Thursday, April 29, 2010

Τί ἐστιν ἀλήθεια

Everybody from Aeschylus to Samuel Johnson and Hiram Johnson seems to have said, "The first casualty of war is truth," but that doesn't make the observation any less apt. Indeed, what is war but a society's agreement to suspend mormal notions of morality towards violent achivement of a particular end? (This is not necessarily a bad thing if the end is, for instance, genuine self-preservation.) Of course this means, along with tossing normal prohibitions against homicide, vandalism etc, putting aside concerns with niceties like truth and honor. Perhaps the most strangely self-disclosing instance of this in history was Don Rumsfeld's Institute of Strategic Influence, which he announced back in 2o02. Somebody clumsily admitted that the Institute would be deceiving the public in service of the War on Abstraction, and Don Rumsfeld held a press conference whereat he retired the outfit's name, but reserved the right to lie to America whenever he saw fit:

And then there was the office of strategic influence. You may recall that. And "oh my goodness gracious isn't that terrible, Henny Penny the sky is going to fall." I went down that next day and said fine, if you want to savage this thing fine I'll give you the corpse. There's the name. You can have the name, but I'm gonna keep doing every single thing that needs to be done and I have.

For some reason people kept affecting surprise when, even after this admission, it tuned out that Don and his buddies had lied at virtually every opportunity. Those people wouldn't tell you the correct time.

Well, their wars are still going on, with no sign of abatemenent in the near term, and the Right Wingers are trying to gin up a new war here at home against Obama and his Socialist Black Healthcare Death-Panel Helicopters, so perhaps we shouldn't surprised that truth is not being well served. All these years of war (starting perhaps with Hitler and proceedding right on through the Cold War) have inured us to constant lying it seems, but this last decade or so seems to have completely addicted the Right Wing to lying. The Republicans no longer seem to have the slightest concern with the truth of their claims, just their effectiveness as sales pitch. Of course, our journalists are now so cowardly, co-opted and corrupt that they don't report the plain truth (say, for instance, 'Mitch McConnel blatantly lied today when he said Wall Street regulation would ensure bailouts.), so why wouldn't Republicans, in full Rush Limbaugh mode, just run their mouths saying whatever, until something stuck -- never mind its falsity. There's no penalty for lying if you're a Republican. Perjury is a rite of passage for them.

Every day brings a new Reich Wing outrage against simple reality; it's too much to even note them all. Deception and self-deception is standard operating procedure now, our pundits don't even notice anymore. Only Stewart and Colbert take stances which allow them to encompass the delusional truth of political discourse.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

In Prasie of Axolotl

It's Earth Day Plus out there on the Mall and people are gathering and singing and saving the planet like crazy, mostly because it's a sort of balmly day in DC and not as rainy as predicted. I went for a run and snapped some pictures, but mostly it was just white folks in summerwear. I did like the cool bus pictured above, the "Peacemaker," because you meet the nicest people on a bus.

I once ran into a lovely former student, Laura, a couple of years after she graduated and she told me that right after she'd last seen me she was riding the bus from Colorado to Phoenix and out in the Arizona desert a motorist pulled up alongside the bus and started firing a pistol into it, hitting numerous passengers and the driver, who somehow managed to maintain control. Then the shooter raced away, but turned around and plowed head-on into the bus, ending his spree. It turned out he'd already killed three people (including his ex-wife) down in Phoenix that day, and set his apartment building on fire. He was the quiet type apparently. Laura doesn't ride the bus anymore. Or go to Arizona.

The Earth People reminded me (just by their numbers) of all the Teabaggers I've seen in recent months, all eight billion of them if you believe the Foxaganda. Virtually all Teabaggers reminded me of The Big Drift -- which is that tendency among Americans to gain one or two pounds and lose one IQ point each year after college, until finally you're fatter and stupider than the young you would have thought possible. Teabagger: QED.

Your Earth Day Assignment: go here, scroll down and listen to the Axolotl Song. Epic!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Esprit d'Escalier

I must admit that sometimes I step onto the subway and feel "rogue hatred" (as Tom Wolfe put it) for all of humanity. I supopse it's the reptile-brain's reflexive reaction to competition for finite resources, the snarl of jackals at the shrinking water hole. But I also think there is a rational basis for some of it -- the completely rational disdain for the free-rider. Start with the people who manage the stations: often I come into my home-station at morning rush hour and two escalators are running up, and one down. As the ratio of entering (thus descending) passengers to exiting ones must be at least 50 to 1 at that time, this represents an utter dereliction by the person sitting in the glass booth next to the escalators. That person ought to get off the lazy ass and reverse the direction of one escalator, and he or she ought to get written up for failing to do so. But that would the introducing accountability and responsibility (and more efficiency and rationality) to the system, and we can't have that. Actually expecting employees to notice things and take an interest? Socialism!

Of course if we wanted to really improve the system by raising the consciousness of the riders, we would also encourage the able-bodied to walk up and down the escalators instead of riding, lumpen on the right side, as if the device were a vehicle and not a thoroughfare. This would empty and fill the stations much faster -- which is what the escalators are there to do. But that would probably be too much like Sweden or something, actually encouraging the couch-potatoes to get exercise and promote efficiency! UnAmerican!

This morning I saw a couple of young, smug, affluent (and exceedingly stupid by their chit-chat) white folks blithely pounding down mocha smoothies and chowing on bagel sandwiches on while riding downtown -- in blatant violation of the commonsensical laws against food on the subway. I felt like saying something like "The law doesn't apply to you...why?" But I didn't. In retropsect a better idea came to me: next time, I think I'll simply snap their picture with my constant companion the PowerShot, and we'll just see what happens from there.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Wankers of the World, Unite!

I was off to Kitschtopia over the weekend and distracted by art, food and company from the grievous state of the world. It was very nice.

Now I am back at work, but was amused this morning by Matt Taibi's slagging of David "Banality of Evil" Brooks, whom he catches reflecting upon how the rich now work harder than the poor. Oh really.

Work, real work, in the Shaker – work is prayer – sense consists of doing something valuable (beneficial, pleasurable) for somebody else. Getting your ass kissed and your ego stroked for going through some executive motions, no matter how remunerative it is for you, is not really work. It’s a position, a sinecure, a title – in the feudal sense. Working backwards from Freud’s brilliant insight that “sanity is the ability to love and work,” it is no wonder then that so many of the rich and of our pampered elites, are morally or even generally deranged. They are denied the corrective benefits of visceral contact with humankind’s shared realities, and also the moral refreshment of sacrifice. It’s quite simply “Spoiled Brat Syndrome” and the great myth is that it is only acquired in childhood. It can manifest at any age, given a prolonged period where the insufferable “sufferer” is subjected to rewards vastly disproportionate to risks and/or contributions. George Bush is the quintessential example of this of course, as I have often written. The most telling thing ever about him was his answer to ‘What sacrifices will you ask of Americans in this war?’ W quite literally didn’t understand the concept “sacrifice” as naturally, one who has never worked might not.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Wikilealks Footage Reconsidered

In fairness, I can say with a lot of confidence that, were I a grunt at the front, where people were often, actively trying to kill me, my attitude would pretty soon morph into: Kill 'em all and let God sort 'em out. This is one of the reasons I've never volunteered for any of our overseas adventures, and also one of the reasons why I've been opposed to virutally all of them. You put people in that position, you're gonna get that kind of behavior. But the Ozzie and Harriets of America seem to believe that all our boys go over there and maintain a Tom-Hanks-style stoic chill. We're just here to help y'all be free -- goddamnit! Americans can't understand why we're not greeted as liberators -- because they never see tapes like the Wikileaks release, that show us in essence: utterly clueless, misunderstanding all we see, yet deadly, raining death from above on all and sundry because it's too dangerous or troublesome to actually figure out who the enemy is, if anyone. Once they're dead, of course, we can most definitely be sure they are enemy, usually without fear of contradiction.
In fairness too, I'll bet the boys who do the killing close up, and take the real chances, aren't so cavalier about it as these helicopter guys, who probably have it relatively cush, and are way out of range in most instances. (I would bet large dollars that the combat-mortality rate among gunship crews is nearly nil.) So basically, these laughing boys are just hot-rodding thrill killers at this point, drunk with their power to kill with impunity, and really getting off.

As we brace ourselebvs for a number of open-carry militia rallies here in the DC area, it occurs to me -- how do these right wingers feel about choppers just opening up on everyone in the vicinity of anyone bearing arms, or anyone coming to the rescue of anyone who was unlucky enough to even be near someone bearing arms when the blasting began? I guess only American have Second Amendment rights.

Ode to an Apache

They are not our brave aviators
nor our young soldiers, too soon
old from too many tours
gravely saving and taking life.
They’re idiot kids playing
video games in the safety
of their levitated La-Z-Boys,
reveling in the lethal evils, clean,
laughably abstract at this distance,
which our technology makes possible.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Propaganda with Gattling Gun

WikiLeaks has somehow posted helicopter gun-camera video, complete with radio chatter, from an incident in Baghdad in which a number of people loitering in the street were blown away on suspicion that they were carrying weapons. In at least two of the cases, as the video shows, the weapons were mere cameras, Reuters news cameras as it turns out. A reporter and his driver were killed.

After the initial burst of 30mm cannonfire a van pulls up to the scene, and people emerge from it to attend to the surviving wounded. No weapons or other evidence of hostility appears but the helicopter's gunner opens fire anyway, killing the would-be rescuers and incidentally, wounding two children who happen to be in the van.

Appalling as the carnage is, even more awful is the abundant frat-boy chatter and laughter that attends the slaughter. It's really not the Hollywood picture of brave aviators, facing down danger, taking life in full awful congnizance of the gravity of their actions. No, these guys are completely safe, high above the action, not particularly concerned with whether or not they're killing innocents, and highly amused, in the aftermath by the carnage they have wrought. It's just a video game to them. When it's all over, and it's made clear to the choppers that they've shot a little girl, they just shrug it off, one of them says, "Well, it's their fault for bringing their children into a battle." Only there is no battle. He might just as well have said, "It's their fault for bringing their children into the city where they live."

Now, I know that war doesn't really make a man out of you. In fact, it more often brutalizes -- turns you into something much worse than you were, and might have been. And I also know that not every soldier is the sort of sociopath these boys seem to be. But the chatter on the tape reminds me of the "gorilla in the mist" jokes the Rodney King cops made on the radio after their police riot. Ther mere fact that they feel free to speak this way suggests a pervasive attitude.

And we wonder why the wars aren't going so well, why we aren't -- once again -- winning the hearts and minds.

Of course Wolf Blitzer and Crap Not News took the "Shit happens" route with this story. Nothing to see here folks.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Fox News -- Planet Killer

Last night, by way of wishing Happy Easter, I was ranting to my scientist brother about the brownshirts and how I’m afraid that the jig is basically up; the shitheads aren’t coming back to reason anytime soon. Unless and until, like their German forebears, they find themselves living in the ruins off whatever their daughters and wives can pull in whoring for the troops of the conquerors, there is no brute fact sufficient, so nothing will ever punch through their sanctimonious delusions and let them see their grandiose cause for the cheap hustle (the exploitation of their resentment, neurosis, ignorance, and immaturity) it always is.

One of the key reasons why this isn’t going to happen, and why the republic isn’t going to heal itself with free speech is, of course, Fox News. Now Fox itself isn’t that big a player, it doesn’t make that much difference hour by hour or day to day. But think of it like The Asteroid Tugboat people hypothesized a few years back. If you need to alter the trajectory of a thing in space over time, say, an asteroid on a distant-future date to collide with earth, you can get there ahead of time and attach an ion-drive thruster to it. The ion drive can't really develop much torque, can’t accelerate things quickly or out of heavy gravity, but it can exert long-term, steady pressure enough to actually and significantly change the trajectory of even big things, perhaps enough to save the planet!

On the other hand, or perhaps conversely, as long as we have Fox News pushing the discourse ever-so-slightly but constantly and inexorably to the Corporatist Right, things cannot get really or lastingly better. The fascists really can push the one superpower and thus whole planet into ruin. Eventually, on this trajectory, America will be a police-state kleptocracy where government monies are spent only on armed force, prosecution, imprisonment, and protection of the ruling class's ever-growing private property. Economic chaos, civil unrest and environmental degradation will only accelerate this process.

Dark days ahead, my friends.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Of Time and Tubs

Last night I dragooned a few innocent, junior Ministry staffers into a mad errand. We headed downtown descended into a subterranean dispenser of strong spirits for several mind-fogging beverages and then we went to see Hot Tub Time Machine. Let me just say about it -- there are some things you can't unsee. Like Rob Cordry's unwaxed ass, and that's just for starters.

It's very, very cleverly written, referencing or drawing on every time-travel/alternate-reality text from It's a Wonderful Life to Terminator and The Butterfly Effect, with a slap here and there at Stephen Hawking, Red Dawn, and everthing bad about the 1980's, including the clothes, the hair, the music, Ron Reagan (seen bullshitting about Iran-Contra) long lines of cocaine, long lines of tequila shots, hopped-up little skanks in leg-warmers, bags of magic mushrooms, breakup-poetry and... where was I?

I especially loved the way the film depicts today as the logical, and not very wonderful extension of those times, the way it's completely unapologetic about its grossness, insensitivity and extremity, the way it exploits its young actresses for gratuitous nudity, and its refusal to get moralistic, hopeful or messagy about things. It hews pretty close to Seinfeld's one rule of comedy: No growing, no learning.

Hot Tub Time Machine prominently features an "illegal" Russian version of Red Bull called ChernoBull, and a million other little touches like that. A furry wild-card tinkering with the NFL's time-space continuum. An alllusion to the painting of Francois Clouet. And John Cusack. And Chevy Chase stealing scenes, and hot startlets. What's not to like?

"Deeply wrong on every level," said one lovely operative at the Ministry of Elegance afterwards. She meant that in a good way.