A Terrible Blogger is Born!

April 30, 2009

Bovine Economics

Filed under: Economics — rmangum @ 5:22 am

I had to share this brilliant elaboration of an old joke by the folks at Voodoo Rhythm:


You have 2 cows.
You give one to your neighbor.


You have 2 cows.
The State takes both and gives you some milk.


You have 2 cows.
The State takes both and sells you some milk.


You have 2 cows.
The State takes both and shoots you.


You have 2 cows.
The State takes both, shoots one, milks the other, and then throws the milk away.


You have two cows.
You sell one and buy a bull.
Your herd multiplies, and the economy grows.
You sell them and retire on the income.


You have two giraffes.
The government requires you to take harmonica lessons.


You have two cows.
You sell one, and force the other to produce the milk of four cows.
Later, you hire a consultant to analyze why the cow has dropped dead.


You have two cows.
You sell three of them to your publicly listed company, using letters of credit opened by your brother-in-law at the bank,
then execute a debt/equity swap with an associated general
offer so that you get all four cows back, with a tax exemption for five cows.
The milk rights of the six cows are transferred via an intermediary to a Cayman Island Company secretly owned by the majority shareholder who sells the rights to all seven cows back to your listed company.The annual report says the company owns eight cows, with an option on one more.
You sell one cow to buy a new president of the United States , leaving you with nine cows.
No balance sheet provided with the release.
The public then buys your bull.


You have two cows.
You go on strike, organize a riot, and block the roads, because you want three cows.


You have two cows.
You redesign them so they are one-tenth the size of an ordinary cow and produce twenty times the milk.
You then create a clever cow cartoon image called ‘Cowkimon’
and market it worldwide.


You have two cows.
You re-engineer them so they live for 100 years, eat once a month, and milk themselves.


You have two cows, but you don’t know where they are.
You decide to have lunch.


You have two cows.
You count them and learn you have five cows.
You count them again and learn you have 42 cows.
You count them again and learn you have 2 cows.
You stop counting cows and open another bottle of vodka.


You have 5000 cows. None of them belong to you.
You charge the owners for storing them.


You have two cows.
You have 300 people milking them.
You claim that you have full employment, and high bovine productivity.
You arrest the newsman who reported the real situation.


You have two cows.
You worship them.


You have two cows.
Both are mad.


Everyone thinks you have lots of cows.
You tell them that you have none.
No-one believes you, so they bomb the crap out of you and invade your country.
You still have no cows, but at least you are now a Democracy.


You have two cows
you give them a guitar and make them to sing to other cows


April 28, 2009

The Mother Lode!

Filed under: Literature — rmangum @ 10:56 pm
Tags: ,

There aren’t many perks to living in Salt Lake City, but (this goes to show just how big a nerd I am) the City Library is one. The building looks like it comes from the future depicted in the movie Minority Report. It has a comic-book store, a small art gallery, an impressive selection of classical and jazz on CD, and of course four floors filled with books. Every spring they host a massive book sale in the basement with paperbacks going for 25 cents and hardbacks a dollar. It’s not all Danielle Steele and John Grisham either! A couple of years ago I was able to pick up Harry Elmer Barnes’ 3-volume An Intellectual and Cultural History of the Western World.

This year Jane and I hauled out a cart of over 70 books for under forty bucks. She collected Henry James, D.H. Lawrence, Eudora Welty, as well as books on law and politics. Of particular interest to me in the latter category were The 9/11 C omission Report (which topped Ron Paul’s recommended reading list for Rudy Guliani after Guliani boasted about never having heard of the “blowback” theory of terrorism), and Union and Liberty: The Political Philosophy of John C. Calhoun (published by the Liberty Fund, who also put out the edition of Mises’ Human Action that I bought for my brother). I got a few political books: two recent books by Gore Vidal on American foreign policy, Dreaming War, and Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace (the latter title purloined from the aforementioned Barnes); progressive historian Charles Beard’s An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States (surprisingly, an influence on the conservative anarchist Albert Jay Nock’s Our Enemy, the State); intellectual historian Carl Becker’s The Declaration of Independence; and English socialist economic historian R.H. Tawney’s Religion and the Rise of Capitalism. But most books came from my prime areas of interest: literary and cultural criticism, and classic literature. In the former category I picked up some Leslie Fiedler, Herbert Read (an anarchist critic!), and Lionel Trilling; Northrup Frye’s Anatomy of Criticism and M.H. Abrams’ The Mirror and the Lamp, two important books on aesthetic theory that have been on my reading list for some time; Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind and Francis Fukuyama’s Our Posthuman Future, two necon jeremiads; and finally, the big score, Marshall McLuhan’s Understanding Media: the Extensions of Man, which I began reading last night. I can already see how ahead of his time McLuhan was, how much of his exuberant visionary style was picked up by Camille Paglia, and how much better he is in his meditations on the effects of media upon human consciousness and experience than the dreary Walter Benjamin (who is in turn a cut above his colleague, the demonic Theodor Adorno). In literature I bagged Xenophon’s Anabasis (inspiration for the classic cheesey movie The Warriors!), Gangantua and Pantagruel by Rabelais, Selected Essays by Montaigne, The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, Mattew Lewis’ The Monk (with an introduction by Stephen King), Sterne’s Tristram Shandy, and Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow (upon seeing the last, my friend Michael informs me that I am a masochist, which is probably true). Rounding things up are novels by Dreiser, Larry McMurtry, Sherwood Anderson, and paperback sci-fi by Fritz Lieber and Samuel R. Delany.

Of course I’m not ignorant of the fact that the means by which libraries are funded are ones I am against, as are the roads I drive on to get there, and so on. But I am certain that in a real free market, we would probably have even more libraries, of various sizes, selections and policies, just as in the market for music and movies (both offered by the library too, of course, so maybe it isn’t entirely fair to blame the closing of Blockbuster on Netflix or the woes of bookstores on Amazon).

April 26, 2009

A Song for Sunday #11

Filed under: A Song for Sunday,Music — rmangum @ 7:28 pm

How did we love Canned Heat? Let’s count the ways. We loved ’em because they scooped out a whole new wrinkle in the monotone mazurka; it wasn’t their fault that a whole generation of ten zillion bands took and ran it into the ground sans finesse after Canned Heat had run it into the ground so damned good themselves. We loved ’em because they’ve always held the record for Longest Single Boogie Preserved on Wax: “Refried Boogie” from Livin’ the Blues was forty-plus minutes of real raunch froth perfect for parties or car stereos, especially if they got ripped off- and a lot of it was actually listenable. We loved ’em because Henry Vestine was an incredible, scorching motherfucker of a guitarist, knocking you through the wall. And we loved ’em because Bobby Bear was so damned weird you could abide his every excess.

-Lester Bangs, Rolling Stone, June 7, 1973

Plastic has an ethics, an aesthetic, and an ontology. . . . And I want you to know that I was with Henry Vestine in the co-op department store plastics salon when Henry Vestine first became aware of the charm of these phony materials, especially plastics, because I was with him when it happened. And still, to this very day, when Henry plays in deepest, darkest, Eugene, Orgeon, Earth City, his solos are essentially long, discursive lectures on plasticity.

-John Fahey, “Henry Vestine and the Allure of La Plastique

2598734184_54fac38ddf1In the summer of 2001 my brother and I got into my 1989 Honda Prelude and trekked out to the desert on the other side of the Great Salt Lake for a classic rock festival promoted by one or another of the rock stations that we all know and love so well, that place Led Zep and Foreigner on equal rotation, that manage to make Black Sabbath into musical wallpaper. As far as I can remember we went because we weren’t old enough to get into bars or private clubs and had nothing better to do. On the lineup were Credence Clearwater Revisited (Credence minus John Fogerty), Mark Farner of Grand Funk Railroad (billed in those exact words) wearing a blindingly shiny shirt and inspiring a chorus of air-guitars from the crowd, and Vanilla Fudge in their marvelously billowing vestments like it was still 1971. I don’t think we even knew Canned Heat was going to be playing. They went on early in the blistering sun. It was just after the death of John Lee Hooker, with whom they had recorded two albums, HookerN Heat (not Hooker in Heat, though that’s what the music sounds like a lot of the time) form 1970, and a live album in 1981, both of which are worth your money if you like down-and-dirty blues. They announced their sadness at the loss and, inspired by the great master, proceeded to boogie down nonstop for a good chunk of the afternoon. The music like the pied piper called forth the old hippies to kick up dust perform the formless gyrations that are ubiquitous at summer music festivals everywhere, and two young geeks, my brother and I, approached the stage as well to groove as much as we could and gawk at the aging bluesmen. It was the high point of the day, and a great performance despite the absence of Henry Vestine, who died in 1997. Like the Ramones, Canned Heat played the same music for their whole career, and it rarely got boring. Not even the Rolling Stones can say that.

Today’s tune: Catfish Blues

April 20, 2009

What I learned from watching the movie “Milk”:

Filed under: State,U.S.A — rmangum @ 5:05 pm
Tags: ,

In this country there are only two ways of regulating gay/straight relations (and, by extension, all interactions between majorities and minorities): laws which forcibly prevent anyone from discriminating against homosexuals, or laws which forcibly discriminate against homosexuals.

A Song for Sunday #10

Filed under: A Song for Sunday,Music — rmangum @ 12:27 am
Tags: , ,

yma_sumacWhile last week’s song took us into the remote and icy regions of the North with Nico, this week is an exotic excursion in the opposite direction. I bring you a live version of Yma Sumac’s Chuncho, from the early 1960’s. Was Sumac the Peruvian woman born Zoila Augusta Emperatriz Chavarri del Castillo? Was she descended from Incan royalty? Was she in fact a native of Brooklyn whose real name was Amy Camus (Yma Sumac spelled backward), as was long-rumored? About her exact date of birth her biographers are unsure. The mystery seems exactly appropriate for this singer of “Exotica” a craze which swept swinging suburbia in the 1950’s. The music featured lush arrangements filled with instruments of non-European origin (bongos and gongs and such) and odd sound-effects. The music is sometimes corny but often genuinely weird. (An expression of postwar bourgeois fantasy, Exotica is probably the weirdest music ever to become genuinely popular. Way weirder than the brief heydey of psychedelia in the late 60’s and early 70’s.) It’s most famous practitioners tended to be pianist/composers with a Jazz background, like Les Baxter and Martin Denny. But Sumac stood out: everything about her was genuinely exotic, from her looks to her mysterious origins to the incredible four-octave range of her voice, which can go from producing gutteral growls to ethereal wails in an instant. Her 1950 debut album Voice of the Xtabay is still a classic, with songs like “Taita Indy (Virgin of the Sun God)”, “Choladas (Dance of the Moon Festival)”, and the original version of “Chuncho (The Forest Creatures)”. I have chosen this ghostly, stripped-down version from Recital, a concert in Bucharest, Romania, where she is accompanied only by guitar.

April 18, 2009

Confessions of a liberal anarchist

There’s no black and white, left and right to me any more; there’s only up and down and down is very close to the ground. And I’m trying to go up without thinking of anything trivial such as politics.

-Bob Dylan, 1963 Tom Paine Award acceptance speech to the National Emergency Civil Liberties Committee

Where, then, can disaffected liberals turn? Not to the current Right, which offers them only more of the same, spiced with a more jingoistic and theocratic flavor. Not to the New Left, which destroyed itself in despair and random violence. Libertarianism, to many liberals, offers itself as the place to turn.

-Murray Rothbard

I recently took a facebook quiz about my political ideology, with the result being the I am “Very Liberal”. As it describes me,

You are very liberal. You are about as far left as you can be before heading into Stalin’s backyard.

First of all, I think the notion that Stalin was a kind of liberal should be objectionable to both Stalinists and liberals. Second, the assumption of the quiz is that we live in an absolutely dualistic world where only the categories “liberal” and “conservative” apply. Categories such as “libertarian”, “populist”, or even “fascist” that are eclectic or not easily pigeonholed into that dichotomy are no options (though I imagine you can score as a “centrist”, which in practice usually means that you approve of everything the government wants to do to and for you and your less-enthusiastic neighbors).

Thirdly, and most importantly, why did I score as “very liberal” when a great many positions I take on the issues of the day would get me tagged as a member of the far right? I oppose gun control and the income tax. I oppose school vouchers, but then I also oppose public-schools. I oppose all of our interventionist wars, but since when did that ever make you a liberal? Nixon and the New Left’s influence (then, at least) on the Democratic party caused us to forget this, but Vietnam was originally a liberal project, as were most of our previous wars. The rise of the neoconservatives (originally an invasion of the right by former Trotskyist, moderate cold-war liberals) changed all that, which also produced a reaction of a populist right associated with “Pitchfork Pat” Buchanan, as well as Old-Right style libertarians such as Murray Rothbard and Lew Rockwell. But that is getting into a much more complicated story than I want to tell here. The point is that I think I scored as “very liberal” (practically in Stalin’s backyard!) because of my staunch anti-war, pro-civil liberties, anti-torture views, which in today’s climate makes some kind of Anti-American leftist radical. There were also some questions which presented a false dichotomy, and my answers on these caused  the results to skew bushswear2leftward. For instance, would you rather the government increase its budget on the military or health care? Well, according to my strict libertarian principles, neither. But given only those two options, I would say health care, since while the government is bound to fuck it up, it will not be nearly as disastrous as the way it mishandles our imperial foreign policy. Some libertarians, and libertarian-leaning Republicans and conservatives think otherwise, reasoning that as long as only the State can provide for the national defense, we might as well be well-defended. My response to these people is to do their homework, and they will find that militarism and war is always and ever the greatest threats to civil liberties (and just liberty, period): it is contradictory to support both. Another question is about sex-education, which I answered that I supported (though not “strongly”) for a simple, pragmatic reason. While I sympathize with the view that sex-education ought to be the domain of the parents and has nothing to do with education proper, for years now American schools have imposed a federally-funded regime of abstinence-only sex education which is religiously based and bears very little relation with relation with reality. In a genuine free market for education, my ideal, schools would vary from comprehensive sex-ed to sex-ed that emphasized Christian morality to no sex-ed at all, based on consumer, i.e. parents (and probably older students themselves, since I view the age of adulthood in our society as not the federally mandated 18, but rather 16 at the oldest) preference. But since, just like more military-spending or more health-care spending, or options seem to be one or the other, so I will side with the liberals on this one. I simply prefer science-based education than religious-based education. As long as the government lies to our kids about sex it will present a social and public-health disaster.

Finally, despite the false assumptions of the quiz, I’m mostly pleased with it, since at heart I feel I am a liberal. A liberal anarchist. I was raised by a devout Mormon and Goldwater/Reagan Republican, and I spend a lot of time reading conservative on-line publications such as V-Dare, Taki’s Mag, and The American Conservative so I think I know right-wing when I see it, and I am not that. (I also know quality writing when I see it, so no National Review.) I have to say that on the overriding concern of this faction of the right- immigration (or, let’s be clear here, Mexican immigration)- I more or less agree with the broad consensus of liberals, leftists, neoconservatives, and “beltway libertarians”, that it’s no big deal (even if not the greatest thing to happen to this country since sliced apple pie). But with this intimate knowledge of the various strands of thought on the right, I don’t have the attitude toward them- smug when not outright fearful- that  99% of liberals seem to have. I also have liberal attitudes about abortion and drug use which go beyond the standard libertarian line of upholding the legal right to such activities without necessarily condoning them- with some minor exceptions, I condone them. (Drug use in particular I find as natural and beneficial to human society as poetry; it is only prohibition that makes us neurotic, criminal, and self-destructive about it.) And I happen to find even post-60’s America to be so puritanical in its attitudes toward sex that it would be laughable of it weren’t so tragic (on the other hand I am skeptical of the “utopia through better orgasms” ideal that many 60’s intellectuals promulgated).

But why, then, if I’m such a liberal, is one of the recurring themes of this blog my obsession with puncturing the pieties and pointing out the hypocrisy of mainstream liberals? I think it is because I feel betrayed by contemporary liberalism in a way that I was never in a position to be by conservatism. I feel that liberals- particularly through that unedifying, ungainly, cheerfully dishonest beast, the Democratic Party- have sold their properly oppositional stance out for power; that they have good ideals about social equality but will not stop short of lying and distorting facts, and promote a near-totalitarian bureaucracy in the name of these ideals; that they, in the power they have achieved ensconced in the America’s post-republican technocratic warfare-welfare regime, become like those Romans of the patrician class who, when they felt scorned or passed-over by fellow patricians, would turn to agitate the easily-agitated plebeian class with promises of land-redistribution and other such booty. All such offerings were only short-run balms, and did nothing to tame Rome’s essentially imperial nature, did not alter the strict stratification between the classes in the slightest, and in the end did more for the careers for the estranged patricians themselves than for the plebeian masses. In her most recent column, one of my heroes, Camille Paglia describes the decadence of the liberal patricians:

Yes, something very ugly has surfaced in contemporary American liberalism, as evidenced by the irrational and sometimes infantile abuse directed toward anyone who strays from a strict party line. Liberalism, like second-wave feminism, seems to have become a new religion for those who profess contempt for religion. It has been reduced to an elitist set of rhetorical formulas, which posit the working class as passive, mindless victims in desperate need of salvation by the state. Individual rights and free expression, which used to be liberal values, are being gradually subsumed to worship of government power. . . . For the past 25 years, liberalism has gradually sunk into a soft, soggy, white upper-middle-class style that I often find preposterous and repellent. The nut cases on the right are on the uneducated fringe, but on the left they sport Ivy League degrees. I’m not kidding — there are some real fruitcakes out there, and some of them are writing for major magazines. It’s a comfortable, urban, messianic liberalism befogged by psychiatric pharmaceuticals.

Unlike many intellectual histories of contemporary politics that I read on the web from a conservative or libertarian perspective, Paglia (who is old enough to have witnessed it firsthand) sees little New Left influence upon current Democratic Party or Academic left apart from self-serving rhetoric and nostalgia (necessarily false, like all nostalgia). Usually such tales give undue weight to the Frankfurt school, which is obviously a huge influence on contemporary academia. But though a figure like Marcuse was a kind of academic celebrity in the 1960’s, I think the New Left, the anti-war movement, and the counterculture generally, would have gone on pretty much as it did without this bewildering pack of German émigrés and their Marxo-Freudian-Nietzschean-Hegelian theories. Paglia herself disdains the Frankfurt school and what she refers to in her book Break, Blow, Burn as its “censoriousness” toward art. She remembers, and champions, a different set of cultural intellectuals hailing from our very own North American content she feels have been passed over: Marshall McLuhan, Norman O. Brown (sometimes associated with the Frankfurt School, but a far better writer),  Leslie Fiedler, Northrup Frye, and the early Susan Sontag. Paglia’s attack upon the hegemony of the academic/media left from a more genuine 60’s libertarian perspective has influenced me greatly, even pre-dating my discovery of Rothbard’s anarchism. 4dpictLike Paglia, I draw inspiration from this strand of the American intellectual counterculture form the 60’s, and also from aspects which have been admired by Austro-libertarians such as the New Left Historians (Gabriel Kolko, James Weinstein, William Appleman Williams, and a pre-neocon Ronald Radosh) who revised our ideas about the progressive movement in America, and the New Left “power elite” sociologists such as C.Wright Mills and G. William Domhoff. One of the greatest libertarian scholars and writers around, Robert Higgs (see my previous post), says that he considered himself a New Leftist in college and still counts Mills as one of his biggest influences. Then there was the Students for a Democratic Society, or SDS. Yes, this group made many political missteps and eventually collapsed into the naively romantic violence of the Weathermen, but apparently that gold-standard of libertarianism, Murray Rothbard, was impressed enough with them to become a member for a time in the 60’s. (And not only because they opposed the warfare-welfare state, it is important to remember. He praised their inclusive, non-hierarchical principle of “participatory democracy” as being firmly in accord with American libertarian tradition. At least in its original conception- he later called what New Left organizations actually achieved with it a “bust”.) They were opposed to the top-down, autocratic tactics of the Old Left, and one of their presidents, Carl Oglesby, even praised the isolationist Old Right and declared the enemy as “corporate liberalism“. These aspects as the New Left are close to what I am talking about when I speak of “liberal anarchism”. These days though, a liberal anarchist must be a libertarian, even perhaps a conservative libertarian. I am currently a dues-paying member of the YAL, or Young Americans for Liberty, a campus political group of students galvanized by the Ron Paul movement. It has basically two overriding concerns: ending America’s overseas empire, and abolishing the Federal Reserve. It’s probably closer to the conservative Young Americans for Freedom, whose name it recalls, the radical anti-war contingent of which split from in 1969 a rally that formed the crucible of the modern libertarian movement, than the SDS. Nevertheless, I think the SDS could and should provide an inspiration. (By the way, the SDS reformed in 2006: a sign of the times?) I also think the New Left was closer to contemporary libertarianism in style and persona to contemporary liberalism. One can easily imagine the obnoxiously cheerful (though secretly vicious), kiss-ass social-climber Tracy Flick played by Reese Witherspoon in Alexander Payne’s movie Election as a Democratic party official, but one cannot picture her as a New Leftist. (Though the lesbian Tammy Metzler, who runs on an “abolish school government” platform fits the bill.)

One last note: why is my “liberal anarchism” not simply what has become known as “left-libertarianism“, of the sort associated with bloggers Kevin Carson, Charles Johnson, and philosopher Roderick T. Long? In the first place, I like my name better. Secondly, while I am probably more sympathetic to this group than any other, I see a lot of the views expounded as being what “anarcho-pluralist” Kieth Preston derisively calls “cultural leftism without the state“, by which he means the intolerant (his emphasis) and philistinish (mine) contemporary cultural leftism. I don’t mean to slander any of the aforementioned bloggers as such. Far from it. (Carson concentrates a lot more on mutualist economics rather than culture, anyway.) I merely want to proffer an alternative. I draw for my cultural ideas upon aesthetes like Paglia, Harold Bloom, and the aforementioned authors of the North American Intellectual Tradition. Not that this is an integral part of liberal anarchism, only that I find it a great deal more appealing than the Frankfurters, Dworkin/McKinnon-style radical feminism, Maulthusian environmental hysteria, and all that postmodern and multicultural slop served up by humanities departments today. The cultural aspect of my views I am tempted to dub “Orphic Libertarianism”, which may become the subject of a future post. I suspect my idiosyncratic mixture of Murray Rothbard and the Velvet Underground will please few besides myself.

April 16, 2009

Bob Higgs and the Left-Wing Brownshirts

Filed under: Economics,State — rmangum @ 12:25 am
Tags: , , , , , ,

Economic historian and libertarian scholar Robert Higgs appeared on C-SPAN2’s Book TV, in a virtuoso performance arguing for peace and liberty, and is rewarded with hate mail demanding that he kill himself and one lunatic caller who calls Higgs (what else) a fascist apologist for Wall Street and despiser of the poor, and accusing him of shamelessness. (In fact, Higgs like all Austrian economists has argued against bailouts of Wall Street and has critiqued our corporatist economic system as “participatory fascism”.) The mixture of vehemence and ignorance of the callers to this program are incredible, and an occasion (for me, at least) for despair. Meanwhile, Obama promises to salve everyone’s wounds with no new ideas whatsoever, and has lady liberal columnists fantasizing about him in the shower and Hollywood fashion-plates pledging unconditional obedience to his every whim. Who seem more like the real fascists today?


The Book TV callers and Higgs’ hate e-mailers remind me of an H.L. Mencken quote (I’ve quoted this two other places recently, and might as well do it here as well) from “The Beloved Turnkey” in 1923:

The fact is that the average man’s love of liberty is nine-tenths imaginary, exactly like his love of sense, justice, and, truth. He is not actually happy when free; he is uncomfortable, a bit alarmed, and intolerably lonely. Liberty is not a thing for the great masses of men. It is the exclusive possession of a small and disreputable minority, like knowledge, courage, and honor. It takes a special sort of man to understand and enjoy liberty- and is usually an outlaw in democratic societies. It is, indeed, only the exceptional man who can even stand it. The average man doesn’t want to be free. He simply wants to be safe. . . .

Except that the government does not really keep anybody safe nor, in the long run, prosperous. I’ve been listening a lot lately to the History of Rome podcast, and I see parallels everywhere. I am convinced that the tyrannical and warlike nature of the state never has nor will ever change, and neither will the appetite of the plebeian masses for bread and circuses (despite the fact that their bad lot is rooted in the control of the state apparatus by the entrenched patrician class). The two feed each other.

April 15, 2009

The Green Revolution: another failed government program?

Filed under: Economics,State — rmangum @ 1:38 am
Tags: , , ,

After listening to an NPR story on the coming collapse of India’s agricultural economy and reading one of Kevin Carson’s recent commentaries at Center for a Stateless Society that is critical of Norman Borlaug, I have begun a discussion at Bureaucrash about the “Green Revolution”, which I had previously assumed was a libertarian triumph, but which I am now rethinking. The gist of it is that 1) it is proving to be unsustainable and 2) it was accomplished with government funding and regulation (in the form of terms imposed on Indian farmers for accepting agricultural subsidies), which would make it hardly a result of the free market. If point 1 proves to be true, that makes it vitally important for libertarians to emphasize point 2.

April 14, 2009

The “Arc of Instability”: Court Intellectuals (as usual) pimp Obama’s war

Filed under: State,U.S.A,War — rmangum @ 10:42 pm
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t_879_593_6351Justin Raimondo has a great new article up on “‘Progressive’ Warmongers“, which reveals the spinelessness, hypocrisy and partisanship of progressives, even “anti-war” progressives, in supporting Obama’s Afghan incursion. There are even progressive think-tanks serving the same role for Obama that neoconservative ones did for Bush II, such as the Center for American Progress. He quotes from a recent CAP report laying out a 10 Year Plan for occupation. Here is a rather striking passage:

Al-Qaeda poses a clear and present danger to American interests and its allies throughout the world and must be dealt with by using all the instruments in our national security arsenal in an integrated manner. The terrorist organization’s deep historical roots in Afghanistan and its neighbor Pakistan place it at the center of an ‘arc of instability’ through South and Central Asia and the greater Middle East that requires a sustained international response.

Let us first point out, as Raimondo does, that the whole argument runs counter to the left-liberal critique of Bush’s strategy in the War on Terror. Presumably “all the instruments in our national security arsenal” includes invasion and occupation, and liberals have always pointed out, quite reasonably, that this is an old paradigm for fighting a nation-state with identifiable borders and flags and uniforms and whatnot, whereas this going after Al-Qaeda requires a smaller and smarter use of intelligence agents- you know, cold war type shit. Even worse is speaking of Al-Qaeda’s “deep historical roots” in Afghanistan without pointing out that in the first place they aren’t any deeper or more historical than the Mujahedin who formed to fight the Soviet invasion in the 1980’s, and in the second place those warriors were armed by none other than the United States of America. Liberals and progressives never tired of bringing up these facts when Bush II was in power, but I guess they can be conveniently consigned to the memory hole now that we have become an Obama-nation. (An interesting pop-culture presage to all this is Aaron Sorkin’s 2007 movie “Charlie Wilson’s War”, which gives credit for funding of the Mujahedin to a Democratic congressman instead of Reagan and the Republicans. At the end, Tom Hanks as Charlie Wilson gives a speech, with typically Sorkin-esque sanctimony, wondering why the U.S does not stay in Afghanistan now that the Reds are gone to bring them the blessings of infrastructure and the public schools that have so edified our body politic. “We always leave,” he moans. We do? Our 700 foreign military bases say otherwise.)


Raimondo discusses all these points better than I do, but what really makes me laugh is the language used. “Clear and present danger” is about the hoariest piece of alarmist rhetoric in the speechwriter’s arsenal, so vapid they might as well tell us that it requires us to move to Threat-Level Orange. But the real cherry on top is the phrase “arc of instability”. This too is obviously cribbed from the right-wing hawk’s playbook. Remember the “Axis of Evil”? Of course you do, and if you liked that, you’re going to love the Arc of Instability! Come on guys, I thought progressive liberals were supposed to be the litterateurs of the political spectrum! “Axis of Evil” (penned by neocon weasel David Frum) shows a knack for what will resonate in the popular mind. It could serve as the title of an old WWII movie or a Tom Clancy novel. “Arc of Instability”, on the other hand, reveals how mired in a technocratic mindset are these progressives. (Okay, so “Arc of Instability” could well be a Tom Clancy title too, since he is not immune to technocratic titles like the undramatic “Op-Center”.) Apparently they conceive the global political theater, seething with centuries old hatreds that threaten to become nuclear Armageddon, as a geometry problem. One speculates how much fun The Daily Show or The Colbert Report could have with such a phrase, but it’s not likely we’ll be treated with any such skewering, since they, particularly the former, have more or less been serving up apologias for the new regime with only de rigeur irony about Obama-infatuation for leaven.

Of course some progressives are not fooled by Obama, and retain their anti-war stance. But there is nothing inherently anti-war in their politics. This represents an old conflict. Progressive intellectuals split over World War I, which was supported by Herbert Croly and John Dewey for pretty much the same reasons neoconservatives support the war in Iraq today, and opposed by Randolph Bourne, who famously called war “the health of the state”. (Though he never took the logical next step for an anti-warrior by becoming a libertarian- quite the opposite- and according to a recent Telos article he opposed American intervention because he was enamored with the German state.) In case you’re wondering where the score stands on that one, the anti-warriors haven’t made a point.aria09040220090401085210

I keep hearing about how smart Obama is, how thoughtful and articulate. Sure, compared to his predecessor, but look at what a paltry accomplishment that is. Obama, elected with overwhelming support from the anti-war crowd (but who forgot to insist that he end the war), wants to move the war to Afghanistan, which has been called “the graveyard of empires”, at the very moment our economy is tanking and when the last thing in the world we need is more imperial hubris. It all sounds pretty damn stupid to me.

April 13, 2009

A Song for Sunday #9

Filed under: A Song for Sunday,Music — rmangum @ 6:47 am

220px-nicoheroinIf you’ve ever wondered what would be the best music to listen to at three in the morning with a toothache that can’t quite be killed by hydrocodone, I would recommend Nico’s 1969 album The Marble Index. Although it is grotesquely inappropriate for a beautiful Easter Sunday, today’s song, Frozen Warnings, comes from that album.

Nico had an  incredibly charmed career. She was a model at 13, had a bit part in La Dolce Vita, was the subject of a song by Bob Dylan (“I’ll Keep it With Mine”), and had affairs with Dylan, Jim Morrison, and about a half-dozen other rock stars. Her fame will probably always rest on her striking beauty and the three songs she sang on the first Velvet Underground album. She merited an entry in The Rock Snob’s Dictionary published in 2005 by David Kamp and Steven Daly, which describes her thus:

Compellingly doomed German-born model (née Christa Päffgen) whose severe cheekbones, six-foot height, and natural state of nihilistic ennui inspired Andy Warhol to graft her to the Velvet Underground as a “chanteuse.” Though she sang only “three lonely songs,” as she put it, on the Velvets’ debut album, her thudding, off-key readings nonetheless winning in a spooky, Weimarish way, and the two melancholy albums she recorded after leaving the group, Chelsea Girl and The Marble Index, became Snob causes célèbres even before Nico’s suitably tragic death in a bicycle accident in 1988.

Elsewhere I described the sound of the first Velvet Underground album as that of “an iceberg on fire”. Well, it was Nico that provided most of the ice on that album. While The Velvet Underground and Nico was still a rock and roll album despite all its avant-garde touches, Nico never did rock all that well, and with The Marble Index she returns to her Teutonic roots (one a cappella song, included in the CD re-release, is called “Nibelungen”). “Melancholy” scarcely suffices to describe it. It seems more to come from a place above all emotion. If the world does end in ice, this album will provide the soundtrack. Rock critic Lester Bangs confessed to being frightened by it, but still pronounced it, “the greatest piece of ‘avant-garde classical’ [an oxymoron I hate, by the way, but that is neither here nor there] ‘serious’ music of the last half of the 20th century so far.” Well, I don’t quite know about that. But I agree with this description:

There are no cheap thrills . . . no commercials for sadomasochism, bisexuality, or hard drugs dashed off for a ravenous but vicarious audience- rather, it stares for a relatively short time that might just seem eternity to you into the heart of darkness, eyes wide-open, unflinching, and gives its own heart to what it finds there, and then tells you how that feels, letting you draw your own value-judgments.

Well, I don’t know about the last part about giving “its own heart”, either. This music is much too cold for a heart, but it nonetheless entrancing. The title comes from Wordsworth’s Prelude:

The marble index of a mind for ever
Voyaging through strange seas of thought, alone.

What a wonderfully Apollonian phrase, “the marble index”. Mind, not heart, marking and indexing rather than feeling and empathizing, remote and forbidding, giving out “Frozen Warnings”. But Spengler, in Der Untergang des Abendlandes (usually translated as The Decline of the West), distinguishes sharply between the Apollonian and Faustian characteristics, and this music has much of the latter in it.

Germanic gods and heroes are surrounded by this rebuffing immensity and enigmatic gloom. They are steeped in music and in night  . . .

So too with the singer of The Marble Index. Faust is all soul, and Apollo all body, because “Night eliminates body, day soul”. Perhaps this is brooding Faust describing what he sees when placed on the cold and airy heights of Olympus.

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