Thoughts, 11 March 2010

11 March 2010

1) There are few sensations more utterly horrifying than that of oncoming flatulence in a crowded Metro station. There is a reason I take the bus if I’ve had beans in the past three nights.

2) I went to do a Google search today. The number one fill-in for “why are” – I was going Mr. Google a question about curio cabinets – was “Why are black people so loud?”  Undoubtedly racist, but now I’m tapping into some of that Google magic. Which I suppose indirectly makes me a racist. Or a racist lover.

3) Walking through Congress Heights I noticed something.  The houses there are not much different than any of those in U Street, Columbia Heights or Adams Morgan – indeed, many are nicer. Why, then, are the neighborhoods so different?

But of course we all know there’s a very key difference about Congress Heights: no Mexicans.

4) Does anyone reading this want a bottle of Gold Listerine?  Seriously.  Little-used.  I tried it without cutting it with water and the skin inside my mouth peeling off and I was desperately dry for a week.

But for you I’m sure it’d be fine.

5) Someone I know just got married. He’s a month younger than me. This is the seventh person I’ve known, directly or through friends, to be married. The first popped about six months out of high school.

In the words of a married woman herself: JUST SAY NO.

But of course it’s probably the perverse incentive of tax. I want a new tax, on married people, to pay for subsidies towards daycare. And a ban on the public exhibition of a child from dawn to dusk.

6) I also want a tax on methane. Did you know that methane as a greenhouse gas is 20 times more potent than CO2? And did you know where methane comes from. Farts. Specifically cow farts – or they always say cow farts. I think that’s the government trying to deflect attention from the real culprit. You know what I’m talking about. You know who you are.

I’ve heard of a solution: Carbon capture and sequestration. Take a big hole in the ground; fill it with the gas; cover and done. Only trick, I guess, is to get the gas down there.

Brb metro.

ORDER OF THE DAY

TO THE OFFICERS AND ENLISTED MEN OF THE UNITED STATES ARMY NORTH:

Wear sunscreen.

No, I’m kidding. It’s actually pretty cold.

It’s been a busy week here at HQ. We’ve recently finished updating our computer systems to operate on entirely 3G wireless systems, so from now on we will always be in touch! This is just the first step in our effort to redress the issues raised during the engagement at Hill 382 last month. In related good news, I’ve just seen the latest reports and almost half the forces of the old 120th Infantry Brigade will soon be available for reassignment to other units. Thanks to the Medical Corps for more great work!

On a less happy note we’ve received some disturbing reports of missing food across a number of units from battallion level on down. It goes without saying that such thefts are court-martialling offenses and will not be tolerated anywhere in the Army. We will not be able to continue promotions such as “Five Courses with a Five Star” (congratulations to this month’s winners CPL Jeffries and PFC Wosckowski of Charlie Company,  Brigade Support Battalion, 13th Infantry) if our generosity is rewarded with this sort of behavior. We understand the food shortage is acute. We are actively addressing it.

Enlisted personnel are reminded that disturbances, food-related or otherwise, are a capital offense.

Additionally we understand that tempers are running a bit high as we continue to withdraw forces from New York to other parts of the front. As a result the C/Os of all of our brigade support batallions have come together to organize a General Funtreat, with prizes, requisitioned carnival rides and air raid drills. The winners will receive three-day passes behind the lines, with transportation to Pittsburgh.

Entrants are reminded that desertion is a capital offense.

More than ever it’s important to remember that we’re all in this together. It’s been a tough year – no one denies this – but the Army’s fundamental strength is as good as it has ever been. With the American spirit in our hearts, funding as high as its ever been and the latest and best resources, we will defeat our enemies and build a nation bigger, more enterprising and more vigorous than we have ever seen before. For that the commitment of every man and woman among you is indispensible.

Enlisted personnel are reminded that disobeying orders is a capital offense.

T. GEITHNER

Chief of Staff, US ARMY NORTH

When I write on this blog for the benefit of my readers – I’m thinking of christening you Wahlberg’s Wankers – I’m always pleased when I produce something I think to be frantically, gallantly unpopular. The ability to anonymously slag off the Greats and Not-So-Greats of society may be the great scourge of the Internet, but it must be a little counterbalanced by the chance to stick unsuspecting masses in the eye with total impunity. Hitting the “Publish” button feels a bit like embarking on the Charge of the Light Brigade – mad, but bold, and potentially poetry-inspiring.

Though on reflection I usually wish I’d left the Russians alone.

I came upon a brilliant example of that low art today. I don’t read Slate often, as it’s usually both bougeois and wetly revolutionary and I find it annoying. But Jacob Weisberg’s attack on, well, Americans was a bit too much to pass up. And I must say that it was an immensely satisfying read. It feels good sometimes to, as my grandmother would say, “have a bit of a carry-on.”

As long as you leave it there. I’m not sure Weisberg does.

He takes aim at “the childishness, ignorance and growing incoherence of the public at large,” and marshals to this end… polling numbers. But for a certain masochism about me I probably would’ve stopped here, as he bangs on about the expressed desire of the public at large to have lower taxes, lower deficits, and smaller government combined with maintained (and indeed enhanced) public services across the board. An American Idol-obsessed America, he suggests, basically lives in Candyland, expecting everything but willing to pay for nothing.

Incidentally, I’m thinking of changing the title of this blog to “I think South Park did an episode about that“. So much of what I say could be avoided by keeping up with it.

To be fair to Weisberg, here’s his argument as best I can summarize it. What he says is:

1) When polled, broad majorities of the American people endorse measures X Y Z;

2) When polled, broad majorities of the American people reject measures A B C;

3) Without measures A B C the realization of measures X Y Z is impossible;

4) There must be something wrong with those polled as they fail to connect the necessity of A B C in view of the desirability of X Y Z.

Now this chain of argument fails Occam’s Razor. Simpler if more obscure than the explanation that “People are stupid” is one that lays the blame at the feet of polling. Any pollster will – should – tell you that a given poll is at best an imperfect snapshot in time and that one man’s poll is not necessarily comparable to anybody else’s. Pollsters are themselves people, remarkably fallible ones than that, and worse are concerned with distilling broad and heterodox currents of opinion into a result – a vote for X or Y. This sort of compromise is electorally necessary and a fact of all politics and hence all life; but it does not justify painting 300,000,000 people with such a very broad brush.

Let’s tap into that logical chain again. The immediate problem I see is that the form of measurement – the poll – is badly unequal to the task Weisberg’s given it – the construction of a system of ideas. I think a video from Yes Minister illustrates this best:

The problem is this: a person can’t respond to the questions you don’t ask. Most pollsters are not asking, in sequence, “Would you support measure X?” “What if measure A was necessarily to realize it?” “What about measure B?” They’re asking things like Gallup’s question: Do you think President Obama is spending too much money in his attempt to address major problems?

It’s a compound question. Left unanswered are “What are the major problems?” “How much money is being spent?” “How much is being proposed?” “How much is Obama himself spending?” “Where is the money coming from?” Failing to ask these questions, or separate them, mean that even a citizen cognizent of these problems are forced to pack them up to distill a specific answer. And indeed, in this struggle to reduce the specific to the general, I think a person usually will do their best to pick the specific – and since “too much money” is a more specific idea than “major problems,” I’d be likely to answer yes.

When you ask a different question – “Do you favor or oppose Congress passing a new $775 billion economic stimulus program as soon as possible after Barack Obama takes office?” – you get a different answer. Packed in here are questions like, “What has the effect been of the first stimulus?” “On what is the money to be spent?” “Where does the money come from?” “Why is it necessary to wait until the inauguration of Barack Obama?” “Why must it be immediately upon his accession?” But you need an answer, so the specificity of the proposal lends itself to a yes on this diametrically opposed inquiry.

Follow the logic of each in turn. The latter:

1) The country is faced with a great recession (I think it’s safe to assume people knew this regardless of the question);

2) The problem is urgent and escalating;

3) A $775 billion stimulus is proposed as a countermeasure;

4) I should answer yes.

The former:

1) The country is faced with “major problems”;

2) A great deal of money is being spent in an effort to combat them;

3) I don’t know where this money comes from;

4) This threatens to itself become a major problem;

5) Fewer major problems are better than more major problems;

6) I should answer yes.

One finds it difficult to argue with either line of logic – without more information. But a pollster certainly isn’t there to inform you. They’re there to count heads. So you do the best you can and lodge your answer.

This is the criteria that Weisberg uses to condemn America as an inconstant, fickle mob. It is a strangely technical, technological and deterministic one. Even passing conversations – with people I agree with and don’t – convince me that the diversity of opinion is far greater and that people do realize that we face broad, compound choices with uncertain outcomes. People broadly divide based on their opinions of these choices. In the so-called “mushball middle” are a few who through indifference, ignorance or lack of time don’t have enough information to process these complexities. Pollsters call these people, though the system has a way of segregating them itself: They don’t participate. They don’t vote, they certainly aren’t at Glenn Beck rallies and their access to news is passing at best. They’re susceptible to giving conflicting answers based on who’s asking, but we’re all like that sometimes, and most make up for it by not really pursuing one issue or another. When not being polled, they’re generally let alone. Call them what you will, but it’s not inconsistency.

What Weisberg is offering is an overdetermined conception of the “people” – semi-detached, roboticized “voters” – which looks more like a natural disaster to be weathered than an active force shaping the political landscape. It’s an egregious remnant of the technical underpinnings of the Rational Man of liberalism that can only admit or decline singular, atomized participants in a society rather than dealing with variations in people. But this is ridiculous. Like any active, human force, voters are subject to their power being harnessed or diffused; like any group of people, it’s subject to varying degrees of passion or diffidence, conviction or uncertainty, depending on the character of its members and their own state.

Like any such force it’s public, not private. My Mom, and several family friends of varying closeness, direct their questions about how to vote towards me. This is up to and including big offices – Congress, President – and despite my being 1,000 miles away. Are they stupid? No. They’re busy and nobody gives them time to vote, much less be constantly politically involved, so they figure that I’m bright and honest and politically aware and they trust me to advise them true. Here’s the key – trust. This is what politics are all about. But too often neither do people trust politicians nor politicians their people.

I sense that Jacob Weisberg was an Obama voter. More than that I think he was probably an Obama crusader, preaching to his friends and donating money and knocking on doors and quietly sniggering about Hillary Clinton’s pantsuits. I think this not from bias, though I’ve got a lot of it, but because Obama voters were true believers who by and large abandoned their conceptions of the possible. They had been waiting their whole lives for a Kennedy and Obama gave them that, dare I say, hope.  Now the dream has come crashing down and blame must be assigned. You cannot blame yourself – I didn’t do it – nor can you blame Obama, which is tantamount to admitting you were at fault. Can’t really blame Republicans, either. Only the darkest shroud of cognitive dissonance could camouflage their irrelevance throughout most of the last sixteen months. There’s no one left to blame but America itself.

Need I say this is as dangerous as it is wrong?

Weisberg doesn’t have it all wrong. I think he’s right that people – in general – have an ability to blame their leaders without looking inwards. Anyone who says “Well what do you expect; they’re all crooks” is saying only that they live in and contribute to a society so reprobate that it’s impossible to deliver from its number a sufficient number of good people to lead, and ought to ask themselves why they don’t step forward. Weisberg is right to suggest that we stop blaming officeholders but rather look to ourselves when the question is “What’s happened to America?” But to say instead that America itself is the answer is not just meaningless, it’s reactionary. It fails the same test a pollster’s answer does: There can be no response to the constructive reply, “What do I do about it?”

It’s one thing to offer a modest proposal. It’s another entirely to toss into an article a barrage of the most silly drivel that is as poor at apportioning responsibility – not blame – as the phenomenon you are yourself railing against. It’s still worse to be snooty about it. Weisberg manages to be as irrational as the people who – well, as the people. And he’s only got one to bring in line.

1. Please enjoy the second comment from the top on this shirt from Old Navy. If you can’t immediately see why it’s idiotic, reread it. You’ll get there.

2. Also, better late than never, another glorious headline from The Grauniad:

Undoubtedly assisted by a hooded Weiner

3. I thought of the following puns for the snowstorm:

  • Blizzaster
  • Snow job
  • Snowthrall
  • Blowstorm
  • Snow-how (as in, “The District of Columbia dramatically lacks snow-how”)
  • Blizzerk
  • Snow what?
  • Snows before hos
  • And courtesy of my roommate Alex, snow class

4. This snowstorm has brought out the best from Mayor Adrian Fenty, principally because it’s forced him to wear a hat.

5. If I had known what this week was going to be like, I’d have bought a plane ticket on Thursday and gone home to Florida for a week. This would have been a lovely time. Instead, this has not been a lovely time. It has been a distinctly unlovely time.

Although maybe if I’d gone to Florida, there’d have been a sunstorm. Like if a solar flare coincided with an eclipse – but a surprise eclipse, so we didn’t expect it – and there was some kind of radiation leak from MacDill Air Force Base. And then I’d be trapped in my condo avoiding bombardments of crazy Independence Day-style firestorms, radiation, and hurricanes made of hot wind.

With my luck.

6. Michelle Tractenberg and the guy who plays Guillermo on Weeds just popped up on this episode of some primetime hospital show on NBC. And he’s gay. I did not see that one coming. I thought he was totally going to mack on Harriet the Spy before I remembered that she’s underage and totally unstable on top.

7. To my Facebook friends: please stop inviting me to support your candidates for office. Especially if it’s for Congress. If I had my way nobody would be elected to Congress. Congress would be one person who sits in that high chair they built to feed Dennis Hastert who nods sagely, if a little disinterestedly, as I proclaim a legislative programme. Incidentally this is not unlike my first and last experience watching Congress in action – right after Katrina. So little would be disrupted.

But then maybe I’d have to have others. I’d just encourage them not to vote. Perhaps using armed guards at the doors. I think that would be strong disincentive for any attempts to make me suffer suffrage. Charlie Wilson, rest his soul, was never particularly troubled by the need to actually be at Capitol Hill. Can it be hard to find 500 or so Charlie Wilsons? No. In fact it would be extremely entertaining. Congress could be Sex and the City… which I suppose would make me Stanford Blatch.

Or the City Councilman who wants Carrie to piss on him.

Hey Adrian – can I borrow your hat?

Dear Fellow American:

I want to talk to you about something close to my heart.

BARACK OBAMA’S COMMUNISM.

Did you know that Barack Obama once took Russian classes?  YES.

Now, in Washington, Obama and his band of revolutionary socialist Wall Street mafiosi are putting together a plan to transform America from the boundless paradise envisioned by our Founders.

Obama has a different vision. Obama wants a country where government can come into your house whenever it wants, for whatever reason it wants – except if you want to be GAY MARRIED.

He wants to take your health insurance and give it to drug addicts.

He wants to PAY those drug addicts to abort your children.

He wants to gay marry your ABORTED CHILDREN.

Obama’s future is black indeed.

As a patriot, a lover of freedom, a God-fearing American, a veteran of the 403rd Technical Clerical Brigade Group of the Florida Air National Guard Reserve and a proud father of between one and three young children, I’m deeply concerned.

But there’s HOPE, friends. And not the kind draped in a rainbow flag and very little else.

WE THE PEOPLE, and the people who we are, can stop the Obama Agenda.

That’s where you come in. I pray and beseech earnestly the Lord above, Holy be His name, that you’ll send me $35.

Barack Obama is a radical liberal who is so radical that even liberals are frightened of his radicalism. Barack Obama is the most radical figure to occupy the presidency since radicalism began in 1933.

Barack Obama wants government to control business, inmates to control prison and children to control daycare. He wants to devolve government power to his cronies in far-left pressure groups and raise taxes to pay them for it. He wants to take out a mortgage against America – FROM CANADA.

He wants the government to slide its warm, wet, slithery tentacles into the untouched sanctuary of the American home. He wants to invade your most sacred of places until you and your family are utterly BROKEN.

Most of all Barack Obama wants to completely destroy the only thing keeping America straight – conservatism. He wants to BREAK us, too, FORCEFULLY and WITHOUT MERCY.

Just consider Obama’s ties with the Sierra Club.

For years Obama has conferred with, supported and even listened to the Sierra Club and their anarchist supporters.

So close is Obama with the Sierra Club that he adopted a spotted owl – AS HIS PRESS SECRETARY.

But the Sierra Club is an organization of only the most pungent and rank EVIL, who have been investigated for hatred against America in at least 52 states. Its workers have been repeatedly charged with inciting underage illegal alien baby animals to violence against their human masters.

Yet Obama not only supports them – he relies on them to pass his budget.

They are just one of the many tools in his arsenal of hate. He uses them because he doesn’t just want to stop us…

…HE WANTS TO IMMOLATE US. ONLY TOTAL EVISCERATION WILL SATISFY HIM. HE WANTS TO REND US APART AND EXTINGUISH THE FAINTEST RESISTANCE TO OUR EXTERMINATION SO THAT HE CAN LIQUIDATE ALL THAT WE STAND FOR.

That’s the reason he’s pushing for ObamaCare.

Once every American has health care, Obama will have our Founding Fathers at his mercy. He will do with them what he pleases. Their dreams, their desires – he will control them mind, body, and if he likes, soul.

US TOO.

This black day for America can get blacker still.

There aren’t enough of us in Congress to halt Obama’s march to destruction. Somehow, because of trickery, manipulation and terror, congressional Republicans are almost irrelevant.

But I’m fighting back against Obama’s sinister shinkansen to socialism.

And I need your $35.

The American Conservative Unity Network Taskforce (ACUN Taskforce) is resisting the Obama agenda.

We aren’t just supporting ANY Republican candidate…

We are dedicated to electing only the most HARD BOTTOMED conservative leaders of tomorrow.

Our fightback has to begin right where American democracy has always lived – in the United States Congress.

Now OF COURSE you OBVIOUSLY see that what we’re doing needs your donation of $35, $37.50, $42.25, $46.94, $53.o1 or $55,100.

There’s almost no time left! Quick!

Only you can stop Obama’s plan to destroy the legacy of RONALD REAGAN. Barack Obama is the ANTIREAGAN.

Ronald Reagan’s love of our country, commitment to freedom, and completely unimpeachable commitment to virtue saved America…

… AND DESTROYED LIBERALISM.

But now Obama wants to try again. I’m not giving in. I’m going to stand and fight to the bitter end.

This battle is happening today!

But it won’t be easy.

To fight we need the ACUN Taskforce to mobilize within the next 48 hours.

We can pull the snow-white rug of justice right out from under the dark feet of oppression if…

1) You sign that support pledge thing.

2) You send back IMMEDIATE REINFORCEMENT of $35, or even as much as $52.13, $74.94 or $119,050.

The more you help, the less America suffers.

It’s just that simple.

Your American friend,

Peter Wahlberg

P.S. ACUN Taskforce is a unique group dedicated to halting Obama’s march to the gulags.

We need your help! So please sign the pledge thing and send it back WITH YOUR MOST GENEROUS GIFT of $35, $67.82, $348.90 or $167,600.

Winter weltanschauung

3 February 2010

In the District of Columbia significant quantities of snow fall only on the weekend.  Invariably it has receded enough by the following Monday for the drones to return to work.  Even the weather is anti-worker.

It rather makes me wonder if Marx ever took into account how bad the weather is when planning the Revolution.  I suppose he didn’t plan it, really. He wrote books. He was like the Jack Ryan of international communism, but the pre-Hunt for Red October Jack Ryan. Would this make Engels James Earl Jones? I need to get clarity on this.

(This is a nonsensical phrase. People at work say it to me frequently. I will one day reply, “Sure, let me just go buy a little clarity from the pusher two doors over,” and be immediately sacked.)

Imagine that you’re the proletariat.  I’m not, but let’s say you are.

Are you really going to wear that? The proletariat, while dirty and frequently ill-mannered, are generally impeccably-dressed in situations of great political tension.  Have you ever seen a picture of Churchill addressing a crowd?  Bowler hats all around.  You’re in jeans.  I mean it’s fine, I guess. I just – whatever, your call.

So imagine. Proletariat.  What are the sort of situations likely to awaken you from your vodka-induced class slumber?  Famine sounds good.  Mass deprivation of a basic service like heating or electricity.  A major mutiny, perhaps, or a rout in a war. Perhaps a general breakdown in communication caused by the loss of critical air, road or rail networks.

And when would something like this happen?  Winter.

That hot dog is the mass-man

See nobody’s ever become a communist on their own. Some kind of shit has to go down first.  Now if this shit goes down on a lovely spring day – say May 11th, because the end of the month can get a bit hot but the beginning can be rather rainy and of course you have to adjust the time for your own area, like when Al Roker kind of uselessly drones on about the weather and then goes, “Now what’s happening in your neck of the woods!” and you get real information. In fact, I’ve changed my mind.  I think Marx is like Al Roker.

So the electricity’s gone, communications are breaking down and Al Roker’s all like, “Hey, let’s overthrow Matt Lauer and seize control of the means of production.”  And I suppose it sounds like a good idea, because whenever anybody says, “let’s XYZ” it generally sounds good. But then you actually go to do it and it’s not. Sure I’d like to check out the new restaurant. No I don’t want to go to Silver Spring. But Al Roker’s all, “Hey, come on, Silver Spring’s not that far” and so we go, and I’m a bit grumpy about it.

But then it’s cold. Maybe it’s still snowing. And the wind chill! And there’s “the forces of law and order,” as I once heard them described by a Russian colonel serving in Chechnya, and there’s really a lot of them. And Al Roker’s like “They have sliders!” but by then you just don’t care anymore. That’s what revolution is like.

A case study. Take England. England has never had a Revolution that wasn’t somehow queeny (both in subject and participants). Why? Elections are almost always in May. Just at that moment when the sun is shining, you’re emerging from the gloom and you can’t believe how badly the ruling class has misappropriated the capital provided for by the labor of the masses, they give you a chance to choose! Maybe a frivolous choice, to be sure, but it takes the wind right out of your sails because you immediately feel like you’re doing something. Why go all the way to Silver Spring when there’s a Fuddrucker’s in Friendship Heights? I think it’s a Fuddrucker’s.

In America the strategy is different. Elections in November lock in the choice just as the winter’s hitting hardest and frustration’s building, and then we don’t actually change hands until January. Used to be March but, I don’t know, fabulous advances in winter coats or whatever. By the time spring hits the new people have barely had a chance to get started and you feel bad making a fuss and this time they really might make it work. (They won’t, but the proletariat is not known for critical thinking.)

Not much fun, especially when Poland turned out to be closed for the season

This is where Russia went wrong. Russia was getting in the dead of winter (February) and they were getting their ass beat by Germany and there was a shortage of food in the cities and vodka was outlawed by the not-very-thoughtful authorities. No more czar. They got a provisional government and by November they blew so hard that nobody could imagine tolerating them through another winter. No more provisional government.

China probably fits my example too. I’m kind of lazy.

I think the lesson is that America will never have a revolution because all of the cities are too cold and there’s never any reason to do it in the Spring. The only real threat comes from the expansion of Virginia and their inability to plow those tiny country roads. That way lies danger.

But now a look at what’s happening in your neck of the woods.

Why we are a failure

2 February 2010

“If you mind your business, nobody will give you problems,” said a woman to me last week. “All they do is say ‘What the fuck that white boy doing here?’  By then, you’ll be gone.”

Indeed.

I’m not sure if actually working for government has yet fully deadened my interest in government. The two are actually pretty easy to keep separate, not least because, as a friend and fellow veteran pointed out recently, “Nobody who works in the government ever thinks about it.”

With the usual caveats.

My excursion into the industry of professional helping has been interminably brief and, on the whole, intolerably busy.  I suppose I didn’t take government to be the sort of place which left little time to catch one’s breath – or at least government at the sort of level attended by a 22 year-old of no particular credentials or repute. From my observations and understanding it’s not. Yet there are two sides to government.  The glam side – frenetic but easy and carefully circumscribed – are the people in Congress, the executive offices. You know: “the top.” The ones who made it and are “changing the world.”  Then there is the underbelly, where that fact is really, tragically, true.

The top half – although it is not a half but a tiny minority – live in a properly philosophical world. Most of them would hate this idea, but it is just that. The “big ideas” are invariably functions of values and the reconciliations of them, determinations based occasionally on conviction but more frequently on calculation of the basic questions of who is part of the club – “one of us” – and what that fact means. Decisions about taxation, schools, and the environment are not merely marginal adjustments to a basic framework but fundamental decisions about the shape of the world to come. These decisions are invariably thin – all decisions are – but unquestionably if ambiguously weighty.

The world which is my daily joy is far from that big blue sky.  Like a general who decides how the enemy is to be defeated but leaves the deed to others, so does a Mayor or a President and the people who trail behind them decide how the people are to be made wealthy or happy or good and send down the order. There are grunts far below responsible for realizing it in the shape of a idle march or a frantic siege.

This of course is the limit at which war illuminates the subject. Its task is quite simple – defeat an enemy.  You reduce a people to a level at which their own resistance becomes incomprehensible. The reason government is so difficult – and the reason every “war on” a social problem necessarily fails – is because it is in its likeness with war precisely its opposite. Government is the creation of a world in which giving up in the face of adversity is incomprehensible. Like war, it is a response to human terror. War attempts to turn it to use. Government attempts to banish it. Both end up being defined by it. The result for the latter is unsatisfying to an amazing extreme, because such upbuilding – even when ideally realized – is necessarily repetitive, incomplete and ceaseless. Creation is never permanent in the eay way destruction is.

I imagine that in a good number of places the business of government is not much of a struggle. In a close-knit community – what one might snootily call “rural” but which could be anyplace with the character of a village – the people are resistant to adversity by nature; in the sanitized suburb the mere whiff of adversity, while socially disgusting, is slightly romantic, the idea of poverty unpleasant but unthreatening and always surmountable. Problems here are more often a matter of the neighbors daring to intercede in my life rather than any violent disruption from the outside. It is not difficult to see why the number one concern to suburban life is crime, and why it’s so much less frequent when suburbs themselves are not a feature of that life.

And then there is the city. In the modern world the city has always been the problem. The reason is simple: people live in proximity like villagers with the interpersonal skills of suburbanites. It’s the perfect storm of “social decay,” “urban blight,” whatever you want to call it. It only really takes one addition – an admittedly hefty dollop of “want” – to bring to full heights human cruelty in its many forms. It is something we have become reasonably expert at in this country,  perhaps nowhere more than in the capital city.

But this is what makes the city so ripe and fascinating. (When you’re from the suburbs other people’s want is almost as sexy as the idea of your own.) The city is both the birthplace and graveyard of ideology. The city gave us both liberalism and Marxism, the two defining ideologies of our time, before promptly devouring its children like Cronus. It is a novelty to have an environment – at once so perfectly alien and so peculiarly human – both give and take away the last best hopes for organizing a world without one God. Never before has mankind been faced with a thing so bipolar and fraught. For in the city there is no escape. It will always make a lie of the well-meaning and zealous. Here philosophies mighty and petty are waylaid everywhere; hidden in the bushes and the alleyways they’re mugged and raped and killed by the dark forces of real life. All of the systems we have are built in reaction to the city, and they all are made worthless here. We are simply too many; we have too many ideas. Where is the space for the gudwara in Walden Pond?

This is where government comes in. We have it because philosophy fails. It is the awful compromise we make with ourselves, the deal with the devil that assumes problems will be taken care of so long as they are pushed as far away as possible, so that we might be spared the awful sight of the death of our ideas. But government is simply the tragedy of the failure of all our grand designs built into an awful whitewashed edifice. The people in this country who cry out with revulsion at the erosion of their freedoms are so laughable precisely because the government they hate is so puny and sad. Its programs are wasteful not out of malice or caprice but because, by their nature, they have to be.

This is my job: spaghetti tactics. You throw it at the wall and you see what sticks, but what you’re throwing at the wall are not programs but people. Living and breathing, with names and hopes and stupid clothes and bad breath and four kids at the age of 22. You make a program and you do not give it to them but give them to it, and see how many it “saves” – whatever that means. And then you make a new one and do it again. And again. And again. And again. Eventually, you hope that everybody gets stuck to – with – something. That you save everybody.

Of course you don’t. The city is laughing at you and your feeble attempts to save the world, always. Every program fails people, including mine; some people are failed by all programs. They stick to nothing, and the tragedy is that in the end you’re not surprised. They’re not the kind of people you want to help. It’s easy to get my liberal hackles up against the abandonment of the decent, the hard-working, the “unfortunate”; but what about the people who are lazy and obnoxious, the ones who don’t want to be helped or if they do will never let you close enough to do it? What about the ones the civil servants, well-meaning as we always are, look straight in the eyes yet cannot see?

This is the problem with government. It’s so personal.

At the end of last year I took a class on Marxism. Philosophy, of course, so there’s always an air of inevitable pointlessness about it; but at the very end of the class I got the professor’s hackles up because I asserted boldly that if there was a difference between Marxism and liberalism I didn’t see it. Marxism is at best the other side of the liberal coin, the equal and opposite reaction its unique failures had to engender; at worst its a simple correction of it inappropriately couched in apocalyptic terms.

Take the program I work in. It could just as easily be compared with the best sort of New Deal initiative as with the workshops of the Paris Commune. The objectives are much the same either way: to take someone who has nothing, not in terms of resources but in terms of skills, or qualities, or consciousness, and engaging in that so characteristic upbuilding. In the process it’s hoped that a measure of personal power and the ability to similarly draw up others is imparted to them. It is to draw them into society. The objective is, through wholesome and empowering work, to be de-alienating. This is something at once perfectly liberal and perfectly Marxist – a reconciliation of devout opposites.

But there are some people. I’ve met them, talked to them, listened to them rant. They’re loud. They’re angry. They’re bitter but yet entitled. They have no skills or pretension to skills; they want for everything but want nothing. They are always unpleasant to deal and no effort is sufficient to make them fit. Their antics are tolerated for months on end, they’re brought in, talked to – and, when it’s finally too much, unceremoniously dropped.

But they’re someone’s – aren’t they?

What does Marxism have to say about them that liberalism doesn’t? A liberal would have called them the “residuum” or “undeserving poor,” would say they’re lazy and have no work ethic and would have to shrug his shoulders and say: some people can’t be helped. A Marxist would call them the “lumpenproletariat,” uninterested – as they surely wouldn’t be – in the virtues of collective action because of their contentment living off the fat of the state. He’d say they’re blind and mired in false consciousness and – at length – some people can’t be helped.

But what happens then? You can’t just ignore them. They’ll still be there. Part of the reason they are there is because you ignore them. They don’t fit into your system, or any system; so now what? When do you make that great leap to say – they are human no more? And how do you know when that leap happens not because of the people but because of your system? This is the leap that both liberalism and Marxism, in the end, find themselves forced to make. Neither are ever shy.

I think this is why civil servants don’t think. It’s hard, day after day, to stare into the faces of the person you don’t like and can’t help and don’t think anybody can – and to follow the fact to its logical conclusion. It’s hard to see from the inside the way your grand ideas are brutally parodied by your work. For in a city people are paid to decide if you matter. This is the bargain. I am paid to sort lives into useful and unuseful piles, and dispense with them as quickly as possible. There are many others like me. And we do this – I do this – for the same reason they keep coming to us: a paycheck. I too need; I too want. And so not because I am powerful but because this role lays bare my own powerlessness do I sort lives as I see fit. Maybe I do it with more or less charity; but it’s a thin kind of charity.

And someday I’ll leave, as quickly as it would take to wonder what the fuck that white boy was doing there anyway. I won’t have had a good answer. Today I didn’t when with an affected air of smug satisfaction I listened to fifteen people describe eloquently and rightly how I’m failing them, led on by two people who themselves did far less and knew no better. They didn’t mean it personally – but the problem with government is that it is personal, to each and every one of us, because it is the living manifestation of the terror that comes from our own social bankruptcy. It is a bundle of all the failure we cannot admit and survive, a great church which – for a tithe – hides away the crimes we commit against each other. For all the spaghetti that stuck there will be some that got away. Maybe some other me, secreted away in a similarly dingy building somewhere else, will catch them. But not all. Some will get away, and sit there, and by their existence laugh at our philosophies which are no more different than two sides of a sheet of paper.

Until the next throw.

Have a gander.

I’m glad to see that during my absence literally tens of people have found their way to my blog.  Today, that included people searching for “furry rape” and “Van Hool Portugal.”  Well done, sirs.

There’s a great deal I’d have liked to have written about, but I’ve been distracted by the hateful business of maintaining my hateful existence (on a level of income which I have the sneaking suspicion is far more than I need but far less than I require). So perhaps one or two notes on the past month:

1) I am greatly pleased that the loss of Martha Coakley means I won’t have to hear from Bob Menendez for awhile.  Perhaps the Senator from MTV is unaware (or perhaps it’s his counterpart from the film Casino that’s allergic to listening) but in order to motivate people to defend a majority it’s important to do something with it. This is even more important when rather than defending an actual majority you’re attempting to hold a completely arbitrary number that’s going to be fucked up by Ben Nelson anyway. (I have just quoteD from Fox News. Occasionally they do get the sense of things right.)

They'll never take our health ca-oh

It’s rather like the film Braveheart. Remember when they’re fighting at Falkirk, and the infantry are slaughtered when the noble cavalry just trot off at the crucial moment?  That was health care. Somehow it shouldn’t be hard to figure out why in the next battle the infantry won’t fall over themselves to rescue their lords and masters.

2) That having been said, I never thought 2010 was going to be as good as everybody assumed – and now I don’t think it’s going to be as bad.  Think of it what you will but our electoral system is well-insulated from popular anger. Systems matter.  So far, precious little has changed, whatever the result of a quite-inconsequential by-election.  Ask British Labour how much by-elections change.

3) On a related note I am coming, alarmingly, to think that Glenn Beck is asking the right questions. Terrible answers, to be sure. But right questions.

4) Chip Corbett sent me this article for comment.  2000 words later I’m still working on it. Suffice it to say, however, that once I got over my gentleman-and-scholar’s indignation over the death of the liberal arts I couldn’t help but laugh at the whingeing – wonderful word, no? It’s whining with a more aggressive spelling – liberal arts people who didn’t understand why nobody wanted to study them anymore. It is in fact because nobody wanted to study liberal arts in the first place but before it was necessary as part of the process of buying your way into a higher social class. (This is the point of college unless you’re already part of the upper class, in which case the point is basically gay sex.) I even had a long-winded but sadly appropriate comparison with the 19th century British officer corps. I can expound on this in conversation.

Long story short: people don’t want to study liberal arts – especially philosophy – not because their heads are filled with some airy capitalist stereotypes but because those stereotypes have never been truer than they are now. To quote scripture: physician, heal thyself.

5) I don’t care what anyone says, and I realize this is a distinctly minority opinion. But the only academy award that Inglourious Basterds will win, or deserve to, is Best Supporting Actor for Christoph Waltz.

Incidentally, Christoph, if you’re reading this – like, I don’t want to be weird. But I think we’d be really good friends. We could get an apartment. Or something. Call me.

6) While I’m a bit disappointed that Ke$ha turned out to be white, it does make sense given her association with Flo-Rida and of course my enthusiasm is undampened. This may make me a bamma. If so, I’m fucking Obamma.

7) All joking aside, Obama is also a bamma.

8 ) It’s really too bad that there isn’t a national conference of clotheshanger manufacturers in Washington in early February.  I think it would do a lot for their collective visibility.

9) Brett Favre is really annoying when he does this:

This is not unlike the other 23 hours of his day; however it’s doubly-irritating that the song has approximately 12 words and he still fucks it up. This is not unlike another notorious fuck-up

I think the moral of the story here is get your facts right or you’ll end up being raped by a furry on a Van Hool bus to Portugal. (A suggestion which will almost certainly result in my being a target for a Keith Olbermann special comment.)  How ironic that tonight the purveyor of that violence will be Saints.