Outrage of the Month (2). New York Governor Eliot Spitzer’s scheme to give driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants. Having actually once been an illegal immigrant in New York State, and having got a driver’s license, I’m not sure I’m the right person to pass comment on this. Still, it’s one thing for a smart, carefree, and--I’ll admit it--irresponsible young man to game the system, and quite another for the governor of the state to do so.Am I the only one who's noticed that Derbyshire talks about "having actually once been an illegal immigrant" the way that folks like Barack Obama's buddy talks about having actually once been a big ol fag?
Friday, November 02, 2007
Is it my imagination, which has admittedly been overstimulated by medicating my hangover with weed, or is this David Brooks column incredibly funny and true?
“Because we’ve been focused, because we’ve refused to let down our guard, we’ve done — gone more now than six years without another 9/11,” the vice president said, addressing the American Legion in Indianapolis.
All right. Things having been altogether too heavy around here of late--for every once in a while, I've got to live up to my reputation as a bomb-thrower--so today we're going to talk about Tom Friedman.
In his latest foray into the mysterious East, Friedman discovers that where there is no power grid, people make provisional arrangements. In that nut is the seed of something interesting. Iraqis rig diesel generators. Friedman's Indians string together chemical batteries. Somewhere surely some bright young thing is writing a very interesting dissertation on decentralized, distributed power generation as an important alternative to vulnerable, antiquated plant-and-grid networks. That's not to suggest that we want a world running on a gazillion half-horsepower lawnmower engines. But surely improvements in battery capacity, in solar conversion . . .
Friedman, meanwhile, has only one thing on the brain:
Here in Ethakota, amid the banana and palm groves, 120 college-educated villagers, trained in computers and English by Satyam and connected to the world by wireless networks, are processing data for a British publisher and selling services for an Indian phone company. They run two eight-hour shifts, but could run three — if only the electricity didn’t go off for six hours a day!There you have it. A green revolution in order to transform more of the world into call centers. We shall conquer the destructive, dirty industrial revolution in order to make telemarketers of "India's 700 million villagers." We shall college-educate the masses so that they can sit at phones and pick their noses while angry Brits rage that they already have checked their TCP/IP settings and enabled cookies. Oh, brave new world! Now if only we could run it 24 hours a day . . .
Thursday, November 01, 2007
Bush will go down in history as the torture president. I hate that this country ever had a president who made the torture of human beings official government policy.American liberals accuse their conservative counterparts of atavism, but they themselves are equally guilty--if not guiltier--of eying an imaginery past. Because their program is untethered from the history and reality of the actual United States, a vapid, vacuous series of exhortations to the better angels of our nature without the slightest attempt to grapple with the real actions of our country over the past centuries, they propose it as a reinvigoration or restoration of a peaceable, humanitarian, democratic tradition that never in fact existed. As partisans, it's understandable that they would want to exculpate their own political and intellectual forebears. Likewise, it's easy to see why the myth of a Just America plays so heavily in their rhetorical contortions. I'll make the point again: all politics is conservative in the sense that it seeks to fulfill the promise of an heroic past. The impediment is that the past wasn't heroic, but that's never stopped anyone.
-Tristero at Hullabaloo
Tristero, AKA Richard Einhorn, was born in 1952. The School of the Americas, wherein the United States Military trained allied armies in the techniques of state terror and torture, was founed in 1946. The Vietnam Conflict, in which millions of Vietnamese were slaughtered in order to satisfy the theoretical fancies of American paranoids, began with the arrival of American "advisors" right around the time Tristero was born, and it was prosecuted alternately under Democratic and Republican leadership for twenty years. The Iranian coup, "Operation Ajax," occured in 1953. The number of foreign dictators supported directly by the United States, not even in secret, despite their affections for torture, mass murder, sand all other manners of human savagery and indignity is too long to list. The practice of "extraordinary rendition" began not under Bush, but as a presidential directive issued by Bill Clinton. The use of black sites, CIA prisons, secret transfers, and torture date at least to the beginning of the cold war. Torture has long been the official policy of the United States.
What sets the Bush Administration apart is only that it has been unabashed where others have been circumspect. This has made it easy for partisans like Tristero to fulminate against abuses that they would have otherwise been happy to ignore. How, you ask, do I know they would be happy to do so? Because they did--in this case for many decades. They ignored the dispassionate critiques of people like Chomsky or else dismissed them as lunatics. They believed that people like Jim Bovard were hysterics and heretics. Somewhat more moderate critiques of empire--Vidal for instance--were more palatable to them because the writing was prettier. But they never accepted the heart of the critique. If it were true that Bill Clinton sought to expand, and did expand, the powers of government to combat "terrorism," to kidnap and to torture, and to prosecute foreign military actions, then it would hardly do to spend hours a day and thousands of words figuring out which member of his identical political faction to bless with the keys to the kingdom.
The idea that George W. Bush occupies a lower rung on the ladder into the inferno than, say, Harry S Truman is preposterous on its face. As good liberals everywhere worry that Bush will launch a war with Iran, with the fortunate collusion of their own liberal politicians, perhaps even using a "preemptive" nuclear strike, let us recall that Harry S Truman did, in fact use nuclear weapons on a civilian population. Twice. They note that hundreds of thousands of Iraqis are dying at the hands of our invasion under Bush, but how many Vietnamese died under the escalations of Johnson and Nixon? These aren't cavils. I have already written about the similarities between Bush and Clinton when it comes to the catch-all usefulness of terrorism to consolidate state power and to subvert the basic rights of man.
What accounts for this deliberate blindness? Is it intellectual laziness? Is it political "tribalism," to use Arthur Silber's going term? To a degree. More substantially, it's blindness motivated by moral and intellectual cowardice. If, after all, President Bush is the continuation of an historic trend; if present policies are the apotheoses of past practices; then the complete hollowness of choosing Obama over Clinton over Edwards becomes readily apparent. The bankruptcy of investing time and energy in people who will do nothing to change the fundamental principles of the American empire because they are products of the empire becomes evident. If, however, that were the case, then one would be less inclined to imagine himself vaguely as a revolutionary for the courage of pulling a democratic lever in a curtained-off little room. He would first have to confront his sundry importance. His dispensibility. His irrelevance. He would then have to confront what it means to be one more disposable body in a vast military and mercantile empire. He would have to see that the only real politics are a more radical politics than he is willing to entertain, and he would have to admit that if change comes, it will not come within his lifetime. The principle here is Copernican. To understand your actual place, you must first discover that you're not at the center, and then discover that you are very, very small. There's a different kind of power in that knowledge than in the delusion of grandness and centrality. But it isn't a power that bears quadrennial rewards of falling balloons and butterflies on innauguration day.
Why do people obey? Out of habit, and out of fear. But since habit is often just a symptom of fear, it's really fear alone. Fear of opprobium; fear of ostracization; fear of economic hardship; fear of giving offense; fear of arrest; fear of reprimand; fear of imprisonment; fear of death; fear of loss; fear of appearing foolish; fear of being ignored; fear of drawing too much attention; fear of seeming abnormal; fear of turing out to have been wrong all along. Ad inf.
Obedience is the first learned behavior. No is the first learned language. Socialization and education don't only impart a body of discrete knowledge, but teach children who in their infancy deferred only to their most immediate caregivers to operate in a complex network of subordinations, deferences, and accessions. In school, we learn to navigate these networks of demand. We learn when a parent outranks a teacher and vice versa. We learn to answer to our peers, to our teachers, to the principal above that, to security guards, to police, to familiar adults and unfamiliar adults, to coaches, to other public officials, then to bosses, to coworkers of greater rank, to experts, to the opinions of public figures, to government at all its levels, to the decisions of economic institutions, to creditors, to critics. The list goes on. This education is subtler, more pervasive, and far, far more effective than the other education. It's as thoroughly learned as a first language. Because it's so internalized, we rarely consider how ubiquitous are its uses. At nearly every moment of our waking lives, our minds are involved in determining what is appropriate and what is allowable.
Obedience comes naturally between caregivers and children because of the motivating prospect of withdrawn care. This is a rarely acknowledged fact, for we're relentlessly romantic about childhood. As we age, though, we learn to think of obedience as an altruistic act: a sort of perversion of the principle of non-intervention in the lives of others. "Do unto others as you'd have done unto you." To fail to obey convention; to break the law; to break the rules; to speak out of turn; to commit any number of minor infractions of etiquette or accepted decency; is to act against others. So we're told. It will make them uncomfortable. It will make them late for work. It will make their lives less pleasant. It will cause their days pass less smoothly. It will deny them the pleasures of public accommodation. It's just a mean thing to do.
Thou shalt not slow traffic on the autobahn.
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
What does a narrow, anti-government conservatism have to offer to urban neighborhoods where violence is common and intact families are rare? Very little. What hope does it provide to children in foreign lands dying of diseases that can be treated or prevented for the cost of American small change? No hope. What achievement would it contribute to the racial healing and unity of our country? No achievement at all.The Hayekian conservativism--hell, let's just call it classical liberalism--that Gerson is talking about is rather in abeyance in the Republican party and has been since . . . uh, Lincoln? Well, I suppose there was Silent Cal. Anyway. I find no evidence beyond assertion that the GOP consists of anything but mad authoritarian adventurers who want simultaneously to, ahem, secure the borders and then fly over them on the way to killing foreigners. As for me, I would catechize a little differently:
What does a narrow, anti-government conservatism have to offer to urban neighborhoods where violence is common and intact families are rare? It won't lock up all their young men! What hope does it provide to children in foreign lands dying of diseases that can be treated or prevented for the cost of American small change? It won't invade and occupy their countries, nor sanction them, destroy their economies, and starve them even further of medicine and food! What achievement would it contribute to the racial healing and unity of our country? It wouldn't, but it wouldn't claim "racial healing and unity" to be within its power, capacity, or purview!
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
Juvenile. Now that is a word being bandied by the comfort-mongers. Of course, there is nothing quite so adolescent as sophistication.
If you'd like to know what effective action against the government of the United States looks like, you should go to Baghdad. There you have it. If you can countenance suicide bombings, car bombs, firefights in the streets, then by all means, have at it. If, on the other hand . . .
In his essay on Ghandi, Orwell noted that it was a quirk of the British--more particularly: of the British imperium at that moment--that permitted Ghandi (the figure, not the man) to exist. The Nazis, Orwell said, would've shot him. Of course, if Ghandi had been an uneducated and unanglophone dalit, the Brits or his Indian betters would've shot him. But he was what he was and who he was. So it goes.
In the United States, those who sustain a countercultural disposition are routinely hounded from public life. We are not yet at the point where such folks have to disappear, but that owes largely to the narrow, self-policed range of allowable thought and opinion in our culture, which everyone from de Tocqueville to Twain to Mencken to Sontag have noticed and regretted. Still, there can be no doubt that in our age of secret prisons, black ops sites, "extraordinary renditions," superjudicial executions, immunized mercenaries, etc., an effective agitator would never make it as far as the mountaintop.
In the first place, clear your mind of the idea that there is going to be a revolution. There isn't. Clear your mind of the idea that an organized, effective "challenge to the system" can be mounted by citizens against the American state. It can't, and it won't. The fiscal and military resources of the state are too vast; its foundations too deep; its citizens too conditioned to life within to envision, let alone desire, life without. If you tried to overthrow the government, you'd be shot. If you tried to organize a general strike, you'd fail--not only because you could never achieve a sufficient number of people to effectuate such a strike, but because we live in a state with the capacity to render a million people taking to the streets in protest as a non-event. Perhaps you recall the extraordinary scale of the protests in Washington, New York, Los Angeles, London on the eve of the invasion of Iraq, or on several occasions afterward. Perhaps. But your neighbor doesn't.
On the other hand, America's underground "shadow economy" now accounts for more than 10% of the national economy. (See Eric Schlosser's imperfect, but very useful Reefer Madness, among others.) You're free to particpate. And, of course, you can stop traffic. This being disdained as "prickishness," lately, let me quote at length from the inspired original:
Real politics doesn't necessarily imply hanging “investment bankers” from lampposts – though that would be fun as well as salutary. It is not, however, essential, at the moment, and perhaps not ever. The elites know they are greatly outnumbered by the rest of us, and they are fundamentally frightened of us. All you have to do is stop traffic.The emphasis is mine. The sentiment ought to be yours.
Stopping traffic is, in fact, the minimum precondition for real politics, and thus of real democracy, just as the touch of skin on skin is the minimum precondition of real sex.
Interestingly, it has never been easier to stop traffic. Those Merry Pranksters in Boston a few weeks ago did it with a handful of blinking LEDs. Self-imposed “War on Terror” hysteria and police frenzy have made the armorbound, overgunned Talus of the enforcement state frightened of its own shadow – or, more accurately, of any point of light, no matter how transient and faint, that isn't its shadow. Anything Caliban sees in the mirror that isn't Caliban will have Caliban on the floor, chewing the carpet.
Buy a cheap knapsack or duffle bag every week. Stuff it with rags or old underwear and leave it in a subway station, or an airport, or just on a sidewalk. Tune in to the evening news and watch the fun.
They hate crowds. Go to Gawker Stalker and report Britney Spears running bare-tit down the street in front of the Israeli Consulate. Be sure to provide the address.
Carry a small can of black spray paint and use it on the lens of every surveillance camera you see. I know, it won't stop traffic, but it'll drive 'em crazy.
Drive really, really slow. In fact, get a couple of co-conspirators to drive really, really slow alongside you. When news radio reports a mysterious slowdown on the Whatever Expressway, take credit in the name of the Asphalt Liberation Front.
Create a dozen or so bogus accounts on some Web site that annoys you – may I suggest Daily Kos? -- and keep the troll-hunters wakeful and strung out. It doesn't stop physical traffic, but it stops, or at least impedes, the ideological traffic in exploded notions.
Don't allow your kids to do homework.
The main thing, though, is to stop being constructive. Don't waste a moment thinking about what “policies” might be better than the ones we have. The fact is that the institutions we have absolutely guarantee insane policies, and unless the balance of power between the elites and the rest of us is changed, then those institutions will continue to manufacture insanity day in and day out.
And there is, needless to say, no institutional way to change the balance of power. The institutions exist to maintain the balance of power – or, more accurately, to tip the balance of power ever more toward the elites. Changing the balance of power requires interfering with the institutions, and impairing or impeding their operation.
In short: stop traffic.
What strikes me about the comments to the prior post is the way in which the very people who kvetch that we offer endless critique with no construction turn shy and shirking at the mere suggestion of inconvenience.
In private correspondence, let me add, several of you lambasted the suggestion that there might be political value in interfering with the daily functioning of society, and then swung immediately into a cry that I have failed to advocate for the direct overthrow of the government! Extraordinary.
To those who think that interfering with someone's commute is an unprincipled action; that defacing government property is an unforgiveable crime; I wonder if the phrase "general strike" has any meaning, especially to those of you who consider yourselves "of the left."
Sunday, October 28, 2007
Arthur Silber has written a long, bitter, funny post that younz oughta read, and not only cause he links me an' 'at. As usual, he's pretty exhaustive, so I have only a parenthetical note to add.
The subject is the University of Florida taser incident. In short: a student asked an impolitic question at a John Kerry forum--and by impolitic, reader, we mean: the only relevant question of the evening--and was in due course hauled to the back of the auditorium by a gang of univeristy cops and repeatedly tasered while a gaggle of pussified, useless students and professors sat around meekly, doing nothing. That, friends, is the triumph of incipient totalitarianism. It's not the pursuit of foreign wars; it's not the spying; it's not the secret prisons; it's not the most vicious of secret tortures; it's not one-party rule; it's not the sorta sub rosa elimination of habeas protections and Constitutional gurantees. Authoritarianism is in evident triumph when hundreds of people have so internalized "the way to act" that they sit by idly while a small handful of under-trained and out-of-shape pseudo-cops torture and abuse a boy right in front of them for no reason at all.
If but one in ten of that audience had simply stood up, walked in a group to the back of the auditorium, and interposed themselves between those cops and their victim, they would have arrested the whole sordid, brutal scene. Instead, everyone sat on their hands, or whined plaintively "Stop!" or "Why are you doing that?" Why were they doing it? Because they could. Because they can. Because the beastly human animal, when the structures of authority allow it to act with impunity, acts.
Deference to constituted authority is vice. A concerted effort at noncooperation is the duty of every free-thinking person. I advocate no orthodoxy in this approach. Some of you don't pay income tax, and some don't pay parking tickets. These are equally valid. Avoid cops, and when they're unavoidable, answer only in yesses and nos. Drive slowly in the passing lane (as recently advocated by my friends at SMBIVA). Underreport your income. Disobey as many laws as you reasonably can. Commit minor crimes against public property. Buy drugs. Live your fucking lives.
Fair-minded people can differ over whether the Bush administration was justified in sending suspected al-Qaeda fighters there immediately after Sept. 11, 2001[.]Dear Matt,
-Matthew Waxman, writing guvmint prose for the WaPo
No, they can't.