black iron prison, velvet cage.

How does one destroy a Republic? You destroy the very notion of res publica.

You convince the people that there is… no People. No civic space. No public forum. Every square inch of the planet, owned by someone. Every idea, every invention, every thought, every human creation of value, owned by someone.

Every one of us… well, owned, by someone.

You convince them that the notion of banding together in their own common interest is naive and stupid at best, or insidious and evil at worst.

You leverage almost a century’s worth of social engineering to peel away at their very human pieces. Commoditize their religions, their politics, their stories, their History, their fictions. Their dreams.

Train them to identify with some abstract Tribe (their innate biological wiring predisposes them to it, after all) and to instinctively distrust, despise anyone or anything Other. Offer them a limited buffet of (so-called) “Lifestyles”, and they will happily choose, and thank you for the right to do so. Train them to speak in social codes, shibboleth, images, feelings, symbols that are unique to each tribe, until they lose the ability to even communicate across the artificial semiotic fences you’ve built for them.

Give them idols to worship– artists without art. Leaders without leadership. Gods without… godliness. Give them joyless, pointless festivals and rituals to keep them busy, and so they can feel as though they belong. Keep them just well fed enough that they won’t revolt (but not too well– be sure to keep just enough of the poor around to keep the others in permanent fear of losing what little they have).

You convince them that this is the only World. That they are without hope of escape, or improvement, or that the very notion of the possibility of ‘progress’ in the classical sense is a naive illusion, or delusion (and make sure you train them how to laugh at those who do, while you’re at it). That Power is all. That Money is all. That they are nothing more than meat to be cultivated, bought and sold, and finally consumed.

Until one day, they have nothing left but fear and ignorance; distrust and hatred. The useful submission that comes from Quiet Desperation.

You train them to act as their own prison guards, essentially. No need to censor (or censure), at least not publically. Keep the forums open and free, and let the little people speak as much as they want. For have no fear, the others will gladly shout them down.

Black Iron Prison, indeed. Only this time around, enclosed within a Cage of Velvet Rope.

slouching towards zanzibar…

SOTU is in a half hour or so. To my mind, this is when the second Obama Administration begins (everything since the election –Hagel, Brennan, drone memos, the fiscal cliff– has just been the usual noise and aftermath, at this scale). That just seems to be part of the national rhythm. Between that, and exhaustion, I haven’t been paying as much attention to politics since the election as I usually do.

It’s been a bizarre few weeks, outside of politics: Aaron Swartz committed suicide over the JSTOR case. Iran may (or may not) have launched a monkey into space and got it back to Earth safely. North Korea managed to sort of launch a rocket, and then went on to confirm that they could still make Uranium go critical under highly controlled conditions underground. We had a Blizzard of ’78 class storm here. The pope resigned (like many, I didn’t even know he could do that). An ex-cop starts out on an OJ-esque rampage of revengeful murders and multi-cop chase scenes, and (as I write this) ends up in a Waco-esque burning cabin, complete with billowing black smoke (in karmic honor of the upcoming Conclave, I can only assume).

Oh, and Ted Nugent (who has made physical threats against coined some disturbingly colorful ‘metaphors’ involving POTUS in the past) will attend the SOTU, at the personal invitation of some (to me) obscure Tea-Party House member.

Compare this to the post-2003 career trajectory of the ill-fated, anti-Bush Dixie Chicks.

About ten minutes to SOTU now. And they’re announcing Dorner’s apparent death (and that of at least one deputy). Finishing up just in time for the 9pm speech coverage. Tidy, that.

The title came to me as I was typing my news summary, it really is the Stand on Zanzibar era in some ways… and I really do need to finish that book.

one month later…

…to the day, I just realized.

Obama and the Quants won. Now we’re four-weeks deep into the ambiguous aftermath, headed towards what has been billed as the ‘fiscal cliff’, a time bomb strapped to economy by the lame-duck Congress of 2010.  No one can agree what that means, exactly. All seem to agree that it will change… something.

Israel almost invaded Gaza, then decided not to with a little help from the new (post Arab Spring) Egypt. Meanwhile, Morsi starts strange post-revolutionary parliamentary maneuvers we haven’t seen since the 1970s.  Gen. Petraeus resigns his CIA post amid some scandal. We’re still trying to figure out WTF is going on in Libya.  Assad contemplates using chemical weapons on his own people, knowing that will start a major war with US/NATO/etc.

Few people here in the US have had the time or energy to follow any of this. I haven’t. I’ve been too exhausted, myself, which is why I haven’t written anything.

With regards to the election, the one big, long-lasting takeaway from last month is this: They were True Believers, after all. Karl Rove refused to believe that his team had lost Ohio. Skeptics like me assumed that Karl Rove “knew” he had Ohio in the bag, for nefarious reasons.  Turns out that, no, Karl Rove literally inhabits a different universe where the electorate was whiter, older, more conservative. He really did have alternative math.

But it wasn’t just Turd Blossom. Turns out that Romney himself had been so certain of victory that he’d ordered up some celebratory fireworks for Boston Harbor, and neglected to write a concession speech. His own team’s polls had him up in NH, OH, CO, FL and VA.  Polls that weren’t so much unscientific, as colored by “personal expectation” on the part of the interpreters. (Because, after all, any damned geek in a white lab coat can take a poll, that’s just sissy mathematics– you’re paying for the interpretation, aren’t you?)

That scares me, frankly: These Reality-Creators had, in fact, gotten trapped in the very world they had built for us. So they were unable to see what was plainly there before them. Unable to see and process uncomfortable truths. Unable to make decisions based on real data.

Imagine what magnificent foreign policy blunders such a mindset could have accomplished. Imagine how much collateral damage to the social safety net and the working class such a mindset could have accomplished.

These people almost got to run the country.

uncle joe

So Biden did, indeed, win the debate as only he could have. Triumph and rejoicing in many circles, though he apparently laughed and grinned more than allowed for a Democratic VP during a debate. Accusations that the tea-totaling Biden was ‘drunk’, or ‘losing control’ were the GOP spin of the day today. Offensive, frankly: You lost this one, deal with it. When Obama lost last week, Democrats could see that, and were among the first to say it. (Yet another anecdote against the alleged false symmetry between the two parties).

Any change in the poll numbers remains to be seen. Meanwhile, Romney’s (to me) mysteriously long-lived debate bump has all but tied the race. Some trendlines now favor him. Odd for a debate to make such a difference. Even more odd for there to be no apparent effect on any downticket races.

And yet– the arbitrary 8% unemployment number as re-election threshold was beat just a week ago (7.8%). Suddenly doesn’t matter. The long-collapsed housing market, starting to seem a little less collapsed. Suddenly doesn’t matter. Deficits starting to come down. Suddenly doesn’t matter.

And so on. Not good. I remember 1980, how it felt like this sudden turning away from Reality. The Turnips out there are apparently liking the sound of this new Comfortable Lie they’re being sold.

But in 1980 the US was a net creditor nation. Our nearest competitor nation was at least a decade behind us technologically. We still had a manufacturing sector (albeit one still reeling from the 1970s Oil Shock), more natural resources, and a very stable legal/political system. None of these things are true anymore. She could take it then. I don’t think she could take it now… we still haven’t recovered from the last Republican President.

Folks really should know better than to do this to themselves. Or to the rest of us.

mr ryan v. biden

Just realized that I pick up exactly where I left off at the old place. Symmetry is always an omen.

We’ve built up these debates to the level of gladiatorial combat. It must have started with the Republican primary debates. The energy (and expectations) built up there carried over to this current cycle of cross-party debates. And everyone, including me (and except perhaps Romney, ironically) was shocked by this.

Romney’s plan all along was to surf his way into the White House upon a Tsunami of Bullshit, Reagan-style. And we all acted surprised when he did his best in the debate last week.

And so here we are, in the odd position of having Joe Biden as our new Rhetorical Champion of Democracy. With Paul Ryan, Dual-in-One Avatar of both Christ and Rand as the opponent.

I buy into these debates as much as anybody else does, if not more. But somehow I’ve grown tired (exhausted) of the stakes being so high.

Of course I’ll watch. Of course I’ll be part of whatever freakout or triumph comes in the aftermath.

What else could I do?

Assuming that they let us…

With work and seasonal issues, I haven’t had much time to comment on much of anything, here or elsewhere. I do think I’ve finally become over-saturated with politics. The frenzied pace at which the GOP leaps from outrage to outrage makes it impossible to really think about any of it. Which is (quite probably) the intent. A significant wing of the Republican party is now openly against contraception; the rights of employees to their own lives and lifestyle on off-work hours; Panicking as the economy makes a better effort to crawl out of the ditch than most anyone thought it could. Rush losing advertisers in the first ‘media shaming’ of him that I can remember.

In other words– there is, indeed, a ‘wall’ that can’t be pushed against anymore. The Overton window might turn out to have a rightward stop, after all. Oddly enough, I consider this to be a good sign… but also surprising. None of these antics or statements are new. I’ve heard politicians say the same things out loud not too long ago. I’ve seen Bills written, and some even passed, there were just as bad or worse. And any newspaper’s Comments Section would have opinions just as fringe, or worse. So… what’s different? Why now?

Hunter S Thompson’s old line about the Wave that finally broke and rolled back keeps coming back to me. All this public craziness could just be their particular Wave, finally breaking on the shore after a 40-year run.

And those of us not involved can really only stand back and watch it happen, and try not to get dragged out to sea by the riptide.

Party Like It’s 1699.

I still haven’t been moved to comment any further on the GOP primaries: There is no shortage of people doing that. The choice is down to the 1890s Plutocrat, the 1950s Bircher, or one of two 1930s-style Catholic Fascists. Voter turnout for the primaries and caucuses has been low, but the enthusiasm of the GOP tribe (at least as presented –say ‘amplified’– by the MSM) still seems strong. They are very furious about something or other, and they seem very sure that some nebulous somebody, some Other not like Them, must be made to suffer the fruits of their fury.

I’ve been over this before: They will choose whomever it is they decide to choose, and we’ll just have to go from there. GOP soul-searching is not really my concern.

That said, I’m still very puzzled as to why the right wing would decide to die upon the hill of… contraception!? The Susan Komen/Planned Parenthood controversy (ostensibly about abortion counseling services such as referrals) has come and gone, with the Komen foundation now quite probably suffering permanent PR damage from it.

Rather than tone down the rhetoric, the Catholic Bishops (with backup provided by the usual suspects) decided to complain about a new rule compelling their health insurance policies to provide contraception, free of co-pay, to their employees. The Obama administration then offers a subtle but clever compromise that passes the onus from the Catholic charities to the insurance companies themselves, which I suspect was their actual goal all along– but no, that isn’t enough. The Bishops now openly claim the right to control the reproductive lives of their employees. I’ll emphasize this: Not just of their parishioners, but of their employees, be they Catholic or not. And the GOP Congress seems more than happy to not only push this issue for them, but to extend this “right” to all employers.

Poll data shows that actual real-world Catholics are reasonably happy with the compromise. The Catholic organization that actually administers the Catholic hospitals is happy with the compromise. Even the insurance companies are happy with the compromise (presumably because providing birth control is, in the actuarial sense, cheaper for them in the long term). Polls claim that 98% of American Catholics have used birth control at some point in their lives.

So… why? Some observers see this as a stealth way to use the First Amendment as a lever with which to subvert the ACA. Once you get a religious exemption, it becomes easier to pull the new law apart piece by piece (so goes the thinking). Though how far does that go? If my employer is a Jehovah’s Witness, can he refuse to pay for insurance that covers blood transfusions? If he’s a Christian Scientist, can he refuse to pay for any health insurance at all?

Slippery slopes and all that– I don’t think the GOP ever really thinks that far ahead. Their instincts smell a loss of power, and their rhetoric then bends to come up with the excuses necessary to support and justify their instincts. But I just don’t see contraception being a winning issue for them. And, even in the current anti-union/anti-worker/deification-of-employers media climate, I just don’t see most Americans as willing to submit their reproductive lives to their employers.

But, what do I know? I’m just a dirty little atheist.

That’s Just It, We Are the Grownups…

Stopped posting through the holidays… I’m thinking this is probably because I never intended this to be a ‘Political Blog’, there’s enough of those for people to read if they want to, and I already have some election fatigue, myself. But politics is what I’m used to writing about, after all those years of USENET and commenting on various forums & blogs. And politics is the only thing I’ve been thinking about enough to want to write about that I can write about. So I didn’t bother to write at all. Holidays, vacation, then back to work.

That said, back to the GOP!

The GOP nomination continues to look like a wave function that just won’t collapse. Santorum/Romney in an essential tie (offered by most observers as Romney Doing Well). NH with the expected Romney victory (but under 40%, still offered as Romney Doing Well). Ron Paul gets enough to keep going… it’s ‘for the kids’. Or, more precisely, his kid– adding more weight to the old truism that many (if not most) Libertarians are closet Royalists. Santorum decides to go all-in with extra Jesus to try for SC and (somehow) FL. A mean, wounded Gingrich with $5.2 million dollars in his pockets behaves exactly as one would expect a mean, wounded Gingrich with $5.2 million dollars in his pockets to behave: Accuse Mitt Romney of being an Evil Capitalist(tm). Perry goes “Yeah! Me too!”.

Meanwhile, a Democratic White House asks Congress for a free hand in making some structural changes to some Cabinet posts like Commerce and the Small Business Administration. Which the GOP House (9% popularity) is almost guaranteed to obstruct, because ‘shrinking government’ is their brand, not his. And because they can. In an election year.

They are, of course, expected to keep the House, and possibly even take the Senate. We’re also told that they have a 50% shot at the White House for the trifecta, with a bonus prize of possibly as many as three ultra-conserative Supreme Court Justices (none over 50 years old) by 2014.

For now, for me, this is just something to watch from afar, if only to see how it turns out. I still keep wondering if and when the proverbial ‘grownups’ will start to get involved– they should have, by now.

I wonder what they did with them.

“But wait, I thought you people wanted an asshole…”

Barely two weeks in the limelight, and Gingrich starts announcing how much he’d like to dispatch US Marshals to arrest “Activist” (i.e. too-liberal) judges who make decisions he doesn’t like. Turns out that Newt’s peculiar techno-rebrand of 1930s Catholic Fascism isn’t going to have legs in Iowa, after all.

So now, our little circus leaves the 1930s, moving forward to 1964 with Ron Paul (who IMO is just a cunningly re-branded Bircher). Who needs the trappings of civilization, when you could have legal pot?

Iowa caucus in less than two weeks.