Sunday, March 19, 2017

Plus ça Change

At a recent seance, the Charles Street astrologer channeled Shelley, adding two centuries and subtracting two years. This is what she uttered in her trance:

America in 2017

A liar and a hack, by hackers from afar controlled;
Masks, façades, charades, effrontery– a cruel smile;
Lackeys lick his ass, pan his drivel for fools’ gold.
Scorned and scornful; dispensable, despised, and vile–
Feckless, frivolous, vain; obscene above the fold,
He contradicts himself, and boasts it proves his guile.
Democracy is finished by a mountebank’s tongue,–
Her soldiers felled; her Constitution warped and creased;
Thugs come to plunder innocents they move among;
(Lambs to arctic cyclones shorn, their treasure fleeced);
His victims cannot yet complain that they were stung,–
Trust betrayed– Believe me!is Trust thereby increased,
Just as belligerence brings revenues of rest for the deceased
Whose graves inglorious phantoms haunt, in mud and dung:
Tempestuous days, demanding dirges only to be sung.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Neoliberalism, Postcapitalism, and Resistance

He tells it like it is!  
   He believes it as it isn’t!

Our side has taken heavy casualties. Our ship of State is sinking fast, hulled below the waterline by cryptographic saboteurs. On a single day this week, this blogger’s unit lost two valiant companions in our long and bitterly fought retreat from global aspirations toward eunomy, interdependence, tolerance, secularism, and popular sovereignty. 

We learned that our nation’s intelligence capability has been mortally compromised. Diplomacy is discarded by our rulers as wasteful cookie-pushing and surrender, best replaced by belligerent saber-rattling from a position of fortified isolation. Faced with the dual challenges of repudiation and attrition, Parthian leadership assembled a council of war to discuss strategies of resistance. The bureaucratic rear guard’s intentions and intuitions have already been hacked, and we now publish their minutes, courtesy of Sikhi-Leeks.

Expert economists identified a global force that fuels superficially disparate phenomena, including Brexit, the rise of Trump, the misery of Greece, and resurgence of gratuitously cruel forms nationalist chauvinism that we see flourishing throughout the developed world. The determinant material cause of worldwide turmoil and despair is income inequality, which results not so much from the machinations of malicious predators and rent-seekers as it simply represents a natural and unintended, morally innocent product of capital’s tendency to accumulate faster than wages, when both  components of GDP are organized by a system of exclusive ownership rights. The extremes of maldistribution were geometrically demonstrated over a generous slice of modern economic history by Thomas Piketty. Paul Mason’s Postcapitalism carries Piketty's critique forward, with insights traced back to Karl Marx.

Sociological field-workers and political scientists described the mechanisms and processes that convert the public from a body of citizens united by shared patriotism into a fractured, angry and polarized collection of alienated individual gun-and-flag fetishists struggling to survive in a rigged game of musical chairs. As we separately hang, we cling to ephemeral illusions of solidarity provided by identity politics. (To paraphrase an elite slogan, “For God, for Country, and for Yale.” Put “Party” in place of “Yale”, and invert the order.)

The prevalent attitude of us vs them has set the stage for a bumptious authoritarian demagogue to exploit our vulnerabilities, and gain control of the state, with assistance from and coordination by foreign enemy handlers. With the levers of state power firmly in hand, his crew of plundering thugs are working busily to establish a rigidly policed heritable kleptocracy. The demagogue is a deranged, spoiled and stupid diva, but his very deficits define his charisma*, as the personification of grievance and resentment, performed in the vulgar theater of professional wrestlers and beauty pageants. We hope vainly to see a day when his audience wearies of routines designed to induce hypnosis, hysteria, and unquestioning personal loyalty.

The figure of Hilary Clinton formed a perfect bulls-eye at the center of Trump’s targeted scapegoat elite. Her program, personality, and “unearned” privilege constitute a living, condescending reproach, not only to rednecks and bigots, but to everyone who tithes to a megachurch, lives in flyover country, and forms her opinions on the basis of shared faith and trust in conformity with her neighbors' opinions. Trump's core supporter depends for her or his mental equilibrium upon regular bouts of emotional catharsis achieved through escalating frenzies of self-improvement, self-help, and rapturous self-transcendence, supplemented or supplanted in the hardest cases by opioids and alcohol. Abandoned fields and factories provide fallow ground for harvesters of latent animosity on the wavelengths of hate radio, and the output spewing from sensationalist pseudo-newscasters. 

These disgusting dynamics of provocation by enlightened cosmopolitan neo-liberal devotees of open borders, free trade, and collective security arrangements faced across the barricades by a militant defensive reaction of informationally challenged militants energized by paranoid faith-healers (whose mental worlds persist from the days of pre-Renaissance theological combat) provide us with the best summary so far of the renewed crisis of this century.

Can Putin’s puppet tell us what is to be done?

*Charisma is a phenomenon of infectious empathy, amplified by crowd hysteria. It is predicated on predication– that is to say, preaching, a form of fervid assertion, often from a text, unsupported by further demonstration or corroboration,  At bottom, the vector of charisma is faith, and faith rests upon trust invested from a depleting, finite stock of lifetime disillusionment. Tuition for the school of hard knocks exhausts our initial funds of innocence rapidly. Hard-won wisdom may be accelerated by inoculation with the inactivated virus of education. 

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Charisma of the Daft

Political paranoia (American style) dominates the most powerful counsels at the apex of our political pyramid. Grassroots resistance to illegitimate authority and wicked projections of positive law has begun to dissipate in fervent, frequent,  but unavailing gestures of protest. The liberal majority and the true conservative minority exhaust their energy in Parthian skirmishes on behalf of Democracy and Decency, as Trumpism consolidates its triumph. 

Viewing this spectacle from behind the lines, a wizened veteran of Parthian warfare suggests that we are apt to ignore important features of this struggle because the Muscovy Duck teases us into a vain effort to clear the smoke, wipe the mirror, and see the naked face of autocracy. Parthian thinks we must interpret the abundant intelligence we find in the public record,  considering every disturbing conclusion that recent experience clearly supports.

Starting with the Duck itself, we can see that it gains an advantage from its manifest madness. The charisma of chronic grievance, and the hypnotic appeal of brutal and repetitive propaganda have effectively cemented the loyalty of its faithful flock. Prophets and saints through history provide many examples of “leaders” who are mad with grandiosity, claims of magical authority, and appeals to faith in lieu of proof. To be as dangerous to self-government as the worst of them are, these decoys must be privately crazy and publicly mad. What does this imply in the current circumstances of the Republic?

Madmen may be empowered by their psychopathology, but they are in equal measure disabled by their condition. They need keepers. Our Muscovy Duck has had a succession of keepers. The struggle inside the White House is basically a story about the identities and alliances of contending wielders of a powerful tool that tends to break down. These domestic duck-minders appear to be comprised chiefly of mercenary opportunists. Some may be in the game for themselves, but many of them are “connected” with deep pockets and despots based in Russia. Continued investigation into the strands of the Russian leash (is it loans or sexual fetishes or both?) is a valuable pursuit for the short remaining interval before the Duck falls from his precarious perch on the ledge of reason. 

Until the 25th Amendment delivers us, however, Parthian doctrine teaches us to look at what is in plain sight. Look for the contemporary equivalent of FDR’s inconspicuous but necessary wheelchair. Look for the psychiatric attendant. Is s/he concealed in plain sight among the Secret Service minders? Or is s/he a member or lackey of the “inner circle” who is really a handler who holds a dose of sedative or lithium that will prove to be more vital to our collective survival than the nuclear codes, because s/he alone can keep him from the trigger by declaring a medical emergency? 

Now, there’s a paranoid but persuasive Where's Waldo exercise we all should take to heart!

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

A Prophet seven years before his time

A chance encounter on a remainder table downstairs in the Harvard Book Store took me to this passage from A Colossal Wreck, by the Irish-born Humboldt County pro-gun, pro-life, libertarian leftie anarchist Alexander Cockburn. His words are more incisive and insightful than the blurbs on the slipcover. 

May 24, 2009

…another powerful strain in the genetic coding of the Tea Party as a right-wing populist movement– a strong racist antipathy to blacks and browns, symbolized most vividly for them by Barack Obama, whom many Tea Partiers believe was born in either Kenya or Indonesia and therefore has no right to be lodged in the White House, no matter how many votes he won in 2008….

America is a discontented place. Unemployment remains high. Liberals are disappointed in Obama but lack any of the fire that the Tea Partiers have in their bellies. The established parties are widely despised, as is “big government.” Rand Paul’s [Kentucky Senatorial] victory is the augury of a turbulent time. The demands for “change” are far greater than Obama and the Democratic and Republican leadership ever bargained for.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The Muscovy Duck

Evidence, Proof, and Political Paranoia

Evidence, Proof, and Political Paranoia 

Watching the first weeks of our national humiliation, it is easy to understand how Parisians must have felt as the Nazis marched triumphant down the Champs Élysées. We are witnessing a rapid and bloodless surrender of our constitutional democracy.  What once made the United States seem to itself enviably exceptional and to others incredibly lucky in its constitutional design has been shown to be ridiculously vulnerable. We have been conquered by a foreign adversary who mounted a surprisingly cheap invasion across a perimeter that our defense establishment left too long unguarded. We lost our democracy to militarized digits– to foreign hackers, domestic pawns and a sandbox demagogue.

The proof is before our eyes, those privileged sensors of worldly fact. Stand aside from the gaslit melodrama that occupies the national proscenium, and consult your working definition of madness. Consider the symptoms you would list to justify a family intervention, or a psychiatric evaluation.  You will immediately notice  the defining features of our national Muscovy Duck.

The incumbent’s psychopathology is compounded of:
  • an uncontrollable urge to lie, deny, and disregard refutation that can often be summoned “in real time” with a photograph or sound bite 
  • disrupted sleep, disturbed by mood swings with fantasies of retribution and domination
  • sociopathic avarice, coupled with a zero-sum approach to every economic or social transaction. Every human exchange is scored in dollars or Hefnermetrics.
  • begrudgery towards superior intellectual, artistic, or heroic figures
  • phobic pre-pubescent obsession with bodily fluids, germs, and sexual doubts 
  • guileless professions of innocence voiced as if by a three-year-old caught with her hand in the cookie jar
  • fascination with counterfactual and conspiratorial fantasy stories and speculations
The Incumbent’s infantile egotism demands constant attention from nurses, yes-men, and opportunistic professional flatterers and distraction artists.  He will always have a Rasputin at his side. 

The electorate sees only the boastful façade. In healthy democracies, the press and other institutions provide voters with a surfeit of basic biographical and financial information about candidates contesting for elective office. Debates and disputes turn on questions of emphasis, selected tidbits from a full menu of narrative data points. In the desert of evidence where the demagogue flourishes, we have scarcely a clue to the caprices and capers we must expect to see in the executive. Our only reliable clue is a common thread, distinguished by its bright red color.  We do not know:

  • the extent of the incumbent’s foreign and domestic financial entanglements
  • his mental health history
  • his pharmaceutical regimen, nor what portion of it is psychotropic 
  • we have yet to see a credible and impartial clinical assessment of his physical condition 
  • we will likely be last to know who holds dossiers documenting his debaucheries and depravities 
  • He is keen to hide his interests and agenda.  He hides whatever drives him from himself as much as he does from the public. 

He “ran the table”– a table that was rigged at a critical margin by deft disclosures of hacked messages, improper and asymmetric announcements and innuendo issued by his opponent’s adversaries in the civil service, and tactical errors and misjudgments of Clinton’s campaign managers, who were limited by their candidate’s public performance as Central Casting’s quintessential version of Tom Sawyer’s Aunt Sally. 

The incumbent admits that financial and physical health disclosures and proof of compliance with the Emoluments Clause are legally relevant to his qualification to seek or hold the office of Commander in Chief. But he has not been forthcoming. He is in the position of a litigant ordered to reveal relevant information in a timely fashion. Time has run out. The usual and entirely proper sanction for refusing to make full and timely civil discovery in a legal contest is to impute admission of the other side’s most negative interpretation of improperly concealed matter, and to construe known circumstances in the light most prejudicial to that recalcitrant party. 

What is the appropriate sanction for contempt of the premises required for democracy to function in a political contest? From a legal perspective,  the incumbent is now precluded from contesting his status as a duck, and his leash prevents him from flying from it anyway.

The professional journalists who are tasked with the duty to develop the “record” required to sustain legitimate political contests lack subpoena power, and they have proven unable to obtain a binding discovery order compelling the usual disclosures from the bench of public opinion.They are left with their venerable ethic that demands proof through a double source, and their allegiance to an ill-defined yet rigorous dichotomy between fact and opinion. Met by stonewalls at every turn, they are beginning to appreciate that they are trapped. They will know for sure when the turnkey comes around at bedtime and locks the cell.  

In addition to their ambivalent flirtation with the adjective “lie” to identify misinformation (when scrupulous accuracy would insist upon “lie or delusion”, in deference to the mental disability discussed above), the journalistic professions should foreground the mass of rebuttable presumptions that all of us are duty bound as responsible citizens to accept as facts until they are fully rebutted. The opposition dossier from the retired MI6 consultant should be the incumbent’s problem, not a problem for the responsible press. The contents of the outtakes in the production records of The Apprentice should be taken as asserted by the persons who remember being there– although the best evidence is available to the incumbent. All of these and other facts should be reported as facts to the best of our knowledge, and beyond the capacity of the groper to deny.

The most significant of the presumable facts is the Russian connection. Manafort and then Bannon, and other members of the regency have mercenary connections with Putin, and ample opportunity to exploit them. They must be deemed Russian agents, and the incumbent a Russian pawn.

Thus our incumbent is framed (indicted, if you prefer) by an ever-increasing body of incriminating circumstances. His behaviors are most economically described by the metaphors of marionette theatre. He must be convicted and removed from office forthwith.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Words for a Gynemicturoscoptophile*

The superstitious are the same in society as cowards in an army; they themselves are seized with a panic fear, and communicate it to others.
–Voltaire, “Letter to the Soul”

Salute the forty-fifth incumbent for his own distinctive style–
Mocking and mimicry; the offhand jocular grope;
Sudden rages so reckless, feckless, furious, and vile–
The boasting, and little paws that clutch his bar of soap.

Aye, derisive antic mockery; the uninvited grope,
His cowardly bravado on perpetual display,
and those tiny mitts seek absolution rubbing soap
although his self-defilement he'll never wash away;

The threatening demeanor, the alpha chimp’s display,
Reveal a bully’s fright-mask, fronting for a fear–
Disapproving journalists who bat his lies away
Or clinical exposure of the kinks that keep him queer!

This Líder is the vector of an epidemic fear–
Undignified vulgarian, devoid of earned respect:
Every protocol of decency he aims to render queer.
A madman steers our spacecraft, yet no one can eject!

Sullen rages, reckless, feckless, spurious and vile
Pollute the forty-fifth incumbent’s charismatic style!

* Technical term for the Members of the International Order of Chevaliers du Douche d'Or. The U.S. Chapter recognized as the Presidential Fellowship of the Golden Shower.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Trump’s Only Path – Why Trump will Rule, but Never Govern

Trump is unpopular but he denies it and he says he doesn’t care. Trump is petty and vindictive, but that shows he does care– about respect and deference for his domination. He would rather gain popularity from sentiments of fear and awe than from gratitude for fulfilling forgotten and impossible promises. Bad and unpopular policies, corruption and plunder: these are of no significance to Trump, unless his follies and predations are exposed and the exposure triggers defections among his corps of fanatic followers. That won’t happen. They won’t know what hit them.

Trump will tell his true believers why they do not benefit from the successes he constantly proclaims. First and foremost, he will rant that he is too often balked or stymied by the bureaucracy, but also by the other branches– the Congress and the Courts. His exercise of the appointment power will eventually remedy the latter, and his threat of immediate reprisals will check intra-party opponents. The leverage of deep pockets, the availability of “purer” primary opponents, and the diminished power of the major political parties were already worrisome to incumbents, the vast majority of whom are opportunistic careerists.  

Trump won’t need to wait for the next election to punish his opponents. Trump will give the dial a further twist, and put them in fear for their lives. He will devote a Huge portion of his [public service] time to visiting the constituencies of recalcitrants, where he will hold 2nd Amendment-intensive vigilante rallies. He will blame his failures upon the fact that he has opposition. Opposition is inconvenient, inefficient. It gets in his way. Their way. 

Trump ran an incendiary campaign, and the fire he lit is now well beyond his control. Since he cannot deliver the recovery of his imaginary America’s putative “Greatness”, Trump must stoke the resentments that fuel loyalty to his vicarious magnificence. To that end, he must scapegoat the civil servants who comprise the Permanent Government until he gains unquestioning and leakproof compliance with his dictates; but more importantly, he must consolidate and expand zones of government classified secrecy and opacity to include his private profiteering, and his conflictual overseas interests as well as his tax returns and balance sheet. We may confidently expect Trump’s attacks on the press to form the centerpiece of his relentless, vicious, and merciless rallies. 

Our hopes for recovery of Constitutional government may depend upon the integrity of Jeff Bezos, or the Mexican patriotism of Carlos Slim. Their willingness to endure financial sacrifice may be the last bulwark of a free press and hence the rule of law: the exceptional, true, and very fragile American Dream.  The sad dilapidation of our constitutional structure has come to this: survival of the United States rests upon the integrity of a few individuals, much more than it depends upon public opinion or the decision of citizens who vote. Indeed, before the debacle of Trumpism is finished, we may come to rely upon the Mormons, the Koch brothers, and a military that knows the limits of Presidential power, to draw a line allowing the willing remnants of the GOP to initiate impeachment.

Tally the Rallies, and Make a Plan B!

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Major Advances on the Road to Dystopia

Last week, a grizzled Parthian veteran narrowly escaped being conned by a cold-calling robot. He began to wonder how much of his instinctual wariness had been eroded by age– how else could he account for the ability of a machine to keep him listening so far into her spiel? The veteran was no fool: he knew that his infirmity and seniority had been mined from his on-line activity, and that he was included on one of the more expensive demographically focused lists of land line phone numbers sold to shysters looking for a quick buck by exploiting early evidence of HDD.

Heuristic Deficit Disorder occurs in the general electorate, obviously; but it has not gotten the attention it deserves from investigators of the decaying brain. Before memory loss becomes obvious to the sufferer or his intimates, he experiences doubt about the reliability of his habits, his short-term memory, and his immediate plans. His first recourse is to rely tacitly and increasingly upon trusted others in his nuclear social network for confirmation and validation of his functional autonomy. As we age, we must be alert for this prodromal indicator of trouble ahead. Today, marketers (assisted by AI algorithms) may be more sophisticated diagnosticians than physicians.

As best he can remember, the robot’s relatively low-tech pitch went like this:


“Hello, ____, can you hear me?” [brief moment of static prevents immediate response].
“I’ve been having a problem with my headphones, [sudden increase in volume and clarity of the bright female voice] but I think we left our last conversation unfinished. I wanted to be sure you knew of our [extraordinary offer of a paid cruise and vacation to see a time-share property, or whatever else was promised].”

The artfulness of the con consisted in the brief technical disturbance at the outset, the clarity of the recorded voice (and her ability to insinuate credibly a previous business relationship), and her timing. Her timing was adjusted perfectly to allow no moment for interjection during the spiel. The vulnerability of the ruse consisted in its hackneyed hyperbole, the “wait, wait, there’s more!” as the script escalated its catalog of enticements.

The Arrow was reminded of this incident when he saw the New York Times coverage of dramatic improvements in the performance of Google Translate. According to the report, Google engineers had developed Artificial Intelligence software that is capable of rendering idiomatic and accurate translations from one language to another that are so convincing (if your prose style approximates Hemingway rather more than Faulkner) that we can see in the very near future a day when a server can pass the Turing Test.

We should have seen this coming faster than futurists predicted. The alternate reality proclaimed by Bannon and Trump, Murdoch and Hannity, proved that confident assertions of fictional conspiracies can be devised on the fly by real human actors.  Proficiency in the art of propaganda and the Big Lie requires less talent and training, and less creativity than machine translation. All that it requires is the subtraction of scruples. Or a lesion in the forebrain that prevents the victim from gaining a conscience about factuality, evidence, truth. To label the current purveyors of deceit as sociopaths may have some taxonomical advantages. It may even spur discovery of therapeutic devices, such as education, to address the few who are motivated to abandon their lucrative predations on the credulity of the large population of people who suffer from acute HDD.

No matter how hard fought the battle may be that we now face to establish a baseline of grounded and irrefutable truth, the victory will not go to the champions of reality once reality itself is an article to be produced, reproduced, replaced, amended, and ubiquitously asserted by machinery. Machines producing artificial political ‘reality’ may already exist. They seem certain to exist in the near future. One of their most worrisome outputs will not be waves of propaganda masquerading as fact, but the technological replacement of journalists by factitious reporters of plausible truths, peeking out from behind the curtain, where Putin and Trump, the wizards of schmooze, reign supreme. 

Saturday, December 3, 2016

The Disloyalty of Opposing Trump

The President-elect’s psychopathologies are well-known; his ignorance is on daily display.  The Press has begun to criticize people nominated to occupy positions of influence. Columns are devoted to speculating about the limits of Trump’s susceptibility to psychological manipulation. Who will prove best able control Trump’s vindictiveness, venality, and vanity?  Talk of political give and take is beside the point, if “politics” is no longer a matter of agendas, programs or policies. Here is how authoritarian rule will be established:

Rallies. Trump knows how to work an audience into a mob. He is addicted to adulation. He is a practiced demagog, who knows instinctively the tedious ritual that delivers mass hypnosis and hysteria. His mastery of crowds is the key to his power. He will demand and get more frequent and bigger rallies. As their size and fervency grows, so will Trump’s power to intimidate his party’s leaders. His first order of business will be to find a stage-manager for his spectacles. The second and more dangerous feature of his mobilization strategy will be his need to focus and direct the mob’s energy against selected scapegoats.

Suppression of the [Lame Stream] Media. Trump will start the process by intense attacks aimed at the already demonized press. He will refuse to hold press conferences, and rely instead upon the propagation of deceitful tweets. Once he consolidates a firmer grip on the judiciary, he will deliver on his threat to revise libel laws, and he will [ab]use his access to blackmail-worthy material (in the manner of J. Edgar Hoover) to limit and distort information about his administration. 

Emergencies and Disorders. Trump will dine with relish on protest marches and organized resistance by sanctuary cities, or other forms of civil disobedience. Riots will be provoked in order to be suppressed. He will encourage his partisans to “meet” violence with more violence, until he can justify the imposition of martial law. He will demand and receive unquestioned loyalty, enforced by harsh policing methods. Suspected categories will find their ranks tested though massive deployment of the technical resources of Big Brother. 

Subversive Conspiracies. The final phase of the forfeiture of our constitutional order will be a revival of the familiar phenomena of McCarthyism. Ted Cruz, Chris Christie, or Rudy Juliani– or all three of them– will be designated to lead “investigations” designed to delegitimize the defunded Planned Parenthood membership, as well as the ACLU, collective bargaining entities, and every other form of organized opposition.

You cannot deny you were forewarned, by history, and by sound prophecy!