Sunday, January 30, 2011

On Transit

Friday, January 21, 2011

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Great Okay-ness

The Great Okay-ness
By James Howard Kunstler
on January 17, 2011 9:43 AM

Days after the Tucson shooting, President Obama rode into town on a gooey gel of good will, but by the time the memorial service - or whatever it was - got underway, the president looked rather ill-at-ease. His speech was preceded by several others, including, for promotional purposes, the President of the University of Arizona, which hosted the event, a diversity infomercial in the person of a Native American shaman, the pert student government leader, a current and former governor, and the Attorney General of the US. The gooey gel couldn't contain the crowd, which more than a few times broke out in whoops and cheers.

The only kind of ritual that Americans seem to understand these days is an award ceremony, and that's what the Tucson event most resembled: a fete of congratulation and warm therapeutic self-affirmation. In the aftermath of yet another horrifying milestone event that changes nothing about how we live or what we do, comes the warm soothing anesthetic gel of okay-ness. I know a lot of people felt uplifted by Mr. Obama's remarks. I give him points for venturing out to that politically toxic city (if that's what the agglomeration of strip malls actually is). What he said struck me as not just lacking in an original thought, but filled with something like pre-owned sentiment.

And Mr. Obama looked less than comfortable through the whole gruesome show, as though he sensed there was something off about the vibe in arena, with all its photo-op immediacy that will fade into the cavalcade of a zillion preceding it and countless more yet to come. It all made me wonder: what is the difference exactly between trying to comfort people and making them comfortable? It's normal to want to comfort people who have suffered. But I'm not persuaded that the American public beyond the McKale Memorial Center deserves to feel comfortable about how they are and what they're doing at this moment in history. To me, the ceremony was short on solemnity and decorum, the willingness to suspend comfort for a little while in order to recognize that what happened at the Safeway supermarket was not okay. Even the official moment of silence near the end was too brief, as though they were trying to spare the crowd too much self-reflection.

I wasn't the only person in this country who felt a little jarred by the strange proceedings. As they wound down and the cameras followed Mr. Obama milling with the crowd, CNN's anchor, John King came on air with a hastily-constructed narrative designed to explain all the hooting and hollering. His thesis was that the local folks of Tucson had been so emotionally squashed for five days that they just had to let it all hang out. This struck me as something between an excuse and a cockamamie story to paper over the awkward question: how come we don't know how to act in the face of tragedy?

Of course, we don't know how to act in the face of reality, either, by which I mean politics, our means for contending with reality. So much of the Tucson story was whether there is any remaining shred of something like common purpose between the opposing political wings and the answer resolving out of all the grief and soothing gel is no. Common purpose is AWOL in our politics lately because whatever terrain of the issues is not occupied by sheer lying is filled by cowardice and ignorance. We lie to ourselves incessantly about the nation's financial condition. We've suspended both the rules of accounting and the rule of law in banking matters (lying). We're too frightened to go into the vaults and find out exactly how much we've swindled ourselves (cowardice). And we aggressively misunderstand issues that will shape our future, such as how much oil is really in the ground, and how long people will be able to live in places like Tucson the way they do (ignorance) - all of this prompting us to march off the edge of a political cliff where we hang today, the cartoon coyote of nations, undone by our Acme techno-fantasies.

Discomfort is probably the only thing that will avail to alter this pattern of behavior. For the moment we have no idea where we're going, what we're doing, or who will take us to the next era where life will be very different. It could easily be some loutish spawn of Limbaugh and Beck, stepping in to push around a land full of lost souls desperate to be told what to do after years of forgetting how to do anything. All of Mr. Obama's earnest, gel-like warmth does not conceal the astounding corruption of the Democratic party and the surrender of progressivism to anything that smells like money (in the immortal words of Matt Taibbi).

The Tucson shooting displaced two important political stories last week. 1.) the sentencing of former House Majority Leader Tom Delay to three years in prison for money mischief, and 2.) the appointment of JP Morgan executive William Daley as White House Chief of Staff. Both of these stories tell us as much about ourselves as the lethal antics of Jared Lee Loughner, but nobody paid attention.
My books are available at all the usual places.

Monday, January 10, 2011

No Comment Except...


17 January update: Maybe he looks more like Fester, as implied by StopMeBeforeIVoteAgain.

Kunstler, et al. on Jared Lee Loughner


I don't know if the ambient political mood of the USA is any more poisonous now than it was for about a decade starting in the 1960s, when all those assassinations changed history: John Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Bobby Kennedy, George Wallace, plus Lennon and the attempts on Ford and Reagan. The Baby Boomers produced more than their share of lost souls. Myth still shrouds the doings of Lee Harvey Oswald, since he was bumped off so quickly, but other shooters have been around for decades. Surely plenty of people from FBI agents to forensic psychiatrists have plumbed the depths of Sirhan Sirhan and Arthur Bremer over their many years of incarceration, and all they find are a couple of human black holes yielding nothing that illuminates their acts.


The shootings of Congresswoman Giffords and all the others took place in front of a Safeway Supermarket in a strip mall in a city of strip malls and housing subdivisions - many of them failing financially. It must be unbelievably difficult for a young person to make sense of such an incoherent environment and such cruel swindling culture. A society that habitually and incessantly lies to itself is apt to choke to death on its internal contradictions. Jared Lee showed an unusual concern for language and literacy. His videos were all words, no pictures. I wonder if the word SAFEWAY flashed through his brain when he pulled the trigger.

Kunstler also notices Boehner's eyes were dry when he issued his statement on the shooting, but that he "notoriously weeps when recounting his own youthful travails rising to fortune in business and power in government. He handled this incident like a news-caster at a Midwestern TV station reporting rush hour traffic."

Dennis Perrin, always caustic.

Louis Proyect

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Link Updates

I've added and Mondoweiss to the Politics section of my list of links (click "All Links" in the sidebar).

My Birthday

Yesterday I celebrated my birthday in a low-key way. We roasted a leg of lamb with garlic and rosemary, and baked a chocolate cake. I also picked up some vindaloo from Akmal's and made some tabbouleh.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Enter the New Year

We regret to announce the death of Denis Dutton, founder and editor of Arts & Letters Daily... more»

Obama leaves tomorrow.

Hardly any fireworks heard in my neighborhood.

The earworm of the moment.