Commonplace Book of Quotations, February

"Hey, Sarah Palin, hows that hatey, killy, reloady, crosshairsy thing working out for ya?" -- Frank Conniff

“Now, it's true that the [Wikileaks] cables were legally available to well over 1.5 million Americans, who had adequate security clearance. But trivial? Don't believe it. The cables show the daily business of a mighty empire acting in manners diametrically opposite to public pretensions.... The WikiLeaks documents show that the picture of the international business of the United States offered by the major U.S. media to the public is an infantile misrepresentation of reality.”
-- Alexander Cockburn

"I remember when I was dying in Silver Surfer...The director was like, 'It looks too real. It looks too painful. Can you be prettier when you cry? Cry pretty, Jessica.' He was like 'Don't do that thing with your face. Just make it flat. We can CGI the tears in.'" -- Jessica Alba in Elle

“Stupidity defeats you in some way. Especially when time is at a premium. And sometimes these questions are themselves mischievous.”
-- Arundhati Roy

“George W. Bush said Friday he will not visit Denver this weekend as planned because WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was invited to attend one of the same events as the former president.... [Bush spokesman David Sherzer] said Bush doesn't want to be part of a forum that invited someone who has ‘willfully and repeatedly done great harm to the interests of the United States.’"
-- Sheila V. Kumar, Associated Press

“... Sam disliked the attitude of moral superiority above all else... One merely had to tip open the Britannica to discover that between the years 1912 and 1945 the Germans had destroyed a hundred million lives out of a basic assumption of moral superiority. And this was only the most notorious example that could be extrapolated in every direction in human history, including our own extermination of over a hundred Native American cultures, up through Vietnam, and perhaps Nicaragua in the future... Part of the ethos, the soul history, of American capitalism was to destroy absolutely everything that wasn’t immediately useful.”
-- Jim Harrison, “Sunset Limited”, in The Woman Lit by Fireflies

-- "Because the mongoose isn't fighting snakes for food, or for territory, or for survival -- it's fighting snakes because fuck snakes.
-- Danny Vittore, "Six Animals That Just Don't Give a F@*k"

Ghosts at Reagan's Banquet

Alexander Cockburn, who I first remember for trying to get at the truth of the 1980s and beyond, has a short, simple correction to all the aggrandizement of Ronald Reagan on the hundredth anniversary of his birth. If you're feeling less than moderate, there's a new book of Tim Kreider's cartoons, driving a stake through Reagan's dead black heart and putting his head on a pike, finally keeping those dead Guatemalans company in the history books.
The journalist Allan Nairn, who was there in Guatemala in 1980, says "I’m hearing about how Reagan is being celebrated, and I don’t know, I suspect that a lot of people in Central America when they hear about that, maybe feel the same way that a lot of Americans feel when they hear the stories about people in other countries wearing Osama bin Laden t-shirts."

Francis Fukuyama Discovers the Limits of Francis Fukuyama

Francis Fukayama came late to the party. Still, the Lord loves a prodigal, no matter his rolling in the mud with neo-conservatives before he got here:
"What was truly troubling, however, was that the collapse undermined the fundamental moral justification for material inequality in a politically egalitarian society. Basic to the legitimacy of market capitalism is the efficient market hypothesis—that is, the notion that in a truly competitive market everyone earns something close to his or her “social” rate of return. This means, in other words, that if your investment banker earns 100,000 times as much as your plumber, it’s because he or she is contributing roughly 100,000 times as much to society’s total pool of wealth.
The crisis made it glaringly obvious that the efficient market hypothesis was wrong: Oversized returns were flowing to innovative financial entrepreneurs who, in their avidity to create new and more complex financial instruments and products, were destroying rather than creating value for society as a whole."

No shit, Sherlock.

Let me get this straight; it took two wars and an economic collapse for a tenured professor to realize what my sharecropping ancestors knew in their bones?
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Francis Fukuyama is the fellow who announced "The End of History" in 1989, after Russia lost the Cold War. This made him a lot of friends among fans of Ronald Reagan. He later explained that what he really meant was an end to interpreting history as having a goal, as Hegel, Marx and apocalyptic Christians do.
I could almost buy his equivocation, but Fukuyama's inner Pangloss never knows when to shut up: "... while earlier forms of government were characterized by grave defects and irrationalities that led to their eventual collapse, liberal democracy was arguably free from such fundamental internal contradictions." Say wha--? Democracy (or republicanism, if you prefer Latin to Greek) is chock-full of "fundamental internal contradictions"-- that's why Lincoln warned that democracies are inclined to self-destruction; why Churchill called democracy the worst except for all the others. You're a hard man indeed if you can see the dead at Fredericksburg or Wounded Knee as nothing more than a perfect system correcting itself. Call me Manichean, but I still see history as a struggle between forces of creation and destruction, Thanatos and Eros. It only takes a moment for a soldier to kill Archimedes.

I am not calling for F.F. to start wearing an IWW shirt and become a neo-socialist. I just want him to discover that there might be a reason the left feels pissed off and pissed on. And this does give me another excuse to assign the reading of Kipling's "Gods of the Copybook Headings", despite its misuse by the odious Beck, unable to recognize himself in its warnings.

I would not bother with this if Francis were just another Wanker Like Me with a blog. But this guy is a paid lecturer in the if-you-have-to-ask-you-can't-afford-it range. Francis Fukuyama has made a spectacular career out of being wrong, but being wrong in a way that flatters the masters of our world.
I'm all in favor of being wrong and making grand barroom pronouncements-- as a storyteller and a reader, I embrace six impossible things before breakfast, hoping to unearth those poetic truths that "burn like cold iron", as Lewis said of Tolkein. We bohemians (cough slackers cough) are, after all the secret legislators of the world. But when I wear a history teacher's hat, I have to answer "I don't know" a dozen times a day, puzzling innocents who think a mastery of trivia and telling anecdote is the same as knowing "everything", then try to turn the things I don't know into a problem for them, like a cat giving kittens a crippled mouse to bat around. But my foibles don't end in a body count, as Fukuyama's did when he signed William Kristol's letter urging regime change in Iraq.

It may be that a repentant Francis is trying to find his way home, to move the bead of isn't-it-pretty-to-think-so a bit closer to what is. He's just about the only neoconservative I can stand to read without gagging, certainly the only one capable of conceding that he might be wrong, and any sign of enlightenment is to be cherished-- for this thy brother was lost, and is found. So, my turn to make a pronouncement, though the thoughts of Francis Fukuyama are worth 100,000 of mine, and it's a truism the ancient Chu Yuan knew in his drowned bones: No courtier ever went broke by telling the bosses what they want to hear.

Egypt, Tunisia, and Tianamen Square

Speaking out of pure ignorance, I suppose everyone's waiting to see what the army does next. In Tunisia, the military identified and sided with the civilian protesters-- but at Tiananmen Square, the Chinese government very deliberately brought in provincial troops (and provincial kids) from the Chinese equivalent of Alabama. They told the soldiers that the Tiananmen demonstrators were dangerous radicals, hippies, college punks, commie reds (what does a communist call a commie?). Thus, Chinese soldiers very cheerfully gunned down Chinese democrats.
I've no idea what social class Egyptian cops and soldiers come from, whether they'll support their neighbors or the government. Looting is breaking out, as well as attacks by agent provocateurs, and that works for a dictatorship, not against it.

In our own country, I suspect our military class is becoming more and more segregated from the people and the Constitution they are sworn to protect. This was part of the dynamic that led to the shootings at Kent State. If push came to shove between Fox News Corps and a serious progressive reformer, does anyone want to guess which way the American military would jump?