Friday, January 29, 2010
Thursday, January 28, 2010
Personally, I don't find either concept of the Constitution particularly appealing, less yet convincing. How about this:
A gang of propertied tax yahoos who'd read a bit too much Cicero did what any patriotic Roman might've done in days of yore. They raised a private army and made civil war on a tyrant. They won! And in the decade the followed, they crafted a Roman-style aristocratic Republic, from slaveholding through general manhood citizenship through a vaguely consular system of government. That's not some anachronistic metaphor. That was their self-conscious project. How many fasciae, how much cognomenizing of Washington as Cincinnatus does it take, huh? Anyway, after a few hundred years, that Republic, which was a little less glimmering than nostalgia recalls, is now deformed beyond recognition or repair. It has inevitably acquired an imperial identity, as you'd expect given its past economic and military success, and its consular-dictatorial office has acquired the trappings of a monarchy, although yes, true, the Senate does still hold some sway--though its power is entirely negative; it can dither and defer, but it cannot positively act.
None of this is especially germane to the Citizen's United decision by the Supreme Court, except insofar as it points to the essential silliness of discoursing on the decision as if some eternal principle were either traduced or upheld. The Constitution is a neat historical document, like the Twelve Tables, or Leviticus, or Hammurabi's code, but it is the law of the United States in the same sense that we are guided by, say, the Ten Commandments.
Via Will Wilkinson, who does, I think, do a pretty decent job at teasing out your basic Progressive's fundamental take on a proper government.
Wednesday, January 27, 2010
That which wasn’t is becoming by
best estimations something we’ll achieve
within what I’m assured’s a reasonable time—
as soon as now, if I can be believed.
The past is past. The future is to come.
Mistakes, if they were made, and let me say,
I can conceive that they were made by some
impatient staffer, unpaid junior aide,
although of course I can’t with certainty
identify what they might be, because,
let me be clear, they were not made by me,
will nonetheless . . . where was I? Let me pause.
To those who’d make us choose between what may
and might never be done, I say, I say.
I read this short of dorky nonsense and I just want to scream. Yes, if only we could reduce the impact of violent criminal organizations on the process by which we affirm the false legitimacy of the most violent criminal organizations we have.
Here is a heart-warming tale. Pittsburgh Police beat the living shit out of a kid who ran from them because he thought they were trying to rob him. They were plainclothed, and they didn't identify themselves. Prize pullquote:
The officers were traveling in what is known as a "99" car, manned by plainclothes officers whose main goal is to rid a specific area of guns and drugs. They are not responsible for answering most 911 calls and are typically known as the zone's best and most aggressive officers.Most aggressive. Now that's commendable.
Obviously the swiftest and easiest way to make up federal budgetary shortfalls would be to reduce the amount of money we spend each year on killing people in other countries, which now accounts for nearly a trillion dollars a year . . . if, that is, we account for our unaccounted-for wars. As a matter of perspective, this means that our annual killing people in other countries budget is roughly the size of the South Korean GDP.
Now, our current, super-crazy, every-thing-must-go, Sunday-Sunday-Sunday budget blowout is well over a trillion bones or clams or whatever you call them in the red, but when it comes to fixing a structural deficit, any bussinessclown can tell you that you cut down the biggest discretionary slice(s) and then hold the lower line until you're back in the black. But killing people in other countries is now entirely sacrosanct. It is an article of faith that the Pentagon does not waste any money. Literally. None. There is not a single place in which it can be trimmed. Every budget line must grow. Forever.
And so we tinker with low-level programmatic spending, the equivalent of saving a dying firm by cutting the office coffee budget.
I could watch famous national op-ed columnists discover that interests compete for influence all day long. Next up: men think with their dicks; black people do it this way, white people do it that way.
Monday, January 25, 2010
Martha Nussbaum's thinking reminds me of the clickety-clack of an old Selectric, the warm scratch of a much-played album. It has a certain visceral appeal. With the infinite human capacity for nostalgia, I can imagine lugging it around and praising its warmth, its palpability. But let's not be mawkish. It's an out-of-date technology, long-since surpassed by superior platforms. Oh and by the way did you know that she was born Martha Craven. Now that is a cognomen a philosopher with a bent toward the Classical world would do well to cover up.
Via the ever-entertaining links at Bookforum, I came across Nussbaum crafting a strained metaphor, likening sexuality to religion in order to make an American-Constitutional case for gay marriage on No Establishment and Free Exercise grounds. In the first place it is strained because what about pedophilia or ephebophilia or transgenderism or polyamory or master-slave S&M or intense coprophilia? I mean, the free exercise of religion permits Scientology. Will Martha Nussbaum's free exercise of sexuality permit polyandry? That the crass slippery slope arguments of the rightwing box-turtle brigade so swiftly expose this rot at the root of the mainstream devotees of legalized sexual equality should prick our noses to the blood in the water.
What to make of this?
…Now let’s think about sex…For many if not most people, it is a central part of one’s search for the meaning of life. Even if sex is in many ways unlike religion, it is like it in being intimately personal, connected to a sense of life’s ultimate significance, and utterly nontrivial. Like religion, it appears to be something in which authenticity, or the involvement of conscience is central. We understand that it goes to the heart of people’s self-definition, their search for identity and self-expression.Personally, I just like to fuck, and although I have surely had some "utterly nontrivial" encounters in my time, I measure their ultimate significance in inches. It is hard to make conscience central to anything involving poppers, let us say. And I do not deny--indeed, I celebrate--that the comingling of souls in certain sexual encounters can indeed exceed the highest religious raptures and bring minds into union, wherefore there were two, then there was one . . . all that jive and flowers. But sometimes I just really want to come all over an undergraduate musical theater major's pretty face, and I refuse to bog down the purity of that entertainment with some dowdy discussion of ecstasy and joy. If the route to sexual equality is the cathedral road, then no thank you. Reifying a new normalcy only lays down new boundaries to be once again traduced in an endless, tiresome cycle of moral posturing and bad-faith argument.
Permit everything. Approve nothing.
Many of my libertarian buddies are having a fine time making fun of liberals for their wailing angoise following the recent Supremo decision on corporate financing of campaigns. I'm sympathetic, not so much because I agree with Will and Julian on the merits, but because all of this Progressive foot-stomping and wildly ineffectual whining that this is just going to RUIN democracy is bathetic to the point of hilarity. The consequences of the many attempts to limit direct corporate participation in the electoral process, culminating in the erstwhile McCain-Feingold régime, were, as is so often the case, nearly the exact opposite of what was publicly intended by the laws' proponents. The formation of massive industry groups and their attendant political action committees was a result of the legal limitations on corporate giving, and the mutual alignment of diverse industry competitors into collective, cooperative industry advocacy organizations has not diminished the power of big business. It has enhanced it. Industry groups, their PACs, and their lobbying arms are unquestionably more powerful today than they were before McCain-Feingold. There is probably an apt evolutionary metaphor here. Environmental hardship can often encourage successful adaptation.
Now on the matter of corporate personhood I tend to follow La_Rana's more rigorously considered line, and while I laughed at Julian's glib (but not inaccurate) set of scenarios in which prohibitions on corporate behavior would rebound to limit the expression of individual rights, I also would look forward to a future in which corporations and collectives of all kinds are reduced to merely passive platforms, holding no opinions and having no editorial boards, declaiming any responsibility for the content they carry or the acts practiced within their walls in order to indemnify themselves and limit liability.