Inside the conservative mind…

This is what we are up against:

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This is a prime – oh-so-prime – example of the American social conservative mindset. And straight away, we are confronted with the Invincible Ignorance factor. And it is very tempting to leave it at that. The utter lack of comprehension about so many basic facts, basic ideas and a surreal disconnection from reality are presented here in such an amazing package of ironic delight, I find myself almost – almost – delighted by the utter naivety. I couldn’t mock social conservatives anymore if I had dedicated the rest of my life to doing so.

But there is a lot more going on here. There is a simple biological underlying factor here: age. Older people are – and we all know this from personal experience – less capable of learning new things and solving problems. They are extremely gullible. Baby boomers are ageing, and much like the rise of myriad scams directed towards old people, the conservative political message should properly be seen as just one more big scam that’s working on older Americans. The baby boomers are old now, and this in itself explains why Americans politics have become far more conservative then they have in decades.

The implication and subtext of this picture is that white, straight, wealthy, conservative, christian Americans are the victims of an urban, modern, liberal big-government conspiracy. The roots of this paranoid fantasy trace back to Republican propaganda in the 50’s in an attempt to roust the Democrats out of the White House. The essence of the idea is that “reds” have infiltrated the media, the government, the colleges and are fixing things against America. It’s sabotage but a sort of one-two, hard-soft sabotage. It’s social, but also military-political.

This is a profoundly rural, anti-capitalist and anti-modern idea. It’s the old antagonism between the country and the city, twisted through decades of American political history. More importantly, it is the continuation of the Jewish-Masonic Conspiracy, just transplanted to a different time and place. This is how social conservatives channel their alienation under capitalism; this paranoid fantasy must create a scapegoat; a channel for their rage, incomprehension and inability to articulate their problems and anxieties.

Playing the Victim has come to dominate politics in this country, and really around the world it seems. It justifies Israeli aggression, Russian expansionism, the Greek-German debt crisis, Islamic fundamentalism; it’s literally everywhere. Regardless of the cause, or where you are on the political spectrum, everyone tries to get to the high ground of “I’m the victim here”. It bares some deep thought. Is this a legacy of the Holocaust? The idea that there are Goodies and Badies and you are either one or the other? It seems to be rooted in a conception of the world that places too much value on it’s common nouns (police, patriot, terrorist) and not enough on it’s verbs (becoming, bicycling) and adverbs (quickly bicycling). I realise that this is bit of a weird over-simplification, but baring the example of the picture above, and the legacy of the Patriot Act (a sinister stripping away of our American freedoms), is a necessary point to make.

The other element of playing the victim is that it subtly implies the existence of the “Great Other”; this is simply the idea that there is a great, imperial force that will ride in to save the day and make everything right. It implies a Universe that is orderly and meaningful; where everything and everyone eventually get their just deserts. It implies that there must and will be a happy ending. Playing the victim means we are advertising ourselves to the Great Other, who, once he recognises our victim-hood, will come and save us.

We don’t live in that Universe.

President Eisenhower famously loved the old, black and white Western High Noon. It’s very enjoyable. The bad guy terrorises the townsfolk, but is gunned down by the good guy at…well…high noon. This is what conservative America wants from it’s president: the good cowboy, policing the West, gunning down people in the name of justice, order, and the property of the townsfolk.

But I have strayed too far from my original point. It is important for me to summarise why Bush II was probably the worst president in our history. At the end of his two terms, he left our country in foreign quagmire wars, and economy ruined by the government guaranteed gambling of Wall Street, which he and his predecessors created through neoliberal economic policies.

According to Brown University (http://watson.brown.edu/costsofwar/costs/economic), the total running cost of the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan is 4.4 trillion dollars. Let that sink in for a bit; don’t just role over that number like it’s an empty statistic. We paid for these wars through borrowing; by 2053, we will still by paying for it and it will have cost us over 7 trillion dollars. Human cost: 370,000 killed. About 4,500 of these are US soldiers; this does not include US “contractors” (mercenaries) or US allies and the Iraq army and police forces.

Think about the cost beyond the figures: the wounded veterans, the tens of millions of refugees, the destroyed infrastructure, the destabilisation which has resulted in ISIS. The damage to our international prestige: the result is that Russia’s international aggression has been able to take place because of our weakness as a result of committing ourselves in Iraq and Afghanistan. Not to mention China watching and learning from our technology and tactics…

But the biggest crime is the truly Orwellian path that our country has taken under his leadership. And this is that massive erasion of our rights, freedoms and privacy from the Patriot Act combined with the replacement of the boogeyman of communism with the boogeyman of islamic terrorism. In 1984,the world is split between three superpowers which are constantly at war with each other; however the government propagandists switch the enemy that is to be feared and loathed in mid-sentence; it’s a surreal statement about how our militarised societies need an external enemy – any enemy – to focus people’s rage on. Bush presided over the inauguration of a new scapegoat for us to fear and loathe and support ever-increasing military budgets because of ($664.84 billion in 2011 alone: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Military_budget_of_the_United_States).

This is why Bush II was an unmitigated disaster.

Would it be too tedious for me to go through, phrase by phrase of the Bush meme above and explain it point by point? I want to tackle “cops are criminals and criminals are victims” because I think that this is probably the trickiest to explain and the one that needs to be explained the most right now. I think that it is safe to say that there are good cops and bad cops; good police departments and bad police departments, and I think that police have a brutal, neigh impossible task facing them; they literally have to deal with all of society’s problems. I can definitely appreciate the resentment that sees criticism of the police as “second guessing” their work. Cops are not criminals of course, but they can be – and are, far more often than conservative American would like to admit.

Policemen are the visible enforcers of the larger American socio-political system. They must enforce laws; but these laws are far from just; the result, at its simplest is that they enforce an unjust system. This is what makes them criminals (so to speak). Their crime is enforcing the larger crimes, the fundamental injustices and hypocrisies of they way things are these days. What is the crime of smoking pot compared to the crime of foreclosing on millions of Americans? What is the crime of stealing, say cigarettes from a 7-11 compared to the crime of stupidly invading Iraq? The CIA was integral to the cocaine explosion of the ’80s, and yet we still put people in jail for the stuff.

The Justice System is completely dysfunctional. We are the Incarceration Nation, and it’s a racist incarceration at that. There is a statistical reality that cannot be argued with. The number of people in jail in this country, and the proportion of them that are black is outrageous; the number of unarmed black people killed by police each year is simply unanswerable by conservatives (“He was no angel” just does not logically that individual’s death). This is why it might be said that “cops are criminals and criminals are victims”.

That was heavy. So enjoy this picture of Kanye West:

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Ironically amusing right? For conservatives, this image captures and completely invalidates the liberal/politically correct attack on the Confederate flag. While for most people this is simply a pop celebrity being a pop celebrity and all the stylistic, attention grabbing nonsense that this necessarily entails, for conservatives this reveals the hypocrisy of progressives. Because – look! – you use it too! As someone who considers themselves to be truly liberal and progressive, I can tell you right now any pop celebrity has (no matter how liberal that individual might be) the very nature and way “celebrity” works in America is effectively conservative. Kanye’s wardrobe really has nothing to do at all with the relative merits of either side. And, more importantly, a black man wearing the confederate flag has a very, very different meaning then when a white man wearing a confederate flag (as events have shown, over and over again).

Here the next candidate:

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Logically incoherent, this one really displays both the age and the disconnect from reality of the conservative mindset. There was a time in the decade or so after WWII, when the US was the only major country that had not been destroyed by the war, or was not an old imperialist country like England or France, or totalitarian like Soviet Russia. There was thus a brief period when are standard of living and our claim to democracy and human rights was unequalled. That’s great. But that was sixty years ago, and a lot has changed. People who write and believe the above meme have not realised that fighting the Cold War destroyed our moral high ground, and linked our economy to the military-industrial complex. Our freedom and standard of living are not rare anymore; in fact, we are increasingly being left behind. We are #1 in only three things globally: 1) military spending, 2) number of people in jail, 3) and the number of adults who still believe in angels. Thus the benefits they refer to are gone or largely surpassed.

Last one (I promise):

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First of all Dylan Roof is a kook, no question. But the very language that dismisses Dylan Roof and what he has done reflects the very problem that allows the Dylan Roofs of the world to commit these crimes in the first place. Dylan Roof is a terrorist; the very logic that labels a white killer “crazy”, a brown person a “terrorist” and a black person a “gang member” or “drug dealer” is the problem.

The second part of this is the cognitive dissonance (the mental stress or discomfort experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values) between banning the confederate flag, and the widely held acceptance of flag burning and whatnot as a form of free political speech.

What we have to get clear right away here is that there are two confederate flags. There is the Confederate Battle Flag, and then there is the confederate flag. The Confederate Battle Flag was flown by Confederate forces in the Civil War. The confederate flag was put up in the 1950’s by Jim Crow state governments feeling the pressure of the civil rights movement. This is subtle, yet crucial, difference. The meaning of the flag changed when it was put up in the ’50s. This is not a PC regime attempting a damnatio memoriae on our past, it rather seeks to remove the emblem of American racism and Jim Crow from at least government buildings and property. Hardly a ban, now, is it?

Further, the confederate flag is literally and metaphorically anti-American. How is this not obvious? Hardly the sort of symbol you want to be coming out in support of, is it? You can’t have both anyway.

It still amazes me the fact that flag “stomping” is still a bugbear of American conservatives. Even weirder is how they have equated these two things (confederate flags displayed on government property and private individuals practicing a rather dramatic act of free speech). The expression on the African child – the one that we read it to be – is exactly how conservatives like to portray themselves as wisely, folks-ish, skeptical of progressive attitudes as immoral, childish and hypocritical fads.

The truth is that conservatives are people who cannot follow the reasoning of progressives and lash out against this threat to their intelligence. The key is the utter lack of logic; the inconsistencies, the oddities of the jokes and arguments. Also note the lack of self-awareness (the true key to satire and being funny, as well as true wisdom).

Thus conservative arguments boil down to invincible ignorance.

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Constantine

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Constantine the Emperor by David Potter was a refreshing bit of history for me. Rather than quenching my quest for ancient history, this book has merely fuelled it.

Potter perfectly juggles the various needs of interest and narrative, the power of historical and critical rigour, as well as a solid amount of reflection and perspective. The result is a book that is engaging, yet informative, dramatic but reflective.

Constantine the Emperor seems to have been written in response to the various pop culture portrayals of the man in the past decade or so – notably Constantine’s Sword (which portrays him as the intellectual great grandfather or the holocaust) and The DaVinci Code (which portrays Constantine as the creator of an ultra-conservative version of Christianity). Potter apparently felt the need to take action to set the record straight and keep Constantine’s reputation from falling into disrepute.

Constantine is properly portrayed in his context as both emperor, soldier, administrator, and neophyte christian. The man that emerges is far from perfect, but with a number of intriguing strengths and personality traits.

I was fascinated, not by the high drama of the imperial succession, but also by Potter’s exegesis of the imperial administrative machinery. While at times this is a bit boring, it is interesting to learn how a Roman Emperor actually governed and lived. If you want orgies and incest, go read: I, Claudius.

Highly Recommended.

Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon

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A classic of film noir. Or rather, film noir literature. This is hard boiled mystery at it’s best.

As literature, it’s entertaining, with occasional hints of brilliance; mostly it’s just, well like reading the movie in your head. As I had seen the classic movie with Bogart long ago, I could hardly make out Hammett’s actual writing.

I’ll either assume you’ve seen the movie, or plan to read or see the movie, so I won’t give any thing away here; well not too much. Not enough to ruin the whole thing at least.

There’s murder. Romance; one of the best femme fatale ever. Hints of arson; hints of our more modern day problem of serial shooters. There is a heist. Plenty of sexism, homophobia and the wonderful anachronistic feeling of a different time and place. Sam Spade, the hard boiled detective is the main character. Hints of Hemingway. Hammett loves describing Spade’s emotions and thoughts in terms of facial expressions and facial colours which border on the surreal.

Watching Spade deal with each personality in the book one by one is the main event of the book; Spade’s “all that is man” personality is a bit too strong; he lacks any real weakness. But it is enjoyable to see someone so rooted in his sense of self.

There is a happy ending; the closing image reassures us that this is a normal experience for Spade.

It’s a classic: read it.

The Long March to Power

This isn’t a well-known book. Google image searches for “The Long March to Power” by James P. Harrison managed only to bring up pictures of Harrison Ford and one of William Henry Harrison.

It was actually published in 1972; so right after Nixon’s visit to China and the twilight years of Mao and revolutionary China.

That being said, this book stays well within the trend of Asian history, especially Chinese history being written in the most boring, pedantic way possible. It is one thing to be accurate, historically rigorous, and straightforwardly clear, but this academic style of writing pushes the boundary between readable and unreadable.

There comes a point when you kinda have to insist that narrative is how we as human beings make connection and makes sense of things. Chinese history is fascinating; there are literally countless episodes and historical eras which beg for books, movies…the whole enchilada. And we will never know because sinologists refuse to indulge in the slightest embellishment.

The Long March to Power is history as written through the minuets of the communist central committee meetings. Or so it seems. Pages of charts of Party organisation; its meaningless gibberish, especially since we never get a clear picture of what these committees and organisations do. obliquely

The personalities of leading figures, like Mao, Chou En-Lai, Chang Kai-Shek, and others remain a complete mystery. Mao is referred to obliquely as a “prophet amongst priests” and that’s by far the best description in the book.

Mao’s efforts to create a continuing revolution, such as the Hundred Flowers Campaign and the Cultural Revolution are described but not explained. The philosophical and cultural aspects remain unexplored.

Still looking for great Chinese history. It’s gotta be out there somewhere.

Super Course Part II

After several weeks, and some online appraisal via BikeForums.net, I completed the purchase of the Raleigh. Cost: $250. IMG_20150610_114005148_HDR

After several sessions of cleaning, using soapy water on the paint, and a combination of chrome-wax and oddly enough, some wadded up aluminium on the chrome and exposed metal bits, I think it’s looking a bit cleaner and more polished. There is still a lot more to do, but we are deep in the territory of diminishing returns in terms of time scrubbing and rust spots removed. Spots of grime remain in hard-to-reach spots.
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All in all, in looks pretty good. The grearset is pretty clean; it hardly needs any work at all. Where I have really struggled is the tires. Or keeping air in them, rather. The side walls show signs of dry rot and cracks, otherwise, they seem fine; the tread seems almost new. I replaced the rim tape, but took me forever to properly seat the innertubes. I never have full pressure for more thana mile or two; the good news is that I never go completely flat either.

The breaks made an appalling vibration and noise reminiscent of a helicopter spooling-down. Replacing the break-pads and tightening the breaks eliminated the worst of the problem (they still squeal a little). With the breaks all set, the shifting smooth, my only real complains where the uncomfortable handle-bars (the bar tape is made of cotton, and while grippy, is actually quite uncomfortable. I’ve ordered some Lizard Skin bar tape in white. Should be a good compromise between style, grip, and comfort. I’m also going the route of white cable housing, to complete the look.

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At this point, I have put about twenty miles on the Raleigh, and I gotta say: I love it. Compared to my steel LeMonde, it’s more playful and agile. Or at least, much more agile than I was expecting. The posture for me is far more upright; put that on top of a Brooks saddle (you really feel in tune with the bike; you feel like you are really riding) and the result is a surprisingly comfortable ride.

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I’ll admit that it’s slower. But there are so many aspects about this bike, while obviously not ideal, lend a charming and at times, surprisingly practical aspect. For example, the ten-speed down-tube shifters are a pain in the sense that you have to shift your body weight to reach them out of your line of sight, especially when attempting to down-shift going up hill. But as a simple system, more basic than today’s break lever shifters, it works more smoothly and after forty years, still works surprisingly well. I’m surprisingly confident mechanically.

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