Friday, July 30, 2010

(Don't Worry) If There's a Hell Below We're All Going to Go

Don't worry...if there's hell below, we're all gonna go!

Choose your own adventure

One thing that my friend Melissa McEwan is actually pretty good about is the fluidity of sexuality. She frames her essay as a critique of an episode of The View, which is kind of annoying (though I guess it's not much different from the way I frequently frame my own essays as critiques of McEwan, so I shouldn't complain), and her critique is myopic in the way it tends to be, but she gets at some good things here:
I don't particularly love the idea that women who come out as lesbians late in life were necessarily closeted all along. I'm sure that's true for many women, but why is it so hard to conceive of a woman (or a man, for that matter) whose attractions, or choices, change over hir lifetime?

We're always so desperate to talk about sexuality as if it isn't a choice, ever, for anyone, lest we create a crack into which homobigots can insert their argument that it's an American-wrecking lifestyle choice that makes the Baby Jesus cry buttplug-shaped tears or whatever, but, you know, maybe we should be talking about sexuality in a way that says even if it is a choice, people who love and fuck and live with and parent with and grow old with or have one-night stands with people of the same sex are deserving of equal rights because it's no one else's goddamned business and MREWYB.
(MREWYB is an acronym for my rights end where yours begin; it's a nice enough thought if we must remain within the conceptual framework of "rights," which I wish we wouldn't. Jack has a nice essay on some of the problems with this framework.)

The whole "it's not a choice" concept is muddled on a number of levels. There's what McEwan mentions, which at a more fundamental level is that this rigid interpretation of sexuality devalues choice in favor of genetic (or whatever) destiny. It sets up a context of unavoidable circumstances and says we're all helpless victims to them--while simultaneously insisting that being thus victimized ain't half bad! Sounds a lot like capitalism when you put it that way, actually.

Another problem with "it's not a choice" is that even if we say that sexual preference or orientation or whatever isn't a choice, sexual behavior always is. The capital-L Lesbians of second wave feminism, for example, could tell you that. It may or may not be personally healthy for any given individual to choose one sexual behavior over another, but it is still possible to choose. Acknowledging this does not lead logically only to the "choose monogamous heterosexuality within marriage!" argument, though if you have a case for it, by all means make it. Accepting that sexual behavior is a choice can lead equally to any number of other arguments, from "do whatever you feel like but try not to hurt anyone" (my favorite) to others just as specific (and potentially harmful) as the fundamentalist line, like "have sex only with people matrilineally related to you" or "never get consent" or "stick with nonhumans." Out of the whole range of options opened up by admitting that there is a choice here, it shouldn't be difficult to argue in favor of doing whatever we feel like short of hurting people, and yet we still seem to be terrified of making this argument.

Another problem I have with the "it's not a choice" crowd, and this is more anecdotal, is that at least among people I personally have known, there is a high correlation between promoting the choiceless concept and promoting the static, often binary (on/off, straight/gay) model of sexuality that McEwan critiques in her original post, the model that doesn't seem to be questioned by anyone on The View for instance.

I tend to identify my sexuality, when called upon to do so, as "gay," for a bunch of reasons. It's a simple shorthand. It is the single word that most accurately reflects my actual sexual behavior as it has occurred in the real world (though "infrequent" also comes close on that front). It has the force of habit behind it, as it's the identification I came to back when I first realized there was something to identify, more than half my lifetime ago now, back when my still-developing brain and still-strong (despite my parents' best efforts!) cultural indoctrination led me to simple answers rather than accurate ones. Because, yes--"gay" is a simple answer, and a decent approximation, but it's not accurate, in a multitude of ways that I'm not going to go into here (partly because some of them are entirely private, partly because it's complex enough that it would extend the length of this essay a thousandfold, and partly because a huge chunk of it is things I haven't even figured out how to articulate externally). I don't know what a more accurate description would be--I guess "queer" would do it, though I have an aversion both to the sound of the word and to the specific people who used it most frequently when I first became aware of it as a legitimate descriptor, and anyway I'm not sure how I feel about using such an enormous blanket term that nevertheless separates all of humanity into the distinct categories of "queer" and "straight," which I reject as invalid.

I think the problem is that the whole notion of "sexual identity" is a crock. It's a function entirely of our socialization in this insane, fucked up, unlivable society we have. It is, in fact, a form of the choiceless victimization I described early on in this essay. Don't get me wrong; there are clearly people who tend towards the behaviors we bundle under the "straight identity" and those who tend towards the behaviors we bundle under the "gay identity" and those who tend towards the behaviors we bundle under the "bisexual identity" and so on, but tendencies do not an identity make.

For a long time, the concept of fluid sexuality confused me; surely, I thought, if you're attracted only to members of the opposite sex, you're just straight, and if you're attracted only to members of the same sex, you're just gay, and if you're attracted to both, you're just bi. Why make it more complicated, more mysterious I thought, than that? Doesn't that cover everything? I eventually realized that the whole concept of "same" and "opposite" sexes is, at best, incomplete and inaccurate, that the "attraction" model isn't much better, and that there is a great deal more to sexuality than just which side of the artificial gender binary you most enjoy mingling genitals with.

Earlier, when I said "sounds a lot like capitalism!" it was more than a jokey throwaway. The late-period capitalism that we live in requires of us that we feel like we have options--but only the options provided to us by the system itself. Thus, with sexuality, we do have, in many ways, a greater openness than the generations that preceded us. It's OK to be gay, pretty much! But this openness has been channeled into tiny little boxes, easy to control, easy to market to. Gay? Buy the gay identity! Straight? Buy the straight one! Look at all these options we have for you. Anything you could possibly want to reflect and display your identity, we can sell you. And if you want to choose some other option--sorry, it's not a choice.

I've said it before--just as economic interests seek to control our movements, a control that can be fought with the Situationist concept of psychogeography, the same interests seek to control our sexualities. We need, again and always, to be sexual flâneurs--in, and this is important, whatever way best suits us.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Hope update

Read this and tell me Melissa McEwan doesn't read this blog and hang on my every word.

Umm Hmm

Wednesday, July 28, 2010


I hope they're getting this. The administration is not going to escape being seen as anti-business.....And I hope the ensuing discussion will lead President Obama to understand that the human and financial costs of continuing on this path far outstrip any conceivable security benefits....Let's hope the courts don't decide that we need to ratcvhet (sic) up the police state by siding with officers who hope to cover up their unprofessional and illegal behavior.....The sooner this country comes to grips with the fact that our mission in Afghanistan is overly ambitious, while excessively costly, the sooner there will be more and louder calls for disengagement. Let's hope this turns up the volume.....And let us hope some policy based in reality follows.....What I hope we're seeing is a rare example of the Democrats staking out a position on the left so that they can make a compromise in the middle.....I do detect some momentum gathering behind Tom Udall’s constitutional option for curbing the filibuster in January of 2011, which if it happens would revive hope in the legislative arena.....It’s always difficult to characterize the emotional state of a convention full of people. But if the 2007 edition of Netroots Nation was mostly angry, 2008 was hopeful, 2009 was anxious, and now in 2010 the dominant mood is depressed.

That last one, unintentionally, gets at the point I'm trying to make here quite well.

Raoul Vaneigem: "Hope is the leash of submission."

Derrick Jensen, Endgame, vol. 1: The Problem of Civilization, pages 329-331 (immediately after quoting the Vaneigem):
Hope, we are told, is our beacon in the dark. It is our light at the end of a long, dark tunnel. It is the beam of light that against all odds makes its way into our prison cells. It is our reason for persevering, our protection against despair (which must at all costs, including the cost of our sanity and the world, be avoided). How can we continue if we do not have hope?...

Hope is, in fact, a curse, a bane. ...

More or less all of us yammer on more or less endlessly about hope. You wouldn't believe--or maybe you would--how many editors for how many magazines have said they want me to write about the apocalypse, then enjoined me to "make sure you leave readers with a sense of hope." But what, precisely, is hope? At a talk I gave last spring, someone asked me to define it. I couldn't, and so turned the question back on the audience. Here's the definition we all came up with: Hope is a longing for a future condition over which you have no agency. It means you are essentially powerless.

Think about it. I'm not, for example, going to say I hope to eat something tomorrow. I'll just do it. I don't hope I take another breath right now, nor that I finish writing this sentence. I just do them. On the other hand, I hope that the next time I get on a plane, it doesn't crash. To hope for some result means you have no agency concerning it.
To the liberals I quoted above, engagement seems to consist largely of closing your eyes and hoping, interspersed with occasional voting (which is by its nature essentially just a special form of closing your eyes and hoping). I admit that I frequently become paralyzed thinking about everything wrong with the world, and how powerless I feel--and that is exactly when my thoughts turn to hope. It's a sickness! Jensen continues:
So many people say they hope the dominant culture stops destroying the world. By saying that, they've guaranteed at least its short-term continuation, and given it a power it doesn't have. They've also stepped away from their own power.

...when we stop hoping for external assistance, when we stop hoping that the awful situation we're in will somehow not get worse, then we are finally free--truly free--to honestly start working to thoroughly resolve it. I would say when hope dies, action begins.

Hope may be fine--and adaptive--for prisoners, but free men and women don't need it.

Are you a prisoner, or are you free?
Incidentally, I'm returning the book to the library tomorrow morning, so I'm going to have to stop giving over my entire thought process to Jensen. At least until the copy I bought arrives. I hope it comes soon!

UPDATE Hahahaha, I just got home from the library and what to my wondering eyes should appear but a package from Derrick Jensen. Both volumes are now in my clutches. The need to think for myself has been averted!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Marry me

So, whatever, until just now I would have said that Dark Knight cosplay is silly and was well overdone by May of 2009, but that was before I learned that this wonderful man dressed up like The Joker on the tenth of that month* and burned down his high school "because it is run by hypocrites and [he] didn't like the way they treated [his] friends."

My god, I think I'm in love. OK, there's an age difference of about a decade, and an ocean in between us, and I hear he's in some legal trouble, and I'll be wanting to talk the costume-thing out of him (or vice versa), and I'm guessing he's probably a bit more lady-oriented than I would prefer, but I think we can make it work.

A million euros of damage. "I am glad I did it because the people will realise they can't treat students as sub-human." I'm swooning here.

In all seriousness, if they take away his life (in terms of imprisonment, that is) because of this, which it looks like they might not thank god, it will be such an immense waste of such immense promise.

*He missed my birthday by three days, but I'm sure he had a good reason for that.

via io9

There'll always be what now?

I read Slaughterhouse Five years ago, and, having been an idiot, didn't get much out of it. I've just started rereading it today, which is turning out to be an excellent decision.

Unrelated to its intrinsic merits as a book, this early passage (on page 3 in the old-timey $1.25 paperback edition I have) struck me as, it:
Over the years, people I've met have often asked me what I'm working on, and I've usually replied that the main thing was a book about Dresden.

I said that to Harrison Starr, the movie-maker, one time, and he raised his eyebrows and inquired, "Is it an anti-war book?"

"Yes," I said. "I guess."

"You know what I say to people when I hear they're writing anti-war books?"

"No. What do you say, Harrison Starr?"

"I say, 'Why don't you write an anti-glacier book instead?'"

What he meant, of course, was that there would always be wars, that they were as easy to stop as glaciers. I believe that, too.
Though he really couldn't have known it at the time, Vonnegut's specific choice of analogy here has turned out to be dreadfully, dreadfully ironic.

War has crushed glaciers in this little competition.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Long and horrible

Via ASP I see this article, which is terrible, terrible, terrible.
Iraqi doctors in Fallujah have complained since 2005 of being overwhelmed by the number of babies with serious birth defects, ranging from a girl born with two heads to paralysis of the lower limbs. They said they were also seeing far more cancers than they did before the battle for Fallujah between US troops and insurgents.

Their claims have been supported by a survey showing a four-fold increase in all cancers and a 12-fold increase in childhood cancer in under-14s. Infant mortality in the city is more than four times higher than in neighbouring Jordan and eight times higher than in Kuwait.

Dr Chris Busby, a visiting professor at the University of Ulster and one of the authors of the survey of 4,800 individuals in Fallujah, said it is difficult to pin down the exact cause of the cancers and birth defects. He added that "to produce an effect like this, some very major mutagenic exposure must have occurred in 2004 when the attacks happened".


Brigadier Nigel Aylwin-Foster, a British commander serving with the American forces in Baghdad[, said] that the US commander who ordered this devastating use of firepower did not consider it significant enough to mention it in his daily report to the US general in command. Dr Busby says that while he cannot identify the type of armaments used by the Marines, the extent of genetic damage suffered by inhabitants suggests the use of uranium in some form. He said: "My guess is that they used a new weapon against buildings to break through walls and kill those inside."
Here's Derrick Jensen on depleted uranium, writing before the 2003 escalation in Iraq:
So-called depleted uranium is what's left of natural uranium after the "enriched uranium"--the fissionable isotope uranium 235--has been separated to produce fuel for nuclear reactors. The term depleted uranium is something of a misnomer in that it implies that the remaining uranium has become significantly less dangerous, more, well, depleted. But depleted uranium--99.8 percent uranium 238--is just as natural uranium...

The United States has made a lot of it, well over a billion pounds. Beginning in the 1950s, the feds started trying to figure out what they were going to do with all this stuff. Providentially, uranium is extremely dense--about 1.7 times heavier than lead--and so can be used to make an artillery shell that easily penetrates steel. Even better, it's pyrophoric, meaning heat from the impact causes it to vaporize, releasing huge amounts of energy. If you don't mind toxifying and irradiating the surrounding countryside and its human and nonhuman inhabitants, depleted uranium makes a tank-busting shell extraordinaire.

What this means in practice is that leaders of government and industry solved the problem of disposing of U-238 in typical win-win (for them) fashion by giving it away free to both national and foreign arms manufacturers...

The list of countries using or purchasing weapons or shells made with depleted uranium is long, and includes, among others, the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Canada, Russia, Greece, Turkey, Israel, the monarchies in the Persian Gulf, Taiwan, South Korea, Pakistan, and Japan.... And they are used often. In 110,000 air rads against Iraq during the so-called First Gulf War...USA-10 Warthog aircraft fired about 940,000 DU projectiles. When a depleted uranium projectile hits a target, about 70 percent of the round vaporizes into (hot) dust as fine as talcum powder, as does part of the target, which may also have been constructed of depleted uranium. Three hundred tons of DU are estimated to be blowing in the wind from this particular desert storm...

...DU has probably already harmed 250,000 Iraqis. The same can be said for residents of Bosnia, and soon we'll be saying the same for the people of Afghanistan. Leukemias and cancers have gone up by 66 percent in recent years in southern Iraq, with some locales experiencing a 700 percent increase. And there have been birth defects. Oh, how there have been birth defects. One doctor began her report, "In August we had three babies born with no heads. Four had abnormally large heads. In September we had six with no heads, nine with large heads, and two with short limbs. In October, one with no head, four with big heads and four with deformed limbs or other types of deformities." [from Endgame vol. 1: The Problem of Civilization, pages 61-63]
He goes on and it gets worse. "Worse" in the sense of the next paragraph containing a quote from someone who has seen "death squads in Haiti" and "the wholesale butchery of Rwanda" who "thought [he] had a strong stomach [but] nearly lost [his] breakfast" at a children's hospital in Iraq.

The United States is in Iraq because of its insatiable thirst for energy in the form of oil (Jensen takes great pains to remind us that by far the largest part of this thirst is the province of industry, commerce, and war, rather than individual people), and it is doing this unimaginable evil with the byproducts of its thirst for energy in the form of nuclear power. The combination of the two is even more deadly than either in isolation would be.

I was going to comment further, maybe say something about the intrinsic needs of a society focused on relentless capitalistic expansion, but I can't find any words that work better than the ones ASP used to close her post: "I mean... fuck. What else is there to say about this? Fuck fuck fuck. Fuck everything. Fuck us and fuck them and fuck everyone else. Just, fuck."


Jim Langevin is also a despicable asshole. Just FYI.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

While we're young and almost free

Because not everyone manages to make it to side five of Sandinista! (even I have trouble sometimes, and I love, love, love that album, start to finish), here's "Lose This Skin" (not "Lose That Skin" like the video says) by The Clash, crazy vocals and crazy fiddle by Tymon Dogg.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Derrick Jensen, Endgame vol. 1: The Problem of Civilization, page 395

(Cross-posted from Commonplace)

John Muir is famously noted as saying, "God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, avalanches, and a thousand tempests and floods. But he cannot save them from fools." The thing is, a fool couldn't cut down trees by him or herself. I used to think that we were fighting an incredibly difficult battle in part because it takes a thousand years of living to make an ancient tree, while any fool can come along with a chainsaw and cut it down in an hour or two. I've since realized that's all wrong. The truth is that thriving on a living planet is easy--the whole forest, for example, conspires to grow that tree and every other, and we don't have to do anything special except leave it alone--while cutting down a tree is actually a very difficult process involving the entire global economy. I wouldn't care how many ancient redwoods Charles Hurwitz [CEO of MAXXAM] cut down, if he did it all by himself, scratching pathetically with bloodied nails at bark, gnawing with bloody teeth at heartwood, sometimes picking up rocks to make stone axes. To cut down a big tree you need the entire mining infrastructure for the metals necessary for chainsaws (or a hundred years ago, whipsaws); the entire oil infrastructure for gas to run the chainsaws, and for trucks to transport the dead trees to market where they will be sold and shipped to some distant place (once Charles had downed the tree by himself, I would wish him luck transporting it without the help of the global economy); and so on. It takes a whole lot of fools to cut down a tree, and if we break the infrastructural chain at any point, they won't be able to do it.

Lies! Lies! Breaking my heart!

Lying is of course frequently a bad, bad, naughty thing to do, and it's probably at its naughtiest when it's used as part of a PR campaign in the buildup to a war. But between the lie and the war, I'm pretty sure the lie is the less-bad thing. Now, I'm not so simple as to think that the lie and the war are discrete, separable items, unrelated in the sequence of events. They're not, any more than, oh, I don't know, the soap suds and the clean dishes are (I just did the dishes).

Actually, that terrible metaphor sidetracked my thinking onto this path: it's possible to clean dishes without the soap suds, but it's easier to do it with them, just as it's possible to go to war with or without lies, but easier to do so with them. But once the dishes are clean, once they're demonstrably, unarguably clean, there is very little point in arguing over whether or not soap suds were used in cleaning them.

Of course, the metaphor, being terrible, begins to break down here, because the discussion of whether or not "the Bush Administration" (more correctly the imperial capitalist powers) used lies as part of the buildup to the definitive 2003 escalation of war in Iraq (and if you actually attempt to argue that they didn't, then like Karl Rove you clearly have a vested interest in doing so) can at least potentially have the effect of illuminating the reality of just exactly what it is that's going on with that whole war thing.

But the unspoken, and sometimes even explicitly spoken, assumption of not only Rove's article but also the liberal/Democrat rhetoric that preceded and will follow it, is that the presence or absence of these lies actually plays a part in determining the morality of the war itself. And this is complete nonsense.

Scenario One: George W. Bush says Iraq has nuclear weapons, Colin Powell says that Iraq went to The Mall of the Africas shopping for uranium, and then American troops go into Iraq and kill several millions of people for money.

Scenario Two: George W. Bush says he and his friends will make lots of money if American troops go into Iraq and kill several millions of people, Colin Powell says that he and his friends will make lots of money if American troops go into Iraq and kill several millions of people, and then American troops go into Iraq and kill several millions of people for money.

In which scenario do more people die?

Again: I am not saying that a discussion of the nature of the lies is a bad thing. But in all that discussion, the fact that millions of people have died seems to get lost. War is an evil thing regardless of the excuses people give for it, regardless of why people say they do it, regardless of whether or not people lie about it. The lie, in and of itself, is not the Big Bad here.

On a different note, this paragraph in Rove's article interested me:
The battering would continue, and it was a monument to hypocrisy and cynicism. All these Democrats had said, like Mr. Bush did, that Saddam Hussein possessed WMD. Of the 110 House and Senate Democrats who voted in October 2002 to authorize the use of force against his regime, 67 said in congressional debate that Saddam had these weapons. This didn't keep Democrats from later alleging something they knew was false—that the president had lied America into war.
Mostly because it's a very odd sensation to read the first three sentences of a paragraph, and the first nine or ten words of the last sentence, and think "This guy's right on the money," and then read the rest of the last sentence and think "What the fuck is this insanity?"

All is well in the world

If the question is, do we really need a stage musical version of Animal Farm, the answer is of course "Yes, yes, yes!"

The question then becomes, of course, who, of all of the world's brightest musical talents, is best suited to shepherd this urgently-needed adaption from its current "beautiful dream" stage to its final, completed perfection?

The answer to this question is as obvious as the answer to the first question: why, Elton John, of course!

Derrick Jensen, Endgame vol. 1: The Problem of Civilization, pages 284-285

(Cross-posted from Commonplace)

The checkout guy hates his job. Or at least he would if he allowed himself to feel in his body the slipping away of his own precious lifetime. Perhaps, though, it's more accurate to say "his own no-longer-precious lifetime," since if it were really precious he would not--could not--sell it so cheaply, nor even sell it for money at all. But he has been trained never to think of that, and especially to never feel it. If he thought of that--if he felt himself spending the majority of his life doing things he did not want to do--how would he then act? Who would he then be? What would he then do? How would he survive in this awful, unsurvivable system we call civilization? How, too, would we all respond if we fully awoke to the effects of the drip, drip, drip of hour after hour, day after day, year after year sold to jobs we do not love (jobs that are probably destroying our landbase to boot), and how would we respond, too, if we paid attention to the effects of other incessant drippings such as airbrushed photo after airbrushed photo on something so intimate as what--not whom, never whom--we find attractive?


A high school student bags the groceries. She's been through the mill. Twelve years of it, not counting her home life, twelve years of sitting in rows wishing she were somewhere else, wishing she were free, wishing it was later in the day, later in the year, later in her life when at long last her time--her life--would be her own. Moment after moment she wishes this. She wishes it day after day, year after year, until--and this was the point all along--she ceases anymore to wish at all (except to wish her body looked like those in the magazines, and to wish she had more money to buy things she hopes will for at least that one sparkling moment of purchase take away the ache she never lets herself feel), until she has become subservient, docile, domestic. Until her will--what's that?--has been broken. Until rebellion against the system comes to consist of yet more purchasing--don't you love those ads conflating alcohol consumption (purchased, of course, from major corporations) and rebelliousness?--or of nothing at all, until rebellion, like will, simply ceases to exist. Until the last vestiges of the wildness and freedom that are her birthright--as they are the birthright of every animal, plant, rock, river, piece of ground, breath of wind--have been worn or torn away.

Free will at this point becomes almost meaningless, because by now victims participate of their own free will--having long since lost touch with what free will might be. Indeed, they can be said to no longer have any meaningful will at all. Their will has been broken. Of course. That's the point. Now, they are workers. They are productive members of this great and benevolent structure of civilization that brings good to all it touches. They are happy, even if this happiness requires routine chemical assistance. There is no longer any need for force, because the people--or more precisely those who were once people--have been fully metabolized into the system, have become self-regulating, self-policing.

Welcome to the end of the world.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

It is possible for me to have more objections to a paragraph than there are words in it

For example:
America is a Utopian society. It aspires to an achievable perfection, a middle-class egalitarian meritocratic democracy with no kings, no pharoahs, no rulers by inheritance or divine right. In this it is different to Britain, where I grew up, which has class differences that in many ways no side really wants to erase, rather only to throw the other down, or keep them down.

The thing...

...about going on strike (oops, sorry, I mean on STRIKE), as a blogger, is that you should stop blogging.

Monday, July 19, 2010


If I never, ever see anyone on the internet

1. Referring to formal logical fallacies by name,
2. Referring to Godwin's Law, or
3. Acting like either of these things mean that they "win" an argument,

ever again, I will be extremely happy. I mean seriously. If it is possible for conversation to get stupider, I don't know how.

I think "strawman" is my least favorite, mostly because the bulk of the times that I see people invoking it, all it means is that they're too dense to understand what the other person is saying, typically because they don't know how to see the world outside of their own tiny little sphere of understanding.

(Inspired by looking over still more comment threads at Pharyngula.)

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Derrick Jensen, Endgame vol. 1: The Problem of Civilization, page 84

(Cross-posted from Commonplace)

I need to say that I no more advocate violence than I advocate nonviolence. Further, I think that when our lifestyle is predicated on the violent theft of resources, to advocate nonviolence without advocating the immediate dismantling of the entire system is not, in fact, to advocate nonviolence at all, but to tacitly countenance the violence...on which the system is based.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Knowing when to stop talking

This is a weirdly lucid thing for a celebrity wife to say, and particularly weird as a preamble to an extended meditation on how prostitutes are asking to be raped, so it's OK to do it:
I cannot explain why men do what they do. I don't understand why we're destroying the Earth to get to Jupiter. That doesn't make sense to me. I don't understand why we're fighting a war, spending billions of dollars fighting a war over oil, instead of spending that money on stuff that we don't need oil. I don't understand why men do what they do.
If she had just left off there, she would be my new favorite person. Unfortunately, she then goes on to defend her rich football player husband's right to rape prostitutes, so, you know, scratch that.

On religion and goat fucking

And now, commentary on the Pharyngula post that led to chaos, destruction, and the near dissolution of my blugfriendship with BDR.

Here's PZ Myers' latest imbecility. (Just kidding! He posted it two mornings ago, so there have been plenty of imbecilities since.) Take a look at it. See the problem? Apparently, PZ thinks the only significant difference between Pakistan and, say, the United States that might have an impact on online behavior is....religion. Is that so.

Take a look at this list. I'm not 100% clear on how Wikipedia defines "internet user," but regardless it seems like a good starting point. We see that 10.6% of the Pakistani population is online. In the US, it's 76.3%. There is one factor in any country that will consistently separate internet users from non-internet users, and it's not religion. I'll leave it to you to figure out what I might be talking about.

And that is of course just the beginning. When you're talking about Pakistan, for fucking hell's sake, you can't disregard its, uh, relationship with the US. Now I don't have statistics handy, but it's a good bet that those members of the Pakistani population who have internet access are more likely to have US ties, while the primary interaction between the US and those who do not have internet access is more likely mediated by predator drones.

And another thing: PZ's argument seems to be that the more repressive a person or a society is about expressions of sexuality, the more interested individuals are going to be in it in private, and that this means everyone should be open about sexuality. And while I have no particular opinion on this line of reasoning in specific, I'm certainly in favor of sexual openness, no fan of sexual repression. However, it is an easily observable fact that PZ Myers himself is not in favor of open expressions of the kind of sexuality directly relevant to the post, which are in fact bestiality and pedophilia. I'm always open to a discussion about these things, and I think their morality or lack thereof is far from a settled question, but Myers is definitively of a different persuasion. So what, exactly, is his point here?

And finally. There is an argument similar in structure to PZ's "the more someone says they're against sex, the more they're into it in private" that I do think is pretty consistently valid, and that's this: "the more someone says they're committed to rational evaluation of the world based on empirical evidence, like, oh, say, capital-A Atheists, the more they are absolutely idiotic, smugly ignorant, and completely unaware of their massive, massive blind spots." This post and its lengthy comment thread are excellent examples. About the first half of the thread is taken up by discussion about whether the methods used to attain and analyze the data are valid, but with no mention of the fact that the data sets for different countries with different types of social and economic stratification are not directly comparable and that therefore the entire premise of the whole discussion is nonsense. Then, a commenter using the name "Pakistan" comes in to berate the commenters and the original post for their racism, which, yes, absolutely. It's only part of the problem with the whole thing, but in any Pharyngula discussion there are going to be so many things to object to that it would be impossible to cover them all. (And I love his response when people point out that the only person who has used the phrase "sand nigger" is him: "I apologize profusely for suggesting that any of the good people of Pharyngula would say something ignorant and potentially racist straight out." Accurate!) Then the rest of the thread mostly consists of people haughtily pointing out that it's simply impossible that they might be engaging in racism (none of them, incidentally, aware of the distinction between "being racist" and "being a racist"). I leave you with this comment, which might be one of the most breathtakingly ignorant and awful things I've read in a good long while. She says that Pakistan
as a whole IS a fundamentalist hellhole though, largely due to Islam and ignorance. The Taliban seem to be ramping up, the government is a corrupt US puppet, and no one seems to care.
To paraphrase someone or other, what do you mean "no one," paleface?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Chumbawamba, "The Candidates Find Common Ground" (from Never Mind the Ballots, 1987)

(cross-posted from Commonplace)

A: Full employment, slave labor, and schemes
B: An unemployed workforce, the capitalist's dream
A & B: But let's keep Britain working
   Either way we must keep Britain working
A: Conventional weapons to kill people nicely
B: Nuclear weapons to keep the peace
A & B: But weapons definitely
   Either way we must defend ourselves
A: Nationalization, with one big boss
B: No, privatization, with lots of little bosses
A & B: But someone in control, of course
   Either way there must be someone giving orders

A toast to democracy
The prison guard of this society
Sides in the voting game
Disappear into the same machine

A toast
To US bases and nuclear weapons
To stopping pickets, pulling down fences
To the British troops in Northern Ireland
To the wonderful victory in the Falklands
To the plastic bullet and the riot police
To the UDM, to the TUC
To isolating gays and to law and to order
To richer bosses, to poorer workers


A toast
To longer hours and to less pay
To the courts for those who get in our way
To the beating of the people who step out of line
To the use of troops to break a strike
To the expulsion of extremists and to political witch hunts
To repatriation, to benefit cuts
To peaceful settlements, and to no strike agreements
To authority, to power, to governments

To the annual rise in the MP's wage
To vested interests, to privilege
To the party who wins the next election
By definition a victory to capitalism

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Being alive

I was just riding the bus home from work, struggling to read. I say struggling because I kept getting distracted by the noisy conversation the bus driver and a few of the people sitting near the front were having. And when I say "noisy," I mean noisy.

The conversation was wide-ranging. I first started picking up on it when they were talking about the various ways you can get electrocuted during a thunderstorm (we had thunderstorms here today), and the different things you can do to increase or decrease your chances of it. Then, via an anecdote about someone being electrocuted as a result of peeing on a third rail, they seamlessly transitioned to talking about the Acela and in general the viability of Amtrack as an enterprise. I got back to reading again, but then got distracted by some disdainful talk about celebrities who have recently bought property in Rhode Island (Nicholas Cage, Arnold Schwarzenegger on behalf of his granddaughter) and the possibility of turning the Westin Hotel and the Providence Place Mall, to which it is connected by a covered walking bridge, into a sort of refuge-living-space-casino complex for the very wealthy, which idea was met by much hostility (as far as I know, it is not likely to actually happen, and I don't think anyone's even talking about it).

And so on. As I said, I kept getting distracted from my reading, and was finding myself more and more irritated. Why don't they shut up, I thought. They seemed to be having a great time, and they were all manifestly smart and engaged and funny and lively and interested in the world around them, but: they were distracting from my reading, and it annoyed me.

The book I was reading was Derrick Jensen's Endgame, Vol. 1: The Problem of Civilization, which I have just started reading at Richard's suggestion. The passage I was so irritated at being distracted from was this one, which I have massively truncated from pages 19-20:
...if we dig beneath [the] second, smiling mask of civilization--the belief that civilization's visual or musical arts, for example, are more developed than those of noncivilized peoples--we find a mirror image of civilization's other face, that of power. For example, it wouldn't be the whole truth to say that visual and musical arts have simply grown or become more highly advanced under this system; it's more true that they have long ago succumbed to the same division of labor that characterizes this culture's economics and politics. Where among traditional indigenous people--the "uncivilized"--songs are sung by everyone...within civilization songs are written and performed by experts, those with "talent," those whose lives are devoted to the production of these arts... I'm not certain I'd characterize the conversion of human beings from participants in the ongoing creation of communal arts to more passive consumers of artistic products manufactured by distant a good thing.

I could make a similar argument about writing, but Stanley Diamond beat me to it: "Writing was one of the original mysteries of civilization, and it reduced the complexities of experience to the written word. Moreover, writing provides the ruling classes with an ideological instrument of incalculable power. The word of God becomes an invincible law, mediated by priests... symbols became explicit; they lost a certain richness. Man's word was no longer an endless exploration of reality, but a sign that could be used against him..."

[Jensen moves on to his next point, or rather to the next part of the same point]

...I'm not certain that the ability to send emails back and forth to Spain or to watch television programs beamed out of Los Angeles makes my life particularly richer. It's far more important, useful, and enriching, I think, to get to know my neighbors. I'm frequently amazed to find myself sitting in a room with my fellow human beings, all of us staring at a box watching and listening to a story concocted and enacted by people far away. I have friends who know Seinfeld's neighbors better than their own... The other night, I wrote till late, and finally turned off my computer to step outside and say goodnight to the dogs. I realized, then, that the wind was blowing hard through the tops of the redwood trees, and the trees were sighing and whispering. Branches were clashing, and in the distance I heard them cracking. Until that moment I had not realized such a symphony was taking place so near, much less had I gone out to participate in it, to feel the wind blow my hair and to feel the tossed rain hit me in the face. All of the sounds of the night had been drowned out by the monotone whine of my computer's fan... [G]iven the impulse for centralized control that motivates civilization, widening communication in this case really means reducing us from active participants in our own lives and in the lives of those around us to consumers sucking words and images from some distant sugar tit.
Once I got that far and the meaning of the words began, along with my increasing agreement with them, to sink in, I started to become ashamed of my previous irritation. I gave up trying to read, because after all I can do that any time I want*. I closed the book, and while I didn't go so far as to join in with the conversation (I'm shy), I did listen, appreciatively, and did feel part of a community, if only glancingly, and only briefly. It was nice.

Then I got home, turned on my computer, opened all the windows, and was immediately startled by the call of a bird. Not knowing at first how to interpret the sound, unfamiliar in this context, I thought for a moment that it was my computer issuing its death rattles. Baby steps; I guess I can't expect to become a fully functional life-form in an instant.

*Except of course during work hours!!!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

If things were going well

Stated by a liberal, blithely, apparently without any need for explanation:
If things were going well in the US, unemployment would be about 5,000,000, or around 3% of the 153,741,000 people in the total US labor force
Now, I am firmly of the persuasion that no one needs jobs, that in fact we'd all be better off, individually and as a society, if no one had jobs.

However, in the United States as currently constituted, in the reality that liberals pride themselves on living in, people need what jobs get them. Jobs give people scheduled permission to acquire goods, and we need that permission even, or especially, to acquire necessary goods. But if "things were going well," according to Jacob Davies, there would still be five million people (five million Americans, the most sacred of all kinds of people) going without that scheduled permission to acquire necessities--the permission to live.

This being the internet, Davies brings zombies into it, making some kind of wretched, belabored metaphor about the unemployed being in peril along the lines of a zombie attack. However, while this seems to indicate that he recognizes the disaster that is being unemployed in our society (or at least recognizes it on some level covered over by internet-style "awesome!!" and by his continuing to talk in financial terms, which would seem to make the whole metaphor pointless), he only applies this metaphor to the unemployed population that rises above his "doing well" level. So those five million, what--they deserve it? Is that what I'm supposed to make of this? How do we pick which five million are the healthy-functioning-society unemployed population, and which are the ones under attack by zombies?

I realize that late-stage capitalism, in order to survive, requires some level of unemployment. But surely it's not capitalism but rather human beings that we're trying to help survive. Right?

PS I'm deliberately ignoring everything else in Davis's article.

Crutches for brains

When he can pull himself away from, for example, being "rather worried" by "violent action against property" (and my god, even if you are going to take that ludicrous construction seriously as something to be worried about, does spray painting a billboard even count?), PZ Myers is occasionally able to say something interesting.

The article is about the limitations of the human brain, many of which I was familiar with already. If you aren't, I don't recommend starting with this brief, snotty article; I'd say go for a book by V.S. Ramachandran or someone like him, who unlike friend Myers is genuinely, consistently interesting, and feels no need to be a dick to make up for his own inadequacies as a human being.

What I like here is this brief passage, ignoring the miserably failed attempt at goofy humor that concludes it:
We even build crutches for brains. Math is a crutch. Science is a crutch. Philosophy is a crutch. Artists, too, use learned heuristics to get their minds to operate reliably in that unnatural mode. We rely utterly on these kinds of intellectual tools to focus our brains efficiently on problem solving, rather than doing what comes naturally, which usually involves snarfing down cheeseburgers and having wild monkey sex with other bipeds.
This might make me dumb, but I had never, ever thought to frame things that way. Leaving aside the art and philosophy for the moment, I was of course aware of the essential incompleteness and blundering nature of scientific inquiry, and I've long had a layman's fascination for the mystery of how it is that math, an abstract, constructed system totally disconnected from reality, seems to be very, very good at describing the way the universe works. But it never occurred to me to think of these things as crutches, with all that implies.

Imagine, being able to see the workings of the universe we live in directly, without the assistance of math and science. To be able to just understand. It's kind of a breathtaking thought.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

There should be a place for the rack in the torturer's arsenal

I've said before that despite all of her massive, massive, highly useful-to-power blind spots, digby should at least be praised for her dedicated reporting on the horrifying use of tasers by police forces, particularly in the US but also worldwide. And yes, her dedication to documenting the atrocities is admirable.

But Jesus goddamned Christ, how the fuck do you explain this?
There should be a place for the taser in the policeman's arsenal.
No, no, no, a thousand fucking times Jesus no.

A note that will not reach anyone it needs to reach

Anyone who could write or take seriously an article titled The Unforced Errors of the Obama Administration (Escalation in Afghanistan, whoops! Full-bore endorsement of the 2008 bank bailout, whoops!) clearly needs to read, and understand, JR's Marxist review of the Obama administration over at ladypoverty.


This is extremely awful and sad and I will not approach it with the usual sarcastic disdain with which I usually approach Shakesville.

The punishment to which Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani was sentenced (I see there may now be a reprieve) is horrifying. And I'm not going to object to people worldwide working to call attention to it, per se; though I think that that time could be more productively spent calling attention to local atrocities (of which there is never anything approaching a shortage), I'm not in any position to judge priorities and I'm not heartless enough to tell people to mind their own business when the horrible death of a human being is involved.

However, calling upon members of the leadership of the United States of America to "to take a bold stance on behalf of the women of Iran" is exactly the wrong way to do it. Taking a bold stance of behalf of the women of Kuwait was part of our justification of the initial invasion of Iraq in 1990, and taking a bold stance on behalf of the women of Iraq was part of the justification for the massive, definitive escalation there in 2003. In the meantime, taking a bold stance on behalf of the women of Afghanistan was part of the drumbeat to war there well before 9/11, and this bold stance became even bolder in the run-up to the full-scale invasion afterward.

When I saw McEwan's letter to Hillary Clinton at the end of the post, a chill went down my back.

Bold stances on behalf of the women of the world are wonderful things, coming from people who care about humanity. Coming from our leaders, they're just another excuse for death, death, death. This is yet another reason why, if we truly want to change things in this life, appealing to power to provide us with top-down solutions is never, ever going to work.

Saturday, July 10, 2010


I'm really glad I read blogs where certain individuals specialize in getting outraged by certain other individuals' public behavior, because otherwise I never would have learned how delightfully unhinged Gallagher, of all people, is these days. Select quotes:
On tattoos: That ink goes through to your soul—if you read your Bible, your body is a sacred temple, YOU DIPSHIT.

If Obama was really black, he'd act like a black guy and get a white wife.

On, uh, the Rice Krispie elves, for some reason?: All three of those guys are gay. Look at 'em!

This is why I'm not on TV. I am powerful. They can tell.
Sounds like he's found a niche for himself.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Warning signs

I've just started reading Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow (I know I said I was going to start reading it on the 4th, but Star Trek is very distracting). And, well, I'm six pages in and already hoping it gets better.

From page 2:
I first encountered the idea of a new racial caste system more than a decade ago, when...I noticed a sign stapled to a telephone pole that screamed in large bold print: The Drug War Is the New Jim Crow. I paused for a moment and scanned the flier... I sighed, and muttered to myself something like "Yeah, the criminal justice system is racist in many ways, but it really doesn't help to make such an absurd comparison. People will just think you're crazy."
She presents this as an attitude she's moved on from, but then how to explain this, on page 6? After going through the (as she takes pains to point out) circumstantial evidence that the CIA (as she takes pains to point out) might have had something to do with the explosion of crack distribution in Black neighborhoods in the mid-80s, she talks about the drug war (as she mentions, launched before the crack thing started and during a time of declining drug use nationwide) and the resulting prison population boom:
The United States now has the highest rate of incarceration in the world, dwarfing the rates of nearly every developed country, even surpassing those in highly repressive regimes like Russia, China, and Iran.... No other country imprisons so many of its racial or ethnic minorities. The United States imprisons a larger percentage of its black population than South Africa did at the height of apartheid.
What, then, would it take for Alexander to place the United States on her mental list of "repressive regimes"? Because to me the list appears to be made up of three countries who oppose the US's economic interests and one country whose repressive regime can safely be imagined to have collapsed long ago.* In other words, the MICFiC-approved list of naughty naughty nations.

The only explanations I can come up with are either that Alexander, despite her awareness of the nature of the United States's criminal justice system, still subscribes to the mythology of American exceptionalism on a level too deep to allow her to question it, or that she is still terrified of people "thinking she's crazy." And, OK, maybe I should just let this go by. Maybe it's a rhetorical trick to avoid alienating people who might be turned off by negative talk about the US in the introduction (though in that case I think the purpose would have been just as well, or better, served by omitting the "repressive regime" phrase and just letting the list of Russia, China, and Iran do the work on its own). I just hate to see yet another person who should know better fall into these traps, and seeing it so strongly, so early on, is giving me reservations about the rest of the book.

I'll let y'all know how it turns out. And really, despite its flaws, any book detailing the horrors, and the built-in deliberate unavoidable unreformable racism, of the American prison industry/justice system, is fighting the good fight.

*Though of course it didn't; apartheid, just like Jim Crow, faked its death and changed its name, and is now all the more dangerous for its anonymity.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Do I even need to ask?

Q. Do we really live in a society so intensely, oppressively focused on work at the expense of personal life that we have to invent the word daycation?

A. Um, of course we do.

Fairly trivial post alert

I want to say happy birthday! to Ringo Starr, probably the single most underrated drummer in the world (and Yoko Ono's favorite that she's ever worked with), and also to Shelley Duvall, who is one of the charmingest people who has ever lived. What a great day for celebrity birthings.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

"Any sensible person right now would join an anti-capitalist organization"

Took a break from Star Trek to watch this animation of a lecture by David Harvey. Quite enjoyed it.

OK, I'm gonna go check on what Commander Sisko and pals are up to.

From the mountains to the prairies to the oceans white with foam

Oh, Digby.
And anyway, the Fourth of July is my favorite holiday -- a beautiful, secular, mid-summer celebration of freedom --- and I just don't want to feel awful today.
I completely understand not wanting to feel awful today--I generally don't want to feel awful any day, though my success with that desire is spotty to say the least. But, come on now: a beautiful, secular, mid-summer celebration of freedom? Is that what today is?

Because my understanding is that it's more to do with a bunch of privileged, property-(including-slaves-let's-not-forget)-owning, wealthy white men taking a quick break from their ruthless genocide to violently express, first, their unwillingness to part with any of their wealth, and second, their desire to take on those aspects of power that they did not have already. The fact that they packaged these desires in populist hand-waving only means that they were clever about the long-term needs of maintaining that power, nothing more, nothing less.

Lovely also how she posts a video clip, perfectly frozen by youtube on a still of Barack Obama's most unbearable look of beatitude and his wife's most perfect look of contempt for her inferiors (who are, naturally, everyone else), of a bunch of privileged powerholders listening to a wealthy white man condescend to the rest of us, linking below it to Douglass's What to the Slave is the Fourth of July with a smug, very nouveau White Man's Burden "We've come a long way."

What to the Black American who is president is the Fourth of July? A celebration of the continued gullibility of the masses that enable his wealth, no doubt. And what is it to the vast majority of the rest of Black Americans of today? Or, for that matter, 99% of this country's population? And what is it to the rest of the world?

Myself, I'm celebrating the day by staying the fuck indoors and watching boatloads of Star Trek by myself. Its portrait of the unquestioningly patriotic front guard of a repressive psychologically totalitarian society is a perfect mirror of today's America. Later on I plan to start reading Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. God Bless America.

PEE ESS Those lyrics I used as the title of this post sure need amending at this point, don't they? "From the blasted, topless mountains to the mineral production fields and factory farms to the oceans brown with oil" doesn't exactly fit the rhythm of the song, but it'll have to do until we have better things to sing about.

PEE PEE ESS Another good way to celebrate This Great Nation Of Ours™ (unless you and your parents and your grandparents and your great-grandparents weren't all white people born here in which case get back to where you came from, and if you're already there what right do you think you have to read this American blog???) is with a listen to Laurie Anderson's wonderful new album Homeland. The lady's still got it, and she's always been good at seeing the actual world she lives in.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Note: these self-appointed guardians of culture aren't guarding shit.

Arthur Silber and I have very different tastes in our classical music--most music written between about 1750 and 1900 does nothing for me, and opera in particular does even less--but his complaints about the banality of the American high-cultural mainstream are utterly familiar to me, while his rant is utterly accurate and utterly wonderful.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Compare, contrast

In the following, all emphasis is mine.

The, er, youtube blog, back in March:
For years, Viacom continuously and secretly uploaded its content to YouTube, even while publicly complaining about its presence there. It hired no fewer than 18 different marketing agencies to upload its content to the site. It deliberately "roughed up" the videos to make them look stolen or leaked. It opened YouTube accounts using phony email addresses. It even sent employees to Kinko's to upload clips from computers that couldn't be traced to Viacom. And in an effort to promote its own shows, as a matter of company policy Viacom routinely left up clips from shows that had been uploaded to YouTube by ordinary users. Executives as high up as the president of Comedy Central and the head of MTV Networks felt "very strongly" that clips from shows like The Daily Show and The Colbert Report should remain on YouTube.

Viacom's efforts to disguise its promotional use of YouTube worked so well that even its own employees could not keep track of everything it was posting or leaving up on the site. As a result, on countless occasions Viacom demanded the removal of clips that it had uploaded to YouTube, only to return later to sheepishly ask for their reinstatement. In fact, some of the very clips that Viacom is suing us over were actually uploaded by Viacom itself.
(via Avedon)

Judith Levine, Harmful to Minors, page 37:
Attorney Lawrence Stanley, who published in the Benjamin A. Cardozo Law Review what is widely considered the most thorough research of child pornography in the 1980s, concluded that the pornographers were almost exclusively cops. In 1990 at a southern California police seminar, the LAPD's R. P. "Toby" Tyler proudly announced as much. The government had shellacked the competition, he said; now law enforcement agencies were the sole reproducers and distributors of child pornography. Virtually all advertising, distribution, and sales to people considered potential lawbreakers were done by the federal government, in sting operations against people who have demonstrated (through, for instance, membership in NAMBLA) what agents regard as predisposition to commit a crime. These solicitations were numerous and did not cease until the recipient took the bait. "In other words, there was no crime until the government seduced people into committing one," Stanley wrote.

If, as police claim, looking at child porn inspires molesters to go out and seduce living children, why were the feds doing the equivalent of distributing matches to arsonists? Their answer is: to stop the molesters before they strike again. Newspaper reports of arrests uniformly follow the same pattern: a federal agent poses as a minor online, hints at a desired meeting or agrees to one should the mark suggest it, and then arrests the would-be molester when he shows up. But another logical answer to the almost exclusive use of stings to arrest would-be criminals is that the government, frustrated with the paucity of the crime they claim is epidemic and around which huge networks of enforcement operations have been built, have to stir the action to justify their jobs.
The specific motivation may vary slightly from situation to situation (though profit and entrenchment of power are always the ultimate goals), but Power will always behave in the same manipulative, exploitative ways.

(NOTE: I am perfectly aware that the Youtube blog, being a public face of Google, is also the voice of Power. They are most certainly despicable in their own ways. That's just not particularly relevant in this particular example.)

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy pages 42-43

(Cross-posted from Commonplace)

Arthur let out a low groan. He was horrified to discover that the kick through hyperspace hadn't killed him. He was now six light-years from the place that the Earth would have been if it still existed.

The Earth.

Visions of it swam sickeningly through his nauseated mind. There was no way his imagination could feel the impact of the whole Earth having gone, it was too big. He prodded his feelings by thinking that his parents and his sister had gone. No reaction. Then he thought of a complete stranger he had been standing behind in the queue at the supermarket two days before and felt a sudden stab--the supermarket was gone, everyone in it was gone. Nelson's Column had gone! Nelson's Column had gone and there would be no outcry, because there was no one left to make an outcry. From now on Nelson's Column only existed in his mind--his mind, stuck here in this dank smelly steel-lined spaceship. A wave of claustrophobia closed in on him.

England no longer existed. He'd got that--somehow he'd got it. He tried again. America, he thought, was gone. He couldn't grasp it. He decided to start smaller again. New York has gone. No reaction. He'd never seriously believed it existed anyway. The dollar, he thought, has sunk for ever. Slight tremor there. Every Bogart movie has been wiped, he said to himself, and that gave him a nasty knock. McDonald's, he thought. There is no longer any such thing as a McDonald's hamburger.

He passed out. When he came round a second later he found he was sobbing for his mother.

Guess who I like better

Maureen Dowd?
The idea of seeing Saudi Arabia with the welcome mat out was irresistible...even when the wary Saudis kept resisting.
Or Zunguzungu, writing about Maureen Dowd?
The first thing to say, then, is this is how Orientalism works: we know what pictures of the Orient we want, and so we go out and get them. ...

It tells us a great deal about her and what she went to Saudi Arabia to find (and did find), in other words: confirmation. After all, look back at that quote: the fact that they’re selling her exactly the image she wants to buy — a slowly modernizing puritanical society — passes completely under her radar; she wants images of burkas next to swimming pools and they’re happy to give them to her, happy to cater to her belief that social justice is a sort of natural outgrowth of luxury. But this business of “wary Saudis” is preposterous; it would be hard for a trip to be more fundamentally state sponsored trip than hers was, and the image of “wary Saudis” was just one of the images they provided her to pose next to.