“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Saturday, May 14, 2005

intellectual scabs

This is the kind of post my friend T. will frown at. Having already violated my vow, this week, to make this blog a Hitchens free zone, I am now going to post about one of the “friends of Hitchens,” Marc Cooper.

However, instead of concentrating fire on Cooper’s brand of Bush era leftism – four parts surrender, one part reminder of what a groovy radical past Cooper possesses, why he was even against Pinochet! – let’s expand the parameters to a broader question: why did the New Left generation fail to socially reproduce? This is the kind way to put it. Another way to put it is: why did the generation of 1968 produce such ace putzes of the Cooper/Hitchens variety?

First, we should briefly review Cooper’s m.o. In the past year, Cooper has bravely unmasked Naomi Klein as a useful tool of Islamofascist terrorists; has sternly criticized the paranoid rantings of the left re Bush; took up the cudgels against world renowned celebrity Ward Churchill and his plan to reduce your mother, dear reader, to sexual slavery; and in various other ways has rightly become the leftist most likely to be linked to by an Instapundit.

His absurd post about Iraq is par for Cooper’s course. Having checked out the tv news and seen that 400 people have been murdered by the insurgents in the past month, Cooper’s humanitarianism is offended. And of course in this mood he can see right through the moral idiocy of calling for an American withdrawal from Iraq. He goes right to work, barking at various leftists who advocate just that.

Now, in fact, there is a strict correlation between these deaths and their occurence in those areas where our heroic Uncle Sam has scattered his forces. There is also the little matter of the history of the occupation. Cooper's position seems to be that the occupation was a total disaster, so we should keep on with the occupation. This is worthy of the man. This is how he covers the path that took us to those four hundred murders.

The new tack, as we all must have noticed, is to pretend that now, it is all about supporting democracy. In fact, American newspapers have taken to describing the Bush doctrine, shorthand, as supporting democracy. Which is like describing Bush's social security proposals, in shorthand, as "saving social security.' So we are 'supporting democracy" by transforming our occupying force in Iraq into a weapon used by Talabani's Kurds and SCIRI against their opponents. Let's lift the veil of amnesia a bit. What’s forgotten?

- That, up until the week of the elections, the major coalition of Shiite parties did support a a timetable of withdrawal.
- That even the American propaganda poll, done by the IRI, showed majority support for the timetable.
- That the dropping of that provision was the result of heavy American pressure.
- That the three month lag in governance was the result of the American designed occupation law.
- That the law was designed to maximize the occupier’s power in the country.
- That the law under which the constitution is to be decided in Iraq is an American enforced law, of no real validity.

Cooper’s humanitarianism, while extended to the four hundred killed in one month, is apparently unmoved by the more than one hundred killed in one week by the Pentagon in Western Iraq. This, however, is typical Cooper -- a fine selectivity of indignation. As the Lancet group showed, and as was further shown by the UN study of living conditions in Iraq this week, and what the offensive in Western Iraq showed as well – the majority of deaths in Iraq come by way of American firepower and the semi-criminal attempt, by the COA, to run Iraq as a profit preserve for America's biggest War contractors. A suicide bomber blowing up a bunch of out of work Shi’ites is called a terrorist act by the Coopers of the world. An American plane blowing up a restaurant with a bunch of Sunnis dining in it is called a tactical strike. The insurgents, so far as I know, have not reduced any major city to the totalitarian rule of segregating males and letting them walk in their own neighborhood on sufferance – as the Americans are doing in the ruins of Falluja. Nor have the insurgents dropped bombs from planes on Iraqi cities, nor machine gunned streets from helicopters. This is what Cooper supports.

Now, the truth is, if we hadn’t gone via Harry to the Cooper site, Cooper would not be on our mind. If we want Hitchens, we can get him elsewhere – and Cooper’s much weaker beer. We don’t often look at his weblog. But the larger question is, why did the antiwar movement in this country so politically suck? And why did it never revamp into an anti-occupation movement?

Our own feeling is that this has to do with the ties with the old left – the old communist left from the thirties – having long died out. The anti-war movement in the sixties benefited from the tacit knowledge held by veterans of the thirties. But the knowledge they passed along was, unfortunately, mostly passed to a college educated elite whose basic interests are much closer to the basic interests of Bush’s suburban supporters than they are to the working and lower middle class. In LI’s own terminology – we have been working this out – the difference between the Vietnam era and the Bush era is that the momentum of the movement shifted. There is, definitely, a Movement on the right – in fact, there are converging but separate movements, who have targeted the Republican party as their vehicle.

On the left, the movement is in severe crisis. The Democratic Party continually seeks to exert control over any movement, and has successfully inducted into its orbit the leaders of the Vietnam era. Kerry was, in many ways, typical – a mamby pamby liberal, vain, an instinctive comformist, a showboater, a laughable acolyte at the alter of JFK, elevated by way of the usual path – in the Democratic version of the Beatitudes, it is said that the mediocre will inherit the earth – whose role as most electable was a judgment of the Party professionals – Cooper’s kind of people.

The journalistic camp followers of the Cooper type play the role of movement breakers – intellectual scabs. The scab ideology comes out, among them, as “criticism” – they are all honest to god Orwells, speaking truth to power. In reality, they are speaking half truths in order to render powerless. And they do a good job of it, week after week. This interruption in the progressive line in America – a line that goes back to the abolitionists, and through the Wobblies and to early civil rights activists like Du Bois and Ida B. Wells up through the fifties – has impacted the ability to organize the clear discontent with Bush’s domestic and foreign policies. That is all around. When we go and have our little lunch here – lately, we’ve been going to the new, anti-union Whole Foods and getting sushi and a cup of coffee, since it is cheap – we usually sit out in the patio area. This is a store that definitely caters to the well to do, as well as the aspiring post punker. And we always overhear the same things -- complaints about what is happening in this country. If we go to the Tex Mex place up the street, which is a frat and sorority hangout, we still hear things like that. Unfortunately, these complaints are always couched in party terms – which is a measure of the success of the intellectual scabs. The little enders and the big enders, as Swift put it in Gulliver’s Travels, take up all the political space – rendering it conveniently tedious. In an electoral democracy, the status quo must make politics boring. Otherwise, it can be used as a weapon to exploit the exploiters.

Friday, May 13, 2005

a pleasure-self post

“The Hadza of northern Tanzania publicly marked a boy’s first nocturnal emission by decorating him with beads in exactly the same way as they decorated a girl with beads at the time of her first menstruation.” Charles Stewart, Erotic Dreams and Nightmares from Antiquity to the Present.

"The crocodile signifies a pirate, murderer, or a man who is no less wicked. The way in which the crocodile treats the dreamer determines the way in which he will be treated by the person who is represented by the crocodile. The cat signifies an adulterer. For it is a bird-thief. And birds resemble women, as I have already pointed out in the first book." – Artemidorus, Interpretation of Dreams

Whenever LI hears the phrase “mental masturbation” (and for our sins in writing this blog, we hear the phrase quite a bit), we always wonder what the opposite is. What would be full frontal missionary mental fucking, and how would one achieve it with an organ as marooned as is our poor human brain – which, without the pineal eye that Bataille dreamed would burst someday out of the top of the skull, blinking monstrously in whatever shade of darkness its nerve impulses are couched in, is, in actuality, reduced to living in that darkness familiar from infancy that is enlivened only by the flickers of light coming in from the relatively distant eyes.

Since there is an answer to all questions (although not necessarily a right answer), we turned to the experts. Our readers are probably already familiar with the Zurbriggen and Yost study, Power, Desire, and Pleasure in Sexual Fantasies, published in the Journal of Sexual Research last year. Z and Y brought together one hundred plus persons of both sexes, filtered out the bis and the gays, and had these people write down sexual fantasies. Subsequently, they coded the sexual fantasies. Their conclusions are conveniently summed up in the following reader-friendly manner:

“Men's sexual fantasies were more sexually explicit than women's, t(160) = 4.11, p < .001, and women's sexual fantasies were more emotional and romantic than men's, t(160) =-2.69, p =.008. In addition, men's fantasies involved more interactions with multiple partners than did women's, t(160) = 1.97, p = .05. There were also gender differences in fantasized dominance and submission. Men's fantasies included more portrayals of the self as dominant and in power than did women's, t(160) = 2.45, p = .02. Women's fantasies did not include significantly more portrayals of submission than did men's, t(160) = -1.62, p = .11. However, in a repeated measures ANOVA, the interaction between gender and type of power fantasy (dominance vs. submissive) was reliable: F(1,160) = 7.75, p = .006.

Although men were equally likely to fantasize about dominance and submission, women were more likely to fantasize about submission. Other interesting gender differences involved sexual desire and sexual pleasure. Men's fantasies mentioned a partner's sexual desire more frequently than did women's fantasies, t(160) = 3.09, p = .002. Although men's fantasies were equally likely to include desire-self and desire-other, paired t(84) = -.58, p = .57, women's fantasies were marginally more likely to include desire-self than desireother, paired t(76) = 1.69, p =. 10. Men also described their partners as experiencing sexual pleasure more frequently than did women, t(160) = 3.24, p = .001.

Although men's fantasies were marginally more likely to include sexual pleasure-other than sexual pleasure-self, t(84) = -1.74, p = .09, women's fantasies were significantly more likely to include sexual pleasure-self than sexual pleasure-other, paired t(76) = 2.04, p = .04. In a repeated measures ANOVA, this interaction between gender and sexual pleasure (self vs. other) was reliable, F(1,160) = 7.14, p = .008”

To which one wants to say, Zut alors. But bien sur, this is the way of a man with a woman and a woman and a woman, at least when I shut my how do you say, peepers?

But to tell you the truth, LI felt old and ghost ridden reading Z and Y’s paper. Call us a throwback to that old reprobate, D.H. Lawrence, but we feel something is wrong with handing sex over to multiple digits, pinching and prodding it for gender singularities. So we turned, for a more narrative view, to Charles Stewart’s paper, published by the Royal Anthropological Institute a few years ago, Erotic Dreams and Nightmares from Antiquity to the Present. Stewart combines approaches from Freud and Foucault – still not Lawrence’s cup of tea, but much closer to LI’s way of thinking. Although our pleasure-other quotient might well be –1.74, we feel a little more akin to the Umeda, among whom “a hunter intentionally [sleeps] on a net-bag scented with magic pighunting perfume (oktesap) in hopes of receiving the erotic dream that presaged a successful hunting expedition. Such erotic dreams held out the promise of real sexual consummation, which often followed after a kill was made.”

Our own experiments with pighunting perfume are for another time. Stewart’s point is that erotic dreams can act as portents – and indeed, isn’t desire a portent laden structure among the best of us? With Foucault, Stewart sees sexuality in the modern epoch as a matter of subjectivication – that is, it is taken as the truth about the subject. In a society as dedicated to sensation as ours is – where we are supposed to judge the merit of, say, Darwin’s theory of evolution on the sensations it evokes of like or dislike among Gallop’s focus groups – sex, being an ultimate of sensation, is going to be a criterion for authenticity.

But of course, there is always killing. This is where the erotic dream and the nightmare intersect. Stewart’s notion is that a change in the hermeneutic value of erotic dreams was wrought by Early Christian culture. For “Artemidorus, the dream of sex with one’s mother, for example, was not problematic, but rather a good dream for politicians. This was because the mother represented one’s native country, and to make love is to govern the obedient and willing body of one’s partner. The dreamer would thus control the affairs of the city (Artemidorus, Interpretation of dreams, 1.79). Hippias, a Greek traitor serving as the Persians’ guide in the landing at Marathon, dreamt of sleeping with his mother and interpreted this to mean that he would return to Athens and recover power (Herodotus, History, 6.107).” However, there was no room in the Christian culture for portents deriving from sleeping with your mother.

Although… surely there are spicy enough stories in Genesis to toss up the problematic, here. Not that the Greeks didn’t put the stamp of their own ethical ideas on sexual dreams. “Some ancient doctors understood ‘gonorrhoea’ to be an involuntary emission of semen, and their term for this ailment, meaning literally ‘the flow of seed’, remains with us to this day. Nocturnal emissions were considered a variant of gonorrhoea, and in his survey of acute and chronic diseases CaeliusAurelianus contrasted the two. Gonorrhoea could occur any time, without imagery, while nocturnal emissions occurred only during sleep and as a consequence of imagining sexual intercourse through ‘unreal images’ (inanibus visis concubitum fingat) (On chronic diseases, 5.71.82). Unlike gonorrhoea, nocturnal emissions did not necessarily constitute an illness. They simply resulted from desire, which could arise either through regular sexual practice or throughprolonged continence.”

Well, enough – we have a few other things to say about Stewart’s article, but we will reserve our shots until another time.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

GET OUT NOW

From Today’s Washington Post:

“Among the four Marines killed and 10 wounded when an explosive device erupted under their Amtrac on Wednesday were the last battle-ready members of a squad that four days earlier had battled foreign fighters holed up in a house in the town of Ubaydi. In that fight, two squad members were killed and five were wounded.

In 96 hours of fighting and ambushes in far western Iraq, the squad had ceased to be.

Every member of the squad -- one of three that make up the 1st Platoon of Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 25th Regiment -- had been killed or wounded, Marines here said. All told, the 1st Platoon -- which Hurley commands -- had sustained 60 percent casualties, demolishing it as a fighting force.”

From yesterday’s New York Times:

“Mr. Rumsfeld is banking on operations in Iraq and Afghanistan remaining stable enough for him to focus his attention elsewhere. Frequent video-teleconferences with senior commanders in Iraq during the peak of combat operations have dwindled to a few phone calls a week.”

I hope the Great Man calls them up sometime next week (or maybe the week after) and says how super appreciative he is of all the scorched flesh. My goodness. 60 percent casualties. But let’s concentrate on all the Good Things that are happening in Iraq, shall we?

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Inspissated cockledoodledoo

LI used to ‘do’ Christopher Hitchens more. After a while, though, it got boring. The man’s defense of the indefensible, his substitution of belligerence for logic, his wavering between complete lies and half truths, became a circus sideshow that indicted those who hooted at it as much as those who cheered it – after all, why were us squawkers still watching? My friend, T., kept pointing this out forcefully. After all, why waste one’s time on Hitchen’s inspissated cockledoodledoo when there were more pressing matters to worry about? Existence itself, my next meal, sex and the lack of it around these parts, etc., etc.

But the sideshow still runs, and is still, occasionally, funny in that “watching-Friday-the-thirteenth” way – watching, that is, the killer resurrect in the midst of ever more bogus S/FX. So we read, with vast amusement, the copping of old Cold War themes in his essay on Abu Ghraib (and how the horrible left is using it as a propaganda tool against the good old Americans) in Slate. We particularly liked this one:

“Abu Ghraib was by no means celebrated as an ancestral civic and cultural center before the year 2004. To the Iraqis, it was a name to be mentioned in whispers, if at all, as "the house of the end." It was a Dachau. Numberless people were consigned there and were never heard of again. Its execution shed worked overtime, as did its torturers, and we are still trying to discover how many Iraqis and Kurds died in its precincts. At one point, when it suffered even more than usual from chronic overcrowding, Saddam and his sons decided to execute a proportion of the inmates at random, just to cull the population. The warders then fanned out at night to visit the families of the prisoners, asking how much it would be worth to keep their son or brother or father off the list. The hands of prisoners were cut off, and the proceedings recorded on video for the delight of others. I myself became certain that Saddam had reached his fin de régime, or his Ceauşescu moment, when he celebrated his 100-percent win in the "referendum" of 2003 by releasing all the nonpolitical prisoners (the rapists and thieves and murderers who were his natural constituency) from Abu Ghraib. This sudden flood of ex-cons was a large factor in the horrific looting and mayhem that accompanied the fall of Baghdad.”

Remember how the Russians used to ‘whisper’ about the Lubyanka? Of course, oppressed people were always whispering to reporters back in the day. That the whispers of the Iraqis wouldn’t, really, be understood by Hitchens, who doesn’t speak Arabic, doesn’t matter. Apparently his translators mimicked the whipering. And the hands being cut off – not like today’s prisons in Iraq. Sure, in Samarra, where the Iraqis are whispering again, to a real reporter, Peter Maass, there might be a little electric prodding to the genitals. There might be the tying to the ceiling – the famous airplane – pulling the arms out of the socket. But of course, it is only used on the ‘sudden flood of ex-cons” – Saddam Hussein’s natural constituency. Funny how debasing the enemy into the purely criminal is part of the organization of torture in Iraq. It is also funny that nowhere in Hitchens essay is there any mention of the, uh, heart attacks suffered by various prisoners of the Americans. Maybe the whispering about that was just too low for him to hear.

Anyway, now we get to the new, improved prison complex – prisons as humane as the ones we have in Ameriiiicaaa:

“Efforts were being made to repaint and disinfect the joint, and many of the new inmates were being held in encampments in the yard while this was being done, but I distinctly remember thinking that there was really no salvaging such a place and that it should either be torn down and ploughed over or turned into a museum.

“Instead, it became an improvised center for anyone caught in the dragnet of the "insurgency" and was filled up with suspects as well as armed supporters of Baathism and Bin Ladenism. There's no need to restate what everyone now knows about what happened as a consequence. But I am not an apologist if I point out that there are no more hangings, random or systematic. The outrages committed by Pvt. England and her delightful boyfriend were first uncovered by their superiors.”

Wow. Their superiors uncovered this, eh? Makes one wonder what Stalin would have found out if he’d just ordered a thorough investigation of what the police were up to. The father of all the Russias might have found, to his disgust, that those labor camps weren’t really rehabilitating his dear children. And the Pentagon bigwigs might have found out that instead of the ice cream and veggies that they had strictly ordered the guards to give the low-lives, the guards were, on their own, staging these orgies. One is just pleased as punch that the superiors uncovered the lot of em. As for the hangings – that is certainly right, and progress we should all be proud of. The body in the bag that Grainer was famously making the thumbs up sign over was beaten to death. Or died of a heart attack -- Ba'athist scum are notoriously prone to heart attacks.

Quite wonderful, actually, how civilization marches on.

Hitchens, who has taken to thinking that his father’s position in the Navy makes him an expert on the army, must be pleased that there are no more messy hangings going on, since it is so against the regulations. He might, however, want to watch some of that American funded Iraqi tv. The popular show in which terrorists confess – and sometimes, after confession, their bodies are found by roadsides. The lot of them were Saddam’s natural constituency, and we don’t want to waste a lot of sob sister sympathy on these impediments to democracy as the Hitchenses see it in the Middle East.

ps: ps – We at LI often feel bad about the number of people coming to this site looking for “sex” “girles” “breasts” and the like. We’ve offered pretty slim pickings. But today we can recommend a link to those surfers: take a look at the hot analingus action over at the NYT, when not one but two reporters stick their tongues and noses as far up the rectum of our Secretary of War as is permitted by the Supreme Court. Eric Schmitt and Thom Shanker’s article begins in the time honored fashion of the breathless Teen Mag piece about some Britney-ette:

"Ask Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to define his legacy, and he cuts the question short: "Don't. Hold off on it. There will be plenty of time."

Notice how that intimation of intimacy, that dropped “you” in the “ask…” functions. On the one hand, you, too, lucky citizen, could have the earthshaking opportunity to interview the great man! Oh, doesn’t it do something to you that makes you run to the bathroom to change your shorts! But on the other hand – sucker, you don’t have a chance in hell getting within touching distance of Donnie. That’s reserved for NYT reporters, who are specialists in the tongue massage.

Not that they aren’t critical. Why, they went out and found a congressman who put it that some criticize Rumsfeld for not kowtowing in Congress!

As for clichés, we got your clichés right here. For instance, Paul Wolfowitz is a “lightning rod” of controversy. Interesting choice of words, given that this week, the price of going into Iraq has risen to 300 billion dollars, just a tad more than the 10 billion Wolfie projected two years ago. I guess lightning rod means, in Timespeak, dysfunctional liar. But given the adorable Rumsfeld bottom to which our reporters are attached, I suppose these are minor things.

One boner deflator warning, however: the article is about how Rummy is going to finish out his term. Meaning, for those of you outside the NYT orgy – those fans, those “you”’s outside the magic circle – another, what, two thousand, three thousand soldiers dying, adorably, for Rumsfeld’s crackpot ideas. Isn’t that sweet! As for the colored others, well, let’s not even count them.

Another triumph for the free press everywhere!

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Nine murdered, runaway bride still running

So, nine American soldiers die in Iraq over the weekend. Not one of those soldiers will get a thousandth of the news attention that a woman who didn’t want to get married in Duluth, Georgia, has already received. Not that the press doesn’t support our troops, but really – these guys are so low income. Suckers. Downers. CNN spending time figuring out how these senseless deaths were caused by the manipulations of a brainless Prez? Please. No doubt, the military got busy right away cutting off benefits to the wives and kids. Money goes to the virtuous – to the stockholders of the weapons companies, the private military contractors, the consultants, and the wonderful, inbred round of retired legislatures and generals who sit on boards and hold down important positions in the Death industry and will devise ways to keep America, in big ways and small, a vicious and uncompanionable country. And the great deferrers who so bravely lead them have, stoically, kept a stiff upper lip. Rumsfeld’s automatic pen was busy. Wolfowitz, of course, is getting ready to sink his fangs into the World Bank. In fact, they are all so brave and true and busy that they haven’t given a thought or a shit about those nine deaths, and never will. Although we can always hope that Rumsfeld experiences a death scene much like the one in Richard III, when the King’s victims visit him:

Ghost of CLARENCE
"Let me sit heavy on thy soul to-morrow!
I, that was wash'd to death with fulsome wine,
Poor Clarence, by thy guile betrayed to death!
To-morrow in the battle think on me,
And fall thy edgeless sword: despair, and die!”

How many victims in the end? Two thousand Americans? one hundred thousand Iraqis?

So what are the headlines on Monday and today? 100 Iraqi insurgents die. Where did this wonderful death count come from? That totally trustworthy institution, the U.S. Military – which is to death counts as WorldComm was to accounting. How do we know that the Iraqis weren’t, say, wedding party guests, kids, and the numerous others that the U.S. military has an unfortunate tendency to eviscerate, scorch to death, disembowel, etc., in the course of its mission – helpin’ freedom loving Iraqis love perpetual subjugation? We can take that on trust. After all, we are getting information from embedded reporters, who pride themselves on not merely spewing out Yankee propaganda. No, they gild the propaganda with their own feeble artfulness.

LI unpatriotically suspects that somehow, the glorious U.S. press, which is always fiercely sniffing out the truth of things, might have lain down a little on the job this weekend. And of course, there is the U.S.’s love affair with imprisonment. Prison, in the age of Bush, is next to godliness and freedom loving. Which is why we are, unsurprisingly, gifting Iraq with our unique obsession:

BAGHDAD, May 9 -- The number of prisoners held in U.S. military detention centers in Iraq has risen without interruption since autumn, filling the centers to capacity and prompting commanders to embark on an unanticipated prison expansion plan.

As U.S. and Iraqi forces battle an entrenched insurgency, the detainee population surpassed 11,350 last week, a nearly 20 percent jump since Iraq's Jan. 30 elections. U.S. prisons now contain more than twice the number of people they did in early October, when aggressive raids began in a stepped-up effort to crush the insurgency before January's vote.”

Among the things we really ought to list in "America the Beautiful", right next to the purple mountain's majesty, is the the second greatest prison population in the world, much of it made up by that most dangerous of villains, the pot smoker. So isn't it natural we'd want to share with our little buddy, Iraq?

Monday, May 09, 2005

Smoke on the water

LI mentioned punitive liberalism in our last post. In the Reformer, a British journal, the Spring issue is headlines articles about civil liberties and the “therapeutic” state – a state that is no longer big brother, but is simply your best friends intervening to make sure you are no longer a menace to yourself. In the friendliest way possible. With big Tony Blair smiles. The Reformer is obviously oriented towards the classical liberalism of Mill. LI does not subscribe to the classical liberalism of Mill. Or at least we are inspired by that thematic in Mill that made him ever more sympathetic to socialism. But the British journal isn’t into Cato kneejerk libertarianism. There’s a nice recognition, for instance, that environmental harm is a serious issue, rather than a conspiracy made up by junk scientists – the favorite rightwing meme.

Claire Fox’s essay on smoking bans was particularly nice. We liked this graf: “It is through the prism of passive smoking that we have seen the issue of freedom –a key tenent of liberal democracy – redefined and indeed degraded. Instead of fighting for a free society, we now have a demand for a smoke free society. Mike Storey, Lib Dem leader of the Liverpool County Council (the first local authority to vote for a ban) told his party conference – with no hint of irony – that a ban which allows no room for choice, and can result in 1,000 pound fines (with jail for those who refuse to pay) is really “about the liberty of the individual to breathe the air and not have to have their [sic] health put at risk by the illiberal actions of others.” We would have enjoyed the issue even more if it were recognized that the great generator of the discourse that allows the state to exert such moral monopolies over the bio-chemical lives of its citizens is and has been the drug war; that the rhetoric about smoking is the same rhetoric that has been used to ban marijuana, heroin, cocaine, etc., etc.; that the bans were pernicious and unjustified in their very origins; that the last sensible drug policy adopted by a Western government was, in fact, that adopted under classical liberal principles by the British raj in India, which refused, in the 1890s, to ban ganja smoking among Bengalis (as some reformers were calling for them to do) on the sensible ground that it wasn’t those reformers business; and that the radical illogic of drug banning spreads the harm of precedent – the law being the vector, here, bearing harm to all parts of the body politic.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

news from austin

A friend wrote to tease me about the protests against Ann Coulter here in Austin. I didn’t even know Ann Coulter was coming to Austin. I feel about Ann Coulter and her movements the way Sherlock Holmes felt about the heliocentric theory, when Watson introduced him to the subject in Study in Scarlet:

“My surprise reached a climax, however, when I found
incidentally that he was ignorant of the Copernican Theory
and of the composition of the Solar System. That any
civilized human being in this nineteenth century should not
be aware that the earth travelled round the sun appeared to
be to me such an extraordinary fact that I could hardly
realize it.

"You appear to be astonished," he said, smiling at my
expression of surprise. "Now that I do know it I shall do my
best to forget it."

But if I was young and full of cum and a liberal undergrad at U.T., I’m sure that I would have thought protesting A.C. was just the thing to do. One has to teethe, no? And a little tussle with the cops, some shouting, and apparently one arrest – excitement was had by all.

No, the real news from Austin is that the smoking ban passed. I voted against it, of course. But I expected it to pass. The anti-smoking people did a really good job canvassing for that. And the pro-smokers did a piss poor job campaigning against it. Basically, there is already a ban on smoking in most work places. This ban would extend it to places where you drink and try to pick up your sexual preference (and if that doesn’t work, you listen to music). The pro-smokers should have emphasized the fun aspect of this. Instead, they mounted a dreary, geeky campaign about choice. Well, liberty will move the libertarians among us, all four of them – but to really block this ban, one needed to move the people who actually go to the clubs. And they would be moved only if it was obvious that this was a case of making good and sure that somebody else wasn’t having fun – a perennial preoccupation of punitive liberalism. This campaign, in other words, required mockery and song, but it didn’t get it.

The other issue that was much discussed and thrown about was the possibility that the state will rent some public roads to tolling companies. Or that tolling companies will build the roads. It is hard to know which it is to be. If the latter, it is a terrible idea. If the former, I don’t know. Extracting a charge from cars on the highway does have its good points – especially if, like me, you ride a bike. Seriously, although the highway system in the U.S. proves, once again, that sector specific socialism works, I’ve always held that there are no absolutes in the political economy. The social cost of allowing the state to spread the cost of infrastructure around is, evidently, to be measured in environmental damage here. And, as time goes by, in an unbreakable bond to an exhaustible resource accessed most easily under other skies. How to make that that social cost visible? LI is not against privatizing, with strict regulation, certain resources in order to make the cost of them real in every case. There are certain aberrant phenomena in this country – for instance, the million person lollapolooza in the desert known as Las Vegas – which are, in the long run, unsustainable. That the fastest growing city in these states is located in the area with the most rapidly dwindling supply of water implies something has gone wrong in our vaunted system of allocating resources.

I put down these stray thoughts as markers for a later post.