Saturday, October 31, 2009

Schools Exorcise Ghosts and Goblins from Halloween

It’s good to see that our schools are continuing their efforts to sanitize our children’s minds by turning Halloween in to a “positive” experience for their students. All Hallows Een, that night when the ghosts of the dead and other creatures of the night leave their graves and wander the countryside is to be scrubbed clean of its history and tradition.

No sir! Nothing scary or upsetting, no blood, no fake weapons and no gruesome masks will be allowed to mar this holiday when the baser elements of our nature have traditionally been allowed to surface and dance the streets.

Many schools across the country has established directives outlining what types of costumes are considered “appropriate” for the children to wear.

As one administrator told The New York Times, “We establish the guidelines of ‘positive costumes’ knowing what we might see if we chose not to establish boundaries.” God forbid the little darlings show up naked, which they might if administrators don’t establish “boundaries.”

In place of traditional costumes, parents are being encouraged to dress their children in costumes that neither frighten nor offend. Monsters are out; boxes of Wheaties are in. The theme for this year seems to be logos, not goblins.

In Patrick White's novel, The Eyes of the Storm, one character proclaimed that the soul has a rectum. We all carry darkness within us, and Halloween has always been a time to bring this darkness out to dance in the streets. It is a cathartic experience that acknowledges our dark sides while allowing them to surface in a harmless manner.

One theory for the prevalence of asthma in children holds that because the young are given so many antibiotics, the immune system is so sensitized that antibodies attack even the smallest irritations of the lungs, thus creating an asthmatic reaction.

If the “scariness” is taken out of Halloween, then the darkness that is at the base of all our souls will fester and grow until it finds expression in ways that are far less constructive than a scary costume.

Children are not fragile creatures who are easily traumatized. They are much stronger than our educators think. And they enjoy a good scare.

The only saving grace is that our educators have not carried things as far as one website that proclaims that, “Halloween has never been a Christian holiday and it has no place in the life of a born again believer in Jesus Christ. In fact it is an abomination to God and we should take our stand firmly against it and all it entails. As we look into its history, we find that its roots go deep into heathenism, paganism, Satanism and the occult; and the modern expression is no better!

At least not yet.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Human Sacrifice

How many minutes does it take to cut the heart out of a living man with an obsidian dagger? How long to plunge it into his chest and saw the ribcage free of the breast bone? How high is the geyser of blood as the heart is torn from of its arteries? At what point does death close the eyes of the victim.

The Aztecs knew they could only placate the god of empire with human blood. So they engaged in continual warfare just to take prisoners for the sacrifice.

Nothing has changed. The god is just as greedy; he still demands his victims. But, instead of the blood of individuals, he wants the souls of civilizations.

The Aztecs sacrificed their victims on altars atop pyramids that reached for the heavens. Sacrifices to the contemporary god take place in the shantytowns of the Third World that fan out from their metropolises.

How long does it take to carve out the soul of a civilization?

The Aztecs grounded their bloodlust in the reality of their gods. The contemporary bloodlust is grounded in the papier-mâché realities of academic policymakers. Superstition drives both. An obsidian dagger could kill only one person at a time. A well-formed policy can kill millions.

Every empire is a culture of death; it is a culture that puts military and economic considerations ahead of human life and well-being. The bones of the poor and the suffering feed the furnaces of our prosperity. It is thus that God has blessed America.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Bulls Dancing in the Swamp

The Bulls have put on their dancing shoes and are tapping across the stage to the dolce strains of “Happy Days are Here Again.” They spin and bob, then form a line and kick their hooves like a company of bovine Rockettes.

The numbers they are a climbing. Prosperity is ours, they sing, and soon we shall return to the heady days of another helium-filled bubble that will leave us all dizzy and high on its gas.

Writer David Cohen is skeptical. He believes we are in a “statistical recovery” in which the numbers look good even if the economy isn’t.

For example, the prosperity of the banks is based on an accounting gimmick. The reason the bank’s balance sheets looked so bad in that accounting rules forced them to value their toxic assets by marking them to market, i.e., what some damn fool would actually buy them for, which was somewhere around ten cents on the dollar.

K Street swung into action, and the accounting rules were changed to allow the banks to “mark to model.” Under this change, the banks were allowed to use a proprietary mathematical model to value their dreck. The net result was instant solvency.

However, Cohen points to another indicator that our economic recovery is more fiction than fact. Obama argued that, “[A} dollar of capital in a bank can actually result in eight or ten dollars of loans to families and business, a multiplier effect that can ultimately lead to a faster pace of economic growth.”

This sounds great in theory. Practice is something else.

Cohen looks at the velocity of money, the speed at which it enters the economy and finds that there’s trouble, with a capital “T”, in River City. In spite of the trillions the government has pumped into the economy, the velocity has fallen precipitously. (During the Great Depression, this velocity fell 22 percent.)

He quotes one economist who points out that:

At the worst point in the decline, the four weeks ending Aug. 24, M2 was dropping at an annualized rate of 12%. That’s the kind of contraction you get in a financial panic. Not the kind of growth you want to see as you’re trying to guide an economy to recovery.

The economist goes on to say:

We are now entering treacherous waters for monetary authorities in highly-leveraged economies. Given the decade(s)-long dependence on the credit mechanism to spur economic growth, the financial crisis has brought about a precipitous decline in the velocity of money, i.e., how much economic activity is generated per unit of money.

Bloomberg contends that the velocity of money never really recovered following the “heady days of the 90’s productivity boom.”

The problem isn’t just that the banks are unwilling to loan, which they aren’t. It’s also that people aren’t really looking for loans. Cohen points out that it’s not just a problem with the bank’s balance sheets; it is also a problem with household balance sheets. Many households have become overleveraged as the value of their 401(k)s dropped along with value of their homes.

So all the money that the government has pumped into the economy sits there like a fetid pool of sludge generating nothing except a foul odor.

According to Cohen, “Thus we will have a statistical recovery in GDP even as economic activity stagnates and unemployment rises, despite the fiscal & monetary stimulus. Welcome to a new kind of depression.”

Beware of dancing bulls.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Piss Christ

[Okay! I confess, this is an old one, but I'm busting my hump trying to get a manuscript ready for publication. Besides, I've always liked this baby.]

Piss Christ

It takes a delicate touch to keep God from becoming problematic. The truth is that God is an amalgam of Eros and Thanatos, which melt together to give life its creative force.

However, God can only be brought into politics if our oligarchs emphasize Thanatos and force Eros into a back room where she will hopefully wither and die. This is how the theocratic right has corrupted the pro-life movement by unleashing a rage that shoots doctors and bombs abortion clinics instead of affirming a compassionate ethic of life. Violence is more easily exploited than compassion; the negative attracts more attention than the positive.

Here is an example of how we serve God by destroying Him. In 1989, the photographer/artist Andres Serrano put on display a photograph titled Piss Christ. It showed a crucifix suspended in a gallon of the artist’s urine.

The religious right went bonkers. They had to attack the work because Serrano had done nothing less that produce a deeply profound work of religion art that opened up to the viewer a deeper understanding of the wholeness and unity of God’s creation. The theocratic right couldn’t allow this to happen. Here was Eros trying to kick down the door. They had to barricade it.

Pee is a victim of bad press. We hide it in our toilets and pretend it doesn’t exist by never mentioning it in polite society. The truth is that pee is a life-sustaining fluid. Pee nurtures life by carrying the poisons out of our system. Thus, pee is an integral component of God’s creation.

This was the problem with Serrano’s work. The crucifix was suspended in a container of life-giving fluid. The last thing the theocrats wanted was the public popping a bunch of epiphanies in which they saw the all-embracing nature of God’s creation and how even the ugly and the vile are as important to life as the beautiful and the sublime.

In his photograph, Serrano unified Eros and Thanatos.

The theocratic right’s strength is the belief that God’s creation is selective. The idea that it is all-embracing is a heresy that must be suppressed at all costs. As always, God is carried into politics on the Devil’s back.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Submissive Hedonism

Our oligarchs walk a tightrope because leadership is an exercise in high hypocrisy. It is the ultimate in multitasking: saying one thing and doing another; condemning and approving the same thing at the same time; building what one is destroying.

Stability and order are prime examples of this creative hypocrisy.

One the one hand, our oligarchs are obsessed with them. They want a return to the gray conformity of the Fifties. Of course, they forget that this conformity was as much a media event as a reality. Back then, you had three networks and a handful of magazines, dominated by the good people at Time-Life, all singing the same song and giving the impression that the nation was singing along with them. In truth, there were many different songs but they were muted by the one meta-song that drownsed out all others. These disparate songs found their voices in the sixties.

At the same time, our oligarchs must encourage a spirit of hedonistic rebellion for a number of reasons.

A hedonistic lifestyle guarantees political apathy. The bigger the home entertainment centers, the more the synapses of the brain are neutralized. In the darkness of the club, the glow of the play station and the throbbing beat of indie rock is the quest for “self actualization.” And in this quest, community perishes.

There are two types of community. There is the bottom-up, organic community that is a threat to the corporatist state. This is what must be destroyed to be replaced by the synthetic corporatist community marketed from above. Successful marketing depends upon fragmentation. Organic communities resist this fragmentation. Destroy them and the leader is left with a massive vacuum waiting to be filled by noise and toys. Self absorption kills the critical facility; rebellion always morphs into conformity.

On the surface, hedonism appears to be rebellion, but it always shows up for work on time because there are rent and car payments to be made. Rebels make the best drones because they are too self absorbed to realize they’re being exploited. They are so wrapped up in their toys they don’t even feel the screws being tightened.

Modern oppression resonates with a desire for the good life.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Making a Mountain Out of Dead Moles

It looks like the sabers are rattling, again, over Iran’s nuclear program. Now the great white powers have their knickers in a knot over a supposedly “secret” nuclear facility Iran is constructing near the city of Qom without informing the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Obama stood before the September meeting of the G-20 and solemnly declared that “Iran’s decision to build yet another nuclear facility without notifying the IAEA represents a direct challenge to the basic compact at the center of the non-proliferation regime…Iran is breaking rules that all nations must follow…and threatening the stability and security of the region and the world.”

As always, when Iran comes up, the hype outstrips the reality by several light years. It’s taken some pretty powerful hair splitting to come up with this one.

The plant will not be operational for eighteen months. The terms and conditions of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) require signatories to report new facilities 180 days before the introduction of nuclear material.

Nor is the plant a complete surprise since western intelligence agencies have been aware that the plant was under construction since 2006.

So why the fuss?

Well, for one thing, Israel still thinks Iran is an “existential threat,” even though the only thing Iran could threaten is Israel’s nuclear monopoly in the Middle East.

Then there’s the oil and the administration’s naive belief that it can militarily control oil in the Middle East militarily. It’s a fool’s dream. It is said that in discussing military affairs, amateurs talk strategy while professionals talk logistics. One only has to look at a globe to see the length of the supply line we’d have to maintain and protect to keep a massive force supplied. It would be cheaper and burn a lost less fuel simply to fly a trade delegation over there to cut the best deal we could. This is what the Chinese are dong, and they’re having better luck than we are.

The absurdity, here, is that Iran appears to have no interest in producing nuclear weapons. To date, their nuclear industry in only able to achieve five-percent enrichment of its nuclear material, which is acceptable under the NPT. Weapon-grade nuclear material must be enriched to 95 percent. This would require more and refigured centrifuges, and Iran couldn’t do that without the IAEA finding out.

There are two other factors at play here. First, Iran is the last dying gasp of an Euromerican imperial wet dream that has been the guiding light of western policy for five-hundred years. Natives simply are not allowed to thumb their noses at their betters. If they do, they must be disciplined as children are. The problem is that the children can now kick ass, so it’s not as easy as it use to be.

Throw into the mix the sting of imperial pique still felt by the United States over Iran’s overthrow of their puppet, the Shah, coupled with the seizure of the American embassy, and it becomes clear why Obama is talking about no options being off the table.

Imperial nations dig their own graves. They become so blinded by power and hubris that they come eventually believe themselves invincible. This hubris peaks just before they go bankrupt. In the United States, factories are shutters, homes are foreclosed, people are homeless, children go to bed hungry, but our administration continues to pursue two unnecessary wars because it’s the robust thing to do.

It’s a deluded pantomime that would be amusing if it didn’t leave so much suffering in its wake.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Rebranding Jesus

As a Christian nation America has worked miracles with the faith. It bears repeating that when Church and State wed, Hell pays for the reception for the child of the union is Death.

Actually. were not really a Christian nations, we're a Christianist nation. Christians follow the teachings of Jesus and do good work; Christianists use the faith as a launchpad for their power trips. The "God" in "In God We Trust" is a Christianist creation.

Christianism is not easy for a religion whose founder preached a doctrine of peace and humility. (Though there is a rumor making the rounds of the religious right that Christ’s injunction to turn the other cheek was a mistranslation. What he really said was, “Turn the other's cheek with a fistful of knuckles.”) However, with God, all things are possible, s0 Jesus has been tranformed into a religious warrior marching to the stirring beat of "Onward Christian Soldiers."

America was not the first to pick up the scourging sword of Christianism. The conquistadors who swarmed over Latin America bought missionaries with them who gave the indigenous people the classic choice between salvation or the stake. Salvation brought with it the redemptive act of being worked to death in the mines, thus speeding up the joyous reunion between the saved soul and God.

It’s the “mission” thing that does it. Woodrow Wilson believed America had a mission to “Christianize the world,” which he tried to do from the deck of a gunboat and in the trenches of World War I. His predecessor,

Theodore Roosevelt, spoke of the “long struggle for the uplift of humanity,” an uplift the Filipinos got a taste of in the wake of the Spanish American War when several hundred thousands of them were cut down in a noble effort to teach them the benefits of the American Way.

This missionary zeal is driven by the conviction that the White, Anglo Saxon male of northern European descent represents the acme of evolutionary development.

We sit on quite a peak, one that has given the world nukes, death camps, a bloated military-industrial complex, the redefinition of freedom as economic exploitation, Gitmo, a prison population second only to China’s, the Patriot Act, permanent warfare, a thoroughly corrupted Congress, the installation and support of despots, the Washington Consensus and feral capitalism.

Is it any wonder that the world is beginning to think that maybe we don’t set a very good example.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

How could they, after all we did for them?

What an interesting phenomenon we have. The tittytop of the pyramid shines like Liberty’s torch while the rest of it remains mired in fecal matter. Profits in the financial sector soar even as common folk are turned out of their homes in record numbers.

Of course, their profits were made possible by a massive infusion of taxpayer dollars. (Goldman Sachs says it’s nobody’s business how much money they make. Free enterprise, you know.)

According to Paul Krugman the Obama administration is shocked! Shocked! And pissed that after all the help the government gave them, the financial industry is fighting tooth and nail against anything that resembles reform.

Oh my! What did Obama and his minions expect? It was when the financial industry had its back against the wall and was on the verge of collapse that the issue of reform should have come up. That’s when the administration should have grabbed the industry by the short hairs and laid down terms and conditions for bailing them out, terms and conditions being reform, baby, reform!

But they didn’t, and now they feel it’s too late to do anything about it.


The administration still has a cudgel with which to beat the financial industry into submission—the indictment.

Take Goldman Sachs, for example. Goldman has been racking up obscene profits with their computerized front running.

Front running is an illegal activity that works like this. Let’s say I call my broker and tell him that I was to purchase $100 million worth of stock in ABC Corp. My broker knows that as soon as I place the order, the price of the stock is going to go up So, he sets my $100 million aside and places and order for $100 million with his own money. The price of the stock goes up one or two cents per share. Then he places another order with my money, and the price goes up again, whereupon he sells his $100 million and makes a tidy little profit. Do it over and over, and you make humungous profits.

Goldman has taken this process and automated it using powerful computers and sophisticated programs that can detect a large order and place their own nanoseconds before the original order is placed. The computers, conveniently located next to the NYSE have poured billions into Goldman’s coffers.

Now, if Obama has any moxie, he’d order Attorney General Eric Holder to appoint a special prosecutor to look into Goldman’s illegal front running, and, while he’s at it, do a sweeping and thorough probe into the financial industry as a whole. (This is a job Rudy was born for.)

There’s nothing like a string of CEOs in orange jump suits to ease passage of the necessary reforms.

Of course, that assumes that Obama has the moxie.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Circle Jerk

The rank odors wafting from the Beltway, the Pentagon and Wall Street seems impossible to deal with. Neither demonstrations nor screeds make any sort of impact. The three roll on, impervious to the masses that pay the price for their actions and schemes.

One of the reasons it's so difficult is that we think of them as hierarchies with the implication being that if we could only neutralize the head the body would wither and die.

The problem is that there is no hierarchy; nobody is in charge. Rather, there is a circle, a toxic feedback loop that goes round and round reinforcing itself with each passage of whatever it is that gives it its rationale for being. Often it is a buzzword, an incantation or a magic word that moves like a particle in a centrifuge, picking up speed with each pass.

There’s the Wall Street circle where the magic word is “grow.” Then there’s the Pentagon circle where the word is “more.” Finally, there is the Beltway circle where the particle “power” moves faster than the speed of light. Slowly, the three circles are converging to make one big circle, each feeding on the other.

All circles are made up of arcs, the tiny segments that make up their circumferences. Remove one arc and the circle simply adjusts its circumference and closes the gap. This allows for the sacrifice of the occasional lamb like a Madoff or a Skilling. These sacrifices delude the public into thinking that the system is self regulating. If too many arcs are removed, there are others waiting in the wings, all too willing to step in and keep the circle whole.

The circles are not made up entirely of the powerful. An integral part of every circle is the wannabe underlings with their dreams of promotion and glory. The truth is, they don’t really need a leader. The circle is self-supporting.

As always, a closed circle excludes all who are not parts of its circumference.

That’s democracy, American style.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The dawning of an age of new-age peace.

It’s beginning to become clear why Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize. The guy hit the ground running.

Three months into his administration, he activated the U.S. Navy’s Fourth Fleet, that traditional instrument of gunboat democracy. According to the Navy, the fleet’s reactivation “demonstrates U.S. commitment to our regional partners.”

In this era of newspeak, one must understand the precise meaning of “partners.” The word doesn’t refer to any particular country, rather it refers to the oligarchies and latifundia that have kept the impoverished masses of the area under tight control.

It seems our "partners" are under siege from an emerging democratic left in countries like Venezuela, Bolivia, Equator and Brazil.

Praise God, the administration has a client state in Columbia, a country that boasts some of the finest death squads in the world, death squads that are well funded by our tax dollars.

In July, our Nobel laureate inked a deal with Columbia that will give the administration seven giant military bases, thus making “Columbia a regional hub for Pentagon operations.” With the bases in place, the Pentagon will be able to “achieve regional engagement strategy.”

The naïve might ask, “Well gosh! Where’s the threat to our national security?”

Silly child! Don’t you know that “national security” is a code word for “corporate security?” I mean, how in the hell are our multinationals going to exploit the region’s resources if leftist governments keep nationalizing them. How are we going to kick ass down there if, like Equator, they close our bases?

What it boils down to is that “peace” has a very precise meaning. Peace is market stability, and if we have to kick ass to achieve it, we will.

We’ve got the Nobel laureate to prove it.

Monday, October 19, 2009

We really, really need a war in Afghanistan

The war in Afghanistan is not about anything. It’s not about Al Qaeda or the Taliban. It’s not about terrorism or preventing another 9/11, and it’s certainly not about running a pipeline across Afghanistan. Granted, many of our policymakers think it’s about one of more of these things, but his only proves that if you scratch a policymaker you find a fool mired in the past.

Andrew J. Bacevich points out that Afghanistan is simply a futile effort to breathe life into a dying lifestyle.

For sixty years America has been on a war footing. Most all of our leaders and policymakers grew up with this. They know of no other lifestyle, nor can they conceive of one. As Samuel Beckett once said, “Habit is a great deadener.”

It was easy during the Cold War. We had convinced ourselves that the Soviets were bent on our destruction, so we maintained, and improved upon, the military machine that had given us victory in World War II.

From our founding as a nation, America has always distained the idea of a standing army. We recognized earlyon that a standing army was ultimately a threat to democracy. A standing army and a democratic republic are like oil and water. The military thrives on quick decisions and rapid deployment. It is terribly efficient; democracy isn’t. The military is a cash cow; democracy isn’t.

Prior to World War II, we fought our wars by mobilizing our citizens, fighting the war then demobilizing the army, leaving only a cadre of professionals in place to train a citizen army in the event of another war.

America was war weary by the end of World War II. However, our leaders had a problem. The war had put an end to the Great Depression, and our best and brightest feared that dismantling the military machine would sink the country back into depression.

Luckily, Joe Stalin raised his ugly head and we had our rationale for keeping our war machine in place. Sen. Arthur Vandenberg told Truman that the only way he’d be able to sell the Cold War was to, “…scare the hell out of the American public.” He did and thus was born the nuclearized security state and institutionalized paranoia.

Well, the Soviet Union went belly up trying to keep up with us militarily, here we were with all this military hardware and no place to go, led by leaders who had no concept of peace. (Some have suggested that the Cold War produced two casualties. The Soviet Union was simply the first to fall.)

Things were getting a little tense as it started to become clear that our military establishment was a dinosaur that had outlived its usefulness. Then 9/11 hit and our military leaders breathed a sigh of relief. Once again their lives had meaning.

Instead of relying on intelligence and police work to contain terrorist activity, the knee-jerk reaction was a military response. It was a deliciously self-fulfilling policy. A military action kills a lot of people, many of them innocent. This pisses off their survivors and friends which creates more terrorists who become the justification for our continued military actions. No wonder our leaders speak of a long war.

This is why we need Afghanistan to drag on and on without resolution. We’re buying time until we can flush out another threat to our existence.

As Bacevich points out, escalating Afghanistan will, “Affirm that military might will remain principle instrument for exercising American Global leadership, as has been the case for decades."

We need threats just as a drunk needs his booze. It’s not a problem of being unable to think outside the box; it’s a problem of being unable to think outside the coffin.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Congress Gums the Banks to Death

The stench of corruption wafting from the nation’s capitol is a bit thicker today, and an audible sigh of relief could be heard from the country’s banks.

One of the fallouts from the financial meltdown of 2008 was a demand for the creation of a new agency to protect consumers from abuses in the issuing of loans, mortgages and credit cards. With much fanfare, Congress jumped right to it while the banking industry rent its garments and rubbed ashes into its hair.

Not that they had to worry. I mean what king of meaningful reform is a Congress that is little more than a bunch of corporate lackeys going to generate? The only danger the banks face is that they might be gummed to death.

The banks fart and Congress sniffs. According to Friday’s New York Times, the House Financial Services Committee approved an amendment that exempts 8000 of the nation’s 8200 banks from oversight by the new agency. Only the 200 largest banks will be regulated, you know, the ones that hire the high-priced attorneys to fight any move by the new agency.

The committee's rationale is that without the amendment, they would lose the support of corporate Democrats, who make up a majority of the party’s membership. It seems having regulators monitor the smaller banks is “disruptive and adds compliance costs.”

Too “disruptive?” A bunch of financial retards shipwrecked our economy, threw people out of work and out of their homes, and the Democrats are worried about inconveniencing the idiots?

Explain that to someone living in a tent city!

And what is the reaction from the White House? It’s silence. Obama seems to have a problem with twisting arms and whipping his majority party in Congress into shape. At the rate he’s going he could well go down in history as one the most ineffective presidents in our country’s history. But then, he has to answer to his handlers just as surely as Congress does.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Sucking Data for God and Country

They’re building it in Utah, a giant cyber omphalos turning, turning like a black hole, sucking in every bit of datum drifting in the atmosphere, every key stroke, every web site visited, every number touched on the pad of a cell phone, everything goes into it where it is sorted, collated, listed, classified, analyzed and stored.

It’s the National Security Agency’s (NSA) all new, $2 billion data collection storage center being built in the Utah’s high desert. When it is finished, its computers will be capable of storing the equivalent of one septillion (1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000) pages of documents.

If you convert a trillion it seconds of time, it works out to 37,000 years. You’re welcome to convert a septillion into years, if you’d like.

There is an irony at work here. The NSC is choking on its own data. “The agency first learned of the September 11 attacks on $300 television sets tuned to CNN, not its billion-dollar eavesdropping satellites tuned to al-Qaeda.” There was an outburst of anger because the dots warning of the impending attack were on the page and the NSC never connected them.

Hello! How do you connect five dots on a page that consists of ten thousand dots? Well, the NSC claims it now has “super computers running complex algorithmic programs to determine who among us may be—or may one day become—a terrorist.”

High priests use to read the entrails of a bull in an attempt to bring order and predictability to a chaotic universe. Now our high priests use complex algorithmic programs. Given the NSC’s track record, both methodologies have an equal chance of success.

And, how do you determine who might “one day” become a terrorist? Would angry dissent be enough to so classify you? If so, click out of this site now! Big Brother is recording your presence.

Here we see an example of new-age oppression. It is no longer driven by ideology or a power-hungry madman. Now, sheer bureaucratic momentum drives it. It is blind and without direction, in motion simply because it’s in motion, and the sheer weight of its forward thrust makes it impossible to stop.

The NSC isn’t building its Utah center to keep us safe from terrorism. It isn’t even building it to spy on American citizens. It’s building it simply because it can. There’s no other rationale for it. It’s a fallacious logic: information is power; the more information you have, the more powerful you are. (Food is good for you, but too much food will kill you, a lesson the NSC has yet to learn).

The average citizen feels helpless in the face of this bureaucratic Blob. My sister emailed me yesterday and the NSC knows that she mentioned our brother just returned from Iraq. Will one of the NSC’s supercomputers pick up the word “Iraq” and will my sister and I end up on a list? It’s thinking that borders on paranoia, but what we don’t understand worries us, as well it should.

It is doubtful the NSC will ever sink beneath the weight of the data it collects. However, it is possible it will collapse because it runs out of electricity. One of the reasons for building the Utah center (along with another one in Texas) is because its center at Ft. Meade in Maryland pulls so much electricity it’s beginning to brow out. The electric bill, to date, for all this data collecting is a cool $70 million a year (our tax dollars at work). Its Utah center will consume enough electricity to power Salt Lake City.

All we need do is pull the plug and it’s out of business.

If only we had a brave leader…

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Signs of Recovery

Yesterday, I had to pick someone up at Newark Airport. The place was a tomb. Continental's Flight 1178 from Chicago arrives at 10:09 a.m. and was once packed with business types. Yesterday, no more than fifteen or twenty bags slid down onto the carousel.

Yesterday, the DOW hit 10,000

Happy days are here again.

There's freedom to be had in the numbness of servitude.

The rightwing noise machine is all a twitter with the happy news that feminism has made women unhappy. At least this is the message they’re taking from a recent study that showed an increase in feminine misery since 1972.

Barbara Ehrenreich does a masterful job of deconstructing both the survey and the machine’s reaction to it. The only thing she fails to mention is the absurdity of the premises that went into the study.

The very question, itself—are women happier—reflects our national happiness fetish. This fetish is grounded on the assumption that those who are members of the white middleclass are entitled to happiness as a birthright. The fetish took hold in the postwar years as America experienced a momentary glow of prosperity because ours was the world’s only industrial nation that hadn’t been blown into oblivion. It was the child of a bored prosperity coupled with an atomized individualism that came to equate happiness with the amount of stuff one could own.

Increasingly, the “happiness of stuff” is being reinforced by SSRIs. There is a Spanish proverb that gets it right: “There is no happiness, only moments of happiness.”

The premise undergirding the right’s conclusion is even more absurd—that feminism failed because the freedom it gave rise to made women unhappy so, therefore, they should return to the happiness they knew as domestic drones.

Ignoring the fact that a statistical relationship is not a causal one, the idea that freedom is a failure if it doesn’t make one happy is bullshit.

Freedom is a pain in the ass! There is no skipping through La-La Land or the Elysian Fields. Rather, freedom demands a clarity of vision that can be painful because it refuses to find comfort in the myths and happy talk that make up so much of our mass media. It pops pipe dreams and makes hamburger of sacred cows. And it can piss people off.

It is a sign our collective decadence that we have come to equate freedom with happiness or, in the words of our pop psychologists, self actualization, which is a euphuism for instant gratification. Equally implicit in the right’s reaction is the assumption that there is happiness in servitude because one knows one’s place. They mistake numbness for happiness.

The last thing our oligarchs can afford is a free society. A free society is a thinking society, and a thinking society wouldn’t stand for the pabulum our leaders try to palm off as “freedom.”

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Cub Scout gets a reprieve--kind of, sort of.

Well, well, the Deleware school board that was threatening a six-year-old Cub Scout with reform school for bringing a Cub Scout eating utensil that included a knife to school has backed off.

Did they apologize? Hell no! Instead of expelling him, he’s only suspended for five days.

At a meeting last night the board changed its policy to mandate suspensions instead of expulsion for kindergartners and first-graders who show up armed to the teeth.

After all, a policy is a policy no matter how ineptly it’s applied. If it could have been used as a weapon, it’s a weapon and the knife in Zachary’s Cub Scout tool was metallic and sharp. (Of course the compasses children use to draw circles and arcs are also metallic and sharp. So maybe…)

Not that everyone was happy with the decision. Jenifer Jankowski, a special education supervisor in a Newark, NJ elementary school thought the kid should have been expelled. “If we can’t punish him, then what about kids that did bring [a weapon] for bad things?” she asked.

There we see an administrator’s mind at work. It’s the old “what if” syndrome that never fails to cripple the intellect. In the wake of this syndrome policy plods on as it sheds its capacity for nuance and compassion.

Hell, a kid’s teeth can be a weapon, as I found out when I taught special education. I still carry a scar on my chest where a kid sank his teeth into me. Face it, our schools will never be safe until we force our children to gum their lunches.

At least Zach will only have a suspension to blot his hitherto unblemished weapon. The important thing is that parents have been warned: the next time you send you send a cake to school to celebrate your child's birthday, tell the teacher to cut it with her fingernails.

Shit! They’re sharp too!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Keeping the World Safe from Rampaging Cub Scouts

The good folks of Newark, Del. can sleep safely thanks to quick action by the Christiana school district’s board of education. The whole sordid affair was outlined in Monday’s New York Times.

It all started because six-year-old Zachary Christie was really excited about joining the Cub Scouts, and he was even more excited about the Cub Scout combination knife, fork and spoon he’d received as a gift. So he decided to take it to school and use it at lunchtime.

Whoa! Not so fast kid! Don’t you know that your school has a “zero tolerance” policy towards bringing not only weapons to school, but anything that could conceivably, possibly be used as a weapon as defined by the fetid brain of an educator.

“Zero tolerance” is a crutch used by anxious educators to reassure an anxious public. It’s a holdover from the nineteenth century belief that children are little savages who have to be tamed like wild animals. One factor feeding into its popularity with educators is that many of them boot out of the classroom as soon as they can because the children scare the shit out of them.

Zach’s enthusiasm got him busted. The imagination curdles when it thinks of the mayhem that could be caused by a rampaging six-year-old wielding a Cub Scout mess utensil.

The child was booted out of school and faces a hearing before the district’s disciplinary committee that could give him 45 days in the district’s reform school, something every six-year-old Cub Scout needs.

But, what the hell, a policy is a policy and the safest thing for an educator to do is to follow it to the letter. The greatest fear of any educator or bureaucrat is that they might be criticized for failing to follow policy.

A district spokesperson defended the decision by saying, “There’s no parent who wants to get a phone call where they hear that their child no longer has two good seeing eyes because there was a scuffle and someone pulled out a knife.”

Hello! You can put a kid’s eye out with a pencil!

But wait, I must correct myself. In Shakespeare’s King Lear, the Earl of Gloucester has his eyes gouged out with a spoon. So maybe the spoon was the culprit that worried the administration. Think of it—bloody eyeballs rolling around the lunchroom floor.

Is it possible that America is being dumbed down because some educators are among the dumbest fucks in the country?

If educators put as much effort into teaching children how to think as they do enforcing their zero tolerance policies, the country might not be in the shape it is.

Unfortunately, educators who can’t think cling to policy like a drowning man clings to a toothpick.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Marketing Docility

The great leader is he who can sing the praises of that which he is destroying, thus maintaining a deniable distance between him and his victims. For example, to function at peak efficiency, the market state must dehumanize the populace by elevating the ego to a glory so bright the soul is lost in its glare. Thus, individualism is praised even as it is being destroyed.

The genius of American marketing was to convince the neutered and the dehumanized that the road to individuality was consumption. Through the ascendancy of the logo, individuality is expressed as brand loyalty, a loyalty that demands one’s humanity in exchange. The malignant is marketed as the divine.

The market state has convinced the public to act as a willing host for the parasitic market. The masses glory in their role as victim, which they believe is their elevation and glorification by their masters. Our marketers sell servitude as rebellion, conformity as individuation and docility as assertiveness.

By making them complicit in their enslavement, the masses go peacefully. Only in the market state is burnout a badge of honor, just as stress is a status symbol. They come to believe that if they are not on meds they are failures, because self-destruction is draped in the purple robe of success.

The role of the eloquent leader is to comfort them with the certainty of lies treated as absolutes even as he bleeds them dry, for they want reassurance more than they want truth.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Understanding the modern usage of "peace" in phrases such as The Nobel Peace Prize.

The Nobel committee awards Obama its peace prize and the reaction is a collective, “WTF!” The guy’s managing two wars and is getting ready to ramp up the war in Afghanistan even as he talks of spreading it to Pakistan, and the committee calls this peace?

Here again, Obama is benefiting from comparison with GWB. The Bush administration was to peace what Jack the Ripper was to feminism.

However, there’s another dynamic at work here. Compared to other winners, Obama is a milquetoast. He’s fallen far short of the body count amassed by previous winners, Woodrow Wilson and Henry Kissinger. (Tom Lehrer declared political satire dead the day they awarded Hank the prize.)

Much of the fuss over Obama being awarded the prize arises from a misunderstanding of what “peace” means. The meaning of the word had evolved over the years In its modern usage, it means much more than the absence of conflict and violence. In other words, the Nobel Peace Prize is not your great-grandfather's Nobel Peace Prize.

By the dawning of the twentieth century, peace had come to mean industrial peace, i.e., market stability. If millions had to be slaughtered to attain this stability that was simply the price you paid. And the leader who slaughtered the most to attain this stability was the leader awarded the Peace Prize because he had facilitated a return to market stability.

By the twenty-first century, the definition of peace had taken another twist. It now meant corporate peace. Corporate peace is all about policy. It is the alignment of the world order with the goals and objectives of the reigning corporate power, in this case the United States.

The problem faced by the contemporary world is not rogue states; it’s rogue policies. Saddam’s sin was not his supposed links with al Qaeda; it was his decision to stop denominating oil sales in dollars. World pace depends on a faithful adherence to corporate policy. Saddam failed to follow policy. We couldn’t fire him, so we had to kill him and trash his country.

The Taliban failed to follow corporate policy by refusing to allow the Great White Power to run a pipeline across its real estate. So, we had to kick some ass to get the country into proper alignment with our corporate policies.

Under this definition, war is peace in the making; so it is that a corporate leader engaged creating murder and mayhem in order to implement a corporate policy is indeed worth of the prize.

If anything, the Nobel Committee is going soft in the head. They really should have waited a year or two until Obama had racked up a decent body count before awarding him the prize.

But again, in vaudeville a mediocre act shines when it follows a terrible act.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Gay Marriage and the Future of the Species

The movement for gay marriage is picking up momentum. Several states have approved it and my state, New Jersey, is considering it. So, it’s time we took a hard look at the Bible since it is the weapon of choice wielded by those opposed to it.

The Bible is crammed full of rules and regulations. Some of them deal with morality, such as don’t kill, don’t steal, etc. Of course, the irony is that the ones most essential for a decent society are the ones so readily ignored.

Others have a practical application. For example, eating shell fish in an age prior to the introduction of efficient refrigeration was risky, at best. The prohibitions against homosexuality fall into this category for two reasons.

First, the life expectancy in biblical times was around twenty-one. This number was dragged down by a high rate of infant mortality. Under these circumstances, a woman had to go through six pregnancies just to keep the population stable.

Second, it was a labor-intensive age, be it farming or crafts, and the main source of labor was the family, i.e., children.

In this context, a homosexual relationship was, indeed, a danger to the community because it deprived it of twelve pregnancies.

Fast forward to the anthropocene epoch when homo sapiens covers the Earth like an out-of-control vermin and it could well be that gay marriage will be the oursalvation.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Slut Lists and Suburbia

The Victorians started it. It was they who first floated the ideal of the “innocent” child as an icon of angelic virtue. Prior to that, children were seen as little adults who were sent into the mines or the mills as soon as their tiny hands were big enough to hold a lump of coal or change a spindle.

Given the conditions of the industrial revolution in the late nineteenth century, such an ideal was necessary and beneficial in that it led to the passage of child labor legislation.

However, it seems to have run amok in Millburn, NJ, where the average home price is $1.2 million.

The economy is tanking, we are mired in two unnecessary wars, health care reform is turning into a nightmare and a new dollop of trivia surfaced in Millburn where it was suddenly revealed, for several decades senior high school girls have been creating a “slut lists” of incoming freshmen girls in which fictional sexual characteristics are inserted between the girls’ first and last name.

The New York Time broke the story last month in a scathing expose.

Parental reaction was swift. One parent warned that “the future cost of all this was ‘children who will become disfuctional [sic], psychotic, damaged graduates that society will have to bear the burden of dealing with in the future.’”

Another “Mom of Girls” painted a more frightening scenario than “disfunction” when she said, “This would stop immediately if the senior girls knew it would go on their transcripts/guidance recommendation letters.” (That’s the great fear in suburbia: difficulty getting admitted to college so a child can pile up debt to train for a job that is no longer there.)

The only problem is that the kids love it and have refused to rat out those who have been involved. The only trauma associated with the list is that a girl might be excluded.

I suspect that reaction would have been more muted had the senior girls drawn up a “Rich Bitch” list in which a parents net worth is listed next to a freshman girl’s name. The problem is not the list, per se; it is s-e-x. It’s alright to teach our kids greed and venality, but we expect them to be chaste as they learn to exploit the less fortunate of the world.

Sex, as one parent pointed out above, leads to “disfunction.” It looks bad on a high school transcript and leaves an individual scarred for life. Mind you, that’s just talking about it; not doing it. It’s also a little sexist. Had senior boys drawn up a “stud list,” it would have gone unnoticed.

The children of the middle class are raised in a sterile void. This is not to suggest that we should send them into the mines and the mills to earn their keep. But the trouble with a void is that the most insignificant incident results in overreaction. A dust mote on a dung heap attracts no attention; a dust mote on the highly polished surface of a telescope’s lens screams.

But, I can understand how the town feels. Millburn is home to several Goldman Sachs executives, so it is a town that puts a premium on virtue.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Jumping the Fence

Truth mumbles because it is never certain. It gropes and feels its way through the complex nuances that make up our world and finds few absolutes in its travels because truth is a journey that never ends.

The lie, on the other hand, roars because the lie is not concerned with what is but with what it can make up.

The truth never arrives; the lie never begins the journey.

This is what gives the right a tremendous advantage over the left. Absolutes are the children of the lie that can be spoken with certainty and confidence.

Because there are few absolutes, the left seeks the comfort and security of numbers and makes a vain attempt to quantify the truth. Consequently, the right beats its drum while the left quietly shuffles along.

The result is that the left feels itself trapped in a dichotomy. Its followers fear that if they leave their fenced in pasture of rational exposition they will enter the jungles of demagoguery and will become as bestial as the right. For that reason, they remain fenced in, comfortable and marginalized as they wander their well-manicured pastures.

The fact that there are few absolutes does not mean the truth can’t be expressed in a way that inspires and move. The key is to discard the number and take up the poetic metaphor. Martin Luther King excelled at this. Instead of espousing long rational arguments explaining why Blacks should have equality, he sang “We Shall Overcome.” Instead of a “plan” he had a dream.

And this illustrates the key difference between demagoguery and poetic metaphor. Demagoguery is hot air blown to conceal and distract; metaphor is a flood light that illuminates that which demagoguery seeks to conceal. Demagoguery rolls in the gutter and calls it the mountain top; metaphor soars and brushes the heavens.

So let’s drop the studies and the charts and spread our wings. We express the simple truth that four moral laws govern a decent society: don’t kill, don’t steal, don’t lie, don’t exploit. That’s as close to the truth as we need to get.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The kids can't have their cake or eat it.

New York City’s Mayor Bloomberg has struck another blow in his battle to save the city’s schools by effectively banning bake sales.

Praise God! Our children may not be able to think, but at least they won’t be fat.

Bake sales have been traditional money raisers that have helped fund extracurricular activities. They have become increasingly important as school budgets have been feeling the fallout from a crippled economy. A decent bake sale can clear a $500 profit on a good day.

The problem is too many calories.

It seems the good mayor is worried about the obesity that is spreading that is the latest media plague sweeeping across the land, so he’s doing his part by restricting bake sales to once a month after the lunch hour is over.

Officials are worried that too many fat kids are performing poorly on standardized tests which are how a child’s worth is measured these days. They elide over the fact that a statistical correlation does not necessarily imply a causal relationship. But, what can you expect from a Mayor who banned transfat from the city’s restaurants.

Repression has a need to regulate all aspects of the public’s life, even down to what it may or may not eat.

One of life’s miracles is that so many children grow up to be decent adults in spite of the best efforts of educators. Here, a distinction must be made between teachers and educators. Teachers are heroic and dedicated individuals who do grunt work when it comes to teaching our children. Often they do this by ignoring educators. Educators are never found in the classroom. Instead, they are found in drab board of education headquarters dreaming up assorted wild schemes to justify their existence, such as restricting bake sales or coming up with creative ways to dehumanize children by quantifying them.

The sad fact is that the child is not a factor in the equation of educational policy. Rather, the child is a marketing tool used to squeeze more money out of depleted public coffers. Children are sold as the future of America who are then dumbed down by having their heads crammed with disparate and discrete dollops of data that, in time, dulls whatever critical facilities they possessed just so they can perform well on standardized tests.

Having spent eighteen years as a teacher in New York City, I offer the one caveat: Despite the army of educators that permeate the system, the city’s schools work miracles given the challenges teachers face every day. The children of the world pour into their classrooms, children who have known war, homelessness, grinding poverty, drug addicted parents, crime and exploitation. (While I was a per diem sub I once taught an ESL class in which one of the children was a nine-year-old boy who had just arrived from Pakistan. He spoke only Urdu and had never been in a classroom in his life. To educators he was a liability because he was sure to score low on the standardized tests because he couldn’t read them.)

Those who claim our schools are failure have never spent time in an urban classroom.

The system’s success is even more amazing when we remember that it is being run by administrators who idea of creativity is banning bake sales.

If only they’d emphasize critical thinking.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Missionary Work

Colonies are the outhouses of the European soul, where a fellow can let his pants down and relax, enjoy the smell of his own shit. Where he can fall on his slender prey roaring as loud as he feels like, and guzzle her blood with open joy. Eh? Where he can just wallow and rut and let himself go in a softness, a receptive darkness of limbs, of hair as woolly as the hair on his own forbidden genitals. Where the poppy, and cannabis and coca grow full and green, and not to the colors and style of death, as do ergot and agaric, the blight and fungus native to Europe. Christian Europe was always death…death and repression. Out and down in the colonies, life can be indulged, life and sensuality in all its forms, with no harm done to the Metropolis, nothing to soil those cathedrals, white marble statues, noble thoughts…No word ever gets back. The silences down here are vast enough to absorb all behavior. No matter how dirty, how animal it gets…

Thomas Pynchon
Gravity’s Rainbow

Some things never change.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

It's time to get over Barack Obama

So there it is. The Senate Finance Committee killed the public option in the healthcare “reform” bill and nary a whimper has come from the White House. Iowa’s Sen. Chuck Grassy assured the public that the committee did it a tremendous favor since government is nothing but a predator that would feed on corporate profits in its fanatical obsession to bring affordable health care to the poor and disenfranchised who don’t count anyway.

It should come as no surprise. The sad truth is that the public option was on life support the first time Obama brought it up during his campaign.

Maybe progressives will finally realize that it’s time they got over Barack Obama. Some still hope that he will turn a corner and start kicking ass and taking names as he ramrods a progressive program through a corporately-owned Congress.

It’s not going to happen. Even as early as July, 2008, it was obvious that Barack Obama was just another charming corporate Democrat who had the good fortune to run against the Cheney administration. Compared to that bunch, even the Jack the Ripper would have looked good. It also helped that his long-in-the–tooth opponent chose a total ditzoid as his running mate.

The sad fact is that both the White House and Congress are carbuncles on the corporate ass, and whither the ass goes, so go they.

So here we are, shut out and shivering in a dark ally, hoping against hope that the fat cats partying inside might throw us a stale crust of a well-chewed hunk of gristle. But the door never opens and the cold continues to seep into our bones.

So, what to do? Well maybe it’s time to think about a third party…and a collective cringe goes up from the left as, like Banquo’s ghost, the specter of Ralph Nader materializes.

Fear not, this would be a third party with a difference. The fatal mistake that has been made by third parties in the past is putting up a candidate for president. People prefer a politically-correct hack in the White House to an unknown third-party candidate. Should a third party candidate, such as William Jennings Bryant, garner some popularity, the Democrats would co-opt him and neutralize his message.

The key to success for a third party would be to avoid the White House like the plague and concentrate its efforts on the House of Representatives. It would be much easier to sell a third party to a congressional district than to an entire country. The idea would be to pack the House with enough third-party representatives to gum up the works until some meaningful progressive legislation was on the books.

So what would this third party’s platform be? Simple: the decorporatization of America.

What we need is rudeness! Forget the politeness or the dry recitation of facts and statistics. This party would have to roar, its rhetoric would have to soar. Poetry would have to flow from its lips as it demonized the corporate world and revealed it for the blind, bumbling monster that it is.

Arundhati Roy sums it up nicely when she asks, “What happens now that democracy and the free market have fused into a single predatory organism with a thin, constricted imagination that revolves almost entirely around the idea of maximizing profits?” She goes on to say that, “(W)hat we need is a feral howl, or the transformative power and real precision of poetry.”

It would be a party that would not consider its day complete until it had said something to sent Glen Beck into a paroxysm of spittle-sprayed rage.

From this simple plank, the decorporatization of America, many splinters would fly. Our wars are corporate, the devastation of our environment is corporate, our poverty is corporate, our shrinking middle class is corporate, and the underfunding of our schools is corporate. The list goes on and on. Every running sore on Liberty’s face can be traced back to a corporate policy.

With such a platform, we could redirect public anger to the real source of its problems: the corporations. We could put to rest the many red herrings the corporate media throws up to deflect this anger. The “illegal” immigrant “problem” is a shining example of this. (Listen folks! That Mexican with the leaf blower strapped to his back didn’t close your factory, he didn’t deny your child health care, he isn’t foreclosing on your home, he didn’t get you son killed in one of our corporate wars. It’s the bastards in corporate boardrooms, who are paying him peanuts to keep their lawns nicely manicured, that did it.)

So, what to do? A while back, I suggested a 28th Amendment to the Constitution stripping corporations of their personhood and denying them any rights under the 14th Amendment or the Bill of Rights. With this amendment, corporation would have no rights; they would only have obligations enumerated by their charters, and these charters could be revoked should they fail to live up to them.

This would enable us to cleanse corporate corruption from Congress. Corporations and their PR hacks have deftly painted bribery as an exercise in free speech protected by the Bill of Rights. Sorry, guys, but free speech is a right enjoyed only by “natural” persons, not by legal fictions. Thank you very much, but we’ll go with public financing of our election campaigns from now on.

Out of this amendment would flow the realization that it’s a misnomer to call corporate property “private” property. Private property is that which is possessed by natural persons. The ownership of corporate property is so diffuse that its really quasi-private property and subject to strict public control.

And when the right screams, "Socialism!" we replay, "Damn straight!"

It’s a wild dream, one that would take generations to realize. But it is a dream that must be dreamt, and the dynamic that drives it is a simple question: What kind of world do we want to leave for our children and our grandchildren. When my first granddaughter was born, I did some math and realized that her children will probably live into the twenty-second century.

What will their inheritance be?

Thursday, October 1, 2009

History, Papal Style

Pope Benedict ended his visit to the Czech Republic by pointing to the collapse of the Soviet Union as an example of the fate that awaits those who choose power over God. It seems the pope has sunk his teeth into a half truth. Power is problematic, but you don’t have to deny God to pursue it. With or without God, the consequences can be devastating. His own church is a shining example of this.

In the fourteenth century, the church discovered that it has a problem. In villages throughout Europe, the influence of the local priest was undercut by wise women and healers. If you were sick, all a priest could do was pray over you. A wise woman, on the other hand, could make you better.

The wise women possessed another talent, they could cast spells. It was very democratic No matter how powerful you were, you’d think twice before messing with one of your lesser souls for fear he’d head for the nearest healer and lay a curse on you.

For the church, the solution was simple—declare the wise women witches and burn them at the stake. With their competition toast, the priests would have a free hand. The church even published the Malleus Maleficarum, a forerunner of our Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Both helped authorities root out deviant behavior. (Granted, we’re more civilized; instead of the stake, we medicate.)

Estimates of how many women were burned vary wildly. Record keeping in those days was a little sloppy, so it is doubtful an accurate count will ever be arrived at. Apologists claim the number was as low as 60,000 while others put it as high as 9 million.

Whatever the number the end result was a civilized Europe in which the sick were prayed over with gusto.

While it was civilizing Europe, this God-driven power was also bringing civilization to South America where indigenous populations were given a choice. If they refused to convert to Christianity, they were burned; it they converted, they were worked to death in the silver and gold mines, all to the greater glory of God.

Any movement, be it religious or secular, becomes deadly when it hardens into an ideology that believes it is the sole possessor of an absolute truth. All ideologies, when they attain political power, turn nasty because not everybody buys into them. Consequently, heretics and counterrevolutionaries must be slaughtered if the purity of the Truth is to be maintained.

Power’s most corrupting influences is the paranoia that accompanies it. As soon and individual attains power, he comes to realize that others are gunning for his position. If the individual is an ideologue, he feels compelled to eliminate not only those who oppose him, but those whom he thinks oppose him.

We see this phenomenon at work in the Beltway where we feel exposed and vulnerable because we are a military superpower. We’re like the fastest gun in the west that is constantly looking over his shoulder because he knows there are legions of young kids looking to knock him off his pedestal. (Actually, the Swiss have the right idea: be the slowest gun in the west and make a fortune selling pocket knives.)

Getting back to the pope, he shares a talent common to many ideologues, a selective memory when it comes to history. It makes things a lot easier.