May 28, 2013

Sometimes, People Are Simply Ridiculous, Preening, Pretentious Assholes

Par exemple, this.

It reminded me of something I came across quite a while ago:
I once went to hear Slavoj Zizek, the Slovenian psychoanalyst, analyse Psycho. He gave a live commentary over the film and, at one point, said: "Marion is a manipulative bitch. I am totally on Norman's side in this interaction." In Zizek's interpretation, the storeys of the Bates motel represent Norman's id (basement), ego (ground floor) and his superego (first floor), where his mother lives. The big moment, then, comes when he carries his mother's body from the superego down to the id.
Zizek can give master classes in assholery. Given much of the writing one comes across these days, I suspect he does. Of course, he has an unfair advantage. Psychoanalysts are among the stupidest, most pretentious people on the planet. Not joking.

P.S. I've watched the first seven episodes of the new season of Arrested Development. A huge disappointment. The magic's gone, and much of it is simply not very funny. I'm in no hurry to watch the rest. Period. The End.

Anarchist's Progress

I often excerpt Albert Jay Nock, especially his wonderful work, Our Enemy, the State. See, for example, the discussion in "The State and Full Spectrum Dominance."

To brighten your week, here are three brief passages from Nock's essay, "Anarchist's Progress," which you will find in On Doing the Right Thing.
Once, I remember, I ran across the case of a boy who had been sentenced to prison, a poor, scared little brat, who had intended something no worse than mischief, and it turned out to be a crime. The judge said he disliked to sentence the lad; it seemed the wrong thing to do; but the law left him no option. I was struck by this. The judge, then, was doing something as an official that he would not dream of doing as a man; and he could do it without any sense of responsibility, or discomfort, simply because he was acting as an official and not as a man. On this principle of action, it seemed to me that one could commit almost any kind of crime without getting into trouble with one’s conscience. Clearly, a great crime had been committed against this boy; yet nobody who had had a hand in it—the judge, the jury, the prosecutor, the complaining witness, the policemen and jailers—felt any responsibility about it, because they were not acting as men, but as officials. Clearly, too, the public did not regard them as criminals, but rather as upright and conscientious men.

The idea came to me then, vaguely but unmistakably, that if the primary intention of government was not to abolish crime but merely to monopolize crime, no better device could be found for doing it than the inculcation of precisely this frame of mind in the officials and in the public; for the effect of this was to exempt both from any allegiance to those sanctions of humanity or decency which anyone of either class, acting as an individual, would have felt himself bound to respect—nay, would have wished to respect.
At this time I was a good deal in Europe. I was in England and Germany during the Tangier incident, studying the circumstances and conditions that led up to the late war. My facilities for this were exceptional, and I used them diligently. Here I saw the State behaving just as I had seen it behave at home. Moreover, remembering the political theories of the eighteenth century, and the expectations put upon them, I was struck with the fact that the republican, constitutional-monarchical and autocratic States behaved exactly alike. This has never been sufficiently remarked. There was no practical distinction to be drawn among England, France, Germany, and Russia; in all these countries the State acted with unvarying consistency and unfailing regularity against the interests of the immense, the overwhelming majority of its people.

So flagrant and flagitious, indeed, was the action of the State in all these countries, that its administrative officials, especially its diplomats, would immediately, in any other sphere of action, be put down as a professional-criminal class; just as would the corresponding officials in my own country, as I had already remarked. It is a noteworthy fact, indeed, concerning all that has happened since then, that if in any given circumstances one went on the assumption that they were a professional-criminal class, one could predict with accuracy what they would do and what would happen; while on any other assumption one could predict almost nothing. The accuracy of my own predictions during the war and throughout the Peace Conference was due to nothing but their being based on this assumption.
The State did not originate in any form of social agreement, or with any disinterested view of promoting order and justice. Far otherwise. The State originated in conquest and confiscation, as a device for maintaining the stratification of society permanently into two classes—an owning and exploiting class, relatively small, and a propertyless dependent class. Such measures of order and justice as it established were incidental and ancillary to this purpose; it was not interested in any that did not serve this purpose; and it resisted the establishment of any that were contrary to it. No State known to history originated in any other manner, or for any other purpose than to enable the continuous economic exploitation of one class by another.

May 27, 2013

The NYT Worships State Power, Part 3,294,183

It's funny that I discussed The New York Times as the perfect embodiment of the ruling class, and its attitudes and behavior, just a few days ago. This morning, I glanced at the Times and came across this article: "Groups Targeted by I.R.S. Tested Rules on Politics." The title conveys with full accuracy the theme of the story (which is presented as a "straight" news story): "You know all those conservative groups that were targeted by the I.R.S.? They were actually doing bad stuff!"

Subtlety is not the Times' strong suit. It is similarly not a notable strength with regard to most of those who champion the current administration, to whatever degree. I strongly suspect this will be the primary defense and explanation for the I.R.S. story. But I do wish that the Times and other administration defenders were a bit more creative in their approach:
Representatives of [certain complaining] organizations have cried foul in recent weeks about their treatment by the I.R.S., saying they were among dozens of conservative groups unfairly targeted by the agency, harassed with inappropriate questionnaires and put off for months or years as the agency delayed decisions on their applications

But a close examination of these groups and others reveals an array of election activities that tax experts and former I.R.S. officials said would provide a legitimate basis for flagging them for closer review.
Former I.R.S. officials defending I.R.S. behavior? I am overcome with shock and amazement. And "tax experts!" To hell with such "experts." As I wrote in 2008:
Those people who have followed the foreign policy catastrophes of recent years are repeatedly struck by this phenomenon: all the "experts" who are supposedly so knowledgeable in this area -- that is, all the "experts" who led us into the catastrophes and who were grievously, bloodily, murderously wrong about every significant matter -- remain entrenched in the foreign policy establishment. Moreover, they are precisely the people to whom everyone turns for the "solution" to the disasters that engulf us, both now and the disasters likely to come. This is what it means to have a ruling class. As I have said, the ruling class rules. The ruling class exercises a lethal monopoly on the terms of public debate, just as it exercises a lethal monopoly on the uses of state power.

What you have seen over the last six months and more, and what you will see in the coming months and years, is the same phenomenon in the realm of economic policy.
No area of public policy is immune to the operation of this principle.

Some cognitively-challenged doubters of Times wisdom may point out that the Treasury Department's inspector general, J. Russell George, himself criticized certain I.R.S. actions. Not so fast! The Times is on the case:
But some former I.R.S. officials disputed several of Mr. George’s conclusions, including his assertion that it was inappropriate to ask groups about their donors, or whether their leaders had plans to run for public office. While unusual, the former officials said, such questions are not prohibited if relevant to an application under consideration.
They were doing bad stuff! (The argument is wonderfully easy to remember. Credit where due.)

Later in the story (where few will bother to go), the Times helpfully provides evidence of the actual, and very terrible, problem, but of course the Times carefully omits any comment on the significance of what it says:
I.R.S. agents are obligated to determine whether a 501(c)(4) group is primarily promoting “social welfare.” While such groups are permitted some election involvement, it cannot be an organization’s primary activity. That judgment does not hinge strictly on the proportion of funds a group spends on campaign ads, but on an amorphous mix of facts and circumstances.
What is "social welfare"? Who knows, but whatever it is, it apparently doesn't involve politics, at least not as a "primary activity." What makes an activity "primary"? "An amorphous mix of facts and circumstances."

"An amorphous mix." To me -- but I recognize this is just cuz I'm dumb and not smart like the Times -- this sounds like the perfect recipe for arbitrary and selective enforcement. The Times doesn't discuss any of that. But the remainder of the story makes it painfully obvious that "political activity" is whatever the I.R.S. says it is. If the I.R.S. wants to find it, it will. If it doesn't, it won't. (The Times carefully includes one example of a group that lost its 501(c)(4) status because it worked to benefit only the Democratic party. See? Once in a while, Democrats do bad stuff, too! So the I.R.S. is fair. Yes, the Times is that smart.)

The simple, overwhelmingly significant fact is that the I.R.S., with its bewildering, endless array of regulations and requirements, many of which are as ambiguous and "amorphous" as this example, is tailormade for the exercise of political power against any administration's perceived enemies, whether the administration is Democratic or Republican. See Jim Bovard's valuable survey of I.R.S. abuse, from FDR, through JFK, Nixon and Clinton. Bovard also writes:
The IRS has usually done an excellent job of stifling investigations of its practices. A 1991 survey of 800 IRS executives and managers by the nonprofit Josephson Institute of Ethics revealed that three out of four respondents felt entitled to deceive or lie when testifying before a congressional committee.

The agency also has a long history of seeking to intimidate congressional critics ...
About the investigations into the current "scandal," Bovard says: "Regardless of what these inquiries uncover, though, we can be almost certain that IRS audits will remain irresistible political weapons."

I think we can delete the "almost" from that sentence.

The NYT might want to rethink the "but they did bad stuff!" argument. It's very unpleasantly similar to the argument deployed in contexts where I doubt the Times would feel altogether comfortable about its use. Many people, both conservatives and liberals, defend the Drug War by contending that those who are imprisoned actually did bad stuff! They used and/or sold drugs, doncha know. Never mind the horrifically arbitrary and selective enforcement of drug laws, or that the War on Drugs was initiated and is continued to establish The New Jim Crow, as Michelle Alexander has explained in enormous detail (see the concluding section of that article).

And what about "illegal" immigrants? They're illegal. They did bad stuff! Except that our immigration laws are yet another exercise in arbitrary State power and systematic abuse directed at the powerless and supposedly "undesirable." And they are racist to the core, and very viciously so.

It seems to me that the Times becomes cruder and more obvious with regard to this kind of thing by the day. And its worship of the State and its massive powers continues unabated.

If the Times went out of business tomorrow, I would shed not a single tear. Of course, it wouldn't make any difference. There are many others eager to fill any resulting void, and who enthusiastically lick the blood-encrusted boots of the State even now. It's a sickening spectacle.

In the True Spirit of the Day

I see that a few superlative twitterers have remembered one of my earlier Memorial Day pieces: "No, I Do Not Support 'The Troops.'" I thank these noble twitterers for their valiant service in swatting down the deadly propaganda and nauseating sentimentality that inundates us on occasions such as today.

I immodestly admit that I am proud of that essay, but I confess that my own favorite among my Memorial Day articles is this one: "Against Annihilation of the Spirit: Let Us All Become Cowards." In significant part, that is because I am wild about the film that I discuss in that piece, The Americanization of Emily. The film offers one the most intelligent and piercing screenplays ever offered on the subject of war; it is also wonderfully funny, and occasionally very moving -- but its emotion is hard-won and genuine, and never sentimental in the least. It was written by Paddy Chayefsky; as I explained in one article, I think Emily is far more subversive than Network (much as I adore the latter). In Emily, Chayefsky attacks the myths and lies to be found at the heart of the glorification of war, which also, and not at all coincidentally, are the myths and lies that undergird especially gaudy and cheap versions of "Americanism."

It is a passionately anti-war film. Emily was released in 1964. I watched it again several months ago; it must have been the eighth or ninth viewing for me. It gets better every time. In terms of the distance we have traveled in the half century since its initial release, it is impossible to imagine a major studio making a film as profoundly antiwar today. And it should be remembered that Emily was released less than 20 years after the end of World War II. Moreover, the centerpiece of the film is various idiocies and lunatic behavior associated with the D-Day invasion. Hollywood -- and all the marvelous liberals who inhabit it -- would never touch subject matter of that kind today. Instead, we are offered films like Argo and Zero Dark Thirty, which glorify the CIA, the military, the increasingly murderous State, and bloody assassination. We now enjoy not only the military-industrial-congressional complex, but the military-media-Hollywood complex, as well. We have steadily grown coarser, more militantly anti-intellectual, and far more bloody and vicious. We bathe ourselves in the blood of our victims, all the while proclaiming how "civilized" we are and how different from our enemies, who are, of course, unforgivably barbaric. When we bathe in blood, we are goddamned saints. (I plan to write about Argo and ZDT at some point soon, but I have to wait for my gorge to subside.)

To counter the mawkish sentiment offered by almost everyone today, and all the statements concerning the "nobility" of war and of our warriors, I offer you a few excerpts from "Let Us All Become Cowards." These passages are from Paul Fussell's Wartime: Understanding and Behavior in the Second World War. They offer descriptions of a kind you are not likely to hear from many other sources:
What annoyed the troops and augmented their sardonic, contemptuous attitude toward those who viewed them from afar was in large part this public innocence about the bizarre damage suffered by the human body in modern war. The troops could not contemplate without anger the lack of public knowledge of the Graves Registration form used by the U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps with its space for indicating: "Members Missing." You would expect front-line soldiers to be struck and hurt by bullets and shell fragments, but such is the popular insulation from the facts that you would not expect them to be hurt, sometimes killed, by being struck by parts of their friends' bodies violently detached. If you asked a wounded soldier or marine what hit him, you'd hardly be ready for the answer, "My buddy's head," or his sergeant's heel or his hand, or a Japanese leg, complete with shoe and puttees, or the West Point ring on his captain's severed hand. What drove the troops to fury was the complacent, unimaginative innocence of their home fronts and rear echelons about such experiences as the following, repeated in essence tens of thousands of times. Captain Peter Royle, a British artillery forward observer, was moving up a hill in a night attack in North Africa. "I was following about twenty paces behind," he says,
when there was a blinding flash a few yards in front of me. I had no idea what it was and fell flat on my face. I found out soon enough: a number of infantry were carrying mines strapped to the small of their backs, and either a rifle or machine gun bullet had struck one, which had exploded, blowing the man into three pieces -- two legs and head and chest. His inside was strewn on the hillside and I crawled into it in the darkness....
Sometimes damage to the body was well beyond endurance, for those perceiving as well as those damaged. Once in the Normandy battles a British major accompanied a stretcher party searching for a wounded man earlier parties had missed. "Sure enough," he says,
we found a poor little chap with both legs blown off above the knees, moaning softly and, I remember, he was saying, "Oh dear! Oh dear!" The stretcher-bearer shook his head and, I thought, looked pointedly at my revolver.
And there's an indication of what can be found on the ground after an air crash in one soldier's memories of a morning after an artillery exchange in North Africa. Neil McCallum and his friend "S." come upon the body of a man who had been lying on his back when a shell, landing at his feet, eviscerated him.
"Good God," said S., shocked, "here's one of his fingers." S. stubbed with his toe on the ground some feet from the corpse. There is more horror in a severed digit than in a man dying: it savors of mutilation. "Christ," went on S. in a very low voice, "look, it's not his finger."
Fussell also writes about the war memoirs of Eugene B. Sledge:
But for Sledge the worst of all was a week-long stay in rain-soaked foxholes on a muddy ridge facing the Japanese, a site strewn with decomposing corpses turning various colors, nauseating with the stench of death, "an environment so degrading I believed we had been flung into hell's own cesspool." Because there were no latrines and because there was no moving in daylight, the men relieved themselves in their holes and flung the excrement out into the already foul mud. It was a latter-day Verdun, the Marine occupation of that ridge, where the artillery shellings uncovered scores of half-buried Marine and Japanese bodies, making the position "a stinking compost pile":
If a Marine slipped and slid down the back slope of the muddy ridge, he was apt to reach the bottom vomiting. I saw more than one man lose his footing and slip and slide all the way to the bottom only to stand up horror-stricken as he watched in disbelief while fat maggots tumbled out of his muddy dungaree pockets, cartridge belt, legging lacings, and the like. . . .

We didn't talk about such things. They were too horrible and obscene even for hardened veterans. . . . It is too preposterous to think that men could actually live and fight for days and nights on end under such terrible conditions and not be driven insane. . . . To me the war was insanity.
And from the other side of the world the young British officer Neil McCallum issues a similar implicit warning against the self-delusive attempt to confer high moral meaning on these grievous struggles for survival. Far from rationalizing their actions as elements of a crusade, McCallum and his men, he says, "have ceased largely to think or believe at all":
Annihilation of the spirit. The game does not appear to be worth the candle. What is seen through the explosions is that this, no less than any other war, is not a moral war. Greek against Greek, against Persian, Roman against the world, cowboys against Indians, Catholics against Protestants, black men against white -- this is merely the current phase of an historical story. It is war, and to believe it is anything but a lot of people killing each other is to pretend it is something else, and to misread man's instinct to commit murder.
On second thought, and in the event you don't read the earlier essay, here are some observations from Charlie Madison, Chayefsky's protagonist:
War isn’t hell at all. It’s man at his best; the highest morality he's capable of … it’s not war that’s insane, you see. It’s the morality of it. It’s not greed or ambition that makes war: it’s goodness. Wars are always fought for the best of reasons: for liberation or manifest destiny. Always against tyranny and always in the interest of humanity. So far this war, we’ve managed to butcher some ten million humans in the interest of humanity. Next war it seems we’ll have to destroy all of man in order to preserve his damn dignity. It’s not war that’s unnatural to us – it’s virtue. As long as valor remains a virtue, we shall have soldiers. So, I preach cowardice. Through cowardice, we shall all be saved. ...

I don’t trust people who make bitter reflections about war. ... It’s always the generals with the bloodiest records who are the first to shout what a Hell it is. And it’s always the widows who lead the Memorial Day parades … we shall never end wars ... by blaming it on ministers and generals or warmongering imperialists or all the other banal bogies. It’s the rest of us who build statues to those generals and name boulevards after those ministers; the rest of us who make heroes of our dead and shrines of our battlefields. We wear our widows’ weeds like nuns and perpetuate war by exalting its sacrifices. My brother died at Anzio – an everyday soldier’s death, no special heroism involved. They buried what pieces they found of him. But my mother insists he died a brave death and pretends to be very proud. ...

[Y]ou see, now my other brother can’t wait to reach enlistment age. That’ll be in September. May be ministers and generals who blunder us into wars, but the least the rest of us can do is to resist honoring the institution. What has my mother got for pretending bravery was admirable? She’s under constant sedation and terrified she may wake up one morning and find her last son has run off to be brave.
Glorify all that, motherfuckers.

May 24, 2013

The Ruling Class as Full-Time Sadistic Torturers

Should I start with Angelina Jolie? Or perhaps Dick Wolf and the Law & Order franchise? Or maybe baseball? I'll get to all of them, but I'll begin with a word about my title. To speak of "sadistic torturers" is to be obviously redundant: to torture is, by definition, to be a sadist. I offered the following description of torture in 2005, and I'm happy to say that I still consider it accurate and useful:
Torture is the deliberate infliction of unbearable agony on a human being -- a human being who is intentionally kept alive precisely so that he will suffer still more and for a longer period of time -- for no justifiable reason. This is the embrace of sadism and cruelty for their own sake, and for no other end whatsoever.
I find it interesting that I don't refer to "unbearable physical agony," although the context in which I wrote that made it clear that I was discussing physical torture.

Here, though, I'm referring to psychological and emotional torture. The mechanisms are startlingly similar. I often think that it is the most obvious points that are the most difficult to see, and I've discussed this phenomenon in various contexts. Since I live in this world along with the rest of you, the problem afflicts me as well. It is one of the primary reasons that it has sometimes taken me several years to understand issues that are particularly complex. (A good example is my argument regarding the farce that goes by the name "intelligence," as discussed here. I noted in some of my articles about "intelligence" -- I wrote a lot of them -- that it required two or three years for me to eradicate the erroneous ways of thinking about this subject from my own analysis.) What should be obvious is almost completely insulated from detection because of the innumerable layers of wrong thinking in which simple truths are embedded. The ruling class has fundamentally distorted critical concepts, and frequently even the meaning of basic words -- turning "democracy" into a tool for ruling class domination, for instance -- yet it is the ruling class's concepts and language that most people adopt.

And we adopt them for a very simple reason: the ruling class dominates the discussion of every topic, almost to the total exclusion of opposing points of view. Again, this is obvious -- but I think we often lose sight of how pervasive it is. I know that I myself sometimes lose track of it. I'll be thinking about or discussing a subject with a friend, and I'll suddenly think (and might blurt out): "Wait a minute. Why are we talking about it this way? Where on earth did that idea come from?" In every case, it came from the framework established by the ruling class. And they establish that framework because it furthers their own interests. I insert my usual caution here: I do not suggest that most members of the ruling class do this consciously. For the most part, it is automatic. As members of the ruling class, certain attitudes and values are as natural to them as breathing. They don't need to lie and manipulate with regard to most of their views. They regard those views as true, and since most of the people they interact with are also members of the ruling class, no one will tell them otherwise.

Having said this, it is also true that the ruling class will lie about specific topics, when they are of special importance and when lying carries benefits that are valuable to them. Yesterday, in his widely-heralded speech (another one, God help us), Obama said:"We unequivocally banned torture..." This is flatly, unequivocally not true. It is a lie. Yes, Obama knows he is lying. There is no way in hell he cannot know he's lying. But I expect serial murderers to lie. What is equally disgusting -- and even more disgusting, from one point of view -- is that almost everyone, including almost all "dissenting" writers, are willing to accede to the lie. The near-universal embrace of this lie has conferred numerous benefits on Obama and the ruling class in general. Most critically, acquiescence in the lie encourages people to view Obama as humane, decent, even enlightened; because people have willingly surrendered not only what ought to be perpetual skepticism about power but their most basic analytic abilities, the lie has allowed Obama literally to get away with murder. This is the very rare occasion where "literally" means literally.

The New York Times is perhaps the primary journalistic organ of the ruling class. It is written by and for the benefit of the ruling class. They don't write it for you and me, bub, not in any positive sense. They write it to manipulate us, to keep us in our place, to make sure we mind our betters, to make sure we follow orders. When you're regularly reminded of how utterly worthless you are if you are not blessed by power and wealth, you won't protest too much. You're merely a piece of shit. The ruling class doesn't listen to shit, and it certainly doesn't try to educate it. It gets rid of shit. You see this dynamic at work in the Times in matters large and small, in ways that are laughable and in ways that are horrifying.

Today, in a regular feature of its real estate section, the Times offers: "What You Get For ... $1,995,000." I repeat: articles of this kind are a regular feature. The "You" in the headline doesn't mean you, unless you're a member of the ruling class who made a wrong turn and ended up here by mistake. It means "friends of the Times," those few people who can afford such a home. If memory serves, the "cheapest" home I've seen mentioned in this endless series cost seven or eight hundred thousand dollars. People who buy homes that "only" cost that much may not yet be full-fledged members of the ruling class, but they're ruling class-adjacent. They want to be full members, and they're happy to play the game. What is the effect of such articles on everyone else? And the Times carries articles like this in many areas: about restaurants, about cultural events that most people can no longer afford, about people most of us will never know or ever have any connection with.

About cultural events, I interject a personal note. I attended the Metropolitan Opera a lot in the mid-1960s. I could buy a standing room ticket to performances with the greatest stars of that era -- Birgit Nilsson, Franco Corelli, Renata Tebaldi, and many more -- for $1.50. Actually, I could and did frequently get in for a buck: that's what I slipped the doorman as he let the regulars in without a ticket. When the Met moved to Lincoln Center, they made sure to close that loophole. We may have been petty criminals, but we were also the most fervent and dedicated operagoers. We were no longer wanted. Today, the cheapest seats at the Met are around $30; the most expensive cost many hundreds of dollars (as do Broadway shows these days). There are a very limited number of comparatively inexpensive, rush tickets, and they still have standing room (which costs far more than it once did), but many, probably most, people are unable to be at the box office at the required times to get them. In short, activities that once were well within the means of "ordinary" people are no longer. To attend theater or opera in New York City requires much more money than most people have.

So all the "ordinary" people who read the Times are pummeled with articles about places they can never go, performances that can never attend, goods of all kinds they can never buy. The message is: "This is our world, and you have no place in it. You should be thankful we permit you to exist at all. And you should shut the fuck up." This is not an aspect of the Times that most people think about; I certainly was largely oblivious to it for a long time. But it's critical to be aware of it, because it is the general context in which "straight" news stories and opinion articles appear. All of those articles are similarly presented to us by the ruling class, and they are written from their perspective. When the Times tells us that Obama regularly selects people to be murdered -- including people he knows to be fully innocent of any wrongdoing, since he has no evidence of any kind to the contrary -- it also tells us that Obama is anguished and agonized by the choices forced on him by circumstances beyond his control. He's a good man doing his best. He kills people every day; he can't help it; he does it in the "fairest" way he or anyone could. You should credit this view, because it's the view of those who are far better than you. They're smarter, they know a lot, and many of them are "experts"; they understand far, far more than you do. You are compelled to believe them, and you must think and act as they tell you. And the next time they tell you that a threat can no longer be "tolerated" -- Iran is probably the most likely candidate here -- you should believe that, too. When the Times tells you "we" have no choice but to go to war, it's those who are far superior to you in every way that matters who deliver the message. You are to obey, just as you have in the past.

So we come to Angelina Jolie and her widely-read, widely-praised article, "My Medical Choice." It is an article written by an unimaginably privileged person, about procedures available only to those who are enormously privileged. Those who can afford to do what Jolie did (even if it's only being tested in the way she was) almost certainly already have all the information she offers. As for everyone else -- which is most people -- well, it's just another meal or ticket they will never be able to afford, another trip they can never take, another home they can only look at and gape in wonder that people live in such splendor. This is how the people who matter live, you worthless, putrid thing; gaze in wonder on your betters. Of course, in this case she's talking about people's lives, so the contrast is much starker. Jolie's article is an exercise in narcissistic self-congratulation; it is immensely sadistic and cruel.

Oh, Arthur, some will wail. She's sharing, she's trying to educate. How can anyone be angry about that? If it is impossible for most people to take any of the actions Jolie recommends, what's the point -- except to remind them that they will never be able to avail themselves of procedures that might save their lives? To remind people of matters of this kind is cruel, unforgivably so in my view. Here's Ruth Fowler:
What exactly has she done that deserves praise? She wrote about an invasive, often brutal medically (un?)necessary procedure which 56% of women with breast cancer in the US choose to undergo. Hands up everyone in the US who hasn’t heard of breast cancer and mastectomy! Anyone? Umm, anyone….

OK. So now, thanks to Jolie, we’re MORE aware. And guess what? There are really, really expensive tests you can get which tell you beforehand how likely you are to get cancer and die! Hands up who knew about that one? Oh, quite a few of you? Mainly the ones who can afford it, am I right? The ones who can’t afford it – well what good is knowing that there’s a test out there only privileged rich people can get? ...

Really, Angelina? You honestly think that the 27 million (20%) of women in the US who don’t have health care, and the 77% who apparently have it, but still have to forego care because they can't afford it even with insurance — you think that your Op Ed is actually going to do anything for these women except remind them that they don’t have access to the expensive screening tests you seem to think people don’t undertake simply because they haven’t read your article?

Do you think even if these women know they have the BRAC1 gene, that they can go to the extremely expensive Pink Lotus Breast Center for not one, but three “preventive” procedures, including nipple delay, mastectomy and expert breast reconstruction, which while some women who have had mastectomies have found to be absolutely essential for their recovery and self esteem, are rarely available on any kind of insurance because it's deemed unnecessary plastic surgery?

You know what, Angelina. It sounds like you’ve had a hard time recently. I guess I can forgive the complete absence of awareness in your privilege-denying Op-Ed, because after all, it’s hard to understand that some Americans – yes, not only black and brown Americans, but white ones too! – can be just as deprived as those brown people in foreign countries you’re so invested in “saving”. When the fuss has died down about your elaborately reconstructed chest and your incredible bravery in submitting to top-end, essential preventive treatments in order to avoid a painful and abhorrent death, perhaps you’ll do the decent thing and spend some of your vast resources on addressing some of the issues you seem pretty ignorant about right now.
In an entirely unsurprising development, Fowler was savaged for these views in certain quarters. A writer at took Fowler to task for general offensiveness and "sexism," in part because the headline of Fowler's article included the word "tits." Enter Julian Vigo:
I recalled reading Fowler’s piece with total agreement as this article highlights the way in which celebrity such as Jolie seems to be performing the benefit of ‘public service’ while in truth these enunciations tend to be condescending and hurtful to many. And for those who really sit down and think about the consequences of such an ‘announcement’ by a celebrity, as Fowler clearly did, this seemingly generous and confessional act is not one that will help other women and men with cancer deal with their illness–to the contrary: it merely dangles a carrot at millions whose reach falls short financially. So, I read Sharon Smith’s article and in turn I reread Fowler’s piece.

To be fair, I found Fowler’s piece quite tame for I would have been far harsher. ...

Indeed, when Fowler questions what Jolie has done to deserve praise, she is spot on to point out that cancer is in the vernacular of most everyone in the United States. Simply put, Jolie brought critique on herself by mentioning that she wanted to “bring awareness” to breast cancer without acknowledging her privilege whilst elaborating a choice she made that most people could never afford.

However there is an poignant issue of sexism which Smith elides and which certainly is not to be found within Fowler’s piece. Sexism is rife within Jolie’s op-ed piece as she equates “femininity” to womanhood. Since when is being a woman about “femininity”? As if women who cannot have reconstructive surgery are somehow less women? Clearly, if anyone made this matter about “tits,” it was Jolie who in her own words equates womanhood with femininity, with the ability to recuperate the “lost breasts” through a reconstruction to which so many women can never have access for purely financial and/or somatic reasons. It seems that Smith missed this glaringly obvious point in her misplaced rage over sexism.

What is it about Jolie’s op-ed that necessitates that we speak about cancer at all? If it is stardom then we have had slews of celebrities in the past twenty years who have struggled with cancer from Audrey Hepburn to Farrah Fawcett. Perhaps appendiceal and anal cancers are not as appealing to the public? Regardless, what Jolie’s op-ed piece does signal is the need to question our ethos as a society if indeed our only motivation to speak about cancer is spurred when a Hollywood star tells us to, or when we discover that we have joined the ranks of millions of cancer patients. For the real problem here is not Fowler’s mention of the word “tit”, but rather it is our inability as a society to embrace the reality of this and other body parts which remain categorically unprotected in a country whose class system decides who can and who cannot have proper screening, treatment and “preservation” of their femininity.
I strongly recommend that you read the Fowler and Vigo articles in their entirety. You should also read this article, about the reaction to Jolie's article by an "ordinary" woman:
A New Jersey kindergarten teacher with a strong family history of breast cancer blasted Angelina Jolie for giving everyday working women false hope that they, too, can prevent cancer by removing their breasts.

“It upset me,” Debbie Gentile-Abbood said of her reaction to the movie star’s announcement that she underwent a preventative double mastectomy.

“That’s good for her; she’s got the best health care and she’s got money. She doesn’t have to worry about taking off of work. She doesn’t have to worry about taking care of her family, cooking or cleaning — the things that the normal woman would have to do.”...

Gentile-Abbood, who teaches in the Paterson school district, has been the breadwinner for her family since last September, when her husband, Jim, a pipestone fitter, was laid off. She said she’s scared to even get tested because she can’t do anything about the results.

“I don’t want to go there. I don’t want to open that can of worms,” she said.

“If I found out, I couldn’t take care of the situation. What am I supposed to do? Sit around every day and worry that I’m going to get cancer?”
Thus, Jolie's article is another exercise in ruling class propaganda, a demonstration of immense privilege while remaining oblivious to the central importance of privilege. Because it concerns an issue of life and death importance, Jolie's article is an exercise in sadism and cruelty. As I said, this is precisely what the Times offers all those readers who are not members of the club of privilege repeatedly, many times a day. And if you're just one of those "ordinary" people for whom Jolie's course of action is an impossible dream, a reminder of how constricted your lack of choices is -- and how deadly it can be -- well, as Chris Floyd recently expressed the point, you can fuck off and die.

(In the next article in this series, we'll turn to far more minor matters, Dick Wolf and baseball. Even though they carry far less significance, they are also instructive with regard to our general theme.)

May 23, 2013

The Monster in the Mirror

Ah, my friends. I never thought I would live to see it: the day when most of humanity agrees that needless, brutal, non-defensive murder is monstrously evil and utterly unforgivable. But I was directed to a post offering the front pages of U.K. newspapers today -- and I feel entirely justified in heralding the glorious beginning of a new era for civilization. We finally may be able to use the word "civilization" with accuracy, and even with pride.

One front page carries the words:
You will never be safe, we will not stop fighting
Another states:
An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. We won't stop fighting until you leave us alone
Be sure to understand: these declarations from murderers who are proud of their killing and who refuse to apologize for it are universally condemned. Accompanying these headlines are photos of George W. Bush, Barack Obama and other key figures who had led and continue to lead the West's, and more particularly the U.S.'s, wars of annihilation and murder on a monumental scale. But most people now recognize the evil of these men and all who had supported them.

The newspapers point to the genocide in Iraq, a campaign of murder on a world-historical scale. They also mention the ongoing campaigns of slaughter in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen and numerous other countries. The newspapers all emphasize that these ungraspably horrifying exercises in brutality and slaughter have dismembered babies and young children, they have disemboweled women and male civilians, they have killed innocent human beings by the tens of thousands.

One front page screams:
Blood on his hands, hatred in his eyes
I needn't tell you the identity of the man whose photograph accompanies these words; this particular front page has already become known across the world. Who would have believed that a major newspaper would describe a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in this manner? I am proud to think I might have provided a model for coverage of this kind.

Yes, it is a wondrous day. This particular murder, described by one political leader as an "extremist assault," is condemned even though the murderers on this occasion -- in stark contrast to so many occasions in the past, and continuing into the present -- had selected as their victim a man who actually was a soldier. We are now all agreed that because this soldier was not engaged in combat of any kind, it was hideously unjust to kill him in this way.

Wait a moment. A friend has just informed me that I glanced too quickly at these images. My friend suggests that perhaps I had forgotten to put my glasses on. Let me take another look.

Oh. Oh dear. Oh my. It's not what I had thought at all. It appears we haven't progressed in any respect. I'm deeply sorry, more sorry than I can say. I am desolate to have been so grievously mistaken.

The NYT reports that one of the soldier's murderers offered this explanation for his actions:
“I apologize that women had to see this today, but in our lands women have to see the same thing,” he says. “You people will never be safe. Remove your governments! They don’t care about you."

He then refers to what appears to be a motive for the attack, saying it was carried out “because of what’s going on in our own countries."
This theme of retaliation is identical to the justification offered by Bush, Obama and many others throughout recent years. Notably, the apology reveals more awareness and understanding than Bush, Obama and the others have ever offered.

Of course, the West's leaders condemn such explanations out of hand:
Mayor Boris Johnson of London rejected that argument, saying it was wrong to link the killing with British foreign policy or the actions of Britain’s military, which has been closely allied with the United States in Afghanistan and Iraq.

“The fault lies wholly and exclusively in the warped and deluded mind-set of the people who did it,” he said.
Neither Johnson nor any other leader will ever apply that standard to themselves or to the murders they support. So it would appear that "terrorism" simply refers to "murders we don't like." I'm relieved to see that subtlety and complex argumentation have not been sacrificed to the gods of war.

David Cameron was not to be outdone:
“The people who did this were trying to divide us,” Mr. Cameron told reporters outside 10 Downing Street after a meeting of the high-level Cobra national security committee. “They should know something like this will only bring us together and make us stronger.”

"This view is shared by every community in our country. This was not just an attack on Britain and on the British way of life, it was also a betrayal of Islam and of the Muslim communities who give so much to our country."
This is where we came in. Not only have we failed to progress by even a single, faltering step; we have probably regressed. It is inconceivable to Cameron, just as it is inconceivable to any U.S. leader, that the nations brutalized and destroyed by the West have their own "way of life." Cameron's statement regarding "betrayal" implies that the slaughters and mayhem perpetrated by the U.S. and Britain have betrayed nothing at all -- and on that point, Cameron is certainly correct. Countries determined to dominate the world, as the U.S. and its junior partner are, have and will always turn to wide-scale murder and destruction when other avenues fail to deliver the desired outcome.

Some will argue that the West's reaction to murders like the one yesterday reveals a double standard. That's not quite accurate. There would seem to be but a single standard: whatever the U.S. and its allies do is right; whoever resists them, in whatever form, for whatever reason, is wrong. If necessary, those who resist must be destroyed.

So it is not a new day in any manner. It's the same goddamned, bloody, sickening day all over again.

Fucking bastards. And I emphatically do not refer to the soldier's murderers. I will not join the bloodthirsty mob until and unless all those who condemn them with such blind enthusiasm condemn those who murder on a much broader scale in far stronger terms, as their staggering crimes demand. Yesterday's killers were amateurs. Bush, Obama, and all the other political leaders of the U.S. and Britain are professional killers. They will never apologize for their murders. They are proud of them, and the mob cheers their killings. And they have repeatedly declared that they have no intention of stopping.

It is not the monster who commits the single crime who demands our attention. It is the monster for whom crime and murder are a systematic mode of behavior, for whom slaughter and devastation are chosen instruments of policy in pursuit of hideous ends.

There is only one monster we must stop: the monster in the mirror.

May 22, 2013

Won't Be Smiling for You Now

I haven't been able to afford to go to a dentist for 20 years. In the last two decades, the five or six fillings I'd gotten in earlier, flusher times have all fallen out. Periodically, I'd experience pain in varying degrees as teeth decayed. And many of my teeth on the sides of my mouth have fallen out, in part or almost in whole. My mouth is a hideous disaster area.

But unless I'd told you all that, you probably wouldn't know it if you'd met me. The teeth in the front of my mouth were okay, or at least they sort of looked okay (except for the fact that a dentist obviously hasn't cleaned them since Gutenberg died). So I could smile, and the world seemed all right.

Last week, what I think is my upper left lateral incisor came out as I was eating. I was eating something soft, so the tooth must have been rotted all the way through. I didn't even know it had come out until I realized I was chewing something that seemed surprisingly hard. For a couple of days, I couldn't look at my mouth in the mirror. It seemed as if another dreaded barrier had fallen: my deterioration was entering its final stages. When I finally gazed upon my pitiful reflection, there it was: a gaping hole next to the two front teeth. If I grin a certain way, I look like the leering maniac of every cheap thriller you've ever seen.

So I can now enjoy another humiliation of being poor. As these things go, it's a comparatively minor one -- except for the fact that it's our face by which the world first knows us in person. Well, I can smile without parting my lips. The fact that I can't get medical care for a heart that's now so weak that it will probably kill me within a few years (or sooner) isn't humiliating in the same way, since there are no visible signs of the problem much of the time (provided I'm not trying to move when I'm with you; if I start walking, I need to stop every five or ten steps to rest). No, the failing heart isn't humiliating, but enraging -- but getting very angry isn't good for me, and anyway what the hell's the point? Humiliation and helpless, suppressed rage: my recipe for failed living! And not just my recipe: it's a meal enjoyed by more and more Americans. But nothing is forever, including life, and a damned good thing.

Anyway, I'm not asking for money for my teeth or for my heart. To get decent care for either would cost many thousands of dollars; for the heart problems, tens, even hundreds of thousands of dollars (I assume I would get an operation of some kind if I had the money and/or the Cheney insurance plan). Never gonna happen. But I realized this morning that I have only a little more than half of what I need for next month's rent, and I'll need to send it off about a week from now. I have a few other bills that need to be paid and, at the moment, I don't have any money to buy groceries. Don't need teeth when I don't have food to eat! hahaha Not actually very funny. Oh, well.

So if you could spare a few dollars and make a donation, that would be wonderful. I'm enormously grateful. If we meet sometime, I'll try to smile, but I won't open my mouth. You'll know why.

As always, many, many thanks for your time and consideration.

May 21, 2013

The State Explodes Itself

In week two, the State scandelabra still gives off its gentle glow. Sadly -- but dolorous, plodding drama remains our daily fare, and rupture and cataclysm are yet to be invited in (but they wait, ever, always patient) -- the amount of fuel provided for the scandals is still tightly controlled. Thus, the light emitted by its burning provides neither warmth nor enlightenment. It is not a light to read by, not detailed or genuinely informative manuscripts in any case.

Yet we can scan those missives printed in large, block lettering. Since the media and most commentators write in the manner of a three-year-old unable to control his crayons, there is some material to be consulted, albeit with difficulty. A few instructive phrases and drawings emerge from the clutter. For example:
President Obama used his weekly radio address on Saturday to reassure the American people that he has “played no role whatsoever” in the U.S. government over the past four years.

“Right now, many of you are angry at the government, and no one is angrier than I am,” he said. “Quite frankly, I am glad that I have had no involvement in such an organization.”

The President’s outrage only increased, he said, when he “recently became aware of a part of that government called the Department of Justice.”
I am especially moved by Obama's obviously sincere pledge to "enforce what he called a 'zero tolerance policy on governing.'”

A few readers, those of bleak and bitter outlook (which stands in stark contrast to my absolute commitment to sunny, bumptious joy, utterly uncomplicated by any reference whatsoever to facts or likelihoods) might question the advisability of this particular executive -- Mr. Kill List, the Drone President, Death's Head in Perpetuity, as you will -- campaigning for anarchism. I greet such announcements, however dubious their origin, with welcoming arms. Calls for no more government must not be ignored. Preach it, brother!

Oh, you complain, but that report is not serious. At this particular moment, "serious" is a markedly peculiar word to apply to any aspect of these stories. Here's a "serious" news report. Top Obama aides, including Obama's chief of staff, all knew of the specific nature of the IRS abuses. They all "intentionally kept Obama in the dark." We are informed that systematically depriving the president of critical information is their job.

This is your government at work. "Serious" has been banished to another world. I ache for the moment when a single person, finally rebelling against the ludicrous pretense of treating muttered blurps and smuffles as language that signifies meaning, stands up at a press briefing, and cries in despair: "When you lie in bed in the middle of the night unable to sleep, do you ever weep for your shattered soul, that you find it so easy to be such a goddamned liar? And are we any better, that we refuse to acknowledge that you are a goddamned liar, and that we are all liars too?"

Now, that would be serious. It might even be momentarily interesting, until the suffocating forces of murderous convention and habit erased the question and the person who had falteringly, futilely reached out to connect with something recognizably human, in however damaged and attenuated a form. No, none of that for us. The White House spokesman declares: "“I mean, nobody’s been more outraged by the reported conduct here than the president of the United States."

He's only the president. It's not as if you can expect him to know anything, or to be aware of facts and events. I wonder if there's any point in hoping that a critical number of Americans might wake up and protest against this monstrous government. Is there any reason to protest a nightmare, or a fever dream? You pray that it passes, that you survive somehow. People may finally lash out -- when the children haven't eaten for two weeks, when gas is available only to "important" people with the required government documents, when the water that comes out of your tap is unsafe for humans and animals, when grocery store shelves are empty for months at a time. But they won't be protesting then: they'll be screaming before they die. And Boston tells us how the State will respond: with sufficient terror to ensure that most people scream behind closed doors, and die in agony out of sight, offstage.

In the meantime, the ridiculous pageant continues. Everyone plays his part, pathetically hoping that if we all refuse to acknowledge the truth, facts will contort themselves to satisfy our collective fantasy. And the State is insistent that we may view it in only two ways: either the State is run by the most idiotic collection of incompetent nincompoops the world has ever seen, or a gang of singularly determined, endlessly scheming liars and vicious, bloody murderers is in charge, who will lie about everything and murder anyone.

That is an aspect of this awful moment that carries a certain grim satisfaction: the State itself thus offers a comprehensive, irrefutable case against its own existence.

Hold the bastards to it. They could resolve the situation peaceably, and vaporize themselves.

May 17, 2013

You Say You Want a Peaceful Revolution

I desperately hope that this post proves to be entirely unnecessary. I wish more than anything that some people are already beginning to make plans along the lines I will describe. If they are, this post will be redundant and beside the point. Nothing would make me happier.

Even though I think it's possible that such plans are already afoot, I haven't seen any stories or reports to convince me that is so. (If you have, please let me know immediately.) So here goes.

I'll state at the outset what I would love to see happen: a massive protest on the order of a million or more people descends on Washington, D.C. At the same time, huge crowds of protesters also congregate in other major cities, at least five and hopefully more than ten.

The central peg on which such demonstrations could be structured would be an anti-tax protest movement. From the perspective of such a movement, the unfolding IRS scandal is a gift from heaven. I myself don't consider the IRS story a "scandal," because I regard the behavior about which we are now learning as typical of the State's operations (as I discussed briefly here). I also think what we're learning is only the smallest tip of a gigantic iceberg.

But with regard to the protest movement I'm describing, my particular views about this story are utterly irrelevant. The critical point is that the IRS story is getting a lot of attention -- and a lot of people are deeply, profoundly angry. Another part of the reaction is equally, and perhaps even more critical: people are very angry across the political spectrum. The fury isn't restricted to the left or the right: it encompasses people of every political persuasion.

For those who fervently hope for major changes to the abominable State that rules us, this is the kind of moment to be seized without delay. The peg is not simply an anti-tax protest: everyone will be asked to refuse to file their tax returns next year. It is perfectly understandable that only a very small number of individuals refuse to file tax returns now: the dangers are very great for the man or woman who does so alone. This is more true when the protester has a family, and particularly true when the protester has children who depend on him or her for survival.

But what if millions of Americans declare that they refuse to file future tax returns? Is the government going to pursue all of them? And what if a sizable number of well-known people, including some famous celebrities, join the movement? Would the government threaten all of them? I say: let the bastards try.

A little more than a year ago, I described what such a protest might look like. In that article, the prospect of an attack on Iran was the impetus for the protest -- but this description could apply with equal force to a tax protest:
Even much larger numbers of protesters won't stop the horror that may be coming toward us. Remember what happened in 2002-2003. There were huge protests across the world -- and still the war against Iraq began. So protests that last for a day or less and then disperse aren't sufficient. But what might work is 500,000 or a million people (or even more) descending on Washington, D.C. -- and simply staying. The purpose would be very simple:


Just shut it down. Don't leave. Shut the damned place down completely -- until the U.S. Government disavows any and all plans to attack Iran in the present and foreseeable circumstances. Think of it as Occupy multiplied by a factor of 10,000, or maybe 50,000. And think what might happen if New York, Chicago, San Francisco and several other cities were shut down in the same way. We'd at least get the bastards' attention. It would be a colossal news story.

Oh, that's crazy, you think. That could never happen. Why not? Attacking Iran is crazy. Invading Iraq was crazy. The U.S. Government claiming it has the "right" to assassinate anyone in the world for any reason at all -- or for no reason, just because they feel like it -- is crazy. Most of what's happened in the last ten years is crazy. I see no reason to believe that lunacy is a trait on which the fuckers in the ruling class hold a monopoly. Those of us on the side of peace and life, instead of war and death, are entitled to some craziness, too.
The IRS story is perfect for these purposes, much more perfect than the Benghazi or AP stories. The IRS story gets everyone where they live (or try to): everyone recognizes that if the State can go after Tea Party organizations, the State can go after them.

In that earlier post about such massive protests, I described in some detail an ad that would help to educate people and mobilize them to action. I encouraged others -- especially those with much larger readerships than I have (which is almost everyone) -- to take up the idea, build on it, change it if they wish (maybe you have a much better idea, which would be great!), and get it talked about. No one with a sizable readership did a damned thing.

I've been through this several times before; one major example from my blogging is described in the previous article. I understand why people don't do anything: it takes time; it might bring unwanted government attention to you; perhaps people think it's too fanciful and fantastic. Maybe they simply think it's a lousy idea. Then come up with your own!

But Jesus, what an opportunity lies immediately to hand. You can easily rewrite my Iran ad for the purposes of an anti-tax protest. The tagline of my ad was: "So ... who are the Nazis now?" The answer, which the content of the ad makes inescapable, is that the U.S. government's actions are equivalent to those of the Nazis. Yes, it would be hugely controversial. Yes, it might cause a firestorm.

That's the point.

So rewrite the ad with a different aim. Perhaps the tagline is: "So ... who are the French aristocrats now?" Or: "Who are the Ancient Romans now?" There are doubtless much better ones.

The fact that millions of Americans across the entire political spectrum are furious is, as I said, an incredible gift. I hope it isn't squandered. It doesn't matter in the least that conservatives and liberals (and right-leaning libertarians and radicals on the left) are angry for what might be largely different reasons. From a tactical perspective, you can set all that aside.

Several years ago, I wrote: "In periods of general social dislocation, upheaval and turmoil, possibilities for coalition-building appear that may not exist in other times. We are living through such a period today in many ways." In that essay, from November 2009, I discussed why I thought a coalition between the Tea Party movement and those on the liberal-left side of the spectrum was possible. That article had been intended as the first of a series. I never completed it -- primarily because I finally, reluctantly concluded that the primitive tribalism that dominates our politics in fact made such an alliance impossible.

Perhaps enough has changed at this point to make such a coalition workable. Now those who regularly follow politics know that the U.S. government claims it has the "right" to murder any of us it chooses, wherever we are in the world, for whatever reason it wishes. Tens of millions of Americans continue to suffer enormous economic hardship. Speaking generally, I think it is accurate to say that many more Americans are desperate and fearful today in ways they haven't been, even fairly recently.

Desperation is a profoundly uncomfortable state of affairs for anyone. It opens up possibilities for action that hadn't existed before. And millions of Americans, on both the left and the right (using those terms broadly), see a government that is more and more oppressive and abusive, a government that claims unrestricted power, a government that claims it can destroy any one of us it wants to destroy. The IRS story captures all those elements, and more.

In the earlier post about a new coalition, I described how what appear to be highly unlikely alliances can be forged, using the example of the anti-slavery movement. I wrote:
It is not necessary, and usually it is not even possible, to restrict one's compatriots to those with whom one agrees about all issues, or even a significant subset of issues. One need not and should not expect or demand that those with whom one joins in a particular cause agree with or endorse one's general views. In this case, Clarkson and Wilberforce disagreed on every other then-current issue of importance and controversy.

But they agreed about slavery, and they agreed that it must be ended. That is all one should require and, I stress, that is all that is necessary. As in this case, the goal must be very clearly defined, and the members of the coalition must be fully committed to it. I would go still further: provided the goal is defined in a way that is not subject to compromise and equivocation, even the reasons which inform the participants' commitment to that goal need not be the same. Provided they agree on the goal itself -- as here, that slavery be ended -- that is all that is needed.
Imagine Washington, D.C. shut down entirely for an extended and indeterminate period of time. Imagine New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Houston, Los Angeles and other cities shut down in the same way.

I absolutely reject the argument that it's not possible. History is filled with occurrences that no one predicted, with developments that no one had regarded as at all likely. And the world is full of possibility. The crime most frequently committed by most of humanity is to fail to recognize the fact of those possibilities, a fact sublime in its promise.

Start with a series of ads that are seen and mentioned everywhere: on television, on millions of blogs, Tumblr posts, and tweets. The call to arms can be very simple and direct: NO MORE TAXES -- UNTIL YOU CHANGE! Perhaps it is structured around the no-more-taxes pledge -- and perhaps the day of arrival in Washington, D.C. (and other cities) is Tuesday, April 15, 2014. We have lots of lead time. It could be the story of the century -- and for once, that empty phrase might actually be true.

As a strategic matter, and to encourage as broad a coalition as possible, maybe the call to arms should remain that open-ended: UNTIL YOU CHANGE. I wouldn't presume to suggest a list of demands at any time, either now or months from now. And perhaps such a list isn't needed or advisable; that is how coalitions are splintered. That kind of open-endedness might also be a good idea with regard to the bastards running the government. If millions of people descended on Washington and other cities and actually shut them down indefinitely, if millions of people refused to file tax returns -- well, who knows what the bastards might offer. It might be more than anyone now thinks. In effect, the protesters would be demanding: STOP WHAT YOU'RE DOING NOW -- where "what you're doing" refers to the oppressive, abusive, murderous policies of this government. (As I'm writing this, I think one demand that I would hope everyone could agree on would be that the government unequivocally renounce its claim of a "right" to murder anyone and everyone it chooses. But even that demand might be inadvisable.)

Consider this, too: if a series of ads appeared, if it became a huge story, if tens of millions of people signed the NO MORE TAXES pledge (have a central site where all the names appear, including, we hope, lots of famous people and celebrities), if millions of people additionally pledged to go to Washington, and San Francisco, and Chicago on April 15 next year -- and if all that happened by next January or February, the government might offer concessions in what they hope would be a preemptive measure. If they don't offer enough, go ahead with the April 15 protests. Once events are set in motion and gather sufficient force, possibilities will open up that are now unimaginable.

As conditions continue to worsen for many millions of Americans -- and they will, for that is obviously the State's plan -- the pressures on the existing system will grow. In time, they will grow to very dangerous proportions. History, and the logic of the situation, tell us that those pressures will eventually erupt in violence. At a certain point, violence will be inevitable. But we may not be there yet. There may be time for a peaceful revolution.

A lot of people are deeply angry, and torn with anxiety about the future. If those colossal energies are directed toward a specific end, an end which will appeal to millions of Americans, there may still be hope for peaceful change, and even change on an enormous scale.

Don't say it could never happen. Things that could never happen take place all the time, and sometimes on a monumental scale. What I'm describing -- what I hope for -- represents a massive, once in a lifetime event. And it all starts with a conversation you have with a good friend. If you have that conversation, millions of others might have it, too. Get a group together to get some ads made. Start planning for demonstrations next spring.

It can happen. You can make it happen. And as long as I'm able, I will do everything I can to help.

Start talking about it, or about another, perhaps better idea. No one else is coming to save you. And if he says he'll save you, he's the last person you should trust. Obama should have taught you that, if nothing else.

What are you waiting for?

May 15, 2013

For All the Deluded and/or Stupid People (which is most people), and a Second Iron Law

[UPDATE: I added a few brief comments toward the end of this post in an attempt to avoid one possible confusion. You'll find them in brackets immediately following the Second Iron Law.]

I may have some more particular comments about the various unfolding "scandals" when I feel slightly better than terrible physically, which is how I feel at the moment. I heard some of Limbaugh's comments on the IRS business this morning. Limbaugh's typically penetrating wisdom caused me several minutes of uproarious laughter. He went on and on about how "mean" the IRS and the Obama administration were to go after their political enemies. This is "unAmerican!," Limbaugh screamed. "America is about fairness," he intoned, "about the idea that everyone has an equal shot."

Along those lines, my favorite comments to date might be from a letter to the NYT:
I believe that all Americans, and not just the Republican Party, should seize on the issue of the Internal Revenue Service’s focus on conservatives. We should all be very concerned about a government agency using its power for political ends.
This is genuinely impressive. It is stupidity refined and shaped into a weapon of massive destructive power, stupidity that is positively metaphysical in its reach. Idiocy on this scale obliterates universes.

To use "its power for political ends" is what any and all government agencies do. That is the reason they exist. The State itself, including its various critical appendages (such as "the law"), is a weapon forged by the ruling class to protect and increase its own power and wealth. The State and its appendages are used against everyone else. Thusly, as explained by Albert Jay Nock:
The positive testimony of history is that the State invariably had its origin in conquest and confiscation. No primitive State known to history originated in any other manner. On the negative side, it has been proved beyond peradventure that no primitive State could possibly have had any other origins. Moreover, the sole invariable characteristic of the State is the economic exploitation of one class by another. In this sense, every State known to history is a class-State. Oppenheimer defines the State, in respect of its origin, as an institution "forced on a defeated group by a conquering group, with a view only to systematizing the domination of the conquered by the conquerors, and safeguarding itself against insurrection from within and attack from without. This domination had no other final purpose than the economic exploitation of the conquered group by the victorious group."
The same is true of the United States, and it has been true since the time of the founding. As set forth in that article, one of the ruling class's chief weapons in the founding of the United States was the Constitution itself.

What is notable about Limbaugh's comments regarding "fairness" and "everyone" having "an equal shot," and regarding the letter to the Times, is the universality of these particular delusions. In different terms (and sometimes in the same terms), every politician and almost every commentator now wailing and whining about how "outrageous" these abuses are offers the same perspective. This is true whether the politician or writer is conservative or liberal, or libertarian, or supposedly "radical." And as detailed in the concluding section of my article about how the Constitution betrayed the very brief and genuinely radical impulses behind the American Revolution, even writers such as Chris Hedges and Glenn Greenwald appeal to "the rule of law," and the "original" understanding of the law's purpose. In Greenwald's case, it should be emphasized that what he hails as an ideal -- "law has been completely perverted from what it was intended to be – the guarantor of an equal playing field which would legitimize outcome inequalities – into its precise antithesis..." -- tracks perfectly the rationalization and distortion offered by America's new ruling class to justify the Constitution. As stated by Terry Bouton:
[T]he governments that emerged from the Revolution often fostered massive inequalities of wealth. At the same time, they redefined "democracy" as an ideal that could be reconciled with those disparities. By transforming democracy into a concept that encouraged uninhibited wealth accumulation rather than wealth equality, the founding elite (and subsequent generations of elites) tamed what they could not defeat. They turned democracy from a threat into an asset by making it into a concept that supported their own ideals and interests.
In this manner, Greenwald not only misses the point entirely: he adopts and advances the State's own propaganda and heralds it as a noble goal toward which we must strive (or to which we need to return). When a well-known "dissenting" writer absorbs the State's propaganda to this extent, we are in very deep trouble. As, indeed, we are.

I want to mention briefly one other aspect of the all-too-familiar charade now playing out. Everyone, beginning but hardly ending with the asses in Congress, is demanding investigations! We must get to the bottom of this! We must fix these abuses, and make certain that nothing like this ever happens again! Every time we go through this routine, I'm reminded of something I wrote just before the midterm elections in 2006. Yes, my friends, almost seven bloody years ago. After setting forth the reasons for my conclusion that it wouldn't matter a damn whether Democrats won or not -- and who was right about that, hmm? -- I wrote a passage which applies to any investigations, any time, conducted by Democrats or Republicans (or anyone else in the national government and, at this point, in government at any level):
Ah, but the Democrats will investigate the Bush administration's endless crimes. The investigations will restore honesty, decency and "true" American values to government. All the universes will be saved! Do people actually believe this nonsense? All such investigations will be exactly like all other government investigations of itself. People seem congenitally incapable of grasping that all politicians are now part of the same corrupt system, which aims only to protect itself and its existing prerogatives, as it simultaneously seeks to expand them. (The exceptions in the political class are so few that they don't matter.) In the end, all such investigations and committee hearings will conclude just as the 9/11 investigation concluded (and any other investigation you care to name): some criticisms will be made, general fault will be found but no one in particular will be condemned in terms that might cause distress, and some new guidelines and regulations will be proposed and enacted. Neither party wants to judge the other too harshly or cause irreparable harm: they don't want to, because they count on the same consideration in return. Both parties are happy to accede to this deal, for it is precisely how their system continues on its merry course, guaranteeing their lives of immense comfort and privilege, together with their hold on power. Many of the rest of us, both here and abroad, will be screwed, maimed or dead -- and just when exactly did that concern the governing class?

And then, in a year or two or five, and as on every other similar occasion, inventive ways will be found to circumvent the brand spanking new guidelines and regulations -- and the corruption and dishonesty will continue pretty much as before, via new routes and avenues. It's all a charade, by means of which politicians, the major media, and "serious" commentators (and bloggers) can convince themselves of their own virtue, that this time they really mean it, and that everything will be different now. An interesting question is how many times people can fall for such complete bullshit, and still be regarded as serious, credible or intelligent to any degree at all.

It helps to perpetuate the charade -- one that encompasses every aspect of domestic and foreign policy -- that most people know nothing of history, either our own or that of other countries. It's as if none of it ever happened before. For most of these people, it's as if nothing ever happened before. No wonder they so easily believe that this time will be different. For them, there are no other times at all. Everything is new to them, even and especially their own iniquity.
In the case of the present "scandals," it may turn out that some scapegoats will have to be offered for sacrifice. If the scandals prove to be especially nasty and ugly, a few people may be fired; perhaps several individuals will eventually even go to jail. That doesn't alter the dynamics I've described. In fact, I spoke of this phenomenon in "It's not the sex. It's never the sex":
In exceptionally rare circumstances, a member of the ruling class may set aside the rules in a way that draws just a bit too much attention. As a result, all those "ordinary" people may become a trifle unruly; they might begin to wonder if the system is rigged against them in some basic way. Obviously, it is, but it would hardly do for the filthy masses to begin to grasp this central fact. In these situations, the ruling class will have to make some minor adjustments. ... A member of the ruling class might have to surrender one particular plum he had set his eyes on. This is not a matter of great significance for a member of the ruling class; there are many other plums waiting for him, including some of those plums he has enjoyed before. In all its essentials, his life of luxury, privilege and power will go on as before.

The ruling class will never open the door to anything that might seriously call into question its power and its prerogatives.
I will close for the moment by noting two of what we might term Silber's Iron Laws. The first is a principle I've written about for some years:
Any individual who rises to the national political level is, of necessity and by definition, committed to the authoritarian-corporatist state. The current system will not allow anyone to be elected from either of the two major parties who is determined to dismantle even one part of that system.
Although I'm certain I wrote about this dynamic still longer ago, one of my first uses of this formulation will be found here, where I discuss it in detail.

Here is a Second Iron Law. I've become convinced of the truth of this Law over the last several years; I think it is not only true, but that it must be true. This is how I now express it:
When the State's corruption and claims to power are so pervasive that they dominate every aspect of a nation's operations, attempts at "reform from within" will be transformed into "improvements" that are more brutal and oppressive than the particular original abuse the reformers sought to rectify. That is: the "improvement" will be worse than the original problem. Meanwhile, the abuse which the reformers sought to address will most often continue in some form; typically, its operations will be more effectively camouflaged, so it will be easier for both the ruling class and the reformers to pretend that it has, in fact, been '"fixed."

To put it another way: when the State has amassed a sufficient degree of power, expressed in the State's penetration and dominance of all critical aspects of a nation's activities, attempts at reform serve only to strengthen the existing system, rather than weakening or "improving" it.
[ADDED: I should note that, in specific circumstances, a reform within the existing system may be valid and important, and it may even improve some people's lives in significant ways. In that sense, the reform may constitute an improvement, but only in a highly delimited manner. And the Second Iron Law will remain true in that the existing system will be strengthened because of the reform, not weakened. So such an "improvement" still carries significant risks. These are complicated questions, and I'll discuss them in a future article.]

I guarantee you that all "reforms" that come out of the current "scandals" will follow this pattern. By the way, I refer to the current stories as "scandals" with quotes because they are not "scandals" in any manner at all, if we use that term to designate events which are truly shocking and unexpected. Whether we speak of Benghazi, or the IRS behavior, or the AP surveillance, we are speaking of behavior that is entirely typical of the State, especially of this State. And it was only last week that I reminded my readers once again of the overwhelming fact that "the U.S. Government already possesses the power to do whatever it wants, whenever it wants, to whomever it wants." I regard those people who profess to be shocked! and outraged! by these recent stories in the same way I regard adults who are devastated to discover that Santa Claus doesn't actually deliver their Christmas presents. I could simply say that that they're idiots, which is certainly what they've allowed themselves to become. It would perhaps be more to the point to observe that they are like profoundly damaged children who have never grown up, and who have never addressed the tragic wounds inflicted on them in their early years of life. I'll return to these issues.

I will soon be writing much more about the Second Iron Law, and I will offer several notable manifestations of this principle. And I will explain why I say it must be true. But one overarching, inescapable example of the phenomenon I describe should be tragically familiar to you: the presidency of Barack Obama. I predicted that this would necessarily be true of Obama -- and I predicted it before he was elected, in May of 2008. Because many people don't follow links, I offer you this description from the beginning of that article:
[T]here is nothing so dangerous as the illusion of opposition, when in fact no such opposition exists. Many of us have seen movies or read books which, in broad outline, tell the following story: a cruel villain inflicts terrible misery and suffering on innocent victims. A brave, fearless defender of the victims unexpectedly appears. The victims rally behind their defender, and they increasingly come to view him as their savior. The battle between the villain and his forces on one hand, and the victims and their defender on the other, rages fiercely. One side seems destined for victory, and then the other. It takes a very long time before victory is assured for either side; the toll of battle is awful for everyone. Finally, the villain defeats the victims and their brave defender, and the villain emerges as more powerful than he had ever been.

In the final scene, we learn the truth: the victims' defender had been working for the villain all the time. The defender had never been on the side of the victims: instead, at every critical juncture, he made sure to misdirect the victims' efforts just enough to make certain that the villain was never seriously threatened. The defender had to do this subtly; he had to lie on every matter of moment, and he had to do so repeatedly. He did all this expertly, and the victims never suspected his actual goal. The defender is handsomely rewarded for his work, for he delivered the victims into the villain's power, making certain that the victims would never again be a genuine threat. And the illusion is complete: even after they had lost and their lives had been destroyed forever, the victims never doubted their hero or the fact that he had fought for them so bravely.
The balance of that essay explains why Obama is the "brave, fearless defender" of that fictional story, and why he will always "betray" the victims he repeatedly proclaims he wishes to save and protect. Of course, it is only a betrayal to those who permit themselves to believe in delusions, and who cannot or will not understand the nature of the State that is increasingly determined to destroy our lives.

Some people will not forgive me for having been correct on this matter of singularly grave importance, or for having been correct for the right reasons. Tough shit.

And I'm not done, not quite yet.

May 10, 2013

On the Occasion of a Not-Unbirthday

This past Sunday was not my unbirthday. It was also not Karl Marx's unbirthday. Coincidence? And all those Cinco de Mayo celebrations every year ... yes, for me. So many people! So much wonderful food! I always tell them not to make such a fuss, but they do insist. Terribly sweet.

To acknowledge the occasion -- and at my age, and given my health, about all I can say is, "Hell, managed to survive another year! Still here to annoy you!," and then I laugh a lot -- here are a few things that have nothing whatsoever to do with politics, and therefore are not at all representative of the shit end of life. And thank God for that.

During the first season of Britain's new National Theatre in the early 1960s, Laurence Olivier, its first director, decided to revive an early Noel Coward classic, Hay Fever. In my not at all humble opinion, it is one of the funniest plays ever written; the second act curtain, if done well, is brilliantly hilarious to a degree that might cause one to collapse helplessly on the floor. Olivier asked Coward himself to direct. It was an enormous and well-deserved boon to Coward's reputation, which had suffered mightily during Coward's set-to with the "angry young men" who emerged as playwrights during the 1950s. (Coward later made amends for some of his intemperate remarks during the fracas, which went on for a long time and played out in full public view, with vituperative newspaper columns among other battles.)

Hay Fever is about a wildly flamboyant, staggeringly narcissistic theatrical family. They are also hugely entertaining (after several hours, they might well not be so in real life, at least that has been my experience, but this resolutely and triumphantly has nothing to do with "real life"). It turns out that each of the four members of the family (the mother, a well-known actress of a certain age, the husband, a novelist, and a son and daughter, both about 20-ish) has invited a guest to their country house for the weekend, unaware that the other three have done the same. (Once the weekend has taken a serious turn for the worse, one of the family refers to the visitors as "the drearies.") The family members are each looking forward to an innocent (?) romantic entanglement with their guest.

One of the visitors is Myra, who has designs on the husband. Myra is described, as I recall by the mother-actress in one of her more acid moments, as a far too obvious, would-be temptress who "uses sex as a shrimping net." In the revival, Myra was played by a very young Maggie Smith. The scene between her and the husband was done on television -- and here it is. Truly wonderful. (I just watched it again, and it is about as perfect as these things get.) From various reports, Maggie's most hilarious moment occurred in the third act, during an incredibly awkward breakfast when the guests are plotting their escape from this plainly insane and dangerous family. After eating a tiny morsel of food, Maggie-Myra declared, with contemptuous disdain that would shrivel galaxies: "This haddock is disssssgussting." At which point, the entire theater erupted, according to those same reports. Too bad that moment wasn't captured, but you can hear Maggie saying it with her nasal twang, can't you?

One of my favorite theater stories occurred during that revival. It was a big prestige production, so the celebrated Edith Evans was cast as Judith, the mother-actress. That was perhaps inevitable, but Evans was by then too old for the part and not at all glamorous or charming in the required manner. (The divine Rosemary Harris played Judith in a Broadway revival in the mid-1980s, and she must have been perfect in the part. I could happily kill myself for not managing to get to New York to see it.) I attended a Noel Coward tribute evening in Los Angeles in, oh, I think it was the late 1980s. Michael York was on the panel, as was Lynn Redgrave. Redgrave had been a member of the National Theatre company during its early years.

Redgrave told several tales about the Hay Fever rehearsal period. She was a wonderful mimic, and her Edith Evans impersonation was wonderfully funny, while also being very affectionate. In addition to not being right for the part, Evans had great difficulty remembering her lines, which drove Coward more than slightly crazy. Finally, before an early preview performance (not in London, as I remember), Coward went to Evans' dressing room. He informed Evans that her understudy -- Maggie Smith again! -- was entirely prepared to go on, and if Evans failed to offer marked improvements to her performance, Maggie would be put in. Evans was line-perfect that night, and close enough to perfect from then on. (The theater can be very cruel, which is news to no one.)

But the story I adore is a different one. Because some of you may be ignorant tarts who know far too little of the glorious history of The Theahtuh, I need to tell you that, very shortly after Christopher Marlowe trod the earth (far too briefly, and who ordered him killed anyway? and why?), Beaumont and Fletcher were also writing (mostly heavy-breathing potboilers of the kind then popular).

At one point in Hay Fever, Judith is playing "lady of the manor," exulting in the simple, beautiful country life (which she can't wait to escape via a return to the stage, where she will be loved once again by her adoring fans). She looks out across the sweet little river but a short distance from the house. During rehearsals, Evans would insist on saying, "On a very clear day, you can see Marlow." And she kept saying it: "On a very clear day..." Coward finally couldn't bear it another moment. "Dear Edith," he exploded, "the line is, 'On a clear day, you can see Marlow...' On a VERY clear day, you can see Marlowe -- AND BEAUMONT AND FLETCHER!"

She said it correctly after that.

If you want to experience a somewhat muted sense of what an evening of Coward would be like, there is a complete performance of Present Laughter on Youtube (Part I, and Part II). The play is second-rank Coward; I've always thought it would benefit significantly by being cut by roughly half an hour, or even slightly more. (Private Lives and Hay Fever, both of which I consider divine, move like lightning.) And the production is good, but not exceptional. Donald Sinden gives a fine performance in the lead, which is a killer role (originally played by Coward himself), Dinah Sheridan is lovely, but several of the others range from merely adequate to verging on poor. I blame the director, for the performers in general work far too hard at what they think is funny, rather than simply inhabiting the characters. Still, it's the entire play rather than selected scenes, taped during a live performance. And it's far more enjoyable than many other ways of whiling away a few hours. (I saw the New York revival with George C. Scott in the lead -- he also directed -- in 1982. Scott was truly wonderful, and hugely funny. Of course, he was a spectacular actor; in comedy, he was spectacularly funny. I still remember him from Plaza Suite close to 50 years ago, especially in the farcical third act. And Scott in Present Laughter was a revelation in terms of the range of performance that the play can contain: it's hard to imagine an actor as different from Coward in almost every respect. In that NY revival, Nathan Lane made his Broadway debut in the can't-miss, very showy role of the young playwright; he was wonderful, as is the actor in the Youtube performance. It's a terribly funny part when done well.)

My not-unbirthday wouldn't be complete without Maria Callas. Here's a Callas performance I don't think I've mentioned before: Dalila's first aria, "Printemps qui commence," recorded in 1961. Callas's voice was in serious decline, but she still had the resources needed for this particular piece. And it is a miracle of expressivity, phrasing, word and tone coloring, and everything else that is part of great interpretation. (You should know what she's singing during this initial seduction of Samson: here's the text with poor translation.) Mentioning Callas gives me the opportunity to once again offer two earlier essays for those who might be interested. They remain among my handful of personal favorites: my initial tribute to Callas and her art; and this later, admittedly wandering collection of ruminations on a variety of subjects. In that second piece, the concluding section (beginning with, "In my work, I write what I do...") tells anyone who cares the reasons that impel me to write, and why I always return to certain subjects. (Speaking of cuts: I seriously considered cutting a third of that second essay before publishing it. But then I thought: What the hell. It's my blog, and these are the subjects I love more than any others. So I left it the way it was. But as I said, it wanders in parts. Permit me the indulgence, if you will.)

If you wish to forget politics entirely for a while -- and those of us who remain remotely sane must desperately wish to do so, at least now and then -- I hope you enjoy a few of the links.