Thursday, January 19, 2012

Why is the Gin Grinch saying these mean things?

I'm thrilled that Newt Gingrich is getting some of the negative attention that he has deserved for decades. He has enjoyed a Pat Buchanan like existence -- uttering troglodytic slogans, spitting poison, retreating to a cavern of stink, and always, always, always getting paid. Finally, though, his millionaires have met up with Romnoid's millionaires, and Newt's getting Newtered.

That said, he hasn't changed. There are three stages of a newt's life cycle. There is the newt in repose, when it gathers resentment and money, the newt campaigning, when it empties its bladder of all the stored resentment, and the newt sunning itself on the rock while in office, which is the time it picks on flies and claims to be defeating dragons.

However, Newt Gingrich, from Pennsylvania, found a niche in a defense contractor dominated area of Atlanta, and he migrated into that area and expanded to fill it completely. When he lost his position in Congress, he played dead, perhaps, but he is an old pro at playing possum. Once he was no longer Speaker of the House or minority or majority whip, what was the harm in putting him on Meet the Press FIFTY-THREE TIMES? After all, as an unelected, non-policy person, who could be more germane for a Sunday show?

I know that Mitt Romney is supposed to be the "perfectly lubricated weather vane," but Newt is self-lubricated. As for where he points, it is not where the voters push, but where they pull. Himself, he goes here and there, spinning as ego and carnal bliss may lead, but as a campaigner? He has one trick.

It seems tone deaf, if not suicidal, for Newt to go for the racial folderol, doesn't it? Even an audience that booed Jesus Christ applauded (lightly) when Juan Williams pointed out to Gingrich that his garbage about "Food Stamps" seemed racist. In 2008, the United States elected its first African American president, and it did so with a huge popular vote margin. Racism, qua racism, doesn't really win.

It's just that Newt is a salamander of habit.

We got our first taste of "strapping bucks" buying T-bone steaks with food stamps in 1980 from Ronald Reagan. It is possible that, in this age of more-lunatic-than-Reagan economic politics from the Republican Party, we have forgotten what Reagan Republicans looked like. It was Reagan who gave us "Welfare queen" and the "young buck" in 1976, and he kept the language going in Philadelphia, Mississippi. Newt liked. Newt learned.

Reagan Republicanism is misdirection at its most basic. Gingrich is caught. He has lost his ability to appear financially right wing, thanks to the bane of the far right wing corporate attack ads aimed at him. He has lost the ability to be the moral majoritarian, thanks to all the stained bedsheets being waved about. These are his winning issues! He has lost his stance as the smart guy by being exposed as silly, stupid, wrong, and extremely arrogant.

He has nothing, so he goes to the one thing that always works: the flashpot distraction of "lazy Black people are taking your money." It has always saved him in the past, and it's working for him now.

The most significant problem with Newt's flashbang grenade is that the room is too small.

You see, the diversion is working for him, among primary voters who boo Jesus Christ. This group wanted to be convinced only that there was a reason not to succumb to the inevitable Mittens. He has been able to interrupt everyone else by saying, "Don't you hate Welfare queens and gang bangers getting rich in their lazy 'hoods off of your money? Have you noticed that the President is a . . . guy who helps those people do that?" They were saying, "Gingrich has no economic plans as radical as ours, has no social policies as vicious as ours, and he has been free with his penis, unlike us," since the burden to pass for primary voters appears to be radicalism. He has succeeded only by saying, "Maybe, but I'm willing to say racist things in thinly disguised code without apologizing."

The most essential problem with Newt's turn is that it's a repeat. I don't mean by that, by the way, that racists have learned anything.

Have you noticed that Newt never campaigns on his Congressional accomplishments? Wouldn't you expect the legislative leader of the Republican Party in opposition to a Democratic president to campaign on successful legislation? Wouldn't you expect him to boast of his Contract On America? In 1994, Newt announced a takeover. He had a vision. He and his party were going to flat out dictate legislation.

You see, they succeeded. That's the thing. Newt should be campaigning on all he accomplished, because he got his way!

He SHUT DOWN THE GOVERNMENT to prove that "government isn't the solution to the problem. Government is the problem." The nation did not agree. You see, the truth, which is that the government is made up of the people, that our government is us, was made quite clear. Furthermore, he CLEARED THE WAY for corporate contributions to campaigns. He set in motion the destruction of Glass-Stegal that led to the banking collapse. He enabled the merger-mania that made Mitt Romney millions. He cut the capital gains tax so that Mitt Romney could draw ten million dollars a year and pay 15% in income taxes.

Why isn't Newt bragging about all that? Don't Republican voters like what they want?

More particularly, though, Newt's signal success was making good on his promise to get rid of all those lazy Welfare queens. The Welfare Reform Act of 1995 is Newtie's. (I vowed not to vote for Clinton's second term when he signed it.) You see, Newt Gingrich killed Welfare. It doesn't exist anymore.

Under the new thing, no one may receive aid for more than three years without being disabled. Therefore, it's three years and then starvation, so no "ten kids in a Cadillac." Foodstamps also ended. Both are now state programs. This has allowed vicious states to be vicious to the poor and humane states to be less vicious, but no one is being kind, or even reasonable.

In other words, Newt has to claim to have had no successes in order to campaign on lazy people on Welfare. He would rather present himself as a failure to repeat his 1980's campaigns than give up the dodge of racism. The campaign racism of the 1980's was bull to begin with, of course, because, when Welfare did exist, it went to Caucasians at a rate greater than demographic percentages would indicate, and Food Stamps are primarily to benefit dependent children. No one is a "buck" with a T-bone, but no one ever had been.

Never mind that, though: reality is not what Newt wants. It's not what he can afford.

Incidentally, this...

This is very funny and very well done, and don't even bother trying to tell me that it isn't, because there is "well constructed wit," and that's different from "I was in the mood to laugh."

Thursday, January 12, 2012

I Get Mitt

“I like being able to fire people.” – Mitt Romney, January 9, 2012.

People complain about Mitt Romney. They say that his followers are Romnulans. They say that he is a Romneybot. They say that he is a failed experiment by the Blue Fairy, who got bored of granting the wishes to suspiciously loved pediatric puppets and decided to see if she could turn a real boy into wood.2 But I get Mitt. Mitt's a regular guy, and his quote from the Chamber Com/Mers was proof of that.3

While candidates of questionable patriotism like John Huntsman might think the sentiment makes Mittens “unelectable,” I, and CBS Money Watch's Suzanne Lucas, know that Mitt was just being a regular guy!  It's probably going to win him votes among highly successful people.4

All Mittie meant, according to Ms. Lucas (and I'll bet she's really pretty!) is what Thomas Carlyle said earlier:
Whoever has sixpence is sovereign over all men – to the extent of the sixpence; commands cooks to feed him, philosophers to teach him, kings to mount guard over him – to the extent of sixpence. – Carlyle, Sartor Resartus 5
Now that Carlyle guy's character is poor, but the poor people get to fire people, too, and Mitt's unemployed! He doesn't even get a paycheck! So Mitt, just like every other regular guy, just means that he likes being able to say no to the people who fail to please him, and don't we all?

He's a regular Joe six-pack, complaining about the government. Those guys who make more money than he does and do an inferior job. It's the right -- nay, the pleasure -- of successful men to tell off inefficient and lousy workers as you demand better service.

A highly successful American man.

I remember, once, when I was in the small (I guess it's a town; "farm," "manorial estate," and "smear" all seem to miss the mark) of Dunwoody, Georgia. This town suffered from an infestation of money. There was an insidious rot of the stuff everywhere, but especially in the homes and cars, and I was in what was then its shiny new mall, called Perimeter Mall.6 I was in line at the McFood's, but I was unable to practice my love. A middle aged man was in front of me, and he was yelling at the counter help.

The beef patty in his bread sandwich was not warm upon reaching the plastic tray, and the condiments were applied unevenly. Furthermore, the pommes frites were tepid. He demanded . . . . Well, I wasn't entirely clear what it was that he demanded. He refused a coupon and a replacement. Instead, he was telling the counter boy that HE KNEW what it took, that HE had spent years in business, and YOU DON'T GET AHEAD by giving an inferior product.

The boy behind the counter looked as though his head were about to explode.7 Myself, I wanted to rabbit punch the business expert very much. I even formed a fist with one knuckle protruding, and I was examining his medulla oblogata.8 I thought it would be easier than asking him at what point he had gotten confused and believed that he had wandered into a three star restaurant or mistakenly assumed that he had paid for food of higher... well, food.

Now, though, I get it. That was Mitt. He was firing someone.

When depression strikes, and it strikes with a wet thud most of the time,9 some people hit the chocolate pie, some people regress, and a lot of people go for “retail therapy.” Taken to any kind of reliance or extreme, buying one's way out of a funk is a disease, but going down to the hobby store to buy a $1.29 Guillow Glider can be an enjoyable lift of the spirits. Put $25 in your pocket and go to the dollar store, and you can feel like king or queen of the world. Carlyle's quote comes true: you command the earth to the extent of that $25.

You become the Disney Princess, the Man of Largesse. Go to Krystal or White Castle, and you can purchase whole hamburgers for less than a dollar. This is that necessary, joyful illusion of prosperity and comfort and, most dear of all, power over one's tiny, crashing world, that we all have available to us to some small extent, if we have some employment.

Not everyone wants to be the Princess, though. Some people want to be the Queen.
”I don't want to get married. I just want to get divorced.” – Natasha (Jessica Harper) in “Love and Death”

Mittie's one of us, you see. He likes to lift his spirits by going out and, to the extent of two hundred and fifty million dollars, telling people that they're not good enough.10

You enjoy yelling at the mail man and paper boy, don't you? Well, so does Mitt. It's just a question of scale. If you have a problem with the difference in scale, it's not because Mitt's different, but because you're envious of him. It's true that he may have to buy up a company in order to demonstrate to it just how inferior it is, has to hire it in order to fire it, but that's again just a question of scale and envy on your part.

Some children go through the “fa-da” phase. (Ok, all children do, although I promise that I didn't. I only went through the fa so phase.) This is when they demand that Mommy give them a toy so that they can throw it on the ground and demand it again. It is great fun for the infant, because it proves that the infant has power. Some infants get stuck in a pleasure principle of gathering in, and others a destructive principle of tearing down11, and that's just how it goes -- but that's totally normal, just a regular guy kind of thing. The people who get into the love of accumulating can end up being addicted to things, I suppose, but, on the other hand, the ones who like to destroy make good human resources people.

So let's all give Mittie a break. He's a regular guy. He just likes to be able to fire people. Surely that bodes well for all of us as his employees, if he becomes president, doesn't it?
    There is no first note.
     I think it is entirely unfair to the conifer and angiosperm phyla to accuse Mitt Romney of bearing any relation to them. Furthermore, although the dream of a little boy born to a bachelor could be read rather, err, curiously today (just why did Giapetto want a boy he could control?), I think that it isnot true that those who call Romney wooden are trying to contrast the Mormon church's superfetation with the Roman Catholic Church's recent difficulties.
     The connections between the Chambers of Commerce and SMERSH are well known. One has only to look at the video of Romney's remarks to spot several doubtful looking individuals.
     Super effective people don't read books. They read summaries on the web that are based on summaries gotten from hornbooks.
     If Carlyle had staid like he was when he wrote Sartor Resartus, more people would like him today. That book was sort of the last hurrah of the younger generation of Romantics, the last gasp of aestheticism (but no one told Aubrey Beardsley that). Unfortunately, he started making kissy faces at the boots of Great Men. . . and so did his wife, I think. . . and his historical view started getting pretty oily.
     This mall was named for its proud stature of riding the "perimeter highway" of I-285, which is itself a strange thing, as "interstate" 285 goes around in a circle and therefore does not go inter state at all. It does, however, mark the state of "Atlanta, those people, it, what can't come out here" and "Us, normal folks, you know?, do I have to spell it out?, nice places." The demarcation was entirely economic, of course, and completely polite. Except in Stone Mountain. And Cuming.
     This was not because he was going to holler back at the cretinous monster in his face, but rather due to the state of his acne.
     Look at your dominant hand. Clench a fist. Now, stick your second finger knuckle out a bit by means of bedding the nail of that finger against your thumb. Be vewy vewy quiet as you approach the important business executive. Smile and stand behind him. When you hear, "Oh, sure, Obama wants to tax the top 2% of our income, but then it'll be 50%, and it's like Russia" or some other bit of insane certitude, bring your dominant hand back even with your ear, and strike quickly at the base of the offender's neck. Laughing hysterically or jumping up and down in glee is not necessary.
     It can also fall like night, creep like a thief, strangle like a pillow, drown like a flood, massacre like a battallion of syphilitic cossacks, snipe like a myopic sharp shooter,  or overpower like a 1949 Oldsmobile sedan being swung on a pendulum from behind you.
     Of course it's completely unfair to suggest that a highly successful businessman would spend his entire net worth on buying things in order to savage them. After all, his five boys have their ten million trusts, and he has operating capital. He probably operates on less than a tenth of that total worth -- $20,000,000.00 or so -- so it's hardly worth talking about. Chump change, really. Not enough room to maneuver, really, even when it's a buyer's and firer's market.
     Bet you thought I was going to go for the anal retentive/anal expulsive thing, didn't you? Well, I'm not. I don't even know about that.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Word of the Weeks: Babbittry

I will let you look up the word yourself, but you'll need a good dictionary. If you see a reference to Sinclair Lewis, you've got it.

Just as he was an Elk, a Booster, and a member of the Chamber of Commerce, just as the priests of the Presbyterian Church determined his every religious belief and the senators who controlled the Republican Party decided in little smoky rooms in Washington what he should think about disarmament, tariff, and Germany, so did the large national advertisers fix the surface of his life, fix what he believed to be his individuality. These standard advertised wares--toothpastes, socks, tires, cameras, instantaneous hot-water heaters--were his symbols and proofs of excellence; at first sight the signs, then the substitutes, for joy and passion and wisdom. -- Sinclair Lewis, Babbitt
Sinclair Lewis had the luck of getting to be a great, great cynic and being the first one across the tape when it comes to the stereotypes of America. He wrote bitterly about purchasing the American mind. From the agitated malcontents and racists and dreamers who looked for a frontier, we were losing scope. If there was no more a chance to go West to find gold, the gospel of getting rich hadn't changed: we just began to think the frontier was inside our borders. As the perspective grew narrower, we were selling our minds at wholesale prices. He got to be the first man to write Elmer Gantry. He wasn't the first one to write Main Street. He won the Nobel Prize.

He didn't win the fight, though. In Main Street, Arrowsmith, and Babbitt there is one consistent satirical target: the fatuous, jowl flapping, self-sure, raw faced dullard who nevertheless gets rich and bewildered in America, drunk on belief in platitudes. (That's what "babbittry" is. Pedantry won over writerly instinct, so I had to tell.)

It's a trap!

I will no longer bail water on the Titanic. I get it: the ship's sunk, the horse has fled and died, the party's over, she's gone home with someone else, the ship sailed, the train left the station, Elvis left the building, the sun's gone down, dawn has dawned on a new day, and there is no turning back now. (Is there ever "no turning back" except now? Was there no turning back then?) America belongs to . . . the golfers. America belongs to the Chamber of Commerce, and they don't even want it. It is the inheritance of the Republican Party, the quantifiers, and the people who have home-town spirit and the motivational posters to prove it. The people who think that global warming is "in dispute" because "those scientists" can't be trusted, that "both parties are the same," who believe that they're in the middle class and that they will get rich -- these are the rightful heirs of the land of natural resources, the natural rulers of the nation of the partly educated and lackadaisically free.

There is not a thing I can do about that. Even the "art of a well timed turd" is an useless plastic art when it comes to this tide. I am not young. Young folks shout themselves hoarse over these things and never realize that every generation does the same about the same things because "the bourgeoisie is rising" forever, and it is the nature of the thing to be dull witted and disappointing. Babbitt's SUV radio plays Rush Limbaugh complaining about how They are trying to take his wealth, and Babbitt thinks I'm a complainer.

I just want to help Babbitt be unhappy is all. After all, given the ratings of AM screaming radio, I presume that there are a good many people who want to be angry and unhappy. I'd like to get in on that. I picked up Sinclair Lewis's character because his theology is in improvement. In fact, Lewis wasn't just beating up idiotic rich men; he was satirizing the American religion of self-improvement, dieting, and technology, the belief every American has that he will be rich, that he will rise, that cautionary tales are fiction.

Babbitt himself has an iconography of gadgets. His children are the same. The world improves, as proven by the march of stuff, the never ending song of chrome finishes and carbon fibers and televisions in 3-D with surround sound. This is the empirical evidence of the divine grace of progress. We feel that challenged now, what with the crisis in the one fundamental value, land, but there is still a belief out there, despite all the actual evidence to the contrary, that "I" will make progress, that "people who know what they're doing" will flourish and that tomorrow will have better people in it, and a better surroundings.

Self-improvement is not a matter of faith, but of evidence, once you make one swap. If you agree to this exchange, you, too, can "do lunch" and worry about the size of your riding vaccuum cleaner; if you do not, you will never be comfortable. If empirical and material standards are the only real or knowable things, everything flows after.

How should an economy work? Should it provide maximum capital at the greatest efficiency or the greatest happiness for the greatest number? Is the law that binds society together one of moral obligation or of natural contracts for defense and exchange? What is the value of a man or woman to society? Is it the person's "honor" (marked by birth status and behavior in a code of ethics), or is it the material the person accumulates and contributes?

The questions I am posing are the basic questions that underpin materialist and empiricist value structures and essentialist and metaphysic value structures.

If anyone at all tells you that "capitalism" is the economic system of buying and selling at a profit, then that person is lying to you or completely uninformed. Capitalism is an economic system whereby all moral constraints on sales are removed, where wage and price reflect not cost, but cost and rental on capital. Furthermore, it emerged fitfully, not all at once, and in England for the most part.

People were trading in markets for as far back as we can find. A Phoenician cloth seller and a modern fabric shop operated in much the same way. Both bought their supply and sold with a markup. That's not capitalism. Capitalism, ideally, is a bunch of bankers deciding there ought to be a cloth shop, hiring a shop staff, and then demanding a cut of the profits every month, when their only "work" had been having money. Capitalism is also, though, being able to buy up all the cloth for a season and hold off selling until the price went up enough.

In the 18th century, when Adam Smith argued in favor of capitalism in The Wealth of Nations, what he was describing was already happening. He argued that it should happen more, mind you, and he had brilliant analysis, but he wasn't the king, and no one passed laws because of him. Smith thought that man had a "good nature." See, a lot of folks in the middle of the 18th century thought that was the case. They thought that humans, if schools and laws and churches didn't mess with us, were good. Further, Smith, like Hutcheson and a number of others, thought that we were born with morality in us. We had a "common sense" of what was good or bad. No one would starve a region to get rich! People aren't like that, and saying that they are is "superstition."

Smith also thought that what he was describing was a fact of nature. Leave people alone, without the interference of those nasty and corrupt kings and Popes, and people will operate a more efficient market.

That was it. That was the critical argument.
1. Capitalism is a natural state.
2. People are benign by nature.
3. The natural state is more efficient than any system designed by man.
4. It is best, therefore, to have limits on commerce removed.

Now, I'm sure #2 makes you shake your head. I do not know of too many times in history when intellectuals thought people were basically good other than the middle of the 18th century. However, the arguments against removing the limits on trade were coming from the aristocrats ("we're born with rights and obligations"), the church ("Christ demands that we give to the poor"), and the poor ("You owe us first"). None of these were as persuasive as the idea that man had gotten it wrong with kings and Popes and that "nature" and science would lead us to big money.

Never mind, though. No one did anything because of Smith's argument. They struck down Edward VI's corn laws because it made money for London and for the large land owners and for the corn factors who supported the members of Parliament. Let's be real. However, the argument stuck around. It was an argument that asked everyone to make a clear distinction, to pick a side: do you choose visible measures or moral ones?
It's apple time

Capitalism becomes self-validating.
When you do not have to give the poor first dibs at the wheat harvest, and when you can pre-sell your wheat to a dealer, then dealers ("corn factors") can move massive amounts of wheat from one region of the country to another. London can be fed. Hooray! Also, of course, England can export wheat to France during its revolutionary period. Hooray again! There is wealth 'created.' There is prosperity. The state has money for bigger navies and stuff.

Stuff is showing up.

Of course, during all of this, the poor have gone hungry. Prices have gone way up for the retail customer, but the aggregate customer, the large Market rather than that piddly little market town, is doing great guns. If you need proof of how naturally good it is, simply look at the money involved. If you need further proof, look at the STUFF! Pay no mind to the poor.

Once the real material *stuff* is your measure, improvement is always at hand, and progress is always going to occur. (Look, I'm not going to go into the whole "GDP must grow; capitalist nations are imperialist" and all that stuff. I don't need to.)

Even if an economy or epoch doesn't make any progress at all, an empiricist value system can tell the people that there is continual improvement because there is constant change. All you need to do is say, "Cymbalta is a new drug for treating pain," and you have a major bit of progress, don't you? (Hey, look at Snus!)

If you don't accept material as a sign of progress, then happiness proves elusive. If the .mp3 player that is also a marital aid, pasta maker, car battery starter, and TV remote isn't progress, then progress either vanishes or gets qualified into oblivion. Length of life is progress, but it gets qualified by new diseases. Literacy is progress, but unemployment obviates it. Clean water is very much progress, but it is only on offer for a minority -- the same minority who pretty much had it before.

So, playing golf and driving an SUV and wearing the right color tie or skirt? How about the TV-hat for watching one's iPhone? The rules that govern social ascent and verifiable happiness for the Babbitts are matters of faith, of religion. They worship the works of their own hands, the idols of their own making, and lose, in the process, morality.

Of course, in exchange, they get a sort of ennervated happiness.