Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Big Dick was right!

The justification for the Eternal War of the Empty Policy’s erosion of our civil liberties, for its gutting of habeas corpus, for its policy assassinating anyone designated as a terrorist without the benefit of a trial, for its Patriot Act and its Military Commissions Act, for its trashing of Iraq and Afghanistan is pure simplicity: Since 9/11 there has not been a terrorist attack on U.S. soil. Ergo, all of the above have been as successful as they were necessary.

And they are right. I know because I’ve used a similar approach in dealing with a threat to my personal wellbeing and security.

My home in suburban New Jersey is surrounded by a quarter acre of yard, and for years I lived in constant dread of the damage a herd of cattle could wreak if they wondered onto my property. My God! What grass they didn’t trash with their hooves they would be gobbled up by the greedy creatures. No shrub would be safe, flowers and perennials would be a thing of the past. By the time they were done, my yard would e reduced to a desert

The anxiety became unbearable. Many a night I would sit on the front stoop, flashlight in hand, waiting for the clatter of bovine hooves approaching my property. I lost weight and I lost sleep and regretted that my property wasn’t zoned for land minds.

Now some may ask what the chances of a herd of cattle descending on a lawn in suburban New Jersey are. And to those I say, “You fools! Aren’t you acquainted with the Big Dick’s one-percent doctrine that sates that if there is a one-percent chance an event will happen, then it must be treated as a certainty, and the facts be damned!

Salvation came when I visited my brother in Arizona. In a souvenir shop in Tombstone, among cowboy hats, Western costumes, leather goods, and Native American jewelry I found a solution to the threat I had been living under for so many years--a steer’s skull complete with horns and teeth. I snapped it up and had it shipped east. When it arrived, I placed in it a prominent spot in the garden that runs along the front of our house.

In doing so I was sending a powerful and credible message to the cattle of the world: If you step one hoof on my property, you get eaten, no exceptions and you can kiss your civil liberties goodbye.

And it has worked like a charm. Since setting the skull out not one damn steer has crossed my property line. Was the Big Dick right or was the Big Dick right?

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Another Buzzword; Another Dust-Up

How’s this for an epiphany? There is no progressive party; there are no progressives; there is no progressive movement or structure of any type. There are neither progressive politicians nor progressive platforms. There are only fragmented websites viewed by atomized individuals glued to their computer screens that have reduced “progressives” to a shriveled label that rattles around cyberspace like a dead pea pod signifying nothing. And in this vast wasteland that is cyberspace a disparate gaggle of individuals hang this label round their necks, festoon their bumpers with the appropriate stickers and call for a “progressive position” on this, that and the other thing.

How else do we explain how the right is able to frame issues in the most absurd manner imaginable and get ways with it time after time? Repeatedly, the right spits out a buzz word, then bends over and spreads its cheeks before chuckling when it becomes apparent that nobody on the left is going to pick up this buzz word and shove it up the right’s collective ass.

The latest example of this is the dust-up over “The Mosque at Ground Zero,” a beautiful little catch phrase that displays the Goebbelian compression that makes these phrases so effective.

Sounds scary, doesn’t it? What a slap in our face! A mosque on the very spot where Islamofascist terrorists reduced the twin towers to rubble. (Yes, Islamofascist still works because the left lacks the moxie to drive home the truth that the word is little more than a meaningless puff of bulldust. That’s dried bullshit for those of you who are interested. This is what happens when a buzzword ages and bullshit becomes dust. This is bullshit in its most dangerous form because the stench has dissipated and people have become so accustom to its presence that it seems a natural part of the environment.)

The problem with the phrase “The Mosque at Ground Zero” is that it’s neither a mosque nor is it at Ground Zero. What is being built is a community center on New York City’s Park Row, across from City Hall, a long two and one-half blocks from Ground Zero. According to Stephan Salisbury, the center will include “an auditorium, spa, basketball court, swimming pool, classrooms, exhibition space, a community meeting space, a 9/11 memorial and, yes, a prayer space for Muslims.”

A prayer space or room is not a mosque. It is simply a place where Muslims can go to spread their prayer rugs and pray to Mecca. A similar prayer room is found is the Pentagon, in the same building in which 184 people died on 9/11.

But, in spite of its absurdity, “The Mosque at Ground Zero” continues to stir passions and fears. This is largely because the Left, once again, has allowed the right to frame the issue and seems unwilling to challenge its premises. You see, the left believes that reason is useless against passion and bigotry. This may be true, but truth fired by passion is very effective, as the Civil Rights movement discovered when it broke down the barriers erected by Jim Crow legislation. But then, the left is as ignorant of history as is the right. So, gosh, if you can’t reason with bigots you might as well fold your tents and crawl home with your tail between your legs. You don’t want to do anything that might make the right angry.

Bigotry is a paranoid’s playground. It is the one place where unreasonable fears gain traction and are taken seriously. In a sane society, a proposal such as the one put forth by Rep. Louis Gohmer (R.-Tex.) would have been laughed off the floor of the House of Representatives. The good congressman is worried that terrorists are gaming our open democratic society. According to Gohmer, terrorists plan to flood our shores with pregnant Muslim women who will stay long enough to give birth to their children on American soil thus insuring their U.S. citizenship before taken them back home where they would be trained as terrorists to return twenty to thirty years later with U.S. passports to “help destroy our way of life ‘cause they figured out how stupid we are being in this country to allow our enemies to game our system, hurt our economy, get set up in a position to destroy our way of life.” (In Gohmer’s world stupidity is defined as failure to buy into the fantasies of a paranoid mind.

His solution? Change the 14th Amendment that grants citizenship to anyone born in the United States. So just being born here would not be enough to guarantee an individual citizenship. The newborn must be of the right descent, the right heritage and the right culture in order to qualify for citizenship. Otherwise, the newborn’s incubator would be set afloat in the Atlantic or Pacific to ob its way back to its country of origin. ‘Tis a vision to warm the cockles of a patriot’s heart. Thus is America kept pure and safe as flotillas of incubators catch homeward bound currents where, of course, the young ‘urns would be much happier than in the land of the bigoted and the prejudiced.

You see, Rep. Gohmer simply wants to protect “our way of life,” which these militant neonates are out to destroy. “Our way of life” is another buzzword that draws its effectiveness from its total lack of meaning. The image it evokes from the TV set of “Father Knows Best” or “Ozzie and Harriet.” It is a life built around images of Mom and Apple Pie that conveniently overlook the fact that mom is working two or three jobs just to keep food on the table so the apple pie, if there is any, is purchased frozen from the local supermarket. For the lucky few, our way of life is an exercise in materialistic hedonism in which well being is judged by the number of useless toys one is able to amass.

Bigotry and fear are boons for those who seek power for power’s sake. Bile is excellent filler for an empty soul whose life is without vision or meaning. To stoke fear and to pump it into the corridors of power like an odorless but deadly gas gives a thin veneer of meaning to lives that are otherwise meaningless.

But, what the hell! Anti-Muslim and anti-brown skin bigotry is breaking out all over the northern hemisphere. France wants to ban full-face veils; anti-immigrant political parties are gaining popularity in Europe; and the U.S. is fencing off Mexico but not Canada (the right sort of people live up there).

Could this be the last hurrah of the white folks as they watch their oil-driven way of life sink beneath the surface of the water for the third time?

Fastidiousness has always been the midwife of oppression. Keep the corpse scrubbed and clean and people might think it is still alive. Wear facemasks and latex gloves and you create a bulwark against misfortune. If you surround yourself with people just like you, on a summer evening on your condo patio with the Tiki torches blazing, you can maintain the illusion that God is in his little heaven and all is well with the world. Ramp up the volume on the stereo and the sound of a crumbling lifestyle is soon drowned out.

It doesn’t get much better than that!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Back Again

I'm happy to say that I am adapting well to life with one lung. I've started weening off the oxygen, which is a relief since I am spending less time with a plastic tube hanging out of my nose. I plan to start posting tomorrow. However, I will no longer be posting daily, a decision I made before surgery, but hope to do one or two pieces a week.

Thanks to all of you for your support and encouragement.


Sunday, August 8, 2010

A Little Hiatus

I've been taking a little break while dealing with a nasty tumor on my left lung. Four courses of chemo have shrunk it from 4 cm to 1 cm, and I'm slated for surgery on Thursday, 8/12, to remove part or all of the lung. The prognosis is excellent and I hope to be posting again by the end of the month.

Many thanks to those of you who have offered words of encouragement and support.


Saturday, July 24, 2010

A Further Discussion

In my last post one of my readers. Ivan Hentschel, objected to my conflation of empathy and Christian love when I wrote:

The word empathy has the same problem as does “Christian love.” Both words have touchy feely quality that evoke images of a maiden clad in a diaphanous white gown skipping through La-La Land with a beatific smile on her face. In truth both require a decent into the deepest pit of Hell coupled with a willingness to love every low-life son-of-a-bitch one finds down there even though one’s knee-jerk reaction is to tear their freaking throats out. Both empathy and Christian love are mindsets, which is why people rarely understand their meaning, and that is what makes them problematic as rallying cries.

To which Ivan replied:

Empathy is a useful capacity of human beings. “Christian love” is not.

To which I responded:

Actually, they’re one in the same, which is why neither is rarely found in organized religion.

To which Ivan said:

I must disagree. To be in empathy (to “feel with”) demonstrates some human compassion and energy sharing. “Christian (or any other brand of religious) love” is self-serving [My God is better than your God] and gratuitous. And it usually requires monetary contributions, whereas empathy does not.

And “organized religion” is probably no longer religion, but probably a financial, real estate and political movement. Just like corporations and political organizations, they have no capacity for empathy.

In short, empathizers, unlike sympathizers, do not manipulate for personal gain. Or at least they shouldn’t. If they do, they are merely charlatans.

I found Ivan’s comments so interesting I decided to kick them out of the comments section and devote a separate post to them.

In his last comment, Ivan has sunk his teeth into a half-truth…well, maybe a five/eighths truth or more. Yes, it is true that Christianity, like too many other organized religions “is probably no longer a religion, but rather a “financial and political movement.” He forgot to mention that Christianity’s overemphasis on “personal salvation” contributes much to its loss of empathy because all too often this” personal salvation becomes something to be fearfully protected by shutting out the outside world less it corrupt the purity of one’s faith. This is where you find too many Christians who only read Christian newspapers or listen only to Christian radio stations. Though, in truth, the majority of Christians pop into church at most once-a –week and doze through the sermon before rushing out for a week’s worth of secular activities.

However, there are a handful of us--a slim majority, a splinter group—for whom the emphasis of our faith in on the Tao of Jesus. In other words, we could care less about Jesus’ divinity, or whether he really rose from the dead on the third day, or whether God sent him forth to be a sacrificial lamb to atone for Adam’s original sin, or any of the other theological claptrap that surrounds his being.

The message he gave us was to develop a love (a mindset, not an emotion) for all of God’s creation, regardless of how it relates to us. This, and this alone, must be the essence of our faith. Anything less than that reduces the faith to a “corporate and political organization.”

For those who want to return America to her Christian roots, I am tempted to say let us do so. As Kurt Vonnegut has suggested, instead of posting the Ten Commandments in our public buildings, let us post the Beatitudes form the Sermon on the Mount. In his teachings Jesus reduced the Ten Commandments to two: Love God and love you neighbor. Then he proceeded to expand the definition of neighbor to include our enemies and those who hate us. This included the injunction to turn the other cheek, though the Religious Right is convinced that passage was translated incorrectly and that it should read, “Turn the other’s cheek with a fistful of knuckles.”

Were we truly a Christian nation, the first thing we would do is sell the Pentagon to a private developer who would turn it into the world’s greatest indoor shopping mall. (It has everything—name recognition, parking…) Because for a Christian, all acts of violence against another are evil. True, there are times, in rare circumstances, when this evil becomes a necessity as in the case of self-defense. These are exceptions that should neither be glorified nor honored. There is no such thing as a just war or a good war. Both are oxymorons that serve as thin rationalizations to justify our occasional and collective need to slaughter large number of our fellow beings in an orgy of self destruction.

Admittedly, Christian love is a tricky and difficult proposition fraught with potential danger. In the wrong hands it can become downright toxic as in, “Such is my love for your soul that I am burning you at the stake so your soul may rise heavenward on a column of greasy smoke to be embraced by our Heavenly Father.”

Practicing Christian love is a lot like pissing into a hurricane. Most of our output ends up in our laps. But occasionally a drop hits ground, and that makes is all worthwhile.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Numbing Narratives

“Narrative” is one of those buzz words that bounces around the Progressive blogosphere. It is usually uttered wishfully as in, “Progressives need to develop a coherent narrative on (fill in the blank).” Tragically, the wish for a narrative rarely produces one as Progressives continue to play fallback in the face of a strong and powerful narrative from the Right, which is why you rarely hear the Right speaking of the need for a narrative.

“Narrative” is word that signifies nothing. Rather, it is the product of a causal fallacy, i.e. the assumption that a “narrative” can shape or change reality. Ira Chernus in a thought-provoking article on Progressive Patriotism argues that, “[I]t is entirely possible to transform the meaning of patriotism in just about any way we like.” Here, Chernus bumps into the flaw that has hobbled Progressives since they turned their backs on the working class in the sixties: that all we need do to change a narrative is to change its language and the world will fall into step behind it. This line of thought assumes that culture is a machine, a static noun, and all we need do is change a battery or tighten a screw and it will dance to our tune. The truth is that culture is an ever changing verb that is constantly shifting beneath our feet even as we dot the “i’s” and cross the “t’s” in our carefully crafted narratives. It is this very fetish with top-down narratives that gave rise to the politically correct language that is anathema to the working class.

Chernus argues for a patriotic Progressive narrative grounded in empathy. Empathy is an empty abstraction whose soft vowels and consonants dull the senses while its meaning remains vague. What we should be striving for is a “decent” society. Here is a word that has a bite to it. The word implies not only the building of a decent society, but the treating of all segments of society with decency, regardless of our feelings towards them. Don’t forget that five simple words, “Have you no decency, sir?” brought down Senator Joseph McCarthy.

The word empathy has the same problem as does “Christian love.” Both words have a touchy-feely quality that evokes images of a maiden clad in a diaphanous white gown skipping through La-Lad Land with a beatific smile on her face. In truth, both require a descent into the deepest pit of Hell coupled with a willingness to love every low-life son of a bitch one finds down there even though one’s knee-jerk reaction is to tear their freaking throats out. Both empathy and Christian love are mindsets, which is why people rarely understand their meaning, and that is what makes them problematic as rallying cries.

Also, to create this Progressive patriotic narrative would be to impose another top-down ideology that would be likely to fall on deaf ears. The success of the Left in Latin America is due to their ability to tap into an indigenous populism. Progressives could learn much from the Tea Party when it comes to welding an indigenous populism to an ideology instead of attacking it, which only increases its appeal. The success of the Right is that instead of obsessing on top-down narratives, it has tapped into the fears and frustrations of the working class to create a bottom-up narrative that is highly effective. Speaking of the Left, Jean Baudrillard argues that, “[B]y investing in the moral order, it [the Left] can only watch the repressed political energy crystallize elsewhere and against it. And the Left can only feed evil by embodying the reign of virtue, which is also the greatest hypocrisy.”

What is repressed in Progressive narratives is political passion, and the bottom line is that politics demands passion. Without this passion politics becomes so much political pablum that induces apathy instead of action. Progressives will never mount a successful movement until their every utterance sends the Rightwing noise machine into spasms of apoplectic rage.

There is a rallying cry that would resonate with the electorate, and that would be a loud and passionate argument that three running sores are befouling Liberty’s face—Wall Street, the Beltway and the Pentagon, and that by the Pentagon we don’t mean the troops who are doing the heavy lifting, but the policy wonks and generals who have put them in harm’s way by sending them out to fight unnecessary wars. And we must fight to staunch those sores and to return to the one value all Americans both share and strive for, an unblemished liberty.

The Right has been able to conflate liberty and security in the mistaken belief that liberty is only possible in an atmosphere completely devoid of danger and risk. The truth is that security is only achieved when liberty is sacrificed on security’s altar. Liberty requires courage, the willingness to accept that life involves an element of risk and that security is only possible within the precincts of a police state that would turn America into a gated community. Anyone willing to surrender their liberty to be protected from the “terrorists” would do well to don a flame retardant suit and a crash helmet before getting behind the wheel because the probability of being wacked in an automobile accident is far greater than being wacked in a terrorist attack.

A decent society is grounded on four moral absolutes; do not kill; do not steal; do not lie and do not exploit. Obviously, corporatism and decency are mutually exclusive. For what is fouling democracy’s waters in the twenty-first century is not capitalism but corporatism. Capitalism was a product of owners who exploited their workers. Capitalism has morphed into a corporatism in which employees who think they are owners exploit the workers. Capitalist owners walked the factory floor; corporatist employees are sequestered in glass towers which makes it easier for them to ramp up their exploitation of their workers.

Our wars are corporate wars, waged to expand markets and secure natural resources. Corporatism’s attempt to equate itself with freedom is bogus. It offers freedom only to those at the apex of the pyramid, a freedom that is bought at the expense of the pyramid’s base. This is the peg upon which Progressives could hang liberty’s lantern. We must be willing to demonize corporatism , especially the finance corporatism that has raped pension funds, turned people out of their homes and shipped jobs overseas.

Such demonizing requires passion. We’ve got to be pissed off and we’ve got to be willing to piss the public off. We must be willing to listen to the impassioned member of the Tea Party and to respond to their fears and frustrations and to construct not a platform out of them but a raging bond fire. This does not mean we join forces with the Tea Party. Rather, this means we steal their thunder with an even louder rallying cry that would tap into the indigenous populism that is part of the American tradition. And we won’t do this by trying to create bland, reasonable narrative. It’s time to start handing out pitchforks and torches.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Keynes and Consumption

All of a sudden, John Maynard Keynes has returned to the A-list. Exiled at the beginning of the Reagan administration, he is once again in vogue as the policies of Reagan and his successors have ended in an economic meltdown.

Keynes made his name during the Great Depression when he knocked Says law off its pedestal. Says law stated that supply and demand would always balance out in the long run. 1929 put the lie to that.

Instead, Keynes put forth a theory of aggregate demand in which he argued that demand evolves from the interaction of consumption, investment and government spending. In short, he believed that if consumption drops because of an economic downturn, then it was necessary to increase government spending, which would put money in the consumer’s pocket, which, in turn, would be used to buy goods, and this would stimulate the economy. (Of course, this implied that government spending be reduced in good times, something out leaders ignored during the Cold War.)

The only problem I have with Keynes theory is that it was developed when mass consumption was in its adolescence.

It is difficult to date exactly when the age of mass consumption began since several factors contributed to it. There was the sudden flooding of the consumer market with large quantities of mass produced goods that were affordable. Some argue that mass consumption really took off in the 1890s with the growth of corporate bureaucracies and the increased pay for white collar workers.

If we accept 1890 as an arbitrary start date, then Keynes formulated his theory when mass consumption was a little over forty years old. At this time, there was still room for growth in the consumer market. Many homes were without indoor plumbing or electricity. Coal or wood still heated houses and cooked the food. Clothes were washed by hand; fields were plowed by a team of mules; hot water had to be heated on the stove.

Now we fast forward to today when consumption is seventy percent of our GDP, and one could argue that much of this consumption has been superfluous since most of our basic needs were met in the go-go days of the fifties and sixties. In addition to that, this superfluous consumption has been floated on a sea of consumer debt.

How do you stimulate spending in a saturated consumer market? Whatever money is funneled into the consumer’s pocket will most likely go to pay down consumer debt. We have been floating on a consumer bubble, and it has popped. It is unlikely it will be re-inflated.

Like Icarus, our economy flew too close to the sun and has come crashing back to earth. There are no more wings to be had.