Wednesday, February 06, 2008


Naomi Klein has a fascinating and revealing piece in the current The Nation. On its face it's a simple attack on what came to be known in the earlier years of the Bush administration as "the ownership society"--the belief that if people owned their own homes and owned stock, they would have more control over their lives, with resulting political consequences:

Well before the ownership society had a neat label, its creation was central to the success of the right-wing economic revolution around the world. The idea was simple: if working-class people owned a small piece of the market--a home mortgage, a stock portfolio, a private pension--they would cease to identify as
workers and start to see themselves as owners, with the same interests as their bosses. That meant they could vote for politicians promising to improve stock performance rather than job conditions. Class consciousness would be a relic....The real breakthrough, however, came in the 1990s, with the "democratization" of stock ownership, eventually leading to nearly half of American households owning stock.

Klein views this--the specter of poor people joining the middle class and no longer hating their neighbors--with unconcealed horror, of course, and therefore the subprime mortgage crisis is for her a gift from God, or Gaia, or whomever. For Klein, the mortgage disaster is a cause for celebration, because it revives the concept of class distinctions. (In this, it recalls the glee with which intellectuals around the world regarded Hurricane Katrina in 2005, which killed hundreds but served to embarrass and discredit the Bush administration, so therefore it was a good thing).

The greater implication has to do with the way the Left regards the sweltering masses of the proletariat. Klein doesn't come out and say that she wants people to be helpless wards of the state, but that's the implication. For Klein, the thought of people controlling their own financial destinies is terrifying.

While reading the piece, I thought of the late absurdist playwright Samuel Beckett, whose theater pieces became more and more minimalist as he got older. One of his later plays, Endgame, features a character named Nagg who does nothing but open his mouth and demand to be fed. His only lines of dialogue are variations of the phrase "ME PAP! ME PAP!" and has no greater requirement in life than forcing others to shovel food into his mouth.

Nagg is the Left's ideal constituent. Sam, you knew exactly where Naomi was coming from.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Democratic response to Pope Benedict's recent threat of excommunicaiton for Catholic politicians who support abortion is typically revealing:

"The fact is that religious sanction in the political arena directly conflicts with our fundamental beliefs about the role and responsibility of democratic representatives in a pluralistic America – it also clashes with freedoms guaranteed in our Constitution,"

As usual, the Democrats are tossing the word "freedoms" and "Constitutional" around without any understanding of the terms.

When people talk about the limits of freedom and free speech, we need to be clear about what we mean.

The example always used is “yelling ‘fire’ in a crowded theater.” That, say the law and reasonable opinion, is not something that should be protected speech. But let’s be clear about what this means: Yelling “fire” in a crowded theater is perfectly permissible if there is in fact a fire or if we honestly believe there to be one. The act is only a crime if we are lying.

And that’s the heart of it: The lie is not protected speech. While some forms are immediately actionable—such as the crowded theater example and of course perjury—others are only civilly actionable, such as slander and libel. But the legal traditions are clear: The lie is not protected speech.

And the standard Democratic mock-patriotism is as usual, nonsense. You are free to advocate for abortion all you want--you just don't have the freedom to lie and call yourself Catholic while doing so. There are no Constitutional protections from the consequences of lying--even for Democratic politicians.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

The political news has been so bleak lately that it's been hard to find motivation to write about anything, but US urges scientists to block out sun< is one of my favorite news stories in literally years, and I want to celebrate it.

The US response says the idea of interfering with sunlight should be included in the summary for policymakers, the prominent chapter at the front of each panel report. It says: "Modifying solar radiance may be an important strategy if mitigation of emissions fails. Doing the R&D to estimate the consequences of applying such a strategy is important insurance that should be taken out. This is a very important possibility that should be considered"....Possible techniques include putting a giant screen into orbit, thousands of tiny, shiny balloons, or microscopic sulfate droplets pumped into the high atmosphere to mimic the cooling effects of a volcanic eruption.

It's an idea that is as logical as it is audacious: An outside-the-box solution to the global warming problem that would almost certainly work to lower worldwide temperatures. There really isn't any way around it scientifically: Less sunlight=lower temperatures. Period. A chiid would understand this.

You would think that the "experts" who are so "concerned" about the horrible effects of global warming would welcome such a solution.

You'd be wrong.

The high priests of the global warming witch-cult, on the contrary, essentially responded to the proposal by sticking their fingers in their ears and saying "La la la, can't hear you": The IPCC draft said such ideas were "speculative, uncosted and with potential unknown side-effects".

That response had me smiling. Uncosted? These are the people who blithely ignore the trillions in costs that the Kyoto requirements would immpose on the American economy. Please. And unknown side-effects? Just yesterday the London Times screamed their most inflammatory global warming headline yet: LAST WARNING: 10 YEARS TO SAVE THE WORLD. "The results could include the destruction of the Amazon rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef," shrieked the article, "the forced migration of hundreds of millions of people from equatorial regions, and the loss of vast tracts of land under rising seas as the ice caps melt....In Europe the summers could become unbearably hot, especially in southern countries such as Greece, Spain and Italy, while Britain and northern Europe would face summer droughts and wet, stormy winters."

Given the dire future hurtling toward us, wouldn't the global warming imams embrace a scientific method guaranteed to lower temperatures? No. For them, it's reduction of "greenhouse gases" or nothing.

Their obstinancy, I think, is revealing. What has happened here with the sun-blocking concept is the the Bush administration has called their bluff, making it clear for anyone paying attention that the global warming movement is not about climate, it's about politics. I'm reminded of the recent controversy involving the Weather Channel's "Climate Expert" (yes, that's her official title) Heidi Cullen, where she essentially demanded that meteorologists who refuse to endorse the theory of human-caused global warming be decertified.

When this pronouncement was met by angry denunciations from meteorologists, Cullen got mealy-mouthed and, in an Orwellian moment, said that she was only tryng to "elevate the discussion."

The point of my post was never to stifle discussion. It was to raise it to a level that doesn't confuse science and politics.

That's the most infuriating thing about all of this: Nothing is being called what it is: Openly political positions are somehow "above politics"; silencing dissenters is "elevating the discussion." Computer models are more scientific than the most basic planetary physics.


Friday, December 15, 2006


I love HBO's series The Wire--a near-Dickensian drama set in the ghettoes of West Baltimore--in spite of the bizarre political pronouncements from its creator and showrunner David Simon, as

Thematically, it's about the very simple idea that, in this Postmodern world of ours, human beings—all of us—are worth less. We're worth less every day, despite the fact that some of us are achieving more and more. It's the triumph of capitalism. ...Whether you're a corner boy in West Baltimore, or a cop who knows his beat, or an Eastern European brought here for sex, your life is worth less. It's the triumph of capitalism over human value. This country has embraced the idea that this is a viable domestic policy. It is. It's viable for the few. But I don't live in Westwood, L.A., or on the Upper West Side of New York. I live in Baltimore.

There's so much wrong with this belief that one hardly knows where to begin. Simon apparently seems to think that "human value" is somehow diminished in capitalist societies, which begs the question: What sort of society would not diminish "human value"?

Full-on collectivist socialism? Those sort of places are the worst hellholes on earth, and the horrible "worth less every day" lives of Simon's East European hooker or Baltimore cornerboy--these lives would represent near-Utopian well-being to your average resident of Cuba or North Korea, whose "human value" is typically most forcefully expressed in the act of drowning in the Yalu River or the Florida Straits trying to get the hell out.

Welfare-state socialism-lite as evidenced in Western Europe? These are great places to live as long as you don't care about things like upward mobility. I've lived among European immigrants--hell, I was an illegal European immigrant--and Eurosocialism doesn't offer opportunity, or much of anything at all beyond a lifetime on the dole. In this context I always recommend Stephen Frears's little film Dirty Pretty Things--a film which takes place in London but does not include one white Englishperson--wherein the ultimate goal for every single character is not to make a life in Britain but to figure out a way to get to America. For them, and for the literally billions around the world who would emigrate to the USA if they could, diminishing their human value doesn't seem to be a big concern.

"Traditional" third-world societies? They offer "value"--i.e. food and shelter--to their citizens exactly in proportion to the amount of free-market capitalism they are willing to introduce into their societies.

After the Slate piece appeared, there was an interesting comment on Simon's beliefs from writer James Hudnall on a blog devoted to the show:

I guess it's because Simon's a self confessed liberal that he thinks society owes everyone something. But many of the characters in the Wire are self destructive and damned in their own ways. There's only so much society can do if people don't do for themselves....Life isn't all negativity all the time.

The system is paid for by tax dollars, so those who contribute the most get the most payback. That's not surprising. Nor should it be. That's the way the world turns.

Ultimately, people need to look after themselves and not expect society to do it for them. That's one message you don't see too much in the Wire, and should.

This rather gentle criticism of Simon's political agenda produced this overheated, paranoid, and more or less insane response from Simon on the same comments page, which I reproduce in full:

Did someone actually describe me as a "self-confessed" liberal? Self-confessed?

Since when did liberalism become something that requires confession? After the last six disastrous years, [While I understand that hyperbole is necessary to much political writing, I really have to challenge the idea that a full-employment economy, among other things, is "disastrous", but for liberals this is almost a religious dogma, so one must expect it--Ed] I would think that to have your political allegiances on the other end of the spectrum might be cause for some angst, shame and reflection. But even harboring such sentiment, I would not be so insulting as to call anyone a self-confessed conservative.

I won't go into a long political diatribe about the content of that particular email, its willful ignorance of the profound economic, social and political limitations at work in the West Baltimores of the world, places crippled by decades of deindustrialization, profound social deprivation, political marginalization at the hands of gerrymandering, racialist political parties, a prohibition-induced drug economy that has become the only meaningful economic engine and naturalized unemployment rates at over 50 percent for adult black males -- including those who do buy into the system and make "choices" of a kind that would not not bring the judgment of trickle-down, up-from-the-bootstraps, i-know-the-game-isn't-rigged-because-I-did-so-well-coming-from-the-suburb-I-came-from-m***********s down on their already burdened selves. I am sure there are plenty of people who want to debate whether all the characters in The Wire made all of the right personal choices, will find that they did not -- Randy for example should have never taken that five-spot to deliver a message to Lex; damn his fourteen-year-old ass to hell -- and will find a new way to calculate the degree of personal blame without regard to the two vastly different Americas that we have built for generations now. And I'm sure others will excuse all personal foible by citing political, social and economic conditions -- something that The Wire has also resisted doing with its characters. The two sides can have at each other and argue to their hearts' content. I am indifferent to the nature-versus-nurture pissing match. It doesn't matter to people on the ground, anymore. It doesn't matter to a boy in West Baltimore looking to a future that isn't there. It is the stuff of lame ideologues, each trying to shape facts to fit story. Have at it.

But the next time anyone suggests that I have "confessed" to my political beliefs, they have an invitation to kiss my ass. I am on some issues conservative, on others middling, and on many matters way left of liberal. In Europe, I might be called a social democrat, maybe a green, or, depending on the country, a labourite.
In these United States, I am someone who has spent enough careful time in the other, marginalized America to be wholly contemptuous of anyone who equates raw, unencumbered capitalism -- absent any other social or political framework -- as even a poor excuse for how to run a country and take care of its people.

Self-confessed. Like I'm guilty of anything other than speaking my mind. F*** you, a*****e.

Putting aside Simon's bizarre overreaction to the word "self-confessed"--it's just a word, and not what I would consider much of an epithet--I would point out that Simon doesn't really have a coherent case. In spite of all the abuse he hurls at Republicans and conservatives, the world he describes in his series is not one created by the Right, in spite of his desperate need to believe that it is. The megaghettoes of the American inner cities, and their anticulture of crime, violence, and sociopathy were in fact created by liberal policies of the sixties. Urban America has been run almost exclusively by liberal Democrats offering liberal Democrat solutions, for more than 40 years. It was liberal Democrats who began their "war on poverty" by offering financial incentives for poor families to have no father in the house. If at that time the federal government had carpet-bombed the inner cities of America with B-52s, they would have done less damage to urban America than with their policy of manufacturing generations of poor families with no father in the house, and all the pathologies that came from it.

Monday, December 04, 2006

One of the good things about being a bookseller is that you occasionally run across forgotten little gems like The Climates of Hunger by Reid A. Bryson and Thomas J. Murray, published in that dim recess of history known as 1977. It's a lovely little book written by what we would today call "a top climatologist" and features expert, up-to-the-minute analysis of global climate trends, and finds that...

...dust accounts for perhaps 90 percent of the temperature variation, while carbon dioxide accounts for only about 3 percent.

Our conclusion is that the net effect of man's burning of fossil fuels, his slash-and-burn agriculture, and his other activities which produce both carbon dioxide and dust, is to reduce temperatures....During the twentieth century we have come to recognize that humans must be added to the list of forces that can change climates around the world.

I'm a big fan of the literature of "global cooling," a scientific belief which had its heyday in the mid-to-late 1970s; it's a literature that people react to today with either uncomfortable silence or howling delight, depending on one's political point of view. There is a now-infamous Newsweek article that conservatives love to reference, but there aren't many others readily available.

You can pretty much get the feeling of where the Bryson/Murray book is going from the first page of the book's prologue, which tells us solemnly that

The Soviet Union purchased 18,000,000 tons of grain from the United States in 1972 and another 12,000,000 tons in 1975....The Russian purchases were directly related to drought.

And here I find myself touching on another enthusiasm of mine: The literature of excuses for Communism. Because we need to be clear: The Russian purchases were much more directly related to Communism than they were to drought. You know, it's remarkable how these food-destroying natural disasters ONLY seem to occur in Communist countries and never in capitalist ones. Yes, we still have national disasters here in the capitalist world, but somehow they always seem to miss the food.

A current favorite in the genre is Zimbabwe, which recently blamed its entire most recent crop failure on a monkey.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Ack! So horribly behind on blogging, I offer my latest ATO column:


One of the unfortunate aspects of gaming culture in the last few decades is the impenetrable and apparently immovable wall between counter-based military simulation games and German-style strategy boardgames: These seem to be two different worlds that never intersect. German-style boardgames, where they touch upon combat at all, simulate it in only very broad and shallow ways, while counter-based military boardgames have tunnel vision for the battlefield and tend to ignore the world beyond it. There haven’t been any true “mixed” boardgames that feature both counters for combat simulation and separate mechanics for non-military strategies, in a long time.

This is unfortunate because there are so many aspects of 21st century warfare—and yes, I know this is blasphemy--that can’t be expressed through the movement of counters. Modern asymmetrical warfare—a.k.a. “Fourth Generation” warfare—has economic, social, political, and public-relations dimensions as well as strictly military ones. I would argue that a boardgame doesn’t realistically simulate Fourth-Generation warfare—and here I quote Wikipedia--

Fourth Generation wars are characterized by a blurring of the lines between war and politics, soldier and civilian, peace and conflict, battlefield and safety.

without extensive card draws and Catan-style resource allocation to simulate the world beyond the battlefield.

The recent Israel-Hezbollah war in Lebanon was pure Fourth Generation: It was conducted at least as much in the media and on the world political stage as on the battlefield, and this arguably influenced the course of combat at least as much as the placement of Hezbollah strongholds.

Of particular importance is the information war. Each day in the Israel-Hezbollah conflict would bring new heavily-choreographed civilian bombing aftermath stories and crudely-Photoshopped “news photos” breathlessly disseminated by Hezbollah-sympathizing AP and Reuters news bureaus, followed by furious debunkings from sources sympathetic to Israel. Of course we’ve seen propaganda wars before, but never to this extent. The primary Hezbollah tactic—firing Iranian-made rockets in the general direction of Israeli towns which were more or less completely evacuated at the beginning of the fighting—had only the vaguest military efficacy, but…

…the strategy of distributing rockets throughout the population is very effective for publicity. Though the rockets themselves cause relatively little damage and have little effective military use, they are easy to use, hard to stop and are sensational (in the sense that they bring attention). (Daniel Drezner)

The rocket attacks with their high visibility enabled Hezbollah to claim victory with apparent plausibility, in spite of their heavy losses in fighters. (“One dreads to imagine what Hezbollah might recognize as a military loss,” wrote Michael Young of the Lebanon Daily Star.) I guess you can compare the Hezbollah attacks to Hitler’s V1 and V2 rocket attacks on Britain during World War II—in both instances the missiles were launched more from spite than from military reasons—but at least London had people in it.

Similarly, there was a fascinating recent article in the New York Times (September 30, 2006) on Al Qaeda’s internet infrastructure. “In recent years,” we are told, “Al Qaeda has formed a special media production division called Al Sahab (“the cloud”) to produce videos about leaders like Mr. bin Laden and Mr. Zawahri.”
One result, terrorism analysts say, is a militant group in transition, seeking to push ideology over direct action, franchising its name and principles to smaller groups acting more independently….“Al Qaeda has been turning itself from an active organization into a propaganda organization.”

The problem, in gaming terms, is that conflicts where the primary goal is propaganda victories rather than military ones don’t really make sense as a simulation. In running the summer 2006 Lebanon war, for example, no gamer playing Hezbollah would ever accumulate a huge arsenal of rockets and then expend it in militarily-pointless over-the-border launches at empty Israeli border towns while his own fighters are taking heavy losses. In pure military terms, it’s lunacy.

One can argue, in defense of the jihadists, that their view is a longer-term one than that of the West; that, living as they do in the seventh century A.D., they think in terms of centuries and millennia rather than years or decades; that propaganda victories, even if unaccompanied by real victories, set up the eventual overthrow of the West by the worldwide forces of Islam. And they may be right, though I doubt it.

For our purposes, however, that scenario—a centuries-long clash of civilizations—is a bit too “macro” for any gaming simulation. If there were such a thing as a jihadist gamer, he would certainly consider the Crusades, Poitiers, the siege and fall of Constantinople, the Spanish reconquista, the siege of Vienna, the Balkan wars, Omdurman, the Riff rebellion in Morocco, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, etc., etc., not as separate engagements but as part one one vast and ceaseless campaign. I think you could simulate, say, the Cold War as an interesting mega-game with “micro” military components in Korea, Vietnam, and Afghanistan, and “macro” political and economic components—an enormously-expanded game of Supremacy, if you will—but this is probably at the upper limits of the possible scope of a game simulation: Gaming the clash of civilizations is possible—in small pieces—but like the real thing it presents many, many challenges to the designer.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

A story from the UK on the Labour government's plans that illustrate an important truth about the Left:

Now a tax just for living in a nice area:

Homeowners in affluent neighbourhoods with good schools, low crime rates and clean streets could be charged thousands of pounds extra than those in more run down places.

Ministers have purchased sophisticated 'Big Brother' computer systems which calculate the desirability of an area based on the quality of local services and the types of people who live there.

The software, which will be used in the forthcoming revaluation of all 21 million homes in England, contains astonishingly detailed data on the number of households, even those who have pets, wear contact lenses or are vegetarian.

It allows inspectors to put a precise value on each home, based not only by its size and features, but its location.

The move is a further blow to homeowners who are facing the prospect of being fined for refusing to let council tax inspectors come into their homes to photograph any improvements.

Campaigners have warned that bills could rise by as much as four times in areas which are deemed 'desirable' - sending some bills spiralling from £1,000 to £4,000.

The Acorn computer system uses marketing information obtained from companies, such as credit card and stores, to create a detailed analysis of individuals and their neighbourhoods based on 287 'lifestyle variables'.

This includes information on the age, sex, ethnic profile and profession of residents in different 'localities'.

Highly personalised information about what families eat, drink, and earn is also taken into account.

This is why the phrase "left libertarian" is not just an oxymoron, it's a total lie. Lefty opposition to, say, the Patriot Act, or government surveillance of terrorists, is supposed to be based on their love of freedom. But they're wrong.

The Left just loves personal freedom--to the extent that it involves marrying your cat, or whatever other sexual need people feel needs government approval.

The Left just loves privacy--as long as it means the privacy to kill fetuses in peace.

But for any other personal freedom, any other personal privacy, you might as well forget it: The redistribution of wealth--the ultimate reason for the Left's existence--means that the government needs to know everything about you for taxation purposes. Like the Beatles song said:

If you drive a car, I'll tax the street,
If you try to sit, I'll tax your seat.
If you get too cold I'll tax the heat,
If you take a walk, I'll tax your feet.

But what this policy means for personal freedom and privacy is, of course, their destruction. The microtaxation of our lives requires a surveillance regime a billion times more severe and more intrustive than anything in the Patriot Act. Socialism requires it. And that's why people who say that they vote for Democrats because they want the government out of their lives are dumber than they could ever possibly imagine.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?