30 December 2010

Irony, Projection, Crowds, & Fear

"Very true he had promised to lend her a book. A novel was the only thing worth considering for her. But no mind ever grew fat on a diet of novels. The pleasure which they occasionally offer is far too heavily paid for: they undermine the finest characters. They teach us to think ourselves into other men's places. Thus we acquire a taste for change. The personality becomes dissolved in pleasing figments of imagination. The reader learns to understand every point of view. Willingly he yields himself to the pursuit of other people's goals and loses sight of his own. Novels are so many wedges which the novelist, an actor with his pen, inserts into the closed personality of the reader. The better he calculates the size of the wedge and the strength of the resistance, so much the more completely does he crack open the personality of his victim. Novels should be prohibited by the State." Elias Canetti, Auto-da-Fé 42
Diabolical. Canetti, the novelist, uses his protagonist, Peter Kien eminent Sinologist, to lampoon and, indeed, undermine his (C's) own project. Quite a feat of critical self-examination, I'd say. But it is the feat of someone versed in the arts of critical thinking. Not everyone is, and this is an argument I've been making around here since WoW's beginnings some 3 years ago!


Remember the great controversy last year around this time concerning health care: DEATH PANELS! "The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama’s 'death panel' so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their 'level of productivity in society,' whether they are worthy of health care. Such a system is downright evil." quoth Sarah Palin.

Politifact called it the biggest lie of 2009.

Now, the conservative Republican congress of Arizona and Jan Breuer, Governor, have instituted the very sort of thing they feared the Democrats wanted to institute.
"Starting in October, [2009] a measure passed by the Republican-led state legislature began denying Medicaid funds for organ transplants such as bone-marrow, lung, heart and liver transplants, which can be very expensive and are often performed in life-threatening cases.

The New York Times reports that Arizona doctors deem it a "a death sentence for some low-income patients, who have little chance of survival without transplants and lack the hundreds of thousands of dollars needed to pay for them."
Is that irony? Sort of, but it's more than that; something more insidious and, some might argue, pathological.


This is not the only incident of this sort of thing. The latest iteration? The Democrats are trying an unprecedented power grab when they talk about reforming the rules of the Senate.

And the constant propagandistic repetition of the use of the words 'government takeover' to describe anything that smacks of regulation or consumer protection.

Why is this disingenuous? Think back to the actual power grabs by the conservatives when they were in power: e.g., the PATRIOT Act; Newt Gingrich's shut-down of the Federal Government in a fit of pique at Pres. Clinton; the impeachment of Pres. Clinton and the series of Republican Speakers of the House who, during their pursuit of Clinton for a sexual indiscretion, had to abdicate power because of their own peccadillos.


Why the need to lie? I'm not sure they are lies.

To explain, I have to draw on some earlier posts here about the nature of the authoritarian personality: the whole series of posts on swarms, crowds and power, etc. [There are several pages of posts.]

I think these are all fairly clear examples of psychological projection. There's nothing earth-shaking about that observation. "Projection" is:
"a psychological defense mechanism where a person unconsciously denies their own attributes, thoughts, and emotions, which are then ascribed to the outside world, such as to the weather, or to other people. Thus, it involves imagining or projecting that others have those feelings.

Projection reduces anxiety by allowing the expression of the unwanted unconscious impulses or desires without letting the conscious mind recognize them.

An example of this behavior might be blaming another for self failure. The mind may avoid the discomfort of consciously admitting personal faults by keeping those feelings unconscious, and redirect their libidinal satisfaction by attaching, or "projecting," those same faults onto another."
I made a fairly clear argument to that same effect here with respect to V.Pres. Cheney and Sarah Palin and the Tea Party on the issue of whether Pres. Obama should use war as a tool of domestic politics:
"arguably the two top Republicans in the country are debating whether the President should use war as a political tool. Palin says yes. Cheney says Palin should be careful what she says; presidents should never think this way—out loud. ...Clearly, they think about these things. And that should give us all pause." 

A recent article claims that conservatives have a larger fear center in their amygdala. [N.B. It's not clear whether greater fear causes bigger amygdalas or bigger amygdalas cause greater fears, but it's an interesting observation.]

This makes sense: the anxiety produced by being subject to so much fear must be repressed, especially if that fear is of one's own dark side—the impulse to dominate. The authoritarian personality, as I've pointed out, requires both leaders and followers; it does not, however, allow for critical thought. And by critical thought I mean the ability to evaluate something on its merits in a rational, disinterested judgment—including one's self and one's intentions, goals, actions, merits, faults, etc.

It's easier to lay one's faults and flaws, one's worst impulses, off on an 'other', to blame others for one's failings. Projection.

For the Freudians, the dynamic of projection is unconscious. The projector is incapable of examining themselves and their own impulses and desires—that applies and is, in fact, amplified in the situation of crowd behavior where the desire to be swept up in the emotion of the crowd overpowers any sort of moral reasoning or rationality.

The more authoritarian the personality, the greater the tendency to project (i.e., defend the insecure self). [Gives an interesting twist on the "Project for a New American Century", eh?]

Projection: watch for it. Watch out for it.

28 December 2010

Reference, Allusion, Parody, Unreliability

By and large and for the most part, I eschew naked references in my fiction—allusion, on the other hand, abounds. But in one chapter I've been revising, I go all out. I thought I'd quote a few paragraphs from roughly the midpoint of the book, tongue firmly planted in cheek. Enjoy or destroy:
This night there were cocktails and crackers before the premiere of a one-man performance of a piece, and I guess that really is the only word for it, called "Dying Acts". It was rumored a critic from the Times or at least the Voice would be here. I knocked back a quick bourbon and got a refill before the bartender closed up the till and headed back to man the lighting console. I felt the familiar sting in my nostrils, and a pleasing dizziness settled in a coil at the back of my brain as the lights went down. The performer, Jimmy Hargitay, was known to Nina from the off-off-Broadway and indie-movie crowd. I had no evidence he and Nina were anything other than collaborators. Not that it mattered. Nina did what she wanted and was, by breeding, discreet.


I followed her up five flights of a dingy stairwell. At the top we were buzzed through a heavy steel door into the 'theater'. It had been a warehouse or an old manufacturing loft once—an expanse of unpolished wooden floors, dusty red brick walls, and exposed, unpainted steel girders and beams supporting a dark concrete ceiling. In the middle of the room sat a make-shift, semi-circular, wooden platform backdropped by a scrim of television sets and video and movie screens set at various heights and angles. An amphitheater of metal folding chairs on temporary risers rimmed the stage. I was prepared for the worst.

At these events of Nina's, I'd seen women in black leather harnesses and white lace tutus bathe in a bin of honey then roll around on a stage covered in sand and sawdust and ashes to the trance-like beat of what might well have been a techno version of "Swan Lake"; I'd cringed at the piercing sulfuric stench of a man burning off braided strands of his knee-length red beard while reciting from The Cantos of Ezra Pound ("There is a wine-red glow in the shallows,/ a tin flash in the sun-dazzle.") and The Maximus Poems of Charles Olson ("It was fishing was first.") and, apparently, one of his own poetic ravings A Belcher's Odes ("we eat/ we love/ we love/ to eat/ until/ we're done/ or 'til/ it's gone"); and I'd sat through the full five acts of Macbeth recited without blocking on a bare stage by seven men clad only in body paint and loin-cloths and ancient pig and dog masks, grunting and barking where the director obviously felt the script called for emphasis. Nina supported the arts, produced these things. It was indeed what she did. But tonight I merely wanted to be amused. TV would have done. Or even some quality time among my own dreams.

. . .

Nina and I were the last to find our reserved seats down front. The house lights dimmed. The hundred or so members of the audience hushed. A solitary spot shone on Hargitay standing upstage left holding a wooden oar in his arms. He began:

...and turning our stern toward morning, our bow toward night,
we bore southwest out of the world of man;
we made wings of our oars for our fool's flight.

That night we raised the other pole ahead
with all its stars, and ours had so declined
it did not rise out of its ocean bed.

Five times since we had dipped our bending oars
beyond the world, the light beneath the moon
had waxed and waned, when dead upon our course

we sighted, dark in space, a peak so tall
I doubted any man had seen the like.
Our cheers were hardly sounded, when a squall

broke hard upon our bow from the new land:
three times it sucked the ship and the sea about
as it pleased Another to order and command.

At the fourth, the poop rose and the bow went down
till the sea closed over us and the light was gone.

[N.B.: from Dante Alighieri, The Inferno: A Verse Rendering for the Modern Reader by John Ciardi, Canto XXVI, lines 115-131. (1954)]

Behind him, the screens operating for the moment as a single screen showed a film of a brilliant moon in the night sky, its reflection rippling on the surface of the ocean. The sound of oars dipping in the water filled the theater. Then, near the end of the piece, the screens went dark soon to be filled with a clip from an old black-and-white film of the ocean opening up into a vast maelstrom and swallowing a wooden sailing ship.

Then Hargitay crossed to stage right and recited a passage I recognized from the Bible:

"And it came to pass, as they still went on, and talked, that behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. And Elisha saw it, and he cried, My father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof. And he saw him no more: and he took hold of his own clothes, and rent them in two pieces." [N.B.: (2 Kings 2: 11-12) [KJV]]

While saying this he ripped his shirt off. Behind him, a cartoon of a fiery chariot and horses against a night sky leaped from screen to screen all the way across the stage. The effects were dazzling.

For the rest of the evening, the screens showed death scenes from the movies and television—or, more accurately, cropped reaction shots of the mourners in those scenes—the dead and dying having been cut out. Hargitay spoke his own lines as if to the actors on the screen, and they responded as if to him and his dying. After each set of lines, the videos went blank, or staticky, and he crossed the darkened stage. And each time he toed a new mark a somber bell tolled. As with a pendulum, each swing brought him both closer to center stage and closer to the audience. The shots of the mourners countered him in both their proximity to center stage and the angle of the shot, each swing bringing both performer and mourner slowly closer to an equilibrium. At various points in the drama, Hargitay removed more clothing.

Some of the filmed scenes were appropriately somber. Others out of phase. Occasionally, only static or test patterns shone on the screens. There were moments of bombast and wit, of patriotism and irony, of maudlin regret and manful resignation, even a certain amount of religious hope, however delusional. I was prepared to close my eyes as Hargitay whipped through his lines and, perhaps, drift off. But the brilliant glow of the screens mesmerized me into a harsh wakefulness; I couldn't keep my eyes closed. My thoughts roamed wide and wild, using the text, the scenes, as springboards. Some of the scenes were from war movies, others from parlor or hospital dramas. Many were ludicrously overblown: strings swelled; a camera zoomed in on a fat, glycerine tear or a quivering, shellacked, collagen-shot lower lip; fists clenched and pounded tables or wrenched handkerchiefs or other articles of clothing; stony-faced cowboys held their hats over their hearts or their genitals or rode their horses into vast desert distances. Dark birds flew. Lengthening shadows drenched cramped rooms. Raindrops trickled from dark foliage. A few lines, such as Oscar Wilde's "Either this wallpaper goes, or I do!" drew appropriate titters from the audience, whereas at least one, Socrates's "Crito, I owe a cock to Asclepius; will you remember to pay the debt?" evoked an inappropriate snigger from me (there is so little humor in philosophy we all learned to enjoy a naughty pun when we saw one) and earned a well-aimed elbow from Nina to my ribs. Once or twice, when the program music on the screens resolved on a particularly sublime chord or phrase, I felt a dampness coating my eyes and found it difficult to swallow or even breathe. I attributed it to the inherent manipulativeness of the medium or my own lack of sleep.

Then, at the end, Hargitay stood stock still at center stage, his momentum stilled, his bared back to the audience speaking to the hooded face of a sobbing, pleading woman—a Clytemnestra or Antigone who bore more than a faint resemblance to my mother—which spanned all the screens on the stage and dwarfed the naked actor. I looked up from whatever reverie this deeply moving, even archetypal, scene had spun me into only to confront from my seat—third row, center aisle—Hargitay's large, hairy backside. Then he turned around. I winced. Covertly shuddered. The audience gasped as, behind him, brilliant on the screen, a piercing white light exploded from the screens, filling the room and a deep, booming voice said "This is my Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him." And Hargitay raised his arms and collapsed in a heap on the floor. Total darkness engulfed the room. Only the exit lights over the door to the stairwell were visible. The lights went up to a moment of shocked silence and then earnest applause as the naked actor trotted off stage. He returned in a robe for a brief bow.

The house lights came up. The caterers once again brought around canapés. The bartender returned to his station. As did I. The lighting was kept low, allowing Nina to shield her scars in the shadows. The crowd crowed over the performance—"profound", "moving", "magical", "hypnotic", "spiritual", "transformative", "by the end I felt like I was the one being mourned"—and feted Nina and Hargitay.

"Jimmy's the creative one," she protested.

"I just loved the way Hargitay deconstructed all the traditional categories of our supposed 'feelings' about dying. It was so totally transgressive of the religious clichés that we have been force-fed by the media our whole lives!" a woman in black leotards, a short black skirt, leather jacket, and tall cowboy boots said. "Don't you think?" Her eyebrows, as well as her short, lopsided hair, might have been dyed black.

"Well, it didn't have much of a plot," I said.
The rest of the chapter is an argument between the protagonist and his wife, the producer of the piece, over its meaning (or lack thereof). As in Hamlet, the parodic aspects relate to the theme of the novel, and thus the narrator is, as they say, unreliable.

19 December 2010

The Unanswered Question, So What

Wisdom of the West will be dark for the next week as I take a family holiday.

Best wishes to all of you for the New Year.

18 December 2010

O Captain, My Captain: R.I.P Don Van Vliet

'Tis a sad Zappadan. Captain Beefheart died today. I know I'm not the first to post this. I saw the crawl on MSNBC this a.m. before I took my kids to buy Christmas stuff.

In college, whenever I wanted to be alone, I could always clear out my dorm room by putting the Captain on the turntable (the Bad Company, Fleetwood Mac crowd would flee; the progs would listen curiously for awhile and bow out; etc.). And I knew I was heading in the right direction the night I met the woman who became my bride when she told me she'd seen CB & the Magic Band in concert. The opening act, by the way, was a chimp.

The music speaks for itself. You either do or don't.

16 December 2010

Run Better Run

The data are in.

Forgive me as I return to the personal space. Many of you will recall back in Aug. '09, I got a pair of Vibram Five-Finger shoes for my birthday and began running fairly regularly again for the first time in years. You can follow the saga here.

Beginning last December, I started keeping a running log using Gmaps Pedometer and a cheap watch. Here're the results:

From Dec. 1, 2009 through Nov. 30, 2010, I logged a total of 496.7 miles over 101+ hours (62.15 of those miles I ran barefoot)—just under 10 miles/week. I competed in 10 races: 2 5ks (3.1 miles), 4 10ks (6.2 miles), 1 15k (9.3 miles), 1 11-mile, and 2 half-marathons (13.1 miles). I ran on many different surfaces (asphalt, chip seal, boardwalk, trail, mud, granite, sand) and many different terrains (beach, hill, mountain, island, city, country) and in all types of weather (from 20° to 90°+, snow, deluge, sun, fog, humidity). Over the course of the year, my times improved to the extent that my 'easy' training runs now are at about the same pace as my first competitive races. In one 10k race, I ran my age!

One of the main questions I get from fellow runners when they see my shoes is: how many miles do you get on them? Thanks to my generous family, I now have three pair, VFF Sprint (black/blue), VFF KSO Trek (black), VFF Bikila (blue/gold) [as pictured on the left], each for a different type of run. Here're the mileage stats on each shoe for the year in question and the types of runs in each:
  • Sprint: 177 miles: 49 asphalt, smooth concrete, grassy field, and easy trail runs
  • KSO Trek: 68.5 miles: 16 trail runs
  • Bikila: 169.45 miles: 40 road runs
Note: these mileage figures do not take into account any runs from August to December, 2009, or after December 1, 2010. They do not account for the half-mile (approx.) I walk before and after each run, nor for the hikes I've taken in the N.C. mountains in the KSO Treks, nor the gym exercises (plyometrics, cardio, etc.) I do in the Sprints. Also, because they're so comfortable, I like to wear the KSO Treks to the movies and shopping and driving! [And for those of you keeping track, I ran an additional 19.7 miles in basic $5 water shoes.]

All of these shoes are still in regular rotation.

14 December 2010

Breadcrumb Trail

Thanks to all of you for your votes in the 3QuarksDaily politics contest. Thanks to you, my post made the semi-finals but didn't qualify for the finals as determined by the site's editors. You guys are the best!


Here are FlowingData's 10 Best Data Visualization Projects for 2010. My favorite:

Nature by Numbers from Cristóbal Vila on Vimeo. Fibonacci be praised.


Did you know that Harvard scientists have reversed the aging process in mice. The process of aging is complicated, but boiled down:
"The ageing process is poorly understood, but scientists know it is caused by many factors. Highly reactive particles called free radicals are made naturally in the body and cause damage to cells, while smoking, ultraviolet light and other environmental factors contribute to ageing.

The Harvard group focused on a process called telomere shortening. Most cells in the body contain 23 pairs of chromosomes, which carry our DNA. At the ends of each chromosome is a protective cap called a telomere. Each time a cell divides, the telomeres are snipped shorter, until eventually they stop working and the cell dies or goes into a suspended state called "senescence". The process is behind much of the wear and tear associated with ageing."
The problem with humans is that we don't function quite like mice. Raising telomerase levels in humans can dormant cause cancers to bloom as well. Still, a good diet of antioxidants can help nip those pesky free radicals in the bud.


Stories create us, not the other way around: "State-of-the-art neuro-imaging and cognitive neuropsychology both uphold the idea that we create our "selves" through narrative."


There's a socio-political component as well, according to George Lakoff. (Here also) Per the dominant narrative of the day, there are certain 'untellable truths' that simply do not enter the discourse, and we are the worse for it. What are these truths?
"There is a Principle of Conservation of Government: If conservatives succeed in cutting government by the people for the public good, our lives will still be governed, but now by corporations. ...

The moral missions of government include the protection and empowerment of citizens. Protection includes health care, social security, safe food, consumer protection, environmental protection, job protection, etc. ...

The moral missions of government impose a distinction between necessities and services. Government has a moral mission to provide necessities: Adequate food, water, housing, transportation, education, infrastructure (roads and bridges, sewers, public buildings), medical care, care for elders, the disabled, environmental protection, food safety, clean air, and so on. Necessities should never be subordinated to private profit. ...

Services are very different; they start where necessities end. Private service industries exist to provide services — car rentals, parking lots, hair salons, gardening, painting, plumbing, fast food, auto repair, clothes cleaning, and so on. It is time to stop speaking of government “services” and speak instead of government providing necessities. ...

The market is supposed to be “efficient” at distributing goods and services, and sometimes, with appropriate competition, it is. But the market is most often inefficient at proving necessities, because every dollar that goes to profit is a dollar that does not go to necessities. ...

Public servant pensions have been earned. Public servants have taken lower salaries in return for better benefits later in life. They have earned those pensions through years of hard work at low salaries. ...

Education is a public good, not a private good. It benefits all of us to live in a country with educated people. ...

Huge discrepancies in wealth are a danger to democracy and a cause for major public alarm. ...

Tax “cuts,” “breaks,” and “loopholes” sound good (wouldn’t you like one?) even for super-wealthy individuals and corporations. What they really mean is that money is being transferred from poorer people to richer people: The poor and middle are giving money to the rich! Why? ...

Markets in a democracy have a fundamentally moral as well as economic function.  Working people who produce goods and services are necessary for businesses and should be paid in line with profits and productivity. ...

Carbon-based fuels — oil, coal, natural gas — are deadly. They bring death to people and animals and destruction to nature. We are not paying for their true cost because they are being subsidized: tens of billions of dollars for naval protection of tankers, hundreds of billions for oil leases, hundreds of billions in destruction of nature, as in the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska coast. Death comes from the poisoning of air and water through pollution and natural gas frakking. And global warming pollution destroys nature itself...

What is called “school failure” is actually a failure of citizens to pay for and do what is needed for excellent schools...

Taxpayers pay for business perks. Because business can deduct the costs of doing business, taxpayers wind up paying a significant percentage of business write-offs — extravagant offices, business cars and jets, first-class and business-class flights, meetings at expensive lodges and spas, and so on. Businesses regularly rip off taxpayers through tax deductions. ...

The economic crisis and the ecological crisis are the same crisis. ...The causes of both are the same: Underestimation of risk. Privatization of profit. Socialization of Loss. ...

Low-paid immigrant workers make the lifestyles of the middle and upper classes possible."


I can recall no time in the last nearly 40 years when I did not have a copy of this album in my collection. One of my favorite songs of all time (classical, jazz, blues, rock, pop, whatever) begins at 5:05 "Theme from Burnt Weeny Sandwich." Enjoy. Happy Zappadan to all!

10 December 2010

Vote For My Post

It's that time again. Last year, one of my posts was nominated for the Politics Quark (Judged by Tariq Ali) at the estimable 3QuarksDaily. From a large field, my post was among the five finalists. There's a banner over on the right that will take you to that post entitled "Blunderbuss", as will this link.

Loyal reader, author Frances Madeson, has nominated another of my posts for this years Politics Quark (Judged by Lewis Lapham). The post is titled "Politics", and it deals with the outcome of the recent mid-term elections. Here is the link to the list of nominated posts over at 3QuarksDaily. There's some good stuff. Read through them, and, if so inclined, vote for mine here. They're in alphabetical order; mine is close to the bottom. Thanks.

UPDATE: Voting closes Monday, December 13, 2010, at 11:59 pm NYC time

08 December 2010

What a Fool Believes

Julian Assange is not the story. Neither is the honey trap, unless of course it is. Either the guy has a terrific PR agent, or someone else is unwittingly doing the work of promoting Wikileaks for him by incongruously calling attention to it by promoting a Swedish sex scandal. We all know that in this country it's not the steak that generates eyeballs, but the sizzle. This story has all that and more. But all this reportage of gossip and cyberwar is taking eyes and ears away from the substance of what is being released.

This is the Wikileaks story:
"The Nuremberg trials established the principle that political and military leaders would be held accountable for waging wars of aggression. Now however, we have a situation where invasions of other countries on manifestly false and manufactured premises in breach of international law, suspension of habeas corpus, unlawful renditions and detentions, torture and other breaches of law and international conventions are carried out without those responsible being held accountable."
Don't let all that other stuff take your eye off the ball.

Neither is Liu Xiaobo the story, but the total effort of the Chinese to discredit the Nobel Prize and squelch Liu's criticism of its repressive regime is making him the story and, at the same time, reinforcing his point—probably everywhere but on the mainland.

Meanwhile, while the former U.S. Vice President is not the story, Dick Cheney's corruption, venality, and criminality should be and always should have been.

In politics, taxes are not the story. Getting them out of the way so the Senate can get on to the business of ratifying START is. "Duck and cover" anyone? Mitch McConnell trying to make himself the story by blocking this truly monumental action should be the story as well.

And, speaking of BIG things, I ask again: why isn't the UNFCCC a BIG story? It should be.

Lastly, John Lennon is not the story, nor is his death 30 years ago. I never knew him except via his celebrity. I was saddened that he got murdered by a lunatic. But that's the point: it's not about celebrity; the man wrote and sang some lovely songs that have had a remarkable shelf life for pop detritus.

02 December 2010

Global Warming, Alien Life Forms, and Republicans

There's a U.N. Climate Change Conference going on now in Cancun, Mexico. You can follow developments here.

Early indications are that 2010 has been at least the third warmest year on record since records began in 1850 and that this has been the warmest decade.

Meanwhile, here at home, the incoming Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives has disbanded the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming created by Democrates in 2007 to focus on the causes and effects of continued climate change.

NASA has just announced that it has discovered a new form of life here on planet Earth. It is an arsenic-fueled life form. It is a type of bacteria that lives in California's poisonous Mono Lake and uses arsenic as the building block of its DNA. We are, of course, carbon-based life forms. Bottom Line: We have a competitor for life space on this planet.

Now if you follow the periodic table of elements' "two-down-one-over" theory for finding the complete elemental poison (such that arsenic is the complete poison for carbon-based life) [see Evolution], then, as this blogger suggests, if the Republicans continue to deny global warming and block scientific analyses and solutions for it, we'd better stock up on polonium (the element two down and one over from arsenic) before these microorganisms start evolving which, contrary to biblical theorists, they will—especially as the environment becomes increasingly more hospitable to them.

Who else, I ask you, is continually making Star Trek allusions:

or keeps coming back to silly Monty Python skits:

Speaking of Republicans, this guy (he who must not be named) apparently fell for one of the oldest cons in the world, the so-called Nigerian Prince scam (aka the Spanish Prisoner), to the tune of $180 million.

Not Over the Moon

Speaking of passion, book reviewer James Wood has a personal essay in the Nov. 29, 2010, The New Yorker about The Who drummer Keith Moon. It's worth a read. I saw Moon perform with The Who in '75 in my hick corner of N.C., festival seating, pressed up against the stage. I've experienced nothing like it before or since. The man truly was a beast. (N.B. My two roommates at the time have gone on to be professional rock drummers.)

When we saw The Who, the By Numbers tour, we were already starting to wonder if they were over the hill. We knew The Rolling Stones were—"It's ONLY Rock 'n Roll?" YFKM. We were big proponents of their early, rawer stuff, not the operatic jag Townsend took them down with "Tommy" and "Quadrophenia". The studio band, they proved, still had a spark of life in them, and it was ignited by Moon's amazing playing. And they were the undisputed loudest band, at least until My Bloody Valentine.

Maximum R & B.

Wood's three favorite The Who albums are "Live at Leeds" (no quarrel there), "Who's Next" (the first LP I ever bought with money I'd earned at a real job [pumping 25¢/gal gas], and "Quadrophenia", ignoring their first three albums.

I'm not sure why Wood felt he needed to bring Thomas Bernhard or William Walton or Georges Bataille or Gogol into the mix, however. The Glenn Gould I get (btw: my mother-in-law went to conservatory with GG, knew him fairly well). I guess he just felt he needed to show off. Like this:

Give a listen to the early Moon:

28 November 2010

Talk About the Passion

The agent rejections I've gotten for my unpublished novel EULOGY (the submissions that made it past the junior-assistant slush pile readers and received non-form responses from agents who actually bothered to comment) all seem to have some form of this statement: "I'm just not passionate enough about it." What does that even mean?

I can think of three ways to speak about passion. We can speak about the Passion of the Christ, something Mel Gibson and the German villagers at Oberammergau have famously attempted to do, a notion that entails passive suffering and willing death. We can speak of passions as including such things as bodice-ripping sex and breast-heaving emotion and even fandom of various stripes, among others, a notion that encompasses strong, transitory feelings. Or we can speak of, say, one's life work or interests or enthusiasms—such as 'she has a passion for science' or 'accounting is his passion' or 'his passion for model railroading kept him active late into his dotage.'

My feeling is that these literary gatekeepers mean something closer to the second of these three senses. A recent post by BlckDgRd points to Michiko Kakutani's top 10 reads of 2011 which, in a way, confirms this intuition. Ms. Kakutani's blurbage for the books she has chosen contains the following tells: "Mr. Richards has magically translated the fierce emotion of his guitar playing to the page;" "Saul Bellow was a gifted and emotionally voluble letter writer...a seeker and searcher, vacillating between the emotional poles of exuberance and depression;" "This super-sad, super-funny novel...write movingly about love and heartbreak;" "The author’s most deeply felt novel yet;" "tough guy known for his tender love songs...who turned his own heartache over Ava Gardner into classic torch songs;" "Mr. Roubini’s pessimistic forecasts once earned him the sobriquet Dr. Doom;" "an illuminating book that is as provocative as it is impassioned." The writers, she senses, are passionate beings, and their writing bodies forth their emotions. Somehow.

I've written previously about Kakutani's disdain for modernism and her affection for Romanticism with respect to Tom McCarthy's C and shown her affinity in this regard with the average sort of reviewer on Amazon.com. These readers want to feel something when they read novels, and they want to know that the writers they read have the sort of passion that will allow them to feel sympathy. Writers can signal this by the type of prose (flowery, purple, figurative, poetic) they use and the extent to which they document the 'inner lives' of their characters.

Regular readers will understand my allergy to affective language—as a tool for political and/or emotional manipulation of crowds. If not, click the term "Enthymemes" in the Labels column on the right.

One of my ongoing series here, Fear of Metaphor, is an ongoing attempt to take a look at, inter alia, philosophical aspects of rhetoric as a form of emotive or affective language perhaps as a way of training myself to understand the tastes, nay the demands, of the readers on that broad continuum that includes Kakutani, the literary agents my manuscript keeps bumping into, and Amazon.com reviewers.

24 November 2010


Being that Gabriel Josipovici is who all the kool kids seem to be turning to, I thought I would as well. Doing so, I discovered this:
"In order to understand that there are good reasons for the difficulties they encountered getting their work not just published but written, and that these difficulties are part and parcel of what makes them rewarding to read, we have to try and see Modernism not from without, as Gay, Corbett, and Goldstucker and the post-Modernist[] (sic) choose to see it, but from within." (Whatever Happened to Modernism, p. 8)
Cold comfort that, seeing as I just received the following rejection by email re: my as yet unagented, unpublished novel EULOGY:
"Thanks so much for offering me the chance to consider your material. Unfortunately, your project doesn't seem right for me. Since it's crucial that you find an agent who will represent you to the best of his or her ability, I'm afraid that I'm going to have to step aside rather than ask to represent your manuscript.

You have a great imagination - I love the premise - and you're a good writer, but I'm sad to say that I just wasn't passionate enough about this to ask to see more. I wish I could offer constructive suggestions, but I thought the dialogue was fine, the characters well-crafted, and the plot well-conceived. I think it's the kind of thing that really is subjective - why some people adore the book on the top of the NYTimes bestseller list, and others don't."

The modernism in my writing offputs the sorts of people who make life-and-death decisions about texts, the gate-keepers. It does not excite their passions (sound familiar?). They don't "identify" with the characters or find them somehow sympathetic (complexity and depth notwithstanding). Imagination, conception, writing, dialogue, characters, plot. What am I missing?

Gaaaaah! Just shoot me.


For those of you not on these shores, this upcoming Thursday is the celebration of Thanksgiving here in America. For many, it's a four-day weekend filled with feasting, football, family, and friends. Despite its secular nature, it is our one truly religious holiday. Let me explain.

Reading Josipovici's analysis of the desacralization of the quotidian (what he calls, after Weber, "the disenchantment of the world") alongside Jose Saramago's Baltasar and Blimunda (a historical novel set in the early 1800's in Portugal which enacts that self-same sense of the sacred in the everyday lives of its characters), I am reminded of what I, as an avowed agnostic, actually believe is the truth of Religion (with a capital 'R'): it acknowledges and ritualizes our sense of awe at the impressive majesty of the creation, from quarkian particles to the multiverse (something about each of which can be found with relative ease on this blog), and, at the same time, it inculcates a sense of gratitude in our stony souls (a term I use advisedly).

Thanksgiving eponymously calls us to this latter. The sense of thankfulness, in its religious articulation, is the explicit acknowledgement of something beyond the self—in fact, it is the recognition of a debt to everyone and everything that has come before us and made us what we are, for good or ill, at this particular point in time and this particular place. It opens us up to the world and humbles us. At the same time, an attitude of gratitude (sorry) can awaken, prefigure, and even shape within the self an even more profound sense of empathy for each other and all of creation, the state to which all true religions aspire.

Thank someone for something this weekend; you'll feel better.

Thus endeth the lesson.

Best wishes to all for a Happy Thanksgiving!

Now, a hymn with angelic voices:WoW will be dark for the next few days over the Thanksgiving holiday.

19 November 2010

Politics, in Theory

Slavoj Žižek, in his 2007 article "Resistance Is Surrender," says "capitalism is indestructible." To resist it is to surrender to its nigh-universal co-optivity. The way to deal with capitalism is to manhandle it. The Chinese and Hugo Chavez are contemporary exemplars who are showing us the way to co-opt the mechanisms of the state for the purposes of bending the capitalist system to our purposes: an authoritarianism of the Left.

Along the way, Žižek takes the time to critique Simon Critcheley's recent book, Infinitely Demanding, and its call "to resist state power by withdrawing from its terrain and creating new spaces outside its control."

In his response, "Violent Thoughts About Slavoj Žižek," Critcheley claims he is not so soft. He discusses what he thinks are appropriate forms of anarchic violence in the struggle against the state. Revolutionaries and resisters to states—anarchists—should take to heart the biblical injunction against killing ("Thou shalt not…"), but should decide for themselves whether to obey it; it's more like a guideline (or 'plumb-line') than a rule. And a posteriori they should be prepared to take responsibility for their violent actions in abolishing the state and replacing it with some unspecified form of federalism. For Critcheley, "the activity of politics is working within the state against the state in an articulation, an inventive movement, the forging of a common front that opens a space of resistance and opposition to government and the possibility of significant political change."

For Žižek, law is an institutionalization of violence wielded exclusively by the state. Violence in response is, thus, a given. As are, by implication, the means to back-up one's use of force with sufficient violence to vanquish one's opponents, foes, and enemies. An a priori decision for non-violence in resistance to the state is surrender.

For Critcheley, the decision whether to employ violence is a subjective calculation best employed in overturning the rule of law. In place of a state-organized and -enforced capitalist economy, he argues for a "law against law." His vision of "anarchism does not requires [sic] the violence of contracts or indeed constitutions, but aims at the extra-legal resolution of conflict, [citing Walter Benjamin's ‘Critique of Violence’ here] ‘Peacefully and without contracts’, as he writes, ‘On the analogy of agreement between private persons.’" Thus: private parties pursuing their private interests kindly and respectfully, that is to say pacifically, resorting to violence only when each subjectively feels it necessary. But what sorts of private party divides does he envisage here? Regionalism? Tribalism? Racialism? Factionalism? Sectarianism? None of which either separately or in some admixture, I dare say, is a recipe for a pacific society.

If capitalism is a given, is the state necessary? Yes, says Žižek, and we should capture and control it. No, says Critcheley, there are (or ought to be) viable political alternatives. Neither response—authoritarianism or anarchism—I'm afraid, is wholly satisfactory.

Fear of Metaphor, Part 3

This post is the next in an ongoing series.

The fear of metaphor is of ancient provenance. If you'll recall, we left off with Plato, via his gnomic persona, Socrates, banishing poets—the employers of metaphors—from the deliberations of democracy because they appealed not to truth and reason but incited the desires and passions of the populace. Of course, Socrates is quick to say the reasonable man should "fear[] for the safety of the city which is within him [and] be on guard against her seductions." Hardly a rational riposte.

Indeed, this is not the only time Plato relies on affective language to get his point across. His metaphor of the cave is one of the great talking points in the history of philosophy:
[Socrates] And now, I said, let me show in a figure how far our nature is enlightened or unenlightened: --Behold! human beings living in a underground cave, which has a mouth open towards the light and reaching all along the cave; here they have been from their childhood, and have their legs and necks chained so that they cannot move, and can only see before them, being prevented by the chains from turning round their heads. Above and behind them a fire is blazing at a distance, and between the fire and the prisoners there is a raised way; and you will see, if you look, a low wall built along the way, like the screen which marionette players have in front of them, over which they show the puppets.

[Glaucon] I see.

[Socrates] And do you see, I said, men passing along the wall carrying all sorts of vessels, and statues and figures of animals made of wood and stone and various materials, which appear over the wall? Some of them are talking, others silent.

[Glaucon] You have shown me a strange image, and they are strange prisoners.

[Socrates] Like ourselves, I replied; and they see only their own shadows, or the shadows of one another, which the fire throws on the opposite wall of the cave?

[Glaucon] True, he said; how could they see anything but the shadows if they were never allowed to move their heads?

[Socrates] And of the objects which are being carried in like manner they would only see the shadows?

[Glaucon] Yes, he said.

[Socrates] And if they were able to converse with one another, would they not suppose that they were naming what was actually before them?

[Glaucon] Very true.

[Socrates] And suppose further that the prison had an echo which came from the other side, would they not be sure to fancy when one of the passers-by spoke that the voice which they heard came from the passing shadow?

[Glaucon] No question, he replied.

[Socrates] To them, I said, the truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of the images.

[Glaucon] That is certain.
Ironically, one of the most articulate men of his or any other generation—the man who banished the metaphoricists from The Republic—had himself to rely on a grand metaphor to express arguably his most seminal idea; to wit: that appearances are not reality and that the language we use to speak about those appearances is yet further removed from a true correspondence with reality.

Ideally, for Plato, political discourse should be grounded in reality and not simply appearances. But not all discourse is political, and, conceivably, not all metaphor is affective.

(to be continued)

14 November 2010

Not Quite Random Stuff

Stereolab: "Jenny Ondioline" from
Transient Random-Noise Bursts with Announcements

To stroke my vanity, today I've been trawling around the interwebs to find some links to confirm points I've been making of late.

The Democrats didn't lose because the Republicans and their programs are suddenly popular again. They lost to the extent they did because the Rs outbid them. Full Stop. To read more into the election than that is to miss the point. As Frank Rich points out:
"America’s ever-widening income inequality was not an inevitable by-product of the modern megacorporation, or of globalization, or of the advent of the new tech-driven economy, or of a growing education gap. (Yes, the very rich often have fancy degrees, but so do those in many income levels below them.) Inequality is instead the result of specific policies, including tax policies, championed by Washington Democrats and Republicans alike as they conducted a bidding war for high-rolling donors in election after election."
In ways big and small: Here we learn that money can indeed buy freedom. A Morgan Stanley employee, who manages over $1 billion in assets, managed to get out of a felony hit-and-run charge in Colorado after allegedly driving his Mercedes into a bicyclist and leaving the scene.

Think you've got an answer for dealing with the budget shortfall? The New York Times lets you play around with the moving parts and solve it here.

My own idea would be to set a firm corporate rate, cut out all deductions and shelters, and enforce it across the board without exception. Two out of every three U.S. corporations pay no taxes whatsoever, even after registering massive profits. What happens is our tax code allows them to keep two (and more) sets of books: one for investors and one for the tax man. Now, they're all complaining about tax and regulatory certainty as the reason for not reinvesting in labor—i.e., jobs. The tax code could be enormously streamlined and simplified by forcing large corporations to keep only one set of books, so that the profits they tout for purposes of drumming up investors are the same profits upon which they pay taxes. Bonuses and salaries and dividends and options and deferred income, etc., do not net out against profits. If a company can pay a bonus, etc., to its executive and key employees, it should be pay taxes on the amount of profit upon which it makes it distributions decision.

Remember we discussed microloans? The topic came up twice in today's The New York Times.

Here's a look at the new Bush propaganda vehicle that considers it as an unintended peek into the authoritarian mind, long a theme of this blog. Here's a key quote:
"Decision Points is a classic recipe for a benign dictatorship, a uniquely American form of dictatorship, to be sure -- from its rigid understanding of morality (good versus evil) to its distorted valuation of life (only American lives matter; Bush is not concerned about the loss of civilian life in the countries he attacked) -- that gives comfort to many in a time of economic and cultural stress.

The beauty of the Bush philosophy of governance is that it creates and accelerates those very conditions of stress (radical economic inequality promoted by tax cuts for the wealthy and concomitant cuts in public services for the less well-off) that then provide fertile ground for popular acceptance of measures intended to further worsen conditions for the subject class. An example would be to purposely inflate the housing bubble and then use the succeeding bailout to further enrich the wealthy elites at the cost of the average worker. Or to execute a reckless Medicare drug expansion plan, catering to pharmaceutical companies and knowing it would lead to insolvency, to set the stage for drastic future cuts in Medicare -- and other entitlements, while they're at it. The same principle applies in foreign policy, such as in retreating from Bill Clinton's tentative rapprochement with Iran and North Korea as Bush's first order of business, demonizing these countries as evil, and then setting in motion offensive strategies once those countries predictably react. The principle is evident in attacking and occupying Middle Eastern countries, then justifying the war on terror by pointing to the increased radicalization ensuing from the invasion."
I've been going on at length (see below) about the abject wrongness of the libertarian 'philosophy'. Here's the CATO Institute putting lipstick on that particular pig:
"The famous Harvard economist John Kenneth Galbraith wrote a bestselling book in 1958 called The Affluent Society, in which he discussed the phenomenon of “private opulence and public squalor”—that is, a society in which privately owned resources were generally clean, efficient, well-maintained, and improving in quality while public spaces were dirty, overcrowded, and unsafe—and concluded, oddly enough, that we ought to move more resources into the public sector. Thousands of college students were assigned to read The Affluent Society, and Galbraith’s ideas played a major role in the vast expansion of government during the 1960s and 1970s.

But Galbraith and American politicians missed the real point of his observation. The more logical answer is that if privately owned resources are better maintained, then we should seek to expand private ownership."
What Galbraith saw as a problem, CATO wants to see scaled up. The world is simply too large and diverse for such a simplistic solution. This is a primary example of over-simplification, or pseudo-philosophy. There is no room for complexity. CATO and its libertarian brethren tend to believe that there is only one choice, and it is a stark one: either all property should be private property, or it should be all public. Naturally, CATO believes EVERYTHING should be privatized. The "ownership society" refuses to acknowledge the necessary value of public space, roads, utilities, services, education, weal, etc. A privatized society, as I've argued, tends to concentrate wealth and power in the hands of those who already have it: the plutocracy. Laws are created and enforced in favor of those who can afford to game the system. (See above)

Google lets you peek into The Affluent Society here.

Do you have any idea 'What the fuck has Obama done so far?' Check here. (BDR had this, too.)
By the same token, do you ever wonder 'What the fuck Sarah Palin has done so far?' Check here.

Scientific studies show that, based on stock market capitalization and dividends, at the current pace of research and development, global oil will run out 90 years before replacement technologies are ready.

On that score, here's a group you need to know about: the Earth Policy Institute. Wisdaughter has been reading Lester R. Brown's recent book this semester in college. It may have changed her life. The title: Plan B 4.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization. It doesn't just whine about the problems or argue about whether global warming is real, it proffers serious, practical solutions. You can read some of what Brown has written here and here. Wisdaughter's promised not to sell it for beer money and let me read it when she's finished.

And here're some folks who've come with a key solution: cheap desalination of sea water, the most prolific resource on the planet.
"the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Field and Space Robotics Laboratory, which has developed and successfully tested a portable, solar-powered water desalination system that has the potential to save millions of lives the world over.

Under the guidance of Profs. Steven Dubowsky and Richard Wiesman, the group created a small, reverse-osmosis system that's capable of producing up to 80 gallons of clean water per day. A scaled-up version of the system could produce up to 1,000 gallons per day"
What happens when the galaxy farts.

Historians claim to have located the site of King Arthur's Round Table. Ahh, nostalgia for a Golden Age of noble men and great ladies. Romance. Stratification.

Here's some stuff that Christian culture likes.

Are you a hipster? Think you're cooler than everyone else because your tastes and intellect are superior? Pierre Bourdieu took a look at you and people like you in his book Distinction, a book under discussion in today's The New York Times Book Review section.

Here's the money quote:
"The attempt to analyze the hipster provokes such universal anxiety because it calls everyone’s bluff. And hipsters aren’t the only ones unnerved. Many of us try to justify our privileges by pretending that our superb tastes and intellect prove we deserve them, reflecting our inner superiority. Those below us economically, the reasoning goes, don’t appreciate what we do; similarly, they couldn’t fill our jobs, handle our wealth or survive our difficulties. Of course this is a terrible lie. And Bourdieu devoted his life to exposing it. Those who read him in effect become responsible to him — forced to admit a failure to examine our own lives, down to the seeming trivialities of clothes and distinction that, as Bourdieu revealed, also structure our world."

12 November 2010

re: Calling All Active Agents

The International Necronautical Society's 'Declaration on the Notion of "The Future"' appears briefly in the Nov/Dec 2010 issue of Believer magazine. [But see "Feeling the Future"] Though agnostic myself, I supply a soundtrack.

Then, of course, there's nostalgia for past futures, which, in certain ways, advances the ball:

"Turning and turning in the widening gyre..." [c'mon, you know it]

10 November 2010

Politics, Part (-isan) 2, Appendix

[Game Theory: I've Tried Subtlety]

Looks like someone's been paying attention, confirming my thesis that the Democrat's 2010 election loss really had nothing to do with their policies and their serious legislative successes in the last congress; it was all about the new sources of money Citizens United allowed into the process. Hey, when the rules change, you can gripe and moan, but you've still got to keep playing.
These guys want to make the process more open. Good luck with that!
Speaking of money in the process, Open Secrets is a pretty good place to keep an eye on that; it's been in my Links role for a long time.
Here's another breakdown showing that this was the most expensive mid-term election in history. And here's another.
Can you imagine spending over $140 million dollars of your own money (dynastic wealth)? And losing! Meg Whitman did.
Chief rasslin' mama spent around $50 million of her own smackeroos, too, and got pinned on a ten count. Tough break. Too bad the fix wasn't in! Can you imagine Vince McMahon preening around Capitol Hill on C-Span?
Karl Rove's American Crossroads and other shadow groups spent upwards of a quarter billion dollars on the election. Much of that was off-the-books, using anonymous donors who were able to make unlimited donations, bypassing the traditional party structure, and was used specifically to oppose and attack Democratic Party candidates.
Commenter Charles F. Oxtrot points us to a dialogue on the continuity of the Citizens United decision with the tradition of the Supreme Court's Constitutional jurisprudence on corporate rights. And he is not wrong. You may enjoy it here or here or here:

But it is more complicated than that. There are counterstreams and oblique strategies that can be employed on this issue, as there are on most issues. I'll reserve that discussion for a future set of posts, and I hope Mr. Oxtrot will join in. (Welcome! Hope you don't mind my re-posting your work.)
On another of my points, here's an anti-Libertarian Primer.

09 November 2010

Politics, Part (-isan) 2

(cont'd from previous posts)

In the previous two posts in this series, I've argued that the most significant political changes in the last election have to do less with the shift of power from the Democratic party to the Republican party in the House and Senate and more with: (a) a shift in the Constitutional balance of power from the Executive to the Legislative branch, and (b) the increased influence of private, corporate sources of money on the political process after the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United decision—an assertion, by the way, of Judicial branch power.

It is merely a historical accident that the Rs stands to benefit from both these trends at the present time. Given other circumstances, the Ds could just as easily capitalize on both changes. In fact, I would argue, if they don't organize to take advantage of both aspects of the current situation, they stand to lose even more of the power they managed to gain in the 2008 election come 2012.

The former trend (a), I argue, is, at base, a good thing, representing a shift away from what I felt to be the authoritarian tendencies of the Bush administration. The second trend (b), on the other hand, hides a decidedly more disturbing shift. Let me explain.

In a recent interview with Lawrence O'Donnell on MSNBC's "The Last Word," Congressman Ron Paul (father of Senator-elect Rand Paul—named, by the way, after the Congressman's favorite 'philosopher') made the following statements:
"Individuals have rights. You don't have rights because you belong to a group. Property rights are identical to personal liberty and social liberties."
"Property rights is liberty."
(This last statement by Rep. Paul is not reflected in the transcript but can be heard at minute 16:30 here.)

Ron Paul is the presiding spirit of the Tea Party and the Libertarian wing of the Republican party. Here he boils his philosophy down to the slogan level. It is an effective and persuasive formulation—at least for some. Freedom and liberty are the catchwords of the present-day right wing. And here they are defined exclusively in terms of property rights.

As an aside, when you hear a Libertarian, or a modern-day conservative, speak about liberty or freedom, know this: they are speaking about freedom from government. Not the freedom to pursue happiness or any such fuzzy, substantive concepts. It is strictly a "non-interference," "don't mess with my stuff" type of liberty.

On the Libertarian view, only individuals have rights. And there are no individual human rights which are not also property rights. And vice versa. So, for example, animals, the environment, and groups (women, non-property owners, labor, gays, slaves, African-Americans, immigrants, the poor, etc.) as such, have no rights other than in their own bodies—which, of course, can be alienated or expropriated in the free market. Animals do not even have a right to their own bodies; they cannot hold property. No one owns the environment, and, until someone does, it is fair game for exploitation as a matter of individual property rights and an unfettered market place. And group rights only derive from the rights of individuals therein. There is no such thing as 'social justice'.

The liberty you have is commensurate with the property you own; and the property you own is the fruit of your labor which is an extension of your body. This is the idealistic, idealized basis of the Libertarian philosophy. And it simply makes no sense in the real world.

What we've seen in recent years is a trend toward an amassing of wealth in fewer and fewer individuals and, more significantly, in larger and larger corporate entities.

It is axiomatic in the Libertarian view that those who hold more property have more personal and social liberties. Conversely, those who hold no private property have no personal and social liberties. A natural imbalance is bound to exacerbate over time as more and more rights and liberties accrue to the wealthier members of society by virtue of their power, and more and more rights and liberties (and thus private property) dissipate from the less well-off who are less able to defend them.

How, in the Libertarian society, do individuals gain more liberty? They band their properties together and purchase more property rights via the form of a corporate entity. The sole purpose of a corporation is to make a profit for its owners, i.e., to increase their contractually-limited collective rights and liberties. The corporate vehicle provides them with, for example, limited liability from their collective wrong-doing. It absolves them, under the guise of bankruptcy and reorganization, from paying their outstanding debts. And as a side matter, practically speaking, corporate entities are better able to assert and defend their rights and liberties in the judicial system by virtue of their access to the necessary capital it takes to pay the sort of extensive legal bills it takes to obtain the results they desire.

The Libertarian watchword is small government, and this has become the mantra of much of the new House majority (how genuine an expression of their underlying goals it is is a question for another post). The aim is less regulation of corporate profit-making, i.e., more corporate liberty and, thus, the concentration of more property in corporate hands. That is to say, the desired result is that these corporate persons may exercise more and more of these rights (i.e., accumulate more property) without interference from the government—executive, judicial, and legislative. That means without the necessary checks on their ability to assert their rights ad lib against those who have less property (and, thus, less liberty and less rights) AND against the public good.

The Libertarian society has no room for nor a concept of the public good. Thus, everything from public streets and roads to public parks and natural resources and air space to the military, police, and fires department is subject to expropriation from the public sphere and, indeed, should be privatized. I've sketched one way in which this particular scenario might play out here.

The U.S. Supreme Court has held that a corporation is considered a 'person' under the U.S. Constitution; that, for First Amendment 'free speech' purposes, money is speech; and that corporations may contribute unlimited amounts of money to political campaigns. This is a disturbing trend, one that the Libertarian ideology—despite its homely, individualistic, idealized self-image—merely serves to perpetuate.

For this reason, Libertarianism, though it claims to be grounded in individual property rights, cannot and should not be differentiated from corporatism.

This, then, represents the third trend in the American political landscape we've seen coming to a head in this latest election: the radical corporatist shift of the government, supercharged in unprecedented fashion by the influx of corporate money into political campaigns resulting from the second trend noted above.