Fire Afghanistan

Here's five bucks says that General McChrystal pulls a McClellan, and runs for president against his former boss after Hopey fires him. Getting fired for being an asshole is the best thing to happen to him, career wise. Now someone else gets to take the heat for losing in Afghanistan. McChrystal can now spend the rest of his life posing as the guy who Would Have Won the Afghan War If Only.

Ah, how soon we forget: "The highest current ranking officer blamed in the [Pat Tillman] incident is Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, commander of the Joint Special Operations Command. Investigators said he was "accountable for the inaccurate and misleading assertions" contained in papers recommending that Tillman get a Silver Star award."

I wanted to say something about the general's thirty years in black-ops as an unquestioning assassin for the emperor, but life's too short and how many ways can you say "murderous" and "self-fellatio"? That's just another motivation to stay limber.

Then there's Article 88 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice:
“Any commissioned officer who uses contemptuous words against the President, the Vice President, Congress, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of a military department, the Secretary of Transportation, or the Governor or legislature of any State, Territory, Commonwealth, or possession in which he is on duty or present shall be punished as a court-martial may direct.”

McChrystal is another Bush left-over with a long history of folly, leaks, and misplaced arrogance, still pouting because he wasn't given 60,000 more troops to pour down the rathole. Don't worry, the honored dead are products of American kindergartens: everybody gets a medal.

The solution is obvious: fire Afghanistan for non-cooperation.

Orthodoxy, OCD and the F@#ing Wire, Baby

“As the Bacchae knew, we always tear our Gods to bits, and eat the bits we like.”
-- Adam Gopnik, “What Did Jesus Do?” in The New Yorker


“The same energy of character which renders a man a daring villain would have rendered him useful in society, had that society been well organized.”
-- Mary Wollstonecraft-Godwin Shelley


“Each day brings fresh proof to my feeling that orthodoxy of any kind is simply another word for "learning disability." It's in the nature of orthodoxy that one is discouraged to process new information objectively: the world MUST be as previously learned. Hence new data, rejected, leaves the poor person, be it a driver, a doctor, or a politician, severely handicapped. “
(Steve Brodner)

“Democracy is the most difficult of all forms of government, since it requires the widest spread of intelligence, and we forgot to make ourselves intelligent when we made ourselves sovereign. Education has spread, but intelligence is perpetually retarded by the fertility of the simple. A cynic remarked that ‘you mustn’t enthrone ignorance just because there is so much of it.’ However, ignorance is not long enthroned, for it lends itself to manipulation by the forces that mold public opinion. It may be true, as Lincoln supposed, that ‘you can’t fool all the people all the time’, but you can fool enough of them to rule a large country.”
-- Will and Ariel Durant, The Lessons of History


Spinoza knew that all things long to persist in their being; the stone eternally wants to be a stone and the tiger a tiger. I shall remain in Borges, not in myself (if it is true that I am someone), but I recognize myself less in his books than in many others or in the laborious strumming of a guitar.
-- Jorge Luis Borges


As a Jewish child I was regularly instructed, both subtly and openly, that Jews, the people of Maimonides, Albert Einstein, Jonas Salk and Meyer Lansky, were on the whole smarter, cleverer, more brilliant, more astute than other people. And, duly, I would look around the Passover table, say, at the members of my family, and remark on the presence of a number of highly intelligent, quick-witted, shrewd, well-educated people filled to bursting with information, explanations and opinions on a diverse range of topics. In my tractable and vainglorious eagerness to confirm the People of Einstein theory, my gaze would skip right over — God love them — any counterexamples present at that year’s Seder.
.... The shock comes not because we have never encountered any stupid Jews before — Jews are stupid in roughly the same proportion as all the world’s people — but simply because from an early age we have been trained, implicitly and explicitly, to ignore them. A stupid Jew is like a hole in the pocket of your pants, there every time you put them on, always forgotten until the instant your quarters run clattering across the floor.... If, in the words of the 1948 Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel, the Jewish people have a natural right “to be masters of their own fate, like all other nations, in their own sovereign state,” then the inescapable codicil of this natural inheritance is that the Jewish people, “like all other nations,” are every bit as capable of barbarism and stupidity.”
-- Michael Chabon on the Israeli blockade of Palestine

“... Nobody—literally nobody—knows how to make the pencil on my desk (as the economist Leonard Read once pointed out), let alone the computer on which I am writing. The knowledge of how to design, mine, fell, extract, synthesize, combine, manufacture and market these things is fragmented among thousands, sometimes millions of heads. Once human progress started, it was no longer limited by the size of human brains. Intelligence became collective and cumulative.”
-- Matt Ridley


“Professor James Leckman of Yale University did tests on the cerebrospinal fluid of OCD sufferers and found gobs and gobs of Oxytocin, the chemical responsible for love, jealousy and parental attachment. As it turns out, OCD-sufferers produce as much of this stuff as new parents and raver kids on ecstasy. This led Leckman to think there may be a very big connection between parenthood and OCD, believing that once upon a time in our evolution, obsessive attention to detailed cleaning and hygiene rituals marked the difference between infants that survived childhood diseases and ones who didn't. Compulsive rituals don't seem so weird when they involve constantly circling the camp site to make sure there are no wolves coming to eat the children.... Apparently succeeding in the human species isn't a matter of being crazy or not crazy, but having just the right amount of craziness.”
-- Robert Evans and Philip Moon,

Othello, the Boulevard, Teabaggers and Lattes on the Rim of the Volcano

Othello isn't only about jealousy, any more than Hamlet is about revenge. Othello's great sin is his assumption that because you are Good, all others must necessarily be trustworthy as well.

If I were sent back with a warning to the Belle Epoque in Paris, Vienna and Berlin, how many of the boulavardiers could perceive the deadly earnestness with which the children of that time were training to become mass murderers? Would any of them have been able to strangle the infant Hitler in his cradle? Albert Speer said that it was hard to recognize the Devil when he's standing by your shoulder.

From what I’ve seen in Cultural Amnesia and Elegant Wits and Grand Horizontals the people in the cafes thought of militarists as clowns, no real threat, certainly not builders of death factories— and if the militarists did succeed in finding a war, well, they mostly hurt themselves and young fellows stupid enough to follow them. War, however terrible, was fought between armies in a field outside of town-- sophisticates didn't realize what industrialization could do to weaponry and the practice of total war.

The Dreyfuss affair was the argument of that time. It was injustice and anti-Semitism that sent Colonel Dreyfuss off to Devil’s Island on a trumped up charge, but no one thought of The Affair as a blueprint.

So there I am on the boulevard with my coffee, laughing at someting Tristan Bernard just said, sighing at a stray tendril of hair on the neck of a passing girl who might have modeled for Mucha—- but how could I tell them what I know? That the 20th century will be a bloodbath, that industrialization will turn the front line into an abbatoir, with my friends from the cafes and salons-- Tristan Bernard's own grandson Francois-- at the bottom of the pile in Matthausen? How many of them would believe me?

They would smile and nod and exclaim mais certainment! if I’d predicted that a militarist would blow himself up with some diabolical device, that a head of state would be caught in a sex scandal, or a minister sent to prison for embezzlement. They would recognize our own all-too-human sins, folly, arrogance, lust and greed. But would anyone on the boulevard believe a prediction of the ash pit, the soap factories, the pillows stuffed with human hair? A medievalist might recognize the precedent for Ilsa Koch, but like trusting Othello, most would not be able to countenance the sick rantings of the so-called man from the future. When the most dreadful thing you can imagine in others is limited your own capacity for evil, you never see what's coming until it’s too late.

This is not to paint a sentimental picture of bohemians caught napping by the wicked military-industrialists— it was a failed water-color painter, Hitler, an amateur mythologist (Himmler) an advertising genius (Goebbels), and a country full of worshipful rubes who dreamed the iron dream. Never underestimate the resentment and malevolence of a failed artist-- from Beck to Norman Podhoretz, O'Reilly, Midge Decter and the Kristols, angry failures have found a home on the right because the hipsters made fun of them and wouldn’t invite them to the cool parties. This may be oversimplify the motivations of Limbaugh and Goerring, but not by much.

The bad guys can fall into the same trap as Othello. Krupp sponsored the Nazis because they could not imagine a wickedness greater than their own capacity for greed and political control. German militarists and industrialists thought they would use the Nazis to get rid of the labor unions and the liberals, and in the end the Nazis used them. American conservatives thought they could use the emotion of the Teabaggers and the the Know-Nothings to disguise their plutocracy as populism. The Bohemian Grove made Ronald Reagan, patron of idiots, who didn’t know, didn’t care and didn’t think it mattered how many were ground in the wheels beneath his chariot. Now of course, the tail is wagging the dog, with Limbaugh and Palin the soul of the party.

Othello is a supreme success in his own field, but battle savvy doesn't transfer to the parade-ground. He knows only two kinds of women-- his sainted mother and voracious camp-followers, and if Desdemona isn't a saint, then she must be a whore. In the world of men, he thinks his combat instinct has taught him all he needs to know about reading men; if he's fought alongside me, then he must be a pal. It is naivete and self-assurance that destroys him, long before the first whisper from Iago.

One morning in an inner city classroom, three sharp explosions went off outside and I turned to see that all the kids near the window had hit the floor without any comment. In most classrooms, anything out of the ordinary from first snowflakes to fornicating dogs will draw a mob to the glass. "Missa Fountain," Wayne scolded, "you might want to get away from the window." I was the sophisticate, but in the words of a forgotten punk-rock magazine, "Goerring said 'When I hear the word 'culture' I reach for my gun'. When someone mentions guns, a liberal reaches for his culture." Shades of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence.

Now we are in a political cycle with candidates mined from the Jerry Springer show, deviance defined downward. It is permissible among people like Sharon Angle and Rick Barber to make physical threats against their opponents, to talk of secession, to shout down reason. Palin smiles more broadly the crazier the talk gets. They see themselves as perpetual victims, giving them psychological permission to use "any means necessary" against their oppressors.

I wonder about my own complacency. Having a wonderful time, sipping my latte on the rim of the volcano, but keeping one eye on the exit and hoping my friends and I have enough sense to jump to Canada before it blows. When do the clowns cross the line from buffoon to monster?

Smile or Die

Through a friend of my friend Shannon McRae, this wonderful animation of Barabara Ehrenreich's explication of the Happy People...
I suppose my first encounter with the Happy People would have been in the 1970s. There had been experiments like the attempt to levitate the Pentagon, or my friend Tom's Whole Earth theories about mucus, but these thought experiments harmed no one and made great theater; most of us still understood the difference between reality and make believe.
By 1976, the year Tom Wolfe published "The Me Decade", there was real money changing hands for the power of positive thinking. I knew some Erhard Seminar Training graduates intimately, and learned that my skepticism was not just a buzzkill, but a hindrance to any progress. I nodded and demurred while a honest-to-stereotype yuppie complained that his mother's cancer was "her own damn fault". She had given herself cancer-- not by cigarettes or swimming in chemicals, but by bad, cancer-causing thoughts.
I dodged repeated invitations to attend an est seminar, and instead went looking for Chicago theater while my girlfriend spent her money becoming more "real"-- ironic phrase, now that I think of it. I'm not bitter about never getting real with Werner Erhard; instead I attended a performance by the Japanese Grand Kabuki its own self.
Here Ehrenreich points out that the "think and grow rich" con doesn't just take foolish people's money anymore; it now contributes to our collective delusion. Hell, it's one of the building blocks.