (that's with a small-c); and while I think this analysis is largely spot-on and that American Liberarianism (that's with a big-L) is a bunch of dangerous humbug, I'm still very sympathetic to the libertarian ideals (that's with a small-l) of free choice and freedom from external restraint; still, I cut my political teeth reading William F. Buckley and Will Safire, and sitting in on meetings of the Executive Committee of the Saratoga County Conservative Party, and I did my time as an adolescent follower of the teachings of Ayn Rand. So at the least, I understand Conservatives better than most people I know. They fascinate me. But I digress, as usual.

It's an interesting analysis of Libertarianism, and overall I think it's correct. But Locke goes too far in two areas: He characterizes Libertarianism as having a "dogma that all free choices are equal", and of having "contempt for self-restraint." The first is his own straw-man version of Libertarianism, based on his assertion that when Libertarian views on free choice are taken to their "logical conclusion", they imply "... that a man who chose to spend his life playing tiddlywinks has lived as worthy a life as a Washington or a Churchill." While that might be true that Libertarians ought to hold that view, if they were being logically consistent, it's probably also true that the vast majority of people who call themselves Libertarians don't hold that view. So the correct criticism would be for inconsistency, not for equating all free choices.

On the second point he's simply wrong, as far as I can see, since it appears he's making a simple assertion and not even a conclusion about what Libertarians ought to think. Rather than having contemt for self-restraint, in my experience, most Libertarians assume it. Which, to be fair, can end up having the same effect: Children are not taught such techniques of self-restraint as delayed gratification or imagining the consequences of their actions. (There's that imagination thing, again...)

Perhaps by "contempt", he means "neglect." And it's certainly not a spirit that's restricted to Libertarians; American popular culture -- well, really, all modern consumer culture, as well as our entire world economy -- is really predicated on the statistically "wealthiest" populations exercising as little self-restraint as they can while still retaining their capacity to spend capital.

In closing, here's a thought for the Grover Norquists of the Conservative world:

[Libertarians] often confuse the absence of government impingement upon freedom with freedom as such. But without a sufficiently strong state, individual freedom falls prey to other more powerful individuals. A weak state and a freedom-respecting state are not the same thing, as shown by many a chaotic Third-World tyranny.

To be honest, though, I'm giving Norquist credit I don't believe he deserves. I don't sincerely think he's at all interested in idealized Libertarian freedom, but rather primarily in power for its own sake -- and only secondarily in power as a means to the end of his doctrinary agenda.

Buy Nothing Day

For 24 hours, millions of people around the world do not participate -- in the doomsday economy, the marketing mind-games, and the frantic consumer-binge that's become our culture. We pause. We make a small choice not to shop. We shrink our footprint and gain some calm. Together we say to Exxon, Nike, Coke and the rest: enough is enough. And we help build this movement to rethink our unsustainable course.

â??Buy Nothing Dayâ? has been celebrated for 13 years. Have we seen less consumerism after rethinking "our unsustainable course"? Doubtful.

Frankly, lots of people who shop â??til they drop today are getting a start on holiday shopping. So, maybe we need to go to one likely source: Christmas. There is a Christmas Resistance Movement afoot. Will there ever be a â??Buy Nothing Christmasâ?? Probably not. Weâ??d put more than stores out of business. Think of all those people, products, and services out there that thrive on helping us reduce our holiday stress.

Iâ??ve noticed that this year in fact some people are pushing the holiday celebration even earlier. More holiday lawn decorations have been displayed in advance, some as early as Halloween. And, a local radio station has been playing Christmas music since October. Perhaps the stress of the holidays, counteracted by the euphoria of a world of make-believe, is preferable to the realities of a divided nation and a divisive war.

Personally, I find many, many good things happening around the holidays, the kinds of things that arenâ??t acquisitive. Yet, I could go for a little escapism. No, not at a shopping mall. How about at least imagining myself for a little while somewhere with â??no roads, no phone, no TVâ?....


From the "Just How Stupid Do We Look?" Department: Congressman Istook's Mysterious Amendment

Bill Frist and Tom DeLay have said they didn't know how that pesky rider got into the big spending bill; apparently, Ernest Istook (R-OK) put it there:

Tucked into the massive spending bill Congress debated over the weekend was a provision that read as follows: " ... upon written request of the Chairman of the House or Senate Committee on Appropriations, the ... [IRS] shall allow agents designated by such Chairman access to Internal Revenue Service facilities and any tax returns or return information contained therein."

Stop here for a second: "agents designated by such chairman" means that a designate of the chair of Ways and Means (which means, it could be more or less anybody) could have access to any tax return he wanted to. Anyone's. And there's probably no conceptual limit on the number of "designates" the chairmen could name. Why, they could name their own special squads of moral supercops, to go out and scrutinize tax returns for moral culpability. But I digress....

In other words, the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee could look at your tax returns - or the tax returns of his next opponent for re-election, or those of the next Democratic presidential nominee. This amendment was inserted at the request of Rep. Ernest Istook (R-Okla.), chairman of the House Appropriations Transportation Subcommittee, whose last claim to fame was a failed attempt to slip in a 1997 amendment promoting prayer in all public schools.

The tax return-spying amendment was excised from the omnibus bill as soon as it was spotted. "Honest mistakes were made, but there's no conspiracy here," said Istook.

"Fairness" is irrelevant when God is on your side.

[thanks to American Samizdat]

Where are the Pajama Bloggers, Now?

What's wrong with the picture on the right, below? For starters, it's been faked. The picture is linked directly from a Fox News "Photo Essay" montage of stills from Thursday's debate. Check the URL. Follow the link, as long as it stays live. I've mirrored it locally here. The picture on the left is a similar picture, from AFP, probably taken just a moment earlier or later. Notice anything unusual about the difference in height that shows in the two pictures?

Un-doctored photo from AFP wire
The AFP version of the pose.
Faked photo from Fox News Photo Essay []
The Fox News version of the pose (mirrored here).

I first saw someone pointing to this picture on MeFi. It took me a minute to get it; then I did. I've taken the original illustration and added some visual aids to help make the issue clear. The brazenness of it astonishes me, and I'm wondering why only a few folks have cottoned to this. Hopefully, not only will that number grow, but other organizations will take some time to comb through their archives and compare to other Fox photos. (Of course, if they've been doing it themselves...) So far, this has been linked from KOS (albeit by a MeFi-ite), and just a few other blogs. I think that it's so far out there that most people don't believe they'd actually do it. Why we still fail to believe something like this, I don't know.

Comparison of AFP image and AP image doctored by Fox News
Comparison shot from, with visual aids added; original at

After looking more closely at the pictures, I can see both (roughly) how they did it and what they used as their alignment point. Note the placement of George Bush's right elbow in the two pictures. Note also that the lapel pins align quite nicely. After carefully selecting an image that allows the President's body to be moved upward without affecting the Senator's, they nudged him up until the lapel pins aligned.

This would be a trivial piece of work for your run of the mill Fark photoshopper.

So, here's the question (and yes, this might be a silly question): If the election is supposed to be about issues, why did Fox News bother to alter a photograph to make the president seem taller than he really is?

Another question: Where are those noble pajama bloggers, now?

ADDENDUM: Some wannabe pajama bloggers seem to think this indicates a "Typical libdem perspective on the importance of crime"; and yes, I guess I'd have to agree. The fact that most "libdems" don't take the systematic, relentless attempts by Fox News to abet a consipracy of oligarchs in hijacking the American government more seriously than one admitted mistake by a beleaguered news magazine does represent a major problem of perspective.

ADDENDUM 2004-10-04: I couldn't find it, but someone else did. Here's the original AP photo, and yes, it does appear to have the same characteristics as the Fox photo. But given their history of frat-boy partisanship, I still find the idea that they would systematically warp the presentation of reality to be eminently plausible.

Hobbesian Market Theory

The religions of Free-Marketism and Libertarianism, to the extent that they are espoused by the Bushite regime, are fundamentally informed by what academics call "Neoliberalism", which "... focuses on the establishment of a stable medium of exchange, and the reduction of localized rules, regulations and barriers to commerce, and the privatization of state run enterprises." The theory is that "unnatural" impediments to market function, like "localized rules" and other "trade barriers", minimum wage laws, centralized systems of social welfare, etc., will produce inefficiencies; as markets are made more efficient, capital will seek its level, flowing (in part) outward from the industrialized nations, and trickling down to the lower echelons of society -- and all will benefit.

The doctrines appeal to the Anglo-American obsession with "fairness": On a level playing field, everyone would get what they deserved. In practice, capital tends to accumulate in the hands of elites, and stay there, and neo-liberal regimes result in a war of all against all, enforced by the implicit rules of the new system -- as Pierre Bordieu described in 1998:

Thus the absolute reign of flexibility is established, with employees being hiring on fixed-term contracts or on a temporary basis and repeated corporate restructurings and, within the firm itself, competition among autonomous divisions as well as among teams forced to perform multiple functions. Finally, this competition is extended to individuals themselves, through the individualisation of the wage relationship: establishment of individual performance objectives, individual performance evaluations, permanent evaluation, individual salary increases or granting of bonuses as a function of competence and of individual merit; individualised career paths; strategies of "delegating responsibility" tending to ensure the self-exploitation of staff who, simple wage labourers in relations of strong hierarchical dependence, are at the same time held responsible for their sales, their products, their branch, their store, etc. as though they were independent contractors. This pressure toward "self-control" extends workersâ?? "involvement" according to the techniques of "participative management" considerably beyond management level. All of these are techniques of rational domination that impose over-involvement in work (and not only among management) and work under emergency or high-stress conditions. And they converge to weaken or abolish collective standards or solidarities (3).

In this way, a Darwinian world emerges - it is the struggle of all against all at all levels of the hierarchy, which finds support through everyone clinging to their job and organisation under conditions of insecurity, suffering, and stress. Without a doubt, the practical establishment of this world of struggle would not succeed so completely without the complicity of all of the precarious arrangements that produce insecurity and of the existence of a reserve army of employees rendered docile by these social processes that make their situations precarious, as well as by the permanent threat of unemployment. This reserve army exists at all levels of the hierarchy, even at the higher levels, especially among managers. The ultimate foundation of this entire economic order placed under the sign of freedom is in effect the structural violence of unemployment, of the insecurity of job tenure and the menace of layoff that it implies. The condition of the "harmonious" functioning of the individualist micro-economic model is a mass phenomenon, the existence of a reserve army of the unemployed.

[Pierre Bordieu, "The essence of neoliberalism", Le Monde Diplomatique, December 1998] [Courtesy "Candida Cruikshanks" via The Tutor]

Jack London noticed the same thing a hundred years ago; it can be seen as another way of keeping us asking the wrong questions. If we're busy protecting our assets (or the assets of our loved ones), then we're too busy to see what's really going on.

But if we can choose to live in this un-natural way (and anyone who doesn't see that it's unnatural is ignorant of basic ethology), then we can choose to live in ways that will not leave us as miserable as this way does.

This here Bordieu fella may be some kind of po-mo froggy intellectual, but he sure can talk some sense when he wants to.

More On Grover's World

Another point that deserves to be called out from the AnomalousData piece:

.... We live in Eden Prairie, MN. George W Bush came to our high school and lauded it as a model for all school systems everywhere...presumably due to the fact that it is in a tremendously affluent and conservative suburb, and continues to pump out high-quality graduates despite being severely under-funded.

(... and by that token a model for the post-revolution era when Government has been drowned in the bathtub...but let's continue:)

(I can tell you how they do this in another article. But mostly, it has to do with teachers spending out-of-pocket for classroom supplies, parents donating supplies, a legion of parent volunteers in lieu of staff, and parents spending about as much time and energy teaching their kids at home as they do earning money at work, endless fundraisers, and an endless stream of nickel-and-dime fees that donâ??t seem like much individually, but add up to a lot over time...oh yeah, and deferring essential building maintenance for the past few years.)

Since I'm assuming today that people don't really thing through what they read, I'll spell out the implications of this: If school districts have to fund themselves through parental contributions, then districts populated by wealthy families will have better facilities than those with middle-class families.

(I'm using "middle class" rather than "poor" here to drive home the fact that this is really all about a war by the elite against the bourgeousie. They don't give a crap -- aren't even afraid of -- the poor. It's the middle class that they fear. Marx was right about that much.)

Why do we find it so difficult to understand that Neo-Conservatism is a vicious and anti-democratic strain of elitism?

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.

"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.

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.

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.

The big business of humans

Lynne wrote:

I got off of my lovely sun doused plastic slab [...] to do a "google" to see if it was true that there was such a thing as "dead peasant insurance", and even finding it was true in places like Texas (can you even imagine...?), I thought to myself, "Nah, that couldn't happen in New York!", but oops... sure it could!

Oh. My. Gawd.

"I pledge of allegiance to the flag of the CEO of America."

Ah, but perhaps actions of some American CEOs, including those involved in "dead peasant" lawsuits, have far-reaching ramifications. Not just concerning some American states and not even only global implications. Try superterrestrial.

It's torn cities apart from Inglewood to Chicago and engulfed the entire state of Vermont. Now the conflict's gone national as a presidential campaign issue, with John Kerry hammering the megaretailer for its abysmally low wages and Dick Cheney praising it for its "spirit of enterprise, fair dealing and integrity." This could be the central battle of the 21st century: Earth people versus the Wal-Martians.


(Disclosure: I prefer Costco, which pays decent wages, insures 90 percent of its employees and is reputedly run by native-born humans.) ["Wal-Mars Invades Earth" by Barbara Ehrenreich, New York Times, July 25, 2004]

I prefer Costco, too, and frankly, CEOs like Jim Sinegal give me some hope that there are companies that do care about fair treatment of their employees.

And, in the long run, it is better business,... including humane dealings.


W.W.A.d.T.D. [What Would Alexis de Tocqueville Do?]

To paraphrase Lincoln: You can't fool all of the people all of the time; but a plurality, most of the time, is good enough.

For the last couple of weeks, every time there is a major story, someone attacks Groklaw, placing scores of offensive pornographic links as comments on old stories. When they all got removed the first time, next they interspersed tech words with the porn, hoping to get past our filters, I suppose. They seem to use a bot, so it does affect us. I didn't put it out as a press release and imply or accuse SCO or AdTI of doing it, even though it is certainly possible, because ... well, because folks in the free world don't do such things. We are not in the business of trying to destroy anyone or ruin their good name with implications without proof. If I ever get proof, I'll tell the world, naturally. But I don't call press conferences on a hunch, even though I have one.

[Groklaw] [link added]

There's a free-market hit-tank called the Alexis de Tocqueville Institute, that recently published a very ill-researched tome on the origins of Linux. The report's gotten a lot of press, and has been widely and effectively discredited, sometimes by the people cited within it as authorities (e.g., Dennis Ritchie, Andrew Tandenbaum). Event their own experts don't support them.

So now they're claiming to have been literally attacked for their incorrect views.

It's endlessly curious to me that wild, paranoid accusations have become so primarily the domain of conservatives. Wild wingnut leftists hardly merit notice anymore, though I'm sure they're still out there.

There really can be only one reason for it: Money. As in, Conservatives have it, and are willing to give it to wingnut conservatives to act as their cannon-fodder. "Liberals" with money aren't that "stupid."

So, why in the world would "conservatives" want to fund wingnut radicals? Perhaps: Because it works. Because if the way you get power is by convincing as many random people as you can that they agree with your aims, it doesn't matter who those people are or how you do it.

Aside: For the first several weeks that I had this new blog up, the bulk of my external referrers were porn spammer sites. I couldn't figure out why; now I know: They wanted to insert into my comments. I should enable comment posting with moderation just to see what comes in...

Sources of Islamic Terrorism

From Policy Review, via MeFi, and now on the reading list (it's long): "The Psychological Sources of Islamic Terrorism"

Maybe this is a sign that it's becoming fashionable again to think for half a second about how we actually get to the places we get to, instead of substituting jingoism for analysis.

Printed, and waiting for that lately nonexistent commodity: Leisure time...

Note: Navigate up to the June 2004 Policy Review for articles on related subjects...

The Happiest Place On Earth

Disney is apparently angling for a market coup by forcing the FCC's broadcast decency rules to apply to cable [daypop cites]:

The Walt Disney Co. has quietly been lobbying Congress to apply broadcast indecency rules to cable programming, according to informed sources.

Were Congress to agree with Disney, basic and expanded-basic cable networks could be fined thousands of dollars by the Federal Communications Commission for airing four-letter words and steamy love scenes prior to 10 p.m.

Under a Senate bill pending floor action, cable networks, with certain exceptions for news, premium and pay-per-view fare, could face fines for airing violent movies and dramas before 10 p.m.

It's a brilliant ploy, of course: Once broadcast decency rules applied (so their reasoning goes), no other vendor of entertainment would be as well positioned to sell entertainment (in all its myriad forms) to the American public...

Without rules to break, how can you be bad?

Candida Cruikshanks, riffing off a news story on KRON-4 News in the Bay area:

If you are looking for vice, look for the Church spire and listen for the voices singing Hosanna. Bush is the same guy he always, just battling his own devils with missles rather than booze. "Lead them naked on leashes," see what I mean? The best sadists, from the days of the Klan to Abu Ghraid are Baptized in the Blood of the Lamb. Strong religion, strong drink. Ignorance and cruelty. Violence and repression. Projection of devils on the wall of the Other. God as a Cracker damning all but the Zealot to hell. All one inner battle. If Bush closes the Bondage Brothels here, he will open hundreds in Afghanistan, Cuba, Iraq, What else is our prison system? Bondage never had a better friend than G.W. Bush. He talks tough, but he is a pussycat in bed. (Guess who loves the leash?)

It seems some "adult entertainment" industry folks are trying to drive voter drives to register anti-Bush voters, on principle that Bush and the religious right are bad for their business.

They're right, of course, but only as long as they want to stay "legit". Forget about cultural correctness, and it becomes clear that Candida's right: Vice is meaningless without its restrictions. It thrives under repression. Remember that illicit gains are not taxed, and gansters don't mirandize one another before they bring out the saps. And on the side of "order", well -- it makes getting nasty so much easier to justify...

Gang of Fools

"I'm a spook. I appreciate good work. This was good work..." -- Patrick Lang, in Newsday

Cory Doctorow notes at BoingBoing (courtesy Making Light) that Ahmed Chalabi was a puppet of Iran [daypop link | daypop cites]:

"Iranian intelligence has been manipulating the United States through Chalabi by furnishing through his Information Collection Program information to provoke the United States into getting rid of Saddam Hussein," said an intelligence source Friday who was briefed on the Defense Intelligence Agency's conclusions, which were based on a review of thousands of internal documents.

So, let's make sure we understand this: We went to war in Iraq based largely on intelligence provided by an agent of a foreign power.

Conspiracy theories will abound, of course -- we can expect them to proliferate like mushrooms on a wet summer morning. A few I can anticipate:

  • It's a plant by the Chickenhawks to pass the buck to Chalabi. (Counter: But why were they stupid enough to fall for it?)
  • It's a plant by the CIA to pass the buck to the Chickenhawks. (Counter: But why didn't they know?)
  • It's a plant by the military establishment to pass the buck to the Chickenhawks and the CIA. (This one could gain some traction. I don't know from DIA, but it looks like they might have stronger ties to the "uniformed Pentagon" than to the Chickenhawks.)
  • It's all a conspiracy by the liberal media to destroy freedom.

For the record (and to not be a rhetorical bet-hedger like Christopher Hitchens), I think the story is probably pretty much as Newsday shows it: We got out-smarted by a bunch of guys with darker skins than us who worship in ways we're not comfortable with. Like any good con man, they played us -- well, they played the Rummy-Perle-Wolfie crowd. They recognized that zealots will believe anything that supports their desires.

In a nutshell: We got suckered.

Today's Magic Trick: Spreading the Blame Without Thinning It Out

What's clear by now -- or ought to be -- is that the "Abu Ghraib Scandal" doesn't really reduce to who ordered whom to do what. Ultimately, what happened was that several groups of people, operating from the lowest to the highest levels of our military-political-industrial complex, all came to accept variations on an ethos that valorized the degradation of human beings.

What must not be lost in all of this is that the depravity at the bottom would not have been enabled without blessing from the top, cascading down through the "ranks" (and through the shadowy, extra-rank, quasi-civilian hierarchies of "military intelligence").

The rationalizations certainly varied with political ideology and position in the food chain -- and certainly with the individual as well. Rumsfeld rationalized his decisions with the rationale of preventing attacks on American forces (and contractors). Cambone rationalized his decisions as loyalty to Rumsfeld (and maybe a desire to prevent further attacks).

"Military Intelligence" (we now know, largely civilian contractors working under the SAP brief) probably just rationalized that they were 'doing their jobs'.

As did, probably, the guards. But at the lower levels, only a doctrinist would fail to understand that there was frank depravity going on, that was enabled by the individual cruelty, the street-gang mentality, of people like Spc Grainer.

We should be angry that this was allowed to happen. I've said before that we see this all the time, and we do, but (much as it pains me to admit), G. W. Bush is right about one thing: This does not represent "American Values" as we understand them in our daily lives. We get through each day by believing that we're better than this, and we ought to be angry that someone is taking away our ability to believe that.

And folks, this is a just the foreshadowing of a cascade of self-loathing waiting to happen, and we would not be in this situation if we had not been set up for it by a cadre of self-serving ideological zealots who had to have their blessed war, regardless of the consequences for America and for the chances of civil society in the world. Which, incidentally, ought to be pretty good by now, except that it's in the interest of war profiteers that they not be:

The Cheney Gang embraces an unfortunate but fundamental truth: there are billions to be made and power to be grabbed through war, pestilence, and chaos; not so much to be made through peace, equality, and stability. You have admit that enslaving the richest and most powerful country on the planet to forward the business plans of, at most, three or four hundred people is a ballsy move. But make no mistake: true, effective homeland security is antithetical to their aims. This country, and control of its government, is their tool. Period. [ddjangoWIrE, "Being prepared ...or being set up?"]

Our military are far from blameless. At the highest level, their defense still amounts to "I was following orders": Orders to plan an invasion in a way they knew would fail; orders to cede their authority and responsibility to others who didn't know what they were doing.

Lynching General Karpinski

The WP posts an apologia for Brigadier General Jane Karpinski [free reg req'd]. As each day passes, the world more and more baldly resembles Wealth Bondage:

Karpinski specializes in placing up-and-coming executives in stressful situations to see how they fare. For example, she might assign a business person to make a speech and then have someone scatter his briefing papers, or subject him to loud noise or language barriers, sometimes taping the whole thing by hidden camera. She tests people for what she calls "skills under fire," which is fitting, given her life right now.

Karpinski says the fact that she functions best under "any kind of stress or pressure" is what made her such a good leader during her time as commander of the 800th Military Police Brigade. But a 53-page report of the investigation into abuses at Abu Ghraib, an inquiry led by Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba, suggests otherwise. It depicts a commander with poor communication skills who "rubber stamped" investigations into escapes by detainees, and made too few visits to Abu Ghraib, which she recalls as about 35 miles from where she was headquartered. It says she understaffed the prison, exercised poor oversight and failed to remind her soldiers of the Geneva Conventions' protections for detainees. It recommends that she be "relieved from command." It includes this account of an interview with her:

"BG Karpinski was extremely emotional during much of her testimony. What I found particularly disturbing in her testimony was her complete unwillingness to either understand or accept that many of the problems inherent in the 800th MP Brigade were caused or exacerbated by poor leadership and the refusal of her command to both establish and enforce basic standards and principles among its soldiers."

Many people with a few years of experience inside Corporate America will find Taguba's characterization entirely consistent with Karpinski being good at her civilian job: Screwing with people for fun and profit. If your job is to rattle people and see what shakes loose, chances are you won't be very good at leading rattled people; your natural tendency will be to rattle them more, to tell them to tough it up and stop whining.

But it's not her fault, of course. She couldn't be everywhere and know everything:

"I don't see why she wouldn't have been responsible," says retired Army Lt. Gen. William E. Odom, a former director of the National Security Agency. "If she commands the prisons, she's responsible for what goes on in the prisons."

But Karpinski's brother, Jay Beam, who also served in the Army for 12 years, sees it differently.

"That would be like saying -- what's his name with Disney? Eisner? -- that Eisner would know what a ride operator at Disney was doing. That's what you have middle management for, and you've got to be able to trust your subordinates."

And therein lies the problem: Someone who's business is "turning up the heat on corporate types to see if they fry" is not likely to be someone who's trusted by subordinates -- which is, after all, the necessary antecedent to being able to trust your subordinates.

I would not be the tiniest bit surprised if General Karpinski were being scapegoated. From everything I've heard, that's how the Army hierarchy works. (And why not? That's how corporate hierarchies work.)

But I would be extremely surprised if Karpinski were a good leader who "bring[s] great experience to the table." It's just not something I find plausible when said about someone who's job is to crack others. Leadership trickles down, and so does sh*t. Chalk it up as another triumph of greedism.

Ghosts of My Lai, Part I

If the ghosts of My Lai are stirring, they've been awakened by chickenhawks who salivate righteously over accounts of torture.

It feels trite to once again point out how ignorant of history [MeFi] we Americans (and British) are. It feels trite to point out that we have created a mess for ourselves that it will take generations to begin to repair -- that we have sowed the whirlwind. What we reap now are merely the opportunistic weeds that spring up in the earth disturbed by our plows, on the furrows we haven't spared the labor to care for.

We are asked to believe that it would harm the "war effort" if SecDef Rumsfeld were to resign. I find it sublimely ironic that the Administration is so concerned for military morale. The ghosts of My Lai are rising to haunt us; no, our soldiers haven't gunned down villagers in a field this time, nor can we expect them to start (presumably, we can hire contractors to take care of that). But we can see that the wound hurts some even more than My Lai did. The American military worked hard to heal itself from the festering wounds of Vietnam (whether or not successfully is another topic for another time), and now, their own superiors have inflicted similar wounds to the honor that they worked so hard to get back.

Of course, Rumsfeld's resignation would solve nothing; he's a minion, not a mastermind. The title of "mastermind" belongs to others, such as our own Vice President. Even the President himself is rescued from minion-status only by virtue of the fact that people have to do what he says; like Seward (as NYS Governor) or Theodore Roosevelt, he could (should he choose) shitcan the lot of them. But he won't, because he's fundamentally compromised to an extent we haven't seen in an American president since the 19th century. Even Richard Nixon at least had the spine to admit, if only tacitly, that he knew what was going on. He did not willfully cultivate ignorance, as George W. Bush has. (For the last so anti-intellectual President, though, we need only go back to Coolidge.)

Outsourcing the Dirty Work

From American Samizdat:

The Iraq torture scandal just keeps getting worse. Much worse.

Contractors and the CIA are coming under close scrutiny for their role in all this, which should not be a surprise. The hallmark of this war has been the heavy dependence on private companies to provide just about everything.

And as for the CIA, torture is in their blood. Vikram Dodd points out in today's Guardian that we have every reason to believe that the operators of US detention centers are just following the same script that's been in place for over 40 years, the advice from two historic CIA manuals for "interrogation" -- one from 1963, the other from 1983.

The nature of these tortures (harnessing old women up to ride them like horses, glow-stick sodomy -- all that's wanting is rum and the lash to make the Brits feel at home) certainly fits the Tutor's characterization: This starts to look a lot like bondage, after all.

But of course, it's not really torture; the SecDef himself says so: "I don't know if it is correct to say what you just said, that torture has taken place, or that there's been a conviction for torture. And therefore I'm not going to address the torture word."

Consider, too, Rummy's response when first facing the press corps: 'We had reports before; we expected them. We've always known that terrorists alledge abuse when they're imprisoned, that's just something they do.'

Something interesting is happening to American power, and not just on the Other-World Street: "The Pentagon" is now despised by its generals (who were of course first despised by It), and the CIA has leapt eagerly back into the role of Creepy Spook (and Bondage Domme?); meanwhile, all the things that US soldiers and bureaucrats aren't legally allowed to do are now just done by contractors.

Memo to Libertarians: If you can afford to hire goons, you can do whatever you want. And there's a big and eager pool of folks just itching to get paid for rough trade.

Being at one with the mirror

Evil is inconceivable - until you taste its pleasures for yourself. And don't you taste it, passing these lurid torture photos from hand to hand, from blog to blog? Deny it if you will. But why are your pupils so dilated, drinking in the most forbidden pleasure? We will not as a nation conquer evil until we find it, each of us, in his or her own lusts, and conquer it there. Will to power; power to hurt - the lust that grows when slaked, that only increases with age.
[The Happy Tutor / Wealth Bondage]

Is there a corollary here to Truffaut's Maxim? Perhaps: It's impossible to oppose sex-n-violence, because sex-n-violence are just too exciting? Some deeper truth lurks...


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