“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, September 21, 2013

adam and the law



I’m not one of life’s naysayers. This is funny, because I have a very negative attitude – or at least I often have a negative attitude – but something about the word “no” is difficult for me. This was pointed out  to me in a recent discussion about Adam’s anarchic urge to suck on electric chords and put his mouth up to electric outlets. It is I understand not uncommon in babies. Also, I have a vague memory of how, at one point when I was a small kid, I liked to bite down on a penny because I sort of liked/didn’t like the coppery taste in my mouth – it was the way liking would go to disliking and back, it was an unbalanced taste – and I also liked the way it carried a sort of electric charge to the teeth that made me cringe a bit. However, I don’t think Adam is at that point yet. Still, here he is, our eleven month old, charging at electrical outlets, and what I do is I catch him and say, oh, you thought you were going to pull a fast one. And things like that. Instead of saying no, no, no!
What is it with no? I’d like to think that it is dialectically difficult, but maybe it is that I’m a natural enabler. A weak soul with a wobbly moral code.
A couple of days ago, we were up in Adam’s room and he spotted the electric outlet at the far end of the room and made a fast crawl in its direction, and I tried the no. No, Adam, I said. Unexpectedly, this caused Adam to nearly die with laughter. Nope, Adam, I said, and again the laugh – Adam has a very good laugh, an infectious laugh, he makes you want to make him laugh. He’d laugh, watching me, and then turn back to the electric outlet, and I’d say no, and he’d almost flip with how funny it was that Da was saying no.
Now, perhaps an eleven month old is not an oracle, but there was something here, something happening here, that was … well, a little unheimlich to yours truly. Could I be seen through so easily?
Jesus, of course, issues the classic judgment: “But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.” Jesus was not generally close to the Stoics, but here I see their trace. This may be the most un-Socratic of his sayings. On the other hand (the enabler’s great phrase!) one can see the reason for it as a rule of prudence. And yet, the saying comes in the great chapter 5 of Matthew, the chapter of the beatitudes, where the yea and nay logic is, to say the least, strained. On the one hand, there the law and the prophets is to be fulfilled, in the person of the Christ, and on the other hand, various laws, including the most important, the law of talion – eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth – are negated. Jesus seems to duck and weave among the inevitable ironies of rules and language. As who does not? For I say unto you, pulling up my socks and getting on my heels, even yea and nay have their infinite varieties. The rest – that about which we cannot speak – is exactly what we all speak about.
Which may be why Adam found me so hilarious in the role of lawgiver. Wait until I tell him about the law and the prophets!


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Nudgery liberalism and its discontents



I read the review of This Town, the supposed expose of D.C.’s indealing establishment, by Michael Tomasky in the New York Review of Books, and I had to laugh. Like Ezra Klein, Tomasky, a “liberal”, is offended that the book ignores, as he puts it in his last graf: “… a city where everything isn’t a game, where everyone isn’t just in it for the money and the parties, and where many thousands of people do interesting work but don’t come within a whisper of the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner. They shape this town, too.
In other words, what about the crew of neoliberal policymakers and think tankers and aides who work so hard.
I have to laugh. Granted some of them might not be in it just for the money – but what one really has to ask is why they are such abysmal failures. For the majority of  people in the U.S., life in 2013, in Obama’s second term, is worse on every quality of life category that counts than life was in 2000, or 2005. And life wasn’t so good then to begin with.
The era of the nudgery liberals seals, in a sense, the conservative dominance – the ice age – that has sucked out all our air since Reagan’s time. The trick has not been about the scale of the government – the trick has been about the retreat of the government to a private enterprise heaven of intermediaries, making government ‘more efficient’ with the full approval and seal of the Dems. Having responded to the fall of socialist heaven with the idea that government can play the role of sugar daddy to big business but direct that business, by a whole bag of treats, to give the working class a break has been an outstanding joke. But the D.C. libs don’t get the punch line.
To illustrate: There was a post in the Washington Post’s wonkblog the other day showing that, according to a Pew Research poll, the uninsured are about evenly divided in their support for or opposition to  Obamacare. Sarah Kliff, the writer, is concerned that Americans are very very confused about Obamacare. This may be so – it is a massively confusing substitute for single payer state run healthcare, such as Medicare. What else could one expect from a program that had its roots in Romneycare and its design in proposals made by Newt Gingrich in the 90s? But one thing that isn’t touched on in the polls or the article is at the real heart of the uninsured’s unease: you really can’t trust the government. Supposedly, the uninsured are going to be subsidized by the federal government so that they can fulfill the mandatory insurance provision. But the uninsured can read the paper. They can remember things. Things like Obama trying to cut back Social Security and Medicare as part of his grand bargain. Perhaps they can even remember the evisceration of welfare under Clinton. So the question is: if those subsidies are on the chopping block one day, would the Dems protect them? If the answer is no – and there is every reason to think that Obama’s grand bargain is the real Dem template – than what we would be left with is an inadequate subsidy and a real mandate requirement. It is quite easy to envision a Dem congress or president deciding that a little out of pocket money from the working class to keep their nifty hodgepodge of crappy private insurance companies going would be a small sacrifice.
Neoliberals in D.C., in other words, have undermined any confidence one might have in the supposedly liberal programs they support and devise. This is why the plea for the “thousands of people doing interesting work” falls, at least in my case, on deaf ears. Fuck em.