Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Beckett the Prophet

In 1946, Samuel Beckett began work on his novel, Malloy, the first in a trilogy that was to include Malone Dies, and the Unnamable. All three were ground-breaking works that redefined the novel. Interpretations of the works fill volumes. One interpretation is that the works represent an extended critique of a Cartesian rationalism that is crippled because it can only express itself in language, and language, as Beckett is quick to remind us, is limited in its ability to capture define reality, let alone express it.

But there is one passage in Malloy that gives us an insight into another side of Beckett that is never mentioned: that of prophet. In an age of Patriot Acts, surveillance camera on every corner, Military Commissions, legalized torture, drone attacks on civilians and the targeting of American citizens for assassination, see if this passage, written in 1946, doesn’t sound frighteningly familiar:

Morning is the time to hide. They wake up, hale and hearty, their tongues hanging out for order, beauty and justice, baying for their due. Yes, from eight or nine till noon is the dangerous time. But towards noon things quiet down, the most implacable are sated, they go home, it might have been better but they’ve done a good job, there have been a few survivors but they’ll give no more trouble, each man counts his rats. It may begin again in the early afternoon, after the banquet, the celebrations, the congratulations, the orations, but it’s nothing compared to the morning, mere fun. Coming up to four or five of course there is the night-shift, the watchmen beginning to bestir themselves. But already the day is over, the shadows lengthen, the walls multiply, you hug the walls, bowed down like a good old boy, oozing with obsequiousness, having nothing to hide, hiding from mere terror, looking neither right nor left, hiding but not provocatively, ready to come out, to smile, to listen, to crawl, nauseating but not pestilent, less rat than toad. Then the true night, perilous too but sweet to him who knows it, who can open to it like the flower to the sun, who himself is night, day and night. No there is not much to be said for the night either, but compared to the day there is much to be said for it, and notably compared to the morning there is everything to be said for it. For the night purge is in the hands of technicians, for the most part. They do nothing else, the bulk of the population have no part in it, preferring their warm beds, all things considered. Day is the time for lynching, for sleep is sacred, and especially the morning between breakfast and lunch.

Does it remind you of anything?

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Good, The Bad and The Wimpy

We are slowly learning that all deficits are not created equal. There are good deficits and there are bad deficits; there are deficits that wear white hats and those that wear black hats.

Last week Senate Republicans shot down a bill that surely would have fed ammo to a black-hatted deficit when they killed legislation that would have extended unemployment benefits for the estimated 1.2 million Americans whose jobless benefits will be exhausted by the end of the month, according to The New York Times.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada did what Senate Democrats do best—he wimped out and announced he would move on to new business since he didn’t have the votes to stop a Republican filibuster against the bill.

Of course a fool might ask: Why not let the Republicans hold their filibuster. Let every Republican senator who stands up to speak against the bill be duly recorded by C-Span. Then when the 2012 elections roll around play clips of their dulcet rhetoric over and over again to let the nation see exactly what the GOP stands for.

According to the Times,”The Obama administration has not fought aggressively for the legislation.” But this is to be expected. Obama continues to float in Never-Never Land as the Pentagon leads him to and fro by his nose, and the Democrats wimp out.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said, “The only thing Republicans opposed in this debate are (sic) job-killing taxes and adding to the national debt.

Which brings us back to the distinction between good deficits and bad deficits: In Republican eyes, bad deficits are those that help alleviate domestic economic suffering. It all gets down to the Right’s doctrine of personal responsibility. The unemployed would not be unemployed had they not forced their manufacturing plants to relocate overseas because the once-employed demanded a living wage.

Good deficits, on the other hand, are those that help America maintain her military erection. Deficits are to the Pentagon as Viagra is to the fifty-something male. Here are a few examples of good deficits:

1. B-52 bombers consume 47,000 gallons of jet fuel per mission per plane, leaving a contrail of red ink in their wake.
2. When an F-16’s afterburner kicks in it burns through $300 worth of jet fuel per minute as red ink pours out of its exhaust.
3. The Afghan War is costing us $57,077.60 per minute to lose. I’d say we’re up to our keisters in red ink on that one.
4. A contributing factor to that cost is that the “fully-burdened cost” of pumping a gallon of gasoline in Afghanistan is $400. All those tanks, Humvees and other vehicles are blowing red ink out their exhaust pipes.

However, according to both Republicans and Democrats, these are good deficits because they are “feel-good” expenditures. Being a military superpower is such an ego trip that our leaders are loathe to give it up so the funds being burnt up on a useless war could be diverted to relieve the ever growing suffering on the home front.

Meanwhile, Obama continues to float in Never-Never Land while the Pentagon leads him around by the nose, and Sen. Reid comes up with even more creative ways to wimp out less he incur the wrath of America’s Rabid Right.

Our children may go hungry; more and more tent cities will spring up as more homes are lost, but, by God, both the Pentagon and its military contractors will continue to prosper. And nobody, but nobody seems willing to make the connection between domestic suffering and the money being wasted on an useless and unnecessary war.

Go figure.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Dress Rebellion

One of the more thoughtful writers on the peak oil scene is John Michael Greer. His blog, The Archdruid Report is as perceptive and intelligent as it is well written. In one of his recent posts he made the following observation which concisely sums up one of the problems that plagues progressives in America:

Striking a rebellious pose and claiming originality is very fashionable these days; actually rejecting the conventional wisdom of our time, and thinking thoughts that conflict with those of one’s contemporaries, is less common now that it was in the supposedly conformist Fifties.

The truth is that when America's young people revolt they head for the mall where they are clothed, tattooed and pierced. Having established their bona fides as well-appointed revolutionaries, they return to their rooms or thier clubs to lose themselves in the ramped-up music of rebellion and despair.

Nothing insures social stability like a fashionable revolution. In a consumer society, revolution is all about style. Once properly costumed, the revolution goes mainstream and nothing changes. For the Corporatist State, revolution is not about liberte, egalite and fraternite, but about market share, retail shares and brand recognition.

But our corporatist should beware of the revolutionary who shows up in Dockers, penny loafers and a button-down shirt. That sonofabitch will hurt them. Where fashionable rebels hope to bring a pier down by slam dancing on its surface, the guy in Dockers is the one who puts on his scuba gear, drops beneath the surface of the water and starts chipping away at the pilings.

Unfortunately in an age when it is not only necessary to think outside the box, but to reduce the box to kindling, too many would-be rebels think that all the box needs is a fresh coat of paint or a new addition.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

It's a Freaking Miracle!

Talk about a miracle, out of nowhere over a trillion dollars worth of minerals and raw materials are popping up all over Afghanistan. And if we believe government spokesfolk, the Pentagon has just now stumbled onto them.

There’s iron, copper, niobium, cobalt, gold, molybdenum, silver, potash, lapis lazuli and rare earth elements such as lithium without which laptops and Blackberries would be so much scrap metal.

According to Tuesday’s New York Times, these deposits could “transform Afghanistan into one of the important mining centers in the world.” And most tellingly, “…it could alter the Afghan war itself.” Of course there is one caveat to these statements. Both express the earnest faith of Pentagon officials, who “believe” this could be so, somewhere, over the rainbow.

As with any article that appears in the Times, the real story is buried 20,000 paragraphs under the lead. The Soviets figured this out in the 1980s when they conducted their own geological surveys. The surveys were discarded when the Afghans drove them out of the country. A Pentagon team looking for some sort of economic justification for our eternal war of the empty policy came across the survey and put together a small team of Pentagon officials and American geologists to expand on the study. This was in 2006.

The story does point out that, “American and Afghan officials agreed to discuss the mineral discoveries at a difficult moment in the war in Afghanistan,” as in they need all the good news they can get no matter how chimerical it is.

James Joyner deconstructs the hype surrounding this “breakthrough discovery.” He quotes Foreign Policy managing editor Blake Hounshell who suggests that the $1 trillion estimate was pulled out of thin air. Let’s face it, the Pentagon has a vested interest in inflating the estimate in an effort to provide a commercial rationale for the Afghan enterprise.

One commentator calls it a “massive information operation,” though it might be more accurate to call it a “disinformation” operation.

Political scientists refer to the “Resource Curse” to describe the fate of third-world countries in which large deposits of minerals are discovered. The bottom line is that the poor remain poor while the corrupt and the connected prosper. Already, there’s talk of brining in multinational mining companies to exploit these mineral deposits at pennies on the dollar.

What we have here is a feeble attempt by the Pentagon to justify its existence. A trillion dollars, that’s the new buzz word that officials hope will garner support for a dying policy. How can we leave Afghanistan with all those minerals that will lift the Afghan people out of their stone-age poverty and bring them into the modern world? It won’t happen, but that makes little differences. Justifications for war rarely have any relationship to reality.

Then, of course, there’s the threat of China muscling in and exploiting the minerals for their own selfish commercial ends. God knows they’ve been inking contracts all over Africa and the Middle East. They’ve already tied up the copper franchise in Afghanistan.

However, the Chinese have one advantage over the United States—drones and hellfire missiles are not a component of their foreign policy.

But, hey! The Pentagon says all those minerals are just begging to be developed and when has our Pentagon ever lied to us? Nothing brings democracy to a country like raw materials waiting to be exploited. We can’t leave now and leave all those minerals to a bunch of foreigners. If we found them we own them. It doesn’t make a damn bit of difference who they actually belong to.

Monday, June 14, 2010

A Gated State

There are many who worry that as money and capital continue to flow upward towards the apex of the pyramid that passes for our democratic republic America could turn into an impoverished wasteland pocked by secure, thick-walled gated communities behind which the very wealthy would hide from the ravages of torch and pitchfork bearing mobs.

An article in this month’s Harper’s suggests that Arizona may be on the cutting edge of becoming America’s first gated state. In “Tea Party In The Sonora,” Ken Silverstein walks us through the madness that passes for politics in Arizona.

The state is facing a financial crisis that makes California look wealthy by comparison. Silverstein cites as an example of the political “wisdom” that is driving the state a decision by the legislature to slash the budget for the Department of Revenue, which is responsible for tax collection. Sure, they saved $25 million, but one official estimates that by doing so the state will lose out on $174 million in revenue.

Howver, there is one quote from an Arizona resident that jumps out at the reader because it underscores the gated-community mentality that seems to dominate Euromerican thinking on the far-right fringe of our political spectrum. To this individual’s credit, her statement was so perceptive that I doubt she shares its sentiment. Commenting on the right’s aversion to big government, she said:

People who have swimming pools don’t need state parks. If you buy your books at Borders you don’t need libraries. If your kids are in private school, you don’t need K-12. The people here, or at least those who vote, don’t see the need for government. Since a lot of the population are not citizens, the message is that government exists to help the undeserving, so we shouldn’t have it at all.

Now, there’s gate-building with a vengeance. It personifies the attitude of many Euromericans: I’ve got mine; screw you! Unfortunately, I’m not sure it’s an attitude that is strictly confined to our wingnuts. On sometimes wonders if the democratic liberals are cowed by the right or if they’re somewhat in agreement with them. It’s the old “Yes-they’re-fine-as-long-as-they’re-like-us,” syndrome.

One of the things that is sending the right into its spasms of bigotry is the sense that the age of Euromerican supremacy is drawing to a close. This could explain our collective obsession with military spending and wars. If your economy is hollowed out, if, instead of a community, peoples’ lives have been reduced to one of fragmented isolation, if the good life has been reduced to a question of how much junk you own, then the only feel-good experience left in to go to war and kill somebody. It’s a great high, especially if you’re not the one doing the killing.

America’s strength has been her ability to absorb wave after wave of immigrants. It has not been easy; it’s been traumatic and violent at times. Yet, as each wave was assimilated, America was re-energized. One of problems facing Europe has been its inability to absorb its immigrants.

Each wave of immigrants has arrived in this country poor and, over several generations, has prospered, and, in doing so, has made its contribution to our greatness. My grandfather arrived in America in 1892 with just the shirt on his back. The third generation of his offspring included doctors, nurses, teachers and business people, all of them on the make.

Then there’s the right’s lament that the latest wave of Hispanic immigrants are overburdening what’s left of our social welfare system. This is as it must be because the America into which the Hispanic immigrates differs from the world into which my Grandfather immigrated.

When my grandfather immigrated to America, it took a team of men armed with picks and shovels to dig a ditch. Now the same ditch is dug by a single back-hoe operator with a union card in his wallet, which he probably inherited from his father. The social services provided to new immigrants are not money down a rathole; they are an investment in the contributions their children and their children’s children will make to our country, if we allow them to.

Fear corrodes a people. A frightened people can never be a free people, and the great irony of the right is that the very fear that powers it is eating away at the freedoms they claim to value. Once fear takes over there is neither a wall thick enough nor a gate strong enough to make it go away. The point is reached when fear ceases to be an emotion and becomes a way of life. The right, particularly in Arizona, appears to be in the vanguard leading us into that putrid swamp of fear and paranoia where dreams die.

But then, if you can still afford to buy books at Borders…

Sunday, June 13, 2010

A Nasty Little Sacrament

What a nasty little sacrament the flag lapel pin has become. The church defines a sacrament as an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. The difference between sacrament and a sign is that a sacrament participates in the reality it represents.

Imperial sacraments take this one step further. As one sage pointed out, as imperial overlords we create a reality that is not real but appears to be real simply because we are imperial overlords and thus are able to create the reality of which any given sacrament is a part. One of the privileges of being an imperial overlord is the privilege of living in a fantasy world.

Nowhere is this demonic creation of reality more manifest than in the flag lapel pin. The pins our leaders wear is not the flag of social justice but of military prowess. It is not the flag of democracy but the flag of corporate management techniques. It is not the flag of freedom for the people but freedom of the few to exploit the many.

It is also rapidly becoming the flag of cultural purity as ICE agents continue to arrest and deport “illegal” aliens. Our leaders are determined to prove to the world that we are not a salsa culture and Arizona is in the front ranks of the war to keep it that way.

It is this obsession with cultural purity that is the real bond between the United States and Israel. Each of us, in our own way, represents the pinnacle of Western Civilization, and each of us is determined to prevent its corruption by brown-skinned aliens. The only difference is that Israel’s aliens shoot rockets while ours clean offices. Therefore, Israel needs a different methodology in dealing with its alien problem.

Call it what you may, but it’s not racism. Any alien willing to get with the program, internalize our Western values and claw his way to a CEO position is welcome with open arms. That’s why we have an alien in the White House. Those who won’t get with the program are deported, jailed or bombed out of existence. It’s a question of behavior and attitude, not race.

It’s only a matter of time before the values that gave us World Wars I and II are the norm and the world enters a golden age of carnage and fat defense contracts.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Thank you GM for doing something right for a change.

Thank God General Motors has let me off the hook. Yesterday, one of their marketing mavens in a sudden attack of retartive genius issued a memo in which he directed employees and sales personnel that when referring the Chevrolet to stop calling them “Chevys.” The goal, he said, was “brand consistency.” Perhaps he thought Chevrolet had more of cachet to it than the more plebian Chevy.

I was crushed. This meant I could no longer drive my Chevy to the levy but the levy was dry. Granted, I have neither Chevy nor levy, but that makes no difference. That damn memo deprived me of my freedom to someday have both a Chevy and a levy, whether wet or dry.

And let’s face it, singing:

Drove my Chevrolet
To the roundelay
But the dancers were dead…

doesn’t have the same punch to it.

This morning I learn redemption is mine! GM issued a “Boy-did-we-screw-that-one-up” memo in which they said, “Hell, yes. Go ahead and use Chevy ‘till your teeth fall out.

Could it be that the company is starting to realize that there’s a public out there it has to be responsive to? That could be a breakthrough.

In the meantime, does anyone know where I could pick up a used levy?

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Lung Cancer and Life

In April I was diagnosed with lung cancer when the doctors discovered a 4 cm adenocarcinoma on my left lung. The good news is that I caught it early and that it originated and is confined to the lung.

Monday, I completed the second of four courses of chemotherapy designed to shrink the tumor and keep it in its place. After the chemo is completed I will go into surgery. Because the tumor is located in the fissure that separates the upper and lower lobe of the lung it looks as if the entire lung will have to be removed.

Many patients talk of fighting cancer, of battling and struggling against it, and these are valid approaches that reflect the individual temperaments of these patients.

My approach is different. I embrace my cancer as an integral part of God’s creation, for all of creation is grounded in death and the truth we all face is that the leading cause of death is birth.

On this surface, this could easily be misconstrued as surrender. It is anything but.

Life is one big non-linear paradox. So my embrace, rather than being surrender, is a challenge to embrace my cancer and pass through it, and in passing through it to realize and accept that not only will it change me but it will always be with me. It will forever be in my soul, but by embracing and passing through I increase the probability that it will strengthen my soul instead of curdling it.

It will remain is my body, as well, in remission, but the truth is that cancer will probably be my ticket out of this world, hopefully some years from now. In one respect, we are all children playing in the sand, and with our plastic shovels and buckets we build sand castles, forts and other intricate structures. And, yet, the time comes for all of us when we must pick up our toys, take our father’s hand and go home. And after we have left the beach, the tide comes in and washes away all we have built. However, by the time that happens we are safely home and sound asleep.

This is actually my second bout of cancer. Ten years ago I was diagnosed with an indolent lymphoma. Happily, for the last six years, it’s been behaving itself. On that occasion I wrote the following poem:

Bury me, if you would, in a shroud
That my brothers and sisters
The worms and microbes may enfold me back into the earth,
That one day,
Years from now or generations from now,
A young girl may squat before a gaily-colored flower
And in leaning forward to inhale its scent
She will inhale my Spirit.

One of the upsides of cancer is that it gives you time to compose your epitaph. After much thought and meditation I wish the following to be carved into my tombstone below my name and the dates of my birth and my death:


After all, it does piss you off a bit.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

It all goes back to the size of the crime.

This happened in waters outside of Israeli territory, but we have the right to defend ourselves.
Avital Leibovich, Israeli Military Spokeswoman
Commenting on the Israeli attack
a Gaza-bound humanitarian ship that resulted
in nine deaths.

Of course they had to attack the ships because Israel’s definition of “’the right to defend ourselves” includes the right to attack a fleet of humanitarian relief ships in international waters as well as the right to turn Gaza into the world's largest concentration camp. And what concentration camp worth its salt is going to allow an incursion of humanitarian aid?

Ah! But wait! Things are not as they appear according to the Israeli government. These were ships manned by "terrorists" and “terrorist dupes” carrying a cargo that included weapons. Case closed, maybe...

I.F. Stone once said that all a journalist has to do is remember two words: governments lie. A corollary to Stone’s rule is that the bigger the crime, the bigger the lie. (Both rule and its corollary have been completely lost on the American media.)

According to Paul Craig Roberts, “America will never hear from the US media that Turkey’s prime minister Erdogan declared that the aid ships were carefully inspected before departure from Turkey and that there were no terrorists or arms aboard.

Roberts quoted Erdogan who declared, “I want to say to the world, to the heads of state and the governments, that these boats that left from Turkey and other countries were checked in a strict way under the framework of the rules of the rules of international navigation and were only loaded with humanitarian aid.”

Granted, Erdogan’s statement could fall under Stone’s rule, but then we must turn to the corollary and ask, whose crime was bigger? And why did Israel deport all the members of the ships’ crew if they included terrorists? Then of course, we’ve yet to see the Great Israeli Photo Op that displays all the weapons seized from the humanitarian flotilla, though if the Israeli’s did stage such a display one would have to wonder where, exactly, these weapons came from. It all gets back to the size of the crime.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Labels protect us from thinking.

My loathing of labels is a product of the eighteen years I spent as a special ed. teacher in Brooklyn. It was in that setting that I saw how thoroughly labels dehumanize. I taught autistic children and was forced to spend hours listening to administrators drone on about strategies for teaching “the autistic child,” as opposed to teaching the human child. The children I taught were a diverse lot, yet the autistic label reduced them to a single, homogenous category.

In truth, the autistic label was a death warrant for a child. Reading evaluation reports for incoming students it was not at all uncommon to read about a pediatrician telling parents of a newly-diagnoses child that their child would have the mind of a two-year-old for the rest of its life, a gross misstatement of fact.

It’s easy to spin a label. If I told someone I taught autistic children, they would react as if I were a candidate for sainthood. If, on the other hand, I said I taught children with pervasive developmental delays (a more accurate description of what I did) the reaction was, “Oh! That’s nice.”

The advantage of the label is that it saves people the trouble of thinking, and in our age of collective brain rot this is a desirable quality to have. Labels also save us the pain-in-the-ass effort of trying to see others as human beings in all of their nuanced complexity. It is far better to hang a label on them so we can slip into our comfortable for-or-against-us mode of binary thinking.

Without labels power would be crippled. To thrive power needs both labels and numbers. What it can’t quantify it labels and in doing so it dehumanizes both its subjects and its enemies. Both numbers and labels are key ingredients in the firewall that protects power from the fecund maelstrom that is life.

Labels are so much easier to kill or oppress. It’s easier to bomb a terrorist than to bomb a human being, and the vaguer and more ill defined a label is, the easier it is to drop the bombs. Without labels there could be no Pentagon, no Israel, no military-industrial complex and no War on Terror. Without labels there could be no violence. Perhaps this is why the spinning of labels appears to be hardwired our collective brain.

The upside of labels is that they bankrupt empires since an empire can only conquer and oppress a label. One could argue that that is their sole contributions to a decent world.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

An Exciting New Threat

Happy News! We have a new threat to our wellbeing, something else to flame our anxiety and keep it at a simmer so we can await with baited breath the next words of wisdom that tinkle down from the “experts” who would sanitize and scrub clean our existences until nothing is left of us except compliant and obedient shells whose surfaces are brightly polished.

According to a front-page story in Saturday’s Times, this new threat is the very substance that kept our ancestors alive: salt. In the forefront of this new War against Something is none other than New York City Mayor Mike “The-People-Don’t-Know-What’s-Good-For-Them-But-I-Do” Bloomberg who wants to do what any politician wants to do when faced with an imaginary threat, and that is legislate.

Experts tell us that if we could cut down on our salt intake, we could “save” 150,000 American lives annually (That comes to .0005 of the population if I counted the zeroes correctly).

Now, the idea of saving lives by banning this or that substance raises a question. The simple fact of the matter is that the leading cause of death is birth. It’s true for all of us. So cutting down on salt doesn’t save anything. It simply puts off the inevitable. Granted this delay has its merits, but looking at it in this way robs the issue of its urgency. If I pull a drowning man from a river I’ve saved a life. If by taking away his salt and adding a couple of years to his life saves nothing.

But what the hell, a politician isn’t a politician unless he has a threat to hype, and for a politician a threat doesn’t have to be real as long as it plays well in Astoria.