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July 2011 Archives

July 1, 2011

Sail, sail away

I'm off to Maine in the little boat, starting tomorrow or the next day. So it may be even slower than usual around here for a couple of weeks, depending on wind and tide. Perhaps Al and Owen will be willing to take up the slack.

As they have done for some time. I've been more or less MIA here recently.

It's a little difficult to keep this blog thing going -- one feels after a while that one has said everything one has to say, a hundred times over. Perhaps a few days or weeks at sea will recharge my batteries.

In any case: thanks for reading and commenting, all you stalwarts. That's always been the best part, for me.

Have at it

I'm going to leave an open thread up, while traveling, until I'm able to post again. But Al and Owen, feel free to pre-empt it if the spirit moves you.

July 4, 2011

Trudging through a melodramatic swamp

My first experience of corporate job life was shocking. I expected to be harvested for whatever sad amount of value could be gleaned from my labor, but I did not expect an emotional freak show. That's what it was, however. The neurotic miasma was fetid, dank, palpable. The place was a sweatshop for vampiric jockeying and resentment. Stool pigeons exchanged snide barbs with Stakhanovites. Passive aggressive people "accidentally" obstructed each other. Each little boss had a bigger boss that upon him fed. The senior management scored arcane points and forced rivals out in what amounted to a pecking party. The social costs were (are) so high that no value was produced at all. Although the place did make a stab at putting profits on paper.

It eventually occurred to me that profit was secondary to the corporate purpose. They're closer to mini-states in function; vehicles for power. A CEO can be utterly worthless in performing ostensible duties and still be able to count on another berth, or at the very least a set of compensatory sinecures. The sense of grandiose victimhood they evince when they tank an outfit is completely sincere. They've been wronged!

July 8, 2011

Several dozen infantile disorders

It's one those "he said, she said" showdowns, but the NY Times did publish a relatively informative article on the noxious weeds sold as glyphosate-tolerant plants.

Glyphosate-tolerance comes with a heavy price. The spliced genes get into the wild through a process that's been fairly well understood for several thousand years. Plants pollinate and cross-pollinate and pass on their attributes. This is how food crops were domesticated.

Thanks to the efforts of the corporate millenarians, we now have a serious problem with super weeds. The promised agricultural utopias, in which verdant fields were to be painlessly weeded through happy-happy spraying of glyphosate, are turning into money pits for the sucker-farmers who believed the pitch. The resistant weeds have an advantage over their vulnerable relatives. They have to be removed manually, at great expense, which means they don't get removed for long.

Given the scope of the disaster that already exists, the moderate, sensible, procedural thing would be to revoke all gene splicing patent and copyright protections, ban the sales of the relevant products and start prosecutions for fraud. Instead, the Obama administration's USDA has a tortured sophistry to offer. They want to make new gene-spliced products exempt from regulation.

It's cute, in a Spring Break rohypnol frat boy way. If the regulatory agency has no purview, then no crimes are committed. Wheeee! The logic is impeccable.

Unintentional Humor

The Democrats want Koch money.

And why not? They're gotten plenty of it before. The inducement is joining senior Democrats on a resort retreat. But if that's the inducement, what's the punishment? Two retreats? More gassy, sanctimonious denunciations, followed by more pleas for money?

July 12, 2011

Fear the coven

There's a tiresome lot of hand-wringing pouring into my inbox about the dire Teabagger threat. A sample from Alternet, which bombards me with almost as much mail as the DCCC: "Michele Bachmann, the Queen of the Tea Party, has ideas that are truly extreme."

Well then, Michele and I have something in common; I have truly extreme ideas too. Big deal. This preoccupation with crazy-ass clowns on the Right is a favorite liberal campfire narrative. Rrraaaw head and bloody bones! Make my skin crawl, NPR!

My lefty mailing lists are a mixed bag on this subject, but I'm not entirely a voice crying in the wilderness there. On Doug Henwood's list, recently, a chap with whom I agree more often than not wrote, quite cogently,

I continue to believe, as I have since about 1967, that radicals should stop paying so much attention to the far right. It wasn't the far right that gave us the Wr on Drugs, the War on Crime, and the Effective Death Penalty and Anti-Terrorism Act.
Hear, hear.

The reference to 1967 rings true to me. It was shortly before that -- 1965, I think -- that I travelled from my little Kentucky town to Southern California and met my first Teabaggers. They weren't called that, then, but it was absolutely the same species -- middle aged suburban white-collar white people who were furiously pissed off at everything, for no very obvious reason in their fairly comfortable lives.

I remember being very puzzled at the idea that these people were somehow "conservatives". My home town was intensely conservative, in the straightforward sense of being much attached to existing institutions and ways of life. But the Teabaggers of 1965 were quite deracinated -- they had nearly all come to SoCal from somewhere else, and really had no stable matrix of social relations, apart from the office, and no established folkways, apart from driving in cars a lot. Their "conservatism" wasn't a matter of clinging to what they knew and liked; it seemed largely a matter of resenting what other people were doing elsewhere -- a heavily mediatized engagement with the great social spectacle as seen on TV.

It struck me then and strikes me now as a chimaera bombinans in vacuo -- a sort of maelstrom of furious mental energy expending itself without effect in railing at phantoms -- a titanomachia taking place almost entirely in the memesphere.

Oh, sure, they'd sometimes tip the scales to some particularly clownish galoot in a Republican primary, but I'd already decided by that point that the electoral charade wasn't something of any consequence.

No doubt I was affected at an early age by the wisdom of my grandmother, who being asked what was the difference between Republicans and Democrats, replied, "You vote for the Republicans if you want a depression and the Democrats if you want a war." This was before our present enlightened days, when either party can give you both.

July 13, 2011

Treading water

I submit the delightful little site known as SMBIVA has arrived at a decisive nodal moment. In fact it's prolly been treading water there for many months now.


The call for a disengagement from the two party bumper-pool gig that was its orginal mission statement has by steps both intended and unintended arrived at the cult of strategic disengagement not just from two-party ballot boxing but from politics in the grander sense.


SMBIVA has cast its lot with the stateless nihilists, the bottom-up spontaneous pure negationists.

Now this is far from a barren outcome. Indeed just saying "nyet" has its big moments in the long and winding human pageant. The dynamic of class history within state-centered societies, looked at consistently from one side, is nothing but a series of untimely timely negations.

And yet...

Change -- forward change, at least -- must take concrete form; and that requires something more then mere "nyets" and yes, a certain sense that human society is travelling somewhere we might want to go.

Nothing here recently seems calculated to produce even attempts at forward motion -- not even the prefiguring toy models of fantasy that might spark the needed new and terrible forms of society-wide struggle.

Forms? Yes; as in, effective vehicles of struggle. Is it really idiotic to strive for something beyond simple burps born of a cultivated bile?

I suggest we leave the burping and belching to lists like those of Dougwood Hen and the Lulu Lolly Project.

Perhaps the useful transferable value of this exercise was the one damn thing I despise most: a self-realization.

Operating here over the last several years, at least for this one participant, in the end has only brightened the light shining on one all too too obvious reality: I leave here with an even keener sense of personal limitations, extended quite accurately to protracted unsublated small-circle words-only activity.

That in itself is perhaps a gift of fortune important for any of us to receive.

If however we insist for ourselves there is forever only the choice between a small circle of unlikely minded co-chatterers... a bicker box of ceaseless babbling and strutting... an ever-more familiar vessel full of unmeasured unneighborly vitriol, and the morally bankrupt alternative: a cool cage of unhumble solitude... blissfully off line... where an atheistic anchorite can smolder away into final ashes...

That's a choice worthy of Hell itself. And if in fact this bus has brought its riders here, what a perfect opportunity to call "everybody off"!

I suppose SMBIVA could rededicate itself to its inceptual mission, particularly as we approach yet another major election cycle. One shudders in self-wounding glee at what might be mustering over the horizon.

But at any rate the present condition of inner-absorbed strategic nihilism that has siezed the high ground here calls out for change. SMBIVA! Either go back, or call it "over" -- even if, like Father Smiff's Antinous, IOZ, you're not yet "Soooo over this."

July 16, 2011

Alex Cockburn tells it

What's that? -- Oh, sorry, wrong Cockburn.

The contemporary Alex is in fine form today on the subject of the Empire's most recent adventure -- I mean, of course, the one in Libya:

Any pretensions the International Criminal Court might have had to judicial impartiality has been undermined by the ICC’s role as NATO’s creature, rushing out indictments of Gaddafi and his closest associates whenever NATO’s propaganda agenda has demanded it.

...America’s pwogwessives exulted that at last they had on their hands a “just war” and could cheer on NATO’s bombardiers with a clear conscience and entertain fantasies about the revolutionary purity of the rebels.

...The dropping of thousands of bombs and missiles, with whatever supposed standards of “pin point accuracy”, never elicits the enthusiastic support of civilians on the receiving end, even if a certificate of humanitarian assistance and merciful intent is stamped on every projectile.

How I wish I could write like that.

I particularly like the swipe at those sanctimonious hypocrites at the ICC, slathering a smarmy coat of due process and courtroom decorum over what amounts to the old Imperial practice of bringing vanquished enemies back to Rome and parading them through the streets in a cage.

And of course there can never be enough ridicule heaped on the pro-intervention Left, with their torturedly nuanced "positions". On the one hand, on the other hand....

Speaking of positions, they now find themselves in a comical one I've seen many times at the boat basin: One leg on the dock, one leg on the boat, as the boat drifts away from the dock. As often as not, people in this 'position' just dither until they run out of options, which doesn't take long. Their legs get too far apart to jump successfully either way, and they end up hilariously in the drink.

July 22, 2011

Tin ceiling

A bright young kinswoman of mine -- who has, unfortunately, a bit too much respect for NPR; but I hope to change that -- was bemoaning, the other day, the terrible "divisiveness" that we hear so much about, in connection with the current absurdist Kabuki theater surrounding the debt ceiling. I was trying to tell her that what struck me, as usual, was the unanimity of the parties, rather than the tiny areas of (supposed) disagreement. I ended up drawing a little chart:

Less revenue Same revenue More revenue
Less expenditure R R D
Same expenditure X X X
More expenditure X X X
Obvious enough, huh? We have two variables: expenditure and revenue. For each we can either decrease, maintain, or increase with respect to the current level. This gives us a 3x3 matrix.

Note that six of the resulting nine cells are, by mutual agreement, entirely off limits. So the Reeps and the Deeps are completely in agreement over two-thirds of the potential space of responses. They are completely unanimous on the need to reduce Gummint expenditure -- this in the midst of the finest depression we've had in seventy years.

Given the restricted range of responses that are left, it's hard to avoid the sense that the Reeps have the better logic -- may, in fact, be the lesser evil in this restricted domain. Of course they insanely want to reduce expenditures -- but then so do the Deeps. However, the Deeps want to compound the problem by raising taxes. Decreasing expenditure is insane; but raising taxes is also insane, and so the Deeps are exhibiting two different kinds of insanity, whereas the Reeps only have one.

It's easy enough to see why Joe Citizen -- maybe not Jane, quite so much -- tends to confuse government finance with household finance. Both evils, the greater and the lesser, are singing in perfect harmony on this topic; so what's Joe to think?

My chart actually exaggerates the extent of the disagreement. It might make more sense to rework it as follows:

Less revenue Same revenue More revenue
Less expenditure Rd rd D
Same expenditure X X X
More expenditure X X X
The little 'd's indicate things the Democrats could live with; the big 'D' indicates what seems to the the Congressional party's center-of-gravity preference. Same for the 'R's and 'r's, of course.

Surely the outcome is foreordained -- less expenditure (though soldier boys and cops are, of course, sacrosanct) and either no alteration in the revenue picture or a slight diminution.

Best we can hope for, eh? Sooner the Democrats cave, the better. At least NPR will have to find something else to natter about.

Timeo Danaos

I'm way out of my depth on anything connected with money -- I can't even balance my checkbook. But surely it's news of some consequence that those unruly Greeks, Zeus bless 'em, have actually forced the Lords Of The Euro to give their bondholders a modest haircut?

Look how relieved Christine Lagarde, the IMF honcho, seems in the picture above. Dodged a bullet, have you, Christine? (She also looks a lot like Harpo Marx, of course.)

The idiot Sarko, one imagines, has no idea what the two girls are talking about. Angela, representing as she does the biggest bag-holders, looks a little grimmer than Lagarde. Indeed, she looks like a German masseuse -- an East German masseuse, from the bad old days:

Boner: Not returning Obie's calls

WASHINGTON (AP) — House Speaker John Boehner abruptly broke off talks with President Barack Obama Friday night....

"One of the questions the Republican Party is going to have to ask itself is, 'Can they say yes to anything?'" Obama said.

One might ask whether Obie's Democratic Party can say "no" to anything. I believe we all know the answer: can't, won't, doesn't want to.
The president avoided direct criticism of Boehner, although he did mention that his phone calls to the speaker had gone unreturned during the day. One administration official said the president had tried to reach Boehner four times.
How pathetic is that? LBJ would have sent MPs to Capitol Hill and told 'em to drag the guy in, rolled up in a carpet like Cleopatra. One-term wonder, and how glad I'll be to hear the last of his schoolmasterish scolding voice.

July 24, 2011

The sleep of reason

One has to give the Norwegians credit: even their mass murderers are nicer-looking than ours. Compare this guy with Jared Loughner, or Timothy McVeigh, or the loco classico, Charles Whitman.

There must be something quite wrong with me. There is no story so grim that I can't find something in it to give me a sour laugh. In this case it was the NY Times writing a 1600-word thumbsucker on this Breivik dude without even once mentioning that he was a huge fan of Israel; indeed, it doesn't seem much of an exaggeration to say that he found Israel, well, inspiring.

The print edition of the Times, which still arrives with a thump --- though a less meaty thump than of yore -- on my doorstep, headlined this item "Norway Charges Christian Extremist." This headline, too, I found intensely amusing, for reasons that aren't entirely easy to unpack.

Qua Christian, Breivik is a little problematic. He does not seem to be a croyant; he was, apparently, at best -- or worst -- a "cultural" Christian; not a category so often encountered as his elder brother the ''cultural Jew". Although one could argue that Breivik was Christian in the same sense that Christian Democrat Angela Merkel is Christian -- and a democrat, come to think of it. But it's kind of a stretch in all cases, isn't it?

It's hard to avoid the conclusion that the Times needed to fill a syntactically obligatory slot normally occupied, in the unmarked case, by the word "Muslim." That clearly doesn't apply here; but one would have thought that if some essentialist qualification were necessary, others might have been more appropriate. "Vienna School extremist"? "Anti-Muslim extremist"? "Zionist extremist"? Any of those would surely have been more accurate and informative; but they didn't meet the requirement, somehow. So the Christians get Breivik tied to their tails.

Not Jewish, not Muslim... must be Christian. That's logic. Process of elimination.

July 25, 2011


Shown above is an auntie of mine, a hard case. She was anti-everything. Of course we used to call her Auntie Anti.

But in spite of her nickname, I think she had more mother-wit than to be anti-anti-anything; she probably graped the elementary fact that to be anti-anti-X is within a hair's breadth of being pro-X; and of course, she wasn't pro-anything.

In this respect she was a good deal more intelligent than some of my comrades, who have been stampeded by the Norwegian Templar's recent fusillade -- and lengthy manifesto -- into some anti-anti corrals they'd be better off outside of. Examples, from the invaluable mailing lists:

> (More venom from Anders Breivik, this time directed against 
> post-structuralism. I rue the day when I bought into the 
> "socialist" crusade against Gayatri Spivak et al. There was 
> something deeply reactionary about it that I did not recognize at 
> the time.)  
Me too. Glad I got over that one.
So these two comrades have signed up for anti-anti-post-structuralism. But it gets worse. Breivik was (of course) 'anti-PC', so the comrades are also rushing to nail their colors to the very shaky mast of anti-anti-PC:
... the most obscene phrase in the English language .... is, "I know it's not pc, but..." It doesn't matter what follows it. Anyone who writes or speaks this phrase is an enemy of left activity in the U.S.

... My response on this matter is visceral, and has been that way since I first ran up against the expression in the early '90s. My toes clench, my skin crawls, my flesh creeps, my stomach lurches, my fingernails curl, another few neurons die. . . .

I never listen to debates on it.

Another comrade -- and bear in mind, please, that these are people whose stuff I usually like:
To me, the phrase [sc. 'PC] represents the following argument:
1. I have a strong opinion based on personal taste
2. I realise that there is reason to suspect that this opinion is unfounded
3. I choose not to defend it using argument
4. Instead I will offer a backhanded apology by calling your view “PC”

This is of particular significance to left positions (or activity) because, almost by definition, [reactionary] conservatism is the pig-headed adherence to positions that are no longer tenable and only made presentable through appeal to emotion and use of ridicule (“pc”).

Terence, this is stupid stuff. Campus 'PC', that hothouse bloom -- a form of sanctimonious militant liberalism -- is not worth defending by anybody who's any kind of a real Lefty. Nor is that other academic fad, post-structuralism; in fact, post-anything is even worse than anti-anti-anything. But in their anti-Breivik enthusiasm, some of the comrades even dug up Alan Sokal's famous practical joke on the academic humanities journal Social Text, and used it as an occasion to heap renewed execration on Sokal.

Now this really seems deeply wrong-headed. No matter what one thinks of Sokal or Social Text or post-whateverism, this incident was a massive punk'd experience for the post-whatevers; you'd think they'd be as eager to call attention to it as a post-Confederate would be to remember the Battle of Vicksburg. Don't mention rope when you're talking to a hanged man's widow.

Similarly, if you want to battle the Breiviks of the world, try to pick some ground where you actually have an advantage. Defending campus identity politics and diction-policing, or the vapid gobbledegook of contemporary academic lit-crit, show a very poor tactical sense.

About July 2011

This page contains all entries posted to Stop Me Before I Vote Again in July 2011. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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