Thursday, December 31, 2015

2016: Trump, meths and heroin: the white man's burden

If World War Three doesn't break out in the Middle East (a big if), 2016 may well feature the increasingly grotesque and tragicomic banality of American life.

Not long ago in these pages, I wrote about the massive addiction of white Americans with only a high school diploma or less to the stimulant, methamphetamine.

Now this same demographic group appears to be "hooked" on Donald Trump, who has a real chance of becoming the next POTUS.

Washington Post

Moving up the social feeding chain, now it seems that heroin addiction is soaring among affluent, suburban, young white people,
When the nation’s long-running war against drugs was defined by the crack epidemic and based in poor, predominantly black urban areas, the public response was defined by zero tolerance and stiff prison sentences. But today’s heroin crisis is different. While heroin use has climbed among all demographic groups, it has skyrocketed among whites; nearly 90 percent of those who tried heroin for the first time in the last decade were white. New York Times
Since Heroin is no longer about black people in the inner city ghettos, this is leading to a growing clamor for a kinder, gentler, war on drugs.

The affluent taking opiates is not entirely new, there have always been rich old ladies shooting morphine prescribed by a "doctor-feelgood" and administered by a nurse, but not  middle class young people, with a higher education, or possibilities of getting one, OD-ing in public toilets.

Heroin is very different from methamphetamine, That drug is a powerful stimulant, one that was given to starving, freezing, German soldiers fighting in Russia is WWII in order to keep them awake and aggressive. That might come in handy in today's America if you are forced to work 60 or more hours a week at minimum wage.  Heroin, however, goes like this:
Injecting can give a pleasant rush, where there is an immediate feeling of intense euphoria, warmth, and general apathy toward anything that doesn't involve one's high.  Drugs-Forum
Which might be a good fit for a rich, lonely old lady, not something that can help you hold down a couple of McJobs, but then again might be quite useful in calming the angst of an empty, alienated life or the anxiety of paying back a student loan, while living off your parents.
Nationally, nearly half of 25-year-olds lived with their parents in 2012-2013, up from just over a quarter in 1999. (...) many factors have been suggested for why young adults return to or continue living at home, including significant student debt, weak job prospects and an uncertain housing market.(...) additional research has shown that the underemployment rate for recent graduates was about 40 percent during the Great Recession. Canon and Gascon noted: “An implication is that a significant portion of recent graduates were earning lower wages than what they should have been, given their education.” Federal Reserve Bank of Saint Louis
Adding to this, being raised in what most consider a privileged environment can lead to much mental distress as many brought up this way are led to automatically assume that life should be wonderful, but as that "wonderful" is ever out of reach, vacuity, frustration and boredom fill its space, There is even a name for it now: "affluenza".

Thanks to the continuing escapades of Ethan Couch, these days we are hearing a lot about "affluenza". 
    Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic (2001) defines affluenza as "a painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety, and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more."The term "affluenza" has also been used to refer to an inability to understand the consequences of one's actions because of financial privilege, notably in the case of Ethan Couch.(...) British psychologist Oliver James asserted that there was a correlation between the increasing nature of affluenza and the resulting increase in material inequality: the more unequal a society, the greater the unhappiness of its citizens. Referring to Vance Packard's thesis The Hidden Persuaders on the manipulative methods used by the advertising industry, James related the stimulation of artificial needs to the rise in affluenza. Wikipedia
    The poor whites on meths and the coddled millennials on heroin, the angry, undereducated white people who will vote for Donald Trump are all the flotsam and jetsam of neoliberalism and globalization, the crippled stepchildren of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher.

    How does their economic philosophy lead to such damage? The late William Pffaf diagrammed it perfectly:
    Both monetarism and market theory remove from economic management voluntarism, political intelligence, and moral responsibility, by describing economic function as objective and automatic. Thus the customer always makes the most advantageous choice, so the market presents a perfect and efficient mechanism dictating the choices that must be made by businesses, while always tending towards perfect competition. Labor is a mere commodity, and unions and wage demands obstacles to the free function of markets. Governments by nature are obstacles to economic freedom. — William Pfaff
    That is the aquarium we swim in today.

    We are seeing a massification of a classic American recipe for dealing with angst.
    "Basically, I'm for anything that gets you through the night - be it prayer, tranquilizers or a bottle of Jack Daniels."  -  Frank Sinatra
    Not to contradict the lord of the ring a ding dings, but nowadays it might be more productive to face with sober senses our real conditions of life, and our relations with our kind.

    Perhaps this presidential election year, of all times, Americans should meditate more intensely on who exactly the "We" are, that we are talking about when we say, "We The People". DS

    Saturday, December 19, 2015

    Zen koan of the day: who or what is Donald Trump?

    noun: A paradoxical anecdote or riddle, used in Zen Buddhism to demonstrate the inadequacy of logical reasoning and to provoke enlightenment. Oxford Dictionary

    David Seaton's Zen koan of the day: who or what is Donald Trump?

    One finger pointing at the moon
    Some standard definitions of "trump"

    ▸a card belonging to the suit (=one of the four types of cards) that players decide will be worth the most in a card game

    ▸to win or to succeed, for example in sports or business, because you have an advantage that your opponent does not have
    Quick definitions from Macmillan

    Suggested "enlightened" answer to the koan*:
    (*only for the youngest grasshoppers):
    Donald Trump is an "ahso"...

    ... which, of course, is just the beginning of yet another koan. DS

    Tuesday, December 08, 2015

    ISIS: the Caliphate, what's in a name?

    First, terrorism is a form of communication. It is an act that uses violence to convey a political message intended to shape public opinion or political debate on policy issues. Arie Perliger - New York Times
    One of the principal difficulties in trying to analyze ISIS is that we concentrate our attention almost exclusively upon their identity as terrorists and we don't pay sufficient attention to their identity as a political movement with clear objectives: objectives which they pursue in a patient, methodical and even "sophisticated" manner.

    Experience shows that a subversive movement with a social base, even a small one, can resist decades of intense pressure, both political and military. Groups without such a base, such as Italy's Red Brigades or Germany's Baader Meinhof are quickly extinguished, but organizations with a social base such as Peru's Shining Path or Spain's ETA can go on for decades.

    An example from a modern, European country:

    ETA, has killed over 800 people in Spain since the 1960s, they have been defeated militarily and they now solemnly abjure violence. Despite this, ETA can, even today, put thousands of their sympathizers onto Basque streets demanding amnesty for their imprisoned members. They could reorganize at the drop of a beret.

    ISIS, more violent than any of the groups named above, has as its target a growing base of followers and potential sympathizers within a world-wide community of an estimated 1.3 billion Muslims. Someone once compared mass movements to a very fat lady in a very small canoe: any sudden movement of hers can tip over and sink the canoe. Terrorism itself pales in importance next to a potential mobilization of even a tiny fraction of the Muslim masses by ISIS.

    We are just extras in ISIS's ad campaign

    19th century Anarchists referred to their acts of terrorism as "propaganda of the deed". This still holds true:

    Bottom line: The western victims of ISIS's beheadings, bombings and drive-by shootings are simply extras in ISIS's advertising campaign directed at that potential world-wide audience of 1.3 billion.

    "We" (the prosperous westerners) are not ISIS's "audience"; we are simply tools to reach that audience.

    Simply put: Our (over) reaction to their terrorist acts is meant to create a counter reaction favorable to ISIS in their target audience. This strategy is quite effective.                        
    You are far likelier to die in a car crash, or even choke on a pretzel, than to fall victim to terrorism on US soil. But fear is not a statistical calculation. That is the point of terror.(...) With a presidential election now in full swing, the stage is set for further polarization that may play straight into the hands of Isis. Thirty-one Republican governors have said that they would deny sanctuary to any Syrian ­immigrants. (emphasis mine) Edward Luce - Financial Times 
    Those who have to deal directly with the threat of local terrorism, the police, are not happy with this hysteria:
    Counter-terrorism officials of the Los Angeles Police Department met on Thursday with Muslim-American leaders to reassure them and the community at large that they are not alone and that they are facing this challenge together. “Muslim communities are our strength — not our weakness,” Deputy Chief Michael Downing told The Times. “We can’t let this deteriorate our relationship or allow others to isolate or stigmatize the Muslim community.” Chief Downing said law enforcement needs the trust and cooperation of the majority of Muslims in the mainstream, those who can raise the alarm about the radicalized few.  Editorial New York Times
    To translate the above into plain English: From time immemorial, more than using brilliant, Sherlock Holmes type deduction and state of the art laboratory work, efficient policeman-ship has, depended mostly on creating networks of tattling informers.

    Obviously if panic merchants like Donald Trump create some sort of anti-Muslim Kristallnacht movement, the American Muslim community will naturally pull itself into its shell like a turtle and reliable sources of information will dry up.

    Thought for the day: If we treat all 1.3B Muslims in the world as our enemies, eventually all 1.3B Muslims will become our enemies. Could anything be more stupid than that?   

    Meanwhile, back in the Middle East

    What are ISIS's objectives?

    Names and titles are important, especially in a religious/political context, a Pope, for example, is not a bishop or a parish priest and a Pope is not really a Pope if he doesn't control the Vatican and with it the spiritual life of the world's Catholics... Thus, among Muslims,  ISIS's calling itself a caliphate and naming its leader the caliph is a clear declaration of its intentions.
    A caliphate is a form of Islamic government led by a caliph, a person considered a political and religious successor to the Islamic prophet, and a leader of the entire Muslim community. Wikipedia
    File:Mugshot of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, 2004.jpg
    Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi - source Wikipedia
    Here is the leader of ISIS and if he is killed they will simply name another because as long as there is a caliphate there will be a caliph.
    Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi born 28 July 1971 as Ibrahim Awad Ibrahim al-Badri, is the leader of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) also known as ISIS or Daesh, an Islamic extremist group in western Iraq, Libya, northeast Nigeria, and Syria. He has been proclaimed by his followers to be a caliph. Wikipedia
    As you can see the soi-disant caliph's real name is Ibrahim and he has changed it to Abu Bakr. What does that mean?

    Who was the original Abu Bakr?
    Abu Bakr was a senior companion and—through his daughter Aisha, the father-in-law of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. Abu Bakr became the first openly declared Muslim outside Muhammad's family.(...) he became the first Muslim Caliph following Muhammad's death. As caliph, Abu Bakr succeeded to the political and administrative functions previously exercised by Muhammad. Wikipedia
    Again papal comparisons might be roughly useful; Just as the present Pope, born Jorge, has taken the name "Francis" as a declaration of the church's return to Franciscan poverty and simplicity, in similar fashion an aspiring caliph's taking the name Abu-Bakr is probably a declaration of a return to some mythical  origins of purity and simplicity.

    As to where ISIS and its caliphate are headed, nothing could be clearer. Just as the Pope must occupy the Vatican, a caliph should live in or at least control the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, which are in Saudi Arabia, which is called thus, because it is controlled by the House of Saud.

    And since ISIS's ideology and the official one of that kingdom are one and the same, the only real obstacle to Abu-Bakr taking up residence in Mecca is the Saudi Royal family.
    The Saudi royals are caught in a perfect trap: Weakened by succession laws that encourage turnover, they cling to ancestral ties between king and preacher. The Saudi clergy produces Islamism, which both threatens the country and gives legitimacy to the regime. Kamel Daoud - New York Times
    The royal house of Saud are perfectly aware of this trap:
    (Former head of MI6, Sir Richard Dearlove) remembers the then head of Saudi General Intelligence "literally shouting at me across his office: '9/11 is a mere pinprick on the West. In the medium term, it is nothing more than a series of personal tragedies. What these terrorists want is to destroy the House of Saud and remake the Middle East.'" In the event, Saudi Arabia adopted both policies, encouraging the jihadis as a useful tool of Saudi anti-Shia influence abroad but suppressing them at home as a threat to the status quo. It is this dual policy that has fallen apart over the last year. The Independent
    One of the reasons this "dual policy" is falling apart illustrates the contradictions that Saudi Arabia's present rulers have to deal with. They have been dumping oil on the market to try to break the American fracking industry by lowering prices and thus maintain their market share. This means that their cash reserves are being rapidly depleted and since basically the Saudi royal family holds onto power by subsidizing a largely unproductive population... they are in big and growing trouble.
    Saudi Arabia is effectively beached. It relies on oil for 90pc of its budget revenues. There is no other industry to speak of, a full fifty years after the oil bonanza began. Citizens pay no tax on income, interest, or stock dividends. Subsidized petrol costs twelve cents a litre at the pump. Electricity is given away for 1.3 cents a kilowatt-hour. Spending on patronage exploded after the Arab Spring as the kingdom sought to smother dissent.(...) In hindsight, it was a strategic error to hold prices so high, for so long, allowing shale frackers - and the solar industry - to come of age. The genie cannot be put back in the bottle.(...) Social spending is the glue that holds together a medieval Wahhabi regime at a time of fermenting unrest among the Shia minority of the Eastern Province, pin-prick terrorist attacks from ISIS, and blowback from the invasion of Yemen. Diplomatic spending is what underpins the Saudi sphere of influence in a Middle East suffering its own version of Europe's Thirty Year War, and still reeling from the after-shocks of a crushed democratic revolt. Ambrose Evans-Pritchard - The Telegraph
    It's obvious to me that in a few years the House of Saud will probably take up residence close to their billions on the shores of some frigid Swiss lake... Will this mean that Ibrahim Awad Ibrahim al-Badri, A.K.A, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi finally gets his chance to be a real live caliph in Mecca? 

    Probably not.... but it might very well be somebody even worse... so stay tuned.  DS

    Tuesday, December 01, 2015

    Tinfoil hat questions about ISIS, Saudi Arabia, Paris and climate change

    Question one:

    What country gives the most intellectual and perhaps financial aid to ISIS? 
    Answer: Saudi Arabia

    Question two:

    What Middle Eastern country, totally dependent on selling oil, has the most to lose if the Paris climate change conference is a success and the use of oil is severely curtailed in the foreseeable future? 
    Answer: Saudi Arabia

    Question three:

    Isn't it strange that there was a massive Jihadist attack on Paris shortly before the climate change meeting? 
    Answer: I don't know, you tell me.