Sunday, November 24, 2013

Venus Bound - book

Venus Bound, The Erotic Voyage of the Olympia Press and Its Writers, John De St Jorre (Random House, New York, 1994)

This is at once a book about the history of dirty books, not so dirty books, the ups and downs of the Olympia Press, pornography, literature, and the life of Maurice Girodias (ne Maurice Kahane). For anyone interested in such things it is a fine and rewarding book.

Maurice’s father, Jack Kahane, said to have been an “Edwardian Dandy,” founded the Obelisk Press in the 1930’s and capped his career by publishing Henry Miller, Lawrence Durrell and Anais Nin. The Obelisk Press eventually became the Olympia Press, owned and operated by his son, Maurice, part Jewish, who changed his name to Girodias, and his nationality to French, to protect himself from the Nazis. He remained Girodias thereafter.  

The Olympia Press made its way and survived primarily by publishing pornography. Girodias had a stable of writers, most using false names, whose works collectively became the Traveller’s Companion Series, and did quite well. This was an important part of the “dirty books” that became internationally well known, bought in and ordered from Paris, often smuggled elsewhere in plain brown covers. It was possible to publish books in Paris that could not be published elsewhere, but even in Paris there were censors. Girodias spent a great deal of his time and money almost constantly fighting legal battles with them in court.

 Because censorship was stronger in most other countries, particularly in England and the United States, serious authors sometimes were forced to turn to the Olympia Press as virtually their only choice to get their work published. Jack Kahane had already established a precedent for publishing such books when he published Henry Miller, Anais Nin, and several books featuring homosexual themes. Girodias carried on his father’s tradition in the 1950’s by publishing both J. P. Donleavy’s, The Ginger Man, and perhaps the even more(in)famous, Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov. He was also to publish the Story of O, Candy, and The Naked Lunch. You are no doubt aware that all of these works were initially classified as pornography (in some places they probably still are). It took years before they were considered “literature” rather than pornography.

Perhaps the most famous case was Nabokov’s Lolita. Nabokov wanted to demonstrate that it was possible to write a highly erotic (pornographic?) book without using the dirty words usually found in such works, and so Lolita, now widely regarded as a literary masterpiece, was written. It had to be smuggled into the U.S. and it was years before it was accepted as literature. The Ginger Man, The Story of O, and The Naked Lunch also suffered similar fates. The line between pornography and literature (or non pornography) was never well drawn (Donleavy, for example, was outraged when The Ginger Man was mistakenly included on the Traveler’s Companion Series and he never forgave Girodias) but eventually, and maybe grudgingly, courts came to consider such works as legitimate literary endeavors.

The decision to consider a book a literary work rather than porn initially seemed to hinge on whether it was “well written” (was literary) or whether the author was an established writer known as such to the public, whether it contained too many “dirty words, or was composed merely for its prurient interest. But these are somewhat questionable decisions that do not, it seems to me, always work very well. For example, I am willing to accept The Ginger Man, Lolita, and even the Story of O, as they are all exceedingly well written, but what about a book like Candy, professionally written by a couple of well-known writers, but obviously composed for the prurient market. If something is “professionally written” but not motivated by any genuine literary interest is it to be considered “literature.”

You might well say that none of this matters today because the pornographers essentially won (I guess it was just easier to accept it than fight it any longer), and what we routinely see and heard now on TV, in movies, and books goes far beyond anything these pioneers in the genre contemplated. These early battles over pornography were almost exclusively concerned with sex. Violence was, I think, not considered pornographic, nor did it constitute the subject matter of these early works. Nowadays violence, which I think has become terribly important as pornography, especially as sex and violence now seem to go hand in hand. Like sexual themes, violence has also become increasingly acceptable. This does not bode well either for literature or civilization.
The pornography of violence of course far exceeds, in volume and general acceptance, sexual pornography, in this Puritan land of ours. Exploiting the apocalypse, selling the holocaust, is a pornography. For the ultimate selling job on ultimate violence one must read those works of fiction issued by our government as manuals of civil defense, in which you learn that there's nothing to be afraid of if you've stockpiled lots of dried fruit. 

Monday, November 18, 2013

Me and Kati (9)

Well, Kati, we haven’t had a talk for a few days. There are a number of things we need to discuss. That is, I need to discuss while you, as usual, just listen. One thing, I am somewhat put off by your overly aggressive sleeping habits. You used to sleep with me every night, then for a long time you didn’t, and now you do again. I don’t mind you sleeping on the bed with me, but you insist on having to sleep tight against me. Thus when I turn over or move, and you then move closer, we move randomly across the bed all night which I find uncomfortable. Why can’t you sleep like Spencer, who sleeps on the far corner of the bed and you hardly know he is even there until you wake up? You think because you have such a pretty face you can get away with anything…and you can.

But that is not the most important thing on my mind at the moment, it is Walmart, even though it is none of my business. Well, Kati, in a way it is my business as it seems it is my tax dollars that subsidizes this disgusting Dickensian enterprise. First of all, Kati, we already know that because of their terribly low and unfair wages we taxpayers are already subsidizing them by having to cover health care costs, food stamps, and the other necessities they do not provide. Now, however, they seem to have reached an all-time low in expecting even more aid. In at least one Walmart store they are now asking their employees to donate to a fund so that their employees can enjoy a decent Thanksgiving. In other words, they want their employees to subsidize Thanksgiving dinners for other employees (because their employees do not make enough money to enjoy Thanksgiving on their own). I don’t believe the word Chutzpa extends quite this far. It seems that the average Walmart employee makes somewhere around $15,000 to $17,000 a year (although Walmart claims it is $25,000). In any case, with wages that low the only way their employees can survive is through food stamps and other forms of welfare which we, the taxpayers, are paying. This situation is ridiculous enough to begin with, but now when they expect their employees to donate to other employees can celebrate a national holiday, they have reached a new low. I’m not entirely certain even Dickens would have gone so far.

This absurd, if not completely obscene business model (like most), wants to insist they cannot pay higher wages and make a profit, a claim that is in this case (and virtually all other cases), patently untrue. When you understand that the five (or maybe six) Walmart heirs have together more money than some 40% of the population at large, they could easily share some of their billions with their workers that make it possible. I guess this might mean they might individually get a few billions less but what the hell, why should they (I mean, after all, they “work hard” for their money, they really “earn it,” and they “deserve it”). And so, Kati, that’s the way it is here in the America of unrestrained capitalism. It just doesn’t get any more absurd or obscene than that, but it’s the “best economic system” in the world, and why should workers get any more money anyway, they’d just piss it away buying Picassos, yachts, and unborn lamb.

 I think, Kati, that no decent country would allow the massive imbalance in wealth that now exists here in the U.S. It may be there aren’t so many decent countries in the world but it would be nice if we could claim to be one. But we have become shameless in our exploitation of labor, the environment, the neglect of our children and education, our infrastructure, and our attitude towards the less fortunate. We will doubtless pay the price of this cavalier attitude towards our lives and especially those of our children. But as the thoughtful George W. the Dim said, “ha ha, we’ll all be dead by then.”

If I think too much about all of those Chinese factories where all the stuff in a Wal-Mart is made, I get that woozy feeling you get when you see ducks covered in crude oil.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Capitalism and Greed

I think I have had an epiphany, maybe just a lesser insight, perhaps I just woke up to reality, maybe my aging (and I fear dimming) grey cells suddenly had a burst of energy; whatever, I may have (sort of) solved something that has been puzzling me for a long time, namely, the problem of greed.

During my relatively long lifetime I have had the privilege of living with many different kinds of people, from some truly “primitive” in the New Guinea Highlands, to the more sophisticated in Fiji and Hawaii, to American Indians on the Northwest Coast and the American Midwest, to the French, Germans, and, of course Americans. I have also lived with many different groups of people, from Hippies to the Poor, to the Middle Class. Never, during any of these times, did I have reason to believe that greed played a major role in their behavior. In fact, I would say that it was far more characteristic of all people to share and care for each other than to take advantage of others. Indeed, in most cultures, greed, if it exists at all in rare cases, is punished by sanctions, in extreme cases even by death. Thus I do not believe that greed is a universal characteristic of humans.

Because of my lifetime experiences I have had much trouble in recent years trying to understand why it is that we have seen the growth of so many millionaires, multi-millionaires, billionaires, and multi-billionaires. These individuals have amassed fortunes so huge, and so far beyond any reasonable use, even beyond the imagination of most people to comprehend them, that it makes no sense whatsoever. I have attributed this to greed. It has always seemed to me that for someone to have fortunes so huge as to make them relatively useless for any personal benefits beyond those of everyday life to be sort of purposeless. I mean, really, how many million dollar baseballs, Marilyn Monroe dresses, multi-million dollar paintings, rare postage stamps, thousand dollar shower curtains, gold faucets, and antique vases, does one need? More importantly, when 99% of the population is living in poverty, unable in some cases even to feed their children, why do these obscenely wealthy individuals feel no shame, or guilt, or even express any empathy for the less fortunate? How, that is, do you explain their greed?

The explanation for this came to me today as I was cooking a great pot of chili. Or at least I think this may be the answer. In a capitalistic society like the one we currently live in there is no concept of greed. Think about it, greed just does not exist. The goal of capitalism is to make a profit, or, in a somewhat different description, to accumulate capital. And so, if the goal is to accumulate capital and make profit, accomplishing this does not constitute greed, but, rather, success. This is why you can find people claiming that greed is good, greed represents success. If you are a billionaire, with wealth far beyond anything you can do with it (other than use it to make even more capital) you are not greedy, you are a success, a role model, someone to be admired.

And so it is that the sin of avarice (greed) is no longer relevant in the world of capitalism. There is no greed in Mudville, merely the earmark of success. Never mind the exploitation of labor and the environment that allowed the success, never mind the human misery and environmental damage you caused because of your greed (sorry, success), greed is good, greed is what makes capitalism work, at least it will for a time. Greed is no longer greed, it’s what makes our world go round. Wheee! Let’s hear it for greed!
  “Thus did a handful of rapacious citizens come to control all that was worth controlling in America. Thus was the savage and stupid and entirely inappropriate and unnecessary and humorless American class system created. Honest, industrious, peaceful citizens were classed as bloodsuckers, if they asked to be paid a living wage. And they saw that praise was reserved henceforth for those who devised means of getting paid enormously for committing crimes against which no laws had been passed. Thus the American dream turned belly up, turned green, bobbed to the scummy surface of cupidity unlimited, filled with gas, went bang in the noonday sun.” 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Two Parties

This is a tale of two (ostensibly “political”) parties, the Hopeless Party and the Helpless Party. Both of these were once ordinary political parties that more or less functioned as such, but for a variety of reasons they have become something other than what they once were.

The Hopeless Party became hopeless primarily because they became hopelessly out of touch with the citizens of their country, but also somewhat out of touch with reality. The Hopeless Party is hopeless at governing and each turn they have “in the barrel” they run up huge budget deficits that must later be corrected by the Helpless Party (one of the reasons the Helpless Party remains helpless). It is not surprising that the Hopeless Party is hopeless at governing, following the strictures of their culture hero, Saint Ronnie the Moron, they do not believe in government, for them government “is the problem.” They would like to drown it in a bathtub and have tried desperately to do just that. In their latest turn in the barrel, their “man in charge,” George Dubya the Dim (along with his criminal cutthroats), managed to turn a respectable budget surplus into a disastrous deficit in the space of only a couple of years. They no longer mention George the Dim anymore if they can possibly help it. George the Dim is currently helping to convert Jews into Christians in order to speed up “the end of times.”

The hopelessness of the Hopeless Party also came about when they discovered they could not politically defeat Billy the Comeback Kid in fair elections and so turned to Mafia-like strategies, thus morphing into something resembling a criminal conspiracy rather than a political party. Desperately they attempted to impeach Billy the Kid for a private, consenting sexual act, thus breaking with a long-standing precedent that such matters were usually off limits. Since then, using a hopelessly outdated philosophy of White male superiority, they have managed to alienate Blacks, Hispanics, women, Gays and Lesbians, and most everyone else other than White working class males, leaving them hopelessly hoping they can somehow take back the Presidency from the half Black, socialist, communist, fascist, anti-Christ, Kenyan, Muslim, “Other” that was mistakenly and illegitimately ensconced in the White House not once, but twice. As they know they have no legitimate way to win the coming elections they continue their criminal attempts to prevent certain people from voting and to stop the current President from having even a modest success of any kind. They seem to believe that by opposing everything the 99% desire they can win (in other words, “money can buy them love”).

There is no obvious explanation for why the Helpless Party is so helpless. With the Presidency and a majority in the Senate they should have the power to overcome the resistance of the Hopeless ones, but for whatever reason they don’t, preferring to just stand idly by while the minority runs roughshod over them. I suspect this is probably because they secretly share the goals of the Hopeless Party, namely whatever it is their corporate and business master’s desire. While they make a pretense of defending the Poor and the Middle Class they actually do little or nothing to do so. This is so because the members of both parties have long since abandoned the interests of anyone other than the business and corporate interests that finance them, they have become mercenaries rather than public servants. Even though one party appears hopeless and the other helpless they remain very similar in their ultimate goals, facilitating a fascist takeover of the world. It is what they are being paid to do.

Although the two parties, as parties, appear very different, in terms of their individual memberships they are much the same. This can be seen very clearly in the case of Israel and the Middle East, both parties approach the Iranian situation in the same way, however Bibi “Mad dog” Netanyahu, the apparent Czar of the region tells them to. It could not be more obvious that Bibi the Great does not want a Palestinian state or peace with the Palestinians. If such a terrible thing should happen he could no longer shamelessly steal Palestinian land and water, thus eventually making a Palestinian state an impossibility. The so-called negotiations are nothing but a farce, no one (I doubt even Kerry) believes for even one moment there will be a significant agreement. The U.S. is a willing partner in this farce, this deception, this fantastic lie. All men are born equal and are entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness – unless they are Palestinians.
So if one party is hopeless and the other is helpless the net effect will probably be hopelessness. Welcome to the real world of U.S. politics. And don’t worry Bibi, we’ll support your genocidal desires to the bitter end, after all, what are friends for?

  You cannot criticize Israel in this country (USA) and survive” 
Helen Thomas


Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Stop Whining!

Stop whining Democrats. Do something. Republicans have now continued their unprecedented use of the filibuster to block President Obama’s nominees for Judgeships and most anything else. There is nothing wrong with the nominees, they are all well qualified, facts that are admitted even by the Republicans that are blocking them. They simply do not want Obama to appoint anyone at all to anything at all, partly because they hate Obama and want him to fail and partly because they want to preserve the conservative majority on the courts. Obama has a constitutional duty to fill these vacancies. Congress has a constitutional obligation to advise and consent. But instead of doing their duty Republicans use the filibuster to block any and all appointments. This is, putting it in the simplest terms possible, unconscionable, to say nothing of absurd, indecent, harmful, and disgusting.

During Obama’s tenure Republicans have used the filibuster some 432 times (I think that is the right figure). Everyone knows this is more filibusters than all other filibusters in history, and they also know this was not what the filibuster was intended to do. Indeed, they don’t really even bother to filibuster, they merely indicate they want to do it, and Democrats meekly surrender. And so it is the minority has managed to essentially overcome the majority, making a mockery of democracy, and harming our country immeasurably.
But what is especially galling about this ongoing travesty is that throughout the entire history of it the Democrats have had the power to stop it. Harry Reid could have invoked the so-called “nuclear option” at any time that would have changed the rules to allow a simply 51% majority to rule (which is what it is supposed to be in the first place) instead of the arbitrary and unnecessary 60 vote rule the Senate now requires. But rather than doing so he and his colleagues have preferred to simply whine consistently, helplessly, piteously, even cowardly, about what the Republicans have been doing.   

I do not know exactly why democrats have been so resistant to changing the rules to what they ought to be. The only argument I can remember hearing is to the effect that they do not want to give up this strategy themselves when Republicans return again to power. So, in order to preserve what is blatantly unconscionable now they want to preserve it to be blatantly unconscionable in the hypothetical future. First of all, the way things seem to be going, it is unlikely the Republicans will ever return to power for a very long time (at least they certainly should not), and second, if the Senate can change the rules now they can also change them again in the future. As far as I can see there is no cogent reason the rules should not be changed to prevent Republicans to continue their assault on our democracy, timidity and cowardice seem to be the order of the day. So Democrats, either use your power to end this ridiculous situation or stop whining about it. God hates cowards, losers, and gutless whiners.

On a somewhat different but even more absurd development I think our so-called “news” networks may have finally reached an even more “low” than I would have thought possible. Even MSNBC did a segment tonight on Sarah Palin versus the Pope. Why should this absolute babbling idiot be featured as somehow worthy of equality with the Pope? In fact, why should she be appearing on television at all? She holds no office, almost certainly never will, is about as intelligent as a cedar post, is now totally irrelevant in any meaningful way, and most certainly is not a worthy opponent of the Pope. If she continues to have any followers at all they are few and must be even moronic than she is, so why does she command any time at all in the media? The answer, I fear, is that the media is not really interested in news, merely infotainment, and this seems to be just as true of MSNBC as all the rest. They might as well interview Mickey Rooney’s opinion of the Pope, in fact it would probably more interesting.

“The more wonderful the means of communication, the more trivial, tawdry, or depressing its contents seemed to be.” 

 Arthur C. Clarke

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Greed is Their Argument

I am beginning to believe that for many people greed must be their most basic motivator. I find it virtually impossible to understand what is going on without assuming that greed is virtually the most basic element. Take, for example, the situation with Iran. The relationship between the U.S. and Iran has festered for at least forty years. The U.S., with apparently no Middle East policy apart from that of Israel, has been threatening to attack Iran for years, an attack that would set off yet another war in the Middle East, perhaps worse than ever before. Now it seems there is a reasonable chance that war might be averted, that diplomacy might actually win out. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if this long standing animosity could be overcome and an agreement reached without going to war? At least I think it would be great. But there are those,, Israel especially, but also the Saudis, who are doing everything they can to prevent a diplomatic solution. The alternative of course will be a war. What is their motive for preferring war to peace in this particular case? It does have a religious element, with the Saudis being predominately Sunni while Iran and its ally Syria are Shiite. But Sunnis and Shiites have managed to live together for a long time. So it’s basically about who will control the Middle East, the oil markets, and so on. In short, it’s about greed. And of course there is no end to the greed of the Israelis, intent upon stealing as much land and water from the Palestinians as possible, resisting all international calls to stop, thumbing their noses at International Law as well as common decency. 

The supposed fear of an Iranian nuclear bomb is nothing but a red herring dragged across the real problem of maintaining Israeli and Western European hegemony in the Middle East. They don’t care how many Iranians and others may suffer and die to get their way. Greed, as usual, wins out.

Similarly, how do you explain the Republican efforts to kill the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare? It is true that some of their resistance is a result of their outright hatred of President Obama (he’s Black, you know), but it also has to do with wanting to protect the profits of Insurance Companies that make their ill-gotten gains from preying on the sick and dying. There is no reason Insurance Companies should have anything whatsoever to do with health care. The motive here is just plain greed.

And why do International Corporations demand and receive massive tax breaks they do not need? They employ legions of lobbyists to make sure they receive this largess, stash their money overseas without paying any taxes, contributing basically nothing to our economy. Greed is their only argument. And really, why should CEO’s be making millions of dollars while those who work for them are lucky to make a pittance and live in or near poverty. There is no explanation for this other than Greed, Greed that seems to know no bounds.

Why do Republicans oppose anything and everything that might possibly benefit the Poor and the Middle Class: Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, unions, food stamps, minimum wages, child care, any form of welfare? Obviously they oppose such things because they might cut into the profits of billionaires and corporations. In other words, they oppose them for just plain greed.

Curiously, greed does not seem to characterize all people, perhaps even most people. Not everyone seeks to make as much money as possible, living lives more modestly on their salaries, content to just make a decent living, own a home, send their children to college. They do not become nurses, teachers, mechanics, professors, poets, or candlestick makers because they want to become as rich as possible. But for some, even many, greed apparently becomes infectious. They want and seek more and more and seemingly are never satisfied. Some years back a man won 300 million dollars or so on the lottery. When asked what he wanted to do with his money he replied he wanted to become a billionaire! And so it goes. I wonder if all children are born greedy and have to be enculturated out of it, or if they are born without greed and have to be taught to be greedy? As not all people are greedy I suspect the latter may be closer to the truth than the former. But perhaps greed is similar to a bad seed that just occasionally occurs. Probably not, I think there may be a secret Republican school that teaches Greed 101. Their credo is probably something like “I got mine, you get yours.” Or maybe “Them as has, gets.” I have many faults, but happily, naked greed is not one of them.

 “The point is, there is no feasible excuse for what are, for what we have made of ourselves. We have chosen to put profits before people, money before morality, dividends before decency, fanaticism before fairness, and our own trivial comforts before the unspeakable agonies of others” 

 Iain Banks

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Me and Kati (7)

Well Kati, it’s just you and me again. I talk and you listen, a splendid way to carry on a conversation. And as you can’t talk I can say things to you that might not bear repeating. The off-year elections are finally over, producing results that have been pretty much predictable. That Virginia guy, Kookinelli, or whatever his name is, lost. But he didn’t lose by so much as to affect the true Tea Party believers. They think he was a martyr, or perhaps a hero, rather than a loser. And of course, magically, it was not because his positions were so extreme or vile, but because the Party didn’t support him enough. It is clear that many voted against him rather than for his opponent who could have easily been defeated by a more reasonable candidate. Terry McAuliffe was not exactly what you might describe as an ideal candidate. But he won, nowadays that’s what counts. It’s a far cry from when “how you play the game” mattered to anyone.

Anyway, paradoxically, Kookinelli lost and is regarded positively, whereas New Jersey Fats won and is now under attack for not being conservative enough, actually touching President Obama, and other mortal sins against insanity. It is obvious that Fats is going to run for President in 2016, but not at all obvious he will be able to get the nomination. He hasn’t “made his bones” by calling Obama a liar, a socialist, communist, Kenyan, or any of the other more vile insults the Republicans banter about behind closed doors. Although many believe he would be a great candidate to run against Hillary, I, for one, doubt it. He is clever enough to make some believe he is a moderate even though he is just about as conservative as the rest of the ultra-conservatives now regarded as merely conservative. He’s not going to have it both ways. That is, he can’t be regarded as conservative enough for the Tea Party Loons unless he moves extremely to the right, and if he does that he won’t have a chance against the fair Hillary.

Anyway Kati, I don’t know why it matters much one way or the other. I would never have believed, had I been forewarned or not, that in the 21st century I would be living in a country increasingly like the London of the 18th or 19th centuries. Can you believe, Kati, that we live in a nation where a small minority of the population is allowed to have fortunes so massive they cannot even be imagined by most “Others.” And the Others have been pretty much reduced to a new kind of serfdom or peasantry through wage slavery and interest payments, including the best of our young people who have become so crippled with educational debts they will perhaps never be able to realize any of their dreams. Even more shocking Kati, is that millions of our people are living in poverty because of their low wages, or criticized for not working at all even though there are not enough jobs to go around and attempts to create them are repeatedly blocked by those who enjoy the punishing and shameful status quo. Millions of citizens, even hard-working, honest people who play by the rules, have no health care, and cannot adequately feed or educate their children, are at the mercy of powerful interests  working nonstop to keep it that way. This horrid situation does not exist because of some early primitive notion of “The Divine Right of Kings,” but, rather, because of “The Devilish Might of Unrestrained Monopoly Capitalism.”

I have sometimes described our contemporary mode of life here in the U.S. as a “Culture of the Absurd,” and absurd it is when you think about it Kati. There are basically simple solutions to our current problems (or non problems, depending upon who you believe). Unemployment, for example, could be easily overcome by fairly taxing the obscenely wealthy and corporations and using those funds to create much needed jobs in superstructure, education, and so on. Our expensive, inefficient health care system could be replaced by an efficient, less expensive, single payer system that would send the greedy and completely unnecessary insurance companies where they belong, that is, out of the health care business where, parasitically, they absolutely should not be. Virtually all of our problems could be solved by seriously taxing the obscenely wealthy and cutting back drastically on our military spending. If we gave up our obvious desire to be in a state of constant war the military/industrial/political complex would have to change dramatically, thus allowing meaningful jobs to be created rather than those that exist mainly to keep our militarized culture functioning and interfering worldwide with the lives of others. Of course, Kati, none of this is about to happen. I fear we are already too far in the clutches of the Fascists to overcome “the best government money can buy.”

"Still another danger is represented by those who, paying lip service to democracy and the common welfare, in their insatiable greed for money and the power which money gives, do not hesitate surreptitiously to evade the laws designed to safeguard the public from monopolistic extortion.

Their final objective toward which all their deceit is directed is to capture political power so that, using the power of the state and the power of the market simultaneously, they may keep the common man in eternal subjection.

They claim to be super-patriots, but they would destroy every liberty guaranteed by the Constitution.

They are patriotic in time of war because it is to their interest to be so, but in time of peace they follow power and the dollar wherever they may lead.”

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Crime, Politics, and Magic

People who believe in magic do not ordinarily give up their belief in magic when their magical acts fail. They always have an acceptable explanation for the failure. If my love magic failed it was because my rival had stronger magic, if someone hadn’t found my magical bundle it would have worked, I should have used eagle feathers instead of turkey feathers, and so on.

Crime, I think, especially in the case of repeat criminals, operates in much the same way. If that patrol car hadn’t unexpectedly arrived we would have got away, if he hadn’t snitched on us it would have worked, if the getaway car hadn’t had a flat tire, and etc., etc.

Such explanations always have perhaps a grain of truth in them, that’s why they are used and why the basic beliefs in magic are not abandoned. It is, I think, much the same in politics. One might use, for example, the 48 (or more) votes Republicans in the House have tried to do away with Obamacare. You could regard this as insanity but it could also be seen as an example of magical thinking. But it can also be seen as magical thought when, for example, a losing candidate claims he or she lost because of the weather, or because there was not enough money for ads, or because if so-and-so hadn’t received certain endorsements they would have won, and so on. Losers don’t necessarily give up their beliefs that they might well have won if such-and-such hadn’t happened. They seem to believe their particular beliefs, no matter how out of touch with reality they may be, would have produced victory had it not been for some kind of random or divine intervention. It is not that their particular beliefs or goals are simply outrageously out of touch, it is that something accidentally, randomly, or unexpectedly happened to thwart them. It is not that they are wrong about  “what Americans believe,” but that others mysteriously do not agree with them (they are insufficiently informed, listen to the wrong stations, etc.).

You see the same kind of magical thinking on the part of some when it comes to things like global warming. When 97% or more of all scientists agree on the phenomena, and that it is caused at least in part by human activity, and some still deny it, you are up against magical thinking, “Only God controls the weather,” “It’s just natural that the weather changes,” and so on. We have people, including Congresspersons, who apparently do not believe in science. If they deny science they do so only through some form of magical thinking.

I guess that I, too, believe in magical thinking. For example, I think the problems we are having with Health Care could be quickly and easily remedied. We could have had a single payer system, Medicare for all,  that would have eliminated the problems we seem to be having with Obamacare, would have been far more efficient, more inexpensive, more sensible, and already proven to be successful in many other countries. Perhaps the main reason we do not have such a sensible system of universal health care is because of the apparently magical belief that socialism is the work of the devil, or something akin to a venereal disease, or even worse, the end of civilization as we know it.

Then there are other seemingly magical beliefs that keep us from solving many of our problems. The belief, for example, that unemployment insurance keeps people from wanting to find jobs, or that food stamps contribute to sloth and laziness, or that the poor are poor because they want to be, and so on. As there is no basis in fact for any of these beliefs I suggest they are basically magical, and as such, they are virtually impossible to deal with as magic relies on magical thinking, and magical thinking cannot be easily changed. If it could we would not be in the downward spiral we are now experiencing. Indeed, I would argue that most of our current beliefs are basically magical, we are not “the shining beacon on the hill,” “exceptional,” “the world’s greatest democracy,” “the hope of the world,” “the most indispensible nation,” or whatever. That is all magical thinking, pure and simple.

“[American exceptionalism] is a reaction to the inability of people to understand global complexity or important issues like American energy dependency. Therefore, they search for simplistic sources of comfort and clarity. And the people that they are now selecting to be, so to speak, the spokespersons of their anxieties are, in most cases, stunningly ignorant.” 

 Zbigniew Brzezinski

Monday, November 04, 2013


What is ideology anyway? Like most words you won’t get far turning to the dictionary. Presumably ideology is some sort of “visionary theorizing, a systematic body of concepts especially about human life or culture, a manner or the content of thinking characteristic of an individual, group, or culture, the integrated assertions, theories and aims that constitute a sociopolitical program.”

We are commonly being told these days that the Tea Party is ideological, they oppose President Obama on ideological grounds, that somehow they have “integrated assertions, theories and aims that constitute a sociopolitical program.” I don’t believe it. First of all I doubt that most Tea Party members are smart enough to actually embrace any genuine ideology, except perhaps something like government is bad, if that actually constitutes an ideology. Perhaps they believe that hating Obama constitutes an ideology? Or I guess they think that wanting people to go without health insurance, unemployment insurance, food stamps, minimum wages, Social Security, Medicare, and any other form of assistance constitutes a “theory that constitutes a sociopolitical program? Given that the Tea Party movement (or whatever  you want to call it) was not really a grass roots movement, but actually funded and created by billionaires, I doubt that ideology had much to do with it. Ideology in this context is merely a euphemism for greed.

I suppose there may be some Tea Partiers that actually do believe abortion, for example, is wrong. But this is not really an ideological position, and is certainly not “integrated” into some grander ideological belief system, especially as the very same people who are opposed to abortion are also opposed to food stamps for children, welfare, and etc. I guess you might argue that “government is the problem” is a form of ideology, but as this view is held by the same people who drive on highways, send their children to public schools, use the Postal Service, the Veterans Administration, accept subsidies for crops, enjoy Medicare, and so on, it is, once again, not really “integrated” in any realistic way.

Unless you are some kind of unthinking monster you cannot possibly believe in an ideology that denies health care to millions, food stamps, unemployment insurance, health care, living wages, and so on. Such beliefs are not ideological, they are stupid, thoughtless, short-sighted, and coached by those who stand to gain profit by denying them.  I do not believe Tea Partiers are ideological at all, watch what happens to them when the corporate teat is taken out of their mouth.

Tomorrow is an election day. I sincerely hope that Republicans everywhere are so soundly defeated they take their “ideology” with them to a much deserved and permanent “elephant graveyard.” As most of the Tea Partiers seem to come from Southern States maybe we could pass a law instructed them to keep their village idiots at home. Nevada sends their mentally ill and confused on buses to California, Southern states send them to Washington, D.C.  to protest everything that is right and decent about our country.  

  Optimism and stupidity are nearly synonymous.” 
Hyman G. Rickover

Friday, November 01, 2013

A Question of Evil

If you look up evil on your online dictionary you will doubtless find something to the effect of “morally bad,” or something that “causes harm or injury to someone,” something that is  “sinful,” “wicked,” even “morally reprehensible.”

Knowing more or less what evil is in the abstract does not, of course, inform one of what is an evil in everyday life, whether any individual act or behavior is evil. Nor does it tell you if evil is “relative” or not, that is, does it exist in some cases but not in others because of circumstances or cultural values. If aboriginal Eskimos, living in an exceedingly harsh environment, occasionally left an elderly feeble person to die because there was not enough food to go around, was that evil? Or similarly, if certain aboriginal people killed one of a pair of twins at birth, because (1) they believed multiple births were animal-like, or (2) a woman could not adequately care for two children because of constant raiding and warfare, was that an evil act? Are there absolute evils, evils that are evil wherever found? If an enemy combatant is captured and tortured to extract information from him or her, is that necessarily evil? We sometimes avoid deciding on absolutes by saying simply, well, sometimes there are “necessary evils.”

But what if the particular evil was not, in fact, necessary, as in the case of torture, which we have been told by professionals in interrogations that it is or was not? As torture has been banned both internationally and by our own legal system one might think it is considered absolutely evil. Interestingly enough, it seems to me, torture may be the closest thing we have to an absolute evil. Killing, for example, is certainly not so considered, as it occurs with such regularity both on and off the battlefield as to automatically be (whenever more often than not unnecessary) classified as a necessary evil.

Although we have a concept of evil we seem to go to great lengths to ignore it, even sometimes excusing it. If a person opens fire with an automatic weapon killing several others we don’t necessarily describe him (it is rarely, if ever, a “her”) as evil, preferring instead to describe him as “insane,” “enraged,” or “seeking revenge.” “Temporary insanity” is a useful euphemism for explaining an evil act. Domestic violence, including child abuse, occurs so frequently and obviously harms others, but we don’t necessarily consider it evil. It may be “bad” or “wrong,” even “stupid,” but it’s just “one of those things” that happen. It’s only when some behavior becomes so egregious we cannot fully comprehend it that we fall back on saying, “well, there are just evil people in the world.”

It seems that when it comes to defining evil you are pretty much on your own. This seems especially true when it comes to harming others. Take food stamps and unemployment insurance, for example. Republicans want to cut them if not eliminate them entirely. They try to justify this by claiming they keep people from wanting to work, so if they didn’t have them they would have to find jobs. However feeble an argument this is on its face, when you consider that most of the recipients are children, the elderly and infirm, and this clearly harms them, this would seem to be something that could easily be considered evil. When you couple it with the fact that the very people who are demanding recipients find jobs are the same people who have done everything in their power to prevent jobs from being created, you have what to me, at least, is clearly an evil act. The same evil theme runs through the question of health care. Why, one might wonder, would anyone want to deny health care to millions of their fellow citizens? This is manifestly evil to begin with, but when you learn they oppose it mostly because they hate Obama and do not want him to benefit from it, this transcends politics and becomes just plain evil. Yes, I am suggesting that Republicans are not merely “playing politics,” they have evil intentions and seemingly delight in causing harm to others, opposing virtually every attempt to benefit anyone other than their billionaire benefactors. In the “modern world,” when it comes to human life and dignity, it seems to me there are only three possibilities: jobs for everyone, some form of at least minimum subsistence (welfare), or just let them die. As Republicans seem to favor this third possibility, I submit they are manifestly evil.

There is, I believe, no evil in nature. There is violence to be sure, and killing, but the creatures involved in this natural order of things are not evil, they are doing precisely what they were designed to do. They have no choice. Choice seems to be unique to our species. You can only find evil where there is choice. You might argue that acting out of stupidity does not make you evil, and while some Republicans are surely stupid people, most of them are not, they are knowingly harming others for no good reasons. Oh well, sometimes there are just evil people.  

If you want to eliminate evil from the world, eliminate humans. Curiously, in the English language, evil spelled backwards is “live” (which I doubt has any symbolic significance), but all who live are not necessarily evil. I suspect that George W. Bush, for example, although somewhat stupid perhaps, was not an evil person, unfortunately the same cannot be said for his “Rasputin,” probably the personification of evil.

“Animals don't behave like men,' he said. 'If they have to fight, they fight; and if they have to kill they kill. But they don't sit down and set their wits to work to devise ways of spoiling other creatures' lives and hurting them. They have dignity and animality.”