Saturday, May 28, 2005


Visualize Victory - Obama, pt 2


I think the aforementioned worry about Obama is misplaced, for the reasons I gave in the previous post. But that's not to say I don't understand the fear people have of the feckless and lumbering 'DNC machine'. Such a 'machine' does still exist, but what is it really? For lack of a better term, I'd call it the DNC 'Consultantocracy', in league with the 'old guard' pols - the people who've brought us defeat and decline. But I'd submit that, to the extent they matter now, this Blob is taking their cues from the new younger politicians like Obama, John Edwards and Howard Dean, and operatives like Simon Rosenberg, rather than the other way around. I'm sure this transformation isn't complete, but that is clearly the trend. If you want to worry about the 'old guard' and 'cogs in a machine', worry about Kerry - and, to some extent, Hillary Clinton - in '08, not Obama now.

As far as interpreting Obama's 'civility' and 'playing the game' goes, the key dynamic to understand here is assertion vs reaction. Democrats have been in 'reaction mode' for 25-30 years. Reacting is acceding to your opponent's agenda. Obama is being courteous, careful, respectful - by choice. He could easily have decided to be a "progressive's" wet dream, a firebrand, a loud, lonely voice, etc. But he's more sly than that. He chose not to be that. At this point, the real political power comes from deciding your own route, from saying: 'You Republicans don't ruffle me at all; I don't care about your provocations and your cheap theatre - hey, knock yourselves out! I/we are going to calmly, deliberately build a new agenda and make YOU react to US. In the long run, we're not worried about you at all, politically; we will take you apart piece by piece: keep your eye on us 'new guys', because you have no idea what we're going to do'.

Building a new agenda means being constructive and serious, compromising when you can (like the very Senate-ish courtesy votes on Rice and Negroponte - votes which don't affect the outcome anyway), and being firm when you can't (Gonzales; bankruptcy). Kill them with kindness and beat them with steely resolve. Most voters don't care about the old liberal/conservative tropes, and they're right not to: what do they mean anymore? Let the Republicans wallow in their aging construct: their brittle ideological castle will be their political hospice. Let them do that while truly new (not 'New') Democrats methodically build a different and much more relevant structure around them, which, BTW, will be a broad coalition, not a insurgent 'wing' of the Democratic party (sorry).

Don't worry about Senator Obama. Act, don't react.

[UPDATE: The reason this stuff sticks in my craw is that Mr Sirrota has done to Obama precisely what (qualitatively) Bush/Cheney/Rove did to Kerry. It's very easy to take Congressional votes out of context - most especially in the rarified world of the Senate - and make them seem to mean what you want. If you happened to skim Mr Sirrota's piece and not actually check on - contextualize - his charges, you could, in good faith, decide that Sen. Obama is selling out, somehow. Sirrota flings misleading charges at the Senator, and then quotes an unnamed 'political scientist' who speculates about cynical motives for these presumed 'offences'. This is a textbook hit piece, no different from one a Republican would write. The only difference is that this one is a 'friendly' hit piece. WTF?! Circular firing squad....]

[Cross-posted at Total Information Awareness ]

Friday, May 27, 2005


Circular Firing Squad, part 2,593 (this year)


Apropos TTN's post yesterday about political parties rationalizing internal dissent, we get, as if on cue, David Sirrota's "What Happened to Barack Obama"? Sirrota writes:

...his first six months in office have given progressives a reason to be worried that he will be just another cog in the Establishment's machine, throwing his significant political capital behind some of the worst initiatives to move through Congress.

The 'worst initiatives'? Really? Like what?

Despite his anti-war positions as a candidate in 2004, Obama's second vote as a U.S. Senator was in support of confirming Condoleezza Rice as Secretary of State. He also voted to confirm John Negroponte as Director of National Intelligence, despite Negroponte's involvement in Iran-Contra and other situations that clearly raise questions about his ethics and discretion.

Condoleezza may be an 'intellectual tart' , and Negroponte certainly does have an odious past, but this is the Senate, folks. You have to choose your battles. Senators traditionally confirm most of a president's nominees for anything, unless they are truly beyond the pale, like now-AG Gonzales, whose nomination Obama voted NOT to confirm, eloquently explaining why at the time.

Obama also voted for a bill to limit citizens rights to seek legal redress against abusive corporations.

This was the class-action lawsuit bill. Honorable people can disagree about this one. I'll leave it to the legal scholars to argue the merits, but it's hardly among the 'worst' initiatives to move through congress lately. I notice Sirrota doesn't bother to argue the merits. Knee-jerk is so much easier.

During the bankruptcy debate, he helped vote down a Democratic amendment to cap the abusive interest rates credit card companies could charge.

Obama (and Kerry) voted against this amendment because it would've overridden state laws limiting interest rates. Of course, Obama voted against the heinous Bankruptcy Bill itself.

And now, Obama cast a key procedural vote in support of President Bush's right-wing judges.

This was a 'key' vote? Nice wordplay, David. This was a fait accompli. Obama voted to avoid the nuclear option - voted to live to fight another day (SCOTUS-time).

Obama was supposed to be different - he was supposed to be a real progressive champion.

Projection anyone? Obama is exactly what he seemed to be. He never mislead anyone into thinking he was going to be Bernie Sanders. If people mislead themselves, that's not Barack's fault.

Senator Obama's record so far (six months) - both his votes and his statements - is very very good. He is one of the brightest lights of the Democratic party, and will probably be a national leader one of these days - if ideologues from his own party don't strangle him in his crib first.

Nothing 'happened' to Barack Obama. Let go of your pickle, David.

[Cross-posted at Total Information Awareness ]

Sunday, May 08, 2005


'The Cold War' For Dummies

A central insight of Harry Frankfurt's essay 'On Bullshit' is that the bullshitter is dangerous in a way different from the liar because the liar, as such, must at least know what the truth is, whereas the bullshitter needn't know or even care. To rephrase Nadezhda , perception may be reality, but facts aren't even facts. Bush the Lesser has bewitched his critics by simply keeping them guessing - is he stupid? ignorant? visionary? It's an innovation Bush will be remembered for: the strategic seasickness of the first throughly post modernist presidency. He will literally say anything. (What are 'words' anyway? Just sounds arranged into patterns, really.) However you credit all the Trotskiana/Straussissimo intellectual pretentions of this gang, Bush himself really is a cipher, and in a more complete way than any other modern, including Saint Ronnie. Welcome to the Peter Principle Stage of empire.

George and the Beanstalk, Chapter Umteen

What did Bush get for his oblivious, ahistorical, pointless, straight-out-of-1950s-Reader's Digest smear of FDR and Churchill on Saturday?

Bush said the agreement in 1945 at Yalta among President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Soviet leader Josef Stalin and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill ''followed in the unjust tradition of Munich and the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact."

What did he get in return for his mock-profound revision? For (yet again) rhetorically cracking America's united face to the world? For attempting to make the world itself 'partisan'? 1.) a little red meat for his freeper/neocon constituency; 2.) a little self-aggrandizing Reagan identification; 3.) the appearance (and it could be more than that) of supporting democracy in Belarus and standing up to Putin (however contingent on what kind of government would eventually be elected there); and 4.) a chance to bolster some of the few remaining members of his 'coalition of the willing' (Belarus, Georgia and Latvia, who've 'collectively' contributed a full 280 soldiers to the fight). Such a deal.

We can never know what young Dubya would've done in FDR's place - with Poland already fully occupied by the Soviets, with a 12 million man Red Army in Europe, and the Russians already in the suburbs of Berlin; and with an unfinished war in the Pacific. Perhaps he would've looked into Stalin's eyes, and found a good soul.

It's very sad that, likely, few take what the American president says very seriously anymore. But for all that, one's also thankful for it, in the present case.

Saturday, April 30, 2005


Publius/Strauss Comment, for pity's sake


"The object of philosophy is to prove that you are right in doing what you want." O. W. Holmes

(Publius): "Correlation is not causation"

I think you're right to point out that too much can be made of the Straussians' influence on the current GOP coalition. It's easy to get to pat about this stuff, and it's easy to SEEM too pat when you're trying to be blog-brief, as I think Billmon might have been doing. But correlation doesn't exclude causation, either. Correlation is correlation.

It's not very easy to empirically 'pinpoint' this kind of influence, and as I said in an earlier comment, philosophical concepts can get pretty muddied or corrupted by the time they get to the political realm. And furthermore, neocons aren't identical with Straussians. But I think the more familier you get with Strauss and some of his students (like Bloom of 'The Closing of the American Mind' and 'Ravelstein' fame), you have to wonder if the closeness with which the current political order often tracks Strauss & Co.'s ideas can really be just happenstance. I think it's a symbiotic relationship. The two correlate for a reason.

Drury has been aware of the Strauss cult for a long time (she is a philosophy prof), and notes in several places that most of the Straussian acolytes had ended up not in academia, but in 'think tanks' and other politically subsidized 'foundations' and the like. That is probably changing lately, but formally (according to her), the acolytes were often found to be well trained in Straussism but not so well trained in actual philosophy, and hence were sometimes not hired by universities.

Xenos, in the article linked above, also says:

The Straussian network is really an amazing thing. Any political theorist or anyone who has been around political science departments has seen it at work. Long before attaining public attention, the Straussians were often ridiculed for their cult-like qualities: they speak and write the same way, they write the same books on the same themes over and over again, they dress alike, they are almost all men, they went to the same schools—those sorts of things. It thus comes as a shock to discover that Leo Strauss may turn out to be the most influential political theorist of the last fifty years in the United States with respect to the exercise of political power. the mid-1980s some commentators ....noticed that something strange was going on in the Reagan administration. The first sign of this was in an article by Stephen Toulmin, a historian of science, in the New York Review of Books in 1984, in the middle of a review of a book on Margaret Mead. Toulmin used Mead as an example to which he compared the then-current State Department policy planning staff, where, he said, they had more people who were acquainted with the writings of Leo Strauss than they were with the cultures that the State Department has to deal with.

(emphasis mine. Xenos goes into greater detail, of course). That doesn't 'prove' anything, exactly, but it's crazy to think Strauss' influence means nothing.

(pub) it just doesn’t follow that Strauss has been the source of all this. Perhaps this my own bias, but I tend to favor material explanations to ideological ones.

Of course he isn't The Source. He plays his (considerable) ideological role and materialist factors play theirs. Materialist vs Ideology doesn't make sense; it's not an 'either/or' situation. When is it ever?

..let’s assume that the war was not about democracy promotion, but was about something else. My point is that even if it is about “something else,” that doesn’t make it “Straussian.”

The Straussian idea is that it makes no difference what you say the war is about, or what it indeed IS about. War qua war is a value. I have to admit that I never got all the way through 'The End of History', but from what I did read, and have since read by Fukuyama, he doesn't seem to be the quintessential 'Straussian'. For Strauss, the End of History is a major (not minor) crisis - it is The Crisis. General prosperity, peace, widespread leisure, mass entertainment, etc. were anathema to him. Without constant struggle, the spirit of man dies. The Iraq war, and indeed an open-ended global war on something is exactly, precisely, what the doctor ordered. Endless war 'ennobles' us.

Yes, it's easy to get too facile about the 'noble lie' business, but you can't ignore Strauss' conception, or rather his transformation of Plato's conception (Strauss thought he was just finding Plato's 'esoteric meaning', in other words, revealing - albeit also esoterically - what Plato 'really' meant). Plato's noble lie was a lie which tells the truth; Strauss' is a lie for our own good. I'm not going to argue about how to designate the WMD lie, except to say that that it could be seen as a little of both: I think a lot of Americans kind of knew that there might be another reason or reasons for the war, aside from blood lust: oil, vaguely 'doing something' about the middle east, you name it. The whole acquiescence was extremely dysfunctional. I know there are people who seem to really still believe that there WERE WMD, or that Saddam really WAS involved in 9/11, but I don't think either brainwashing nor simple denial can explain the relative lack of broad outrage over there not having been WMD found. I think Bush really is a Leader - a profoundly BAD leader, but a leader nonetheless. He knows his audience.

One final thing. I think your likening Strauss to Burke is right as far as it goes, but it's sort of barking up the wrong tree. Burke was a traditionalist and a conservative, but he wasn't a reactionary. He feared too-rapid change, but he didn't fear ALL change (and he certainly believed in his OWN power of reasoning). In his letter about the French Revolution, he compares England's slow, relatively orderly liberalization (there is no other word for it) favorably to what was happening in France. That makes him a very conservative person in an at least proto-liberal context. Strauss is reactionary. His favored 'tradition' is to be found WAY before the 18th century - probably before the middle ages. I'm positive there are LF readers who know a lot more about Burke than I do, but I think it's pretty clear that favoring 'gradual change' is very different from the brittle resistence to change altogether you'd find in a real medieval stalwart, for instance. You may be right, ultimately, that 'Liberalism replaced god with human reason', but functionally, I'd say it's more like 'liberalism replaced god's supposed earthly political representitives and institutions with reason'. Strauss replaces god with reason altogether (he was an atheist), but only with the 'reason' of a very very tiny elite (people like him, naturally).

To sum up: I tend to have a pretty materialist POV myself, but first principles DO matter - everything flows from them. And just as important, while I don't know that I would be as sweeping as Holmes, ideology/philosophy obviously do have a vital function in politics. In the present case, we may be talking about Straussism being an intellectual fillip (or excuse), but that's not cause for discounting it. Did Marx 'cause' the Russian Revolution? No. Would it have been the same kind of revolution at the same time without him? Also no, IMO.

Monday, April 04, 2005


The Tree of Liberty is Not Nourished By Uric Acid

connard du jour
Originally uploaded by jonnybutter.

Gosh, he looks like such a nice man. Sen. John Cornyn of Texas today :

...we seem to have run through a spate of courthouse violence recently that's been on the news and I wonder whether there may be some connection between the perception in some quarters on some occasions where judges are making political decisions yet are unaccountable to the public, that it builds up and builds up and builds up to the point where some people engage in - engage in violence.

The thing is, Congress is much less popular than the Judiciary - and for good reason. Gee,

Reminds me of a tragedy we've mostly forgotten about, namely, the time a few years ago when that guy somehow got into the Capitol with a gun. Awful. He shot some perfectly innocent Capitol Police officers.

I would never call for violence against members of Congress or anybody else even if I believed it was right (which I don't) because there's a decent chance I'd get a little visit from some guys in black suits and sunglasses. 'Splain to me, please, why this connard* can say what he said -on the Senate Floor no less - and it's acceptable? What d'ya have to do to get censured in this joint?

* French slang for prick, wanker or idiot.

I'm Back

painting by Lee Kroemschroeder
Originally uploaded by jonnybutter.

Ask anyone who knows me to describe me, and the first thing out of their mouths would probalby be 'Trend- gripped' . If Billmon and Publius can come back, so can outlying little me. My head will explode if I don't post now and then. Eric at Total Information Awareness - who, incredibly, hasn't taken a break yet - has been kind enough to post a few of my longer items over the months, and that will keep happening as long as he wants. But some shorter posts are in order, too. Members of congress are starting to think about trying to rinse away their swamp-ass a little in preparation for the midterms, and for that and other reasons, the 'tempo' of indignities should increase in the next thrilling months. Must. Comment.


Sunday, April 03, 2005


Against Euphemasia

Ah...the Culture of Life
Originally uploaded by jonnybutter.

This post isn't mainly about Terri Schiavo, because the controversy to which her name became crazy-glued wasn't about her, either. It is impertinent (to put it mildly) for me to pronounce myself either glad she's finally 'resting in peace' or sad that she has passed on. None of this was ever my nor the public's business. Unfortunately, the 'drama' will probably continue; we're probably going to have to find out what kind of freak Terri's dad was, about her eating disorder, etc. etc. You can run, but you can't hide.

Just in case you couldn't bear to read Peggy Noonan's Schiavo 'piece' in the WSJ called, appropriately, 'In Love With Death' , I'll offer a few highlights shortly. Don't roll your eyes; yes, Noonan is pretty...pretty vacant, and has lots of harder-edged dimwitted company , but her piece is exemplary.

And it is indubitably a 'piece', not a mere op-ed. Peggy is good at what's known as 'creative writing' (it's not just writing; it's creative writing!), a concept invented in the US sometime in the late 60s - early 70s. A particularly cheesy remnant of that era, 'creative writing' was one manifestation of the vaguely leftish idea that 'expressing yourself' (however incoherently) trumps reason, persuasion, logic, critical thinking. In other words, just having an opinion or a 'feeling' of some kind is the total extent of your responsibility as a, pardon me, sentient human. This overall concept's wholesale political adaptation by the GOP gradually affected a change in how Americans see their own basic role as Americans: the role of 'citizen' was supplanted by that of 'consumer'. It's a subtle but fundamental change. A citizen is active and makes judgments; a consumer is passive, and has only to have an opinion. This confusion of the two roles is summed up in the cliche 'voting with your pocketbook'. That is such a common phrase and concept, we don't realize how absurd it is. You can't vote with your pocketbook anymore than you can breathe through your feet. You're doing something with your pocketbook, but it's not voting.

This change is a basic fault deep in the heart of the Reagan Cultural Revolution. It's usually euphemized as 'individualism', but it's really fetish-individualism, ie desperate. In practice it means a set of extremely rotten values: greed, self-absorption, atomization, suspiciousness, superstition, lying (especially to ones' self), responsibilty-shirking, resentment ('coveting'), and ultimately, nihilism ('rapture'). The very word 'citizen' in this context sounds 'collective' or 'social' - in other words, 'commie'! Can't have any of that! Civic Virtue itself has become suspect. The Reagan ethos was/is: Don't think, just feel; believe what you want to believe; there is no price to be paid for anything; if it feels good, do it; you can always have your cake and eat it too - and with extra frosting, if that's what your 'heart' tells you you ought to have. Forget about informed judgment, responsibility to people you don't know, consequences, forethought - all that stuff. Be positive! The Invisible Hand (and the Invisible Army) is a system! It just works by itself! (And if it doesn't, we're in the 'last days' anyway.)

'Magical Thinking' - a term of art in the psych world - is not only bad mental health, but, as a civic or personal ethos, is morally slack in any serious sense of the word 'moral'. It is opinion without knowledge. Action without consequences. Faith without struggle. Rights without responsibility. Sound familiar? Reagan embodied this way of thinking, as when, for instance, he explained that 'my heart tells me' we didn't trade arms for hostages, but 'my head tells me otherwise'. He instinctively wanted to have an opinion about a fact. This is beyond 'wishful thinking': it's Magical Thinking, and his 'revolution' institutionalized it.

Common sense tells you that there is more than a little Projection going on in the red-faced right wing cultural barking of the past several years. How can all those rotten values I mentioned before be described in one word? 'Permissiveness'. When you hear boomer 'conservatives' yack on about 'permissiveness' (usually for tidy sums), you know they know, deep down, that they're really talking about themselves. No wonder they're so angry! The stupidest part of the '60s-'70s ethos - a quite literally mindless Free-Lunch-ism - was co-opted by the Reagan Cultural Warriors, and they hate themselves for it, as well they should. They will never stop squirming and blaming.

The 'Culture Wars' are an expression of the self hatred of the warriors. The Republicans of the 80s won and profoundly changed the direction and cultural shape of the country. They, not Hollywood, or liberals (HA!) promulgated the culture we have now. Us Regular Folks out here in the real world (the 'American People') know perfectly well that politics shapes culture far more than the other way around. Politics, in the real world, is: who lives and who dies, who makes money and who doesn't, who's educated and who isn't, and what the rules are. American politics has been dominated by the Republican party for 25 years, and we live in the porno culture they stewarded.

Originally, I had a little delayed gratification here, tantalizing the reader with anticipation for the creamy-goodness, the sheer sugar-and-spice girlish charm of Noonan's piece to come. I'd had a brief detour into a column by legend-in-his-own-mind Nat Hentoff , who, as a 60s NYC hipster, I felt simply must be paired with Peggy in the context of this post. But...I thought better of it. Hentoff's column really didn't add anything, and was just full of stock lies you can read anywhere, like this one:

Terri Schiavo has never had an MRI or a PET scan, nor a thorough neurological examination.


Anyway, Nat Hentoff, meet Peggy Noonan. You kids have a lot in common.

The 'It' Girl

I do hate to wallow in this herpes outbreak of an issue (paraphrasing Eric, I'm not apologizing, I REALLY hate it), but Noonan's column sums up a lot about a lot, and is the most direct way through, I think. Her job - as a speechwriter and now - is like that of a gilder, in the sense that not just anyone can do it, even though it looks easy. Naturally though, it's not razor-thin gold she's expertly floating onto the frame. It's perfectly uniform cheese-food, fresh from the can:

[The Shiavo protesters] do not want an innocent human life ended for what appear to be primarily practical and worldly reasons--e.g., Mrs. Schiavo's quality of life is low, her life is pointless. They say: Who is to say it is pointless? And what does pointless even mean? Maybe life itself is the point.

I didn't realize that these protesters were Jains! My mistake. 'Life is the point', eh? OK, but that means no killing at all - of insects, of animals; no wars, no self-defense, no death penalty, no living wills, no nothing. No 'worldly reasons'. Life is the point. Deep, Peggy.

I do not understand the emotionalism of the pull-the-tube people.

Er...did you say 'emotionalism'? Hmm...emotionalism...emotionalism... Other than the hordes of liberals and white-coated, clipboard-clutching 'science-types' marching in the Florida streets chanting 'kill her!', I'm not sure who you're talking about, Peg.

The chairman of the Democratic National Committee calls Republicans "brain dead."

Tasteless indeed, albeit about a 'two' on the logarithmic 'tasteless scale' for this Very Special Television Event.

Michael Schiavo, the husband, calls House Majority Leader Tom DeLay "a slithering snake."

Well, that is horrible, except for the fact that he IS a slithering snake. By the by, I wonder if DeLay will someday have a deathbed change-of-heart, like Rove's mentor Atwater did (along with so many others)? Deathbed changes of heart come conveniently too late to stop or correct any damage done by the person, but it is the traditional way to insult one's religion one last time. Just wondering.

I don't "know" that any degree of progress or healing is possible for Terri Schiavo; I only hope they are.

Epistemological Peggy! It's perfectly alright that you don't "know" (important quotation marks, those). Let's make this the Happiest Place On Earth, Peggy, a Shining City On A Hill. We don't need to 'know' stuff. Ya just gotta believe! (Perhaps we can levitate the Pentagon! ) 'Knowing' stuff is for atheists. Clearly, Christian faith is not about a life of personal spiritual struggle and reflection - all THAT crap; it's about believing what you choose to believe! It's your right to believe what you want, right?

How do the pro-death forces "know" there is no possibility of progress, healing, miracles? They seem to think they know. They seem to love the phrases they bandy about: "vegetative state," "brain dead," "liquefied cortex."

How do they know? Or how do they 'know'? Yeah, those darned 'pro-death' forces do seem to love 'bandying' snappy phrases like 'liquefied cortex' around. They DO seem to love it! They DO seem..!'s...!

Ackk! Torture me no more! Tear up the floorboards! Behold the beating of the hideous heart!

The pull-the-tube people say, "She must hate being brain-damaged." Well, yes, she must. (This line of argument presumes she is to some degree or in some way thinking or experiencing emotions.)

Strawman Peggy! Cover-all-bases Peggy!

Who wouldn't feel extreme sadness at being extremely disabled? I'd weep every day, wouldn't you?

Terri Schiavo's brain damage denied her even the dignity of weeping.

But consider your life. Are there not facets of it, or facts of it, that make you feel extremely sad, pained, frustrated, angry?

We have arrived at the crux of the 'piece', and we can't avoid an unpleasant truth: this is about Peggy and her ilk, not Terri Schiavo. This is not 'respect for life' but fear of death.

But you're still glad you're alive, aren't you? Me too. No one enjoys a deathbed. Very few want to leave.

Consider your life, dear reader...the facts and the facets of it. The windmills and the highways and the byways of your mind. The Times of your life. Wouldn't it make you extremely sad if something icky happened to you, or even just something unpleasant - especially when you're still pretty hot for your age? Wouldn't that make you feel sad? Pained? Frustrated? But you'd want to still live, wouldn't you? Me too.

...why do those who argue for Mrs. Schiavo's death employ language and imagery that is so violent and aggressive?

Speaking of violence and aggression, Peggy goes on to compare what she calls the 'pro-death' forces to the Nazis, etc., calling them 'red-fanged and ravenous' (I'm not kidding).

And finally, since Peggy is definitive on all this, her piece wouldn't be complete without a word about those who - sadly for them - are 'still learning'; a word about.....wait for it.......the children:

And those who are still learning--our children--oh, what terrible lessons they're learning.....They're witnessing the Schiavo drama on television and hearing it on radio.

Ah, the 'PMRC Oral Sex At Gunpoint' phenomenon. Again. Yes, the children have indeed learned lots of terrible lessons from some of their pathetic parents in the past several years. All the humiliating National Porno you can eat, year after year. If people like Peggy took their cultural responsibility to their children and grandchildren seriously, they wouldn't project their own hysteria onto the entire country. (Not to mention the fact that it's all stultifyingly boring - no small sin.) This is solipsism writ grotesquely large. I guess when you've been 'washed' of all sense of shame and humility, when it's Morning Again in your soul, you need have no qualms...

Winning One For the Home Team

I part ways here with some 'moderates' from my side of the aisle, who feel that we should've been 'sympathetic' to the other side in this argument - and I mean the political other side, not Mrs. Schiavo's parents. The blowhards, the politicians, the charlatans, and the goofballs in FL, used Terri Schiavo as a human spittoon, a cypher, a psychic dildo. It's telling that most didn't even bother tolearn her name correctly ('She-avo' not 'SHY-vo'). They didn't give a shit about her, personally. Not one bit. The ugly truth is: if this woman hadn't really been in a persistent vegetative state, the whole circus would've been impossible. The 'forces of life' people needed her to actually be in the state they denied she was in. If she had been able to communicate, respond, etc., the whole thing wouldn't have 'worked'.

Feeling sick yet?

So! Are we as a nation content to, as it were, kick the dog when we really want to yell at our boss? Are we really facing our mixed feelings about abortion and euthenasia, and our fear of eugenics (and of science), when we seize on and demonize this poor Schiavo guy, and fetish his poor wife? It's called 'dysfunction' for a reason, folks - dis-function. The license to be spoiled , ignorant and credulous is a cherished American entitlement - Ronald Reagan (with the signal help of Noonan) effectively made it the law of the land two decades ago. Messing with that entitlement is the real 'third rail' of politics at the moment. But can we really afford it anymore? It is a terrible luxury - absurdly expensive. I see some 'hard choices' on the horizon. We going to have to deliberately step on that third rail at some point, and end it all. Only illusions will die.

I admit to being 'red-fanged', rhetorically, about this. I hope this whole awful 'in love with death' episode backlashes horribly on these ghouls, these American death-cultists, and the attendant profiteers. Unlike DeLay, Frist and Bush, my aim is not narrowly partisan; I'd just like to see a win for the 'home team', AKA homo-sapiens. I hope this is some kind of a watershed event. (Even though Terri is dead now, let's keep seeing those 2 clips of her face over and over on tv for another week or two. Since the damage is already done, since her inherent, basic human dignity - which was all she had left - was already pissed-on and sold out before she died, why not?) Institutional obsession with death, fear of our own learning and intelligence, religious superstition, solipsism - these things are literally a mortal danger to us all in the long run. Life itself IS the point.

[Cross-posted at Total Information Awareness ]

Sunday, January 16, 2005


Ciao For Now

They're cute. Punish them.
Originally uploaded by jonnybutter.

To anybody still reading this blog: it's time for me to sort of 'suspend' it. I'll probably still post occasionally, but knowing that no one will be reading it - blogs are 'publish or die'! I've realized that I've really been blogging for the election (how could one resist?). Now, I have to face the fact that I don't really have time to write, dangit. If it's not worth doing well....well, you know. Right now it's time for me to concentrate on making some of those ever-lighter dollars.

Anyway, the bad news is, Bush Tango'd his way into another term in office. The good news is, it's all on him. G-d punishes people by giving them what they ask for. Rather than make us feel cowed and demoralized, the election has merely pissed core dems/progressives off. The blogosphere is really becoming more aware of itself, is getting more spontaneously organized. It's soberly thrilling. I certainly don't feel demoralized, politically (the looming cultural problems are, er, more complicated).

The Democratic party obviously needs this sort of 'time-out'. We've forgotten that the GOP is paying us a backhanded compliment when they deride us as the 'establishment' or 'status quo' party - even as they beat us with it over and over: basic, inexorable progress is the status quo in the US. The US has historically been a vanguard kind of nation, down to its very constitution. W. Bush is able to do an astonishing amount and variety of damage in a short time - he has an actual genius for fucking up - but his lasting legacy will mostly be economic decline, I suspect. I'm not happy about it, but that's not everything. The Republicans - optimistic rhetoric aside - are what they are: conservatives, a force for a kind of social 'market correction'. Their power is an aberration; they are a natural minority. Our creaky old winner-take-all electoral process is still, unfortunately, a bit more 'republican' than democratic, but we actually eat at Jefferson's and Jackson's table. It's where we live. There is no real 'Republican Revolution', at least not yet. It's gut-check time now, though. If the, yes, Established Democratic party doesn't become a disciplined opposition party - one with the courage of its convictions and a belief in its natural trajectory, it will either be taken over by a very angry grass-roots, or simply dwindle away, to be replaced by something better. If Bush's Social Security gambit, 'Tort Reform' and Tax Program get more than a very few Democratic votes in congress in the coming 18 months or so, we've got a problem.

I know that once I hit 'publish' on this post, I'm going to think of a dozen things to blog about. But until I can figure out a way to do this periodically rather than closer to 'daily', I'll just see everybody in comment land. The blogosphere is starting to kick ass, and I'm enjoying every minute of it.

Thanks for stopping by.


Saturday, January 15, 2005


Rummy Ontology

Big Don hears an unknown unknown
Originally uploaded by jonnybutter.

Ask any certified angry white male if our culture's apparent emphasis on 'self-esteem building' bothers them, and every one of the hardcore of them will light up like christmas trees. They HATE that. HATE HATE HATE it. They counter - rightly - that true self-esteem is built on achievement rather than simple jawboning (note that this critique is a MAJOR part of the whole populist Right rhetorical underpinning - El Rushbo, et. al.). But, what's this?! It seems they highly resent getting their tender self-esteem gored, and tend to be quite touchy about it. What delicate, sensitive souls they really are!

This last election was ALL about 'self-esteem'. Bush and Rove played this tune relentlessly. All resentment all the time. The Bush fans (because that's what they really are - 'fans') thereby showed they tacitly accepted the idea of 'building self-esteem out of thin air' - the danged, supposedly 'liberal program' they despise! This weakness, this contradiction, speaks volumes about how ephemeral W Bush's political support really is; notwithstanding his 'political capital/that's mah style' comment, George and Karl are on fairly shaky ground, and they know it. We should know it too.

Sen. Obama recently endured an hour+ of being interviewed by Charlie Rose. Squeezing in between Charlie's usual small eternities of gibbering solipsism, Obama was able to make some good points. The main one was that the GOP didn't win in '04 so much as the Democrats lost. He's right-on, there. People naturally yearn for revisiting their ethical roots right now, for myriad obvious reasons. I hate to say it, because I think 9/11 was, in a very real way, the beginning of the end for per se religion; but withall, the primary source of ethics in this country is the Judeo-Christian tradition. It just is. Religion simply matters to people, even if they aren't active churchgoers (like Bush). And you essay a culture with the ethics you HAVE, rather than the ethics you think you wish you had. The problems, of course, are with the religiosity itself, the literalness. Take it to its logical conclusion, though, and religion is ultimately about ethics, not religion. Religious customs come and go; ethics is forever. But religious customs don't come and go gently.

There is a reason why it's Southern, explicitly Christian, Democrats who win. It's not because they're condescending, or 'slick'. It's because they know we're in something of an ethical tempest at the moment, and are not too 'cool' to admit it and speak to it. There's absolutely nothing 'stupid' about people yearning for their ethical roots in a storm like this. Democrats must lead the country we have, not the country we wish we had.


Wednesday, January 12, 2005


Three Reasons I'm Not Posting Anything Lately

Blue-eyed Soul
Originally uploaded by jonnybutter.


Harold Meyerson in the WaPo sums Bushco up nicely: The fabricated crisis is the hallmark of the Bush presidency:

I can't think of one [President] fundamentally invested in the spread of disinformation -- and so fundamentally indifferent to the corrosive effect of propaganda on democracy -- as Bush.

(Ted Kennedy even used the line in his Nat'l Press Club speech today, which was funny).


-James Wollcot is on Unction Reconnaissance Duty today. I'm not so interested in snark for snark's sake; but Fineman deserves it, every bit of it. Other good posts at Wollcot's site today, too.


-'Salvador' means 'saviour', an extra fleck of unintended irony about this desperate 'Ave Maria' Pass/float. If you have any questions about the 'Salvador Option', Eric at TIA employs the fire which burns but does not consume to take it apart for you this week. The discussion on this and related topics has been lively, too.

(And 4, I have to work at my real job, dangit.) But the blogosphere is definitely 'warmed-up' lately. The shock of the election is starting to wear off. Folks are on it - commentors, too. What do I need to add? I feel I can safely leave off lurking fretfully in the lead car of the subway train; the train will get there whether I stand there or not. HA.

[UPDATE] And that's only three reasons, of course. So much good work being done on the web. And you can even watch TV, and see people trying to be serious in DC, too. Council On Foreign Relations C-SPAN event on all night (Wed.) is worth seeing. Also check out Sperling et. al. eviscerating Bush's SS gambit (you'll probably have to watch that online - worth it).

[UPDATE 2] For all you Me'shell fans, the full title for the photo would be: 'Blue-eyed soul, without the hot comb'.

Saturday, January 08, 2005


Tyranny of the Minority: The Endless Republican Filibuster

Why, these letters are all IDENTICAL COPIES!
Originally uploaded by jonnybutter.

Publius, this last week, chose to ventilate the issue of the threatened rule change in the Senate which would disallow the per se filibuster (AKA, the 'nuclear option'); in the process, he neatly baited some righteous Christian Soldiers into full battle-mode in his comment area (jumping, as they were, to the defense of that nice Dr. Frist with the good bloodlines ). Their argument is predictably legalistic AND moralistic: the idea of a filibuster is morally abhorrent, you see, because it's a tyranny of the minority (notice that their argument is the other way around when they themselves are in the minority: the questions change, but the answers never do. Exactly like the Bush tax cuts). Their objections to the New Deal are similarly 'adjustable': it's not the programs themselves they object to, necessarily (wink, wink), just the way they were justified legally via the Commerce Clause. Riiiight. That explains the red-faced fury, alright. Pub also gets to the heart of that matter this week, with his ruminations on the difference between an advocate and an analyst (or 'empiricist'). He makes the extremely important point that it matters what kind of lawyer you are; to be a good advocate, you yourself have to know all the actual facts. These Soldiers are salesmen/advocates, and change their arguments like they change their socks. As I've said elsewhere, this phenomenon is a big reason women have historically despised men: that unreachable emotional obtuseness, an ignorance of self so complete as to be laughable, but not that funny. It's basically justifying what you want to do anyway with a big, nerdy, abstract rationalization, the more abstract the better. (Not that women never do anything like that, but men have perfected it.) It's also why people hate lawyers and might even think they want 'Tort Reform'. Moral relativism. Slippery!

This is no deep insight, obviously, but: what is the primary MO of the modern GOP surge since Newt? The Filibuster-style. What are El Rushbo and his ilk but filibusterers? Remember the talking heads whipping the Clinton Whitewater/impeachment, etc. stuff into a frenzy? How did they do it? By talking louder, including shouting people down; by running out the clock; finally, by simply yelling 'shut up!'. And on and on it still goes - you can tune in anytime and hear Sean Hannity reading a phonebook of talking points, hour after hour, day after day.

I know that this 'tyranny of the minority' stuff is transient; we'll get some new 'passionate' argument for the next thing soon. But I don't mind taking note when sheer irony squeezes and oozes through the cracks: the modern GOP insurgency is nothing if not a tyranny of the minority.


Friday, January 07, 2005



With the advent, by now, of the 2Millionth weblog , it's easy to forget the history of the weblog phenomenon. As many of you no doubt know, back in the 90s, true weblogs were originally compendia of interesting links with short commentary - sort of like voluntary 'push' technology. It was more of a 'log' than a 'blog', a 'meta-web' service. Some of you may remember the pioneering 'Robot Wisdom' (which I think is no-more); and 'memepool' (in my blogroll at left) has been around for a long time and is still going strong. Nowadays, blogs run from the essay-style mostly original content of Total Information Awareness and Legal Fiction (and the dear-departed Billmon Whiskey Bar), to the more link-oriented atrios (Danny Yee's 'Pathologically Polymathic', also at left, is another great, old-style weblog).

I suppose most blogs are a mixture of the two, a notable example of which is coturnix's Science and Politics . I thought I had added it to my blogroll long ago, but...I hadn't, dang me. So, check it out, but be warned. Coturnix is a scientist, albeit with very diverse interests, who always offers so much to read and think about, that the only problem is the embarrassment of riches - finding the time to grok it all. A good problem to have.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005


Taxing The Unborn

die Magie Macht Frei
Originally uploaded by jonnybutter.

Oyster is all over new Social Security 'reform' counter-programming today (over at YRHT ). He suggests we repeat the above phrase at least ad nauseum. It does have a certain tang, doesn't it? He links to the people who came up with it, among other good stuff...

(ps Click on the photo to get a good look)

Tuesday, January 04, 2005


Note To My Vast Readership 2

I've changed the name of this blog to 'Crush All Boxes' but left the address the same just so nobody has to change bookmarks. The new title is more appropriate to what I want to attempt in this post-election milieu. I want to try to really rev up and examine some very general cultural themes in the next few months. I realize that this will greatly increase the possibility (already present) of my committing Pompous Hokum, but I figure it's worth the risk. I hope people will see fit to take a little time to set me straight now and then.

Cozy Footies

tender tootsie comfort
Originally uploaded by jonnybutter.

As I suggested in my last post, vis a vis so-called 'Intelligent Design', human life is a continual struggle to balance between instinct/fear/rationalization and Reason. I call it a tension. We would never survive or DO anything without instinct/fear/rationalization (eg walking is literally falling forward). Not admitting that a deeper rationality can sometimes be found in this realm - one we don't yet understand 'scientifically' - is, well, irrational (or, how about 'silly'?). But to maintain a tension, the Rational mind must always be probing, revising, learning.

Another manifestation of our partially reptilian (?) brains - which I propose we simply accept, and even use and enjoy - is our two conceptions of history and time, linear and circular. Humans need cycles. We need to presume a certain amount of 'always was, always will be'. We may know intellectually that empires, even worlds, come and go; but we still need the 'working illusion' that ours is forever. If continuity didn't exist, we would have to invent it - and we do. The challenge is to have a sense of humor enough about our own species to be able to recognize and act against a wrong instinct rather than enshrine it, but to do it without foolishly discounting instinct/et. al. altogether; to distinguish between one's own personal cosmic struggle, and politics and the world. Because history is really more linear than circular. I think dealing with our human dichotomy about this can be easier or harder.

History does repeat itself, but more/less metaphorically than really. In a vital sense, history doesn't repeat itself at all. It is a line. You can probably analogize nanotechnology or modern genetics to something ancient or old, but the analogy is going to be very strained, and probably counterproductive. We, as a species, are going somewhere, and we can definitely fuck it up or not. Nothing is inevitable.

I would draw (or ask someone else to help me draw) a distinction between classic conservatives and our modern day crop - who call themselves conservative, but are really reactionary. I've mentioned elsewhere that I'm not so sure Burke would be a 'Burkeian' today (I'm not a Burke scholar, but he sounds to me like a very conservative liberal in his famous 'letter' about the French Revolution). Skepticism and cynicism about the 'perfectibility of man' are not the same things. Classical conservatives and liberals are both interested in progress - both think in linear terms, but favor different rates. Reactionaries, on the other hand, enshrine the circular, comfy way of thinking as doctrine.

The cry from post-communism progressives, and liberal conservatives, is not for the 'perfectibility of man', (a straw-man anyway) but for 'perfect enough' - evolved enough to handle the wonders which lie ahead. Despite the best efforts of reactionary spirits from Washington DC to Kandahar, science is not stopping. Reactionary politics doesn't really have a 'plan B' (other than Armageddon). It is reactionary politics - rather than the generally liberal kind - which has the touching, naive conception of human nature. Reactionary thinking and politics are the cozy footies of the mind.

For progressives to regain political power, we need to think like the majority we probably are. That partialy means dealing with the ins and outs of the human need for cozy footies of some kind - and not in a contemptuous way, because we ALL long for them. So, 1.) Remove stick from ass. 2.) Laugh. 3.) Move forward (as the dynamic Scott McClellan would say).


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