A Terrible Blogger is Born!

December 31, 2009

Rockin’ in the Free World

Filed under: Contra Keynes,Economics,State — rmangum @ 11:24 pm

Hey, have you noticed that we never hear the phrase “Free World” applied to Western Democracies anymore? Maybe it’s because the U.S. doesn’t have another superpower to wage a propaganda war against, or maybe such a lie is just too damned obvious these days. Maybe we don’t really care if we are free or not. At any rate, it’s interesting to see articles not written from a radical perspective employing the term “Authoritarian Democracy” to our society. I agree with the article’s basic premise, that we (or rather that section of the bourgeoisie whose matter) have traded economic well-being for liberty. The main evil is identified with the neoliberal economic policies that came in with Thatcher and Reagan, which fits in nicely with the journalistic zeitgeist. Not that this is wrong, but rather too narrow. First of all, Keyensian macromanagement (or “macromancy” as the witty Sean Corrigan has called it) offers perpetual GDP expansion (and of course Jobs! Jobs! Jobs!) engineered at the commanding medium-heights while holding their nose at the “free market”. “Liberal” administrations have been as much gung-ho globalizers as “conservative” ones. Secondly, just because the power elite offers a trade-off between a charge card and what certain of our forebears knew as the “Rights of Englishmen” doesn’t mean that that the choice is real or necessary. And the article’s seeming conclusion that the whole mess is just a big tax dodge by the rich surely misses the point by a long shot.

But the takeaway message here is to not define freedom narrowly. It is worth considering, for liberals, that mass elections don’t mean freedom in any sense that matters in our daily lives. And libertarians who feel that their main job is forever spinning apologetics for “capitalism” ought to ponder the “Singapore model”, where lax economic regulation is mixed with extreme moral authoritarianism.

Nothing is allowed that the government fears might threaten public order or social stability; and the government’s sensitivities on this score are very delicate indeed. Spitting, chewing gum, yelling, or failing to flush a toilet in a public place; overstaying your visa; depicting (never mind engaging in) certain sexual acts; rashly employing irony or sarcasm; and, most important, criticising the government in ways the government deems not constructive – all these are swiftly and severely punished. Petty offenders are fined or caned; overzealous opposition politicians or trade unionists tend to be imprisoned for long stretches. Indiscreet newspapers or blogs are served with defamation suits. The local media is almost entirely under the control of state-owned companies, and even international publications like the Economist and the Far Eastern Economic Review watch their steps very carefully to avoid being charged in court. As Kampfner observes, Singapore “requires an almost complete abrogation of freedom of expression in return for a very good material life.”


December 18, 2009

A Terrible Blogger Goes Bowling

Filed under: Football — rmangum @ 10:57 pm
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Hi. My name’s Ray. I’m from Utah. We like college football here. We don’t like the BCS.

Here are my picks for this year’s bowl season. I’ll check back next month and see how I did.

BCS National Championship Game (if I can still call it that): Alabama vs. Texas– I going to call the upset here. After missing out on last year’s big game and going away empty-handed in another Heisman race, Colt McCoy wants this one bad. Texas wins by less than a touchdown.

Rose Bowl: Ohio State vs. Oregon– The Buckeyes surprised everybody by even making it to this one, but I still have no faith in them, especially in a BCS game. Masoli, James, and Blount all have a big day as Oregon runs roughshod over Ohio State.

Orange Bowl: Georgia Tech vs. Iowa– I think Iowa is something of a fluke. They’ve had good defense, but against the plodding offenses from the Big Ten, not the dynamic spread option of Georgia Tech. Georgia Tech wins.

Sugar Bowl: Cincinnati vs. Florida– God, I’d love to call another upset, but with their coach leaving for Notre Dame, will the Bearcats be prepared to beat Florida? Urban Meyer keeps Florida focused enough to beat Cincinnati.

Fiesta Bowl: TCU vs. Boise State– Boise simply hasn’t seen a team this strong on both sides of the ball. Not the Oregon team of the first week of the season, not even the Horned Frog team that beat them in a close one last year. TCU wins big.

Champs Sports Bowl: Miami vs. Wisconsin– I like this interesting North vs. South meeting of 9-3 teams. Hard to decide, but let’s just say I foresee bad things for the Big Ten. Miami wins.

Emerald Bowl: USC vs. Boston College– USC has shown that it’s not above losing to teams it should not lose to, but it’s hard to bet against Pete Carroll in a bowl game. USC.

Independence Bowl: Georgia vs. Texas A&M– The Big 12 overall was a confusing conference, but no team was harder to understand than Texas A&M. I wouldn’t be surprised if they put up fifty points and win. I wouldn’t be surprised if they lose by fifty points. Safest bet is Georgia.

Alamo Bowl: Texas Tech vs. Michigan State– This isn’t the same Tech team from last year, but the Spartans are downright mediocre. Texas Tech wins.

Holiday Bowl: Arizona vs. Nebraska– The cornhusker defense was so impressive against Texas that I’d love to pick them. If they had any offense whatsoever I would. What the hell, I will anyway: Nebraska wins with defense and kicking field goals.

Sun Bowl: Stanford vs. Oklahoma– This is another great matchup. With Stanford quarteback Andrew Luck out, it’s basically RB Toby Gerhart against a great Sooner run defense. Whoever comes out on top of that one wins the game. Stanford wins, but by fewer points than you’d expect.

Music City Bowl: Kentucky vs. Clemson– C.J. Spiller. That’s all I need to say, right? Clemson wins.

Insight Bowl: Iowa State vs. Minnesota– Jeez, hard to even care about this matchup of two 6-6 teams. I’ll take Minnesota for the sake of my friends who are Gopher fans, and because I’ve got to pick at least one Big Ten team.

Chick-fil-A Bowl: Virginia Tech vs. Tennessee– I didn’t get a chance to see either of these teams this year, so I’ll timidly pick the team with the better record. Virginia Tech to win.

Outback Bowl: Auburn vs. Northwestern- I’m a big fan of Kafka, bit not the way they pronounce it in Chicago. It’s as simple as a poker hand: SEC beats Big Ten.

Capital One Bowl: LSU vs. Penn State– Except maybe in this game. Joe Pa’s a better bet than Crazy Les Miles. Then again, it’s worth noting that LSU’s 3 losses were all within 10 points to excellent SEC teams Florida, Alabama, and Ole Miss. LSU wins a close one.

Gator Bowl: Florida State vs. West Virgina– Sorry, Bobby Bowden, but your kids won’t give you a big W for Christmas and your final game with the Seminoles. West Virginia comes out on top. Maybe you’ll get a nice tie or something.

Cotton Bowl: Oklahoma State vs. Mississippi– Another very intriguing matchup with a Big 12 school. Ole Miss defeated it’s Big 12 opponent in the same bowl last year, Texas Tech, and I suspect they’ll do it again.

New Mexico Bowl: Fresno State vs. Wyoming– It’s not usual that the WAC has the edge on the Mountain West, but that’s the case here. Bulldogs win. Incidentally, how sad is it that the Cowboys get to leave Wyoming in the winter for a bowl trip to sunny . . . New Mexico?

New Orleans Bowl: Middle Tennessee vs. Southern Miss– The odds have Southern Miss, but Middle Tennessee has the better record. I don’t know and definitely don’t care. How about a coin flip? Leave it up to the football gods. Heads Mid Tenn; tails So Miss. . . Tails it is.

Poinsettia Bowl: Utah vs. California– I’m not going to jinx my Utes, am I? With Jahvid Best out of the game, I feel confident enough not to. Go Utes!

St. Petersburg Bowl: Central Florida vs. Rutgers– I’ll take Central Florida, without thinking about it too much. Does that count as an upset? Is this game played in Russia?

Las Vegas Bowl: BYU vs. Oregon State– Despite so many offensive weapons, BYU has underperformed in the Max Hall era, losing when they need to win most and being lackluster in the postseason. I suspect they don’t much want to be in Vegas, where they’ve landed five years in a row. Mormons don’t belong in Sin City. The Beavers win a shootout.

Hawaii Bowl: Nevada vs. SMU– Kudos to June Jones for bringing a demoralized team to their first bowl in 25 years, and a year after being 1-11. Too bad that Nevada’s awesome rushing attack will be too much to handle. Wolf Pack wins.

Little Ceasars Pizza Bowl: Ohio vs. Marshall– I didn’t know there was a Pizza Bowl. It’s pretty obvious when you think of it. Why not order a pie while you’re not watching . . . who was it again? Hey, Marshall has a guy named Marshall on their team. I think I’ll still take Ohio.

Meineke Car Care Bowl: North Carolina vs. Pittsburgh– This was almost a BCS game. I’ll take Pittsburgh by the same margin they lost to Cincinati: 1 point.

Papajohns.com Bowl: Connecticut vs. South Carolina– Another pizza bowl. Another coin flip. Tails. South Carolina.

Humanitarian Bowl: Bowling Green vs. Idaho– Idaho, since they basically have home field advantage on the smurf turf of Boise. Don’t stare at the blue for too long.

Texas Bowl: Missouri vs. Navy– Once again, I’m unsure of whether to pick a middling Big 12 team. Let’s say Navy, even though they lost at Hawaii (no Pearl Harbor jokes, please).

Armed Forces Bowl: Air Force vs. Houston– Houston has one of the most powerful air attacks in the game, while Air Force does it mosly on the ground. Neat irony, huh? I’d like to pick the Falcons in a good upset for the Mountain West . . . and so I will. Air Force.

Liberty Bowl: ECU vs. Arkansas– Razorbacks win a wild and sloppy one.

International Bowl: Northern Illinois vs. South Florida– USF just because.

GMAC Bowl: Central Michigan vs. Troy– Central Michigan sacks Troy.

December 16, 2009

The Monkey Speaks His Mind*

Filed under: Anarchy,Contra Keynes,Economics — rmangum @ 7:24 pm
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I’ve been revisiting Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson’s 1975 paranoid phantasmagorical comedy (I refuse to call it “science fiction”), Illuminatus! and had to share this hilarious bit. The novel features a number of talking animals, including a tribe of anarchist gorillas, one of which explains their reticence in dealing with humans because of their politics:

If it got out that we can talk, the conservatives would exterminate most of us and make the rest pay rent to live on our own land; and the liberals would try to train us to be engine-lathe operators. Who the fuck wants to operate an engine lathe?

No doubt some Ivy League Keynesian would be appalled at the low employment numbers among the gorillas and the deflated price of bananas.

*Yeah, I know gorillas aren’t monkeys, but who wants to let a good title go to waste?

December 14, 2009

A Song for Sunday #34

Filed under: A Song for Sunday,Music — rmangum @ 2:08 am

This is very living electronic music. Nothing is wrong with that.
-Can bassist Holger Czukay

As a typical rock snob, I harbor a major yen for Krautrock (It’s foreign! It’s esoteric!), the German musical movement/trend/zeitgeist that flourished from the late-1960’s to the mid-1970s. The name, like most genre monikers, was coined derisively by critics and then adopted by pop music historians. It’s politically incorrect of course, but the Germans are one of those groups it’s okay to be racist toward, right? The very Germanic band Faust first embraced the label (or at least we can infer by their calling one of their songs “Krautrock”), then rejected it. But musically speaking, it’s a non-descriptive rubric that covers a pretty wide array of styles, as if we lumped The Velvet Underground, The Grateful Dead, and Frank Zappa into one genre. As fellow underground rock nerd Richie Unterberger explains, Krautrockers “were merging psychedelic rock with avant-garde/contemporary classical compositions, as well as cutting-edge electronics. The emphasis was not so much on tightly-constructed, singable songs as relentless cosmic exploration, often instrumental and or jam-like in texture.”

The most well-known Krautrock band are electronic pioneers Kraftwerk, which is ironic and somewhat unfortunate, since they are atypical in their romance (so to speak) of technology. In 1975 rock critic Lester Bangs wrote a rather cranky article for Creem on Kraftwerk and their contemporaries (“Kraftwerkfeature”), where he complained that rock and roll was “being taken over by the Germans and the machines” and called their album Autobahn “an indictment of all those who would resist the bloodless iron will and order of the ineluctable dawn of the machine age.” Bangs was never more myopic.

Many people associate Germany with a kind of mechanization and emotional coldness, and there is a certain fondness for the precision of machines (shared by their neighbors, the Swiss and Austrians). But the Germans are at the same time the most romantic and dreamy of Europeans (the German poet Heine said that “God rewarded the French with dominion over the land, the English with dominion over the sea, and the Germans with dominion over the clouds”), and their relationship to Enlightenment and the industrial culture that is its product is troubled and complex. The charge of rampant mechanization and “Teutonic raillery” that Bangs leveled at Krautrock is unfair and innacurate, and reflects one school of thought in assessing the Nazi rise to power as well, even though this was a counter-enlightenment movement. What has this to do with Krautrock? Everything, I say, since Krautrock has everything to do with German identity in the postwar period. As Unrteberger writes, 1960’s German youth,

yes we Can

had to buck the enormous historical weight of the atrocities committed by the Nazis of the previous generation; the postwar occupation of Germany by American and British forces had amounted to a sort of cultural imperialism that inundated the country with Anglo popular culture, especially rock n’ roll. It would be difficult to beat the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, or the Doors at their own game. Something that was in a sense even more radical would be needed to carve an identity for German rock.

Lester Bangs’ interview with Kraftwerk’s Ralf Hutter and Florian Schneider confirms that this “cultural imperialism” was in the minds of German musicians and artists of the time, and specifically connects this with technology:

“After the war,” explains Ralf, “German entertainment was destroyed. The German people were robbed of their culture, putting an American head on it. I think we are the first generation born after the war to shake this off, and know where to feel American music and where to fell ourselves. We are the first German group to record in our own language, use our electronic background, and create a Central European identity for ourselves. . . . We create out of the German language, the mother language, which is very mechanical, we use as the basic structure of our music. Also the machines, from the industries of Germany.”

The irony of Kraftwerks mutation into the Menschmachine as a response to American cultural imperialism is that their technological innovations, it is universally acknowledged, layed the musical groundwork for the American hip-hop and dance scenes for the next several decades.

Aside from Kraftwerk, who may or may not be embracing total mechanization ironically (probably not, but I can’t say for sure), most of the Krautrock bands are more accurately described by the term Kosmische Music, which should be viewed as a continental analogue to psychedelia (and a far more inventive and listenable one at that) which attemps to merge and dissolve the human and the machine into nature. Human, machine- from the perspective of the Kosmos, what’s the difference? Or so I offhandedly speculate. At any rate, the music could be organic and funky, never more so than with Halleluwah by the greatest of the Krautrockers, Can.

December 9, 2009

Know Your Limits

Filed under: State,U.S.A,War — rmangum @ 8:29 pm
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I have just finished The Limits of Power by Andrew Bacevich, an excellent critique of American foreign policy, specifically the ideology of “National Security” as rooted in our political culture. I believe the book’s flaws have been adequately pointed out by David Gordon in his review back in the Spring, so I’ll avoid the temptation to criticize and highlight what is most valuable about this short but potent book.

First, while Bacevich is by no means any sort of political radical, his critique is stringent and quite amenable to radicalism. Consider this assessment of our recent middle-eastern adventurism in the broader context of American history:

We’ve been down this path before. After liberating Cuba in 1898 and converting it into a protectorate, the United States set out to transform the entire Caribbean into an “American lake.” Just as, a century ago, senior U.S. officials proclaimed their concern for the well-being of Hatians, Dominicans, and Nucaraguans, so do Senior U.S. officials now insist on their commitment to “economic reform, democratic reform, and human rights” for all Central Asians.

But this is mere camouflage. The truth is that the United States is engaged in an effort to encorporate Central Asia into the Pax Americana.

The striking thing about this passage, as with so many in the book, is that it can apply equally to this administration as well as the previous one. Bacevich understands that the ideology of National Security is a bipartisan faith, even if American voters don’t. And he understands the nature of that ideology, which has little to do with the actual safety of the American people.

The ideology of national security does not serve as an operational checklist. It imposes no specific obligations. It functions the way ideology so often does- not to divine truth or even make sense of things, but to provide a highly elastic rationale for action. In the American context, it serves principally to legitimate the exercise of executive power. It removes constraints, conferring on presidents and their immediate circle of advisers wide prerogatives for deciding when and how to employ that power.

Speaking of the executive, Bacevich is particularly scathing about how the focus of mass politics has been reduced down to that office, indeed it seems to be solely about our emotions regarding the man in power:

Beginning with the election of John F. Kennedy in 1960, the occupant of the White House has become a combinaiton of demigod, father figure, and, inevitably, the betrayer of hopes. Pope, pop star, scold, scapegoat, crisis manager, commander in chief, agenda setter, moral philosopher, interpreter of the nation’s charisma, object of veneration, and the butt of jokes- regardless of personal attributes and qualifications, the president is perforce all these rolled into one.

The president also serves as an important cultural shibboleth. How you feel about Obama or Bush will determine who your friends are, what social circles you can participate in. But in practice they all serve the same function. In a recent Young American Revolution article on the antifederalists, Bill Kauffman quotes the pseudonymous Philadelphiensis’ objection to the executive proposed by the recently proposed constitution: “Who can deny the president general will be . . . a king elected to command a standing army?” Our revolutionary forbears were as suspicious of standing armies as we are enamored of- and dependent upon- them.

Bacevich follows his thorough critique of the national security state’s failures with a question that points in the right direction:

When considering the national security state as it has evolved and grown over the past six decades, what exactly has been the value added? And if the answer is none- if, indeed the return on the investment has been essentially negative- then perhaps the time has come to consider dismantling an apparatus that demonstrably serves no useful purpose.

“Dismantling the apparatus” is the starting point, though it will mean different things to different groups. But I think that everyone outside of the hegemonic center of American politics, from left-libertarians to post-paleos, social anarchists to anarcho-capitalists, even disaffected liberals and conservatives, has a common interest in dismantling it. For a somewhat centrist conservative like Bacevich, the purpose is to insure a more cautious and moderate foreign policy that attaches a different, more humble, meaning to American freedom and prosperity. This is worth considering, too. Though I don’t think the word “hubris” ever comes up in the book, it’s clearly what Bacevich identify’s as the country’s greatest sin. And it’s not just that our use of military might is immoral, or that it has been incompetantly exercised: there are actually objective limits on what force as such can accomplish.

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