Thursday, June 26, 2008

note (liveblogging the killing spree)

(updates should be read from the bottom up)

update, 7.1.08:1145
Montana. Not going well. This state is practically empty, of humans that is. Stopped at the side of a remote road to relieve myself and was chased off by what I think was a rutting moose. Relief accomplished. Took my Bushmaster into a country store intending to slaughter everyone; when it seized up on me a couple of middle-schoolers came over and helpfully explained the problem, cleared and rechambered the round for me. One of them said she'd been bugging her parents to get her one of these since she was in grade school. Sort of ruined the mood. I'm heading southeast.

update, 6.30.08:0546
Came to wandering the woods; have no idea how I got here. Have no recollection of the circumstances of the bizarre last update. I'm not even married. The last thing I remember is being driven from the Potato exhibit by an alarmed group of people, begging to be allowed to"join" them, for what purpose I do not know. I'm not sure what that means, I only remembering feeling very desperate. My head is killing me. I've got to get out of Iowa. Idaho. Whatever. I'm almost three states into a countrywide killing spree and still no killing.

update 6.29.08:1809
How could I have not known? But then how could anyone have known this without seeing it for himself? My eyes are forever opened. I have beheld it, the World's Largest Potato; I have marveled at creation, as if at the creation, as if standing before the embryonic, half-formed earth itself. This is no mere vegetable; one is humbled before its mass, awestruck by its glorious, earthen, bulging rotundity, the sort of sculpted wonder no human hand or imagination can fashion; to behold it is to see the hand of the creator manifest in His handiwork; it is primal creation itself, like a Venus of Willendorf crafted by God in His youth overcome by the fever of creation; it is like the egg, entirely self-contained, possessing all that is good and sustaining within. I don't know how I can go back now; I don't even recognize my life up to this point. Somebody get this message out to my wife:

update, 6.29.08:1840
I'm going to waste every potato-worshiping supplicant I find at the sacrilegious shrine of the starchy wonder, like a jihadi rampaging at the wailing wall. Then I'm going blow their blasphemous idol to Kingdom Come. That f*%&ing root gets more attention and respect than I do. Not for long. Soon our names and destinies will be forever intertwined. I am become death, destroyer of novelty attractions. My God, what have I become? Do you people see what you've reduced me to? I'm pulling an Oswald on a f*%&ing vegetable! Damn you all!

update, 6.29.08:0547
Just crossed the state line into Idaho--Idaho, not Iowa! Well, that answers that question. Now it's just a matter of finding my first target of opportunity to make this an official interstate killing spree; there's a sign for a roadside attraction, "world's largest potato". Hmm. Such pride. I know now what I must do. Tuber hubris (tubris?) cannot be tolerated. By the way, does anyone out there know anything about, say, the Mann act or extradition law? Thanks.

update, 6.29.08:0200
Hit a deer. This has never happened to me before. I can't believe how upsetting it is; very traumatic. A beautiful creature too, a buck with an impressive rack; just magnificent. Couldn't have happened at a worse time. And I was so psyched; now I'm just utterly devastated. This is no way to begin a cross country killing spree, with the death of an innocent animal. On a wholly unrelated note, just curious you understand, but does anyone know how venison is prepared?

update, 6.28.08:2340
If you're in the Spokane area you may wish to stay indoors, oh at least until daybreak. I can say nothing further; al Qaeda may be perusing the internet. State line coming up; we're about to go federal.

update, 6.28.08:1820
Had to turn back (forgot to euthanize the cat) somewhere around Leavenworth, a bizarre reproduction of a Bavarian village in the Cascades (unfortunately lacking in a suitable clock-tower). Did manage to destroy a particularly annoying Hofbrauhaus (six bucks for a Heineken? guess who just made the list). These old Czech surplus explosives are seriously degraded and unstable as hell but, like weak coke, if you just use enough of it you'll be alright. It's all about making your mark on your way out, man!

Update II:
twelve hits at 5PM, at least one of which is a google search. That's good enough for me. Cut sitemeter adrift, cleaned, oiled and test fired the Uzi, sending the neighbors fleeing for cover (heard what I hope was a dog yelp I don't know), packed up some old Soviet-era Czech explosives that I got for a song from that now defunct operation out of Florida, found an old claymore, what the hell I'm doing with a claymore I don't recall but it's going to come in handy when they finally corner me in a motel somewhere in Kansas, a case of Snickers and water and a stop at the ATM and I'm off. I hope I can find a package store this late (friggin' liquor laws--maybe I'll make a stop in Olympia on my way out). Oops, I almost forgot to rig the house to explode. Now: I just need you all to email me your addresses so I can personally send each of you a complimentary memorial Untethered mug or t-shirt (supplies limited; XL and XXL only).

Update I:
Eleven hits at 3PM on a Friday (5 eastern!). Eleven. I'm one single-digit day short of launching into a multi-state killing spree here. At this point I'm beginning to wonder what's wrong with the remaining eleven, who are willing to suffer through these self pitying harangues. No really, it doesn't bother me.


I don't care that you don't read this because this is good; and I'm not one to boast. Most of what I've written here I look back upon with embarrassment and a twinge of regret. Mostly I think I didn't quite get it right. This is my nature; the many embarrassments large and small (and for a person of no consequence these are mostly small) that have issued from this mouth over the years are still remembered with bitter mortification, some going back to childhood; just as some now ancient slights in my personal history can still gnaw at this fragile ego. But at the moment I'm looking upon the recent past and thinking: not bad. A start, at least.

Surveying what else is out there at this price confirms this; the early friend of the blog to whom I still owe a debt striking me from his blogroll and the relief I feel for this because then I can finally strike the embarrassment that was his name from mine, posting the minutiae of his life. I still hope to thank him in print one day if these pipe dreams can be willed into reality. I still feel kindly toward him, even as I feel relieved of any association. I remain ready to help him in any way I might, hollow promise though that is at this remove. But any excuse to shorten and refine the blogroll is welcome.

Another friend despises "reading fiction" as a waste of time. Fiction is a feminine practice, slightly decadent and frivolous, apparently. This is harder to forgive. Some of us will never be satisfied until all artifice is wrung out of the culture, until all is made forthright and plain, plain, plain; every work realist, turned inside out under the harsh, even glare of an unforgiving, plodding collective consciousness purged of imagination's distortions and abstractions, which apparently confuse and repulse them as degenerate.

I can only be thankful to read such tripe, such ignorance, and not hear it coming from someone who is within arm's reach. What to make of such--words fail; whatever it is, this attitude, a word or phrase has not yet been coined.
I can only think of the bitter regret I feel knowing I will never read all that is out there of value, that I will never fully understand the art because of the limits of time, because of the late start and the engagement with social and political issues that demands all this reading of non-fiction--the same concerns that cannot be illuminated fully without fiction, without the highest form of writing that is the novel. Because of the demands of the mundane one's life is surrounded less by beauty, more by the merely practical. One has to speak and consume the language of the deal and the bargain. The language of compromise. I don't pretend it can or should be any other way---yet, still. A hearty f--- you to the sentiment of literalism and the mind in which it festers, offered as gently as the vulgarity allows and hoping it doesn't poison the rest. But it must be said.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Magical, Mysterious, Absorptive Alchemy of Success

Time, time, time is on my side, yes it is...
--The Rolling Stones

Regarding this Freddy Gray post at TAC, I wouldn't assume that today's stenographers of the royal court aren't correct about the perception, if not the truth, of current events as they will be viewed a generation on, at least here in the States. A stable, oil-producing Iraq garrisoned by US troops and an absence of the "whole cities lost" bogey may prove all this weary and distracted nation needs to shunt the horrors of the war into the memory hole (hands in pockets, looking away in affected nonchalance, whistling, surreptitiously sweeping the carnage into the chasm with the outside of our foot). Today's crimes will be tomorrow's heroic mythology. The day after tomorrow and the ultimate sentence of humanity is for suckers in modern America, where things must be compressed to conform to the timetables of individual ambitions.

Consider first the situation at the moment: over 130,000 troops (a number that should be routinely doubled to account for the mercenary force that exists as a sort of creative accounting dodge--of blood, manpower and legality) bogged down occupying a "liberated" nation where there is nary an acre sufficiently subdued to the point that troops can move about in anything but combat strength and where no westerner can expect to survive (at this rate it may very well take a hundred McCain years before a US troop can indulge in liberty outside the wire, another century and perhaps he can find a drink), a trillion spent and counting, more or less, and no exit strategy.

This is precisely the consequence of failure that was predicted before the invasion. Yet it is framed as success by comparing the daily blood loss against the astonishing levels of two years ago, levels that had to abate as the ethnic cleansing we at this point are complicit in as we literally wall Iraqis off from one another, ran its course. Having worn down the foreign terrorist element by arming our erstwhile (and future) mortal enemies among the Sunni, we square off against new ones (the erstwhile "liberated") among the Shia--with a whole new foreign element in the form of Iran (stop, take a breath), newly ascendant in stark contrast to its position pre-war; a nation with which we are now engaged in a pointless embrace of hostility that seems destined to end in a kiss of death. This Orwellian success is used to discredit those who predicted it, and rehabilitate those political figures who, it appears, have escaped justice for the crime of the century, even if they will spend their retirements in a sort of reverse exile, unable to show their faces abroad for fear of arrest (Don't it make you proud?). With success like this, who needs failure?

It should appall us that people are even allowed to venture this "twenty years on" argument, as if a generation of horrors visited upon Iraq will be vindicated thereby as the only means by which Saddam and his system were to be retired. Forgotten too will be the haste of the hysteric run-up to war, the increasing rigidity of the Bush administration's demands leading up to it revealing their fear of peaceful resolution of their trumped up concerns. Already we appear incapable of recognizing the straight jacket that the interwar sanctions regime placed us in along with Saddam. Already there is little cognition of the myriad possibilities unpursued by which Saddam may have been forced out, by which Iraq may have been allowed to progress on its own terms observing its own necessary logic. But that's always been the point. We've been engaged in the very costly process of ensuring that post-Saddam Iraq resolved on our terms, ultimately because of all that oil in the ground, since we liberated Kuwait. Tragedy plus time equals comedy. Failure plus time divided by denial equals success. Reality bites (the dust).

Sunday, June 22, 2008


A narcotic debauch of two or more months came to a close one month ago. Too small and unexceptional to warrant detail, a mere echo really of the self-inflicted catastrophe that is my past. Aftershocks years after the collision of youth's flight with reality's hard ground, growing progressively fainter as they pass through in expanding concentric circles, still plague this impossibly weak mind, each thus far a broken promise of finality. One almost yearns for the more severe and definite concussion from which these pathetic emanations originate. It's as if it the past still exists out there in some physical reality we do not possess the requisite sense to detect. And of course it does; I can feel its weight even now, its unbearable, exquisite, damning weight. I cherish it even as it crushes me. I worship it as everything I know. This is love.

But thankfully the narcosis was arrested, and by a defiant act of will. Maybe this will be the last, finally. As much as I return to the shame of my past over and over again as to the phantom itch of a severed limb, I do wish to shuck it off finally. To finally turn about and walk forward through life instead of in reverse. If not to resolve then to see resolution for the unfortunate myth it is.
So the recuperation begins, and the physical energy regained feels unnatural, alarming even. I lay in bed and my chest surges, as if some current is passing through it. There is an excess of energy and an attendant inability to concentrate or contain this profusion for any purpose. So this too must be waited out.

And then it strikes, a fever that waylays me. I become a somnambulist, sleeping shameful hours through the day and plodding through my abbreviated waking hours like an astronaut encumbered by his heavy suit and tethered to the safety of his spacecraft--the sleeping world. But the dreams return! The dreams you didn't even realize you'd sacrificed to your self-abnegation; dreams trivial and absurd, dreams of youth and alternate lives that tease you through the sliver of moonlight that is the dreamworld. Dreams of lives more real than this one spied upon through the transom over the barred door between reality and imagination. Alternate realities that splinter into innumerable mirror fragments when I turn my clumsy shattering gaze upon them.

Feeling better finally, up from the depths, nearly recovered, swept up again in the wake of world, back in time but still off the beat, no matter; devouring this reality, greedily, hailing a world that roars past, over and under and beneath and through me like an electric current, indifferent and glorious; I am overwhelmed by the breadth of creation, absorbed in the mass of God's love in divine anonymity and exquisite irrelevance. Welcome back.

And back I am, having lost a little more patience, that is to say time, it having been swept into the vortex of self-absorption, dissipated in the implosion of self. Suddenly aware of the hour, of my decaying flesh and mind, of the nearing gallows, waving frantically at humanity near and far, raving like a lunatic (do you see me there, the madman on the streetcorner expending his manic energy into the ether by way of words?). This is my atheist's prayer. There is no means to express this yearning, I have no faith by which to transmit this love of life and ashamed gratitude for existence, no means of repaying the irredeemable debt incurred upon conception, no currency to transact and no language to communicate, as the infinite weight bears down, inexorably, slowly but soon, any moment now, pressing my insignificant self, this tiny fractional autonomy of coalesced matter that is my entire existence, past present and future, back into the whole of nonexistence--so I must accost you, insult you, hail you like a starving beggar and desperate madman. Don't be alarmed. Don't look away. Humor me. See this half-squandered life. Take note of it. Listen to my futile and meaningless plea. The end is near! Relent!

Boards of Canada, Macquarie Ridge

Friday, June 13, 2008

Partial text of recovered captain's log, circa 1750

Called all hands on deck to address fanciful talk arising from previously noted sudden sightings and inexplicable disappearances of what some in the crew are calling a "phantom ship".

Interrupted by lookout's sighting of upper masts in fog bank about a half mile off starboard, due north. Called crew to quarters. Damn poor timing!

All quiet at two bells after sighting. Set course north by northwest to avail ourselves of the cover of another fog bank and put distance between us and first, but it's moving away from us as fast as the first seems to be trailing. We are exposed with fog all about. Crew increasingly uneasy.

Engaged enemy man o' war at seven bells. Her position in fog cover no more than a hundred yards off revealed only after we received her broadside. Two guns disabled. Hull breached astern. Mainsail rent by chain shot. Devastating gunnery!

No crew visible on deck of enemy ship, which is of no design I recognize. Magazine set afire. Forced to pull remaining gunnery crew to fight it.

Had to strike sails from and cut loose damaged mizzen. Rudder seized. Gave order to prepare to repel boarders. First mate gone missing. Enemy maintaining distance, giving no signal. Still no man visible on her deck.

Panic seizing crew. Had to subdue boatswain gone mad with fear.

Taking on water fore and aft.

Listing badly to port. Situation hopeless. Gave order to abandon ship. Remaining on board.

Enemy turning away. She flies no flag. Caught first sight of the name on her stern, fading into the fog as she disappeared. It read:

Friday, June 06, 2008

The Ecstasy and the Apostasy

I'm just retrograde enough to think that voting for Barack Obama because of the gesture it constitutes, whether to Black America's or the world's historical resentment, is an absurd way to go about selecting a president (and the source of a nifty political gimmick for a campaign already low on substance). But one can't deny the reality of it, and any rehabilitation of our image abroad is welcome. Human nature and the realities of governing being what they are, however, there's no reason to assume this consequence will remain a positive independent of all else--it may end in resentment as the worldly Wonder Brother, bound by the circumstances of domestic politics and the warfare state, proceeds to disappoint those foreigners that share the youth of America's vague infatuation with "Change".

We're all familiar by now with Edward Luttwak's "apostasy" essay and the immediate outrage it provoked. The criticisms of the essay seem to impress those who know far more about it than I. But just as no plan survives a punch in the face, no sensible argument, or its rebuttal, survives contact with human emotion. From this Haaretz story about Senator Obama's immediate sacrificing on the altar of AIPAC whatever capital of goodwill his nomination has thus far created in the Arab world:
The Arab press has often used Obama's middle name, Hussein, but Al-Watan noted Thursday that he was a murated - an apostate from Islam. Orthodox Islam considers this a violation punishable by death.

An article on the Palestinian Web site Dunya al-Watansaid that many Arabs preferred Obama over his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton because they thought he would save them. "They forgot that he is an American Zionist who turned his back on Islam, and that he is hostile to Islam more than the infidels, the Christians and the Jews," the site said.

We should all be sophisticated enough at this point to know that it isn't a question of whether Barack Obama is technically a Muslim apostate, but if political/religious figures abroad can and will convincingly portray him as one. This absurd concern is another consequence of empire--like it or not, we are answering to the religious sensibilities of a very angry and growing segment of humanity. We've given partial ownership of the polity to world opinion.

Perhaps we should all just agree that the presidency is no place for gestures and our politics run a deficit of substance already, and call it a wash, if for no other reason than human passion may be provoked but not controlled, and is usually best left alone. The key to gaining the world's trust and respect still lies in being seen as strong, fair and worthy of emulation, and not dictating to them how they should order their societies--but above all, in not destroying their cities and killing their children.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Maverick Jettisons the Constitution

Some will remember that John McCain’s vaunted independence once included more than just a sneering disregard for conservative concerns and bullying impatience with opposition to the neo-liberal economic orthodoxy that is his path of least resistance to power--notably skepticism toward liberal intervention and nation-building. Those days are of course long gone, and the man's story thus far makes a pretty good case history of how the requirements of ambition gradually strip away the vestiges and substance of republican integrity. To quote one pseudonymous former associate: "This is not the man we knew and admired. Ambition is not a pretty sight."

The invaluable Glenn Greenwald has documented the rootinest, tootinest Arizonan's six month conversion from tepid opposition to the unitary executive to a position indistinguishable from the Addington/Yoo model placing the presidency above the law. Today's New York Times, moving at a more stately pace, has caught up, reporting on the Senator's now complete embrace of the unitary executive.
Barack Obama, whatever his flaws, represents a distinct choice here, offering opposition to outsized executive power consistent with both his liberalism and the Constitution that is, unlike the dubious personal narrative that is the unfortunate, fatuous basis of his appeal, authentic and principled. Of course, that scraping sound you hear is the Rovian beast sharpening its knives for the fall campaign, and constitutional fidelity may well prove to be political suicide (sadly for what it says about us as a people).

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Cougar Mounting Paranoia

The address she gave for our meeting turned out to be one of those pedestrian chain-restaurant/nightspots that perform the unsung service of keeping America's atomized middle class breeding, if barely.
I found it in an acid-yellow and dun colored building tucked into the armpit created by a loud and forbidding freeway on-ramp on one side and a hibernating bus terminal on the other. The building needed paint and a roof; its saucy name and logo, in dated script and design, once offered so confidently, was now mocked by its sagging, dowdy appearance. My faltering spirits stalled as I assessed the place. Arriving late, I sat in my car in the barren parking lot for ten minutes, staring at a faded American flag hanging lifeless and slack over the bus terminal's marginal squalor, not sure why I came and entertaining the notion of turning around. Regardless, it was too late; the agents had made me the moment I pulled up.

Once inside the nearly empty bar I immediately found her. Rather she found me; my attention settled on the darkened corner at the far end of the room as if drawn by a force there. Her eyes pierced the gloom like those of a she-wolf in moonlight, managing even at this distance to project her characteristic expression: intrusive, arrogant confidence. I took in a long breath, smiled, and approached.

"I didn't know they allowed smoking in bars here." I said, trying to affect nonchalance. I clumsily fell into the glossy vinyl booth, producing an embarrassing sort of noise. I made a show of settling into place by sliding my backside back and forth, but was unable to recreate the sound. Not a word from her and I was already at my characteristic, awkward disadvantage.

"They don't. You're late." She said, only then looking up at me, taking a long draw on her cigarette.
"I ran out of gas. Had to hike a mile with a jerry-can." I stammered. "Didn't even have enough to fill it." I mumbled, not really wanting her to hear.
"Sorry to hear that." She said unconvincingly.
She was made-up seductively, with rouge, eye-liner and, I suspected, false eyelashes. An aesthetic which is characterized in some all-male environments as CFM, which stands for "come f--- me." She was wearing a low-cut blouse and some sort of enhancing bra. She tilted her head defiantly as my eyes lingered; she had to check her hand, which reflexively rose to assume its typical thumb-and-forefinger cradle for her chin: the long practiced affectation of a "listening" posture. A slight lapse in her usual steel-girder control. Despite myself, I was charmed by this atypical vulnerability. She recovered and redirected her hand, reaching across and patting mine.
"I'll put this out if it bothers you."
"No, that's alright."
The transformation was jarring. Her style had previously been so studiously conservative that this was the first definitive confirmation I had that she actually possessed breasts. In my mind she was as inseparable from the pantsuit as Gandhi was from his loincloth and wire-rimmed glasses. The stray thought came to mind that the pantsuit serves the same purpose as Mao's Zhongshan suit: a uniform signifying a discrete aesthetic propounding a particular national identity.
"Is there a waitress in this place?" I said nervously, looking about. Then I noticed them, hopelessly out of place in their conservative suits and aviator-style sunglasses, one lingering near the door, scanning the room, the other attempting to use a potted plant for cover.
"Your detail isn't exactly blending in." I said. She smiled.
"Are you kidding? I don't want them to. If I don't keep them close by there's no telling what they'll get into. I could tell you some stories."
"Why do you keep them around then?"
"Window dressing, you know. They look imposing enough." She glanced over at one of them. "Most of the time that is. Somebody has to drive, run errands, clear out the occasional restaurant. You've heard the one about the Secret Service agent who locked his keys in his car?"
"Took him two hours to get the rest of his detail out."
I snorted dutifully. Over her shoulder I could see the television, showing a grim-faced newscaster with the Homeland Security terrorist threat graphic alongside. I didn't note the color-code level. A commercial came on that I knew well, a public service announcement warning against drunken driving. It proceeded through a series of state troopers accosting motorists, blinding them with flashlights, handcuffing one, guiding a drunk's head into a caged back-seat, finishing with a bull-necked, bow-tied trooper in a Smokey the Bear speaking sternly into the camera. I knew the grating voice-over nearly by heart; it played in my head as I watched, a growling, challenging man's voice, indistinguishable in tone and temper from that for a commercial for professional wrestling or a motocross exhibition, hectoring us over a shrill, arena rock style song.
"What have you been doing?"
"Not much really. Working a lot. Reading."
"Reading? I never took you for much of a reader." She reached across and gave my hand a quick squeeze, drawing hers away with a lingering caress. She laughed, as if abandoning a ruse. "Listen, D___, I know you're not some sort of virgin."
"No. But I may as well be at this point." I said, only realizing as I put my glass to my lips that it was empty. She smiled and, without looking away, raised her hand slightly. The waitress appeared instantly.
"I'll have scotch on rocks." I said.
"I'm sorry," the waitress looked fearfully at H____ as she spoke, "our ice machine is broken."
"Oh. Okay. Straight up then."
"Listen," she said, "those others can't do what I can do for you. They can't appreciate a decent, hard-working blue-collar man."
"I think you've mistaken me for somebody else." I said. "I'm not really in that demographic anymore. Rather it doesn't exist. It's out of fashion."
"Don't try to affect cynicism with me, D___, I know you."
"You know what? I think you actually do. But, that ship has sailed. There's nothing we can do for each other at this point. You'll go back to your world and I'll go back to mine. As it should be."
"Well, there might be something we can do for each other." She attempted to narrow her eyes seductively.
An Army recruiting spot came on; rangers hurtling out the back of a Chinook helicopter, rappelling down cliffs, technicians manning sophisticated machines. Someone changed the channel: a split screen, showing the two candidates for president, one in an uncomfortably close, fawning shot, his broad smile contorting the the thin skin over his skeletal features into painful looking folds, alternating with shots of hopping, giddy supporters waving signs and clapping wildly; the other an old man before a backdrop bearing the slogan and name of a lobbying institution, gesturing in a half-mechanical, half-narcotic fashion and speaking in a deliberately mild, sedated manner that contrasted with the mad look in his eyes.
"You ever get the impression that things are falling apart?" I said, surprising myself.
She gave me a knowing, empathetic look.
"You have no idea." She said, with the air of someone relieved of a long, losing struggle. "So, how about we get out of here? I've got nothing better to do. What about you?"
"No." I said, relenting. "I've got nothing at all."

The Last Romantics

MGMT, Time to Pretend

I'm feeling rough, I'm feeling raw, I'm in the prime of my life.
Let's make some music, make some money, find some models for wives.
I'll move to Paris, shoot some heroin, and fuck with the stars.
You man the island and the cocaine and the elegant cars.

This is our decision, to live fast and die young.
We've got the vision, now let's have some fun.
Yeah, it's overwhelming, but what else can we do,
get jobs in offices, and wake up for the morning commute?

Forget about our mothers and our friends
We're fated to pretend

I'll miss the playgrounds and the animals and digging up worms
I'll miss the comfort of my mother and the weight of the world
I'll miss my sister, miss my father, miss my dog and my home
Yeah, I'll miss the boredom and the freedom and the time spent alone.

There's really nothing, nothing we can do
Love must be forgotten, life can always start up anew.
The models will have children, we'll get a divorce
We'll find some more models, everything must run it's course.
We'll choke on our vomit and that will be the end
We were fated to pretend


Age's wisdom is no match for youth's naivete.

Monday, June 02, 2008

There's a Draft in Here

This is the mucked-up initial draft of my most recent article in The American Conservative. I'm assuming it's okay to post it here, seeing as the print issue is ancient by today's hyper-paced blog-influenced standards:

Rebates and Cheap Dates

To walk in money through the night crowd, protected by money, lulled by money, dulled by money, the crowd itself a money, the breath money, no least single object anywhere that is not money, money, money everywhere and still not enough, and then no money, or a little money or less money or more money, but money, always money, and if you have money or you don't have money it is the money that counts and money makes money, but what makes money make money?
- Henry Miller, Tropic of Capricorn

At the end of January President Bush and Congress passed their economic stimulus plan, the central component of which is a scheme by which the US government will borrow and distribute a minimum of 110 billion dollars to low- and middle-income taxpayers, essentially to replenish a fraction of the money still being sucked into the vortex created by the sinking housing market. On April 25 the first wave of these payments went out, four days ahead of schedule; by the end of June some 13 million Americans will receive checks of as much as 1200 dollars. China, still expanding as fast as the US economy is contracting, holds (over our collective head, you might say) over $1 trillion in assets denominated in our faltering currency, $330 billion of that in U.S. Treasury notes.

The stimulus plan will also attempt to pump some monetary air directly back into the housing bubble, increasing limits on government backed loans, $633,500 for FHA and $729,750 for government sponsored entities such as Fanny Mae and Freddie Mac, relieving those hardy souls sticking it out near the top of the housing bubble with the option of saving hundreds per month by refinancing their jumbo loans.

So habitual has deficit spending become that even the knowledgeable seem to have forgotten that if you’re in the red a dollar spent is a dollar borrowed, and it’s a dubious economic rationale for a “stimulus” program that sinks you further in debt and reinforces the very habits that put you there. There is an obvious political rationale, and at least one respected old hand of media punditry helped out with an enthusiastic column praising the bipartisan hustle of our legislature that the less astute might have confused for quick desperation.

As after 9/11, the economy is faltering and confidence is shaken, and the people are urged to shop. Pitching in, Wal-Mart is offering to cash rebate checks for free, if you have the unfortunate habit of cashing your checks at Wal-Mart. Uncle Sam wants you. To be a wastrel. (Picture his top-hat unsteadily perched on the tawny conch-shell that shades Donald Trump’s grimly debauched pout).

Once growth became both the means and the end of our de-industrializing economy (now something akin to a perpetual-motion machine) and as the quantification of the net effect on growth of various human actions became, if not a passion the closest approximation of one an economist’s heart can muster, it was only a matter of time before profligacy became civic virtue. We haven't yet designated frugality vice, but the implication is certainly there.

But it’s the economy we’ve created, not the economy that has created us. Frugality is a form of modesty, after all, and modesty was the first of the old order dispatched by the sexual revolution. Commerce, equally impatient with this inconvenient former virtue, was the guillotine. Vanity reaps the spoils, and is much more at home in the present order. It’s only fitting, seeing as it’s ultimately vanity that put us here. It is understandable therefore that the individual citizen takes no significant shame in maxing out his credit cards and borrowing against his home at the first opportunity, and that he takes little more shame in bankruptcy. He follows the State‘s lead in going into perpetual debt, and the State follows his.

If the State has become a “nanny” it isn’t a very good one, reinforcing our worst habits, and reinforcing them most in those of us who can afford it least. Even in redistributing wealth downward, the government’s plan does the less prosperous half of population the humiliating disservice of singling it out in its peculiar promotion of vice. One could go all day cataloguing the curious inversions of order in our topsy-turvy new world.

Ignorance, or failing that complicity in the economic farce, is also encouraged in the people; the citizen is “given” a “rebate”, drawn from an insolvent treasury, borrowed in part from him, in part from abroad (it‘s not accurate to say primarily from China, as Japan still holds more of our debt, for the moment; yes, China is the second biggest claim on US debt). It is a gimmick embedded in the gimmick that is the tax “refund.”

But to the extent we consider our actions we are frankly and openly accepting the longer term cost of our economic voodoo, incanting away to keep the inflationary zombie animated and moving, making as if it‘s alive. Most habitually expect the next boom to get us out of the hock we are in today with no appreciable level of pain. And the tax rebate is, above all, a plan for avoiding pain, in other words responsibility, no matter how urgent the warning that pain conveys and how overdue its proper corrective.

Government financed make-work once involved building things; the products of FDR's depression-era initiatives stand as monuments in defiance of their well-documented lack of economic justification. Entire ecosystems were encased in concrete, regions wired with electricity, rivers dammed, bridges built, and all at the surly, stubborn pace of government work. Such grand programs are now out of the question (unless they divert obscene sums into the defense industry), but not because we’ve adopted the conservative virtues of solvency and limited government.

Saving your money and living with your means are now anti-social acts. Economic growth, regardless of its composition or their effects (indeed, concern for the non-economic effects of policy is morally disreputable in current political discourse) trumps all other concerns. No longer content to stay home militarily, making things and balancing our books, we have developed an economy to which thrift and modesty are detrimental, waste and excess beneficial. It’s a perpetual boom mentality attempting to manifest a perpetual boom, through power of will. But until that happens, we're essentially borrowing money simply to spend it, as our production continually lags our appetite. Our diligent government stands ready to print as many dollars as it will take for as long as it takes. How much longer foreign governments will be willing to do their part by absorbing our excess, is anyone's guess.


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