Friday, March 30, 2007

Consortiumblog: The American Ghosts of Abu Ghraib


Truthout carries a Consortium News piece by a vet named Sam Provance, entitled “The American Ghosts of Abu Ghraib” ( Mr. Provance was a non-com systems administrator in Intelligence Analysis.

He has much to say – from first-hand experience – about the Abu Ghraib investigations, in which the Army investigated itself. It’s all a riveting read and – especially when you get into the parts about singularly uninterested general-officer investigators – it makes you wonder about a lot of things.

I find it even more interesting that Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) floats to the surface once again in matters military. There was a screening of a documentary on the investigation held this past February; the screening was to be followed by a discussion led by Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and the aforementioned Graham; Kennedy was there from the beginning; Graham – neatly – arrived late ( thereby avoiding having to shake hands or be photographed shaking hands with several of the more significant subjects of the film, including Provance and Brigadier General Karpinski, the Reserve MP general who was blamed for the whole thing).

Graham is most famously known for his public protestations against the Military Commissions Act, standing tall one afternoon with McCain next to the current Service chief JAGs last autumn, vowing that the monstrosity would not pass, and then suddenly folding and voting for it overnight, declaring that they were satisfied that it was fixed and it would work. He appeared to be offended and hurt when his motivations and integrity were in not a few quarters impugned. He has also done a bravura turn at the Hearings in the matter of the fired US Attorneys, trying to spin things such that the fired look merely like hacks who had had their turn in the sun and were now refusing to get off the ferris wheel and give other hacks a chance for a ride.

Provance reports he was stunned when Graham – who had professed himself shocked, shocked, when Provance (in sorta whistleblower mode) had first spoken with him on the phone about Abu Graib – now blithely announced to the insembled entourage that the whole thing was the fault of a few bad apples, after which Gentleman Graham – you can’t make this stuff up! – proceeded to hotly disparage Brigadier General Karpinski … whom he presumed was absent. She shoulda been court-martialed, brayed the Gentleman. She shoulda driven through the Iraqi night to conduct random middle-of-the-night checks; he further brayed that when he had been an active-duty JAG he had always conducted such ‘checks’, checking – he confides – “the dormitory”.

What a JAG officer needs to be wandering around in dormitories (‘barracks’, one ventures to presume – but you never can tell with someone who is simultaneously a lawyer, a politician, and a JAG) full of sleeping enlisted females – or males – is beyond me. The modern American imagination is hard-pressed to conceive of an urgent enlisted need for Counsel in one’s underwear at 3AM. But JAGs are what they are, and Graham has gone further than most. He also may have never had to drive through the Iraqi night, on unlit roads that might be IED’d or registered for ground-fire, in anything less armored than a main battle-tank (which is still pretty vulnerable).

He perhaps hadn’t read up or retained enough of what he read to recall that most of the serious damage at Abu Graib was done by ‘special’ types of personnel specifically with-held from Karpinski’s control. At any rate, his comments are a classic example of the old if vicious military shell-game: having been caught in the act, the bosses ensure that it is the lowest-ranking who are blamed for ‘everything’ and then – having blamed them – other bosses echo back that reprehensible lie and amplify it. Thus Graham: just a few bad little-people did it (and if the camouflage uniforms, termed BDUs, were still forest-green, he might well have blamed ‘the leprechauns’). Then again, Graham may not have known that ‘SecDef’ von Rumsfeld himself was in close touch about the daily torture over there; then again, Graham may know all about it … more than We do, even.

Graham hee-hawed into the faces of serious and concerned citizens he saw out in the hall: twarn’t but a thang, the torture, and – he assured everyone – the American people really don’t care what happened as far as torture is concerned. Tee-hee. The upshot appeared to be that the crowd in front of him was somehow not-American or – indelicately – un-American. Or maybe gay. (At which point we’re back to his wee-hours dormitory-checking again.)

It must have been – as the Brits might say – an extraordinary performance. But it didn’t end there. Karpinski was introduced and an open mike made available to her, upon which she began to fill him in, including the fact that she had asked for a court-martial and the Army actually refused it (too much truth might get out, now that court-martials are conducted under public scrutiny instead of the usual JAG-infested back-alley ‘courtroom’ on a military base).

Graham’s response? To the fact that he had (inaccurately) belittled a general officer whom he thought wasn’t present and then found out was indeed present? To the fact that she then openly called him and his Army handlers cowards? To the fact that she proceeded to rebut every sleazy assertion he had made? The Gentleman smirked and said: “Well, I guess I just lost your vote!” Tee hee.

I’d like to make again a point made in other Posts on the site. It’s one that is becoming increasingly obvious as time goes on and as more and more Bushist appointees are dragged blinking, smirking, and babbling into the light: they are grossly immature for the responsibilities they being paid to carry and the authority with which they have been invested.

Graham, as a JAG, is clearly so. And here I am not suggesting that the Bushist hiring infection has infiltrated the JAGs. I think it worked very much the other way round: the JAGs have always been looking for kinda immature apparatchiks all along, and the Bushist imperium took notice of that and figured that if the JAGs could get away with it all this time – indeed, make careers and post-careers out of it - then it would be a cakewalk for the Executive Branch in all its post-9/11 puissance.

Now I am not talking about Graham as a Senator. Folks can go and elect any sort of person they want and – let’s face it – not everyone elected to high public office is a paragon of maturity or integrity. I am talking about Graham as a JAG, a ranking officer, and – if you haven’t had many nightmares lately – an appeals-level judge in the military legal system.

But when you think about it, what other kind of person would as rigged a game as the military legal system be able to tolerate? It’s an impossible professional situation: you either have to betray your client or your place on the military ‘team’. There is NO halfway solution to the conundrum of ‘military justice’; both the military and ‘Justice’ make mutually exclusive and ultimate demands. If, say, one branch of a religion demands that the priestesses be pregnant and the other branch demands that the priestesses be virgin, there is no way to simultaneously meet both of those demands. And anyone who tells the assembled faithful differently is lying.

So the JAGs can’t really afford to be looking for Character and Integrity if those virtues need to be platformed by Maturity. A professional grounded in all the afore-mentioned capital-letter words is very quickly going to run into ‘the wall’: you either play on the team and you betray your client’s interests or you stand up for your client and get tossed out. It’s not for nothing that the print advertisement for the JAG corps in the law journals is a grainy black and white of … handcuffs. That’s the level of maturity they’re appealing to. You go much higher and you’re only going to be making trouble for yourself.

This is what’s happened all these years with this sleazy and vicious kabuki called ‘military justice’, even since ‘codified’ by Congress in 1951. The ‘military justice’ system is an impossibility on its face and every effort to conduct its ‘codified’ and ‘legal’ operations is itself a betrayal of the principles it is loudly proclaiming itself to embody. Military-Justice Land resembles nothing so much as Dodge City in the very bad old days, and the aspiring professionals who enter the JAGs will wind up as Mark Twain relates of his young self: “It was no place for a Presbyterian … and I did not remain one very long.”

And we see that the JAGs have added a new dimension to Arendt’s ‘banality of evil’. The morally unimaginative, willfully over-focused Nazi bureaucrats such as Eichmann never pulled triggers or the levers that dropped gas pellets; they simply worked in offices with pencils and rules and calculators and maps and colored markers. They had ‘a job’ to do and they did it as efficiently as they could; they willed themselves not to look up from their desks to see how their little ‘job’ fit into a larger picture. They would allow themselves no such ‘distraction’. They had a ‘job’ to do – and on top of that they were officers. They had their orders. Why complicate life when one is granted such ‘clarity’ as to one’s duty? They were little men.

The usual if mostly unspoken JAG defense of their 'system' is 'Just Trust Us'. After all, they are double professionals: lawyers and military officers. And if you can't trust lawyers and the military, well, who can you trust? Who else y'a gonna call? But we've already seen, recently what all these 'trustworthy' professionals have been doing with the massive amounts of authority that was dumped into their lap by the too-eager authoritarian-buttlickers of the 109th Congress. The DOJ has been ransacking every citizen's privacy, the FBI has been falsely (and criminally?) obtaining information on citizens, god only knows what Homeland Security has been doing with its passenger list data-mining, and even the NYPD sent officers on paid trips all over the place to root out potential disrupters (not to be confused with the sturdy Klingon 'disruptor').

But the JAGs have added a new level: the ‘immaturity’ of the ‘banality of evil’: cocky, smirky, callow … these are a different breed from the Eichmannian drones. And they can go a long way in their guild, fueled by that immaturity. They don’t follow Justice; they make it. They make it do tricks like a trained bear. They’re lawyers and they’re soldiers. Kewl, dudes! And officers and gentlemen. Ja! Yah. They are little, but they’re loud.

And We must beware of them … and all their pomps and all their works.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2007


Tom Engelhardt reports on his experience at the recent anti-war march (“Demobilizing America: Outsourcing Action in an Imperial World”, ( and on his site

He mentions the curious fact that of all the blabbering pundits still around who a couple-three years ago told us that war in ze East would be a righteous slam-dunk, almost all of them are still around demanding to be taken seriously, still outshouting the couple of commenters who turned out to have been right then and (presumably) now (he mentions Jonathan Schell and James Carroll).

It is odd. It reminds me: guess who constituted one of the earliest and most vehemently barred groups of Americans who tried to volunteer for service with the military at the outset of Da Good War?

No, not them. Nope, not them either. It was “anti-fascists”. Yes, you read right. If you had gone to Spain a few years before and fought Hitler and Mussolini there then – sorry, pal – the Army didn’t want you in 1940 or 1941. G’wan home, the whole a’yez!

And why? The official reason was – wait for it – “premature antifascism”. And – No, that’s not a sexual or psychosexual disorder. If you had seen that Hitler was a lethal whackjob too early, and had the get-up-and-go to go do something about it, then you weren’t what the US military was looking for.

In other words, if you were independently-minded enough to see a vicious whackjob for what he really was while Henry Ford and a number of Congressmen and senior officers were still impressed with his production figures and his vote-getting and his uniforms, and if you then also had the independence of will to actually change your life by crossing the sea to fight on foreign soil against him and his flunkies … waaaaal, then you probably weren’t soldier-material.

And ya know – I think the Army was maybe mostly right. Too much independence is not what they want at ze front.

Youth … now that’s one of those curious phenomena: seems independent, but really it’s not. Independence isn’t something that comes with youth; being truly ‘free’ and being able to appreciate ‘liberty’ is not something that is very easy for the young to do. It’s not their fault – it’s just that it takes a long time to mature the soul, the spirit, the psyche, the self to the point where ‘otium’ can become ‘schole’, where time-to-burn becomes constructive ‘leisure’. So they don’t call it the ‘infanterie’ for nothing: you want young soldiers because they really haven’t got a handle on how to embody or to live-out their ‘freedom’. Or you want ‘older’ soldiers who never really grew up or who had their hopes dashed out of them and are equally open to becoming pieces of military sculpture.

And yes – you can ‘fight for’ freedom without knowing what it really is or without being able – as they say in the military – to ‘platform’ it. And that’s even before the stress and the awfulness degrades whatever platforming-capacity you brought with you in the first place. You may come back having ‘earned’ your place in society without actually being able to sustain a societal life.

We have evolved or devolved into a curiously skewed society that is simultaneously too old and too young. It doesn't value the gifts of maturity - those same gifts upon which solid democratic praxis is built and by which it is sustained; consequently far too many adults see themselves only as ex-children, and miss it. As if we were nothing but a nation of ex-child stars. We are youth-defined and youth-obsessed (sorta a lot like what is found to be so repulsive in the sex-offenders).

Meanwhile, we are also sorta crazed in the intensity of our seeking to provide them (as if we were the gods) with 'perfect' and 'total' security and perfect childhoods. Perhaps this is an attempt to compensate for the actual God (or gods) recently deconstructed in the service of the assorted revolutions. Perhaps this is a symptom of the Flatness of the modern American 'world', where nothing lasts and nothing exists beyond surfaces and appearances, and so Meaning-hungry folks try to cram that Flat monodimension with as much 'stuff' and 'activity' as they can.

And all the while long lines of the children 'raised' in this foggy, foreshortened, Flattened, gadget-stuffed 'world' are heading off into the brutal clarity of the classroom presided over by Ares Ferox et Atrox.

So that’s why We most certainly now have Our work cut out for us in the matter of returning vets: they’ve seen way too much, done way too much, in this monstrous cauldron of 4th Generation Warfare and a long, losing campaign. They’re coming back much the worse for the wear and it’s on Us because it was Our word – spoken through the reptile lips of the Unitarium – that sent them over into that lethal mess.

Of all the debts We have incurred in the past few years – and their name is Legion – the debt We owe to Our returnees is one of the most significant. Did we think credit cards and mortgages were the only form of debt? Not hardly.

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Well, they had the first … session … of the Military Tribunals down there yesterday. The “Orlando Sentinel’ reporter interviewed on PBS ‘Nightline’ seemed to be under the impression that nothing happened and everything degenerated into a flat discussion of procedures, except that the defense lawyers – surprise! – were disqualified by the military ‘judge’ and left the room and that it was now expected that ‘weeks’ would pass before further activity in the case.

But then both the ‘Washington Post’ ( and Reuters ( reported today that somehow somewhen yesterday the accused – the Australian national David Hicks – had pleaded guilty and it was all over but the sentencing.

As always with the military legal system, and with JAGs, you can’t let your guard down for a minute. You’re up against a military operation, remember, and these days you’re up against one that’s failing, which takes the overriding military ‘virtue’ of Victory and adds the further enabler “by all means necessary”. After all, there is no greater ‘emergency’ than ‘losing’ and – given what they’ve been doing – being ‘found out’. Just ask Quaint Al.

So here we have it: The first of the Military Commissions Act ‘trials’ – I am going to call it an ‘event’ instead, for the sake of clarity – finally takes place; they’ve chosen an Australian national, from that once-independent country that recently elected a Bush-hugger as its boss; he’s been there the longest and may have been the first prisoner; he has his father and sister there and they eat lunch with him before things get going; he is paunchy (and, we are expected to assume, well-fed and, we are further desired to assume, untortured); he goes in without cuffs or shackles (a charming if sleazy touch) and watches his powerful civilian defense team dissolved before his eyes in a fog of procedural stuff; in a slow-motion flurry of gobbledygook that convinced some reporters that it was over for the day the defendant suddenly pleads Guilty after all – to one charge – and it’s only a matter now of sentencing him; the US has already said he’ll be sent ‘home’ to do whatever time he gets in Australia-land, where we might imagine that he will have more amenities.

Slam, bam, thank y’all. A very military operation.

What the hell happened here? What the hell happened there?

Somehow, it feels like a script. The kid caved after the military got rid of his independent civilian" counsel, and left him with dad and sis and his military counsel and promised to send him home most chop-chop. But what good would that do to the government?

The chief prosecutor JAG, Air Force Col. "Morris" (The Washington Post) “Moe” (Reuters) Davis, provides the desired spin: Critics had for all practical purposes turned public opinion against the Military Commissions and now he expects that things will change. “This criticism that we’ve created some novel Frankenstein, cobbled together kind of system is totally inaccurate … we’ve got nothing to be ashamed of and we’re going to tell our story.” That’s their story and they’re sticking to it. But ... alas, much as the JAGs want to get the good news out about their goodness, this particular opportunity sorta disappeared in a foggy rush, so, well, gee, gosh, looks like we'll have to wait until the next 'event' to let them get their 'story' out. And quite a story it will no doubt reveal itself to be.

And Davis is the senior JAG prosecutor down there, so you might as well ask Jimmy ‘Big Salami’ Botchagaloop how things are really going in the Family as ask "Moe" how things really work in the his interesting little patch of the military legal system.

But what Davis limns is exactly what the JAGs, their military bosses, and the White House could want: get rid of your longest-serving prisoner; avoid any unpleasantness in the form of Truth coming out in an independent defense; get a ‘conviction’ – and a Guilty plea from the accused himself to boot! – and get him out of there; turn somebody loose who isn’t burdened by being not-white or not-Western; provide a great scene of family reunion; and fortify your crap with the ‘fact’ of a successful ‘trial’ and conviction and the accused’s own admission that he done bad and that you had justly incarcerated him all along. In the best of worlds, the White House might even be able to deflect some of that burnish at its own programme: We’ve been right all along – so now you know …

Very clever. I hope it’s too clever by half and that folks can now see just how stage-managed this thing is at all levels: the White House, the war, military ‘justice’.

Of course, there’s a lot at stake: the JAGs have been in this thing up to their ethically-challenged ears all along, and if the war goes away then you want to a) get a medal for your trouble and b) avoid prosecution yourself when the cheering stops. The JAGs’ Pentagoon bosses want some good news – any good news – to show that some aspect of “Iraq” is in victory-mode. Ditto the White House that wants to show that a) it was right and b) some aspect of its hyperial enterprise is in victory-mode (so that the less-thought-burdened among Us might presume that everything else is in victory-mode as well).

All in all, a most impressive performance: let Us be impressed with the profoundness of the corruption that faces Us, that claims Our authority and simultaneously defies Our authority to cleanse it. And – may I? – “Let us therefore brace Ourselves to Our duties and so bear Ourselves …”

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Monday, March 26, 2007


Just to show how far behind you can get, I just caught up with an article by a college professor, Kevin Mattson, entitled “The Book of Liberal Virtues”, an article in the February 2006 issue of “The American Prospect” (

He has news for us: “… conservatives are winning the culture wars”. And with good reason, he goes on: “The right has done a superb job at exploiting certain weaknesses on the left; liberals in the meantime have become gun shy”.

Yes and kinda no. The ‘culture’ is being so ripped apart that it’s anybody’s guess what there’ll be left of it by the time the ‘war’ is won by one side or the other. The thing will have been destroyed in order to save it. Because at the same time that a decades-long ‘war’ has been waged, generations are now grown up who have no way to remember or imagine the ‘culture’ as it was before the war started.

It will be for us as Lincoln observed in 1865: “Each side hoped for a result less fundamental and astounding”. But where that war brought about some good, however imperfectly realized, the present decades-long culture war won’t yield any such ‘good’ result because the very trellis of maturity and citizenship is being pulled apart as the two extremes – left and right – gyrate with increasing violence, preventing the Vessel from returning to any semblance of an even keel.

When a culture wages a war against some ‘other’ it retains its own identity; but when the culture is itself being warred over, then when it’s all over there will not be any ‘there’ there. There will be versions of societal and individual immaturity – ala the right and ala the left – and assorted permutations and devolutions of the same, but that will be all.

Professor Mattson has fears and dark visions, but his nightmare alarm is brightened by one shining clarity: it’s the “right’s” fault; it’s the fault of “conservative postmodernism”. Amazingly, having broached this strikingly dissonant phrase, he says utterly nothing about its unspoken but densely present progenitor: the notorious ‘liberal postmodernism’ that carried the bacillus of Theory’s content and Revolution’s process into the heart of American culture some 4 decades ago.

Comprising the self-sustaining synergy of this conservative postmodernism, the Prof names “anti-intellectualism”, a “popular distrust of professionalism and higher education”, and a popular distrust of “objectivity”. There’s a psychological term for the phenomenon of selectively seeing the best in your own position and the worst in the other guy’s. The Prof seems unaware (or too young to personally recall) the anti-intellectualism of Theory as it was wielded by the early advocates of that early – feminist - revolution, which was all about “men” just “not getting it” and about how objectivity was simply an oppressive tool of the patriarchy and we should all be into our own intuitions and feelings and – flying the pot-whacked inanities of the Summer of Love into the stratospheric heights of Constitutional (not to say God-given) rights – our bodies.

Stunningly (he’s a Contemporary History professor) he proclaims that “for the conservative mind of today everything is political; there is no set of competences that rises about the struggle for political power”. Does he not recall that “the personal is political” was the battle-cry of those early fill-in-the-blank-Wave feminists 30 and 40 years ago? That it was that formally revolutionary conceptualization which destroyed the concept of and respect for ‘private space’ (i.e. personal space the government has no business being in) and, in consequence, a robust and vital appreciation of individual interiority? And can any of all that ever be brought back, do you think? And if not … ?

And he quickly adds (contra the conservatives, of course) that “Following from this there is no real truth”. Let’s assume that the American Pragmatism of such as William James is not ‘contemporary’ enough to be included in his professional purview; but the Theory embraced by the revolutionaries of 40 years ago was pretty hard on ‘objective truth’ even before the x-Wave started flaunting the superior sensitivity of the female as opposed to the brutish, loutish male.

He goes on (again contra the conservatives) that “there are only clashing viewpoints relative to one another”. Apparently he wasn’t around when you either got-it or you just-didn’t-get-it, and if you didn’t then you weren’t worth being listened to.

But he’s either very uninformed or sinisterly shrewd. Cutely he says “A funny thing happened on the way to the 21st-century. The looniest aspects of the far left during the 1960s morphed into the looniest aspects of the far right today”. The far left’s ideas in the 1960s weren’t “looney”; they were destructive in the manner of adolescent simplisticism mixed with utopian impatience and eagerness to impose a revolutionary sidestepping of ‘slow’ and ‘rotten’ democratic process through violence both physical and – against Truth, Objectivity, Virtue – conceptual.

Worse, once the war in Vietnam started to wind down (and the mid-‘60s college freshmen and sophomores graduated) the stereotypical ‘hippie’ and ‘yippie’ antiwar crowds dissolved. But their commitment to revolution-now was there for the taking, hanging in the very supercharged air of a society thick with late adolescents. The Black Power groups and the really fringe groups like the Weathermen deployed actual physical violence. Democracy had failed, in their view – and only revolution would serve to wipe out the infamous thing, if not to bring about a perfect society.

But the Identities – courted by the desperate Democrats – took a far more professional (almost “K Street”, we might say today) approach to matters: their ‘revolutions’ would be effected not by physical violence, but (even more dangerously) by doing an end-run around the slow-witted, insufficiently ‘concerned’ People and its democratic process – talk, deal, betray ideals – in order to bring about if not utopia then the glorious sunlit uplands of correcting historic and outrageous injustices.

So if there has always been an anti-intellectual streak in American politics – as Hofstadter says and as the Prof quotes him – yet that point is greatly insufficient to understand matters today. Prior to the 1960s and early 1970s anti-intellectualism had been embodied by uneducated and under-educated folks who were as much distrustful of mind-and-money allied in the Eastern urban ‘Establishment’, as they were simply uninterested in learning. Indeed, schoolhouses and ‘schoolmarms’ were one of the first concerns of new communities in the frontier era; it was not so much ‘education’ that agitated ‘farmers’ and ‘industrial workers’ as it was so-called ‘professionals’ who allied (for a price) their intelligence and knowledge with shrewd and unsavory corporate interests. Few Hahvuhd law school grads are recalled for their vigorous efforts in favor of the ‘little guy’, and few Hahvuhd business school grads deployed their talents on his behalf. And ‘he’ knew it; all of them.

But in the 1960s anti-intellectualism – embedded in the ‘Theory’ imported from Europe as a convenient tool to help crack open ‘space’ for the newly conceived and hatching Identities – was actually espoused by the universities themselves, and by many of the ‘professional’ truth-nurturers and truth-seekers such as the professoriate and the journalists. It was this awefull turn of events that wreaked so much profound damage to American culture and society. Fortified with the active support of so many of the ‘professions’, the advocates of the Identities – already committed to a non-democratic (hence revolutionary) method – for achieving their visions, went to work substituting their increasingly diverse if not also incompatible visions for any overarching ‘American Vision’, while simultaneously seeking to disable Reason, Tradition, Objectivity, God (as well as religion), and other capital-letter-concepts that might otherwise be deployed to impede their progress.

So there are two variants of ‘anti-intellectualism’: there is the version Hofstader described and discussed so well. Then there is the anti-intellectualism of the Left’s Political Correctness starting in the 1970s: this is not formally anti-intellectual, but rather functionally anti-intellectual: it never disparages thought and intelligence and education, but instead it requires you not to direct skeptical or even inquiring thought to an analysis or evaluation of certain ‘correct’ agendas and programs. Education is a wonderful thing and a mind is a terrible thing to waste; just don’t use it on subjects that we don’t want you to – not if you know what’s good for you.

This duplicity generated a pervasive agitation and a profound if inchoate sense of unease – and not only among the uneducated but among the middle-classes. And with whole swaths of the nation’s and the citzenry’s experiences off-limits to ‘thought’ or expression, then rational and logical evaluation and exchange – the very stuff of democratic deliberation – became derailed. And so the duplicity also dragged the tone and quality of public discourse down, back into the less advanced, more primitive modalities of childish, ad-hominem, visceral venting of unprocessed anger.

The level of public discourse that had been achieved theretofore was lost, and has yet to be found. The ‘center’ that is indispensable for democratic process – a sufficiently matured and socially competent citizenry, respectful of each other and of the deliberation which was their birthright, the alternative to which was dictatorship (‘tyranny’ in the classical usage) – was not only lost but branded as insufficient to the purposes of a ‘sensitive’ and ‘responsive’ society and its increasingly numerous ‘victims’.

The signature ‘emergencies’ and ‘outrages’ by which each successive Identity and advocacy jump-started itself up the ladder of national attention and priority required not deliberation but passion and action (a thoroughly classic revolutionary strategy); everything was ‘political’ and your politics had to be the ‘correct’ politics or you would be deemed – at the very least – insensitive and hateful. And so when the agitated finally organized themselves in later 1970s they did not formulate a ‘response’; they mounted a ‘pushback’. The time, as Jefferson Davis once put it, for compromise had passed.

Not that the righteous herders of the right have been any less proficient than the revolutionary trail-bosses of the left. Indeed, they are even better at it: they watched how the left did it and then improved upon the performance when they set up their own ‘emergencies’ and shaped public ‘outrage’ like explosive charges to blast more holes in Constitutional praxis and then went after international law and treaties.

So ‘intellectuality’ – the simple love (or at least respect) for the power of mind and of ideas – has been hugely compromised in this country. Concomitantly, the respect for and the competence in personal and public deliberation, discussion, and decision has also been degraded.

Mattson’s exhortation to the effect that “liberals need to show that the virtues of education and thoughtfulness are virtues open to all” is betrayed by the performance of ‘liberals’ over the course of decades. And it belies his own insufficient analysis.

And profoundly so. It isn’t that education and ‘thoughtfulness’ (a poorly chosen word: does it have to do with sending Hallmark cards? Perhaps ‘mindfulness’ or ‘concentration’ would be better) have been kept from certain ‘classes’ or ‘groups’. Much worse and a double-whammy: ‘Education’ and ‘mindfulness’ have been doubly derided and gutted in order to prevent their obstructing the agendas of the assorted revolutions of the assorted Identities:1) ‘education’ and ‘mindfulness’ are said to have no basis in the Great Scheme of Things and are merely mental tools of oppression and 2) We are given to understand sharply that they can’t be used on serious matters if they’re the ‘wrong’ matters – and anyone trying to think and discuss ‘incorrectly’ will wind up being labeled ‘insensitive’ (or – once the Republicans took over the game: ‘unpatriotic’ and ‘treasonous’).

And what is a ‘virtue’? Is it simply a nice or a desirable characteristic? What grounds the virtue such that you can rely on it as a shaper of your life and as a reliable guide to a self and a life that – when you get to the end of the road – you can feel ‘good’ about? What makes a ‘virtue’ a ‘Virtue’?

And here’s where Mattson demonstrates – no doubt unwittingly – the plight of the ‘left’ or the ‘liberals’: there’s nothing in their ideal ‘world’ or in their ‘world-view’ that can turn a virtue into a Virtue and thereby make it worth living for (or dying for). To the great human thirst for participation in meaning and Life, they can only offer spectatorship of esoteric public melodramas played out regardless of consequences.

As ‘election’ ‘news’ starts to fill the media now, a lot more is going to be said about What the Democrats Have To Do or can do or some such. And how the mess our civic life is in is the fault of the Republicans (who can remember life 12 years and more ago?) and we only have to put the Dems back in because – during it all – they have stayed ‘normal’ and ‘good’ (but still ‘patriotic’ and ‘strong’). Yah. None of them Dem thinkers have watched ‘Judgment at Nuremberg’, I think. It’s 1946 and the Dems are like Germans who want to blame it all on the now-self-destructed Nazis and just ‘move on’.

Well the Republicans of this age can certainly play the bad-guys role for this scenario; but the Dems are in no position to play any role but that of The Rest of the German People. They helped this monstrosity develop and continue, and the fact that the Party of the Twelve Years is over and gone doesn’t make everybody else ‘good’ by default so that the country can just pick right up where it left off twelve long years ago and proceed happily (and normally and goodily) on.

What can the Democrats do? First, I think, they can recommit to democratic process: too much change has been rammed down American throats with no questions asked or allowed, but merely on the ‘authority’ of the fact that ‘it’s a good thing and we should do it’– and ‘it’s an emergency and an outrage and anything less would be ‘insensitive’’. The process of genuine democracy has been sidestepped and sidetracked, by revolutions masquerading as consumed by a laudable (and un-opposable) zeal for righteousness.

And consequently, the People have been sidestepped and sidetracked. Did Bush tell everyone not to worry after 9/11 and that he’d take care of everything and We should all just go shopping? Well, that’s pretty much what the Democrats told us for decades as this and that huge change became Democratic dogma overnight. We let them get away with it because they were doing it in a ‘good’ cause and who wanted to wind up on the evening news labeled as ‘insensitive’ or ‘hateful’? Did we think that the Twelve Years just sorta materialized out of nowhere? That’s like thinking the 9/11 gang simply materialized out of nowhere. We are too old for fairy tales, if not too grown up for them.

Revolutions have no respect for The People, as individuals or as an entity of Constitutional standing. That was the monstrous danger within the Dems’ “New Politics” that came a cropper as early as McGovern’s shockingly compleat defeat. And yet the Dems couldn’t stop their own stampede by then, and probably couldn’t see any other options. Much like a cavalry charge: after a certain point, you really don’t mind that the horses no longer respond to the reins and just gallop en masse toward the enemy – after all, the closer you get to the shock of armed contact, the less you need your troops having any philosophical thoughts, let alone transmitting them to the horses.

That was the Dems’ undoing: they forsook The People and the democratic process for the sake of votes. Well, to be fair, it was a matter of survival: no votes to replace the Southrons and the fading blue-collar industrial workers and there might well be no Democratic Party after a while. So, since it was a matter of survival (an ‘existential threat’ as might be said today) then steps had to be taken ‘by any means necessary’.

But the Dems have an even bigger problem that they brought on themselves: in a country that is hugely ‘religious’ in some form or other (and in which a large fraction of the citizenry believe the world is less than 10,000 years old) and among a species – the human – where Meaning and Presence anchored Beyond this ‘world’ constitute the abiding and ceaseless hunger of all … in a country like this the Dems – to ease the rise of their new voter-blocs – not only had to impose massive social change, but had to Flatten the ‘world’ of human experience in order to disable those Beyond-things that might be used to ‘judge’ that change.

This is where the Dems abandoned the High Ground, which was thus left undefended when the whackjob Fundamentalists were mustered into Republican service and told to take and fortify the heights in order to cover the low-ground advance of their new allies, the better-dressed but equally whacked-out Neocons. In a country and among a species hungry for Meaning and the Presence of something Beyond, for the Substance and intimation of Things Beyond, the Dems committed themselves to perceptions and appearances and spin.

And yet the Dems also committed themselves to a version of the Straussian ‘Noble Lie’: it’s not true, but it should be, and if we can get them all to believe it, then maybe over time the fact that they believe it’s true will actually help make it come true. Interesting theory – although a tad manipulative for a democracy, but hey – it’s an emergency and these be existential times.

Now we hear and will continue to hear the Dems trying to recover the High Ground – or at least the appearance of it … - without actually admitting that they’ve ever left it in the first place. Sort of a version of the Pentagoon play: Nothing is wrong and we’re fixing it – nothing to see here, folks. As Ward Bond's Irish beat-cop might have said: G'wan home, the whole a'yez!

But although the monstrous failure of the Republicans to decently govern affairs domestic and foreign is undeniable, there is no guarantee that the Dems will be able to make themselves anything more than the default Party. How the Dems will be able to lead without holding the actual High Ground is a mystery to me. And how the Dems will be able to reclaim it without indicting their performance over the past several decades and alienating some of their most implacable new Identities … that’s their biggest problem.

So it’s not to my mind a matter of the Dems reclaiming the authority to ‘lead’. First they have to restore the democratic process based on a respect for all of Us as The People. And maybe they can gin up the courage to do that by relying on strength and wisdom from Beyond. God knows, the ‘wisdom’ of French literary Theory has helped them not at all. And it has helped so weaken this Republic that the Rove-ian myrmidons and this unspeakably awful Unitarium got into power as easily as the Unitarium then let the 9/11 hijackers get to the planes.

Waves washing back upon each other, echoes resounding back against each other, illusions feeding appearances serving lies that can’t clearly be labeled because the Truth they betray can no longer be discerned … “so much remains to be done”.

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Sunday, March 25, 2007


Over on Shakespeare's Sister ( is a Post about Gonzales now claiming that he can’t resign because he’s “protecting the children”. Paul the Spud, the Poster, opines that this is an unmistakable sign that Quaint Al is circling the drain.

I’d say so and may all the gods hasten the happy day. But let’s not forget that our own ‘liberal’ Darthine Vader – Janet Reno – said exactly the same thing when her prior exploratory bullplop explanations for the murderous pig-up at Waco deflated like so many piñatas. She was afraid that the children were being ‘abused’. Ach so, she therefore had to send in her police-troops and effectively killed them all. The children had to be killed in order to save them from ‘abuse’ – it’s OK, because it worked with villages in Vietnam … or would have if the libbul media hadn’t stabbed the army in the back. It was that ‘Dolchstoss’ that lost the war. Ja. Yah.

Doing it ‘for the children’ is a classic example of how a well-intentioned stampede winds up taking out the whole of Main Street, and maybe the entire damned town.

It began innocently enough, in the late ‘70s when in response to a missing child in New York (if I remember correctly) suddenly led to a wildfire of missing-kids; dozens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, were said – in the media – to be wandering the streets of the country every single day. Pictures began to appear on milk cartons – where they remain even unto now. Children were missing because ‘families’ and ‘parents’ were beating them or emotionally maltreating them – was the way things were put.

Nobody at the time realized that this was the first exercise of a new strategy developed by a new synergy: the media – still riding high after its Watergate days – would ‘adopt’ a particular Cause and give it a full-court press: ‘advocacy journalism’. From now on the serious journalistic work would create floods of selective reporting: all the stuff that puts the Cause and its proponents in the best possible light, none of the stuff – however true – that would de-idealize them; all of the stuff that puts the Cause’s designated ‘enemy’ in a bad light, none of the stuff – however accurate - that would show any complicating nuance or complexity.

Back then most people still thought that – with Vietnam and Watergate now over – the ‘news’ was just that: the media reporting on what of public interest happened during the day. ‘News’ happened on its own, and the media – ever alert and vigilant – simply responded to those developments by reporting them to folks as accurately as they could.

Nobody realized at the time that the media had gotten bored with all that and had quietly decided that ‘news’ and ‘reporting’ would now reflect what the media thought the public should be interested in. After all, just a decade before, the teeny-Boomers had declared the over-30 crowd to be dull, conformist, materialist, obedient, unimaginative, passive drones in grey flannel suits or aprons, willingly allowing their lives to be fenced-in by laws, authority, abstractions, and all the other stuff that would get in the way of spending a nice summer afternoon without many clothes on getting high in the fresh, sun-warmed grass and making various kinds of hay.

And worse, that ‘news’ was now defined as whatever would help this or that Cause. First the public would be channeled down a particular path, and then they would be given no choice about what they would be ‘fed’ – the herd would take what it got and respond only to that fodder.

And since the ‘fodder’, that ‘news’, was kind of not quite accurate or at least complete – then the public’s response could not be one of asking questions, because the ‘news’ really couldn’t stand up to questioning, not to put too fine a point on it. Better that folks just signed over their ‘concern’, their ‘sensitivity’, their ‘outrage’, their ‘approval’ and let the ‘experts’ – the advocacies and the main-stream media – get on with the actual work of dealing with the problem/crisis/outrage du jour.

The ‘lost children’ craze didn’t last too long on the front pages. But within a year or two, in the very early 1980s, there were suddenly the pre-school sex scandals. Things got worse: now the children were not ‘missing’ but were being maltreated – and sexually maltreated.

And and and: if you doubted that numerous cabals of perverted adults were sexually maltreating children, if you asked questions of the children as to the dragons and other mythical creatures, if you questioned the ‘science’ of interpreting children’s playing with anatomical dolls and drawing stuff, then you were not simply behind the times – you were probably one of the cabal members yourself. It wasn’t so far from the way folks had dealt with suspected ‘communists’ in the suburbs in the 1950s. And in terms of the psychology of the society and deformation of jurisprudence, there were some uncomfortable echoes of Salem in 1692 and even Germany in the early 1930s. But those points never got much ‘coverage’; they weren’t ‘news’ – the dragons were the news. Thus went Truth. And the media did it ‘for the children’.

Onward through the 1980s during which there was a little bit of a subject-matter sidetrack, as violence against women became a Cause. Now don’t get me wrong: it was a legitimate problem that needed to be looked at and things needed to be fixed. But the media/advocacy synergy was simultaneously demanding wide and deep changes while revving up public passion and choking off public discourse and deliberation.

A Congress increasingly unable to alter the declining economic status of most voters and unable to take many clear and ‘high’ stands on issues without risk of alienating a crucial fraction of increasingly unstable voter blocs, simply responded to whatever ‘outrage’ the public was perceived to be expressing at the moment, happily deforming law and jurisprudence and accepting as fact some mighty questionable ‘science’, in order to be seen to be earning its keep.

The Democrats – desperate to recover the lost voters of the 1960s (the Southrons and the industrial workers) – hoped that they could spin the assorted Revolutions of the Identities as mere extensions of both the classic New Deal franchise and the Civil Rights promises that had been made in the Civil War period. But too much of what the assorted advocacies demanded was not easily and widely acceptable as ‘progress’, and – having taken a page from the old ‘facts on the ground’ playbook – neither the advocacies nor their media synergists were going to let too much ‘public’ deliberation and discussion get in the way of what had to be done. After all, in a revolution the ‘public’ – by definition not privy to the bright illuminations of the revolutionaries themselves – is there to be led, not to be listened to. The public and its ‘opinion’ is clay, to be shaped by the sculptors of the revolution, who would be acknowledged as visionaries and maybe liberators.

After the passage of the Violence Against Women Acts, the focus suddenly shifted again, back to ‘children’, who were now reported widely as both missing and sexually abused. The perpetrators – with a strategic and synergistic economy – were ‘men’, whether ‘strangers’ or ‘fathers’. Neither public places nor homes were, apparently, ‘safe’ for children now. Soon, schools and then churches – especially Catholic ones – were also cast as sexually unsafe and indeed downright dangerous. All of which might have been meant to remove children from the influence of the now delegitimized traditional loci of societal responsibility and instead drive ‘the children’ into the arms of the advocacies and their Identities and agendas.

In fact, it simply threw them into the arms of the State. As its species always does, the government figured a way to enhance its own power by taking advantage of circumstances. The advocacies and media having delegitimized so many of the traditional non-governmental loci of child-rearing, but not themselves having the means to take care of the children thus set adrift, the government stepped in. And not only to care for children, which gets to be a chore, and an expensive one. Rather, to expand its police power against just about everybody for the sake of ‘protecting the children’. And this was widely seen as a good thing.

And thus in the mid-1990s huge chunks of damage to jurisprudence and Constitutional praxis were wrought by a Congress and a Presidency eager to surf the wave and appear to be ‘strong’. Meanwhile, the Congress was becoming indentured to PAC and lobbyist money, the Presidency was sending jobs overseas or indulging the corporations that wanted to, the media were consuming each other in a frenzy of takeovers and monopolistic aggregations seeking profits and not Truth, and the courts – watching the whole thing – began to just let all the players do whatever they wanted to. But all the foregoing could keep the appearance of righteousness and correctness as long as they supported anything – anything at all – that was being done ‘for the children’, in the name of ‘the children’.

Whatever was done ‘for the children’ had to be ‘good’; whoever opposed something claimed to be ‘for the children’ was ‘insensitive’ and probably a ‘child abuser’ himself (almost always ‘him’). The stampede sustained itself.

And once ‘for the children’ became a trump, then it became an object of attention to any malefactor who needed a quick and fool-proof excuse to cover him/herself whenever they were found-out And that brings us to Quaint Al. Having been ‘caught’ in some mighty bad stuff, he’s now claiming immunity from consequences because he’s a key ‘protector’ of ‘the children’. Yah. We may yet see Bush claiming that he invaded Iraq so that no more ‘children’ would ever lose a parent like the ones in 9/11. To ask about the orphaned, and maimed, and killed Iraqi children will be considered the height of ‘insensitivity’ and ‘bad form’ and ‘unpatriotic’ and ‘treason’ and will prove that the questioner is (or should be) a ‘sex offender’.

Last night I watched (for the umpteenth time in my life) “Judgment at Nuremberg” from 1961. I urgently recommend it to everyone. The events it dealt with – the trial of Nazi –era judges – were less than 15 years back in time when the film was made: it was a world still physically in touch with war and tyranny, and that world was inhabited by people many of whom were still in touch with their own maturity and the seriousness of life.

I particularly invite attention to Burt Lancaster’s speech as the very-talented and morally-aware ex-judge, now a prisoner in the Nuremberg dock: he asks the court to consider what Germany was like in the very early 1930s: beset by many dangers, having lost hope in the processes of democracy (Weimar), “there was a fever in the country” (which Hitler harnessed, shaped, and wielded as the first source of his power).

It hit me last night, before I saw the Post about Quaint Al this afternoon, that there has been a ‘fever’ in this country as well. And there has been a functional – if not clearly expressed – abandonment of ‘democratic process’, of the slow, demanding process of critical thought, public deliberation, and representative decision – that has lasted now for 40 years.

And among all its deep economic and ideological frustrations, and almost as a distraction from its much larger perversities, society vigorously vents itself against a designated ‘evil other’, much as – Lancaster’s character observed – “the perverts and the Gypsies and the Jews were sacrificial lambs”, necessary and acceptable losses to redeem the fortunes of the nation and the people.

It cannot be coincidence – nor redeemable merely by ‘good intention’ – that against our most recent American “sacrificial lambs” – the newly invented category called ‘sex offenders’ – our society and our government have deployed precisely the same steps: mass arrests based on impossibly wide-defined laws unsupported by reputable science but instead justified by ‘politically correct’ ‘science’; registration requirements; residence restrictions; employment restrictions; sterilization; commitment in mental facilities with almost no hope of release … an intensifying list of violations of Western and national ideals as enshrined in centuries of Law and in the Constitution.

All on the basis of an ‘emergency’. And when does it become clear that We are heading down a certain path? That 'things' have taken a certain turn in this country?

And as Spencer Tracy’s American judge, presiding over the court, opines: could the German people actually expect to be forgiven for embracing the fantasy that ‘once the emergency was over’ then Germany and German society and the German people would quickly go back to being ‘normal’ again? That they would remain ‘normal’ even as so many unspeakable and repulsive things began to become ‘normal’ in their society?

Will this country ever be ‘normal’ again? Will it ever return to its mature and serious embrace of the principles upon which We were founded?

Gonzales has been caught rigging the dismissal of US Attorneys and then lying about it. He claims immunity from consequences because he was “protecting the children”. So far so domestic.

But he is merely echoing what his boss has been claiming since the monstrous invasion of Iraq: Bush was doing it to “protect the people” in this “emergency”. And now the evil consequences of that imbecile (if not evil and criminal) binge have so compromised Our position in the world that the generations of Americans now alive might not live long enough to see its recovery.

And in the very essence of our Constitutional ethos huge chunks have been quickly and effortlessly ripped out after 9-11 by a Congress and an Executive and a Court and a media that had all been fundamentally corrupted by the prior decades of anti-democratic and anti-Western ‘government by emergency and outrage’. And We as a People were corrupted, ‘fevered’. And are. Does anyone think that the first Patriot Act was passed so quickly simply on the impetus of 9/11’s events? The slide had already been greased, and any obstructions removed, in the prior 10 years. That’s why the thing not only passed quickly but without any substantive media (or public) objection at all. ‘Let the experts handle it’; ‘they know what they’re doing and they wouldn’t trick us and anyway it’s all in a good cause’. After 9/11 We – We The People – became ‘the children’ on whose behalf great damage would be wrought, and has been wreaked.

But this is a constitutional republic, and Our name is on the front door. We are the ultimate Authority for the wreakage. We cannot come before the ‘Nuremberg’ court of Consequences and claim that We were only ‘the victims’. Our army, Our indulgence, and even – Our children in uniform. We can no more blame it all on Bush than the German people could blame it all on Hitler.

What defense can We make? Not only for what We have permitted to be done overseas in Our name (and paid for by the blood of Our own children in uniform). But also for the assaults upon the heritage and the structures bequeathed and entrusted to Us , assaults that We have lustily or lackadaisically approved.

In the last two lines of the film, as the Lancaster and Tracy meet alone, Lancaster says that none of his type of people, the educated and the well-intentioned and the respectable, “ever thought that it would turn out this way”. To which, without blinking an eye, and after a grave and gravid pause, Tracy’s judge responds: It turned out that way the first time you sentenced to death a man you knew to be innocent.

What has been sentenced to death here in this country is a wide seriousness and acceptance of the responsibilities of managing the power that History and events have placed in Our keeping. We abdicated Our responsibility to civic and even individual Maturity and to Truth, and before long – in more practical ways – We abdicated Our responsibility to People this government and the awesome power that History and generations of forebears had placed in Our hands.

Everything was being done ‘in a good cause’; we needn’t worry; we shouldn’t try to interfere; we must never doubt; we could go shopping or spectate some sports.

Gonzales is now turning to Us for Our forgiveness – or at least support; to whom will We turn? The buck stops here – the buck stops with Us. Harry Truman didn’t take it quite far enough: We hired Bush, or at least acquiesced when the Supreme Court hired him.

Do We think that nothing as ‘good’ as the United States can screw it all up? Didn’t folks think that no matter what might happen, nothing as ‘big’ and as ‘modern’ as the “Titanic” could ever sink, especially on her first trip out?

The Empire That Does It For Children has had its first major voyage. Notice the milk cartons tipping on the tables in steerage?

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Tuesday, March 20, 2007


Well, Sara Corbett has an article originally in “The New York Times Magazine” but also on Truthout ( . Again, it is a story about the war-and-horror stories of women in the war. It’s 19 pages long and I go at this subject again since Corbett has raised some interesting material, and because this entire women-in-mixed-gender units and women-in-war thing is not only wreaking its own damage, but clearly connects with other national issues and problems (the Iraq misadventure among them) by which we are presently bethump’d.

The primary story is about one Suzanne Swift and her mother, a social worker. The mother had originally penned an article dealt with in an earlier Post ("Facts on the Ground" In short: Swift, member of a back-from-Iraq MP unit, age 21, was apprehended by local police while “painting her toenails with her sister” after several months on the lam from her redeploying unit. She was facing charges for AWOL from this Iraq-bound unit when she claimed that she had done it because of the pressures of war and because she had been ‘sexually harassed’ throughout her history of service, as a consequence of which she was suffering, she claimed, from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Corbett defines PTSD as “a highly debilitating condition brought on by an abnormal amount of stress”. Its symptoms, she goes on to note, can include depression, insomnia, or “feeling constantly threatened”, quoting from the current edition of the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual), the official guide for mental-health professionals in establishing diagnoses.

Various points arise as one proceeds through the text of the article.

This ‘stress’ diagnosis represents a very significant change not only in the practice of psychology in this country but in American society itself. It came about after Vietnam when soldiers experienced ‘flashbacks’ and assorted symptoms prompted by particularly difficult things they had seen, experienced, or – less frequently mentioned – done while in Vietnam. It was a useful diagnosis for a certain extreme reaction to combat, and was seen by professionals at the time of its formal adoption as a modern upgrading of the long-recognized condition of former combat soldiers (“soldier’s heart” it was called after the Civil War).

But things never happen in a vacuum in life or in society. There was in the late-60s a certain approach to psychology, influenced by theorists such as Foucault, that saw medical and psychological diagnosis as a form of societal and hierarchical oppression; in its wilder forms it actually posited that the ‘insane’ were actually the ‘sane’ and vice-versa (in the later 1970s a variant of this approach, still hanging around, would help ‘advocates’ convince state legislators to largely empty the old state mental facilities, turning loose upon the public great numbers of former inmates who – while thus ‘liberated’ and ‘empowered’ – instantly became ‘homeless’).

The ‘empowerment’ of the patient blended as well with the feminist consciousness-raising of ‘sensitivity’ and its emphasis away from the (masculine) objective to the kinder and gentler subjective approach to life: it wasn’t a matter of what ‘is’, it was a matter of what one ‘feels’ (I’m painting with a broad brush here, but you get the idea).

Suddenly, the PTSD diagnosis, born in what was by the mid-1970s a distant past indeed, exploded into public awareness: the newly empowered patients insisted that they, not the doctor (so often in those days a male), had the right to declare when they were in ‘pain’, to say what traumatized them emotionally. And there was a certain logic to it: pain is an almost entirely subjective phenomenon, only rarely traceable on medical imaging equipment (comparatively primitive back then anyway). So who would know better than the patient, the (subjective) sufferer?

This worked as long as the ideal or average patient had a high-enough pain-threshold to report only ‘serious’ emotional pain or pain arising from serious events (‘trauma’ as it once was known). But it quickly came about that there was no way to establish objective criteria for subjective ‘emotional pain’; it also quickly came about that it would be socially and cultural unacceptable (‘insensitive’) for a physician to deny any patient’s report of pain. If a patient said he or she was in great emotional pain, regardless of whether a sufficiently grave causal event could be identified, or if the patient identified as causal an event that really didn’t appear to be sufficient to cause the pain that the patient claimed to be experiencing … you as a professional were to go with the patient’s claim. Before much time had passed in American society, almost all professionals were going along to get along.

With no objective boundaries that could possibly be imposed – indeed with a cultural insistence that any attempt to impose boundaries would be ‘insensitive’ and malpractice and a ‘revictimization’ of the patient – the entire thing metastasized. Not only females – traditionally stereotyped as being more vulnerable to pain – but numerous veterans (not all from combat experience, by any means) began to report ‘pain’ and lots of it, caused by ‘trauma’ – which itself had been defined as whatever-the-patient-felt-s/he-couldn’t-comfortably-tolerate. When we think about what happened when the enforceable boundaries of Truth and objectivity were removed from ‘sex-offender’ matters, and then from government justifications for waging pre-emptive war in the Middle East, we do well to remind ourselves how it all started to take root in our culture and our society, not with a bang but with an empathetic sigh.

So – simply from a conceptual point of view – there was now a ‘diagnosis’ that allowed the patient to essentially declare him-herself thus afflicted, and there was no scientifically possible way to corroborate that claim nor did there remain any cultural ‘permission’ to even attempt to do so, let alone express doubt as to the accuracy or validity of the claim, or – the horror! – doubting the honesty of the claimant. But large amounts of bounty – financial, cultural, psychological – were available to anyone who wished to put him-herself forward. Additionally, designated ‘symptoms’ were phenomena as low-grade as ‘feeling depressed’, ‘feeling threatened’, and so many others similar thereto that so often clutter the lives, minds, and hearts of just about all of us humans.

It would not take a rocket scientist to venture an accurate guess as to what was going to happen.

Swift’s war-induced stress, Corbett relates, was caused by events pretty much endemic to soldiering: having mortar rounds dropped upon one’s position, seeing friends die – even by friendly fire, working sixteen-hour shifts. Further – and here we see the great waves loosed in our culture begin to lap back upon each other – she was propositioned by her squad leader (male) and she “felt coerced” into having a four-month sexual relationship with him. When she finally put an end to it, she was forced to march back and forth across the camp in full pack and gear and she was humiliated in front of the other soldiers. Contacted by the Army investigators, the squad leader denied any sexual contact.

Even in a reasonable world, this type of claim would be difficult. If there were witnesses or physical evidence, or even if the lower-ranking member had a record of adequate or better performance of duties, then one might at least have grounds of some sort to take action. If however the lower-ranked was not a strong performer, or was a poor performer, then such marching tours might thus be accounted for. I don’t know what Swift’s record is. But that’s the point: we have a ‘disease’ which is so functionally ephemeral that helpers are reduced to scrounging for clues in a patient’s discoverable history (not all of which, nowadays, is available or ‘reportable’, let’s recall).

It was the ‘genius’ of the feminist and later the victimist and sex-offense movements and advocates that they realized that he-said/she-said situations are far too fraught with objective weakness to often prevail; you could hardly build a ‘movement’ or a revolution on them. But it was their accomplishment that they solved this problem profoundly: by discrediting ‘fact’ and ‘objectivity’ and skeptical inquiry as modes of public or jurisprudential response to any claim. The only “politically correct” response was ‘sensitivity’ and ‘acceptance’; men were so prone to sex that they were, for all practical purposes, ‘objective enemies’ – enemies by the simple fact of their essence and their existence, on behalf of whom any indulgence would be treason to the Cause and to the masses and against whom all violence necessary was justified. Thus did Lenin come to be one of the foremost makers of modern American praxis. Thus, too, perhaps, the Unitariat came to assume that We would fall for anything if it were emotionally-packaged, and thus We came to prove the Unitariat correct. And thus Ms. Swift chose to sign up for the Army and thus she went off to Iraq.

Corbett, to her credit, acknowledges in the next paragraph that “As it often is with matters involving sex and power, the lines are a little blurry”. Naturally: cut loose from the shaping and boundarying effects of Truth and Objectivity and Reason, a ‘story’ thus untrellised can grow like kudzu. With impressive clarity but with exquisite care Corbett continues: “Swift does not say she was raped exactly, but rather manipulated into having sex repeatedly”. So far, this sounds like one of those monstrously unprovable and intuitively almost impossible things by which, through making us believe them before breakfast for years now, the relevant advocacies have degraded everybody’s ability to distinguish, or even consider it right to try to distinguish, Truth from something else. A fact that was not lost on the Unitariat.

But in the military, it’s possible to take the game to new levels. She had sex because “this soldier was above her in rank and therefore responsible for her health and safety”. As with so many other phenomena that were highly predictable from the get-go, the advocacy has come up with a sassy but mystique-laden term for this type of thing: “command rape”. Although, to be accurate, there is no rape alleged. The idea is apparently that women (even in the all-male Army era you rarely encountered troops claiming that they had submitted to sex with a sergeant because they had – for all practical purposes – mistaken him for their father or their provider) sorta are prone to do stuff like this more than guys; or – as is the preferred spin and usage nowadays – they are more ‘vulnerable’ to it.

But if that’s true, then why oh why oh why did the feminist advocacies browbeat Congress (hardly a forum for displaying the best of American male maturity) into mixed-gender units in the first place? Wouldn’t it have been better for ‘women’ to be spared all the unnecessary ‘vulnerability’ situations by putting them into all-female units? Then they could concentrate on the soldiering or the sailoring. Why are we reading these 19-page compendia of woe at all? Was this thing not entirely predictable and entirely preventable?

A skeptic might claim that the feminists knew from Day One that ‘women’ couldn’t really do the soldiering and sailoring in sufficient quantities to ground their agenda, so they had to ensure that the units were mixed gender – in the field and aboard ship – so that the guys could actually keep the mission going and the ship afloat and underway; the generals and the admirals could certainly see the upside to that. But a gambit that cynical and that massive … you can’t really accept it.

Corbett starts to draw back into the safer and more familiar ground of what she calls “the dominant narrative”: many female troops she interviewed were telling similar stories. The same skeptic could opine that once that “narrative” had become culturally “dominant” – or just widespread, through television and film and sympathetic and selective media coverage – then it would stand to reason that the “narrative” of harassment, like the diagnostic “narrative” of PTSD, would be deployed by ever-larger numbers of persons. For whatever motive and reason each individual might have in doing so.

But who knows? Who is honestly to say? The ‘revolutionary’ goal, masked in the swaddling of advocacy, is not to determine the Truth but rather to ‘make’ the ‘truth’ by eliminating all other possible explanations or even the attempt to examine claims and offer alternative explanations. Sorta like if you ‘make history’ and everyone else has to follow what you do, and you label anybody who tries to examine your ‘truth’ as ‘unpatriotic’ and ‘treasonable’. ‘Insensitive’ is the ‘unpatriotic’ and ‘un-American’ of the Left. The more things change …

Here again appears an odd number that has been appearing recently in these women-in-trouble stories over in Iraq: “So far, more than 160,000 female soldiers have been deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq” and “today one of every 10 soldiers in Iraq is female”. The math seems a bit odd. If we are hard-pressed to keep 160,000 troops over there, then how could there possibly be this many females? And if one out of every 10 is female … well, that seems to indicate we have a much larger army then anyone has realized. A skeptic might also observe that if even a fraction of them are making these types of claims or are in this condition … then there are more than a couple of unspoken additional reasons why we are losing the war over there. But that would be incorrect.

It is to her credit that Corbett reports on studies indicating that after the first Gulf War twice as many females as males developed PTSD – which gives food for serious thought. She also reports, but does not examine, the assertion that “women are more likely to be given diagnoses of PTSD, in some cases at twice the rate of men”.

So we are left, in this house of mirrors that the advocacies have constructed, staring at conflicting and distorted images, and no way of telling which is the ‘real’ and which are a reflection cast in a mirror. If we were dealing with ‘objective’ injuries like broken arms, we wouldn’t have this problem. If we had objective criteria for these psychological claims, we wouldn’t have this problem. But all that was jettisoned in the days before the feminist advocacies set their sights on the military, and back when they never imagined that there would ever be sustained ground combat again, let alone the shape-shifting terrors of counter-insurgency warfare in populated areas.

Are women more prone to stress? If so, is it because they are more ‘sensitive’? No matter how ‘positive’ or ‘constructive’ a spin you put on that, it’s a problem – and can armies in sustained (and losing) combat operations be required to put up with that? Bear that burden? Or is it that it’s such a subjective diagnosis to begin with that the whole disparity in numbers may just be chalked up to the doctors being chauvinist pigs who will ‘label’ a woman and not a guy or to doctors who are trying to do ‘the woman’ a favor?

It’s not just a question of which is the correct answer – it’s a life or death matter of whether any of this brouhaha is necessary at all. We are losing a pre-emptive and invasive war that we got into by falling for many of the same gambits played on us by our Unitarium that were imposed upon us by impatient and righteous advocacies in the long ago when we had cash and no real prospects of ever having to fight an old-fashioned war again.

Corbett keeps up the pace. Imagine, she proposes, how many women have been raped in civilian life (and here the reader need only refer to the ‘numbers’ and ‘knowledge’ provided by the feminists’ sub-and-sister advocacy: the sex-offender lobby). We are to imagine that there is now a class of woman-in-trouble suffering “a double whammy”: raped in civilian life and now combat-stressed in the military. I imagine that Corbett had a reason for refraining from taking it to the next level: the triple-whammy of having been raped in civilian life, combat-stressed, and having been raped (or ‘assaulted’ or ‘harassed’) in the military and – fourth level – in the military by someone who outranks them.

I do not doubt the conceptual possibilities that Corbett raises, although I add the usual sex-offense provisos about elastic definitions and unsupported ‘evidence’. Rather, I simply wonder again: Is any of this necessary? Wasn’t it all preventable by – at the very least – the institution of single-gender units?

We see here, I think, an echo of the phenomenon we are experiencing in matters Israeli: by creating from the get-go a situation that is bound to cause insoluble difficulties and then refusing to yield, one can guarantee oneself as the victim of a sempiternal ‘crisis’ on the basis of which endless demands – rendered vivid by reports real or otherwise – may be made. A case might be made, in another of these baroque and hot-irony metaphysical echoes, that decades ago the advocacies adopted the Israeli playbook and as a result the women in the Army in Iraq are now in crisis.

It’s a house of mirrors, our modern American reality, and so often it seems that we are agitatedly wrestling with pillows thrown over our heads by well-meaning but kinda ruthlessly determined advocacies. Yet out there – out where ‘others’ roam and dwell – it’s all very real, all too too real. Our troops are over there, obedient to Our word. If they are facing real bullets for Us, then We should muster the respect to face – and solve – real problems for them.

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Monday, March 19, 2007


They’ve had some change over at “The New Republic” and Martin (now ‘Marty’) Peretz, who purchased and presided over the magazine for over 30 years is no longer the owner, for any practical purposes. He writes about “Liberal Values” in the March 19 issue (

We are informed that purchasing the magazine was “broached” to him “at a dinner party hosted by Senator Eugene McCarthy … and his wife, Abigail, at their house across the street from the National Cathedral.” These little seasonings appear necessary to certain types in order to spice up the (bland?) meat of the Republic. Perhaps it is also meant to establish – or reinforce – credibility, which purpose seems not an impossibility.

We are inveigled by his candid admission that without wider search for qualified applicants he appointed himself editor-in-chief “after almost a year of arduous self-restraint”. It would seem that his laudable self-restraint was not reinforced by any concomitant humility or further search for excellence.

By that time, he notes, “the Democratic Party and American liberals had slipped into a deep and disturbing trauma, of which George McGovern’s campaign was itself less a cause than a reflection – a pathetic reflection, to be sure”. To be sure. It has been the position of this site that such a trauma was caused by the desperate Democrats’ embrace of revolutionary process – and surely of hugely debatable content – to raise up out of the earth fresh legions of voters to replace those lost in the victory of Civil Rights in The Glorious ’65 and the further effort to cast the new strategy as simply a continuation of the New Deal’s vigorous engagement on behalf of ‘the ordinary citizen’. That such was not completely the case became ominously clear when it soon became necessary to suppress wide public deliberation as well as dissent with the stifling imposition of what eventually came to be identified as “political correctness’ (that old Soviet revolutionary gambit).

It was obvious then as it is coming to be now that a lot of that stifled ‘public’ wasn’t amused. But not to Peretz, who observes as if in baffled wonder at Nixon’s election : “That the ‘demos’ should have chosen someone as demonized as Richard Nixon in the midst of a hated war and after Watergate had begun unravelling told us something stark”. As Ulysses Grant would have said, “It’s too too true”.

But Peretz is playing a careful game here. He does not say how it came to be that Nixon was “demonized”; by whom, in his estimation, Nixon was “demonized”. No use upsetting either ‘liberals’ – or at least Democrats – with whom the magazine is trying to re-connect, and whose standard it seeks once again to bear (the war in the East not going altogether well) or Republicans with whom – de facto, if we may – the magazine had gotten into bed in the matter of invading the East in the first place.

The only “evident truth” he chooses to name is that “the American people were offended by haughty elitists, self-styled revolutionaries and tribunes of the pretty soul”. Just who those elitists were (and still are) is left unspoken, as are the identities of those “self-styled revolutionaries” – although he’s come about as close as anyone in the MSM has come to admitting that the Democrats embraced ‘revolution’ back there in the late-1960s and throughout the 1970s. His phrase “tribunes of the pretty soul” seems weirdly abstract, although some reflection might induce the reader to associate it with self-help gurus of the type one now sees on PBS during fund-raising drives, thus surely not the manly men (and the occasional woman) of the Neocon brigade, recently caught striking striking poses for “Vanity Fair” photographers, channeling their historic ‘great guys’ of choice.

Come to think of it, the current crop of Neocons would probably qualify as “haughty elites”, but that’s surely not a road Peretz will choose in this darkling wood that is now the American present. They have surely channeled LBJ and the crop of left-over JFK whiz-kids who brought us the Vietnam War; but they’d prefer something in the Churchillian line, or some wild-eyed condottieri from the Civil War era (the particular ‘side’ politely left vague, as is proper usage in modern Washington City). Thus the spirits of both Grant and Stonewall Jackson might be evoked not only to rescue the present military situation but also – are we breaking new theological ground here? – to buy and read the magazine.

But then Peretz gets down to cases. Modern liberalism, he asserts, is “synonomous with Hamiltonian statism rather than laissez-faire” and “originated in these pages”. Now in this era of the Patriot Acts, the knee-capping of Posse Comitatus and Habeas, the ongoing “Gleichschaltung” of all police agencies through the various phases of Operation Falcon, and the assorted other gambits of the Unitarium, “Hamiltonian statism” may seem less well-advised than heretofore.

And the deployment of “laissez faire” is too clever by half. Both Roosevelts and Wilson saw a need to expand government in order to protect the individual – and under FDR, the working man and the middle class, especially – from the depredations of corporate interests inflated far beyond the ability of the average citizen to understand or parry. Surely Peretz is not going to actually evoke – with an eye to reassembling – that popular coalition against “the interests” that stewed and brewed from the 1870s to the 1930s; it is his Neocons and the Republicans who have gutted so much of what the aforementioned Chief Executives stood for. And he doesn’t.

Instead he segues without further elucidation into his self-serving coda: “I’ve viewed my historic mission as the safeguarding of that sacred legacy from moral decrepitude”. Mercy sakes. Who died and appointed Peretz Guardian of the (old) Republic? What divinity authorized him to bring “sacred” into this? And which legacy? Shrewdly, substance and content are left unspoken, the better to allow both harps and brassy trumps to fill the aethery air.

And of what cognitive value is the ascription of “moral decrepitude” in this context? What (who, more properly) has become or is in danger of becoming morally decrepit? It’s a catchy phrase, especially in the culture-warring, ‘the personal is the political’, ‘politics is all’, anti-political miasm that befogs the citizenry and the nation at this point. Is this a Republican decrepitude? A Democratic decrepitude? A decrepitude of the Republic? A decrepitude of Democracy? Of values? Of Constitutional balance and praxis? Of the economic grounding of the middle and the working classes? All of the above? In domestic affairs We are urged by the Unitarium to ignore economic matters and wage cultural war on each other (a phenomenon begun and long-sustained, alas, by those desperate Democrats decades ago). We can still make time for shopping by not thinking about foreign policy – which itself has now come to mean pre-emptive wars.

We are then graced with an apology – sort of: “Unfortunately, this magazine has not always been a good steward to the ideology that it helped invent”. He refers to Hamiltonian statism, it seems, which presumably would have been ‘invented’ (an inapt choice of word, and sorta hubristic) by Hamilton. And is he apologizing for the magazine’s betraying the citizens in their on-going struggle against the sleepless undertow of corporate greed? Or for the magazine’s betrayal of the country’s historic abstention from such monstrosities as pre-emptive war? He doesn’t say. But apparently it is now a matter of record that he – and/or the magazine – has ‘apologized’.

There is a lengthy digression against one of the earlier honchos at the magazine who – it turned out – was some sort of Soviet agent; the fellow also went to Cambridge and was a member of “The Apostles”, just so we know (apparently not all things British are good).

And he thinks that it is a poser: how do we in this country allow people to expand their lives by acquiring lotsa money, while yet 'fleeing the greed' that allows a family of four to live on $20,000.00 a year? This country “could do with a new immersion in egalitarianism”, he asserts with an impossibly vague grandiosity. He’s covered the base, without actually having said anything we might use; but that base has been touched.

The runner proceeds to the next one: It is not at all clear to him, he admits with a becoming humility, how much “this idea” (egalitarianism, presumably) “really does animate liberalism’s high priests and priestesses, especially those from Hollywood”. Slam, bang, thank you! He’s positioned himself as somehow not being part of the hierarchy of liberalism; one wonders what would happen if he weren’t invited to the next Democratic fund-raiser, self-congratulatory dinner, or convention. And a great two-fer: he’s taken a shot at “Hollywood”, without actually trying to hit anything – or anyone – in particular (they might, after all, return fire). You have to respect the man’s virtuosity in this type of operation.

But then suddenly he changes front and starts to move quickly along a more specific line of advance: “What is dogma to many of them [the Hollywood-ites?] is simply the historical and psychological assault on the United States”. There were unnamed parties who, in the Cold War, “did not want the Soviet Union to lose”. Are we to associate the Hollywoodies with same? To what end?

The next sentence: “And that France has now become a heroic nation simply for resisting the invasion of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq is preposterous”. Say what? Who says France is heroic? Although you might make a case for ‘moral’, and you could certainly make a case for ‘intelligent’ if not also ‘wise’ in its abstention from opening what to any half-mature pair of eyes was clearly labeled as Pandora’s Box. How did we jump from Hollywood to the Soviets to France in three sentences? Bases are being furiously touched here, to complete a circuit. Some circuit.

But he – and it appears seriously – isn’t going to just keep ticking off buzzwords. In the matter of France the Harvard man will formally explicate: “After all, France is a closed-minded, prissy, rigidly class-bound, economically retarded, and nostalgic country.” Ah. That explains it. Imitating Churchillian speech, mannerisms, and World-War Two in general, however, is apparently not nostalgic. Of course not: such imitation has a purpose – to cloak current military adventures (far beyond anything Hamilton would have stomached) with an aura of glory and righteousness and the assurance of victory. But of course. And if we are fighting great battles, we must be Great Men, right? Ach.

And he goes on immediately to assure us: “During my time at TNR, we’ve tried to guide liberalism away from such intellectual mush. To my regret we haven’t always prevailed.” Intellectual mush? Apparently he hasn’t really familiarized himself with the Neocon rationales for the war in the East and just how it came to be taken as assured that it would all be a slam-dunk and we would be greeted as liberators. Nor has he informed himself as to the current excuses the Neocons are giving out as to how the project got so screwed up – excuses that wouldn’t pass in a 5th-grade classroom or a municipal traffic-court. But Peretz, dahlings, is shattered. Well, he has his regrets, at least.

Some kudos is distributed liberally to a coupla more recent enablers at the magazine, and then suddenly: foreign policy, and specifically the magazine’s official take on it. “That foreign policy is still relevant today. Its guiding philosophy is that democratic societies are of philosophical and practical interest to our country, and those who are struggling against tyranny deserve our aid and fraternity.” Hmmm. Accents of Neville Chamberlain as the inevitability of things became unavoidable to him in 1939. But they had Hitler. Who is facing a Hitlerian onslaught nowadays? [No, ‘the Iraqis’ is not an acceptable answer.] And what about that “sacred legacy” saying America would be a beacon and a model, but not an agent of Democracy? That America would be the well-wisher of all nascent democracies but the mistress only of her own?

He then suddenly goes after the United Nations as “a failing, bloated, corrupt and unprincipled institution whose very principles compel it not to act justly”. It might just be a Freudian slip, but that could be a pretty workable description of the Unitarium. But to what purpose go after the U.N.? Is this a rant? Is the man altogether well?

We are quickly, and finally, enlightened: Israel. “For my part, I believe that Israel, which was a gleam in the eyes of the earliest editors of TNR, is a test case that the United Nations is failing”. It’s of great historical interest that men of the very early 20th century would have ‘imagined’ the State of Israel as it exists today. They may have had a sympathy for Zionism’s desire to gather the Jewish people together – even though not all Jewish people were in agreement with the idea.

But it remains to be answered whether that desire, however fondly and deeply it might have been entertained, overrode an awareness of the profound dangers and complexities – moral and strategic – that would be required to turn such a desire into working and workable national and international policy. And that was in an age when ‘natives’ such as the inhabitants of then-Palestine would have been seen as mere pawns on a chessboard, to be swept away if the Great Powers wished to. But, exhausted by war and hemmed in by their own recognizance of the self-determination of peoples, those Powers did not see fit to sweep the inhabitants of Palestine off the board – it would not be until after a second exhausting war that another generation of Zionists decided to damn the torpedoes, “create facts on the ground” and – come hell or high water – go from there.

It’s more than a little dissonant, cognitively: having gone to Palestine and pretty much pushed the resident eggs out of the nest, certain parties are now complaining that they are treated rather churlishly by the half-broken survivors and by the neighboring nesters. The term “rightful” in relation to the State of Israel’s existence in its present form and boundaries is certainly open to deliberation by all parties concerned. The Holocaust – and all the smaller pogroms and indecencies visited upon Jewish folk in Europe over the centuries – certainly counts as a factor. But so does one observation made in the early days after World War 2, that if the United States was so concerned, it might give ‘them’ Utah or some other piece of mostly vacant American real estate, rather than claim that the Bible was an instrument of international law and property and had to be enforced by all means necessary.

This is not to make light of anybody’s situation. The Israeli people are now in an awful position, and the Unitarium’s gamble to expand their security has actually wound up doubly degrading it: the Unitarium has failed in its military adventure and at the same time greatly weakened itself in all respects. Worse, the current close examination of the Unitarium by the American people (not to be simply equated with American political elements) may result in an appreciation of the complexities and uncertainties surrounding the State of Israel’s existence. Such awareness would not lead to the politically correct ‘simplicity’ and ‘clarity’ which has for decades governed American public opinion in the matters Israeli.

This is an awful situation all around. Israeli citizens are trying to lead lives and raise families, as are non-Jewish denizens of the area. I cannot look into the eyes of any of them and not feel deep sympathy and also anxiety.

And the United States has played no small role in creating this situation, from the get-go.

We have yet another wolf by the ears. The ‘wolf’ is not any particular State or people or individual, but the whole aggregated tangle of just causes and palpable injustices stretching back more than half-a-century. The ‘wolf’ is the situation itself.

It is currently fashionable to call the situation ‘existential’. Anyone trying to figure the connection with Camus and Sartre would be somewhat misled. ‘Existential’ in this context means life-or-death, and in such a situation those who feel ‘existentially’ threatened announce without further distasteful or unpleasant explication that they will do ‘whatever it takes’, and no ‘abstractions’ like Justice or Virtue or Charity or anything else will be allowed to stand in the way.

It is ‘Marty’s’ position that this is a good thing and quintessentially an American thing. This is also the position of the Unitarium and the Unitary Deciderer himself. The tortured role of middle-man and honest-broker, of – what they hey? – peacemaker which for quite some time had been the position and policy of the United States, was abandoned, and the Unitarium openly declared that it had taken sides. Was this wise? Can’t this country do better for all parties concerned by reverting to its long-standing role of assisting in finding some solution to the Problem that -–from its very outset – promised almost no possible solution?

It’s not something ‘Marty’ is going to get into. He has made his big point and plumped himself in the process, and is already into his peroration: “Deep into its ninth decade, “The New Republic” is still embarked on its original mission: to shape a just and prosperous society and to build a tolerable world”. Something for everyone! And is it me or does Marty hear the brassy lead-in of the ‘Star Trek’ (‘Next Generation’) theme song in his head as he’s writing?

But in the mirror he sees Lincoln. Almost. Lincoln said “To build a just and lasting peace, among ourselves and with all nations”. That won’t quite work, since there is the thorny problem of the fundamental injustice that effected the Zionist project in Palestine to begin with; such a problem is still not insoluble, but not without taking risks of wide and open deliberation that have never been acceptable in certain quarters. Some things are too important for wide and deep and open and mature public deliberation.

And that is most surely a truly unsettling premise. One that has wracked Our own country at least since those Democrats of forty years ago, and since 9/11 the Unitarium. We appear bound to Israel as a student to a master. And there are hard, terrible lessons to be learned.

We must pray. And People this nation. And strive “To build a just and lasting peace, among ourselves and with all nations” … it cannot be said better.

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Wednesday, March 14, 2007


I know, I know. But something’s happening. When “The New York Times” writes an editorial saying that something – anything – that has to do with this sex-offense stuff is not a good idea, then we are looking at a sea-change. And that’s what they did yesterday (

It comes just as I finished with Noman Cohn’s informatively researched “Europe’s Inner Demons”, a 1973 book that traces the very curious history of witchcraft crazes in Medieval and Early Modern Christendom.

Cohn notes that there is almost a predisposition in that (but not necessarily only that) culture to 1) accept quickly the possibility of a secret society within the larger society, and 2) that the carryings-on of said secret society (i) constitute a threat to the larger society and (ii) are comprised of acts which are in themselves abominations (having weird sex or using the ashes of dead children, for example). This sounds like Hofstadter’s presumptions in “The Paranoid Style in American Politics” (1965); Cohn is writing not so long after him and may well be familiar with his thought; and the roots of American religion (and hence politics) certainly extend back to the Medieval era in Europe.

Cohn goes on to observe that the dynamics of the witch-craft excitements are solid fodder for psychology and for the sociology of persecution. Surely, the multiple, simultaneous gratifications of persecuting ‘evil others’ are immediate and deep: the visceral satisfactions of exercising violence; the moral satisfaction of exercising that violence against ‘evil others’ for the safety of the community; the social satisfaction of serving that community while at the same time both assuring and enhancing one’s status within it; the psychic satisfactions of ‘rescue’ and ‘prevention’; and the more diffuse satisfaction of having had a ‘high’, of having climbed – for whatever length of time – above the fog of the quotidian mediocrity and boredom of life and self. That one might purchase the compleat package with (to all appearances) very little danger of retribution or ‘blowback’ to oneself simply frosts the marvelous cake.

Interestingly, witchcraft crazes did not just spring full-blown from the early Christian/Catholic church. It started after the Early or ‘Primitive’ era of the Church, after folks had lived until the millenium in vivid expectation of Christ’s imminent and compleat return in glory. It began around the turn of the first millennium with individuals in their villages complaining of demonic annoyances; especially, women reporting the presence of an ‘incubus’ – a male demon who lay with them – in their beds. (Cohn does not pursue the verrry curious implication that there is gender distinction among demonic entities.) This type of complaint was handled by the parish priest and perhaps the local lord and his sheriff or seneschal, to the extent that it could be handled at all. It was only the woman who could attest the facts – such as they were – of the report, and the demon was only temporarily corporeal and thus subject (even if only in theory) to this-worldly jurisdiction.

In the 1200s the Church became concerned about heretics. These were not non-Christians and ‘non-believers’ but rather Christians who (perhaps out of impatience and disappointment that the End Times failed to arrive promptly) began espousing and in some cases devising their own variations on accepted Catholic doctrine.

Local bishops were authorized to start cracking down, and then after a bit Rome set up its own Inquisition, independent of and (theoretically) superior to the inquisitional efforts of local prelates. But then … but then … in Mainz one Conrad of Marburg, a fanatical type of personality with a particularly outgoing assertiveness, was appointed to oversee the local inquisition. He somehow became convinced or convinced himself that heretics had congress of some sort with the Devil or with demons – which added an entirely new twist to the proceedings: from sustained theological droning the ‘cases’ became pepperpots of accusation and ‘testimony’ and ‘evidences’, titillatingly sexual.

And, with the Devil now being involved, matters were too urgent to leave to the deliberations of theologically-inclined inquisitorial committees who both insisted on proper academic procedures in order to deliberate and legal procedures (still rather rudimentary) in order to prevent the miscarriage of God’s justice. God’s justice, for Marburg, was a quick and decisive burning. And to hasten that felicitous end, he tended to accept accusations at face-value and had no problem authorizing torture to extract confessions (extracting ‘truth’ or ‘facts’ were objectives too abstract and time-consuming for the great task before him) … but those were primitive times.

And history being as dynamic as it is, none of this took place in a vacuum. In a multiple-warhead (MIRVed) bid both to grab power and wealth within his own kingdom and take the Pope’s authority down a peg or three, Philip the Fair of France – in the first decade of the 1300s – decided to dissolve the powerful and wealthy military-monastic Order of the Knights Templar, a left-over from the Crusades that had outlived its original purposes but had set itself up in business with great success. Not having the authority himself to just break them up (only the Pope could do that), the king arranged accusations of heresy and – you can never have too many arrows in your quiver – of immorality and debauchery both sexual and more generally hedonic.

And, in a masterstroke of opportunistic creativity, the king included some witnesses to the effect that the Knights were in league with the Devil, an accusation that would force the Pope to take decisive action and which – given the difficulties of gathering ‘evidence’ - would prove either impossible to prosecute or impossible (the king’s plan) to defend oneself against.

Helpfully, the king authorized torture to extract confessions from the Knights, not a few of whom quickly admitted – now that the king was asking and the pokers were very very hot and sharp – that they had been leading monstrous double-lives of vocational betrayal for as long as they could recall.

When on top of that the Papacy moved to Avignon in Southern France under the leadership of a French pope … enough to say that the Knights didn’t have a prayer.

Before long, this or that local inquisitional court – and not at all to the Popes’ liking – was finding itself faced not with doctrinal issues but with villagers turned in by their fellow-villagers, accused of having consort with the Devil. This was hardly surprising: elderly widowed women, children, and the average peasant male, were not likely to claim that their own reading of the original sources led them to believe that Moses did not pre-figure Christ, or some such. But who couldn’t credibly be suspected of congress – even sexual – with demons? And the accused’s promotion to hell or glory meant one less mouth to feed from the village stores.

But it wasn’t until the 1500s that the final piece was put into place: witches, it was concluded, could fly invisibly. Prior to the discovery of this ‘knowledge’, it was impossible to see the occasional witchcraft accusation as more than an isolated – if authentic –instance of human debauchery and evil. After all, if this weren’t simply a matter of the occasional village crone, nor of the single, isolated village witch – then the roads of Europe should be filled with witches traveling from one sabat-gathering to another for their purportedly numerous convocations; but the roads weren’t filled and nobody reported seeing bands of traveling witches – on foot or on horse – criss-crossing the continent.

But once it was established ‘knowledge’ that witches could fly and remain invisible at the same time, then all limits were off as to the number of witches’ sabats that could be held and attended. A witch could attend one a night, from one end of Europe to other, and the ‘numbers’ of such purported sabats quickly increased exponentially. And so did the ‘threat’ they posed and the ‘crisis’ that demanded decent folks to take action. The very air above decent folks' heads was now – it was imagined – full of invisible witches flying back and forth on errands of dark and bloody purpose. And if witches could remain invisible, then where else might they be? In your home, your room? And if they – famously – ate or otherwise required the services of children, then who was safe? Decent society was suddenly made a sideshow, and an endangered one at that, forced to play second-fiddle to a demonic society busily and robustly conducting its evil affairs right - as it were - over their heads. Decent folk needed to take back the night.

And thus they were – as is said at Santa Anita – off.

So I cannot help thinking that We here in this country have undergone something of the same nature in the past quarter century. Were it to be established that some other monstrousness of the Medieval era had come back in strength to plague us – the Black Death, for example – then modern folks would be jolted into action.

But oddly – demonically? – this witchcraft dynamic has returned and remained and battened upon our society and our culture for more than 25 years, and yet it is taken as ‘knowledge’ and the very cutting-edge of scientific and psychological and political praxis.

It has deformed our society and laws domestically. And as has been noted elsewhere on this site: it cannot be coincidence that having watched Us fall for the stories of legions of rapist-priests traveling around the country and over state-lines to prey and predate upon children – and boys at that – while abetted by a secret hierarchy of bishops here and in Rome and arond the world ... then the Unitarium shrewdly (and thankfully) concluded that We could be safely relied upon to fall for the urgent claims that Saddam was a monster as great as Stalin or Hitler and that he was in possession of usable and imminently deliverable nuclear weapons. And – it would have to be said – the Unitarium was right.

So all this sex-offense stuff, and what’s going on with it as time goes on, is – I think – critically important for Us as The People: it is not only in itself a cultural disease but an agent and a symptom of an even more crucial political weakening that may well lead Us and this Republic to the Rubicon.

The “Times” is doing some very high-grade stuff in this editorial. It can’t come out and limn the full outlines of what makes this whole thing tick: that would create an uproar among sex-offense-dependents and would delegitimize the “Times” at a time when its potential for recouping its position and role is not utterly lost.

The ‘civil commitment’ aspect of the current sex-offense wave is what’s “wrong”, according to the editorial. And that’s the truth, surely – if not the whole truth.

I still find it hard to accept what has to be accepted: that in the Year of Grace 1980 or so, and up until the present Year and continuing, and while I was in possession of my majority and of a majority of what marbles I have, this country experienced an outbreak of a Medieval plague that was clearly described even back then, and available to be researched by even the modestly educated among the citizenry.

We let it get by. As We did – who can deny it? – the pre-emptive war that is now this nation’s Eastern Front.

What should give us great pause is the thought that now in these sex-offense matters, politicians with neither the wits nor the guts to explore alternatives will simply keep scraping up law after law and speech after speech to try to keep on doing what they’ve been doing and which has borne few useful results at all. The sex-offense ‘mentality’ that helped sire the Iraq War will now lock this country into a failing strategy in regard to the already dubious and newly-hatched monsters called ‘sex-offenders’.

I agree with “The New York Times”: we do not need to be going down this road. Again.

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