Neo, Chomsky, and Misfits in General

February 28, 2008 at 11:42 am (Popular Culture)

noam_chomsky.jpg“Either you repeat the same conventional doctrines every-body is saying, or else you say something true, and it will sound like it’s from Neptune.”

So says Noam Chomsky, and I concur.

I, for one, find it disturbing that I have to look over my shoulder to make sure the coast is clear before I voice any discomfort about our country’s killing of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians in Iraq. I find it eerie that I have to speak in hushed tones about the driving force of our economy — greed — being a vice. I find it disheartening that the two “options” we will have to choose from in November merely represent different sides of the same corporately-owned, sabre-rattling coin.

Seeing the Matrix from without rather than from within is rather surreal and Orwellian.

Now if I could just remember this week’s official position on whether Oceania defeated Eurasia, or if it was the other way around….


 

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Must We Run?

February 25, 2008 at 11:09 pm (Music)

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In the Bright Eyes song “At the Bottom of Everything” Conor Oberst sings:

We must blend into the choir
Sing as static with the whole;
We must memorize nine numbers and deny we have a soul;
And in this endless race for property and privilege to be won
We must run, we must run, we must run.

It’s parody, obviously, but it got me thinking….

Must we progressives be resigned to simply toe the line with respect to the way the wind is blowing in the popular culture? Must we dissidents “blend in to the choir,” add to the “static,” and reduce ourselves to a statistic in the cultural matrix? Must we participate in the American Dream and run after all the property and privilege to be won?

And of not, how do we rise above it?

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When Democracy Gets in the Way of Reform

February 22, 2008 at 4:36 pm (Free Market Capitalism)

pickpocket.jpgAs a follow-up to my previous post, consider these words from John Williamson, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, during a speech on economics given in 1993:

“One will have to ask whether it could conceivably make sense to think of deliberately provoking a crisis so as to remove the political logjam to reform.”

A couple things are noteworthy here: First, according to the model Klein has dubbed “Disaster Capitalism,” things such as the will of the people playing a role in how their societies are run (or, “democracy”) are seen as “political logjams.” This is precisely why Friedman advocates keeping neocon ideas alive until a moment of crisis or disaster — after a shock, people are less able to resist such “reforms.” I mean, it was kind of hard for the 4000 or so members of the New Orleans teachers union to do anything about their union being busted and their jobs stolen away since they had been evacuated to other parts of the country after Hurricane Katrina.

And secondly, the metaphor Klein uses to describe this economic policy (i.e., pickpocketing the stunned victim of a car accident) is only half correct in many cases. Before you can slip your fingers in and grab the wallet, you’ve gotta first run them off the road.

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The “Shock Doctrine”

February 20, 2008 at 11:27 pm (Free Market Capitalism)

milton-friedman.jpgWhen Milton Friedman died, we were reminded again of the mythological tale he supposedly spun. You know, the one about how democracy and free markets go hand in hand, and if we only liberate people to make their own choices, they’ll choose capitalism as a matter of course.

The problem is, Friedman didn’t always see the need to whitewash and euphemize his own views the way his biographers do.

In point of fact, Friedman understood the context in which capitalism inevitably takes hold not as democracy but as crisis. He writes:

“Only a crisis — actual or perceived — produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. That, I believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes politically inevitable.”

In other words, it takes a 9/11, a Hurricane Katrina, or a CIA-sponsored coup to bring about the psychological shock necessary to implement the economic shock of deregulation, privatization, and the cutting of social services. And if there is resistance, then there’s always the physical shock of torture to keep the rabble in line.

Just ask las madres de los deseparecidos.

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War and Fleece

February 18, 2008 at 11:20 pm (U.S. Foreign Policy, Uncategorized)

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Award-winning author Naomi Klein has argued that the so-called “reconstruction effort” in Iraq is not reconstruction at all. In fact, it’s the sale of the century.

Here’s how it works: The U.S. invades the country and destroys its infrastructure (its bridges, its roads, its hospitals, its schools). Then, the Bush administration hands out no-bid contracts to companies to rebuild the stuff we blew up (companies like Halliburton, whose former CEO, Dick Cheney, still owns stock options and receives compensation, and whose profits since the invasion have saved the company from bankruptcy).

So basically, we have turned Iraq into a capitalist’s dream, a shopping mall in which the products sold are the resources of someone else’s country. And in the aftermath of shock and awe, the country was declared “open for business” by Paul Bremer before the dust had settled, before the lights had come back on, and before the U.S. contractors had successfully rebuilt a single bridge.

And this universal restructuring of the Iraqi economy was completed before elections were held. The basic issues any democracy wrestles with, like “Should we have private or universal health care?”, “How should our resources be distributed?”, and “How much of our public companies should we allow foreign companies to own?” were all decided unilaterally by the U.S. And once we had pillaged and plundered the country’s resources we decided that we should probably let them vote.

Not much has changed since Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492.

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John Cleese’s “Letter to America”

February 17, 2008 at 2:06 pm (Comedy)

johncleese.jpgIn view of your failure to elect a competent President and thus to govern yourselves, we hereby give notice of the revocation of your independence, effective immediately.
Her Sovereign Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, will resume monarchical duties over all  states, commonwealths and other territories (except Kansas, which she does not fancy), as from Monday next.

Your new prime minister, Gordon Brown, will appoint a governor for America without the need for further elections. Congress and the Senate will be disbanded. A questionnaire may be circulated next year to determine whether any of you noticed.

To aid in the transition to a British Crown Dependency, the following rules are introduced with immediate effect:

1. You should look up “revocation” in the Oxford English Dictionary. Then look up “aluminium,” and check the pronunciation guide. You will be amazed at just how wrongly you have been pronouncing it.

2. The letter ‘U’ will be reinstated in words such as ‘colour’, ‘favour’ and ‘neighbour.’ Likewise, you will learn to spell ‘doughnut’ without skipping half the letters, and the suffix “ize” will be replaced by the suffix “ise.”

3. You will learn that the suffix ‘burgh’ is pronounced ‘burra’; you may elect to spell Pittsburgh as ‘Pittsberg’ if you find you simply can’t cope with correct pronunciation.

4. Generally, you will be expected to raise your vocabulary to acceptable levels (look up “vocabulary”). Using the same twenty-seven words interspersed with filler noises such as “like” and “you know” is an unacceptable and inefficient form of communication.

5. There is no such thing as “US English.” We will let Microsoft know on your behalf. The Microsoft spell-checker will be adjusted to take account of the reinstated letter ‘u’ and the elimination of “-ize.”

6. You will relearn your original national anthem, “God Save The Queen”, but only after fully carrying out Task #1 (see above).

7. July 4th will no longer be celebrated as a holiday. November 2nd will be a new national holiday, but to be celebrated only in England. It will be called “Come-Uppance Day.”

8. You will learn to resolve personal issues without using guns, lawyers or therapists. The fact that you need so many lawyers and therapists shows that you’re not adult enough to be independent. Guns should only be handled by adults. If you’re not adult enough to sort things out without suing someone or speaking to a therapist then you’re not grown up enough to handle a gun.

9. Therefore, you will no longer be allowed to own or carry anything more dangerous than a vegetable peeler. A permit will be required if you wish to carry a vegetable peeler in public.

10. All American cars are hereby banned. They are crap and this is for your own good. When we show you German cars, you will understand what we mean.

11. All intersections will be replaced with roundabouts, and you will start driving on the left with immediate effect. At the same time, you will go metric immediately and without the benefit of conversion tables… Both roundabouts and metrification will help you understand the British sense of humour.

12. The Former USA will adopt UK prices on petrol (which you have been calling “gasoline”) – roughly $8/US per gallon. Get used to it.

13. You will learn to make real chips. Those things you call french fries are not real chips, and those things you insist on calling potato chips are properly called “crisps.” Real chips are thick cut, fried in animal fat, and dressed not with catsup but with malt vinegar.

14. Waiters and waitresses will be trained to be more aggressive with customers.

15. The cold tasteless stuff you insist on calling beer is not actually beer at all. Henceforth, only proper British Bitter will be referred to as “beer,” and European brews of known and accepted provenance will be referred to as “Lager.” American brands will be referred to as “Near-Frozen Gnat’s Urine,” so that all can be sold without risk of further confusion.

16. Hollywood will be required occasionally to cast English actors as good guys. Hollywood will also be required to cast English actors as English characters. Watching Andie MacDowell attempt English dialogue in “Four Weddings and a Funeral” was an experience akin to having one’s ear removed with a cheese grater.

17. You will cease playing American “football.” There is only one kind of proper football; you call it “soccer”. Those of you brave enough, in time, will be allowed to play rugby (which has some similarities to American “football”, but does not involve stopping for a rest every twenty seconds or wearing full kevlar body armour like a bunch of Jessies – English slang for “Big Girls Blouse”).

18. Further, you will stop playing baseball. It is not reasonable to host an event called the “World Series” for a game which is not played outside of America. Since only 2.1% of you are aware that there is a world beyond your borders, your error is understandable and forgiven.

19. You must tell us who killed JFK. It’s been driving us mad.

20. An internal revenue agent (i.e. tax collector) from Her Majesty’s Government will be with you shortly to ensure the acquisition of all monies due, backdated to 1776.

Thank you for your co-operation.
John Cleese

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Jihad, American Style

February 14, 2008 at 12:18 am (U.S. Foreign Policy, Uncategorized)

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Here’s a little sociology lesson for you: In your mind, exchange this soldier’s uniform for a white robe and replace his helmet with a turban. With me so far? Good. Now, picture him kneeling on both knees rather than one, with his face to the ground and a little mat underneath him. And finally, change the English letters at the bottom to Arabic ones, and the word “Lord” to “Allah” with a Quran reference instead of one from the New Testament.

 GASP! Look at that fanatical extremist! How can those animals kill innocent women and children with such indifference and even glee? They must have ice running through their veins….

 Just ’cause murder is done in the service of a different God doesn’t make it holy war.

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Fascism in Ten Easy Steps

February 12, 2008 at 12:41 am (U.S. Domestic Policy, Uncategorized)

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In The End of America, Naomi Wolf lists the ten steps that have historically preceded the “fascist shift” that occured in Nazi Germany, Mussolini’s Italy, and that is occuring in our land in the present day:

1. Invoke an External and Internal Threat

2. Establish Secret Prisons

3. Develop a Paramilitary Force

4. Surveil Ordinary Citizens

5. Infiltrate Citizens’ Groups

6. Arbitrarily Detain and Release Citizens

7. Target Key Individuals

8. Restrict the Press

9. Cast Criticism as “Espionage” and Dissent as “Treason”

10. Subvert the Rule of Law

Are you shuddering yet?

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The Middle Children of History

February 11, 2008 at 12:49 am (Consumerism)

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In one of his rousing speeches, Brad Pitt’s character in Fight Club says:

“I see all this potential, and I see squandering. An entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables; slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need. We’re the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War’s a spiritual war… our Great Depression is our lives. We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won’t. And we’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off. ”

 The anti-consumerist refrain that runs through this film is incredibly appealing (though living in a dillapidated tenement is not).

 Maybe Tyler Durden is right. Maybe invention is the mother of necessity. Maybe we Americans spend way too much time living as wage slaves in order to scrape together enough stuff to distract us from the truth we dare not face.

 It may do us some good to remember that the American Dream does not come for free. And no, I’m not referring to our boys in uniform who lay it all on the line to ensure our way of life, but to the thousands of people all over the world who have to endure poverty and squalor in order to enable us to have Blackberrys for ourselves and Barbies for our kids.

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A Case Study in Irony

February 9, 2008 at 7:58 am (U.S. Foreign Policy)

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In case you didn’t catch season one of CBS’s Jericho, let me bring you up to speed….

 There has been a nuclear attack on the U.S., with something like ten cities being hit and hundreds of thousands killed. The closest missile to hit near Jericho, Kansas was in Denver. They could see the blast and got some of the radioactive fallout, but were largely spared.

Toward the end of season one, the nearby town of New Bern hears that Jericho’s farms and salt mine are producing nicely, and they want in on the action. More accurately, they want to take these spoils for themselves. New Bern is better-armed than Jericho, so they use a minor scuffle between their respective townsfolk as a provocation and excuse to invade their neighbors, which they do with great violence and cruelty.

Anyone watching this program cannot help being filled with outrage at such selfishness and greed. How can the leaders of New Bern be so callous and opportunistic? How can they trump up such a weak excuse to exploit others for profit?

 Hmmm….

The ironic thing about all this is that the good people of Jericho, Kansas are God-fearing conservatives for whom Old Glory holds a special place, and who live under the assumption that America, at least as it once existed, was a force of good and justice in the world.

Why, you ask, is this ironic?

Because the residents of Jericho are enduring the very same treatment that their beloved country has inflicted upon a myriad of other nations, from the landing of Christopher Columbus in the New World to the landing of Paul Bremer in Iraq.

That’s why.

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