Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Fire on the Mountain

...Then comes the wind, and about four in the afternoon a fire on the mountain, an auspicious event, even though violent and frightening. The mountain is an oracle.

Of fire on the mountain, the I Ching says:

56. Lu / The Wanderer

(trigram) above: Li -- The Clinging, Flame
(trigram) below: Kên -- Keeping Still, Mountain

The Judgement

The Wanderer. Success through smallness.
Perseverance brings good fortune
To the wanderer.

The Image

Fire on the mountain:
The image of the Wanderer.
Thus the superior man
Is clear-minded and cautious
In imposing penalties,
And protracts no lawsuits.

The fire on the mountain is a sign that I will soon be far from here, (but I will keep this place to come back to). For a time, I will wander and drift, to where necessity dictates, and I may eventually move from here.

Bob Dylan wrote a similarly titled song, "Thunder on the Mountain:"

Gonna raise me an army, some tough sons of bitches
I'll recruit my army from the orphanages
I been to St. Herman's church, said my religious vows
I've sucked the milk out of a thousand cows

But that's just one verse of 12. It's on his "Modern Times" CD.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Onward to Terra Incognita

This past weekend I attended an event which took me by surprise, even though the person I went with tried to prepare me for what was going to happen. Prodigious minds don't always assume the form and persona of big-headed university professors, and once or twice in a lifetime you may meet some ordinary-seeming, ordinary-sounding person who opens a door in your mind you didn't know was there. It's like finding a secret, formerly-hidden door in your house which opens onto a room that stretches to the horizon. It's an experience that causes one to look at the world through a new pair of glasses.

The person I'm describing took Robert Frost's "path less chosen," that's for sure. The year after graduating high school, he traveled to India, found the teacher he was looking for, and settled into this foreign environment for several years, studying new (for him) languages, contemplating new modes of thinking, and absorbing everything he could, in order to pack up as much of this very ancient philosophy as one could carry home to share with others. While treading this strange and singular path, he decided he had found something the land of his birth sorely needed, and he determined to bring it back.

What he has to offer is not "the one truth" or "the right path" in the way such things as religions or cultish philosophies are ordinarily conceived and preached, but simply a set of alternative approaches to life and health that happen to be ancient in pedigree, philosophically abstract but prescriptively concrete, and involve among other things a different method of depth psychology than what we are used to.

"Alternative approaches to what?" you may ask.

The yoga philosophy is an alternative to modern forms of secular humanism and materialism, with their underlying assumption that technology and an elevated standard of living are the only things that can improve human lives. This was once a great and noble philosophy, starting with the spread of science in the seventeenth century and the flowering of the Enlightenment in the eighteenth. It produced tremendous advances in health, material comfort, and tangible knowledge for the human race, and enabled us to throw off the gross superstition and technological stagnation of earlier times. But like any philosophy, modern, western-style secularism has now become ennervated, moribund, and capable of producing only diminishing returns, when not absolutely destructive. By destructive, I'm talking about what our modern notions of "progress" have done to our earthly environment, for example.

This is how a new chapter begins, and it couldn't come at a better time. Because if you read the news today, you already know that we have to change the way we're living and our attitude toward it if we want to survive. Choosing to look at the world through a new pair of glasses is actually no choice at all.

Friday, April 25, 2008

The Assignment

If I was able to have coffee with Viktor Frankl on this lovely spring afternoon (which I can't do, because he passed on in 1998), he'd probably tell me that what I need to do right now is determine what my assignment is.

Once I have my assignment, carrying it out will become my first priority.

Today I'll meet and sit for a few hours listening to the person who may become my teacher. I'll know after this weekend. If he is to be my teacher, I'll get my assignment from him.

Determining the assignment at this point is more important than anything else. It even surpasses the question of where I'll live, and how. It goes without saying that I'll have to live somewhere and make ends meet somehow. But discharging the assignment, once it's given, becomes my responsibility, and with responsibility comes meaning.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Sweets of San Francisco

I was walking this morning near the famous intersection of Haight and Ashbury when a memorable sight caught my eye. She was probably 18 or 19, or perhaps in her early twenties, and looked like a Botticelli angel. Wearing no makeup and dressed plainly and modestly, as is appropriate for riding the city bus she waited to catch, she appeared completely unselfconscious. Her blonde hair hung loosely to her shoulders, framing the devastating good looks, of which she seemed blithely oblivious.

It occurred to me that that's what life used to be about. We can't live, as Viktor Frankl has pointed out, without meaning. But having determined a meaning -- love or money or what have you -- there is no guarantee that it will remain fixed as one's M.O. forever. Circumstances change, and we need to be flexible enough to change our approaches, and even our reasons for living, based on changing circumstances.

40 Years ago I was walking the streets of this same city, tortured by the thought that the authorities I had trusted, ranging all the way from immediate family to those in charge of running the country, had decided to pursue a criminal and pointless war in Southeast Asia, and at the same time had determined that I should be willing to lay down my life for this idiotic enterprise. The sense of betrayal I felt at the time was exceeded only by my disgust at the lewd hypocrisy and callous disregard for human life shown by those I had once looked up to and admired.

Now, four decades along and less inclined to take such things personally (possibly because I'm not asked to become personally involved, as before), I walk the same unchanging streets of this singular city, watching with interest but little emotion as the war machine which this country has become pours three trillion dollars and incalculable amounts of blood into the sands of Iraq.

The City, however, is spiritually disconnected from the dying and death-dealing empire in whose territory it is geographically located, and thus provides a good base from which to do the work that will lend meaning to my twilight years. This work will consist of doing whatever promotes the destruction and dismantling of the war machine, the beating of swords into plowshares, and the sabotaging of this monster called "globalism," which awards summer houses in the Hamptons to hedge fund managers while African children starve.

It's "game on," no holds barred, no quarter asked and none given. The need has never been greater, the prevalence of evil and degeneracy never more obvious, the assignment never clearer, the meaning never more unmistakable. And I have to belatedly agree with those who said, during the Vietnam War, that there are some things worth dying for.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


Dear Xoxitl:

I'm sitting here in Rachel's apartment, where I accidentally ran across a book a few hours ago called "Weldon Kees and the Midcentury Generation: Letters; 1935 -- 1955."

She has this book for a reason, and I was supposed to find it. By accident, of course.

Have you heard of this Weldon Kees? He was a poet, essayist, short story writer, painter, musician, and critic from Beatrice, Nebraska, born in 1914 and disappeared in San Francisco in 1955, where he is presumed to have jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge. He graduated from the university in Lincoln, was part of an apparently thriving bohemian scene there in the thirties, was published extensively in the "Prairie Schooner" and other Nebraska pubs, and later moved on to New York and San Francisco, where he was associated with Turk Murphy and the trad jazz revival, among other things.

For more on this highly unusual and enigmatic person, see this page.

For some reason, I have a feeling that it's very important for me to know about Kees, and important that he was from eastern Nebraska and also that he ended up in San Francisco. His life and death and work are pertinent somehow to my present situation, but I have no idea exactly why or how yet. This sounds kind of silly, as if I've become a believer in destiny or something, but that's how I feel.

I haven't posted on the blog in a couple days, so I think I'll post this.


Sunday, April 20, 2008

Fascism in Theory and Practice

The only thing surprising in the major, 11-page piece which appeared in the New York times yesterday debunking the credibility of the so-called "military analysts" who daily appear on CNN, MSNBC, Fox News and elsewhere, was the brazenness of the administration's disinformation campaign.

The generals named and pictured in the article were assigned "to generate favorable news coverage of the administration’s wartime performance," the article says. They were motivated in this assignment by their financial ties to military contractors, who reap profit from the very war these same "analysts" are cheerleading on via the national airwaves every day.

Those business relationships are hardly ever disclosed to the viewers, and sometimes not even to the networks themselves. But collectively, (the generals) and several dozen other military analysts represent more than 150 military contractors either as lobbyists, senior executives, board members or consultants. The companies include defense heavyweights, but also scores of smaller companies, all part of a vast assemblage of contractors scrambling for hundreds of billions in military business generated by the administration’s war on terror.

The Times drew no theoretical conclusions from the set of facts they reported. That's not their job ("Just the facts, Ma'am."), and they're not in the business of political theory. However, I could not help noticing that what this story describes is fascism in its purest form.

A government, in conjunction with a corporate hierarchy (Mussolini's "corporatism") which is connected intimately to the government's own military appropriates a society's formerly-independent mass media for the purpose of supplanting independently-gathered and -reported information with official propaganda. The huge mouth, lips, and teeth of the military dicatorship crowd out all other conversation, debate, or noise.

These people have stolen our country. But as Judy Canova might say, it was our own fault. We shouldn't have left our country lying out in the open.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Bumps and Obscene Italian Hand Gestures

I don't like to watch Stephen Colbert. The guy is very smart and clever, but a little too smug and sure of himself for my taste. There's something disturbing and sophomoric about that kind of in-crowd humor, which trivializes some very serious and consequential business, if you ask me.

So it's no surprise that I missed Senator Clinton's appearance on the "Reporr" last night. But I guess Colbert gave her a boost, or so he claims, while having fun at her expense.

From staff writer Andrea Thompson at today, running under the headline "Scientist Finds Truthiness in 'Colbert Bump,'" we have: With the intense competition between the two contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination, pundits have mused over whether Hillary Clinton's appearance on "The Colbert Report" last night will give the former First Lady a so-called "Colbert bump," a surge in popularity which the show's host claims will accrue to any politician that appears on the show.

Now, neither Colbert nor Mrs. Clinton could have missed the double entendre which implies that the 60-year-old Senator is with child, impregnated by the talk show host and comedian, given the numerous connotations of that word, "bump."

Stephen Colbert first coined the eponymous term on his show after John Hall won in a close election to become a representative from New York in 2006 after an appearance on the "Report." Hall defeated incumbent Sue Kelly, who had declined to make an appearance on the show. Colbert himself commented on this after the election...

I'm also certain that the sign Colbert is throwing in this photograph is interpreted by unsophisticated people, or those with limited powers of attention and concentration, as a victory sign. In fact, Colbert is knowledgeable enough and sharp enough to know that what he's doing is an obscene Italian hand gesture, and that the palm of the hand faces toward the audience when the intent is to make the "peace" sign.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The City

The usual sweaty palms scene at the airport this morning. We couldn't take off at seven like we were supposed to because they were doing some kind of inspection -- of the suspension I think. It's seldom going to go as scheduled, mostly we won't be able to fly any more without experiencing some kind of mysterious complication that makes the airline employees all twitchy.

But in the end it was no big deal, since we only took off an hour late. But then, coming into The City, I thought we were gonna collide with another plane. We got closer and closer and closer, until I could pretty easily read the numbers on his tail. But it was only like being next to somebody on the freeway. He touched down two seconds before us, on next runway over to the right.

San Francisco is The City. There is no other to compare to it. The only one I've ever been in that even comes close is Boston, which is very cool and urban, but Boston can't compare to this place.

They have real public transportation here. Walked from the baggage claim to the automated airport train, and took it to the BART station. Took the BART train from the airport to downtown for five bucks. Got off under Market Street, took the escalator up one floor to where the Muni street trains run, and caught one for the neighborhood. Got off two blocks from Rachel's place, walked down the hill with my rolling bag, let myself in (she's not here right now).

You can live in this beautiful city and forget the prodigality of owning a car. You can't do that in Southern California, and that's why SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA IS DOOMED! (Sorry, I didn't mean to shout). I'm gonna move here. I'll have to get a roommate, but I'll be able to take the bus or train, and walk where I want to go. Mostly walk.

Wake up, America. This is the future.

Mostly I walked today. It's beautiful and sunny and temps in the 60's -- perfect day for it. Walked to the store and the bank. Walked up the hill to Walgreen's for "essential supplies," since she left me only the last square, and she eschews all other paper products. And I also walked to the apothecary shop, for other "essential supplies." First time I've ever had that experience.

Yes, this is a lovely city, full of fascinating people. It also has real architecture, and, last but certainly not least, real bread. Try buying THAT anywhere else except New York City!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Short Time or Long Time?

The consumer spending slump and tightening credit markets are unleashing a widening wave of bankruptcies in American retailing, prompting thousands of store closings that are expected to remake suburban malls and downtown shopping districts across the country.

So starts the lede of a NY Times story today.

Eight retail chains with lots of stores in malls and shopping centers all over the country, including Levitz furniture and Sharper Image, have gone bankrupt in recent months. Several other chains are on the verge, such as Linens 'n Things. And chains which are avoiding bankruptcy are shutting down stores.

The surging cost of necessities has led to a national belt-tightening among consumers. Figures released on Monday showed that spending on food and gasoline is crowding out other purchases, leaving people with less to spend on furniture, clothing and electronics. Consequently, chains specializing in those goods are proving vulnerable.

Malls and shopping centers nationwide are destined to be half occupied, like the suburbs where foreclosed homes now litter the landscape like ready-made ruins. As long-term economic depression sets in, the decline of a formerly great nation, which in its day was an irresistably powerful industrial giant, is unavoidably obvious.

Meanwhile, Youngstown, Ohio, the formerly-great steelmaking town I grew up in has seen its population shrink by more than half over the past 40 years, leaving behind huge swaths of empty homes, streets and neighborhoods.

Now, in a radical move, the city - which has suffered since the steel industry left town and jobs dried up - is bulldozing abandoned buildings, tearing up blighted streets and converting entire blocks into open green spaces. More than 1,000 structures have been demolished so far.

Grass now grows in the hulks of the old steel mills down by the river in Youngstown, and birds nest in what's left of the eaves. I remember when those mills lit up the sky every night with sparks and sheets of flame. I saw parades of orange, flaming steel ingots marched out of those plants on flatcars. So I've seen that archaeological ruin when it was in its heyday, all lit up like a torch. There was the country's strength.

I've been alive a long time to have seen all that, or have I? Or is it more the case that the United States went down real fast? Maybe sixty years is not such a very long time.

The advantage I see in the decline of the United States is that we don't have to go to Europe to see ruins any more. Also, I would expect the recession to help solve our problem with illegal immigration. It also might, maybe mean that from now on, there will be no more money for stupid and expensive foreign adventures in places like Vietnam and Iraq. We can hope.

So there are some advantages to decline, eclipse, and loss of power. The revolution is definitely inevitable.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Dubya Will Lay It on Thick for Pope Benny

The Pope is coming to Washington to meet the prez, and Bush is getting ready to give Pope Benny Ratzinger the royal treatment like no other White House tourist has ever got from him. He's even going to the airport in his own limousine to pick him. Pick him up I mean.

No president has ever gone to Andrews AFB to pick up a foreign dignitary before. The Pope is apparently more important than Putin or Blair Sarkozy or any of those schlubs, since they all had to catch a cab.

Word is that Bush is real impressed with Benny's resume, and suspects that he talks to the same God as talks to Dubya. So he's probably getting ready to ask in private, "Does he tell you the same things he tells me?"

"One, he speaks for millions. Two, he doesn't come as a politician; he comes as a man of faith," Bush told the EWTN Global Catholic Network in an interview aired Friday. He added that he wanted to honor Benedict's conviction that "there's right and wrong in life, that moral relativism has a danger of undermining the capacity to have more hopeful and free societies."

"Good point," I says. And three, he was right about those Indians not being grateful enough about being invaded and converted to Christianity too.

Late word is that the Pope will not be attending the big White House banquet and bash which will be thrown Wednesday eve in his honor! Sounds like a major snub, although maybe Benny just can't stand the thought of chicken Cordon Bleu again. So what's up with that? Is it because Cheney's going to be there, and (as one Houston Chron reader theorized) Benny's super-papal powers enable him to recognize the AntiChrist?

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Hoist on Their Own Petar

Obama recently told a bunch of rich San Franciscans that small-town Pennsylvanians and Midwesterners “cling to guns or religion” because they are “bitter” about their economic status.

Now the papers and the pundits are saying he's in big trouble, and that Team Clinton might be poised for a "comeback." At least that's what they're hoping.

Obama was merely referring to a cognitive disconnect that George Wallace first capitalized on in 1968, and which Reagan exploitated like an artist.

It's best expressed this way: the poorest state in the nation (Kansas) is also the reddest.

Formerly prosperous small towns in Kansas, like the ones my mom and dad grew up in, now look like miniature Detroits, thanks to Republican economic policies. Yet the state's voters seem oblivious to their own economic self-interest, and instead can be counted on to vote for the most reactionary candidates because of issues like abortion, gay marriage, and flag burning.

When people in Kansas or Arkansas or Montana lose their pensions and medical plans, more often than not they blame it on the gay, flag-burning abortionists. They need to get their heads out of their asses.

But Obama can't say that, and more's the pity.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Dust on the Mirror

Dust hides a mirror...
--Brihadaranyaka Upanishad

During the twentieth century, various government bureaus began publishing economic statistcis at regular intervals, in order to inform the public of the state of the nation's economy. But as America's economy grew chronically more troubled after 1970, these same bureaus were ordered by the executive to change the ways in which they compiled these statistics, so as to present a rosier picture than a realistic assessment would permit.

In time, the purpose of these ubiquitous statistics, used by economists in and out of government in their analyses and prescriptions, became to disseminate disinformation rather than information. Now Kevin Phillips has published a short but important article in this month's Harper's magazine (May, '08) detailing the history and purposes of this disinformation campaign, which, he says "arose gradually, at no stage stemming from any concerted or cynical scheme. There was no grand conspiracy, just accumulating opportunisms."

However, despite the absence of conspiracy, the purpose of such disinformation is obvious: it is used to cover up and hide the truth, so real information will be kept away from the public. Using disinformation is a sophisticated technique; it has to be close enough to the truth to be credible, but at the same time cover up the truth in a way that those being lied to will never know what they missed.

The three sets of statistics most distorted and manipulated by our government's deliberate deception are the Consumer Price Index (CPI), which is our chief indicator of inflation, the Gross Domestic Product, which indexes economic growth, and the monthly unemployment figure.

The unemployment rate got tweaked first. During Lyndon Johnson's administration, a Labor Department committee decided at the president's behest that "discouraged workers" -- those who had been out of work for so long that they had given up looking for a job -- were not really unemployed and should be excluded from the total. The fed began learning how to lie with statistics.

Johnson's successor, Drahcir Noxin (pictured above) directed his Fed Reserve Chairman to develop a distinction between "core inflation" and "headline (or real) inflation," with the result that the most volatile items in the basket of things ordinary people buy every day, week, or month are left out of the economists' caluculations. These days, those items are energy and housing, of course. So the new, improved CPI is kind of like fat-free ice cream. It's inflation information with the inflation removed, and an exercise in masturbatory fantasy if there ever was one.

The Gross Domestic Product, of course, replaced the Gross National Product, which by 1991, under Bush I, had become a constant stream of bad news due to the rising U.S. international debt. Some economists are openly contemptuous of the GDP figures, one saying that "Upward growth biases built into GDP modeling...have rendered this important series nearly worthless."

This article, for which I cannot provide a link since it's not on line (Harper's, being in the dead-tree publication business, does that a lot), is important because it shows how similar our government has become to the government of Oceania in Orwell's novel "1984." The happy chatter of bogus statistics shat out by the Ministry of Truth serves only to confuse and misinform, but is sucked up eagerly by the orthodox and credulous, who can never understand why anyone would be so perverse and cynical as to question the integrity of our wonderful rulers.

Drawing on the work of genuine and truth-seeking economists, Phillips briefly sets the record straight. "Today's U.S. unemployment rate is somewhere between 9 percent and 12 percent; the inflation rate is as high as 7 or even 10 percent, economic growth since the recession of 2001 has been mediocre, despite a huge surge in the wealth and incomes of the superrich, and we are falling back into recession."

He might have added (and I will) that we'll never be able to deal with reality until we look it square in the face.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Last Time

Five years and spare change into the Iraq War, it's obvious it won't be over any time soon. It'll end when the politicians get tired of thinking up reasons why we can't leave, or when our creditors force us into bankruptcy, then insolvency. Whichever comes first.

I need to have done with this mess, so I can get on with my own life. The United States will have to continue on without me.

Five years ago, just before "Shock and Awe" started, I sat watching a live network news broadcast from Baghdad. A network correspondent stood in the early morning darkness in front of a mosque, and wondered how soon the city would be lit up by missiles and bombs.

I wondered how our leaders could have lived through Vietnam without learning anything. I realized they actually believed we would be greeted with flowers and kisses by the Iraqis, and that, as had been the case 40 years earlier, they had no idea what they were getting into, or what the people whose country they were about to destroy were like, or what they thought, or what they loved, and hated, and were motivated by.

And I knew our forces would get bogged down in a war with no front and no rear, as they had in Vietnam, and they would be unable to tell friend from foe, just as it was in Vietnam, and they would be frustrated by their own ignorance and by the loyalties and motivations of people they know nothing of, and that we would come to grief in trying to impose our standards and values on people vastly different than ourselves, and then would cry out in pain, "Why do they have to be so much like themselves? Why can't they be more like us? Pure, and good!" and that only the desert wind would answer. And I foresaw that in the end we would refuse to let go of the disaster we had created because doing so would entail admitting how badly we had misjudged the situation, and how ignorant we are, and what an ungodly mess our "experts" and so-called leaders had made, as their sycophants in the corporate media applauded and bent over to kiss their butts and tell them what geniuses they were.

And I recognized my own errors in judgment, for I had always persisted in believing that Vietnam was an aberration and an anomaly, a "mistake" if you will, and that it couldn't happen again. The arrival of the neocons' Iraq showed me that the United States is an evil country, led by evil people who are enabled by an ignorant, brainwashed, and pliable public.

I've said everything there is for me to say about this war, so I will post no more on the subject of Iraq. Forever. I promise. Because those wielding power today and those who will soon wrest power from them will do whatever it is they're going to do with Iraq. It's their world, and the rest of us just live in it.

Living in it is the problem I intend to concentrate on henceforth.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Good Day for Drums

Today's a good day to practice drumming on this funky old Yamaha electronic kit.

I can practice silently, with headphones, and not bother any of the other residents in this old folks' retirement trailer park where I live. I wouldn't want any of my neighbors to swallow their dentures.

I've been working on fundamentals, mostly. Double-stroke rolls with a syncopated reference point, accompanied by a quick, steady, double-footed bass. I just try to keep it going, maybe throw in a few wrinkles while trying to avoid going off the beat. It's the kind of practice I should have been doing for years.

Been playing along with Jose Feliciano and Ottmar Liebert, mostly, through little headphones that I wear under the big drum phones. Two sets of headphones -- that's the ticket.

After practicing drums I'll pick some more at that "Gentle on my Mind" song I posted about yesterday. This morning I transcribed all the words onto a single sheet in my best handwriting, for quicker startin'.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Gentle on my Mind

This is a wonderful old 1968 "folk" tune by John Hartford. The song is usually associated with Glen Campbell, and it won a grammy the year it came out.

Fiddler Terry, posting in the comments section at, tells us how to play a simplified acoustic guitar version of it:

(D)It's just knowin' that your door is always open and your path is free to (Em) walk.
That (A) makes me want to keep my sleepin' bag rolled up and stashed behind your (D) couch.
It's just knowin' I'm not shackled by forgotten words and bonds and ink stains that have dried upon some (Em) line.
That (A) keeps you on the backroads by the rivers of my memory, and for hours you're just gentle on my (D) mind.

During the D chord, walk the bass line down the A string, first with your little finger on the fourth fret (C#), then your index finger on the second fret (B), etc.
Enjoy this great John Hartford song!

Don't forget, this tune also has beautiful, poetic lyrics. You can see them and copy them complete from here.

It works well if you can remember the words and learn how to do Fiddler Terry's suggested bass line. Good luck, fingerpickers.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

The Miraculous and Supernatural Power of Unregulated Free Markets

Back in 2002 and 2003, I was predicting in online forums that the price of crude oil would hit 60 dollars a barrel by 2005, 75 or 80 dollars by 2006, and would permanently rise to 100 dollars and beyond by 2007. So my prediction, based mostly on the work of Jim Kunstler, was about a year off but otherwise accurate.

At the time, people in those forums ridiculed me, and assured other readers who might be alarmed by such talk that there was plenty of oil left, that establishing energy security was just a matter of finding it, that talk of an approaching crisis was chicken littleism, and so forth. They cited the Alberta tar sands, the Colorado oil shales, the Arctic Wildlife Refuge's north slope, ethanol, and the coming hydrogen car as reasons we need not worry. Some even offered the information that the earth's core was like the center of a creamy nougat, spontaneously producing oil all the time and refilling exploited petroleum reservoirs from the bottom. The geologists just hadn't noticed that natural phenomenon yet. All of them were confident that an unregulated free market would function in a natural and orderly way to solve all our problems.

A hundred bucks a barrel would never happen.

These rationalizations, so clearly the happy chatter of addicts who want desperately to avoid any realistic appraisal of their actual condition, are now exposed for the nonsense that they were and are, and can be safely relegated to Leon Trotsky's "dust bin of history." The new reality is that these same people are suddenly beginning to realize that they are impaled on the twin horns of the automobile manufacturing industry and energy producers. Where is the salvation offered by our sacred and holy free market now?

Yesterday an article in the financial journal Barron's asked, "With Supply Up and Demand Down, Why Are Prices so High at the Pump?"

The reason that's happening is because even though supplies of crude oil are growing because of falling demand, supplies of gasoline are shrinking due to -- what's that you say? -- the natural behavior of the market. An AP article from Friday explains:

That's because gasoline supplies are falling, in part because producers are cutting back on output of the fuel due to the high cost of crude -- the more expensive crude is, the more refiners have to pay and the lower their profits are. They're also in the process of switching over from producing winter grades of gasoline to the less polluting but more expensive grade of fuel they're required to sell in the summer.

"That cuts back on some of the supply and helps to pump up the price," said Mike Pina, a spokesman for AAA.

At the same time refiners are holding us hostage at the gas pump in spite of the current abundance of $100-dollar-a-barrel crude, auto makers both here and in Japan are telling us that a hybrid vehicle we can plug in at night (essentially an electric car) is still years away.

The late Kurt Vonnegut's last book, "A Man Without a Country," tells us that "Industries should be allowed to do whatever they want to do: Bribe, wreck the environment just a little, fix prices, screw dumb customers, put a stop to competition, and raid the Treasury when they go broke.

"That's correct.

"That's free enterprise.

"And that's correct.

"The poor have done something very wrong or they wouldn't be poor, so their children should pay the consequences.

"That's correct.

"The United States of America cannot be expected to look after its own people.

"That's correct.

"The free market will do that.

"That's correct.

"The free market is an automatic system of justice.

"That's correct.

"I'm kidding."

And I'm not kidding. If we don't get a government in the fall that's willing to do something to help us, we'll have to take matters into our own hands.

Human Sacrifice

Many American military personnel who serve in Iraq are sent back for a second tour of duty. Some are returned for a third tour, and some are even forced to go back for a fourth time.

Needless to say, with every additional tour of duty the risk of death or serious injury increases. Not surprisingly, so does the risk of serious mental or emotional problems of the type generally known as post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Army leaders are expressing increased alarm about the mental health of soldiers who would be sent back to the front again and again under plans that call for troop numbers to be sustained at high levels in Iraq for this year and beyond.

Among combat troops sent to Iraq for the third or fourth time, more than one in four show signs of anxiety, depression or acute stress, according to an official Army survey of soldiers’ mental health.

The stress of long and multiple deployments to Iraq is just one of the concerns being voiced by senior military officers in Washington as Gen. David H. Petraeus, the senior Iraq commander, prepares to tell Congress this week that he is not ready to endorse any drawdowns beyond those already scheduled through July.

If the IED's don't get you, living under fire will.

Is this what's generally referred to as "support our troops"?

Friday, April 04, 2008

Ungrateful Servants

The proles are in a sour mood. They seem to no longer appreciate the fact that they're working for the greatest franchise in the world.

An article in the New York Times this morning revealed that "81 percent of respondents" participating in a Times/CBS News poll "said they believed 'things have pretty seriously gotten off on the wrong track,' up from 69 percent a year ago and 35 percent in early 2002."

This is the most negative response that question has ever received since this poll began asking it in the early nineties.

Apparently the laboring classes are completely ignorant of how great things are. They don't seem to realize that in spite of its recent problems, the American economy is "fundamentally sound" (according to our "commander in chief," as he likes to style himself) and that the "surge" in Iraq has been successful, and we're now winning over there.

Ungrateful servants is what they are. The proprietary classes have had to deal with ungrateful servants since the beginning of time. These are people who simply don't appreciate the fact that they've got a roof over their heads, food to eat, and strong, high walls to shelter them from the storm. Instead they keep complaining about being made to work harder, only to see themselves sinking deeper into debt.

The worst of it is, this attitude of ingratitude is not limited to just our own crop of domestic domestics. Ordinary people in foreign lands we have helped also seem unaccountably resentful concerning the assistance we have given them. President Bush has noted that Iraqis seem particularly ungrateful to us, in spite of all the hard work it took on our part to start a war in their country, transforming it from a modern, educated, productive society into a smoking, stinking ruin.

However, I need to inform the proprietors of this household that the ingratitude of their servants and other dependents is the least of their worries. Unbeknownst to them, a couple of the servants, who have trained themselves to be fully literate and capable of critical thinking, despite the wishes of their superiors (who have only their best interests in mind), have recently stumbled upon some obscure documents which are sure to be the cause of serious trouble if what's in them should ever get out. These reveal that the servants are actually the lawful owners of the estate, and that the current set of proprietors have swindled them out of their property.

As of this writing, a group of servants is planning to rise up out of their basement quarters, wrest possession of the household from its current ruling occupants, and put them out of doors.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Another Useless Formula

There's been this idea floating around on BeliefNet -- and not just BeliefNet, I can assure you -- that any political dispute is kind of like a clothesline, strung between two terminals. If one accepts this abstraction as an accurate schema of ideological differences, then it naturally follows that any opinion located at or near one of the terminals of a political disagreement is "extreme," while "reasonable" people, who seek to avoid extremes, actively seek to adopt a more "moderate" point of view.

People who lean heavily on this analogy -- for it is an analogy of what goes on in the real world, rather than a map of the real world itself -- tend to assume that the "moderate" position in any political argument is necessarily the "right" position, and that "extremists" are, by definition, "wrong."

This overworked and weakly conceived approach to politics attempts to deal with reality by ignoring several discomforting aspects of it, such as:

*People do not always deal with each other in good faith, and frequently lie;

*There are some issues for which no middle position exists (i.e., no one can be "a little bit" preganant);

*Some people will do anything for money and a good fuck.

So I would challenge the "moderates" and "reasonable people" who are reading this -- the ones who feel that if only "extremists" would sit down with one another and talk things over in the presence of cooler heads, that everything could be ironed out, to say where the "moderate" position is in these debates:

1. Iraq. In 2002, during the Senate debate over giving the president authorization to use military force, Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Condi Rice lied about the Iraqi "threat" incessantly. It's no exaggeration to say that everything they said during the runup to the war was a lie. Opposed to them was Senator Byrd of West Virginia, who filibustered against the Authorization by constantly countering with the truth, starting with the truth that Bush would use the Authorization as a carte blanche to launch a unilateral, pre-emptive war of choice, even though he lied through his teeth and kept protesting that war would only be one of a number of options at his disposal.

I suppose the "moderate" position in this debate would be one in which tolerating certain amount of lying (the "moderate" amount) is the ideal and the objective, provided the lies are not outrageous whoppers, but rather the sorts of lies that a majority of "moderate" and "reasonable" Americans feels comfortable believing.

Sort of like the lie that Saddam Hussein possesses vast stores of weapons-grade anthrax, for instance. A "moderate" person could believe that about Saddam. Just look at his face, or maybe I should say, the face he used to have.

2. Slavery. It's either legal, or it's not. There's no middle position. Even if the laws governing the legality of slavery place extreme restrictions on it, as long as its legal under even very limited circumstances, it's not illegal. I suppose the "moderate" position on this issue would be to allow "just a little bit" of it. That of course, ignores the fact that the enslavement of one human being, any time, anywhere, is a crime against the entire human race. It also ignores the reality of the issue -- either we have this "peculiar institution" or we don't. There's no room for a "moderate" stance.

3. The majority of us now want universal, single-payer health care. The insurance companies, HMO's, pharmaceuticals companies, etc., want to keep things just as they are, because they're making a lot of money, and they're greedy bastards.

I suppose the "moderate" position on this issue would be to allow them to be greedy bastards within limits, so long as not too many people go broke paying insurance companies and statin drug manufacturers their protection money.

I don't know where this assumption that "middle" is synonymous with "right" came from, but I sure wish it would go away. Maybe it'll disappear along with the Bush administration at the end of the year.

Ah, Shutup!

U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker is quoted in USA Today as saying that the U.S. has a "moral imperative" to help reduce violence in Iraq.

I often wonder whether morons like Crocker ever actually listen to the words that come out of their own mouths.

The same article noted that the Green Zone has been under attack from Shia insurgents for the last few days. "Rockets have rattled the U.S. compound all week, killing two U.S. government employees. Embassy staffers have abandoned their tin-roofed trailers to sleep in more fortified offices," the report said.

Wait a minute! I thought this was the war where our occupation forces were going to be greeted as liberators. "With flowers," we were told.

So how's that working out for you, Dick?