Saturday, October 31, 2009

Some Silliness From David Brooks

David Brooks' column in Friday's NY Times is almost laughable. But actually it is sad. It is entitled "The Tenacity Question" and in it Brooks argues that the question about Obama is whether he has the "tenacity" to stick it out in Afghanistan. He has consulted "military experts," unnamed but certainly not including an expert like Andrew Bacevich, and they have wondered "if [Obama] is willing to stick by his decisions, explain the war to the American people, and persevere through good times and bad." He continues: "They do not know if he possesses tenacity, the ability to fixate on a simple conviction and grip it, viscerally and unflinchingly, through complexion and confusion." He writes that there is "a determination vacuum," and because of this Afghan villagers are "hedging their bets" and not informing on the Taliban.

Wow, what tripe! And this stuff gets published in the NY Times? I guess it does. Afghan villagers are taking their bearings from Obama and his determination? The president of the United States is so powerful in this view of things that he can determine how Afghan villagers will deal with the Taliban, and just by showing determination! It is hard to know how to respond to such an asinine argument or whether one should even respond at all. Why give credence to foolishness? I guess by the same logic if American presidents had shown more determination in Viet Nam, we would have won that war! Forget the history of the Vietnamese people, a history replete with examples of them resisting the behemoth to their north, the Chinese, forget that they had been fighting the French for decades. Hey, just show some determination and we will win!!

Tripe like this is almost embarrassing. Brooks usually does better.

Monday, October 26, 2009

More from Lasch on "Social Mobility"

Here is another passage from Lasch that is just too good not to be quoted at length:

"[Wendell] Berry's interrogation of [Justin Smith] Morrill [author of the land grant colleges act] defines the most important choice a democratic society has to make: whether to raise the general level of competence, energy, and devotion - 'virtue,' as it was called in an older political tradition - or merely to promote a broader recruitment of elites. Our society has clearly chosen the second course. It has identified opportunity with upward mobility and made upward mobility the overriding goal of social policy. The debate about affirmative action shows how deeply this pathetically restricted notion of opportunity has entered public discourse. A policy designed to recruit minorities into the professional and managerial class is opposed not on the grounds that it strengthens the dominant position of this class but on the grounds that it weakens the principle of meritocracy. Both sides argue on the same grounds. Both see careers open to talent as the be-all and end-all of democracy when in fact, careerism tends to undermine democracy by divorcing knowledge from practical experience, devaluing the kind of knowledge that is gained from experience, and generating social conditions in which ordinary people are not expected to know anything at all. The reign of specialized expertise - the logical result of policies that equate opportunity with open access to 'places of higher consideration' - is the antithesis of democracy as it was understood by those who saw this country as the 'last, best hope of earth.'" [The Revolt of the Elites, pp. 78-79]

Now, this illustrates just how deep and pervasive our "unofficial ideology" is. And it also illustrates why the "debates" between liberals and conservatives are (a) so boring and (b) so pathetic. And of course there is the phenomenon of a Sarah Palin or a Joe the Plumber coming on stage and shouting superficiality after superficiality and being greeted with shouts of approval and rave reviews for being so "controversial." "Oh my, s/he is saying what needs to be said and what no one else has the courage to say. S/he is so courageous, so outspoken!!!" Well, no; just oh so conventional. It is like the phenomenon called "reality shows" on TV where people actually think the outcome is freely determined by a competition between the contestants! But, in "real reality," the contestants are working together, colluding just like our political parties collude, to deceive us in order to gain distinction and, often, not a little bit of money! "The last, best hope of earth"? We had better hope not.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Price of Social Mobility

Here are some musings on the Anti-Federalists and a guy named Christopher Lasch who has written some interesting books on American things that can educate and enlighten. These musings are based on his book The Revolt of the Elites" and these musings were made for a class in American government I am teaching this semester where I "work." Herbert Storing was the best professor I ever had the pleasure to learn from and, by the way, play handball with. If you wish to know more about the Anti-Federalists, a great place to start is Storing's little monograph titled, What the Anti-Federalists Were For. There is, I am now convinced, more to say about the Anti-Federalists but Storing says more than anyone else and he takes the AF's seriously.

Even Some More Musings on Anti-Federalism and the “Mobile Society”
P. Schultz
Fall 2009

“Madison’s argument [for a large, commercial society] rests on a doubt about the efficacy of securing liberty by relying on the moral, religious, and patriotic sentiments which were supposed to characterize the small republic. A better, more reliable, base is a wide community of industrious men with much opportunity to gratify their private desires and little opportunity to combine unjustly with others. [Such an arrangement creates an] “intricate net of calculation….” [Herbert Storing, “The Problem of Big Government,” in Toward a More Perfect Union, ed. by Joseph Bessette, p. 292]

Thinking about Lasch’s critique of the concept of “social mobility” and the Anti-Federalists, it occurred to me that there is another dimension to the concept as the principle of what Madison labeled “a large, commercial republic.” As Lasch pointed out in his book The Revolt of the Elites, the principle of social mobility as the linchpin of the American Dream may be contrasted with an earlier principle which might be called “social competence.” That is, when the aspiration that characterizes social life is to climb up “the ladder” of “success” and achieve a higher or even the highest socio-economic rung, education is seen as, in the words of our current president, Obama, “a race to the top.” However, as Lasch notes, this is a relatively recent understanding of the American Dream, the earlier version of which saw education as a means to rendering all Americans competent or independent. So, even though those in the “lower classes” would not be as “well off” as those in the “upper classes”, all would be competent or able to participate intelligently in society, both socially and politically. As Lasch notes, it would not be amiss to call such a society “classless” because all classes of society are deemed equal in the crucial measure of “competence” or “independence.”

This is all well and good. But think also of the implications of social mobility for the character of society from another angle, viz., the angle of mobility itself. In a society that aspires to social mobility, mobility itself, moving about, is embraced as an offshoot of the aspiration to “rise.” When social mobility is the standard society turns into little more than a competitive arena where the struggle for distinction predominates – which only a relatively few can obtain for otherwise they would not be “distinct” – and people accept society as such an arena and not as, say, a nurturing place or perhaps even a settled place. Hence, such a society may also be described as “rootless.” That is, in such a society people are literally “unsettled” or “homeless.” So, not only is a society built on the principle of social mobility one that devalues or denigrates “competence” or “independence,” it is also a society where no one feels “at home.” People are said to be “restless,” “always on the move,” and this way of being in the world pervades society until the concept of rootedness looks more and more like a vice, e.g., like parochialism.

And in the society built on the ideal of social mobility, society itself is viewed as an arena which people use to “rise up,” to achieve “distinction” in one way or the other. This would also be an accurate characterization, as Lasch points out, of a “merit based society,” which is a society where people pursue “merit” [another version of “rising up”] at the expense of other phenomena, one of which would be “rootedness.” And this could mean “rootedness” in either or both places or institutions such as the family. A merit based social arrangement conflicts with and undermines a social arrangement that is based on what today are called “family values,” something some supporters of both a merit based society and a family based society have not noticed.

Moreover, Madison’s “wide community of industrious men…gratify[ing] their private desires…” begins to look more and more like a society of rootless, even homeless people whose lives are characterized not only by the gratification of their private desires but, more importantly and more dangerously, by the pursuit of their ambitions which can only be satisfied by the manipulation of the public and of government to become “great” or achieve fame, the only kind of immortality human beings can be certain of. Insofar as this is correct, there is a greater danger than a socially mobile, merit based society descending into a paltry kind of hedonism that undermines such institutions as the family and churches. There is also the danger that such a society will seek to be “god-like,” seeking to satisfy its longing for immortality by saving or redeeming the world, thereby leading it into adventures that are not only bound to fail but to be inhuman as well.

Gee, and we all thought the argument for a “small republic” could be consigned to the “dust bin of history.” Of course it can but if that is done, we all might be surprised at the price we will pay. Or is it the price we are paying?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


The Pope’s “New” Way of Thinking
March 21, 2009

Here is a story from the New York Times and the Associated Press about Pope Benedict and his trip to Africa.

March 18, 2009
Pope, in Africa, Says Condoms Aren’t the Way to Fight H.I.V.

YAOUNDÉ, Cameroon (AP) — Condoms are not the answer to Africa’s fight against H.I.V., Pope Benedict XVI said Tuesday as he began a weeklong trip to the continent. It was the pope’s first explicit statement on an issue that has divided even clergy working with AIDS patients.

Benedict arrived in Yaoundé, Cameroon’s capital, on Tuesday afternoon, greeted by a crowd of people waving flags and snapping cameras. The visit is his first pilgrimage to Africa as pope.

In his four years as pope, Benedict had never directly addressed condom use, although his position is not new. His predecessor, Pope John Paul II, often said that sexual abstinence, not condoms, was the best way to prevent the spread of H.I.V., the virus that causes AIDS.

Benedict also said the Roman Catholic Church was at the forefront of the battle against AIDS.

“You can’t resolve it with the distribution of condoms,” the pope told reporters aboard the plane heading to Yaoundé. “On the contrary, it increases the problem.”

The pope said a responsible and moral attitude toward sex would help fight the disease.

The Roman Catholic Church rejects the use of condoms as part of its overall teaching against artificial contraception. Senior Vatican officials have advocated fidelity in marriage and abstinence from premarital sex as crucial weapons in the fight against AIDS.

About 22 million people in sub-Saharan Africa are infected with H.I.V., according to Unaids, a United Nations agency. In 2007, three-quarters of all AIDS deaths worldwide were in the region, as well as two-thirds of all people living with H.I.V.

Rebecca Hodes of the Treatment Action Campaign in South Africa said that if the pope were serious about preventing H.I.V. infections, then he would focus on promoting wide access to condoms and spreading information on how best to use them.

“Instead, his opposition to condoms conveys that religious dogma is more important to him than the lives of Africans,” said Ms. Hodes, the campaign’s director of policy, communication and research.

Africa is the fastest-growing region for the Catholic Church, though Catholicism competes with Islam and evangelical churches.

I must say that although Pope Benedict has received some criticism for these remarks that I found them to be refreshing and stimulating. This is probably because I have had similar thoughts for a long time now.

For example, I have been convinced for years now that the whole gig with bicycle helmets is really counterproductive. By having kids and others [even I wear one now] wear such helmets, we are only encouraging reckless and dangerous bike riding. I know that since I have started wearing a helmet that I have been known to take chances that I never would have taken when I did not wear a helmet and this despite the fact that I am considerably older than I use to be. Moreover, there are figures indicating that the number of bicycle accidents have gone up since people started wearing helmets, which might surprise you but does not surprise me. I predicted this dire result from the outset of the bicycle helmet craze! Although for fear of being seen as “politically incorrect” I did make my children, when they were young, to wear helmets. This is what happens to people in the midst of irrational mass movements like that toward wearing bicycle helmets. It is a phenomenon that even the Founding Fathers noticed and took steps to offset. Apparently, though, they needed to do more.

Also, I have thought the same things with regard to seat belts and airbags in cars. These two items just encourage reckless and dangerous driving, thereby undermining a responsible and moral attitude toward driving. Furthermore, those “free” cab rides that many colleges and universities offer to students who have been drinking off campus also contribute to reckless and irresponsible drinking habits, which undercut a responsible and moral attitude toward drinking as well as offsetting the almost heroic efforts of liquor companies to encourage responsible drinking with their ads to that effect. And, of course, if you combine the availability of condoms [and the idea that using such things is OK and even praiseworthy] with this irresponsible drinking by young people, it does not take much imagination to realize that this is like combining nitro and glycerin. A night of irresponsible drinking fostered by free rides combined with young people who tend to seek sex and the availability and respectability of condoms – well I cannot think of anything more likely to undercut responsible and moral attitudes toward sex! What are we thinking?

As stated, I have had these and similar thoughts for years now but, because Pope Benedict has spoken in similar terms, I finally feel like I can “come out,” as it were. Thank you, Pope Benedict, for expressing thoughts that a lot of people, maybe even a “silent majority,” have had but have been afraid to express because they would be deemed to be “politically incorrect.” And now, I must say, I feel better; I even feel liberated. “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.”

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Some ramblings from an email exchange with a friend

You will not find a political construct on the left that is similar to neoconservatism because (a) neoconservatism is the old liberalism with a new name. I mean they talk as if they are different from traditional liberals but for the most part they are not. They support the defense department, defend the VietNam War, both of which were the product of traditional liberalism. They do not approve of Eisenhower’s Farewell Address because of his warning about the military industrial complex. And (b) what is called or could be called the new liberalism is really not much of anything other than a pale version of traditional liberalism, with some wrinkles thrown in. This helps explain the Democrats failure to “govern” as you put it. They don’t really have an alternative to the neocons agenda, except of course with some wrinkles here and there. And if one assumes that the Republicans [the elites that run the party] don’t really or genuinely care about abortion or the traditional family/morality thing – but are just using these issues to gain power – then there is virtually no difference between the two parties. So, bottom line, neither party represents the American people nor are they concerned with this. They just want to maintain the status quo, to maintain what we call “the two party system,” which of course isn’t a two party system. This to me is how to explain what has gone on in D.C. with regard to health care and what I predict will go on with regard to Afghanistan, continuation of the status quo basically with some “change” thrown in to make it look like the establishment responds to the people.

And it is useful to think of Afghanistan not in terms of foreign policy but in terms of domestic policy. Wars are a useful way to maintain order and especially maintain the established order. Shrub – a ‘little bush’, thank you Molly Ivins – was reelected in ‘04 because we were at war and the people did not want to change leaders then. Kerry’s incompetence and capacity to bore people to death only helped Bush win. The argument that he won on “moral values” is a bogus one as far as I am concerned, meant to make it seem that we do have a two party system. And, of course, as implied above, I doubt that the Republicans who run the party really care about “moral values” in any genuine way.

Musings on Anti-Federalism

Some More Musings On Anti-Federalism

“In both the domestic and the foreign spheres, then, the Anti-Federalists thought that the Federalists overstated the American difficulties and the extent to which they could be corrected by constitutional reform. They thought that, as Federalist propaganda against the Articles of Confederation had helped to increase the difficulties, so Federalist propaganda in defense of the Constitution might divert attention from the true cause of trouble, the deterioration of the American spirit. Far from arresting this deterioration, the Constitution seemed likely to intensify it.” [Herbert J. Storing, What the Anti-Federalists Were For, p. 28.]

Now, NB, the two concepts that are differentiated here by the Anti-Federalists, constitutional reform and the American spirit. We might today call “constitutional reform” “governmental reform” without losing very much of what the Anti-Federalists were objecting to. Not only are there some phenomena that “constitutional reform” cannot address but there are phenomena that such reform would make worse. In the present context, that is, of the state of affairs in 1787 and 1788, if the American spirit had deteriorated then creating a national government, far removed from the people and ultimately relying on executive or bureaucratic power to succeed, was hardly a remedy for our ailments. Such a government would not be able to reanimate the American spirit. In fact, such a government would seem to require anything but what might be called “spiritedness.” Such a government would seek to “pacify” the people.

To take a current example, use our alleged educational crisis in which American students are falling behind and, hence, will not be able in the future to compete in the world marketplace. Now the bipartisan response to this crisis was legislation which is called “No Child Left Behind.” Ignore for the moment the utter absurdity of thinking that absolutely no child will be left behind and concentrate on how this legislation relies on bureaucracies and bureaucratic thinking – standardized testing being one clear example of the latter that can be implemented by the former – to address this crisis.

But suppose that this “crisis” is actually a reflection of the deterioration of the American spirit, that is, a reflection of a lost belief in the power of education and educators to do more than “socialize” or “pacify” our youth. In other words, this “crisis” is the result not of failed institutions or failing teachers, but rather is the result of the successful bureaucratization of our schools. When bureaucratized, our educators and our students have the life drained out of them, as evidenced by their lack of imagination and spirit. Further bureaucratization is then not only unable to change our schools for the better but, if successful, will only make the “crisis” worse. Even today there is something persuasive about Anti-Federalism.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Thinking about politics

We are taught that the political world is divided up between liberals and conservatives and that this is how it is and should be. But, as a recent email from a former student reminded me, we Americans don't always think and act as we should. He pointed out that he had two friends, both staunch Republicans and "conservatives", who had decided that the idea of nation building, especially in Afghanistan, was a pipe dream and that if Obama embraced it, he would fail. As my former student said: His two friends had actually adopted for once a genuinely conservative position on an issue. And I say hooray for them.

But I was led to speculate as to why our politicians seem to be unable to make similar "breaks" with what are taken to be liberal or conservative lines. And I also speculated that maintaining the distinction between liberal and conservative, despite the fact that Americans don't buy into it frequently, served the politicians self-interest somehow. How could that be? Well, and this is tentative to say the least, by maintaining that there are only two possibilities on any policy issue, e.g., abortion and pro-life or pro-choice, then we the people are stuck between choosing between those who are currently "the Establishment." That is, we do not see that there are more than two possibilities or that the two alleged possibilities are not mutually exclusive. I have said for years that I am both pro-choice and pro-life and the American people have been saying the same thing at least since Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973! So, if there are only two possibilities then we must choose between those who claim to represent these two choices. Any other choice must be and is often called "the extreme." And the current Establishment, which is composed of Republicans and Democrats or conservatives and liberals, survives and even prospers, and this despite the fact that it represents almost no one!

This would help explain why some of the loudest mouthed but least intelligent politicians get a lot of attention, e.g., Sarah Palin or Representative Bachmann [in today's NY Times]. They get this attention because it solidifies the illusion that politics is and should be divided between liberals and conservatives and between a liberal ideology and a conservative ideology, even though most Americans are not ideologically liberal or conservative. Most Americans could care less about what people like Sarah Palin or Keith Olberman say. They have other concerns. But then if the Establishment were to admit that these other concerns are more important than the concerns of the loud mouths they, the Establishment, would disappear in a heart beat.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The "Middle Ground"

Alright, so last week in class I was trying to illustrate how our political debates are structured so as to make it look like our politicians are "middle grounders" or "pragmatists" and doing this in the context of the current "debate" over Afghanistan. I drew a line on the board and then I wrote "Pull Out" on the extreme left, "Continue Policy" in the middle and "MORE Troops" on the extreme right. So, pulling out is an "extreme" and more troops is an "extreme" while basically continuing our policy is the "middle ground."

Then I said: "We can draw our own lines. So let me do that." And I drew another line and wrote "Continue policy" on the extreme left, "Pull Out" in the middle and "MORE troops" on the extreme right.

A student in a very animated fashion said that the second line was "wrong." "You can't do that," she said and I complimented her on her intensity but asked: "Why not? After all, isn't one definition of an 'extreme' that it doesn't work or isn't working?" She paused, not quite sure what to say but reiterated that the second line was not correct and therefore not allowed. So, to illustrate further what I had in mind, the following illustration struck me. I drew another line and put "Quit Smoking" on the extreme left, "Continue Smoking" in the middle, and "MORE Smoking" on the extreme right.

I then asked her whether she really thought that "quitting smoking" was an "extreme." Of course, she did not. Then I suggested that that was because there was some kind of independent judgment made on the value of smoking, whereas no such judgment had been made in the first line regarding our "involvement" [I love our euphemisms!] in Afghanistan. In fact, the premise of the first line was and is that our "involvement" is beneficial to us, to Afghanistan and to the world. And it is only on the basis of that premise that the first line makes any sense.

BUT: Is this not what we should be debating? Of course it is. But this debate never takes place because of the way the issue is presented to us ala' that first line. In fact, it seems likely that the first line is used to obscure just what it is we should be debating. Moreover, I pointed out in class that this way of "debating," that is, the first line way, is exactly what happened in Viet Nam time and time again until we arrived at the extreme of having over 500,000 troops in Nam and entertaining a request for still more troops. I asked: "How does one get to an extreme by repeatedly choosing 'the middle ground?'" No one had an answer which makes sense because getting to an extreme by adopting the middle ground again and again does not make sense. It cannot make sense.

We need to find a way to debate the real issues confronting us, not the false issues that are created by those in power that only serve to limit our political debate and render it useless. We need to begin by recognizing the paucity of the debates we are currently engaged in.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Most Important Facet of Obama

As we are treated to stories about Obama and the decision he is said to be considering with regard to Afghanistan, here is the most important fact we should remember: During his campaign for the presidency, Obama said nothing, not a word, about the danger of militarization and how that danger has manifested itself in our society since, at least, Ike's Farewell Address in which he warned us about the "military-industrial complex." From this fact, it is possible to deduce that Obama will "stay in" Afghanistan, continuing a war that is now eight years old. Without an appreciation of the dangers of the further militarization of our society, Obama knows not what he is doing.

Afghanistan and the Dog and Pony Show

Headline from the NY Times today: "Obama Rules Out Large Reduction in Afghan Force: Undecided on Buildup: Meeting Top Legislators, He Seems to Desire a Middle Ground."

Oh boy, the "middle ground." Isn't that comforting? Should be as that is what it is intended to be. But a "middle ground" between what? Apparently between a large reduction in force - NB: not a pull out - and a large increase in force, ala' General "I helped cover up the Tillman incident" McChrystal. One interesting facet of these reports is that the "middle ground" is almost always between two options that make it seem that the "middle ground" is the only one that makes sense. As if we don't really have a choice. "Oh yeah, Obama is seeking the middle ground. That is good because the last thing we want is something 'extreme.'"

This is, for those who don't remember or don't know, exactly the kind of "thinking" that went on with regard to Viet Nam, where by taking the "middle ground" we ended up with over 500,000 troops there, i.e., the extreme [and ended up getting our asses kicked anyway]! Now, how did this happen in Viet Nam if our presidents were always taking the "middle ground?" It is logically and practically impossible to take the middle ground and end up at an extreme. Something was not being said back then and something is not being said here and now. Could it be that the "middle ground" is a creation of abstract thinking, that is, of thinking that does not actually take into account what is possible in Afghanistan? "Afghanistan" in this mode becomes an abstraction, a "nation" and the Taliban a group of calculating human beings whose behavior we can change by the appropriate application of force. It is or becomes all a matter of logistics and because we like to think of ourselves as the master of logistics we must prevail. The "middle ground" will be enough because the enemy, having seen the "middle ground," does not want to see the extreme!

This could all be little more than wishful thinking. It is certainly abstract thinking, leaving out the reality of "Afghanistan," which we like to think of as "backward," just like we thought of Viet Nam. And, of course, "backward" places do not defeat "developed" nations, do they? No, that doesn't happen. Viet Nam? Oh well, we weren't defeated there by the Vietnamese but rather by ourselves, the peace movement, the media, our alleged "hands tied behind the back" strategy, etc., etc.

I recall a scene from the Godfather [and I am not sure which one but I think it was "godfather, part II], where Michael Corleone is in Cuba for a meet and on the way somewhere when a small group of rebels, Castro's rebels, attacks the motorcade. MC watches as the these men die as they knew they probably would. MC, having seen this, knows that, in all likelihood, Cuba will "fall" because men who are prepared to die for their cause are difficult to defeat. Needless to say, Michael C. severs his ties with those doing "business" in Cuba, and thereby cuts his losses when Cuba does "fall." Had he adopted the "middle ground" he would have lost quite a bit of money. In Afghanistan it is not only money we will lose. We will lose some of our best young men and women. Having done this before you might think we would smarten up.

Sunday, October 4, 2009


A story in the New York Times today [Sunday, October 4, 2009] is about e. coli and hamburger meat. In part, it is about the government's attempts to regulate the testing of hamburgers, which of course is anything but just ground up beef. In fact, one of the safest ways to buy hamburger meat is to buy a steak at the supermarket and have it ground there. You know, the way it use to be done "back in the day." But, having just seen that alleged lunatic, Ron Paul, on the Daily Show, I got to thinking....or going crazy as obviously has happened to Ron Paul. I mean come on, someone who criticizes the government for printing money as needed to fund BIG GOVERNMENT and its huge social programs and all of its wars must be crazy. I mean that could never happen in "real life," right? Of course not!! No more than the government would bail out those responsible for our latest economic woes, while at almost the same time being unable to agree on health insurance reform because, get this, the reform cannot increase the deficit!!!! [This is the kind of thing that could give one a brain aneurysm!!!]

But, anyway, to pursue what must be my latest appearance of lunacy, I thought: Why all this business with trying to "regulate" the meat processing industry? Why not just pass laws making it a criminal offense to produce meat that can kill people or make them very sick? So, if Cargill corporation produces meat that renders a young woman paralyzed from the waist down, which is allegedly according the NY Times what actually happened and was the result I am told of Cargill meat products and I am told in even more than one case, the executives at Cargill would face criminal charges of, say, attempted murder or fraud. You know, it reminded me of a gig George Carlin use to do with regard to drugs. He would ridicule the government's decision to make drug dealing a capital offense because, after all, this would not deter drug dealers as they had already proven they are willing to die to deal drugs! "They are killing each other!" George would exclaim. Ah, George would say, but those bankers who are responsible for laundering drug money....They don't want to die, do they? So make it a capital offense to launder drug money and, guess what, the drug trade would shrink, if not disappear. Well, of course, George Carlin was just a comedian so we don't have to take him seriously. He was not one of our esteemed politicians, just a comedian.

Now, why then regulation, not criminal penalties? Perhaps because the oligarchy does not really want to regulate the food industry? But they have to pretend to regulate it because otherwise people will get upset, even upset enough to unelect the oligarchy. So, they bureaucratize their attempts at control - ala' in response to Ralph Nader in the 60s and 70s [Nader out of office can be controlled] - and when that fails, as it is sure to do [can't ever have enough inspectors to do a proper job], the politicians can blame it on the bureaucracy! "Hey, we tried. Take it up with the bureaucrats. Or, better yet, let's create another bureaucracy - ala' post 9/11 and Homeland Security or more FEMA-like power after Katrina - and that will take care of the problem." Cool, isn't it? And we are reminded once again that government is powerless to do certain things, like clean up our food.

But of course this would never happen in "the land of the free and the home of the brave," so I am now going to commit myself and try to drag Ron Paul along with me.

Friday, October 2, 2009

How It Works

Here is an example of how "it" works. Obama is now being labeled in some quarters "a pragmatic liberal." Which conveys the idea that those who want more than or something different than Obama are not pragmatic. I guess they would be labeled "radicals" or "extremists." Ah yes, so now we can rest easy with Obama's failure to lead us anywhere significant on health insurance because he was just being "pragmatic." JFK was also being "pragmatic" when he increased significantly the number of military personnel in Viet Nam - no, they were not, except on paper, "advisers!" LBJ was being "pragmatic" when he committed up to 500,000+ troops to Viet Nam despite the fact that he had been told that this number of troops would not change the course of the war in any significant way. "Pragmatism" is a word that has talismanic power in the United States. And indeed it does. It disguises what our politicians are actually doing while preparing us to think that, when the pragmatic steps don't work, all is as it should be. After all, we are only being "pragmatic."

Health insurance charade continued

"Mr. Obama has said he wants a public plan, but he has not always insisted on it, and the administration has sent mixed signals about how important it is. In the debate on Tuesday, few senators mentioned the president’s preferences, although several noted that many House Democrats, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi, supported the public option."
New York Times, September 30, 2009.

So where has the "change" president gone? Apparently, he cannot make up his mind about a public option in the proposed health insurance "reform." Maybe he has given up on "hope!" Can you imagine Obama talking about Afghanistan this way? "Well, maybe we should try to defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan but I don't insist on it. Well, maybe we should send more troops to Afghanistan but I am not insisting on it. Hey, let's go with the flow, guys." Oh yes, that is realistic. Of course, given the alleged "complexity" of health insurance reform, the President is probably confused at this point. After all, he only attended Harvard and not some really elite school.

And the beat goes on, and on, and on, and on.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Staying Sane

I was puzzled some time ago by a comment Jon Stewart made to Kurt Vonnegut when he interviewed him on his show: "Thank you, Mr. Vonnegut, for helping me to stay sane." He, Jon, meant of course when he was growing up. But now I understand that comment because when there is madness all around, the only way to stay sane, which means lighthearted, not "serious," is to go to those who are labeled "insane" or "crazy" by those who propagate the "conventional wisdom" of the day or year or century. You know, conventional wisdom like the idea that the United States' government is a "democracy!" Or that politicians are powerless to resist the wishes of "special interests." Here is one example from the newspapers recently: A former Nixon aide, a particularly inept Nixon aide, named Bud McFarland, was being paid a whole lot of money by a foreign government, Sudan, I think, to lobby the Obama administration and this had some people worried that this would adversely effect Obama's intense commitment to improve things in that country. Now, I ask you, if the Obama administration wanted to ignore McFarland, what would prevent them from doing so? It is mind boggling what passes for "analysis" and what are considered problems in the United States. Which brings me back to Vonnegut.

I have to love a guy who wrote: "We are here on earth to fart around. Don't let anyone tell you any different." Or: "I don't know about you, but I practice a disorganized religion. I belong to an unholy disorder. We call ourselves 'Our Lady of Perpetual Astonishment.'" Or: "We are about to be attacked by Al Qaeada. Wave flags if you have them. That always seems to scare them away." This reminds me of the something my son said to me after 9/11, something like this as I did not write it down when he said it: "Maybe all those people waving flags should read some history books." And I don't think he meant the kind of history books written for those in our high schools! You know the kind: Those that fail to mention, for example, that Woodrow Wilson was (a) a racist and (b) dragged the nation into WWI against the wishes of the people or the best interests of the nation because he wanted to "make the world safe for democracy." Ah, we are taught: Wilson, one of our "great" presidents!!

Now, quickly, about the farting around. My students are always amazed not only that I say this but even defend it. I ask them: Who does more damage to the planet and to humans, those who fart around or those who are serious about "saving" us, those who are trying to "democratize" the world, those who are trying stop people from using drugs? Most years, I try to get my students to read a book, The Quiet American, by Graham Greene, which has two protagonists, Thomas Fowler, a Brit, who likes to observe life in Viet Nam and smoke opium, and Alden Pyle, an American, who wants to "save" Viet Nam and the Vietnamese by Americanizing them. Guess who does the most damage? You got it. So, I ask my students: Which is more destructive, doing drugs or "saving" the world? Needless to say, they have not heard this question before! I think it is the arrogance of the serious types that makes them so dangerous. George Carlin liked to point out the arrogance of those who were going to save the planet: "The planet isn't going anywhere. We are! The planet was here millions, even billions of years before we were and it will be here long after we are gone. All of us!" For Real!