Sunday, April 29, 2007

Great Moments in Punditry...

All right, the next one was supposed to be non-politcal...

...but Tom Tomorrow's latest version of THIS MODERN WORLD is just too choice. Already jpegs of the strip are flurrying across the web.

I cannot do that and violate his copyright. But. According to TT: There are two different ways for you to get your weekly TMW fix online!

1. You can view the new cartoon on Monday mornings on Salon Magazine online, http://dir.salon.com/topics/tom_tomorrow/index.html but you must now either be a Salon subscriber or click through an multi-part advertisement first…

…or… 2. You can wait until Tuesday at noon, when the new cartoon will be posted at Working For Change.


See this recent one called "Great Moments in Punditry." Can you see why great powers do not want predictions registries or accountability or any kind of measures of credibility?

Russ Daggat chimes in an additional example with the following choice example from Right-wing columnist and FOX News commentator Cal Thomas, April 15, 2003:

"When the Berlin Wall fell and Eastern Europe escaped from the shackles of communism, I wrote that we must not forget the enablers, apologists and other "fellow travelers" who helped sustain communism's grip on a sizable portion of humanity for much of the 20th century. I suggested that a "cultural war crimes tribunal" be convened, at which people from academia, the media, government and the clergy who were wrong in their assessment of communism would be forced to confront their mistakes. While not wishing to deprive anyone of his or her right to be wrong, it wouldn't hurt for these people to be held accountable.

That advice was not taken - but today we are presented with another opportunity in the form of scores of false media prophets who predicted disaster should the U.S. military confront and seek to oust the murderous regime of Saddam Hussein. The purpose of a cultural war crimes tribunal would be to remind the public of journalism's many mistakes, as well as the errors of certain politicians and retired generals, and allow it to properly judge their words the next time they feel the urge to prophesy...

All of the printed and voiced prophecies should be saved in an archive. When these false prophets again appear, they can be reminded of the error of their previous ways and at least be offered an opportunity to recant and repent."


Oooooog. As if.

As if "conservatives" invented the Marshall-Acheson-Truman strategy that led to the long victory.

As if liberal JFK wasn't so macho-eager to wage Cold War that he leaped into a trap set for us by the KGB in Vietnam, proving that you could fall off the tightrope with too much "vigah" as well as too little.

As if the caricature "fellow travelers" weren't always far more rare on the left that caricature thieving pigs were on the right (though both a minority, Thank God. Or rather, please, God.)

As if, this chilling piece of vendetta nastiness perfectly exemplifies how a president and party could piss away the united America they got to lead, after 0/11... the united West that supported us then...

As if this blithering hypocrisy weren't typical of the monsters, who cannot even imagine applying the same words to themselves.

---A One Sentence Strategy for Iraq--

Oh, there is something you are now hearing over and over. The BIG ROVEAN TACTIC is this. Demand that their opponents choose a simple, one sentence strategy for Iraq.

"Well? What would YOU do?"

It is horrendous and a "Have you stopped beating your wife?" question. Because No one-sentence answer will sound mature or sage, given the horrific political, social, military, and moral quagmire that we are inheriting. Moreover, any attempt to avoid giving a one sentence answer sounds equivocating and mealy-mouthed.

Another brilliant Rovean gotcha ploy and dems are falling for it.

There has to be an answer that turns the tables. I suggest this one.

"Obviously, a new team will have to work with allies (once we have regained their trust) and others to come up with new plans. But YOU are twisting and evading the issue.

"The issue is who should be entrusted with the task of finding a way out of this mess?

"Although democrats led us through the most successful military campaign in US history, losing not a single US service pwerson while cheaply and swiftly bringing peace and law to Europe for the first time in 4,000 years, while strengthening alliances and even gaining popularity in the Muslim world... still, that does not absolutely prove we will do a great job with Iraq.

"What IS proved, though, is that the present gang of fools cannot be trusted with a burnt match.

"They are the same men who coddled Saddam for decades.

Who - when they had him in their hands - set him free to oppress Iraqis for twelve more years.

Who lied to us and to the world about pretexts for war.

Who have oppressed and meddled and half-destroyed the professionals of the military and intelligence communities.

Who have undermined American science at every turn and undermined out goal of energy independence.

Who ruined all accountability systems and contract rules, replacing them with half a trillion in crony deals.

Who have wrecked U.S. military readiness.

Who have spent our grandchildren into permanent debt.

Who have driven off our allies and friends, while encouraging millions to embrace our foes.

"So don't you DARE demand that I give you a one-sentence answer about what to do in Iraq.

"I can give you a clear answer about what I will do, once in office.

"I will fire the gang of boobs who gave us this mess, and invite in grownups from the professional intelligence and military and civil services, freeing them to give sage advice without fear of retribution. Advice that will be heeded.

"I will also invite in adults from both parties who were banished by a pack of cranky, nasty little boys, who base every national decision upon a context of "culture war."

"I will seek out those - from all philosophies - who were proved right by the passage of time, and hold accountable those who lied or proved unworthy of trust.

"Together - with restored goodwill from the rest of the world - and with iron determination to rebuild our strength - we will start wading out of this mess that we were dragged into, by liars and fools how have no business meddling in the affairs of nations.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Various Political Notes

Still catching up with accumulated items. Next time we'll take a break from politics....

====

The war of reaction against modernist/enlightenment/pragmatic civilization is (I believe) much less a matter of politics or religion or ethnicity or even nations, than it is psychological. A matter of personality.

NonZeroRobert Wright points out in NONZERO how most human civilizations were based upon zero-sum logic that may have been somewhat appropriate for eras of extreme scarcity. But that way of thinking always led to rigid hierarchies of both dogma and authority that limited human progress.

Both Hobbes and Rousseau were platonist essentialists who described 'pure' idealizations of human nature that fed into these civilizations' oversimplifying, either-or ways of thinking.

But Locke's Wager - the Enlightenment - was a bet that positive sum thinking was ready to take off. An empowered, knowing citizenry can participate in competitive markets, competitive democracy, competitive science, and yet -- in the sum of all their victories and defeats -- wind up making everybody richer, wiser and more free.

It has been stunningly successful, but by fundamental personality, a large fraction of humans simply think in zero sum ways. They CANNOT perceive this synergy, even if they try. And this includes many sophisticated people even inside our culture.

Indeed, "culture war" is in part a manifestation of deep alienation toward the very notion of progress as a rapid project toward human self-improvement. In the long run, therefore, any hope for national security will depend upon factors that go beyond matters of military and political self-interest.

In the long run, either positive sum thinking will prevail, or our civilization will fail.

-----------

Russ Daggatt offers a chilling insight:

One of the puzzling things about the US attorneys scandal is that the underlying actions were taken after Democrats regained control of Congress last fall. Didn't it occur to Rove that he no longer had a Rubber Stamp Republican Congress and that some of these abuses might come to light as the Democrats began to investigate the administration? Didn't it occur to him that the rules had changed? I thought Rove was supposed to be really smart. Wassup?

Think about it for a minute.

Without veto-proof majorities in both houses of Congress, Democrats are limited in what they can accomplish in the way of an affirmative agenda. We all knew that the real significance of the Democratic victories last fall was the investigative powers they gained. You can bet Rove understood that, too. And, sure enough, both the House and Senate Judiciary Committees have now voted to authorize subpoenas of Rove and former White House counsel Harriet Miers in connection with the US attorneys matter. Bush (Rove), of course, has stated that he will refuse to comply. And these aren't the last subpoenas Congress will issue.

So Congress issues subpoenas and Bush (Rove) stonewalls. How does Congress enforce its subpoenas?

US Attorneys.

Oh. You don't think they know the game they're playing?

...It's important to note that these eight US Attorneys were all loyal Republicans appointed by George W. Bush. That's important to keep in mind, because the Republican character-assassination hit squads are already going after them.


As for the recent refusal by Bush to let his staffers testify under oath before Congress, Daggatt is equally biting.

Of course, Bush loyalists assert that he is upholding some grand tradition whereby White House aides never testify before Congress. That grand tradition goes all the way back to ... 2001: Clinton never defied a Congressional request (let alone a subpoena). According to the Cong. Record, under President Clinton, 31 of his top aides testified on 47 different occasions. The aides who testified included some of Clinton’s closest advisors:

Harold Ickes, Assistant to the President and Deputy Chief of Staff - 7/28/94

George Stephanopoulos, Senior Adviser to the President for Policy and Strategy - 8/4/94

John Podesta, Assistant to the President and Staff Secretary - 8/5/94

Bruce R. Lindsey, Assistant to the President and Deputy Counsel to the President - 1/16/96

Samuel Berger, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs - 9/11/97

Beth Nolan, Counsel to the President - 5/4/00

In contrast, between 2000 and 2004, Bush allowed only one of his closest advisers, then-Assistant to the President for Homeland Security Tom Ridge, to appear in front of Congress. He has also refused three invitations from Congress for his aides to testify, a first since President Richard Nixon in 1972. Clinton did not refuse any.

White House spokesman Tony Snow has gone so far as to assert that Congress:"The executive branch is under no compulsion to testify to Congress, because Congress in fact doesn't have oversight ability."


Urrrrrrrrrrgh. And there are still ostriches who are unable to let themselves see that these guys are INTRINSICALLY evil? That they aren’t simply “regrettably excessively political and stupid” but something else entirely? Either stark raving mad or deliberate traitors to the people and Constitution of the United States of America?

Mind you, I NEVER raged this way against Ronald Reagan. Never! There were dogmaticassholes and liars and kleptocrats around then. But but but but....

----
I had to add the following, even though it’s only marginally political. I read a recent article on “how to get rich” by Gary Shilling. Not even on the list? Creatively offering new or improved goods and/or services. Oh alas.

The section on Government Subsidies shows that the top 1% of Americans get as much from the govt as all the welfare recipients do. But this other category has a real surprise.

GETTING RICH THE OLD-FASHIONED WAY

You can always make big money by picking rich parents who die young, or wealthy and feeble uncles with no other heirs. For most, however, inheritance is not the route to riches. A study by AARP found the total for inheritances of all people alive today to be $12 trillion in 2005 dollars. Most of it, $9.2 trillion, will go to pre-boomers born before 1946, only $2.1 trillion to the postwar babies born between 1946 and 1964, and a mere $0.7 trillion to the post-boomers. The study goes on to show that the percentage of people receiving inheritances since 1989 has been quite consistent, so there's no reason to expect big jumps in their numbers any time soon.

Furthermore, the value of all previous inheritances as reported in the 2004 survey was $49,902 on average, with $70,317 for pre-boomers, $48,768 for boomers and $24,348 for post-boomers. Clearly, these are not numbers that will provide for comfortable retirements.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Invite Them Home: Part V

Time to finish up this series.


LAYING DOWN THE SEQUENCE OF EVENTS

Time for review. Let me put this down logically (repeating a few points in order to make sure it’s all lined-up).


1) It is a serious mistake to underrate genius. Indeed, it is risky to make of any genius an enemy. So pick your fights carefully.


2) For all of their (many!) faults, the neocon theorists were geniuses.

Forget Karl Rove. He is a political predator, operating on fierce but primitive, feral instincts. His culture war summons the worst populist impulses from people who hate gradschool city slickers and it should not work, if the dems ever had the sense of a cryptobiotic tardigrade.

But the true neocons - once in exile - charted out an astonishingly successful plan. A plan that took a foundering conservative movement - one that could take credit for almost none of the great American accomplishments of the 20th Century - and somehow raised it from ashes to near-absolute power in just twenty years.

While managing somehow to transform the word “liberal” - responsible for most of our national success across a staggeringly successful century - into a veritable curse word. Wow.

Misguided? Sure. Manipulated by the plutocrat masters who sponsored the Straussian nerds in exile? Yup. Foolish to mind-boggling degrees? Absolutely right. But geniuses nonetheless.


3) Frat boys and aristocrats weren’t the only people who traumatized these bright nerds!

Remember the 1960s? I do. Care to guess how those leggy, straight-haired, free-lovin hippie gals treated four-eyed intellectuals who kept demurring “yes, but!” to the cool Marxist professor?

Did any... and I mean any... of those nerds “get any” of that free love?

Picture it. Wedgies don’t hurt half as much as the rebuffs they received. Or create such a lifelong grudge.


4) Moreover, the rich frat boys seemed to change their tune, for a long time! (See above.) The oldmoney/newmoney aristos seemed to see the value in guys like Wolfowitz et al. As long as they needed nerds to do their homework. Until their lock on every institution of power was complete and the Great Kleptocratic Raid was fully underway. Till then, there were back-slaps and parties and offices for the neocon geeps. And more.


5) But those hippies? From them, the oppression only got worse. If you said “yes, but!” in the wrong way, to the wrong thing... or to ANY collective (politically correct) wisdom... well... Gaia help you. No free speech, but a deafening howl of denunciations. No debate, just relentless name calling and picketing and office-trashing...

...till the beckoning call of off-campus pseudo-academe became a siren song, an allure of appreciation and peace and acceptance.

And all the nerds-of-the-right had to do was say “yes....” No buts. Yes to our new feudal lords.


MY UNCONVENTIONAL BUT DIRECT SUGGESTION

Sorry to be so repetitious. But it is an unconventional perspective, leading to an unusual suggestion.

Can you see where I’m going with all this? The left had its satisfaction, driving guys like Perle and Wolfowitz and Nitze and Adelman and their ilk off-campus. I remember their short sighted crowing. The puerile victory dances. Like the street celebrations after Goldwater’s defeat in 64, or Nixon’s resignation in 74.

Alas, the Radical Left was too stupid ever to ponder that there might be consequences. That “pushing them into the sea” might be the very last thing you want to do to somewhat neurotic nerds who have a few off-kilter ideas... but who are very, very, very much smarter than you are.

The repercussions of all this have cursed us for a generation. And it is about time that someone, somewhere, called this sad phenomenon for what it was. Imbecilic short-sightedness.

And there is really only one solution...

...invite them back.



YES... INVITE THEM BACK HOME.

We must bite the bullet. We must turn, now, and accept the sullen, half-apologies being offered by the likes of Richard Perle, for having served as lackey-rationalizers for a caste of vicious, would-be lords.

In return, campus lefties ought to contemplate that maybe... just maybe... they were the ones who started it all, giving the first slap. They need to swallow their pride and go cold turkey on the endorphin rush of indignation.

WE. the nation. need for all the radical students and profs and crypto-leftists to grit their teeth, control the allure of self-righteousness, put out their hands... and invite the neocons back on campus.

Where they can get what they always needed, the humanization that comes from collegial give-and-take. Happy argument. Sincere free speech and open disputation that allows (with a thick skin) some slack to those who fail the political correctness purity test. Free speech of a kind that the left (maxima culpa) denied them long ago.

(And did it ever occur to you that you might actually learn something, as well?)

Did I say “disputation?”

Yes! Let it start with guest lectureships that feature honest debate. Perhaps with a tone of conciliatory confession. “If you admit your sins, we’ll admit ours.” Like a Truth and Reconciliation commission. One aimed at redemption... for both sides... and ultimate healing of “culture war.”

Because let me assure you. We will all be better off - much better off - inviting these guys back into the Academy (bringing their even-brighter, next-generation acolytes with them!) than we will be leaving them out there, in exile.

Outside, where they are easy meat for the kind of predators who would turn all citizens -- and all philosophers -- into slaves.


==

Okay, that was a major rant... possibly forgiven (as I often am) because at least the ideas may be unusual and entertaining. (I hope) Certainly not conventional. Aggressively moderate. Militantly reasonable.

==return to Part 1 of this series

Friday, April 20, 2007

Ostriches Raise Their Heads

Frenetically busy, I shall hand the chair over to Fred Mitouer...

"Here we have a true Republican conservative painting the Bush cabal as “Brownshirts” --- alluding to Hitler’s Nazi party.
My first take was that this piece was coming from the far Left. I wonder now how many people who voted for Bush still believe he is a conservative or are now admitting their delusion. Our national sanity will probably depend upon them waking up."


The Party of Brownshirts
April 16, 2007
By PAUL CRAIG ROBERTS

(Paul Craig Roberts held the William E. Simon Chair in Political Economy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies at Georgetown University and was Senior Research Fellow in the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. He served as Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Treasury in the Reagan administration. He is coauthor of The Tyranny of Good Intentions. <;http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/076152553X/counterpunchmaga>)

Neoconservatives have turned the Republican Party into a Brownshirt Party.

Look at the evidence. While real patriots flee the party, the remaining supporters cling to power by asserting dictatorial dominance for President Bush. The Republican Attorney General denies that the US Constitution provides habeas corpus protection to American citizens. Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney, Republican candidates for the 2008 presidential campaign, believe the president has the power to imprison US citizens indefinitely without warrants or trials. The "conservative" Federalist Society favors concentrating more power in the executive. Neoconservative ideologues claim the right to impose American hegemony over all others--especially over Muslims.

All of these Republican tyrants and budding tyrants claim to be protecting liberty and democracy.

Polls show that the percentage of Americans who tilt Republican has declined to 35 percent. Republican recruits are refusing to run for Congress. Ken Mehlman, until recently the party's chairman, says many voters have lost confidence in Republicans. To win back people's confidence, Mehlman says the party will have to become less reliant on white males and expand its support among Hispanics and blacks.

Decency and intelligence have departed Republican ranks. The party's shrunken base consists of ignorant and fearful people who believe Muslim jihadists are going to murder them in their beds, rapture evangelicals who believe that war in the Middle East is the prelude to their being wafted up to heaven, the military-security complex reveling in power and fortune, and resentful and frustrated people who can freely vent their anger and hate on "terrorists."

This collection of fear, delusion, greed, and resentment comprises the 30 percent of Americans who constitute Bush's base. The Republican Party has made itself so unattractive that Democrats believe that it is now possible for a woman or a black to win the presidency.

The Republican Party lost its majority for the following reasons:

Greedy transnational corporations offshored US manufacturing jobs and destroyed the hopes and livelihoods of blue-collar Reagan Democrats. The gains from offshoring are diffused, but the costs are concentrated.

The same greedy and short-sighted corporations have spent the first years of the 21st century destroying the prospects of American middle class university graduates by offshoring jobs in professional services and by importing foreigners on work visas who work for less.

Neoconservatives captured conservative philanthropies, cut off funding to true conservatives, and used the captured conservative foundations to entrench themselves as advisors to the Republican party. The same neoconsertives that Reagan fired as a result of the Iran-Contra scandal occupy important policy positions in the Bush administration and dominate the National Security Council.

Republican "law and order" apathy to civil liberties easily transferred to the "war on terror." Republicans regard civil liberties as protective devices for criminals and terrorists. Republicans mistakenly believe that the law can be cut down selectively so that only certain despised groups are deprived of its protection.

The Bush administration lied to the American people and invaded two countries on false pretenses for indefensible reasons that the administration has never acknowledged. The war has had catastrophic consequences that are now apparent to a majority of Americans, but the Republican Party still supports the continuation of the war.

The Bush administration has destroyed American prestige and moral aura with torture scandals and disregard for Iraqi, Afghani, Palestinian and Lebanese civilian lives.

The Bush administration's budget and trade deficits have undermined the dollar. The Bush administration is calling for currency realignments that will lower the real incomes of import-dependent Americans.

The Bush administration's determination to exercise American hegemony through warfare, and its assaults on civil liberties, the separation of powers, American prestige and on good American jobs and the value of the dollar have destroyed the party's support.

America's virtue is its Constitution. An administration that attacks the Constitution attacks America's virtue. The true dangers that Americans face come from George W. Bush and Richard Cheney and their neoconservative Brownshirt Party.

-------

David Brin chiming in at the end.

Of course I agree with most of this and I am pleased to see yet another decent conservative see the light. And yet, I bristle when I see the military portrayed as a beneficiary of this administration's treacherous madness.

In fact the US military is the number one victim. Name any other group of Americans who have suffered anywhere near as much, from horrific strategic and tactical blunders, mismanagement, perniciously insane MICRO-management by draft-dodging amateurs, betrayal of professionalism, and the gradual undermining of a powerful, honorable moral code.

Until the democrats wake up to their BEST AND MOST IMPORTANT ISSUE -- the destruction of US military readiness and the Bushite betrayal of our uniformed professionals, endangering the entire nation -- we will remain at the mercy of culture war.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

News Flash... well, maybe not...

In fact... PROBABLY not...

Interrupting our present topic, this just came in from the Arlington Institute:

The Irish company Steorn, (www.steorn.com), in a brilliant strategic move, took out a full page ad in The Economist to tout their new energy technology – now called Orbo – which they say uses no input energy and produces usable output. They were soliciting for candidates for a jury of scientists to publically evaluate their claims. They got 4000 responses, 1000 of which were from scientists. Although initially looking for 12 jury members, they settled on 22 who are in the process of evaluating the technology and will issue a report in the fall.

As a physicist I must warn folks to be careful and skeptical.

Moreover, it is vital that the appraisal jury include not only physicists and engineers, but at least a couple of professional magicians.

Yes, you read that right. In past cases, physicists -- who are used to honest experiements -- proved to be quite susceptible to illusions that professional illusionists, like the Great Randi, were able to uncover.

Having said that, let me turn around and offer an unusual perspective... that people should watch out what they wish for.

It is one thing to vastly improve efficiency and sustainability... our cities should be covered with solar rooftops, for example. And the dogmatic-radical monsters who have undermined American science and energy research are bona fide traitors to humanity...

... On the other hand, a completely free energy source has dozens of implications that aren't likely to be pondered at first... implications that -- well -- it may take sci fi folk to conjure up.

Implications that may turn out to be very worrisome and disturbing.

All in all, I'd prefer ten million solar roofs.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Invite The Neocons Home: Part IV

I have been swamped for a while. Countless distractions... including a kitchen remodel (argh.) And planning for the August trip to Japan and China. Sorry to have neglected you all for a while.

This means things have accumulated. So what follows will be one of those ill-disciplined (and too-long) but possibly entertaining rants, as I hurry to finish up the present series.

Invite The Neocons Home: Part IV


AN APPETITE FOR VENGEANCE

Want to understand where today’s “red-blue culture war division of America” began?

Way back in the eighties -- the Reagan era -- American politics seemed polarized, but nothing like this. Indeed, when I lived in Britain, from 86 to 87, and in France from 90-91, I often remarked how Europeans appeared to define themselves - and all their views - according to primly-prescribed party lines, while Yanks -- even politicians -- seemed more eccentric and individualistic in defining themselves and their views.

For a while, pragmatic and undogmatic America seemed somewhat immune to one of the most perniciously persistent human tendencies -- the ever-present temptation to define ourselves and others according litmus lists and membership in lockstep clans. The ruination of many a great nation, this curse of oversimplification seemed to have abated for a while. Only now it is back with a vengeance, threatening to undermine and overwhelm the nation of Franklin, Edison and Ike.

So, where do we look, in order to grasp the etiology of a despicable and nation-splitting social disease called Culture War?”


A PLETHORA OF DIAGNOSES

Well, you could focus your attention on a rising hostility between rural and urban citizens.

Or ponder any recent electoral map and allow instant pattern-recognition to reveal the obvious. That we are witnessing a re-ignition -- or phase three -- of the American Civil War. The revenge of the Confederacy.

Or else you might scrutinize the weird “education hump,” in which both the least and the most educated tend overwhelmingly to swing democratic, while support for the GOP clusters pretty tightly around an average of three years of state college. (With a few glaring exceptions, of course... the cluster of right wing intellectuals who are the core topic of this series.)

Especially telling is the reaction attributed to Karl Rove, when he was confronted with this “hump” -- featuring the defection of nearly every American citizen with a smidgeon of advanced learning, including most of the highly-educated US officer corps. Paraphrasing, Rove essentially shrugged and sniped - “I guess there’s such a thing as knowing too much.”

To which one might respond. “Maybe a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.”

From another, more psychological perspective, who could fail to notice the recent surge in anti future and anti-science romanticism? I have made a strong case that this worldwide reaction encompasses not only our purported foes in Islamist fundamentalism, but also millions within our own country and civilization. Neighbors who share a deep fear of the approaching era of Homo technologicus. An age when human beings may rise rapidly in power and understanding, to become (for better or worse) apprentice gods.

(While we must oppose the retro-nostalgists, who call for an end to scientific ambition and engineering-based progress, can you honestly blame them for feeling uneasy? Worry about the possible cost of headlong progress is not limited to right wingers and religious fanatics. Fear and hostility toward the future also motivates many on the left, for example. Nor are all of their concerns and questions invalid! Though their answers nearly always are.)

Related to the psychological hypothesis is the biochemical theory... that Culture War is a manifestation of a nation-wide surge of addiction to the most widely available and abused drug of all -- self-righteous indignation.

Of course, cynics have their own, favorite explanation for Culture War.

Greed. Pure and simple.

Indeed, the last decade or so can certainly be viewed as a Great Kleptocratic Raid upon our civilization, led by a new clade of rapacious and secretive co-conspirators who have used every trick of power and influence to (for example) circumvent longstanding rules concerning government competitive contracting, using the trumped-up excuse of “terrorism”... as if any combination of mad bombers could match a fingernail of the threat once posed by real adversaries, during the Cold War, an era when contract rules were strictly enforced, and when legislative “pork” was pure and lean, compared to today’s snorting hog fest.

(Lest I be called a “class warrior,” or pinko, for even raising this spectre, I will post a more detailed elaboration on this particular view of culture war below, in comments.)


THERE IS AN INTELLECTUAL SIDE TO NEOCONSERVATISM

All of these theories make some sense in their own ways, just like the one hundred and forty views of Mount Fuji. And yet, even taken together, they are incomplete when it comes to explaining the disease of Culture War.

For example, in spite of their collusive power and relentless vampiric greed, the new plutocrats could never a movement make. Nor - despite taking over most mass media - could they persuade enough millions to vote for their shills and puppets, so that a lagniappe of cheating could swing power into their laps.

Not without plenty of persuasive cant and razzle-dazzle diversions and lots of incantatory legerdemain.

In other words, not without help from some really smart servant-savants.

No, if you are talking about Neoconservatism as a fully developed mantric system, filled with polysyllabic incantations worthy of Marx or Augustine or Machiavelli, then you need to examine the REAL “neoconservatives”... which I do in some detail elsewhere. The shamans and priests who waved their arms about and conjured up the excuses. The rationalizations. The rallying cries. The lengthy missives that allowed millions of decent “ostrich conservatives” to pretend that this was still the party of Barry Goldwater.

How did the priesthood form? And where did it get the tart, acrid taste of relentless resentment that made it so effective at stirring hatred toward “liberals”?


I KNOW THESE GUYS. DON’T YOU?

Here I want to discuss one small, crackpot theory, but one with big implications. For, you see, when I look at fellows like Paul Wolfowitz and all his pals, Adelman, Perle, Nitze and their ilk, I cannot help but sense that I know these guys. I knew the archetype, from many years spent on-campus. I recognize some of their travails and the patterns of their sufferings, their triumphs. And it leads me to offer yet another hypothesis... more of a story than anything I can actually prove.

I suggest that the neoconservatism that we see today -- in all of it’s bilious rancor, steaming vitumen and no-prisoners hatred -- had true roots in a bitter separation and divorce that took place at our universities decades ago, when, like bitter-exiled husbands, the conservative intelligencia stormed off to get lonely new apartments and then grumble into their beer, together. Muttering about ex spouses who were poisoning the minds of the kids.


That is how it must have felt when America’s conservative academics faced the confrontational left in the sixties, seventies and well into the 1980s. Raised on notions of collegial argument and scholarly disputation, they soon learned about the power of self-righteous indignation from a militant wing of liberalism that had some very good reasons for wanting social change... but that had no sense of political humility, whatsoever. No awareness of the tragic lessons of hubris.

Don’t you lefties out there dare to deny that your side committed awful excesses. Whenever conservative scholars dared to lift their heads, or to speak out with “yes... but...” they faced a potential firestorm. Shouts, at minimum. Demonstrations and even trashed-offices. Outrages of - at-minimum - rudeness and immaturity that sometimes tipped into outright criminal assault.

Indeed, despite all of the good works wrought by liberalism, across a century of progress, the lefty indignant tendency to push “political correctness” was the dark and pernicious side of a worthy movement. Pushed by a noisy few, “PC” gave conservatives something to point to, every time they wanted to diss “liberals.” Moreover, it stoked, in each new neocon, a sense of being the romantic, underdog victim of tyrants.

Eventually, things grew so hot that -- one after another -- the scholars of the right simply left campus, altogether. Carrying with them the bitterness of any exiled divorce’ -- banished from any further contact with the kids.


IN EXILE... FINDING NEW FRIENDS

I remember witnessing some of these forced departures, and the cries of glee from shortsighted demonstrators, when this or that conservative academic hastily departed, finding shelter at (for example) the American Enterprise Institute or the Heritage Foundation. Faux-academic milieux where fellows and scholars got to pretend they were still professors. How that amused the victorious PC police, back on “real” campuses.

Silly-ass fools. For it is a sad truth about human nature that we always preen, exaggerating the value of our triumphs and underestimating the intelligence of those we have brought low.

One unexpected side effect was that conservative think tanks acquired not only fresh brain power but also unprecedented ferocity of focus. And not only because the newborn neocons brought with them boatloads of anger.

They became focused and coordinated teams also because the fat cat donors paying the bills at these conservative institutes were only somewhat interested in theory, after all. To a much greater degree, financial backers of the Heritage and other neocon foundations demanded new pragmatic tools for the acquisition and utilization of power.

(Well, after all, these are "faux" campuses. Only bright fools would call them academia.)

And so, gradually, supposedly libertarian groups like the Cato Institute began redefining “markets” and “freedom” and “regulation” in order to suit the needs of he-who-pays-the-piper. Until, today, Cato scholars honestly cannot imagine a market-cheating monopolist they won’t make excuses for.

Not even glory days under Ronald Reagan slaked this increasingly adversarial hunger for ever-greater influence. For example, the chief lesson that neocons learned from the Iran-Contra scandal was not the one moderates might expect -- that open accountability is a good and desirable corrective force in American life.

No, the lesson learned -- with fierce determination -- was that genuine power must encompass all branches of government.

Go to those earlier links, if you want to follow this tale further. But for now, we are at the point of asking the pertinent question.

How can we best cure this sickness? Especially now that a few of these bright apologist-nerds are starting to stand up, blinking in dismay and asking “what have I done?”



NEXT TIME: A SOLUTION -- INVITE THEM HOME AGAIN

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Invite Them Home: Part III

ALAS, THINGS TAKE A VERY BAD TURN FOR THE NEOCON SAGES

Last time we discussed the origins of “neoconservatism” in its intellectual wing -- largely made up of bright nerds who gathered at the feet of Leo Strauss and other grouchy, platonist philosophers, nursing visions of someday being recognized and rewarded for their brilliance as inherent “philosopher kings.” Absorbing, also, the essential platonist addiction to self-indulgent incantation, the notion of romantically exaggerated “sides,” rejection of empirical science or pragmatic negotiation, and the belief that “good guys have a perfect right to lie.”

These fellows did valuable work for the Rovean Revolution and for Culture War, by laboring hard - across decades - to create an edifice of intellectual mantras. Mantras that would provide cover for normal, sincere American conservatives and libertarians to join the party under Rove’s Big Tent, in a coalition capable of seizing and then holding onto total political power. Forever.

Given that normal, sincere American conservatives and libertarians felt some discomfort with others under the tent -- fundamentalist would-be theocrats and monopolist kleptocrats, know-nothing science-haters and spoils system thieves -- this would take some really fancy verbal legerdemain. Some razzle-dazzle and song’n’dance that fellows like Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle and Richard Adelman and so many others were happy to concoct within the campus-like shelter of places like the American Enterprise Institute.

Indeed, they rode high for a while... and were rewarded accordingly. That is, until a rising stench began to fill the Big Tent


In fact, very recently... perhaps in time to save their souls... a few paladins of the neo-right, like Richard Perle, have taken small steps to recant. Acknowledging that things have gone very badly for America, under leadership of the far right, they claim that it is because their “good ideas” -- e.g. about aggressively pursuing an all-stakes-in wager on utopian nation-building in Iraq -- were incompetently executed.

Perle went on to whine that JUST when a correction back on-course is badly needed -- presumably a course-correction that’s neocon-designed -- nobody in the upper tiers of today’s GOP will talk to them, anymore.

A cynic might taunt, in return:

“You poor saps. You actually thought that those WASP-aristocratic frat boys, who hazed you and gave you wedgies in school, and took your lunch money while taunting ethnic slurs, had changed their minds and decided that they actually liked you?

“Just because (years later) they slapped your back and invited you to some (political) parties and gave you a few deputy-secretary appointments? (Where you could keep on doing their homework.)

“And now you’re disappointed that they aren’t answering your calls, or seeking your advice anymore, after they have the power and the klepto cash flow and the exaggerated super-tax-cuts (that you helped to rationalize, during time of war) and high oil prices... and now they snub you because they find all your moralistic rationalizations tiresome?

“Aw, gee whiz.”



All right, that chiding taunt sounds playground-immature in its own right. But can anyone disprove the relevance of deep psychology, when it comes to such a blatantly stereotypical bunch of overcompensating nerds? Utterly brilliant, but deeply misguided and profoundly ignorant of history, they fell right into one of the classic niches, as the guys who, in feudal days, wore spangled cloaks and ranted to distract the populace while they are being robbed. New priests and bards, providing priestly song-and-dance for our New Lords...

...until they found themselves elbowed aside by another band of priestly chanters. A larger bunch and with better racial pedigrees and bigger churches, singing far more compatible incantations about the Plain of Meggido.

Sorry guys. One priesthood at a time. Prepare yourselves for auto da fe.



THERE IS PLENTY OF BLAME FOR ALL

Colorful enough? Well, I now want to add an insight that is even more cynical... yet possibly on target.

For you see the left is just as much at-fault for this phenomenon as the right is.


It should be obvious, if only you pause to ask the right questions. Especially one that nobody ever bothers to put forward.

“Why did so many of the original neocons gather together at non-university “institutes” like the Heritage Foundation, where they called each other “fellows” and imitated all the rituals and relationships of an academe they had left behind? “

Why did these professor types leave academia behind?

Simple. Because life had become unbearable for the intelligencia of the right, at colleges across America. Especially during the radical reform era -- a time when conservative arguments against civil rights laws, and modern economics and feminism and state-supported science all proved simply wrong, wrong and wrong. Definitely and decisively and diametrically wrong.

So wrong that the adult thing to do would have been to redefine conservatism, cut away the bad stuff (like defending bigotry) and refine the good. And move on. The way liberalism re invented itself several times....

...and the way Barry Goldwater and Billy Graham seemed willing to adjust and redefine and move on to a newer, better conservatism. And others seemed willing to try, as well! Putting pictures of Martin Luther King on their walls and sponsoring bright female grad students and adjusting their economic theories.

But alas, for many, it was too little, too late.

For by then, campus leftists had begun adopting a filthy habit of their own. Drenched in the drug of self-righteous indignation, university activists who were too lazy to actually help make a better world (say, by joining the Peace Corps) derived local satisfaction (while blithely ignoring the global cost) by waging fierce and immature warfare against conservative professors, making university grounds unfriendly territory for any intelligencia who disagreed with the precise, politically correct party line.

Sometimes, this was achieved using shamefully repressive tactics. Methods that not only rationalized a double standard toward free speech, but also backfired over the log run.

Because, in response, as I said, conservative thinkers simply transferred off-campus to private institutes, like the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute, where -- lacking formal tenure -- these scholars of the right became increasingly beholden to large-scale private donors.

Moreover, far from the moderating give-and-take of campus life, the questioning “citokate” of students and peers, these leading inventors of neoconservatism took every single wrong turn that Barry Goldwater warned them against.

Indeed, nurturing imaturity, side-ism, and a cult of vengefulness for the defeats of 1964 and 1974, these latter-day Machiavellis commenced down paths of ivory tower self-reference that would make even the Harvard English Department look positively eclectic and broad-minded, by comparison.

A campfire circle-jerk, yanking away to polysyllabic rhythms and hyponotically mantric self-indulgence.

Erudite and at times almost talmudic. Certainly with some cogent points - mixed amid the details.

But a circle-jerk, nonetheless.


NEXT TIME: REVENGE OF THE NERDS

==or return to Part 1 of this series

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Invite Them Home: Part II

A DIVE INTO THE PAST

I have long held that this latest era of assault against modernist civilization calls for a multi-layered response. A diversity of strategies and tacts, fighting back against the Enemies of the Enlightenment on as many levels as they have been attacking the Great Experiment and everything that America originally stood for. (continued from Part 1)

Yes, there is a place for “sumo”-style grunting and pushing of normal politics. We must tussle over specific bills, specific scandals. I have a few suggestions of my own. Go get em, Congressfolk.

And yet, we must remember to step back, now and then, and recall the big picture. None of the up close squabbles -- likt the US Prosecutor firings -- will solve our overall crisis, the debilitating disease eating like a cancer at America’s heart.

First on our agenda, some attention must be paid to addressing the underlying causes of “culture war,” the devastatingly divisive, artificial sickness -- nothing less than a resumption of the 1860s Civil War -- that has been foisted on America by some genuinely evil men, who do not want a civilization that is of, by, or about either the People, or the Enlightenment.

Bona fide enemies of progress, including many who actually want to see the world end in a garish, biblical bloodbath...

...or else who strive actively for a return to feudal-style hierarchies of inherited privilege.

... or else who want to yatter about being pro-free-market while betraying those very same markets at every turn, undermining the reciprocal accountability that genuine enterprise depends-upon. Cheating in old-fashioned ways, exactly like the conspiring elites that Adam Smith despised most.

And yet, none of those factions -- none of those three fanatical portions of the Karl Rove “big tent” -- could have accomplished very much without a fourth group.

Want some irony about the last twelve years? While powerful neofeudalist lords (both at home and abroad) were the chief winners... and fiery religious fanatics fanned the flames with anti-future rhetoric... this entire era of “Republican resurgence” had its origins NOT with those varieties of know-nothings, but with a band of sincere and brainy nerds!

A bunch of wonky professorial types -- many of them Jewish or Libertarian, some of them former youthful Trotskyites -- with personalities and psychologies profoundly unlike those actually controlling the GOP -- the fraternity jocks, plutocrats, petrosheiks, and Book of Revelations junkies.

Intellectuals who dreamed, plotted, and then midwifed a completely reborn neoconservatism, rising like a phoenix out of the ashes of GOP collapses in 1964 and 1974.

Former believers in the conservatism of Barry Goldwater (whose grave-spinning now powers the whole state of Arizona), these intellectuals of the right retrenched after the ruination of Watergate, taking refuge at the feet of dyspeptic grouches like Allan Bloom... and especially Leo Strauss, an emigre from Holocaust-horror, who foisted upon impressionable youths a strange-but-transfixing, romantic notion.

The notion that it was their duty to abandon the good-natured pragmatism and open accountability of rich, happy, generous and successful America, in favor of the same kinds of incantatory madness that had turned Strauss’s home continent into hell on Earth.

Yes, they all nodded as Strauss told them to, by all means, dive into older traditions of ideological dogmatism, scholastic rationalism, Kantian/Hegelian hypnosis and platonistic self indulgent essentialism! Never mind that that entire approach had a terrible track record, compared to the outrageous successes of Yankee, fact-based empiricism, rights-based idealism, pragmatic negotiation and our never-ending pursuit of self-improvement.

Alas, from the point of view of frustrated wonks, the latter approach had one major drawback - it demanded an easygoing, “we’ll see” attitude toward truth.

An approach more atune to science than philosophy. (Ask Richard Feynman. Ask Albert Einstein or Leo Szilard. The less people understand about the world, the more eager they seem to be, to demand that it conform to their dogmas. The more stridently they tell it what to do. I swear, physics should be a job requirement for anyone going into politics.)

And so, given their incantatory bent, the young conservative nerds (many of them at the University of Chicago) ate up Strauss’s story - his tale about the noblesse oblige of an inherently superior intelligencia. His advice to imitate Europe and to prefer Plato over Franklin. Including Plato’s smug prescription that it is perfectly all right for rulers to lie like hell.

In much the same way that the “mythology” arm-wavings of Joseph Campbell would later appeal to Hollywood egotists, Strauss catered to the intense self-flattering need of men like Kenneth Adelman, Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz and so on, nurturing their self-image as misunderstood, but destined-for-greatness, young philosopher kings.

Moreover, Strauss urged these young acolytes to seek (like Alcibiades) a glorious vision of aggressive foreign war, in service of a holy cause. An idea that worked so very well for Alcibiades...and for the fanatical regimes of 1940s Europe.

(I go into all of this elsewhere. Just follow links above.)


A WELL-PLANNED COUNTER-ATTACK AGAINST DECADENT LIBERALISM

Thus inspired and with a profound sense of mission, these intellectual soldiers marched forth to do battle with a liberalism that they not only saw as decadent and corrupting, but also personally insulting. A liberalism that - while incredibly successful at transforming civilization (e.g. civil rights, womens’ rights, unprecedented social mobility, self-made wealth and self-expression), had also begun to expose a choice array of achilles heels. Some really ripe inconsistencies and hypocrisies and other easy targets.

And so, with the end of the Cold War afoot, the Straussian Boys focused on those weaknesses, sharpening their arrows and designing an ingenious plan of war.

We all know what happened next, as their rationalizations mixed with a ferocious southern-rural suburban strategy, turning America’s cities into The Enemy, a campaign that was abetted by dear collaborators on the far left.

Indeed, it was quite a ride for The Boys, while it lasted, overseeing some of the most brilliant and successful political turnabouts since Scipio went to Carthage, including that masterful work of public polemic, Newt Gingrich’s aforementioned “Contract With America,” and culminating in a decade that seemed to prove Plato right, when he asserted that democracy is for saps.

A time when power coalesced - as the neocons had planned - into the hands of a righteous class of platonic philosopher kings.

Well, almost.

Actually, it was seized by kings, all right. An aristocracy that (as in Hellenistic times) at least seemed to appreciate philosophers. Seemed to. For a while. Until...

...until things all started going down the tubes for the classic neocons. Because, as history shows, there is a world of difference between dogma-driven power-grabbing and proficient statecraft.


NEXT TIME... THE NEOCONS BRILLIANT PLAN FALLS APART