Hear, Hear

October 21, 2019 at 12:46 pm (By Amba) (, )

Caitlin Johnstone ends an essay of exquisitely layered, aged-spirits-soaked mille-feuille political paranoia (she’s been at this a long time, and her paranoias are positively fractal) with this disclaimer, which I salute as the last word.

It’s so weird how we move through life like it’s no big deal, like “Yeah, just a toothy, fingery ape monster who consumes the life force of other organisms and excretes them out its anus walking around and looking at stuff in a universe that nobody understands, whatever.” I mean, we get THIS. This strange, shimmering, mysterious world full of flying feather beasts and air we breathe parts of into our bloodstreams and electromagnetic radiation which we process with our ocular organs, and people are still waiting around for a miracle. The miracle already happened. The miracle is here. What’s already happening currently dwarfs any miracle anyone is currently praying for by infinity orders of magnitude. And we only get a few years here. So like, I dunno, maybe let’s worry less about wrong people on the internet. By all means push for changes in this world. But never lose sight of the fact that the Really Big Deal in any given moment is not whatever change you’re trying to make, but the fact that this world is here at all, and that you get to stand up and look around in it for a while.

Whatever else happens, humanity, do pause to pull your head out of your a** and poke it out into the miracle as often as you remember.


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The New Caesars

October 3, 2019 at 8:26 am (By Amba) (, )

Historian Claire Berlinski jokes that she’s “the Dear Abby of liberal democracy,” but she’s more like the Joan of Arc of liberal democracy, beating the bushes to raise an army. (Of course “liberal” has become a dirty word on both right and left, but it used to stand for an ideal claimed by both, the optimistic faith that freedom of thought and enterprise would bring out the best in people—with some healthy arguing over the details.) In Berlinski’s view, it’s giving way to “illiberal democracy” —”democracy without freedom.” She writes about the wave of “authoritarian populism” sweeping the world and of the “New Caesars” who (shades of the Roach Motel), once voted in, may make it impossible to vote them out.
This is worth reading. You can skip the hissy fit for unsubscribers at the beginning, and start with “The Dear Abby of Liberal Democracy,” and further down, “Newspeak: How Did We Get Here?” A couple of appetizers:
[to a reader in the Czech Republic] The first task: No despair. You may feel utterly overwhelmed by the weight of the illiberal forces lined up against you. … You will not be alone in feeling this way. But don’t succumb to this sentiment. This is a path to ruin. None of us can retreat, in the coming years—as we will surely be tempted—to the politics of internal exile. … We must learn from each others’ experiences … It’s especially important for ordinary American citizens to be in personal contact with citizens of what I call the laboratory countries, countries like yours—the countries where the New Caesars are experimenting with and perfecting their techniques.
* * *

[After quoting Orwell on “Newspeak”] The shrinking of our vocabularies … has not been imposed upon us. We’ve freely and willingly contracted our own verbal skills, our own reading skills, our own sense of nuance in our language … People who care about speaking and writing precisely—people who use the full range of the English language’s rich vocabulary, people who understand language as a subtle and nuanced tool—have become despised by both the right and the left as elitists.

This is perhaps an outgrowth of our commitment to egalitarianism, in that we are hostile to aristocracy in any form. Our educated elites were once a form of aristocracy. Perhaps they suffered so intensely from the shame of being aristocrats in an egalitarian country that they adopted not only the concerns of the popular classes, but their manner of speech. …

Whatever the causes of the diminution of the American vocabulary, it has had political effects. The effects are those Newspeak was designed to have. We lack the words we need to speak precisely and accurately about our own system of governance.
For more of this historically literate point of view, which may help to clarify your view of what’s going on in front of your eyes:
The New Caesarism: A Lexicon
The New Caesarism: A Lexicon, Part II

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Godzilla vs. Megalon

September 30, 2019 at 2:29 pm (By Amba, Uncategorized) ()

In The Law, human beings attempted to create an authority that would transcend their own best efforts to besmirch, evade, manipulate, and abuse it. A North Star of dispassionate justice that would shine far above the nonstop mud wrestling of human affairs.

In practice, of course, the law, a human product, has often been used as the protector of privilege or the refuge of scoundrels. But it is a work in progress, and over time it’s been hewn and refined and fought over toward something that begins to vaguely resemble the ideal of objectivity—to extend its protection to the powerless and its demand for accountability to the powerful, “without fear or favor.”

Those words, as you’ll see if you follow the link, arose in the context of journalism, which has now largely made a travesty of them. Only The Law is left.

(Digression: it’s interesting that the English, who tore through this globe creating, exploiting, and destroying with their mind-boggling drive to industrialize, capitalize, and colonize—a truth brought home to me by copyediting this forthcoming book—also created much of what we now know as The Law, and slowly, from Magna Carta to the reformers of the 19th century, broadened its protection, imperfectly, from the rights of property to the rights of the naked person.)

Here, you hear the authority and dignity of The Law awakening, shaking its wings, clearing its throat—not a moment too soon. Things have finally gone too far, rousing it from its “stony sleep,”  like the more-than-equal and opposite monster to Yeats’s in “The Second Coming“:

somewhere in sands of the desert   
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,   
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,   
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it   
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds. 

In The Law, we finally have a Godzilla to fight the Megalon of chaos.

Or, in a more mundane image, the parents burst through the door just as the kids who’ve been gleefully trashing the house are about to burn it down.

But The Law is no human parent. It’s our own imagining of a power authoritative and impartial enough to stop us from destroying each other and ourselves.


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Follow the Money. It Doesn’t Lead to Teachers.

September 8, 2019 at 10:17 am (By Amba) ()

Medium pundit Umair Haque’s anticapitalist rants can be over-the-top, but they can also be right on. His point below is not news, but it bears repeating, because we’ve become so resigned and dulled to it that we’re in danger of accepting it as normal.

[G]uys that self-evidently don’t know anything…not a thing…make millions — while a teacher can barely scrape together a middle class living…and even so, takes care of the kids in his or her charge on his or her own dime. Do you see a little bit what I mean by “incentives for knowledge being corroded so badly they’ve been twisted upside down”? I’m not speaking metaphorically. I’m speaking quite literally. The Bret Stephenses and Morning Joes of our society are paid colossal amounts. The teachers and adjunct professors of our society can barely make ends meet. The “hedge fund managers” and “traders” of our society are paid massive fortunes. The teachers and adjunct professors can barely raise families. Real incentives. Real money. Real lives. Real social outcomes, too. […]

Now, American pundits will point out the obvious at this juncture. Educated Americans make more than uneducated ones! How can you say incentives for knowledge have been corroded!! . . . It’s true that educated Americans make more. Why is that, though? It’s largely because kids with Ivy League degrees head off to Wall St and Silicon Valley…where they rake it in. For…doing precisely nothing of any real value to society. Targeting ads more finely…finding cleverer ways to pump and dump stocks…these things have no benefit whatsoever, they just accrue profit. It’s not “education” per se that’s being employed here. It’s just that a specific kind of technical knowledge is worth more to capitalism than anything else.

Hence, if you have a PhD in physics, Wall St will pay you a fortune. But if you have a PhD in English…nobody will pay you much at all. But hold on: it’s the PhD in English that might have helped explain how the rhetoric of authoritarianism erodes the norms and values of a democracy, how today’s demagogues echo yesterday’s dictators, how to fight back against them using words and concepts. See my point? Nobody will reward you for having a PhD or even a Masters’ in our society outside a set of very, very narrow disciplines — mostly mathematical, mostly technical, all corporate. That’s because that kind of narrow skillset can be employed to maximize profit, to write more efficient algorithms, to optimize the code.

UPDATE: Bonus rant by Umair Haque—colonialism redux:

The deal that we — the rich world — offered the poor one doesn’t work anymore. It never did. It went like this. You’re poor. We’re rich. We’ll pay you to make the stuff that we need — but only as little as humanly possible, with the least respect for your rights, dignity, and development. We don’t care if your kids labour in sweatshops. We don’t care if your rivers and forests get chewed up. We don’t care if you never have a democracy. We only care about getting our stuff — as cheaply as possible.

That’s global predatory capitalism in a nutshell — the deal America came up with for the globe. Does it sound suspiciously like colonialism to you? It should. Colonialism’s logic was exactly the same, whether practiced by the British in India, the French in Indochina, or America in its very own south. If we can’t enslave you, we’ll pay you as little as possible, with as little respect for your human potential, to make our stuff. Take it — or leave it. (And, by the way, if you leave it? We’ll hit you with sanctions, maybe even bombs, probably CIA coups and plots. So you’d better…take it.)


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Garry Wills Links Gun Rights to Slavery

September 7, 2019 at 2:27 pm (By Amba) ()

From the New York Review of Books newsletter (I added the red bolds):

This week we published an essay by the historian, writer, and longtime Review contributor Garry Wills titled “The Rights of Guns.” After the recent series of mass shootings—in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso and Odessa, Texas—one might say that it was timely. But there’s a sense in which a reflection on the hold that guns and gun rights have on American society is never not timely.

Wills’s piece this week ends with the observation that the Second Amendment worship that enables this cycle of death is akin to religious idolatry—taking us back to the mordant piece he wrote for the Daily on this theme in 2012, “Our Moloch,” in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook school shooting. It is a melancholy fact that, with every new mass shooting, we see an uptick in people sharing and reading that piece. […]

The distortion of “gun rights” has been a long-running theme [for Wills], dating back at least to a learned 1995 essay for the Review on the constitutional debate over the right to “bear arms.”

There, he explains that Madison granted the Second Amendment essentially as a compromise […] to win acceptance for the rest of his Bill of Rights. But in our email exchange this week, he offered an even darker interpretation of this compromise:

“I am now even more convinced that Madison added the Second Amendment under pressure from his Virginia foe Patrick Henry, who opposed the Constitution without protection for the militia as a slave-compelling power and for arsenals (‘keep and bear arms’) to store military resources against slave rebellions, a deep and constant fear in the South.”

Patrick Henry?? “Give me liberty or give me death” Patrick Henry?

I really must clean out the rest of my 1950s grade-school version of American history. See Dick run. Run, Dick, run!

More on Wills: He advocated “Distributism,” which he described as “against both unchecked capitalism and socialism, respecting property but distributing it.” (William Buckley told him that wasn’t conservative—too anticapitalist. Wills reportedly got the idea from the great conservative writer G. K. Chesterton.)

And he apparently advocates Warren:

[B]ack in 2015 he’d written a piece for the Daily urging Elizabeth Warren not to run. (His point there was that her best work was championing people’s interests against those of bankers and using her influence to pull Hillary Clinton further from the clutches of Wall Street.) But what about now?

“Warren was useful in the Senate before Trump. She is essential in the White House after Trump,” Wills said. “Who does the government work for?”

(I’d link to the newsletter, but it seems to exist only in inboxes.)


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Two good articles

September 6, 2019 at 6:34 am (By Amba) (, )

about the promise hidden in American decline and fall.

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Removed from Twitter

September 5, 2019 at 5:00 pm (By Amba) ()

(I will not just replace Facebook with another social medium. If FB is fentanyl, Twitter is not Tylenol. Not methadone. It’s heroin. If I have to write something I’ll write it here. Let it fester in darkness.)

  • Just a hunch, but I think Trump is skating closer to a 25th amendment intervention than he is to impeachment.
  • That said, as long as he is useful to the Republicans, they’ll strive to cover up his mental disability as the Democrats did FDR’s and JFK’s physical disabilities.*
  • It’s a bizarre race against time: Will he completely lose it before they can get him reelected? He is magic for them.
  • He delivers a white working class that will believe whatever he says no matter what he does, and evangelicals who see him as the savior of The Traditional Family (which has always included mistresses, and abortions for them, as its “dark matter”).


*and as the Republicans did Ronald Reagan’s Alzheimer’s

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Not so fast with the optimism, buddy!

April 4, 2014 at 4:35 pm (Icepick) (, )

CAVEAT: I try to avoid political posts here at Ambiance. But today, as yesterday, there is some economic news worthy of note.

The new jobs report was released today. I have heard a few people make some optimistic noises about the fact that private sector jobs have matched the 2008 peak in terms of numbers. (See here, for example, though they do have the decency to caveat the hell out of the article.)

What I’m not hearing, and don’t expect to hear from the Administration, is a comment about full-time jobs. As of March 1 2014, the US economy had 3,872,000 FEWER full-time jobs than it did at its peak in November 2007. And that’s after almost five years of recovery.


And given that the working age population has grown considerably in the intervening years, the employment situation is actually even worse than it appears.

So don’t let the bastards tell you how goddamned good we’ve got it, and what a wonderful job they’ve done. Because it just ain’t so.

(Sorry, I’ve been trying to get the graph to embed, but wordpress isn’t accepting the FRED site’s code. I’ll see what I can do to fix it later.)

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I’m Against It

February 12, 2013 at 3:12 pm (By Tim) (, , )

I apologize for importuning you lately with my odd musical tastes. This has been done to make trials here of materials for a Music Appreciation blog for the school where I teach. Knowing that politics trumps polyphony, and that several of you have been disturbed over the years by my seeming to be a wussy Northeast liberal, I thought I’d try my hand at something purely political.

As I say, people frequently take offense when they discover I am not strong in party-feeling or love of faction. I tell such persons, if they must know which side I adhere to, they ought consult Addison:

The Spectator.
No. 117. Saturday, July 14, 1711.

… Ipsi sibi somnia fingunt.

There are some Opinions in which a Man should stand Neuter, without engaging his Assent to one side or the other. Such a hovering Faith as this, which refuses to settle upon any Determination, is absolutely necessary to a Mind that is careful to avoid Errors and Prepossessions. When the Arguments press equally on both sides in Matters that are indifferent to us, the safest Method is to give up our selves to neither.

This principle lies close to the foundation of my opinions. Further, Marx gives stronger standards for the practical conduct of life in the modern world that I have adopted as my own:

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Political Stuff

October 28, 2012 at 7:09 pm (Icepick) (, , , , , , )

For those eager to discuss politics I have a few posts with observations of the Orange County, Florida political landscape over at my place. I kept at the political yard sign counting in an effort to gauge the political intensity of the Presidential race down here. Since we’re in the swing part of a swing state it actually has some relevance! (Short version: I believe but am not certain that Romney will win Orange County and Florida. Some of the latest polling agrees with that assessment.)

Anyway, I try to avoid politics over here, but not over there. So if that’s what you want please feel free to join in. I’ll be posting about how I’m going to vote soon as well. I’ve been in the Attila the Hun American camp but I’m wavering.

And the REALLY good news is we’ve only got about nine more days of this crap. After the election we’ll get some fresh Hell to blight our political landscape.

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