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.



Of course I was pleased by the outcome of the Brexit vote. I’m quite unable to assess the economic implications, but I’m pretty sure that from the political point of view, the EU is a monster, and any blow delivered to it is a Good Thing.

Naturally, all of my liberal, and most of my Lefty, friends think otherwise. This puzzles me a bit.

Partly, I suppose, it’s just knee-jerk anti-Rightism. Undoubtedly many of the Brit exitees were ‘conservatives’, in one sense of the word or another; many, no doubt, motivated, entirely or in part, by racism or bigotry or anti-immigration sentiment(*). And libs and lefties are no more immune than anybody else to the intellectual error of reversing the sign: I’m against whatever the other team is for, and vice versa.

But then perhaps I’m doing the same thing. It’s clear that our rulers are very much in favor of these big unelected transnational economic constructs, and in general push for a borderless world, subject to no sovereignty or inspection but their own, for them; and a world full of barbed-wire fences, checkpoints, walled-off austerity camps (like Greece) and panoptic surveillance, for us. TPP, NAFTA, EU: same story, over and over.

So am I just reversing the sign on the oligarchs’ grand strategy, and assuming anything that’s good for them is bad for us? Of course, there is a case to be made that in this instance it really is a zero-sum game; that they live by exploiting us, and the better they live, the more we’ll be exploited.

Still, perhaps there are things they like that really are neutral, or even beneficial, even to us. Standard railway gauge, stuff like that.

Then of course there’s a venerable Marxist idea that the bourgeoisie’s triumphal disruption of national boundaries and national consciousness paves the way for a corresponding self-emancipation and universalizing self-realization by the proles. It’s a glorious vision – the locus classicus of course is Marx’s wonderful, soul-stirring preamble to the Manifesto – and I do wish it would happen, but it seems to be taking its time.

Meanwhile the oligarchs stride from triumph to triumph, and each time one of their seven-league boots touches the ground, millions of us are crushed under it.

Perhaps I’m taking the short view here, but until the universal proletariat an und für sich awakes from its long slumber in mere potentiality, I am strongly inclined to applaud any sabot that happens to fall into the juggernaut’s machinery, no matter whose foot it came from.

If nothing else, it shows that our masters are not omnipotent.


(*) They’re not the same thing; but that’s a topic for another post.

Prepare the way, O Zion…

… which is actually a very fine Advent hymn in the little marginal sect I grew up in — tempus imperfectum, prolatio maior. I have brutally, unfeelingly repurposed its incipit here.

Apparently the embedded neocons in Foggy Bottom are feeling their oats, with the near-certain prospect of Hillary in the White House. (The Clintons: Season Two.) Fifty or so of them recently signed onto an internal cable advocating for open war with Syria. The smart money thinks that Kerry is with ’em; no doubt he likes being Secretary of State and would like to continue in that capacity.

The idea here, I suppose, is to create a climate of hysteria and a sense of urgency, such that Hillary can send the Marines as soon as she’s inaugurated; and it will look like she’s moving decisively to address an acknowledged, acute problem — even the cookie-pushers are worried! — rather than simply droning away, predictably, like the Israel Lobby stooge she always has been.

Naturally, this means making Obie look bad: Mister Feckless, who’s been reluctant to lance the Alawite boil, on behalf of our good friends in Israel and Saudi Arabia. Hillary, of course, will show no such hesitation.

I suspect she doesn’t mind making him look bad. He deprived her, eight years ago, of what she considered rightfully hers; so I dare say there’s no love lost on either side.

Obie, unfortunately, seems to be such a team player and organization man that he will take it all like the good sport he is. “It’s Her Turn”, in the White House, and his in the barrel.

There are always the memoirs, of course. Perhaps absurdly, I continue to hope that they will reveal a streak of bloody-mindedness, on Obie’s part, which so far has only shown itself against our subject peoples.

Radio silence


Ever since Hillary’s recent show of solidarity with Trump, I’ve noticed a very gratifying diminution in the number of shrill, contumacious, imperative emails and facebook posts from her fans. (Unless maybe they’ve all just un-friended me.) I’m sure they’ll all still vote for her, and perhaps they’ll be back in full cry again before I can finish this post, but for the moment the silence is intensely refreshing. Tumbleweeds. Crickets. So nice to hear them again.



This just in:

Hillary Clinton on Monday broke from President Barack Obama in referring to the terrorist attack as “radical Islamism,” countering Donald Trump’s accusations that both she and Obama are weak on tackling terrorist threats.

… Trump quickly claimed credit on Twitter for Clinton’s use of the term. “I have been hitting Obama and Crooked Hillary hard on not using the term Radical Islamic Terror. Hillary just broke-said she would now use!” he said.

Clinton’s comments on Monday mark an evolution for her. After the San Bernardino terrorist attack, Clinton in December said she was fine using “radical jihad” but was not fond of using the term “radical Islam.”

She really is utterly shameless, isn’t she? Dog-faced, as Homer puts it.

I feel sure that Trump is correct in taking credit. I daresay this is what the campaign will turn out to be: Hillary calling Donald names, with increasingly hysterical vehemence, and at the same time tailing after him on every point of substance and symbolism. The Clintons invented this strategy, and gave it its name: ‘triangulation’.

If you’re a hammer, every problem looks like a nail

Hillary’s response to the Orlando massacre:

“For now, we can say for certain that we need to redouble our efforts to defend our country from threats at home and abroad,” she said. “That means defeating international terror groups, working with allies and partners to go after them wherever they are, countering their attempts to recruit people here and everywhere, and hardening our defenses at home. It also means refusing to be intimidated and staying true to our values.”

We can’t say we haven’t been warned. ‘Hardening our defenses”! Good grief. What can she possibly mean by that?

Mr Peace Prize strikes again


From the New York Times:

President Obama inched closer this week to allowing American forces to once again directly battle the Taliban, loosening restrictions on airstrikes and on ground combat….

The president’s decision to expand the military’s mission just seven months before he leaves office signaled just how far the United States remains from achieving his goal of ending the American military role in Afghanistan.

The whole thing is worth reading. It’s word salad. The excerpt above typifies, but it goes on and on, in much the same incoherent vein. Obie wants to end ‘the US role in Afghanistan’, but as a lame duck — a President with nobody to answer to, whose decisions will have no consequences for him — he doubles down, and gives the colonels and the majors a free hand. With predictable consequences. Unlike the generals, these are people with careers still to make; very eager and motivated killers.

Paradox, you think? I think not. The solution is not far to seek. Obie is an Organization Man, a deeply loyal Democrat. He’s adhering to the party line here; and as a cursory glance at history will show, the Democrats never met a war they didn’t like.

He’s also doing Hillary a favor, of course. When she’s inaugurated, she will have inherited the mess, and won’t need to bear the responsibility for expanding the war.

By the way, in the print edition, which a few old ladies on the Upper West Side still read, this story was on Page 7, with a very uninteresting graphic to accompany it. This is long-established form for the Times, which does occasionally report the good stuff, but also always finds a way to bury it.

What must it be like to work for that outfit, I wonder. I suppose it’s like splitting the difference. We did run the story, so we’re not complete liars. But also, we made sure nobody would read it, except Noam Chomsky, who reads everything; so we’re also team players.

The victory lapdogs


Now that Hillary is the officially declared victor in the (endless) Democratic Party primaries, you might think that those who backed her all along might be gracious in victory. But no such thing. The effect has been, it seems to me, quite the opposite: winning has made them even more anxious, vindictive, snide, contemptuous, and bossy than they were before. The lesser-evil brass band, which was already operating at deafening volume even before California, far from taking a little intermezzo, or even a diminuendo, promptly dialed itself up well past eleven. I thought they were browbeating me before, but now? It’s a serious assault on one’s sanity to check e-mail.

What’s this about?

I suspect some of my friends who were balls-to-the-wall for Hillary may perhaps have had a lingering doubt in their minds. I suspect they may have been willing, in the privacy of their own chamber, late at night, to contemplate the idea that Hillary is a crook; a tool of Wall Street; an ardent coadjutor of Bibi Netanyahu; an individual eager to kill people with drones; a person who really wants it to be her finger on the trigger, and can’t wait to pull it; in short, somebody whom no decent person would touch with a bargepole.

I suspect that these disquieting intimations may have been laid to rest by the California result. The people have spoken, the system worked, and so on. Never mind how contrived the system is. We learned in high school that no better system is possible, so there.

So my friends feel newly… justified? Vindicated? And of course as we all know, these sentiments are not good for peoples’ character. They don’t often make people generous. They usually make people arrogant. Perhaps that’s what’s happening here