Thursday, December 24, 2015

Christmas at Ground Zero

“Wars have a funny way of taking on a life of their own” wrote Mark Ames after Turkey shot down a Russian plane and World War III became a very real prospect.

It’s taken a backseat to Donald Trump’s strip mall fascism and the Clinton II machine devouring all in its path, but Obama might be facing a real war between First World nations in his final year. And all because of Syria.

There are parallels to another war a hundred years ago: uppity peasants, great power treaties no one ever expected to act on, and a single incident turning into a snowball of death and destruction. To his credit, Obama hasn’t made any firm commitments to Turkey in the event Putin puts Ankara on his list. But then, he and the US at large isn’t about to abandon a NATO member, no matter how pants-crappingly stupid they’re acting.

It would be easy to blame this all on the Turks - they’ve been coddling ISIS all through the Kobane campaign - but that would be letting the rest of the Western powers off the hook. And as we’ve established, the Western powers are fucking idiots.

We’re talking about the groups that have smiled and made nice with the House of Saud, the most reactionary power since the Victorians went out of business and the biggest net exporter of jihadism from the Maghreb to Chechnya. Even now, DC is talking about punitive measures against Iran for less than what North Korea has been doing every year since 2006. Iran is the only effective counterweight to Daesh in the Middle East, but Bibi don’t like ‘em so they’re official enemies of democracy. The Saudis don’t like ‘em neither, cause Israel and The Kingdom are both firmly on the wrong side of history.

They could afford to be wrong up until now thanks to being America’s most valued proxies, but that’s rapidly changing:

In the first half of 2016 we should be contemplating a situation where the S-400s will be targeting and covering the whole Turkish-Syrian border. This will be the moment when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will completely lose his marbles.

The US and Europe could have quashed ISIS when it was just starting in 2013 - or at the very least scolded the Saudis until they turned off the cash flow. But everyone was busy worrying that some of the many thousands to die in Syria might have been gassed by Assad’s forces, rather than just lined up against a wall and shot. This isn’t “chickens coming home to roost” though, this is geopolitical bungling that could see Russian bombers taking more detours over the Turkish border, everyone provoking each other until either Trump or Clinton II takes the reigns and decides to look tough...

A full nuclear exchange is still unlikely, since Putin isn’t suicidal and the American ruling class is terrified of anything that might curtail their donations from Wall Street. But don’t be surprised to hear about US troops shooting at other white people for a change in Ukraine once the new president-elect is sworn in.

...and a happy New Year!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

A New Hype

It says something about the creative bankruptcy of the whole enterprise that the first joke spoiler I thought of for the new Star Wars turns out to be correct.

Han Solo dies. Nominally to make way for the new generation of heroes but likely a) because JJ Abrams is limited enough in his imagination to think this will be shocking and b) Harrison Ford didn’t want to get dragged along for three more of these films. He looks half-dead in the trailers as it is.

I honestly cringe every time I see that. It’s such a perfect synecdoche for the whole Star Wars 2.0 phenomenon: repackaging beloved pop culture of yesteryear to be sold as the newest Disney product.

They don’t even bother to advance the plot from the original trilogy. That hard won battle where the teddy bears killed all the Space Nazis and Luke reconciled with his father? Flushed down the tubes, now we’ve got a New Empire and New Alliance to re-enact the battles presented on the screen thirty years ago. Why? Why not?

Maybe the studio accountants were scared too many new ideas might rub people the wrong way, like with the prequels. Those films attempted to tell a new story in the same universe but are reviled for bad dialogue, wooden acting, and bleeping-blooping effects that are seizure inducing. The new plot, even with its inherently reactionary politics, was the lesser problem.

What is there to say about Star Wars Another One? If you liked the originals, you’ll like this? Why not just watch the originals instead of rehashing them, right down to the death of the white haired mentor?

Because then there wouldn’t be a New Thing for geek culture to mindlessly consume. Star Wars is perfect for that because it has always been spectacle without substance:

The story of the hero and the great evil can admit no particularities; the Galactic Empire doesn’t have anything as crude as an actual name; the Rebel Alliance isn’t burdened by anything so weighty as an explicit ideology. All we are allowed to know is that one side is good and the other is villainous — we’re told, in those scrolling-text intros.

In this context, you see how killing off bandit hero Han Solo is both the laziest and safest “twist” Abrams and company could do. It takes all possible drama from a galaxy spanning war and reduces it to bathos over an archetype that was already moldy when George Lucas first presented this human centipede of EE Smith and Dune back in 1977. All in service of a narrative that has happened before and will happen again. And again and again...

And on the same day America embraced this Big Mac of a movie, Hillary Clinton and the DNC orchestrated the demise of the Bernie Sanders campaign.

Friday, December 11, 2015

The American Yeltsin

Everyone is still having a fit over the overt racism Donald Trump has been spewing for… well, his entire life. But specifically his demand that Muslims be locked from entering the US. Even if they’re US citizens, if they’re friends of Muhammad than they ain’t allowed.

While this is racist and fascist and all sorts of ugly, it’s also just plain ridiculous. Like every other “policy” Trump has presented, it amounts to TV’s biggest blowhard yelling at a perceived problem and that’s the end of it. Too many rapist immigrants? Deport them all, logistics be damned! The Chinese are beating America at green energy and other infrastructure investments? Negotiate them down, somehow! Income inequality? You should be paid less anyway, so sayeth The Donald!

Every proposal Trump makes is as shallow as his hair, so it plays well to the spiteful morons who support him. How much he means it and how much he’s just playing to the ignorant screwheads who still think Bush II did a good job is a question Trump himself couldn’t even answer. While his campaign is serious, he remains a profoundly un-serious candidate.

So let’s talk seriously for a moment about what would happen if he actually won. Not just the nomination, but the general election. Would a Trump presidency really be the Fourth Reich we’re all worried about?

Nah, not really. It would suck from one end to another, the biggest bummer in American presidential history since Dubbya’s second term. If you’re not white and stupid you might as well run for Mexico now, where you’ll get more respect and more conscientious police. But no one is likely to end up in a government extermination camp and, despite his posturing, there won’t be any wars besides the usual colonial skirmishes that Clinton II wholeheartedly supports.

But if you do get ground up into soap, it will be by a for-profit entity. Trump’s history as a business man consists of the sort of corporate raiding and chicanery that not even Mitt Romney would tolerate. A man whose only proven skill is declaring bankruptcy to his own advantage is not going to start pogroms by executive order, he’ll just sell the material to do so to the lowest bidder.

That’s the real danger of a Trump presidency: the outsourcing and offshoring of the instruments of government will accelerate exponentially. The short-fingered vulgarian won’t stoop to exterminating Muslim Americans himself, he’ll just let some other billionaire asshole buy up half the National Guard armories in the country. Then it’s all just private enterprise and self-starter initiative when a Somali family gets riddled with bullets.

And don’t think there aren’t many Americans itching to mass murder their fellow citizens. Inequality is already driving a boom in rage massacres and racism always finds convenient scapegoats for real economic distress.

Anyone but Sanders or Jill Stein in the White House will ensure that same stress persists. Exacerbating the racist dimension only serves Trump’s interests now during the primaries, when he needs to win over the rubes . Trump’s real goal once sworn in will be the same as Boris Yeltsin: selling off everything not nailed down and securing a tidy profit for himself. It makes good business sense and that’s the only sense that’s allowed anymore in America.

Friday, December 4, 2015

How Mark Zuckerberg Causes Mass Shootings

While the ruling class in the Western democracies debate the merits of bombing yet another poor country, US citizens spent the week murdering each other again. The non-shooting at UNC Chapel Hill was overshadowed in the same day by an attack in San Bernardino targeting social services because pure nihilism drives these American jihadis.

That might be a loaded term, seeing as the perpetrators were an Illinois-born Pakistani-American and a Saudi respectively, but their motives were pure American: an “office dispute” between Syed Farooq and one of the many victims in the office park. That little detail will get lost in the paranoid noise over what the GOP clown car will declare a terrorist attack, thus compelling them to get balls-deep into another Middle Eastern country that was never involved.

Of course, every mass shooting in America is an act of terrorism but the political correctness of the right demands we never use the “T” word when the Second Amendment is involved…

But even gun control on the scale of the United Kingdom wouldn’t stop this sort of thing from happening. The motivation, the many many office disputes at the root of these All American massacres, is a byproduct of the extreme capitalism the US has embraced since Reagan and is best exemplified by the self-satisfied mediocrities of Silicon Valley.

While fourteen people were dying for your Second Amendment rights in San Bernardino, Facebook maven Mark Zuckerberg announced his new not-a-philanthropy. He sure tried to make it look like a charitable organization, adopting the same his-and-her naming convention as that Bill Gates tax write off and offering up some noblesse oblige platitudes alongside family pictures, but all in support of an investment vehicle. The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative is an LLC and under no legal obligation to actually perform any acts of charity. Zuckerberg spent the day bragging about donating his many billions of dollars to himself.

And the rubes ate it up.

Major media companies have been working overtime to emphasize Farooq’s Muslimness, much as they tried to paint Major Nidal Hassan as some crafty al Qaeda sleeper agent. That both were American with American grievances - which they expressed in the most American way of all - doesn’t get as much airplay because it invites uncomfortable questions...

“Sometimes, you don’t earn enough to buy things for what the children need for school, or food for the house, or personal expenses … like house payments or bills.”

The environment that drove Farooq is the same post-industrial hellscape immediately familiar to every American outside the coastal urbanite enclaves. A place of tract homes, big box stores, and toxic bitterness over an economy that has left you behind. The Reagan revolution still continues, transferring wealth upward whether in tax breaks, federally mandated private insurance, or just good ol’ fraud.

Like Zuckerberg’s purported “charity” company. He stands to make back his investment to himself with interest in the very near future, while maybe squirting a few research dollars into one of Silicon Valley’s dead-end Singularity projects. A government with actual social welfare in mind could have taken that 45 billion and given everyone real universal healthcare - with free college as a chaser - but even a Democratic White House is more interested in Reagan’s failed neoliberal experiment than in providing for the general welfare.

For proof, just look at the other folks in Zuckerber’s tax bracket. Like former Massey CEO Don Blankenship, who will maybe serve a whole year in jail for killing 29 people. Or Cerberus Capitol's Stephen Feinberg, a literal vampire who got a federal bailout and invested in Bushmaster right before the Newton shooting and turns a hefty profit on farming human plasma from impoverished Mexicans bussed across the US border. If that sounds sociopathic, that’s because it is. Neoliberal capitalism is not some free and fair market but a deliberate system designed by and for sociopaths like Blankenship and Feinberg and Google.

Syed Farooq and John Lewis Dear are terrorists. They’re also the logical result of a socio-economic system that conflates wealth with worth as a human being.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Things You Cannot Say on

There is probably no “respectable” political rag in America more craven and reactionary than The Hill. Billed as the paper everyone in Congress reads, one look at it’s front page explains why those screwheads are so utterly out of touch. The Hill is both stridently provincial in its analysis and avoids real news like the terrorist attack on Planned Parenthood so it can breathlessly rehash whatever slap fight some staffers had the previous afternoon. It is the apotheosis of the neoconservative brainwave, an adaptive combination of the mean and the stupid.

And its readers are bitterly opposed to any conflicting viewpoints appearing in the comments. Here are the Things You Cannot Say on

And just for perspective, here are some things you can say:

Suddenly the blatant fascism of Donald Trump makes perfect sense, don’t it?

Monday, November 30, 2015

American ISIS

Friday, a citizen of the United States perpetrated a terrorist attack that left three dead and over a dozen injured. Three guesses as to which god he cited as inspiration.

"Allahu akbar!"

Admittedly, Robert Lewis Dear only invoked the “dead baby parts” meme conservative presidential candidates were pimping earlier this season. Whether Dear was avenging said dead babies in the name of Jesus or Allah hasn’t been explicitly stated yet but come the fuck on.

People with a little awareness are going to be pointing out the obvious terrorism of things like this and the murder of George Tiller and the past bombing of clinics - and no one in power will do a goddamn thing about it. Because Robert Lewis Dear and others like him are useful idiots to American Erdogans up until they go postal.

Ted Cruz is already offering prayers to the same God who gave Dear his marching orders. Because once the GOP base snaps they cease to be part of the broader conservative movement - a movement startlingly similar to the reactionary Sunnis who've been mass murdering French people this year. Shooters like Dear are instead declared lone nuts, whose behavior was impossible to predict despite fitting a clear profile again and again. Because that's a lie American conservatives need to believe even more than the notion Jesus actually likes them.

Also, Matt Walsh is a cunt.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Bombing Islamic State Will Not Save Europe

Now that everyone’s finally on board with stamping out those dastardly villains in IS, Parisians can sleep easy again right?

Hoo boy… Gather ‘round, kids. It’s time to talk about rage massacres.

It’s a crime that’s very familiar to Americans simply due to its ubiquity. Angry young man, possibly with a friend, storms into some public place with a legally acquired automatic weapon and kills a dozen or so people before committing suicide, whether traditionally or by cop. It’s been going on for close to thirty years, inspiring reams of poor analysis and hand-wringing, but it’s still a fact of American life.

There’s even been some genuine insight to come out of this phenomenon: Going Postal by Mark Ames, which became required reading for every American after the bottom dropped out of the housing market in 2008. Harsh economic conditions coupled with culturally normative bullying was consistently the common factor among spree shooters in America, until cretins like Elliot Rodger and Dylann Roof started getting their ideas from 4chan.

Although that’s closer to the motives of the Paris shooters than whatever critique of Western imperialism Counterpunch has been on about for the past two weeks. Not to say you can’t blame the rise of IS and similar salafist outfits on the West’s history of back those same reactionaries when they were fighting the Muslim world’s leftist movements, but those guys are either too old or too dead these days. The jihadis menacing Europe come from the very same towns they bomb and shoot, making them less Osama bin Laden and more Harris and Klebold.

I said pretty much the same thing in the first week of hysteria and I’m going to keep repeating it since everyone has quite wrongly decided to blame Paris on Syrian refugees. You can vaporize Mosul and Aleppo with whatever big ticket munitions the NATO air forces have been itching to use and you won’t come anywhere close to actual or future terrorists. They’re all back in Brussels, plotting which public place to next showcase their disaffection with Europe, the West, and modernity in general.

Where that disaffection comes from may be easy to see but it’s near enough to impossible to fix. The immigration debate in Europe is more a failure of integration than the weight on social services reactionaries like to claim - said services need the immigrants because the natural-born population is aging faster than its reproducing. So you’ve got a de facto underclass of EU citizens subsidizing a decaying generation that sneers at them, which is already a nasty formula for insurrection.

Then mix in the shocks to middle-class sensibilities that have been going on since the 1960s in both the US and UK. The Sexual Revolution may have only turned sex into a commodity, but that’s still going too far for a lot of men - whatever their religion - who define themselves by traditional gender stereotypes. As neighbors and family said of Jihadi John, “He liked his football.”

The Charlie Hebdo attack should have made this clear, that reactionary salafists are more offended by women drivers and irreverent humor than the many Western imperial crimes in the Middle East. It takes a degree of middle class comfort and anxiety to get worked up over something like blasphemous cartoons in the first place and the Paris attacks were explicitly targeted at people daring to have a good time. Jealousy and Victorian priggishness makes for a lethal combination, especially in the fetid minds of young men. And unless the EU decides to simply liquidate those same young men, the comfortable citizens of Europe are going to be facing many more rage massacres from their own citizens, loudly proclaiming jihadist motives while clutching their blue balls.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Mating Habits

Just when the noise over the glorious wonders of communications technology gets too loud, something like this comes along:
I opened my messages to remind myself what exactly I had sent. There it was, at 10:02 p.m.: “I can’t stop thinking about what I’m now referring to as ‘bench time.’”

O.K., so it was a little confusing. Deep into my third glass of wine, I had thought I was being coy, but the result was somewhat inscrutable. It wasn’t even clear I had enjoyed the experience. Was it possible he thought I was traumatized? Did he think I was accusing him of something?

No, that was ridiculous. He probably had noted my text, smiled, felt as aroused as you can be by a text as vaguely sexual as mine was, and gone to sleep, dreaming of me.

It reads like a neurotic on a speedball. Woody Allen, plus estrogen. It paints a horrendous picture of modern life but unintentionally, as the author is clearly going more for the Stuff White People Like self-deprecation that passes for wit among comfortable yuppies. And in the process, she shows just how miserable modern technology has made dating.

I know I’m one to talk. I met my wife through OK Cupid of all things. But that was a happy accident, like a surprise kitten or drunken anal sex. The exception that proves the rule - the rule being that honest connections are very rarely made through social media and dating apps. Rather than a brave new world of sexual libertinism, this has only lead to the fretful over-analysis of every little keystroke as demonstrated in the above article.

Did it used to be this bad? Probably. Definitely. That might be the ugliest reality about the Web 2.0 era, that all the miseries of life we knew until Steve Jobs was declared the new religion are all still very much in force, no matter how many apps on your iPhone.

Depending on who you ask, Millennials are either having less sex than the flower children of the 60s or they’re having much much more. If you’re reading this, you’re dissatisfied with your personal experience either way. Either not enough or not good enough - rather, whatever porn and erotic fan fiction has taught you to define as “good enough.” The true legacy of the Sexual Revolution was turning physical intimacy into just another commodity to be consumed, like Doritos or presidential candidates. You might have an enviable sex life from the perspective of someone else and still be wishing for a simpler time. Or more booty calls through Tinder.

People have a habit of taking their own lived experience as having some intrinsic meaning. It doesn’t, of course. Human existence is one big Monte Carlo game, and your experiences are no more or less significant than that of six billion other homo sapiens. But that’s not a good mindset, according to marketing. So you’ve been sold on the notion that doing A and B while avoiding C will somehow fulfill that evolutionary drive you have to go out and breed. And maybe you do need to do A and even B, but the particulars of courtship are as random as the results. And random results do not mesh with a constructed personal narrative, inevitably leading to angst as the same guys who brag about their dating app conquests also experience much more impotence.

You also get lots of angry people trying to find some reason why they’re not getting rich or laid. They’ve done all the things “society” says will lead to a roll in the hay, or a corner office, so if it’s not happening then the game must be rigged. Or something. Because the advertising soup that passes for popular culture will never admit to the reality that you can do everything right, play by the rules, cross every T and dot every I, and still get mangled by an exploding crock pot for reasons that never had anything to do with you.

But if you take a step back and accept your lack of control, suddenly everything is much more manageable. The world is not fair and this is not the worst thing that can happen to you. And for fuck’s sake, put down the smartphone already.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

In the Land of the Four Eyed Kings

Since Eddie Snowden went and told everyone that the NSA was actually doing it’s job, encryption has been a big deal among people in the know. That is to say, it has been made a big deal by people who like to think they’re in the know. Chief among these is the DOD-funded Tor Project and its many Twitter evangelists who embarrass themselves in 140 characters or less.

But one niggling little fact never seems to pop up in all the cypherpunk nattering on social media. One of those inconvenient and very uncomfortable facts, namely that no one in the current privacy movement is threatening to those in power.

Really. Take a look at the who’s who in crypto or whatever the people trading kiddie porn through Tor call themselves. Filter out all the natsec contractors and you’re left with maybe a few randos who escaped from Reddit. A government with a billion dollar military isn’t scared of such a crowd. Even a government without an air force wouldn’t be scared of such a crowd.

Still, you’ve got encryption and privacy getting headlines because unobserved porn browsing is very important to people with money. And not just money, but a stake in the game we call capitalist society. Cypherpunks, for all their posturing, are as wedded to this nation and its bloated security services as any oil exec or arms contractor. Possibly moreso since the absolutist freedom they espouse is only possible when other pressing needs - like food and shelter - are so ubiquitous as to be wholly taken for granted. The closest to homeless anyone in this movement has ever gotten is Julian Assange’s coach surfing in Europe, which is a hardship shared by every half-bright grad student on the East Coast.

And while I’ve said it before, it bears repeating that hiding your “revolutionary” rhetoric in the latest crypto-tool is worse than useless. Real opposition to tyranny has been and always will be a very direct and confrontational act. And that means blood. Your blood, my blood, the police state’s blood - all of it getting spilled out there in the streets. Like in Ferguson. And Baltimore. And every other effective mass movement of the past century.

The crypto kiddies won’t ever do that. Their metric for success begins and ends with no bleary-eyed government functionary seeing what they’re grabbing with bittorrent. The ruling class just doesn’t care about that, despite the scare stories surrounding the RIAA. And since the encryption movement will never violently oppose said ruling class, they are simply of no concern.

They want to be a concern. That’s clear from all the tough talk twerps direct at Yasha Levine, who escaped real pogroms and oppression in Soviet Russia. American culture long ago decided suffering - that is the appearance of suffering - is a desirable thing. It makes you look cool and edgy to the other twenty-somethings living in basements. And there ain’t no suffering more sexy than being one of the Elect battling some dystopian superstate through computer wizardry. The tech culture brainwave that leads to a dozen versions of Python that still don’t work is also why these upper middle class milquetoasts are so insistent that they are fighting the good fight: "I just want to be special :("

Friday, November 20, 2015

This is John Galt

Jeb Lund finally figured out Ben Carson: the good doctor is so far up his own ass he’s in negative space.

Ben Carson might be so brilliant and talented that he cannot detect how often he's being an absolute moron.

This also puts Carson’s neck and neck race with Fuckface von Clownstick Donald Trump into perspective, as we see them not as ridiculous clowns but as the end-state of a national belief in the inherent superiority of material success. While Trump’s purported skill as a businessman is up for debate, his success is a truth no one will dispute. Similarly, Carson reached the top of his profession by being a very very good neurosurgeon long before he climbed into the GOP clown car. And neither man has had to tolerate others telling them "no" since before most of you were born.

This is what Ayn Rand’s unbounded egoist heroes really look like. Unfettered by the whims of society or archaeological records, Trump and Carson are pursuing the highest office in the land because they are simply used to getting what they want. Neither will ever actually reach it - and boy will their resulting tantrums be a sight to see - but the sheer ridiculousness of their campaigns is only possible because they have been so successful. Americans will not argue with success, so no one has ever told these potential emperors that their junk is hanging out.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Going Postal Goes Global

“The pussy licks itself as the world burns.” ~ Greek proverb

There’s nothing like a big-ticket terrorist attack to make the West completely lose its marbles.

One hundred and twenty-nine dead in Paris. An act of war, according to Hollande, which it is indeed. But an act of war by a failed and decaying “state” that has been nothing but a temper tantrum since its inception.

French airstrikes have hit the latest trailer to claim to be Islamic State’s HQ. They’ll hit some more before the week is out and that will both be enough and not the end. Because Islamic State is an absolute failure as a world or even regional power but a rousing success as a meme. I frankly still have doubts that al-Baghdadi or whatever his successor is going by had much of a hand in the Paris attacks. Evidence backs me on this too, considering at least one of the shooters was a French national. This was less a behind-the-lines raid and more a rowdy fan club trying to get some attention.

This is what a Belgian looks like.

Which you’re not supposed to admit in polite company but it’s absolutely necessary to putting things like Islamic State in perspective. They’re not going to be a real state - ever - and they’re more of a danger to other Muslims, but all you’re going to hear the rest of the year is how Islam and the West are in some sort of grand conflict. Because of half a dozen yahoos who couldn’t get dates.

The West has never really understood Islam. Not because Islam is inherently alien but because the Western powers have been gloriously stupid for the past 1500 years or so. While Saladin, a shrewd and practical ruler, was busy gobbling up Syrian rivals, the princes of Christendom launched one ill-fated operation after another to claim some Levantine fishing village. Fast forward through most of the High Middle Ages and you’ve got Slavic and Balkan rulers consistently dying, their lands changing hands, because they couldn’t stop squabbling among themselves long enough to put up a united front against the Ottomans.

And if you want to see how the 19th Century imperial powers fucked everything up… well, look at Syria. The three-way civil war between inland Sunnis, coastal Shia, and the Kurds on the Turkish border are the fault of French and British colonial governors who liked to stoke the tribal hatreds, keep the locals too divided to ever kick out the invaders. The Brits were pulling this shit as recently as Yemen in the middle of the Cold War, getting glowing articles in Time about their reactionary proxies fighting “for Allah and the Imam.” Those same proxies formed the primordial ooze of every modern salafist nutcase from al Qaeda to ISIS.

The history of Islam versus the West is really a history of one-sided narcissism and Euro-racism. And it continues to this day: Look how goddamn long it took the US to support the Kurds of Kobane. Look how long it took them to finally support the Peshmerga in Iraq. Look how NATO quietly looks away when Turkey starts bombing the same Kurds who were kicking ISIS ass up and down the dessert. Look how European and American racists are losing their shit over Syrian refugees when ISIS gets most of its recruits from those same Western countries.

Between 250 and 400 jihadists in the area are thought to have come from [Belgium], which has a population of 11 million.

Britain and Australia are big contributors too. As is France. Mohammed Emwazi, popularly known as Jihadi John, came from an upper middle-class London neighborhood. Why hide among refugees when you’re already a born and bred citizen?

Why a French or Belgian citizen would take up jihad rather than clubbing and cocaine has less to do with Islam and much more to do with why any young man embraces a reactionary creed: the sense of individual purpose and power. Those 19th Century colonial outposts were a dumping ground for such young men in Europe and since they’ve closed, we make jokes about how Belgium is only known for chocolate and child-molesters. Blackwater, Rhodesia - I’ve covered this all before - violence by young men for personal validation is quite common throughout the world, whether inspired by Islamic State’s black flag or the unhinged manifesto of Elliot Rodgers.

You won’t hear that in all the hand-wringing coverage over Paris. The bodies are still too warm for any serious analysis by the “serious people” - mostly because it would reveal that a hundred and twenty-some Parisians died not in a modern Pearl Harbor but in just another Columbine. For all its bluster and for all the paranoia among wealthy white folks, Islamic State is nothing more than the lashing out by the detritus of a broken middle-class.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Lessons Still Not Learned

I've said it before and I'll say it again, American elections come down to very simple demographics. This week proved me right - again! - but all the paid opinion-makers are trying to spin it as indicative of cultural trends or something.

It's not. Let's just get that clear: Americans do not change with the times and they sure as hell don't change their minds.

A single election is a textbook case of sampling bias as factors that have nothing to do with policy or the irreversible decline of the American Empire decide who shows up at the polls. Mid-Terms draw a different crowd than the presidential election which draws a different crowd than doldrum years like 2015. But take them all together and you'll see a pattern as constant as the Northern Star.

The South is the Confederacy. It's been clear to anyone willing to look since 2004, but every state in the larger red blob of Dixie Culture is just getting meaner and stupider every year. Their local and congressional politics all come down to which White Protestant can bluster better while taking it up the backside from every moneyed interest. And your average cracker is okay with this, because everything is Obama's fault anyway.

Democrats own the coastal enclaves. That was the only lesson to be drawn from the 2013 elections so of course nobody respectable would mention it. Chris Christie is as popular as he ever was with the Republican faithful - which isn't saying much - but the Washington Post would like for you to believe New Jersey voting out three Republican dog catchers is a blow against his campaign. WaPo also printed an indictment of Denmark's economy based entirely on the critique of a traveling food critic, because they're just really fucking stupid.

There's some acknowledgment that voter turnout was less this year than during a presidential run -  a retroactive admission that the Tea Party surge of 2010 was just a fart in the wind - but you can still expect some opinion pieces over the next few weeks about how Bush III needs to woo the homophobes back from Carson or whether or not "values voters" might swing the country Republican next year.

They won't. They can't. Because they're dying faster than fruit flies. Despite Houston's refusal of wealthy gay professionals, the reactionaries of the Bush Years are losing more and more ground to younger, browner people. This doesn't mean America is looking at a succession of Democratic administrations, simply that the aggrieved old white people who cry about socialism while collecting Medicare are headed the way of the dodo, and their policies are following.

Good riddance.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Broken Empire

There has been a single theme running through the presidential debates of late that can best be summed up with a line from the only good TV show of the past fifteen years: "All of this has happened before and all of this will happen again."

Ben Carson, a guy who says crazy shit and has no past experience in politics, is currently leader of the GOP pack. Sound like a similar situation from four years ago?

Admittedly, Carson doesn't look like he's going to implode as spectacularly as Herman Cain but then neither did Herman Caine. Similarly, Rick Perry got pretty far as a racist blowhard before collapsing under his own weight just as Michelle Bachman started as every Tea Party crazy's hero before turning in lame performances alongside the rest of the field and eventually folding due to her rampant scandals. And through it all, everyone kept saying Romney was done and should just go home.

It may not play out exactly like that in 2016. Trump could possibly overwhelm the GOP machine with his racist populism, offering bitter proof that elections are indeed still decided by the people. Chris Christie might not suffer a massive coronary or another indictment by next November, just as Rubio may look like a grown-up and Cruz may actually get a vote. But all of that is as likely as Carly Fiorina sticking in the race past December.

On the opposite side, you've got nothing but the inevitability of Clinton II. Yes, Bernie Sanders has been fun to watch. No, he is not pushing the Clinton Machine leftward. If anything, the farcical Benghazi committee proved Hillary can keep on keepin' on and her opponents are simply too ridiculous to stop her. Obama went into Election 2012 with a similar centrist record and mopped the floor with White Obama - imagine what's gonna happen when 2016 comes down to Bush III versus Clinton II. Their policies are close enough to constitute incest. It'll be the first election decided purely on nostalgia for past administrations: "Did you prefer NAFTA or the PATRIOT Act?"

Yet this zombie dance is amped up as the most important election of our time. Just like the last election, and the election before that, and so on. No matter who wins next year, American troops will still be in Syria and school kids will still be shooting each other for various spaz reasons that have nothing to do with politics as discussed on the Sunday morning shows and much more to do with the harsh economic realities not even Sanders could hope to remedy. And that latter is just providing more excuse for the huge natsec blob to trip over its own feet.

Like the FBI's latest addition to childhood trauma: a video game! It teaches you not to be a puppet by getting you to be paranoid of your swarthier classmates, because Islamic State has been behind so many school shootings in America. It's not just a creepy, Orwellian attempt at conditioning fear into the youth, but it's as completely wrong and divorced from reality as the words that come out of Rand Paul's mouth when he goes off script.

This is the new normal, America. Declaring the old ideas to be the future while blaming foreignors for the failed capitalism devouring our lives. Thank God for Vladimir Putin.

*   *   *

UPDATE: I'd just like to give Ben Carson credit for imploding even more ridiculously than Herman Cain :D

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Confessions of a Wage Slave, VI

The genius of modern slavery is that the workers truly believe they're free.

Things like flex time, supposedly allowing people to work the hours they "want," despite still requiring the same 40 hours a week in some cramped, dusty office.

Or sick days, days you are allowed to be sick which, when considering the healthcare in this country, is hardly enough time, whether it be a broken bone or a bad flu.

And don't forget vacation days, the equally vile twin of sick days. Your one chance to get away from the grind is measured in days, which seems fair on the surface until you realize that every other first world nation takes vacations by the month. At least. But of course, those are smaller, less powerful countries. They don't need a steady stream of meat for the economic grinder. Besides, they're probably commies anyway...

And let's not forget that greatest of illusions -- and my personal favorite -- the Job Market.

What is it with Americans and markets anyway? A market is where you argue with some crooked-eye swindler over the price of a fish that's been sitting out all day.

Actually, that's a good description of the Job Market. You see, if you get canned it's okay because you can always find another job. Same as if you can't stand where you are now, you can always find another job. Jobs and jobs everywhere, yessiree!

Of course this mercenary lifestyle allows employers to reduce job security, benefits, conditions, demand more work for less pay -- and if you're salaried and working overtime, no pay! -- but that's okay, you can always get another job. So why establish a rapport with your coworkers? Why develop any sense of community or, god forbid, form unions? After all, you won't be there long, just until you get your associates degree or you finally sell that screenplay or until you get a better paying job upstairs or across town or only until the children finish school or only until it's time to start collecting social security or only until that comforting numbness spreads up your arm and squeezes your heart silent.

This Job market is just another backlot full of day laborers who happen to be legal citizens.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Imperial Penis Envy

So one of those big white people superpowers finally came down hard on ISIS. Problem is, it's Russia.

Meaning it's a problem for the aging reptiles who run things in the US and UK. The Cold War is still hot, as far as these guys are concerned, so anything Russia does besides deteriorate under Boris Yeltsin is immediately suspect. The Beltway press has been all in a tizzy for the past week, fretting over just how a card-carrying villain like Putin is going to bomb the bad brown people but spare the good ones.

He's likely not, since no war ever spares civilians. And that it ever could is just one of the many fantasies you must embrace before you can be considered "respectable" in American discourse...

We were already deep into bizarro territory, what with an election next year, but Putin's little pest control operation has really cranked up the DC crazy. Every Republican from Donald Trump to Those Guys Losing to Donald Trump has come out blaming the whole thing on Obama for muddled reasons - muddled even by the usual standards of Obama-blame in right-wing politics. The "objective" media doesn't go quite that far but is still furrowing its collective brow in worry that Russia might be just helping their allies in the Assad regime. And Brzezinski is making noise but he's wanted World War III since 1977, the racist little fucker.

Yet at the same time, ISIS is still everyone's designated monster. They're raping 8-year-olds, if ya didn't know. They've also raped grown Yazidi women and sold them into sex slavery - and bragged about it in their own glossy industry mag - but that was back when only the Kurds were fighting them so nobody in the pundit class cared. Now that Russia is hitting them in Syria, all the Very Concerned People want to get in on the action before there are no more scalps to claim.

That Russia could stamp out ISIS in Syria is a very real scenario. The Kurds were halfway there a few months ago, and they don't even have an air force. Because ISIS has always been more bark than bite, a regional militia that made up for its small numbers and rotten performance in battle by acting extra scary on YouTube. They're the black metal virgins of terrorism.

And the US is obviously jealous of Russia snuffing them.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Confessions of a Wage Slave, V

If you ever doubt America runs on exploitation, take a temp job. All the responsibilities of a regular, salaried employee but never any of the benefits.

They usually bait it with some vague promises of real employment down the line. "Stick it out for two months or two years and we might let you into the company health plan. For a fee." IT companies in particular love this scam. My first job in NYC was for a company flush with News Corp money but just couldn't spare more than the equivalent of 20K a year - before taxes - for the position of One Man QA Department.

I came aboard right as the company adopted a new content management system. An open source product (strike one), specifically the paid premium edition (strike two), that had been chosen to perform tasks for which it was not originally configured (yeeeer outa there!).

This necessitated a full, new QA process complete with Git branches and Jenkins builds and other things usually handled by about three people on full salary and benefits. I did it solo for hourly wages, which I naturally didn't get if the office was closed due to a holiday or I got a cold from management never turning on the heat in the middle of a New York winter.

Whenever the godawful CMS software went tits up, it was always my fault.

Friday, September 25, 2015

The Muddle Class

There is nothing more sacrosanct in common American discourse than the Middle Class. Every politician, from the pig-ignorant Chris Christie to the brilliant but doomed Bernie Sanders must and will appeal to this vaguely defined constituency. Every marketing campaign takes it as a given that their target audience is this All-American ideal of material security, festering somewhere in the suburbs. Even the self-proclaimed intelligentsia will talk and talk about the importance of the Middle Class without ever getting near the truth.

I got to see that third one up close and personal over the weekend. The annual Brooklyn Book Festival assembled a panel of progressive boomers - with a few token brown ladies - to discuss the current state of the Middle Class. What followed was an hour of kvetching over the particulars of "economic class" versus "creative class" with not a single criticism of capitalism raised once. These strident New York Liberals managed an entire hour discussing class without once discussing power. It would be impressive if it weren't so goddamn grotesque.

I'm going to explain this in much fewer, and much more true words than that gaggle of iconoclast-wannabes: The American Middle Class is defined by fear. A fear of losing their privileged position in the suburbs of course but just as much a fear of sticking out too much. For all their striving, Middle Class Americans are terrified of stepping out of bounds of their regimented culture, where lawns and wine pedantry replace anything close to a philosophy.

The panel managed to demonstrate this fear quite well. One gentleman who spoke the most and was the most obnoxious lamented how his now adult children in the "creative class" do not have the material security he enjoyed at their age in the 1970s. You'd think this would necessitate a discussion of the impersonal mechanisms of the global economy and you'd be wrong - this was merely a launchpad for for the much more pressing issue of the kids listening to that hippity-hop music these days.

Really, that was his beef. He referred to music and film as "cultural capital," betraying his own commitment to the very system that is screwing his children. Middle class middle-brows like him - like the entire panel and most of the audience - are today in a perpetual state of crisis because they can no longer expect the same material comfort and security of these traditional class signifiers... but they absolutely will not turn on capitalism.

Because of fear. A very real fear of their own lack of power in the world. A fear working schmucks got over generations ago but which the celebrated Middle Class has been insulated from for the half century following World War II. They can point to all the cultural signifiers of class they like - New York Times, hybrid cars - but they can no longer distract themselves from the stark truth that a homeowner with a white color job holds just as much political power in modern America as a migrant fruit-picker.

You won't ever hear that from the mandarins of America's cultural liberals. They stopped talking about the power dynamics of class back when Eugene Debs was sitting in prison for having the courage of his convictions. But, thanks to the rise of identity politics, they can point to material possessions and snobbery as a class marker - which leads to declaring Beyonce and Jay-Z "upper class" despite their lack of power over the economy or who the US bombs next. Further, when class standing is merely a matter of consumption, these lukewarm liberals can comfort themselves with the delusion "I can always advance."

By its very nature a capitalist class system stymies advancement. The more people you have with real political power, the more you'll have to spread the spoils of American production. Many an American liberal thinks unions are a good idea but you'll rarely find them manning the picket line with the McDonald's workers or supporting a strike by bus drivers. Not just for base selfishness or because "working class" in America more often than not is synonymous with "brown skin" but because again that fear of sticking out too much. It could give people the wrong idea and hurt your career, then how would you make the mortgage payment on your overpriced house? Or pay back the exorbitant student loan that primarily goes to a labyrinth of bureaucracy rather than the ever more impoverished professors? They rationalize it as "I can't afford to take a risk, not in this economy," ignoring that they can be canned at any time for any reason because that's what the people with the power want.

The panel, the audience, and all those obedient blue state voters who are wringing their hands over the collapse of the middle class would like to think they live in an era of tumult and transformation but really this is just an era of more honest predation.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Confessions of a Wage Slave, IV

There was an absolute scandal one day due to some woman's improper attire. Not just a skirt, but a denim skirt. Oh, what unholy horrors! Denim at the office! Anything but a durable cotton blend!

Now why, might you ask, would anyone care about a denim skirt? There are certainly worse things to wear, like a rubber inner tube and a smile. But it seems what really ruffled the feathered hair wasn't just the garment in question, but that it was hanging around the bread pudding ass of a fat girl.

You heard right, these office cows were scandalized by the sight of a fat chick in tight clothes. You'd think they'd never seen Springer or a mirror. But this just makes things more bizarre now, doesn't it? Fat wage-hags, the most appalling creature to ever emerge from America's drywall caves, and they spend a whole day tittering over another fatty like her weight were some anomaly, or maybe like she just broke some secret fatty code...

A-ha! I bet that's it; they're really scandalized because one of their own took a chance, took the chance of displaying her blubber to the world without the decency to be obsessively self-conscious!

You have to understand, the white-collar slaves populating this country are some of the ugliest humans in the world - fat, saggy potato-people with butts like watermelons. They don't want other, prettier humans looking directly at them. Ever. So, for this lone fat chick to display her folds with confidence, that just won't fly.

"She thinks she's all that but she's not!"

"People like her really need to be stopped from looking like that."

"I don't think she even realizes..."

Translation: If I can't feel pretty, no one can.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Confessions of a Wage Slave, III

If you ever wonder how Americans can so consistently elect the most venal, mendacious squareheads, look no further than your own boss.

Melvin was a goddamn caricature of this norm - the mean, petty tyrant who heaps abuse on his underlings for sadistic thrill. I hope that cocksucker's choked to death on his own bile by now...

But that's the problem. That's how Modern Slavery perpetuates itself, dehumanizing the guy next to you, encouraging paranoia and cruelty until you've got a whole country that doesn't need a whole lot of convincing before bombing the shit out of a weaker country.

It's a bully culture and it keeps itself going through more bullying.

Melvin was the sort of thing Darwin would call "adaptive." He didn't fill the ocean with cold-blooded cannibals, he just found a way to swim in it. That's the harshest lesson you're going to have to learn: You can't win against the monsters because the system exists for them.

I learned that the way most hard lessons are learned - getting sacked. I refused to drive a delivery van with faulty breaks and no insurance. And Melvin, perfect archetype that he is, didn't even fire me to my face. Got HR to leave a voice message.

Yes, it's horribly unfair. And illegal. But what could I do about it? Sue him or the University? Suing him would eventually mean suing the University - then who wins? The recent college grad with four thousand dollars and a clunker to his name or the entrenched provincial oligarchy?

Yeah, I could've won the moral high ground, but I'd be unemployable in the town - and probably everywhere else - for the rest of my life.

So I moved on. Got another rotten job. The same as you.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Confessions of a Wage Slave, II

Every week I would hear the same complaints about the same person from my co-workers at General Dynamics.

This woman proved incapable of filing reports properly, responding to emails within the same fiscal year, or displaying any of the competence normally associated with someone who completed third grade. So, classic middle-management potential.

But her failures weren't the issue. No, the issue was her attitude. You see, this special ed case was rude! and that just won't do...

"Why, I'm going to fuss and fume to everyone within shouting distance until the problem goes away!"

It never occurred to these spinsters to hang up the phone, reject the reports, or anything else that would cause the offending party to maybe get her own shit together.

No, they had to resolve this in such a way that this woman could file another report incorrectly the next week and get the whole process rolling again. I'm not sure why this song and dance continued.

Maybe some cognitive dissonance from the passive-aggression drilled into southern ladies smacking head first into the aggressive-aggression to which all Americans are socialized: "I have to be polite to her, but I can't let her win! And not inviting her to the potluck isn't working!"

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Coward in Chief

The single most striking thing about Donald Trump's presidential campaign is also the single thing nobody in the respectable media will dare say aloud: The man is scared stupid.

I remarked on Mitt Romney having a similar problem some years ago, but Trump is much worse. Where Romney displayed the venal grasping typical of the business class, Trump's campaign is a desperate search for self-validation. He can't stop talking about his poll numbers or how he got such high marks as an undergrad, except when asserting for the umpteenth time that whatever demographic he just insulted really truly loves him. It's so transparent and yet no one will state the obvious that Donald Trump has crushingly low self-esteem.

For further proof, look at his defensiveness on, well, damn near everything. An offhand crack about his ugly hair sent Trump into a Twitter tirade, protesting too much at insinuations he wears a toupee. When Univision reporter Jorge Ramos asked him about his immigration policy, he panicked and had Ramos thrown out. Megyn Kelly had the temerity to question his choice of words and he spent the next week talking about her period! These are not the actions of a confident man.


He's gotten a tremendous amount of attention so far for two reasons: a) the only other campaign story is Hillary Clinton's emails and not a single person really gives a damn about that and b) Trump seeks out attention like that grubby kid who's single mom was always too drunk to pay any attention to him. Trump says ugly, hateful things for the same reason a fourteen year old who just discovered punk rock says "Fuck!" at the family dinner table. He needs attention to validate his monad existence, any attention at all. He is terrified of being thought a loser, which is a terror often found in losers.

It's a blatant and easily exploited weakness. Donald Trump insists everyone loves him because he just doesn't love himself. Take away the news cameras, the crowds of racist rubes, and he'll shrivel up in misery and self-loathing. Putting such a fragile person in any position of power, let alone at the head of the world's most heavily armed empire, is guaranteeing not just trouble but embarrasment. Donald Trump is so desperate for the affections of others that he'd bomb his own casinos in his first hundred days in office if Vladimir Putin said it would get him invited to the next Shanghai Cooperation Organization mixer.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Confessions of a Wage Slave, I

If you work in America you are suicidal. It's as simple as that. Every gainfully employed person in this country longs for death, pines for it, only survives the day with a deep-down hope for that sweet and final release.

Don't believe me?

"I can't wait until lunch..."

"Is it five yet?"

"Thank god this week is over..."

"Oh, I wish this month would hurry up and end!"

Yes, every working American - especially in the office - is in love with death, the only end to the rat race. Why else would someone wish so strongly for the hours of their own precious life to speed by?

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

All is Allowed, Nothing is Possible

Much like the Soviet Union co-opted Marxist rhetoric to justify Russian imperial ambitions, so do American libertarians co-opt the language of radicals from Bakunin to Bookchin to justify their own material comfort.

Case in point: John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods. The organic "green capitalism" grocery chain beloved by white liberals and supplied through cheap prison labor. That might seem a little incongruous at first - an avowed supporter of personal liberty benefitting from state incarceration - but it really makes perfect, awful sense when you factor in Mackey's hatred of unions and labor rights. 'Cause prison workers don't get that kinda liberty at all:
And it’s not just that Colorado’s prison laborers are cheap: Smith made clear that, as director of a prison labor program, he had more ways to motivate an employee than an ordinary boss. What would happen if a worker was late? I asked. “Straight back into the general population,” Smith said.
But that's par for the course for "libertarians" these days, isn't it? What once included such anti-property revolutionaries as Proudhon has degenerated into rationalization for the status quo. Rand Paul, of the perennial dark horse candidates, even took the side of the police against outraged protesters of Baltimore - a position that both goes all the way back to his father in the 1990s and reflects the dominant sentiment among the conspicuously white middle-class males who identify with the L word.

The most pressing "liberty" issue in America today - besides a woman's liberty in reproductive health - is the rate at which police assault and murder unnarmed citiznes. But you never hear modern libertarians talk about it; their victories thus far consist of lionizing Edward Snowden while conveniently forgetting all about Chelsea Manning. This highlights the solipsism at the heart of modern libertarianism: Manning exposed US complicity in war crimes while Snowden exposed a meta-data collection project. The thought of other office drones reading their emails is a much more threatening and galvanizing issue to libertarians than the murder of a couple thousand brown people whether abroad or in their own neighborhoods.

It gets down to the ugly guts of American culture, specifically the culture of not-too-rich but not-poor white dudes. The sorts who spend more time on Reddit than on dates and who swing their atheism like a cudgel, eager to "debate" religion despite their only experience being the bland Protestantism of Middle America. "Libertarianism" for this vast cohort isn't so much a coherent political theory as an identity, like a gamer or a furry (both disproportionately represented in this same crowd). The very name Reason Magazine is a signal to these sorts: "Come, our analysis is rational. If you parrot our pundityr, you too shall be as logical and infallible as Mr. Spock." They decry the opinions of others as sentimental  while celebrating their own cranky fixations as some empirical Good. They are, put simply, insufferable assholes.

And they never achieve real power. They can be born to it, like the Trumps and the Pauls and the Mackeys who arrived in this world with all the hard work of accumulation and network building done by their parents, but there's a noticeable lack of people who started from poverty and followed the Horatio Alger path to the Fortune 500. There is only hereditary plutocrats and a mass of suckers. While that's nothing new in history, these neofeudal dupes then go and piss all over the great works of the original libertarians, embracing the "privilege of some founded on the slavery of the rest" because it furnished them with an Xbox. They are not only authority-worshipping reactionaries but mendacious creeps who conflate the full expression of human liberty with rote, blinkered consumerism. Their ideal "freedom" is nothing but a gilded cage.

The late, great Joe Bageant said it best:
Freedom is freedom, and you have it across the board or you do not. It does not come piecemeal and is not defined by any single freedom. Human freedom is holistic -- full spectrum. It covers everything because, well, it's freedom.
The world of American libertarianism, with its reactionary twerps and hypocritical oligarchs, is about as far from freedom as you can get. It deserves to join it's cousin, Soviet Communism, in the trash bin of history.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Recovered History: Michael Moorcock on the Previous Generation of "Sad Puppies"

Earlier this year, the venerable Hugo Awards were vote-rigged and spammed by a conspiracy of neofascist lunkheads. This upset everyone who isn't a goddamn moron but also prompted a discussion on the politics of the sci-fi and fantasy genre that - for better or worse - dominates popular Anglo-American culture. Are the stories of spaceships and dragons getting too liberal and PC? Is there room anymore for "good old fashioned SF" - which for some reason always means Robert Heinlein's hackneyed Americana futures and never the brutal weirdness of Jack Vance.

Being an internet debate, it's miserably ignorant of history. Michael Moorcock, fantasy author and creator of the endearing rat-bastard Elric, answered these very questions back in 1977:

The bandit hero -- the underdog rebel -- so frequently becomes the political tyrant; and we are perpetually astonished! Such figures appeal to our infantile selves -- what is harmful about them in real life is that they are usually immature, without self-discipline, frequently surviving on their 'charm'. Fiction lets them stay, like Zorro or Robin Hood, perpetually charming. In reality they become petulant, childish, relying on a mixture of threats and self-pitying pleading, like any baby.

John W. Campbell, who in the late thirties took over Astounding Science Fiction Stories and created what many believe to be a major revolution in the development of sf, was the chief creator of the school known to buffs as 'Golden Age' sf and written by the likes of Heinlein, Asimov and A.E. Van Vogt wild-eyed paternalists to a man, fierce anti-socialists, whose work reflected the deep-seated conservatism of the majority of their readers, who saw a Bolshevik menace in every union meeting... They were xenophobic, smug and confident that the capitalist system would flourish throughout the universe, though they were, of course, against dictators and the worst sort of exploiters (no longer Jews but often still 'aliens'). Rugged individualism was the most sophisticated political concept they could manage -- in the pulp tradition, the Code of the West became the Code of the Space Frontier, and a spaceship captain had to do what a spaceship captain had to do...

Over the years Campbell promoted the mystical, quasi-scientific Scientology... a perpetual motion machine known as the 'Dean Drive', a series of plans to ensure that the highways weren't 'abused', and dozens of other half-baked notions, all in the context of cold-war thinking. He also, when faced with the Watts riots of the mid-sixties, seriously proposed and went on to proposing that there were 'natural' slaves who were unhappy if freed.

Heinlein's paternalism is at heart the same as Wayne's. In the final analysis it is a kind of easy-going militarism favoured by the veteran professional soldier -- the chain of command is complex -- many adult responsibilities can be left to that chain as long as broad, but firmly enforced, rules from 'high up' are adhered to. Heinlein is Eisenhower Man and his views seem to me to be more pernicious than ordinary infantile back-to-the-land Christian communism, with its mysticism and its hatred of technology. To be an anarchist, surely, is to reject authority but to accept self-discipline and community responsibility. To be a rugged individualist a la Heinlein and others is to be forever a child who must obey, charm and cajole to be tolerated by some benign, omniscient father: Rooster Coburn shuffling his feet in front of a judge he respects for his office...

Here's the full essay. It expands on some things I've touched on myself in the past but Moorcock is much better at placing the reactionary trend of genre fiction within a larger political context. For those of you too lazy to click the link, it's basically how Ayn Rand is to "liberty" what Adolph Hitler is to Hanukkah.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Straw Dogs of Europe

Greece is screwed.

I know that must sound like the easiest summation of current events but it really gets to the heart of the matter much more than any wrangling over debt and pensions and whatever else. By the end of the summer, Greece will either have surrendered its democracy to the ECB's glorified money laundering scheme, or they'll be in the orbit of the Kremlin. That's as lose-lose as it gets.

Others are saying just how much this is about power rather than fiscal policy: "almost none of the huge amount of money loaned to Greece has actually gone there... Greece has gotten but a pittance, but it has paid a high price to preserve [French and German] banking systems." But that's been clear to anyone willing to look for years now. It was inevitable that the ECB, IMF, and European Commission would keep pushing the Greek government on the unpopular - and perpetually failing - austerity measures that lead to Syriza sweeping the Samaras government out earlier this year.

What happens next has gotten much less attention. A bunch of think pieces here and there about a "Grexit" which all the Very Serious People agree would be much worse for Greece than just biting the pillow and accepting the Eurozone's terms. But very little talk about the biggest player waiting in the wings: Russia.

All the reporting on the manufactured Greek "crisis" has ignored anything outside the immediate Euro-American context. Western economists and pundits have ameliorated their fears of Greece leaving the Eurozone with the assumption that Syriza won't go that far due to the pain Greece would suffer from the resulting hyperinflation and lack of foreign investment - and the Greek economy is but a house of tourist dollars and euros. Except they never factored Russia into the equation as a potential trade partner for post-Eurozone Greece, something Putin obliquely proposed just recently.

Let's backtrack to some earlier European history. Following World War II, the US and UK worked to jump start the shattered economies of Western Europe while Stalin consolidated his control over the East. Tito and his Yugoslav partisans proved particularly problematic because Tito didn't much care for the Soviet model and had earned himself tremendous popularity by fighting Nazi occupation. While the rest of the Eastern Bloc sat out the Marshal Plan, Tito brokered his own deal with the US for millions of dollars gifted to Yugoslavia - not because the US was all that excited about Serbo-Croat self-determination but because it served a strategic role in the burgeoning Cold War.

Seventy years later and the same could very well play out again, this time with Russia adopting Greece as a jab at NATO and sanctions. Greece needs friends in the international community and Russia is already outside the "respectable" sphere of Euro-American power, so this would be a natural alliance. Some Greeks might even get a kick out of sticking it to the some priggish Brits and Yankees who helped extirpate their own heroic partisans at the same time Washington was cozying up to their socialist neighbors up north.

Except it's Russia. Being their ally has historically been about as healthy as being an enemy of Rome. Putin's territorial ambitions rival those of Stalin, he's just much more shrewd in his methods - the Siloviki can now holiday in Crimea like they did in the Brezhnev era, but you won't see any VDV parachuting into Ukraine no matter what the hysterical neocons say. Putin arguably believes in the Eurasianism he espouses - at least more than Stalin believed in Marxism - but like ol' Koba is determined that Russia be the "first among equals." Greece won't get Sovietized like the Poles or Czechs in 1950, but they'd still be a client state, beholden to the whims of the Kremlin as much as they're now beholden to French and German bankers.

But what options does Greece really have? The austerity imposed by the ECB broke the last government and the people in Syriza are smart enough to understand that buckling will cost them the next election. More importantly, the austerity still demanded by the Eurozone is simply untenable given the current Greek economy. A lawyer in Athens makes less these days than a dishwasher in Baltimore while university students dream of being moderately successful farmers. Talk to any Greek and they'll point to a feeling of hopelessness throughout the country, among all professions and classes. If one Great Power is threatening you with insolvency and a crushed economy, why not sign on with the other Great Power even if only out of spite?

That's the ugly reality of the Eurozone's failed love affair with austerity. At best they've broken one of their own members and kneecapped the periphery market Germany's much-vaunted economy desperately needs to maintain its own profits. At worst, they're pushing more of Europe into Russia's orbit. For Greece, it's two sides of the same bad future.