Thursday, April 27, 2006

Two-Liner of the Month

I'm an electronic subscriber to Joseph Sobran's column, "The Reactionary Utopian." This means I get his columns in my email a couple of weeks before they're released, but I'm enjoined from posting or otherwise distributing them. But I just read one about the potential upcoming attack on Iran, entitled "Apocalypse Now?", that you'll be able to read here come May 11, and I just have to share a quick little snippet from it. Maybe I can excuse it as "fair use" or something ... or maybe I'll just have to be a micro-criminal. Anyway:

Islam, Bush has said, is a religion of peace that has been hijacked by a few fanatics. Some, observing him, might say the same about Christianity.

Ain't it the truth, though.

A Perfect Storm

Here comes another cosmic convergence of many sorts of stupidity, greed, demagoguery, and malevolence. Congress is heavily involved (I say, at the risk of redundancy). You'd think there was an election coming up or something:
As outlined by the senior GOP leadership aide, the energy package would give taxpayers a $100 rebate, repeal tax incentives for oil companies and allow the Federal Trade Commission to prosecute retailers unlawfully inflating the price of gasoline.
The amount of insanity here beggars one's ability to adequately mock it. Where to begin? Even if we can't make fun of all of it, we must at least "hit the high spots," as they say.

Let's see: a $100 "rebate." Merriam-Webster defines rebate as "a return of a part of a payment." Since this would be coming from our supervisors, the "payment" that is being microscopically returned must be the taxes we've paid to them. That being the case, I wonder: what's the logical connection between being a taxpayer and being a gasoline consumer? Oh, that's right, there isn't any. Unless, of course, a particular kind of tax is being rebated, that being the federal taxes on the sale of gasoline. (That's an interesting notion in itself, given the utter fungibility of the loot the government shakes out of us in its many and varied ways, but let that go for now.) So, our masters will continue to collect gasoline taxes while simultaneously sending us money to pay some of them, sort-of-kind-of; the skies are darkened with crisscrossing dollars, which might seem a little wasteful at first, until you consider that accountants, clerks, and office folk of many sorts need full employment, too. Besides, if our gracious masters decided to simply suspend the collection of federal gasoline taxes for a while, that would not only be far too simple -- it would also bring up the awkward necessity of reimposing the taxes, which might tend to cancel all that spaniel-like good will that we'll all have for our generous masters. Couldn't do that, at least not close to an election ... and we're never more than two years from an election. So that's out.

And, under the GOP proposal, the feds would be "allowed" to prosecute retailers who "unlawfully inflate" the price of gasoline. Wait a minute. If there is some way of inflating gas prices that's "unlawful," why are our masters waiting? Why would they need new legislation to allow themselves to prosecute violations of existing law? And what would (or does) constitute an unlawful inflation of the price of a commodity? Oh, Grand Old Republican Party, wasn't it supposed to be those eee-villlll Democrats who were always cranking up the "politics of envy" by which the mobs were to be mobilized against the heroic businessman? Where'd all the "gouging" talk come from?

We're all supposed to get exercised about the accursed price-gougers right about now. Why, they're the reason we've got $3 gas, without a hurricane! What you're not supposed to think about, under any circumstances, is the fact that the world's oil markets are driven, to a large extent, by what goes on in the Middle East, and the Middle East is currently Dubya's Magic War Playground. And The Slow One, having taken down what used to be a pretty good oil exporter -- Iraq -- now has the sights set squarely on another big oil exporter whose name is spelled almost the same. Don't even think about that. Just watch the mailbox for that $100 check, drawn from your grandchildren's credit account.

Monday, April 24, 2006

CD Pimping

The older of my former children (when they're six inches taller than you are, it's hard to call 'em kids) introduced me to Porcupine Tree some time back, and I recently acquired their disc "Deadwing." The reviewers typically want to compare PT to Pink Floyd, but to me, King Crimson (first version) is more like it. Moody stuff, but edgy ... and a fair amount of melodic beauty and lyrical poetry. Give them a listen sometime. Other albums I can recommend include "Lightbulb Sun" and "In Absentia." There's a considerable backlog of discography going back to the early 90s that I'll be nibbling away at.

Nice tracks: "Arriving Somewhere, But Not Here;" "Mellotron Scratch;" "Lazarus."

Doing the Math

Reported by the BBC:
Japan and the United States have resolved a dispute over the costs of relocating 8,000 US marines from Okinawa to the Pacific island of Guam.
Tokyo had objected to US calls for it to pay 75% of the estimated $10bn cost.

But after talks in Washington on Sunday, a deal was reached under which Tokyo will contribute $6.1bn to the cost of relocation to the US territory.
Leaving aside what seems to me to be a fairly obvious question (why do we need eight thousand Marines on either Okinawa or Guam?), I can certainly see why the Japanese would object to being asked to pay seven and a half billion dollars. Maybe we should take a lesson from those clever Japanese, and do a little objecting, ourselves, to paying that sort of cash to move eight thousand folks.

Without doubt, the government pays for moving in much the same way it pays for everything else: lavishly. But, if you get your calculator out, and divide ten to the tenth power dollars by 8 times ten to the third power Marines, you'll find that we're talking about $1,250,000 for each and every Marine. (That's a million and a quarter, of which we apparently wanted the Japanese to pay $937,500; and they seemingly have settled on $762,500. That final sum is quite amazing all by itself ... they must be getting really tired of having their young girls raped by America's Finest.)

A million and a quarter bucks. Daaay-ummm! I'm obviously in the wrong line of work. I should launch a new business: Gummint Movers, Inc. I bet I could move Marines for, oh, maybe $50,000 each, and not leave a single one of them complaining. For that sort of money, their belongings would be packed and unpacked by professionals; and they'd fly in some sort of über-first-class status, with plenty of gourmet food and their choice of the finest wines, straight bourbon whiskey, single-malt Scotch, or German beers. And I'd still make a positively indecent profit.

Of course, I'm sure that a redeployment of these soldiers to the Mexican non-border is totally out of the question. After all, we simply must see to the security of the far side of the Pacific Ocean, against ... well ... whoever's currently threatening to invade Guam or Okinawa. Iran, that must be, I guess.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Separated at Birth?

Oscar Wilde said: "A man's face is his autobiography." Of course, the fact that someone famous said something doesn't make it true ... but it often makes it elegantly-stated.

In any case, I was noticing the other day that Cal Thomas, that noted cheerleader for war against anybody Ay-rab, has an updated photo appearing with his syndicated columns. When first I saw it, I thought: He should've kept the mustache, and shouldn't have lost whatever weight it took to make him look ... well, the way he looks. Disturbing, that image is.

I also thought that he looked just like someone else. But until this morning, I couldn't put my finger on just where I'd seen Cal's twin. Suddenly, it came to me: Dr. Dealgood, from the third (and least) of the Mad Max films, Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome. You know, the master of ceremonies in Thunderdome, the one who explained so eloquently to the crowd that to bust a deal is to face the wheel.

If Mr. Wilde was correct about the face being an autobiography, maybe Mr. Thomas should have made some better choices.

No Links -- No Complaints

Once again, it's confirmed that trends start on the coasts and move slowly inland, only arriving in my part of the land when they're pretty well obsolete where they started. I remember being in Los Angeles a couple of years ago, on day-job business, and seeing people running around with little wireless ear units in their ears (often with weird, Borg-ish blinking LEDs). It turned out that these were partial cellular telephones, with the rest of the phone being carried in the pocket or otherwise out of sight, linked to the earpiece through the magic of Bluetooth. I heard that these units were costly at the time, and maybe they still are, although they've doubtless become cheaper. It was funny, though, to see maybe one person in ten running around with a blinking ear.

So, last evening I had my regular Thursday "extra" office hour for my students. Now, around the university, I of course see many cell phones. Most students seem to have an autonomic reflex that causes them to put phone to ear immediately on leaving any class. But last night, as I descended the stairway to leave Kettler Hall, a young woman was ascending the same stairs, chatting away loudly with nothing in her hand. She and I were the only people within sight. It occurred to me only after I had passed her that she undoubtedly had one of those earpieces in place -- hidden by her hair -- and was on the phone. It was a mildly jarring experience for me. I got to thinking ... I suppose the social conventions by which we more or less automatically evaluate others' behavior will need to adapt. Ordinarily, we think of someone who walks along talking to no one as a lunatic. Now, we'll need some other way of sorting out the hallucinating mad-persons from those who just have more advanced cell phones than we have.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Root Causes

I find a tendency in myself that I must resist. Sometimes, I must admit, I'm not very critical or discerning in taking pleasure in the misfortunes of those I disapprove of. This can lead me to cheering for injustice.

Case in point: the current flap around Rumsfeld and his fitness to be secretary of defense. I've been getting some good chuckles out of it. The same war criminal who was being lauded for his "rock-star presence" back in the early post-9/11 days having to get all defensive, and having to be defended by the Imbecile-in-Chief himself ... yes, it's been good for some giggles. But then I read this piece by one Greg Palast, and I got my nose rubbed in my own foolishness. It's a brief and worthwhile article, and I'm happy to recommend that you give it a look.

Mr. Palast's point: the opprobrium directed at Rummy would be better directed elsewhere, and ultimately, at the knuckleheaded war criminal who appointed him to his current job. And Mr. Palast is correct ... although, in my opinion, he really doesn't go far enough. An excerpt:
Well, here they come: the wannabe Rommels, the gaggle of generals, safely retired, to lay siege to Donald Rumsfeld. This week, six of them have called for the Secretary of Defense's resignation.

Well, according to my watch, they're about four years too late -- and they still don't get it.

I know that most of my readers will be tickled pink that the bemedalled boys in crew cuts are finally ready to kick Rummy in the rump, in public. But to me, it just shows me that these boys still can't shoot straight.

It wasn't Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld who stood up in front of the UN and identified two mobile latrines as biological weapons labs, was it, General Powell?

It wasn't Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld who told us our next warning from Saddam could be a mushroom cloud, was it Condoleezza?

It wasn't Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld who declared that Al Qaeda and Saddam were going steady, was it, Mr. Cheney?

Yes, Rumsfeld is a swaggering bag of mendacious arrogance, a duplicitous chicken-hawk, yellow-bellied bully-boy and Tinker-Toy Napoleon -- but he didn't appoint himself Secretary of Defense.
Good stuff. But the same argument applies to the Crawford pseudo-cowboy: just as Rummy wouldn't be where he is, doing what he does, without Bush having put him there, so too would Bush not be where he is, doing what he does, if half the electorate hadn't put him there.

Bush employed Rummy, and therefore is responsible for Rummy's misdeeds. Similarly, half the country has (twice now!) employed Bush, and therefore bears the whole responsibility. Add to that the partisan Democrats whose whole objection to the Bush junta boils down to nothing more serious, fundamental, or principled than allegations of mismanagement and incompetence, and there's really a large majority of the American people to blame.

Ultimately, it may be that when we fail to govern ourselves, we inevitably, sooner or later, acquire a crew of jackasses like the one we have to tyrannize us. It may be that the first step toward recovery is to cease to try to shift the blame.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Useful -- But Persistent -- Idiots

Some things don't change. It'd be nice if they did ... but they don't.

It's six months and a week or so until the fall elections, and the GOP is doing a little boob-baiting:
"It seems like for only six months, every two years -- right around election time -- that we're even noticed," said Tom McClusky of the Family Research Council.

"Some of these better pass," he added. "You notice when it's just lip service being paid."

Former presidential candidate Gary Bauer agreed that the effort matters.

"If they get to these things this summer, which we expect that they will, that will go a long way toward energizing the values voters at the base of the Republican Party," said Bauer, head of Americans United to Preserve Marriage.
Ah, yes, Mr. McClusky, I imagine you have those RNC types pretty much shaking in their shoes. Why, if they don't do right this time -- as they never have, come to think of it -- then you're really gonna get mad!

Yeah. Right.

As I was saying: some things don't change.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Same Old Song

This certainly sounds familiar:
"We really have to see what's happened in Iran," Brill said. "There is still a very significant amount of time that needs to be worked through by the Iranians to get to where they want to go."

Defending the quality of intelligence assessments, Brill said much of what the intelligence agencies have predicted has been validated by the IAEA and others.

U.S. intelligence officials are scrubbing their information and analysis on Iran as tensions increase over its nuclear program. Tehran insists its work is solely for peaceful, civilian purposes, but the U.S. and a number of its allies believe it is after a nuclear arsenal.

The nation's No. 2 intelligence official, Gen. Michael Hayden, said the Iran intelligence has benefited from the lessons-learned exercises on estimates about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

Based on all the data available to spy agencies, he said confidently that Iran is intent on developing a nuclear weapon. Over time, he added, "We are able to be more clear." He declined to offer specifics about the information -- or the gaps in information.

The top U.S. intelligence analyst, Thomas Fingar, said changes have been made in how analysis is done. "All of us have greater confidence in the judgments that we are making and bringing forward on Iran," Fingar said.

He said the various intelligence agencies took to heart the various reports on the flawed intelligence leading up to Iraq. "We get it," Fingar said. "We realize we have got to rebuild confidence."
It's a dreary pattern. The question -- bomb Iran or not -- will be framed as one of, are they getting nukes or not? What passes for the antiwar side of the debate will be saying, no, don't attack, because they really aren't getting nukes anytime soon. There'll be very little discussion of a more fundamental question: why does Uncle Sam get to say who can have nukes and who can't? Who died and made us God?

If the Iranians aren't enriching uranium for use in a weapons program, they must be crazy. Under completely-bipartisan U.S. policy, there are only two sure ways not to be attacked by the U.S. military: possess nuclear weapons, or be completly subservient to Washington. On the whole, I hope they build and test nuclear weapons next week. If they do, a great opportunity for more-and-better war will be lost to our supervisors -- and I don't just mean G. W. "The Village Idiot" Bush. I'm quite sure that J. McCain, H. Clinton, or any other replacement who's likely to be promoted as an inevitability by the dimbulb trumpets of the conventional wisdom will be equally bellicose -- and maybe more efficient as well. A scary thought indeed.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

The National Interest

Well, La Raza has been out in the streets, flexing the muscle, 'splainin' to everyone how it is.
Eliseo Medina, an organiser of the New York rally, said: "We march in the streets, but we will also march to the voting booth in November."

The immigration issue is set to become a key one in the mid-term elections, with Latinos the nation's fastest-growing voting bloc.

The BBC's Americas editor, Simon Watts, says the millions of illegal immigrants are starting to form a major political movement.

But, he says, it is still in its early stages. No national leader has emerged and efforts to turn grassroots pressure into an organised voting bloc are just starting.

"The reason why they don't listen to many migrants is because they cannot vote. But hopefully that will change," Roland Roebuck, 58, a half-Puerto Rican man in Washington DC told the Reuters agency.
Yes, I suspect Mssrs. Medina and Roebuck are correct -- there'll be votin'-a-plenty, legal or not. And where there's votin', there's panderin'.

Senator Kennedy brought a tear to every eye as he invoked some good, creamy Ellis Island romanticism:
Senator Edward Kennedy echoed the Martin Luther King allegory when he addressed thousands in Washington.

"It is time for Americans to lift their voices once again - this time in pride for our immigrant past and in support of our immigrant future," he said.
Well, that's one way to solve the problem of an invasion: redefine it as "immigration."

Of course, we're all thinking Mexicans here. But, if "being an American" (whatever that may mean, in our shining new future) is the right of every ambitious human on the planet, why stop there? Shouldn't we be thinking in terms of emptying Africa and Asia into this part of North America, too?

The time of nation-states is, perhaps, ending. And what's ending it, I think, is corporate globalism. A modern mega-corporation hasn't the slightest flavor of a nationality. Labor is fully fungible among the old "nations." The old default economic bulkheads that allowed one economy to be wealthier than another, and one standard of living to be higher than another -- tariffs and duties -- aren't a consideration when politicians are for sale at such reasonable prices. Corporations can either relocate work to low-wage regions, or drive down domestic wages by flooding the labor markets with (former) residents of those areas; both are easy, and both are being done rapidly.

There used to be a kind of consensus that immigration would be limited and controlled to serve the national interest. This is still true, I think. The trouble is that, in this day of corporate dominance, the "national interest" is being defined by people whose interests do not coincide with -- indeed, are positively inimical to -- the interests of the vast majority of Americans.

I do not foresee a pleasant outcome.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Glorious Freedom

Did you hear about this? It came to my attention by way of WBNI, my local NPR affiliate, to which I was listening at an ungodly-early hour this morning.
When Indiana State University student Nathan Mutchler saw Army recruiters at Dede Plaza last week, he decided to distribute some fliers of his own to give students another perspective.

His fliers had photos of Abu Ghraib, the infamous Iraqi prison in which members of the U.S. military allegedly abused Iraqi detainees.

The 20-year-old ISU freshman didn’t believe the recruiters’ message gave students a complete picture of what it might mean to join the military.

When people stood in line at a table for free dog tags, “I made no attempt to block people or discourage them. I told them to take a moment to consider the pictures and then make their own choice if they wanted dog tags,” he said.

Mutchler ultimately had to abandon his effort on Dede Plaza. Campus authorities informed him that while he could speak his views at the plaza or any other outdoor area on campus, he could not distribute fliers unless he was sponsored by a student group or other campus organization. That process involves making a reservation through the events services office in Hulman Memorial Student Union.

Since he had no such affiliation, Mutchler was told he would have to move to a sidewalk along a city street, such as Fifth or Sixth streets. “I was disappointed that ISU’s campus was not a truly public space,” said Mutchler, a theater major from Terre Haute.

He views it as an issue of freedom of speech.
Foolish boy. He may as well start understanding now that so-called "free speech" isn't a right; it's a privilege, granted to those whose speech is Imperially responsible.

Remember: freedom is a precious gift given to us by the U.S. Army. (God's got nothing to do with it, you know.) And to actually use our freedom is ... is ... well, let's just say that we're not supposed to use it. We're just supposed to be grateful for it, in a highly-theoretical way. Then we're supposed to go home, turn on the TV -- to FOX news, of course -- and sort of let our minds go blank. Or maybe practice singing:

Well, I'm proud to be an American
Where at least I know I'm free ...

Thursday, April 06, 2006

We Can't Have That, Can We?

I know I'm rather tardy with this, but it's been an über-busy week -- and besides, the dog ate my homework.

A BBC story from Monday was headlined, "Chinese influence in Brazil worries US." The nature of this insidious, Yellow Peril influence?
While the United States has been fighting its war on terror, a new political idea has begun to punch through with such weight that alarm bells have begun ringing loudly in Washington.

Under the slogan of "peaceful rising", China is selling itself to the developing world as an alternative model for ending poverty.

The pitch is now winning an audience in Latin America, and Washington is despatching the assistant secretary of state responsible for the region, Thomas Shannon, to Beijing to find out what is going on.

His aim is to negotiate the precise line which China must not cross in creating its new strategic alliance with Latin America, which has seen billions of dollars of Chinese money earmarked for infrastructure, transport, energy and defence projects there.

"We want to make sure we don't get our wires crossed," said one official arranging the talks.

The spectre of an encroaching China is made worse by a string of elections which has produced populist and US-sceptic, left-wing leaders. During the Cold War they would probably never have survived in office.
Wow. Any Americans still in doubt about whether they are "citizens" of an empire or not?

Imagine that. Those damnable Chinks have some nerve -- suggesting to the "developing world" that there might be an "alternative" model for ending poverty. This reads like something that might have run in the Soviet press back in the late 1940s. "Stalin Criticizes Tito's Proposal of 'New Way' of Building Socialism."

A string of elections, producing populist and US-skeptic, left-wing leaders? Why, that's not duh-mocracy! It's gotta be them sly, zipper-eyed Orientals what's doin' it, misleadin' them poor stupid third-world shanty-dwellers into thinkin' there's a better way. You-Ess-Ay! You-Ess-Ay! You-Ess-Ay! If those swarthy Brazilians don't straighten up and fly right, we just might need to give 'em a little whiff of shock 'n' awe. You know, just to help 'em along a little.

Monday, April 03, 2006

The Shell Game

I try to keep away from "local" matters in this blog; I live in northeast Indiana, near Fort Wayne, and there is, I think, a surfeit of blogging about things Fort Wayne, most of which hold little interest for me anyway. In this case, though, I'd like to direct your attention to something from yesterday's Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, on the grounds that its appearance in "my" paper is the only thing especially local about it. The writer, Sylvia Smith, writes political stories from Washington, D.C. for the paper. I think it is fair to describe her as a fairly typical Democrat, in the traditional sense. Since a lot of her work appears on the editorial page, her opinions aren't much of a secret.

The piece interested me because it underlines the hopelessness of opposing optional, gratuitous wars from within the wonderful "two-party system." That, of course, is the system in which the Republican Caucus and the Democrat Caucus of the War Party offer marginal criticism of each others' management of our near-perpetual imperial wars. (I pause to note that the perpetual hopeful, the Libertarian Party, has failed miserably to offer any principled alternative to the duopoly.)

I'd suggest the interested reader follow the link and read Sylvia's entire piece. But, in the meantime:
The second question is both more complex and just as simple. The simple answer is: Yes, we should resurrect the draft. The complexity is what we should draft young people for.

Even though the draft was abandoned in 1973, all young men must still register with the Selective Service System. Of course, women also should be required to register, and the definition of “selective service” should be expanded. (We would have to drop “the draft” from our lexicon, given the baggage it carries from the Vietnam era.)

In my utopia, all young Americans would spend two years in service to our country, be it in the military, in the Peace Corps or domestically – as tutors, helping with the upkeep of national parks, working in low-income health clinics, giving a hand to homebound elderly people or assisting in any number of venues that would benefit from an infusion of voluntary muscle and brainpower.
Why, I wonder, does Sylvia's utopia pick on the young people? After all, it's not going to be limited to military service. It would include all sorts of involuntary servitude -- much of which might be done sitting at a desk. Why shouldn't it be cut off at around age 80 or so?

Oh, that's right ... because the grownups wouldn't be amused by a working vacation for Uncle Sam, at army-type wages. And they vote -- they vote ferociously -- and there's a hell of a lot of them.

The bottom line, once again: if you're interested in the fundamentals of human liberty, the "left / right" distinction, as practiced in the American politics of this century at least, is a distinction without a difference, no more substantial than the early-morning mist of a summer's day.

Meanwhile: draft Sylvia. And Marky-Mark Souder, too. Yesterday.