Now HERE is a powerful statement for you


Democrats continue to amaze me. These folks are going to attend Trump’s speech — sit politely and listen to his mad imbecile blather — but they’re going to wear white. Oh man, that’s showing him, innit?

Maxine Waters, to her credit, is planning to stay home, which really seems like a no-brainer. My jaw has fallen through several floors and I need to go find it down in the basement laundry room. What in God’s name are these other fools thinking of?

I can only conjecture that the ethos of ‘splitting the difference’ — successively, a la Achilles and the tortoise — has become such an ingrained tropism that they just can’t help themselves. No potential bridges will be burnt, but a Masonic in-group statement will be delivered. The base will no doubt be happy. They don’t, after all, expect much.

Parturiunt montes, etc.


In its way, it’s a juicy business, this recent smoke-free-room anointment of the latest DNC chair — the awful Perez over the perhaps slightly less awful Ellison. But who cares, really. With any luck at all, the poor Clintonite mook Perez will be the official chief mourner, a year or two hence, at the damp, depressing, poorly-attended graveside of the Democratic Party, finally buried, after two lamentable centuries and change, with an unnecessary stake through its heart(*).

Juicy because it’s so strikingly the fabled old ward-heeler world: you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours; what has he done for me lately; show me the money. People playing the angles inside a rapidly collapsing figure. The tangents and the cosines are objects of serious nerdly study; the measurable length of the sides is of no consequence. We shall fight each other to the death for ever-diminishing prizes. “Rats in a trap” is an awful cliche, of course, but it comes irresistibly to mind.

One of of the truly delightful aspects of the thing was how irrelevant my town’s mayor, the sorry faineant Bill DeBlasio, was, even in the tiny, hypoxic, gravitational-collapse world of Democratic party insider politics. It’s difficult to overstate what a big nothing this guy has been, here in Gotham. I mean, he’s useless even by the low standards of the Democratic Party. I curse him daily: filling potholes is a mayor’s first job — it’s in the Constitution, I think — and the condition of the streets, which I see up close on the bike, makes me miss Iron Mike Bloomberg. Never thought I would say that, but Windbag Bill is a miracle worker in this respect.

(*) Still, as regards the stake: You can’t be too careful with these Undead. I’m in favor of the stake. If only for the sheer joy of the thing: the thwack of the hammer, the crusty give of the ancient skin, the slowly-welling thick old dark blood, sucked and reduced over long ages.

After the Apocalypse…


… it’s more or less business as usual, except a bit more so. But it’s been more so, year after every year, for a long time. Cops are still beating people up, when they’re not shooting them, and our great Republic is still dropping bombs on people, directly or by proxy, in the Middle East. Guantanamo is still open for business. Bibi Netanyahu is still welcome in Washington. The jails are still full, and harmless people, seeking only to get a job and raise their kids, are still being deported. Dog bites man. It’s the American way of life.

Polite hypocrisy has certainly taken a drubbing, and various poltergeists and pookas are strutting their stuff more boldly than they used to do — or are they just being reported on more than they used to be? This is always a question. We know they were always there. Are there more of them? Are they bolder? My guess is ‘no’ to the first question, and a tepid dubious ‘maybe’ to the second. But it’s a matter of the second or third decimal place. No landslide has occurred.

— No. On second thought, that’s not exactly true. There has been one very spectacular phenomenon: the complete collapse of American liberalism. Liberals have gone visibly, obviously, staringly batshit crazy. I suppose they thought this wasn’t supposed to happen — as if any fool couldn’t have seen it coming for what, the past forty years? But all their fond certainties about progress and so on have turned to ash, and they are thrashing about like landed trout, indulging in tinfoil-hat conspiratism about the evil Russians, embracing the CIA with tears of joy, and proclaiming the corporate media as unsullied springs of Gospel truth.

Perhaps it’s a case of the latent physiognomy becoming patent; but if that’s so, then keeping the pasteboard mask of rationality in place at least called for a certain exercise of the instrumental intellect, as understood by the high-school debate team, and that’s all gone now. The result is that people who were once intelligent, up to a point, or seemed so, have become downright visibly stupid, and hysterical and incoherent with it. I suppose a shrink would call it ‘decompensation’.

I know people — reasonable people, good companions, skilled in their metiers, and as well-schooled as anybody now is — who are encouraging me to call some rat in Congress to keep Steve Bannon off the National Security Council. The National Security Council! God almighty. After Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski, inter alios, what virtue does that infamous body have to lose? Does anybody even know when the NSC got its start? Or why?

No doubt Bannon could end up being worse than the monsters who preceded him, though it’s a high bar. There’s an old joke about how it could always be worse, and there’s no limit to human depravity — turds all the way down, to paraphrase Arthur Eddington’s dear old lady. But even so, he’s just continuing the long-obvious trend. There’s progress for you. The torch has been passed.

The horsemen of the Apocalypse…

… are saddling up for the Mother of Abominations. Hillary is apparently assembling — predictably enough — a fine team of neocons, brinksmanshippers, laptop bombardiers, and miscellaneous National Security berserkers for a reign which seems certain to be drenched in blood.

People are talking about Admiral James Stavridis for Vice President. He’s perfect, really. A longtime veteran of the bipartisan War Party, he first achieved notoriety as a retainer of Donald Rumsfeld back in the Bush II days, and became NATO’s El Supremo under Obama, where he played a prominent role in the butchery of Libya. Presidents come and go, but the machine hums on. Lately he has distinguished himself by advocating quite openly for a US alliance with the various Syrian jihadis, to do an Iraq on Syria — a long-standing neocon project, of course. Mr Brass Hat is also, of course, a close pal of the Israelis and a charter member of the Anything For Bibi club.

They’re also talking about Michele Flournoy for Secretary of Defense. After serving in the State Department under Obie, she founded and became executive director of the Center for a New American Security, one of the numberless swarm of Washington NatSec “think tanks”, buzzing like cicadas on a hazy, windless August afternoon. I do not understand the political economy of these outfits: why so many? Particularly since they all say more or less the same thing? Who pays for them? Why? I can only suppose that they’re intended as rocks for Permanent Government vermin like Fluornoy to hide under when they’re out of office, and that hedgies and defense contractors pay for them in order to keep these reptiles well-disposed.

CNAS is very much par for the course, enjoying Madeleine Albright and Joe “Talks to God but doesn’t listen” Lieberman as tutelary deities. Not surprisingly, one of the axes they’re grinding most relentlessly is the nuke deal with Iran. A sample of gloom-and-doom prose, from the febrile pen of one Ilan Goldenburg, CNAS’ cop on the Iran beat and incidentally an honest-to-God Israeli himself:

Iran’s regional behavior remains highly problematic. Provocative ballistic missile launches and continuing support for President Assad, Hezbollah, and Iraqi Shia militias are clear signs that the United States and Iran still have conflicting interests in the Middle East that are unlikely to change anytime soon. And competition between pragmatists and hardliners inside Iran has only intensified since the signing of the JCPOA as President Rouhani and his allies try to leverage the nuclear agreement to gain more influence while opponents of the deal try to box him in.

So if you thought Obie was bad — just wait for Hillary. She’s the real thing, red in tooth and claw. She can’t wait to start blowing people up, and she’s got a legion of fanatic gunsels who can’t wait to feed her the ammo belt.

White privilege?


Some of my friends — I mean real friends, not the Facebook variety — are rolling out the old ‘white privilege’ trope, after the most recent round of police murders.

(That’s the subjective genitive, not objective; I mean murders by police. I’m not losing any sleep over the fact that somebody occasionally shoots back. There are, after all, laws of Nature.)

Now I think this is a bogus concept — white privilege, I mean.

[Voice from offstage] : That’s because you’re white!

Well, maybe. But I also have better reasons than that.

Let’s start from facts that we can all agree on.

1) Nearly everybody in the world — except for that notorious 1% — has a pretty shitty time of it.

2) In particular, and speaking of home matters, cops shoot somewhere between 500 and 600 people a year in the US. In absolute terms, most of these dead people are former white people — though in the grave these distinctions vanish quickly. Importantly, however, in proportionate terms, a young black guy is on average a lot more likely to be shot than a young white guy. This is not an insignificant fact.

3) Therefore: Though most people have a pretty shitty time of it, some — and they are not difficult to identify — have an even shittier time of it than others.

This, in a nutshell, is the case for ‘privilege’ as a concept: most everybody has a shitty time, but some people’s times are shittier than others. For no good reason: they’re not lazier, they’re not less intelligent, they’re not less moral or conscientious.

Now my own inclination is to focus on the overall shittiness, and ask why we have to put up with it.

But the discourse of privilege focuses on the disparity — as if that were the problem, and the overall shittiness were unavoidable; it’s only a question of how we spread it around.

Well, in theory, the disparity could be fixed. We could encourage the cops, for example, to shoot more white people, so as reduce the disparity.

Or we could hold the number of shot white people constant, and try to bring the rate of shot black people down to the same level. That would also reduce the disparity, and would certainly be preferable to Plan A. Particularly from my white point of view. But it’s still a lot of dead people. Rather too many, I should say.

But really, who wants either of these outcomes?

This is why I think the discourse of privilege leads us down a rabbit hole. It presupposes that the quantum of misery is constant, and like a kind of perverse reverse Communism, seeks to ensure that everybody is equally miserable.

I have developed a tactic for responding to my friends who bring up the matter of white privilege. Since it’s usually in the context of police murders — again I mean, murders by cops, not of cops — I ask them, well, if you want to put an end to police shootings, why not disarm the police? Then they couldn’t shoot anybody, black or white.

So far I have not had a single response to this question, and I have asked it many times. It seems clear that my anti-privilege friends are still strongly in favor of state-sanctioned violence — as long as it’s levied with an even hand.

Cheerleading the uncontroversial


I’ve been reflecting on the effusive tributes to the late (and by me, unlamented) Elie Wiesel. Of course it’s obvious enough why people like Madeleine Albright and Bibi Netanyahu and Abe Foxman and Hillary Clinton would have liked him, so we can set all that to one side, having assessed its value and consequence out to the fourth decimal place without even breaking a sweat.

What surprises me just a bit is the spontaneous wreath-laying by jes’-folks. Most of it, to be sure, is on Facebook, where the currency of feeling is seriously devalued, so maybe I’m breaking a butterfly upon the wheel here.

Of course — you know what’s coming — I Have A Theory.

My theory is that we enjoy fervor. We like being enthusiastic about things, and jumping on some jolly bandwagon, and rooting for the home team. And of course we enjoy the bracing, piney air of the moral high ground. But we mostly don’t like disagreement, and argument, and making other people mad: because we are nice people ourselves. (Well, not me, of course. But I mean normal people.)

So the solution is to get all fervent and dewy-eyed and shaky-voiced about matters on which no one disagrees: the Nazis were bad, child molesters are bad, and these characteristically American shoot-em-up amuckniks are really, really bad. Click ‘like’ if you agree.

Best of both worlds, right? We can wave the banners and chant the slogans and march through the streets, with a police permit in due form, and nobody will get in our face.

The Henry Ford of the Holocaust Industry


So that awful old humbug, Elie Wiesel, has at last gone to his long account. Old-time readers here will know that I am superstitious about death and don’t like to say I’m glad that anybody died, no matter who. I can stop at the brink even with old Elie, but only just. What an insufferable Uriah Heep he was. There was never even anything remotely likable about him. That mantle of high seriousness in which he muffled himself never, so far as I am aware, slipped by so much as a micron, even for a microsecond.

Naturally he was the mass murderer’s favorite Voice Of Conscience. So far I note that Bibi Netanyahu, Barack Obama, Hilary Clinton, Abe Foxman — I find that Wiesel once received, no kidding, the Jabotinsky Award from Foxman’s ADL — Madeleine Albright, Ron Lauder, and assorted celebrities and other white trash, like George Clooney and Bill Gates, have weighed in with effusive praise. Of course he was also a Nobel Peace Prize recipient — always a very bad sign — along with Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Menachem Begin, Henry Kissinger, and Barack Obama, the last-named having been given the award simply for having been elected President.

Speaking of Kissinger, I haven’t yet heard what he has had to say about the late smarmster, but I can wait. Ditto for Sheldon Adelson and Haim Saban. Somebody wake me when it’s over.

One thing I discovered, amid the saponaceous deluge of posthumous praise, and hadn’t previously known, was that the old hypocrite was an ardent advocate of Clinton I’s balkan War. Can’t say I’m surprised.

It’s a kind of fun parlor game imagining how, if one were Rhadamanthus, one would deal with people like this on the Other Side. The trick is to let the punishment fit the crime, without being too sadistic. Away with the Dantesque boiling pitch; let’s be more subtle. I think my sentence for Wiesel would be to lock him up in a seminar room with the late, and also unlamented, Saul Bellow, and let them bore each other for a millennium or so.

All in it together

I may have confessed here before to a shameful solitary vice: I like to watch the proceedings of the British House of Commons on Youtube. The members of the Senate of Lilliput are a lot more droll than our solemn, po-faced soup hounds in the US Congress. It’s a bit like watching Solemn High Mass at a particularly gay Anglo-Catholic parish in San Francisco, compared with the glum, plodding earnestness of the Third Methodist Church of Guelph, Ontario.

Naturally I was keen to see how the House would deal with the Brexit vote. I am ashamed to say that I watched the clip above from start to finish. There are a few good moments in it. Cameron is really quite a quipster, though I hate to say it. He always ran rings around poor Miliband. Corbyn can’t keep up with him either, and like his predecessor, he ends up looking grouchy and sullen under the Tory’s hail of galling little barbs, all delivered in a bouncy, mirthful, offhand way. The Premier always appears to be enjoying himself, and the Labour front bench never do.

But in general it was a depressing spectacle. The overwhelming impression it made was that all these feisty scrappers, who are usually savaging each other con brio, have awakened to the fact that they are all slowly braising in the same broth. — Or if not exactly awakened, that they are stunned enough to let their guard down and allow their essential solidarity to be seen.

A telling symptom was the smarmy compliments bandied back and forth across the aisle. Apparently a lot of these sorry mugs appeared together at bipartisan Remainder rallies, and there was much Tory praise of Labour eloquence in the good cause, and vice versa.

I’m groping for an analogy here. Two, or three, or four, pirate ships firing broadsides at each other all night, until the bleak light of dawn reveals that they are all sinking — far, far from shore, deep in the Bermuda Triangle? The lifeboats are all battered to pieces, and none of the sailors knows how to swim, and the toothy gentlemen with the dorsal fins circle lazily, biding their time, in the pellucid water, now approximately gunwale-high. Imagine the look of weary consternation on the surviving buccaneers’ faces.

There are of course Euroskeptics in the House, but perhaps they thought it was bad form to crow on this occasion. I would have liked to hear from that oddest of odd ducks, Jacob Rees Mogg. He delights me. It’s like meeting a talking stork.

The brownshirts are coming! The brownshirts are coming!


The latest theme to appear in Chicken Little’s Brexit quodlibet: it’s strengthened the hand of nativists and fascists like UKIP.

Well, of course it has; and the Left has only itself to blame. Instead of getting out ahead of the brownshirts on what was clearly a very popular and deeply-felt topic, and articulating a rational case for Brexit, the British Left – such as it is – mostly played the Mere Liberal card, put themselves on the wrong side of history, and allowed the battle to take place on UKIP’s chosen ground.

Take poor Jeremy Corbyn (please!). Though he’s a Euroskeptic himself, he went along with his embedded Blairites and took an obviously half-hearted, not to say insincere, Remainder stance. Result? The aforementioned Blairites are conducting a coup against him and blaming him for the debacle. Whether they will succeed or not remains to be seen, though personally I think it’s quite likely that they will in fact resume control of that deliquescent galvanized corpse, the Labour Party; and much good may it do them.

There will always be Fascists, and they will always have to be fought. There’s always a UKIP or something like it. That would have still been the case, Brexit or no Brexit. But it’s a bad strategy for fighting them to cast your lot with a remote anonymous supranational machine, whose terrible wheels within wheels spin slowly, like Ezekiel’s vision,

‘Way up yonder in the middle o‘ the air.’

There is such a thing as horse sense. Brexiters in general may seldom have been able to articulate good clear reasons for their choice, but we ought to recognize that instinct may be sound even where consciousness is muddled.

Then of course there are the Youths and the highly educated, Remainders to a man, who invert the terms of that equation. – Or no, perhaps that’s unfair. Perhaps they see themselves as more likely to be able to navigate Tom Friedman’s world than the Exiters (rightly) could expect to do. In many cases – though certainly not all – that might even be true.

The Youths, of course, have never known a world without the EU, so in a sense they were casting conservative votes.

And as for the highly educated – well, as we all know, with rare exceptions, the more educated you are, the more indoctrinated you are.

Update: I read that the Scottish Labor party is looking for a way to stay in the EU and the UK. Talk about the worst of both worlds!

De liberalibus comburendis, volumen LXX


(Shown above, that fine old palaeo-neo-liberal William Ewart Gladstone.)

Liberals often wonder why people hate them so much, and it’s a good question. Most of the liberals I know are kindly, conscientious individuals. They’re not hard-hearted and they’re frequently generous. They’re usually gay-friendly and anti-racist. They devote themselves to charities and the PTA at their kid’s school, and pledge to NPR. What’s not to like?

But the good question has a good answer. Liberals, though they are mostly amiable as individuals, show quite a different character en masse and on the political plane. They are, in a word, authoritarian. They distrust and dislike the unwashed, uneducated masses — roughly defined as people who don’t listen to NPR — and they really do tend to think that great matters and affairs of state ought to be in the hands of experts.

This has come out very clearly in the response to the Brexit vote. I’ve been really shocked by all the liberal carpet-chewing. The corpse of ‘populism’ has been exhumed yet again, like poor Cromwell’s, and dragged through the streets and trampled upon.

(In fact this happens so often that the shabby, dilapidated cadaver hardly ever gets a week’s rest in its shallow Midwestern grave. Amazing how an ancestral fright can be handed down לדור ודור. Great-great-granny Mildred — a staunch Progressive and close friend of Bob LaFollette — was startled once by a garter snake, and her multitudinous progeny still shudder at the sight of anything sinuous.)

The Leavers have been roundly castigated as ignorant, bigoted, chauvinistic fools. Really, after all, why else would anybody distrust the gnomes of Brussels? The latter all went to good schools, and know their trade. (What their trade might in essence be is a topic perhaps best left alone.)

And of course the Remainders are enlightened folk about to be drowned beneath the whelming tide of barbarism — like the last shivering Roman Britons, speaking their carefully-enunciated provincial Latin among themselves around the flickering hearth as the days draw in, after seeing the last Legion off.

My favorite trope — endlessly replicated on Facebook, of course — comes from the aforementioned NPR. It consists of a snippet from Google Trends showing that there was a big spike in searches for ‘what is Brexit’ vel sim. after the polls closed on Thursday(*). NPR, in its inimitable finger-wagging, schoolmarmish manner, concludes that

…[I]t was after the polls closed when British voters started to think seriously about the implications of their choice.

Alas, hoi polloi. They just don’t do their homework, and that’s why they didn’t go to Haverford, like me.

Of course there are any number of other explanations for this spike. For one thing, as we all know, Google tries to anticipate your search query, and it’s very easy to go with whatever they suggest. Google does not tell us what its top suggested search was, during the hours in question, when you typed in ‘Brexit’ or ‘EU’.

But the best thing about NPR’s moralizing is its tacit assumption of unitary agency on the part of “British” voters and “their” thinking about “their” choice.

We have no way of knowing whether the spike was driven — as NPR suggests, in its usual oblique, dishonest way — mostly by exiters suddenly asking themselves “what have I done”? Of course that’s a picture which pleases NPR’s smug, liberal audience, with its firm belief in the self-evident value of technocratic, top-down institutions, and so it’s the fairy tale NPR chooses to tell.

But it’s a lot more likely that everybody, leavers and remainders alike, was looking for ammo to argue the point down the pub next day.

(*) Incidentally, this does not reflect independent research by NPR. The original item appeared in Google’s official Twitter feed. Google tweets, NPR retweets.