The Poseidon Misadventure

Conspiracy and the Occult, Culture, Economy, Justice, Plus ça change motherfuckers, Things that Actually Happen, Uncategorized, War and Politics

I’ve said before that the Democratic Party isn’t really a political party at all, but rather something closer to a think tank—a kind of failed academic enterprise whose principal output is dubious research written in the style of a press release and the occasional bemusing and ineffectual appearance on the cable news. Although they endlessly carp that dastardly Republican gerrymandering has locked them ever out of real legislative power, in point of fact it’s the institution of the Democratic Party that’s benefited. The GOP gave birth to a feisty swamp monster of Tea-Party activism. Convince yourself all you want that this was the result of Koch-Bros astroturfing; in reality, it’s the Republican Party that’s been roiled by primary challenges to established teat-suckers; it’s the Republican Party that’s tossed out its goldfish-mouthed leadership in favor of a class of politicians really committed to exercising power. The Democratic leadership looks hardly different than it has for my entire adult life, a grim and aging collection of Clinton apparatchiks totally secure in their sinecures—all the more so because the only time the party ever does use what power it has, it’s to quash any discontent from its base or its leftward flank. It would be tempting to call it a zombie, but a zombie is living dead; a zombie is compelled by a lustful, powerful hunger. A zombie is all appetite—it is more than alive. The GOP is a zombie. The Democratic Party is a ghost—diaphanous, spooky, and utterly unable to interact with the actual world. At best, it can rattle the pots, or leave a little trail of slime.

The ACA, which may or may not die in the Senate, only ever made sense as an intermediate step toward a universal provision of health care. It was a big, ugly, ungainly, cobbled-together thing that, for all the partisan paeans to its wonderfulness and indispensability, never really worked very well. The part that did work was Medicaid expansion. In other words, the part that worked was the single-payer program that the Democrats so ardently refused—continue to refuse—to endorse. Supposedly the party of incremental progress, they seem to view each increment as the final end state of civilization and history. America Is Already Great, and all that. In order to sell progress as incremental, a series of steps in a journey of miles, there must be some destination in mind, a vision of a truly better society, an ideal. But the Democrats don’t have ideals; they just need you to be scared of Republicans.

Well, fair enough. Republicans are scary, though given the alacrity with which the Democrats rushed to praise Donald Trump for blowing up another little piece of Syria, you have to imagine that this relative terror is a matter of proximity, that the farther you get from the border, the more it appears that the American government moves with an awful unanimity of terrible, singular purpose. Anyway, the thing about the health care debate, such as it is, is that while every Democrat voted no, no one bothered to articulate a compelling alternate vision. Republicans want to kill you! Yes, yes—look, life is a conspiracy against itself; we’re all gonna die. You become inured to this sort of thing after a while. What we want to hear is not that the seas are rising (the Republicans!) and we’re gonna die alone (the Republicans!) and tumorous on the street because our chemo costs $50,000 every half hour and a hangnail is a preexisting condition (the Republicans!). What we want to hear is that there can be a better world, that through collective endeavor we can as a people feed our poor, care for our sick, and find at least some better balance between our rapacity and the health of our planet. Instead we get negation; we get Trump is a meanie and Paul Ryan wants to eat your kids, which does not get the 40% of people whose boss is a meanie and who can’t pay their deductibles to the polls.

The specter of Democrats literally singing in the halls of Congress because they imagine that more than a year from now they’ll reap some reward from the GOP’s pettiness and failure to construct any real alternative system is just despicable. Who are these people? Even if the bill dies in the Senate, even if they take the house in 2018 . . . Liberals accuse the GOP of forgetting about people, of sacrificing public good to the cruel idols of their idées fixes, but it’s the ostensibly liberal party that is actually abstracted from the human mass; it’s Nancy Pelosi for whom this whole thing is just a career. The Republican Party steers the ship of state toward an iceberg, and from below decks, Steny Hoyer gleefully cackles that this sure is gonna reflect badly on the captain. Grab your life vests people, though they may not save you, because the water’s real cold.

At the Mountains of Badness

Art, Books and Literature, Conspiracy and the Occult, Culture, Media, Plus ça change motherfuckers, Poetry, Religion, The Life of the Mind, Uncategorized, War and Politics

This space has been traversed for nearly four months by Jared Kushner, whom I first met about 18 months ago, when he introduced himself after a foreign policy lecture I had given.

-Henry Kissinger

About suffering they were never right,
The Old Ones: how little they understood of fear,
An old man at the mountain when a god draws near
Still mostly pines for a restaurant that’s bright
Enough to read the menu, still delights
That the soup is hot, the winter roads kept clear.
Worshipful terror is for the young, the shear
Effort overwhelms. There was one night
Quite recently when I, arising from
My sleeping soil, called the car and went
To a cocktail party where I met the son-in-law
Of our most recent deity; he seemed
All right. I did not find it evident
That he was yet prepared for Saturn’s maw.
He smiled pleasantly and blankly beamed.

Rainbow of Fruits

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The value of Juicero is more than a glass of cold-
pressed juice. Much more. The value is in how easy
it is for a frazzled dad to knock the queasy
edge off the half case of Coors Extra Gold
he drank last night because his ex-wife told
him that he’d never keep them. The kids. Her breezy
iPhone alto happy. Remarried a cheesy
real-estate asshole with a Beemer and a billfold.
Fuck you, Kim. “Hey Daddy,” Jaiylyn calls,
“we’re gonna miss the bus.” He sighs and hits
the button. Nothing. The pouch, it seems, is one
day beyond the best-if-used. It all
becomes quite clear. He chews two aspirin, grits
his teeth, and goes to the closet to get his gun.

Even Hitler Didn’t

Art, Books and Literature, Conspiracy and the Occult, Culture, Media, Plus ça change motherfuckers, Poetry, The Life of the Mind, Things that Actually Happen, Uncategorized, War and Politics

Leave the seat up. Put the coffee grinds
in the sink. Use the water glass instead
of the wine glass. Leave just a heel of bread.
His secretaries thought him very kind.
His taste in music really was sublime.
His taste in art was lousy, and he mostly read
trash, but it’s true he’d fought well and bled
for his country. He loved his dog. In short, combined
a number of admirable qualities with those
few regrettable decisions that he made;
well, wouldn’t all of us, if forced to choose
between the genteel poverty that goes
with shitty painting and with global war, obey
the sentimental tug, and kill the Jews?

for Sean Spicer

From Russia, with Love

Conspiracy and the Occult, Culture, Economy, Media, Poetry, Uncategorized, War and Politics

WASHINGTON — An unusual question is capturing the attention of cyberspecialists, Russia experts and Democratic Party leaders in Philadelphia: Is Vladimir V. Putin trying to meddle in the American presidential election?

The New York Times

Out on the summer-melted steppe a cloud
of hungry, black and biting flies now hovers
over the brief wetlands like a lovers’
humming lips at your burning ear, loud
because he’s near to you, because you’ve allowed
yourself to press against him under the warm covers.
But the flies are actually all the whispering others
to whom you—meaning it—also avowed
to be faithful, love and cherish: you promised to keep
his secrets while between you there were no
secrets at all. And then, too soon, the fall
creeps back and the lengthening night brings a deep
and freezing chill, and the flies mate and go
to lay eggs and die. None of them ever call.

A Secret Memo

Conspiracy and the Occult, Culture, Justice, Media, Plus ça change motherfuckers, Poetry, Religion, Things that Actually Happen, Uncategorized, War and Politics

But the crucial issue is not when, but how.”

I will be with you, whatever.
But this is the moment to assess
Bluntly and boldly, whether

The danger is, as ever,
That action acts to make a mess
Which lingers with you, whatever

Plans, resources, clever
PR pitches you address
To your blunted people, whether

Or not they’re listening. Never
Forget our gaudy, tawdry press
Has stuffed them full of whatever

Trash they think is pleasure.
I hate them all. George, I confess
I can’t decide whether

Perhaps the better endeavor
Would be to self-invade. God bless
Us, be with us whatever
Chance, fate, or weather.

Eternal Recurring Meeting

Conspiracy and the Occult, Culture, Justice, Plus ça change motherfuckers, Poetry, Religion, Uncategorized, War and Politics

The Pentagon said Friday that it had killed ISIS’ finance minister, Abd al-Rahman Mustafa al-Qaduli, whom many analysts consider the group’s No. 2 leader.

CNN

The inbox full. The voicemail light is blinking.
Who leaves voicemail anymore? he asks
himself. There are too many red-flagged tasks
today. The boss called off. Sick? He’s drinking
again, for sure, and the worksheet isn’t linking
to the right data set. Each day, he masks
the long-dawned sense: his office is a cask-
et; he is dead already; Death is winking
at his glass door; his new assistant waits
in the wings for the whirring warning. Success? Success-
ion. Years ago he had a home, a wife.
Now he has a list of meeting dates.
When he explodes at last they’ll slap on some fresh
paint and give the next in line his life.

In Your Own Clever Way

Conspiracy and the Occult, Culture, Poetry, Things that Actually Happen, Uncategorized, War and Politics

1) You in your own voice describe them as “muscular”

Philippe Reines to Marc Ambinder

There’s nothing new here. We have known it all
since we grew out of our college commitments;
got our WaPo gigs; became assistants
to undersecretaries; bought our Falls
Church houses; unsolicited, got called
by Blitzer’s harried booker when a different
call-in pundit’s call was dropped. This persistent
shock that gambling’s going on recalls
that scene, you know the one, that quote I can’t
quite place my finger on; but why is it wrong
to give a little courtesy to those
on whom one’s access is dependent, grant
anonymity, bury a strong
lede from time to time, soften one’s prose?

For the Rest, Trump

Conspiracy and the Occult, Economy, Media, Plus ça change motherfuckers, Poetry, Uncategorized, War and Politics

Though in the wild he is not a Muss-
olini, or not quite, he has a dear-
ly bought and bald-headed public fear
that the old order’s order has shaken loose,
the locomotive stalled, the red caboose
has rolled off backward, feckless, foreign, queer;
the goggling passengers try to smile, sneer:
the question of ticket class is too abstruse,
and yet they have been left behind; they are
getting drunk and telling the waiter that
they’re going to have him fired, but their hist-
rionics never leave the dining car.
The bosses don’t care anyway. Back at
the station they quibble over who’s a fascist.

No Homo Economicus

Conspiracy and the Occult, Economy, Plus ça change motherfuckers, War and Politics

As a rule, I’m suspicious of economic explanations, because I regard economics as a fraudulent pseudoscience, although in my more charitable moments, I allow that it might just be a kind of Becherian proto-science, a vast expanse of arithmetical phlogiston that our descendant generations will regard as very nearly quaint. The civic discourse of the present era is completely dominated by economics; young pundits with degrees in philosophy begin to be taken seriously only when they start dropping its jargony solecisms into their op-eds. Economics actually claims to be both a behavioral science and a physical one, even though it appears to believe that its natural laws derive from the word problems at the back of the book than vice versa, and anyway it has a record of near total failure at figuring out why things actually happened or predicting if and when they will happen again. All that said, I’m going to propose a sort of economic explanation for the fact that the government just can’t stop spying on us.

I think we need to see programs like the NSA’s immense and unanswerable but also totally wasteful and unproductive spying program as a form of rent-seeking. That isn’t to say that it isn’t also weird, evil, sinister, and creepily totalitarian, and it isn’t necessarily to claim that it’s a sign of gross incompetence either. For instance: rent-seeking investment banks are very good at what they do, which is balling up other people’s money, auctioning it off, and charging everyone for the privilege of having someone else direct their losses. They are useless, unproductive, and destructive, and they can seem incompetent if you take as their task the purported reason for such institutions to exist, which is to generate wealth for their clients while directing their clients’ wealth toward investment in productive enterprise, but if you understand them for what they actually are, understand that the purpose of Goldman Sachs is to rob people to grow Goldman Sachs, then their incompetence begins to seem a little more like a form of genius.

Well, the surveillance state is at its root—and this isn’t to discount all of its other more nefarious acts and ends, but simply to regard them as symptomatic rather than causal—an ongoing argument for its own existence, a self-replicating machine whose only real purpose is itself. What on earth will the government do with all this data? Well, it will hire more people and discover that this particular dataset is broad but shallow which will necessitate gathering billions more bytes which will continue to have precisely the same effect of necessitating more, more, and more until, hopefully, one day the machines become actually intelligent and decide to devote their considerable processing power to something more necessary, like playing chess or writing metrical poetry.

Some of us nerds recognize it: information is still sufficiently scarce and finite to function as a kind of currency, and the spies are just taking a commission at every point of exchange, but at least when VISA does it with the old money some satisfied customer may walk away from some satisfied merchant. You might consider the NSA program, and others like it, as a kind of information tax without benefits—it’s an absolute requirement, universal and un-appealable, but it doesn’t even cold patch a pothole on the information superhighway. When Google maps your brain into a computer you might get a coupon out of it, some provision of service in exchange. In the meantime, while I believe that we should fight and protest these intrusions on our privacy and personhood, I also come down on the vaguely optimistic side; just as JP Morgan has no idea what to do with its billions other than make more billions, I don’t think the government can do much with this titanic volume of information but add to it. It is morally but not practically outrageous; it’s an exercise of mere accumulation, which isn’t a sign of malevolence so much as of a chronic and probably terminal decadence.