Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Parasite

I came upon a book called The Parasite (1982) by Michel Serres, a French philosopher. He examines parasitism of all kinds, from natural to existential, using language, fables and everthing else he can think of. One chapter in particular reminded me of the famous "healthcare debate":

Serres recounts the fable of the man who picks up an apparently freezing snake and takes it home to warm it by his own hearth. The snake wakes up, is startled and angered, and bites the man. Serres continues:

"The serpent was not a lessee; he was not looking for a haven; he was answered without having called. He was given an uncalled-for opinion. Someone made himself the serpent's benefactor, savior, and father. You are sleeping quite peacefully, and when you wake you find yourself in debt. You live with no other need, and suddenly someone claims to have saved your country, protected your class, your interests, your family, and your table. And you have to pay him for that, vote for him, and other such grimaces. ... Who has to pay? The litigation is serious. Who is the host and who is the guest? Where is the gift and where is the debt? Who is hospitable, who is hostile? ...

"Who among you allows himself to be displaced, carried from his home territory, permits himself to be the passive object of another's whim? ... Who would thank, moreover, the one who decides for you? That would be the same as giving recognition to professional politicians. To those who see and consider others as if they were rocks, cold stones. To those who force others to be only objects, which then can be carried. To those who are astonished when the passive object suddenly wakes up and lashes out in anger. The one who did not lash out against his benefactors, saviors, and fathers would be forgetting all his duties, as would he who did not pass from cold passivity to the heat of battle. Ready to die."

Monday, November 23, 2009


It's only 3 years and one month away. As Neil Cavuto pointed out on his show the other day, one of the lures of the 2012 scenario is that it functions as a massive reset button - we've got more than a few "fine messes" on our hands, and wouldn't it be handy to be able to dump them over the side and watch them vanish forever into a huge fiery gape in the earth ...

Spoilsports keep repeating that the Mayan calendar does not end in 2012, but merely begins a new cycle. Ah, but the advent of a new cycle may well be an occasion for turbulence, dislocation, realignment - "the end, when God untunes the sky" - if only temporarily.

Belief that the world we know it is about to end, or has to end because it is unsustainable, is at a very high point. There is a longing, not yet overwhelming but tangible and growing, for radical simplicity and renewal. And if we have to look at images of California sliding into the Pacific in overbuilt chunks to stir up our juices, so be it, I guess.

The film itself manages to turn people from just about every continent into stock figures: the earth mother, the waffling pol, the clandestine-murderous pol, the selfless scientist, the blonde bimbo with toy dog, the obnoxious overweight rich kid, the absentee father, and so on. Millions of tiny computerized human figures die terrible deaths by fire, earthquake, volcano and tsunami as our heroes escape by airplane. Then their sneaky breach of one of the "arks" intended to save the elite of the earth and man's cultural treasures nearly gets everyone aboard killed. Then the selfless scientist risks all the arks by suddenly deciding to let in the thousand or so folks about to be abandoned at the ark site. Everyone feels better about himself (forget the other billions) and of course the rescue succeeds without a second to spare and miraculously there are no ill effects from having taken on extra hundreds of people.

The director reportedly just laughed when asked if he were going to include scenes of Muslim holy sites undergoing destruction; he commented, "My co-writer Harald [Kloser] said, 'I'm not writing this to get a fatwa on my head.' We have Jesus falling apart in all kinds of forms. The Vatican falls on people's heads, and we can do that because we're a free, Western society, but if there would be, like, Mecca destroyed, there would be an outrage. And so you don't do it." Yes, the film shows the Pope, all the cardinals, the Sistine Chapel, St. Peter's basilica and the whole square full of praying believers being crushed and buried in mid-prayer. One thing you can say about modern Christians, they sure can take a joke.

I have a strong weakness for end-of-the-world scenarios, but usually prefer those with more realistic and achievable odds for survival. Of all the world's-end narratives I've heard, the "planetary alignment/solar flare/neutrinos mutating into microwaves/core boils/crust destabilizes" one is by far the least likely. I have to agree with Robin Cook that, barring a sizable asteroid that just blunders in out of nowhere, our most likely big die-off will come of a mutated influenza virus combining the high transmissibility of one strain with the high lethality of another.

There really are a lot of dooms to choose from, though. So many ends, so little time.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Distracted from distraction by distraction

Eliot accused us of this back in the 1920s or 30s. How he'd writhe now! I haven't blogged in ages since "joining" Facebook and trying in vain to keep up ... Twitter is not in my future (but that's also what I said about blogging and Facebook, and earlier about CDs, email, DVDs, etc.). Love that too-true t-shirt that remarks "More people have read this t-shirt than read your blog" ... Am mainly writing (writhing?) this to get the previous stale title off the blog, where it greets me each time I log onto the internet. Visiting myself, automatically. Because I care.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Revolutionaries without Revolution

As a former student radical, I had always thought that The Revolution must be bred among and led by the masses - the poor, the disenfranchised, and most particularly the working classes alienated from the means of production - against the bosses, the elites, the "bourgeoisie." But we now have the daily unfolding spectacle of The Revolution being led and imposed from above, against the will (and interests) of the masses, which of course in the case of modern America are the working "middle" classes.

Why does this revolutionized concept of Revolution make us so uneasy? For one thing, it is too easy. It substitutes fiat money (inevitably to be "made good" by much higher taxes of all kinds) for class struggle and the valuable lessons of solidarity, self-organization and class consciousness that genuine political movements bring. And for another thing, it benefits the wrong people: bureaucrats at every level of government; "middlemen" of every sort; officials and functionaries; planners planning, managing and directing social and economic activities of which they are fundamentally ignorant; self-serving "service providers"; those dangerous souls who crave power over others and for that precise reason should never be allowed to acquire it.

When Andre Thirion wrote Revolutionnaires sans revolution in 1972, he was looking back in sorrow at the dashed dreams of Surrealists and Stalinists alike in the 20th century. Thirion at length became a Gaullist. He concluded that "The antagonism between capitalism and Socialism is merely the result of poverty."

This statement might be interpreted in many different ways. The way America's current government interprets it seems to be "We can buy Socialism with other people's money."

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Why Statists Always Do the Wrong Thing

"Statists" are those who believe that society, economy and culture flow from the actions of the state, who believe that without the state to manage and organize and regulate and ration, human existence would not be possible. Statism is the viewpoint of the parasite: No parasite could ever conceive that its activity is inessential to the body as a whole, much less deleterious. That idea is simply beyond its ken, like asking someone to imagine the world that will exist when he is no longer in it. Of course there is no such world! The world began the day of my birth and will come screeching to a halt the moment I die! Which will be never!

Because the parasitic viewpoint is so skewed and blinkered, statists are constitutionally incapable of generating the right response when things start to go haywire. (This may also be due to parasitism having caused the breakdown to begin with.) Surely now we must do more!, cry the statists. More of what we do so well: tax and spend, tinker and "experiment" (as the Obama administration is doing, in explicit imitation of FDR's New Deal), forbid and compel, stipulate and decree - then tax and spend some more.

As with all human behavior, the bottom line is self-interest. For instance, statists cannot comprehend the need for individual or national self-defense, and - for obvious reasons - feel very threatened by it. Is a man's own home his castle? Does a man have a right to secure the borders of his own territory? Is a man's own property inalienable? Does a man have a right to the fruit of his own labor? What is this word "own?" wonder the statists, sincerely. What's yours is ours, and what's ours is ours. It's all just lying around here to be taken. What's the problem? Why would you want to keep anybody else out? After all, that's how WE got in ...

The idea that wealth can only be created by human labor is something no statist has ever grasped. For this reason, when wealth seems to be in too short supply, the statist idea of how to increase it is typically parasitic: Take more from the rich! Then print more money! The facts that wealthy societies mean increasing numbers of increasingly wealthy people, and that too much money paradoxically impoverishes all with inflation, are as foreign to statists as the Man in the Moon.

Taxation is literally sacred to statism. Even statists who have no personal intention whatsoever of paying the actual amount of tax they owe feel a shudder of sacrilege coming on when others complain about the tax code. Gloria Steinem famously said that if men got pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament. Likewise the payment of taxes, those beautiful "voluntary contributions" that make statist life so deeply rewarding, is a "rite of Spring" for statists, their Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving all rolled into one.

Some people are born statists, and others become statists or are recruited to statism. Those who were statists at birth must surely include Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham. Both of them just knew from an early age that they were going to grow up to be parasites.

Civil Servants in some cases do worthwhile things, and certainly don't think of themselves as parasites; but of course their good deeds are done coercively at the expense of others. Statist beneficence can only be conducted with funds extracted from the labor of persons and businesses by means of various taxes, backed up by the threat of dispossession, imprisonment or worse.

There are two main types of statist: politicians (who are usually lawyers) and financiers (who are often lawyers).

When the financiers screw up the economy too badly, they run to the Treasury Department and become politicians. As soon as profitability has been restored, they run back to the "private sector" and begin dreaming up still more "exotic instruments." Pure capitalism, which exists mostly in theory, does naturally generate cyclical profitability crises; as the system decays under parasitic pressure, these cycles become more frequent, ragged, unpredictable, irrational and extreme.

Can a parasitized state-capitalist economy be saved? "Victory," of course, for the parasite, is Pyrrhic at best. Victory for the parasite means death for the host. If the parasite could be a host, i.e., could be a self-sufficient productive organism, then it would not be a parasite. Predator, parasite and prey: all forms co-exist at all levels, high and low, of life, always have and always will.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

And in Vodka, Even More Veritas

A 2002 thriller called Vodka by Boris Starling is a goldmine of lore about the great spirit and its spiritual homeland, Russia, as well as the intricate ins and outs of privatization in the early 90s. Too bad the novel has to drape all that good stuff on a framework of sick and far-fetched murders ... The passages about vodka (which Russians offer by asking "Will you take a hundred grams?," much as Scots, another world-class drinking people, ask "Will ye tak' a wee dram?") are so good they instill a longing for Happy Hour to arrive already ...

Here is a distillation of Starling's vodka veritas; most of the passages in quotes are from the mouth of Lev, a Moscow mafioso who happens to be the director of a major vodka distillery:
The vodka in the glass lurched as he sat heavily into the chair opposite her, but the preservative balance innate to the hardened drinker ensured that not a drop was spilled.

Vodka is just about the only recession-proof industry; the worse the economy gets, the more vodka people drink. In many of Russia's cash-strapped regions, vodka was a stable currency, making it as profitable as diamonds or oil. ... [T]eachers in Murmansk were receiving their salaries in vodka ... The nation's consumption of vodka borders on the heroic, and the figures remain staggering no matter how many times you hear them: Russia accounts for four-fifths of the world's vodka; a million liters are downed in Moscow each day; the average Russian (including women and children) drinks a liter every two days.

"...[V]odka's our lifeblood, the defining symbol of Russian identity. It's our main entertainment, our main currency, our main scourge. Vodka affects every aspect of Russian life, good and bad: friendships, business, politics, crime, and the millions of Russians whose lives are lonely, embittered, and tough. If there's one thing that unites the president with the frozen drunk found dead on a Moscow street, it's vodka. Vodka's always been the great equalizer, from here in the Kremlin down to the hovels. ... No matter what's going on up above - monarchy, communism, capitalism - there's always vodka, and all life goes through it. Our history and our future depend above all on one thing: vodka, and our relationship with it."

"Vodka is all things to all men. It can be a folk medicine, a hallucinogen revealing the mysteries of the soul, a lubricant more commonly applied to sophisticated machinery than any conventional liquid - and of course it can simply be vodka too. Every aspect of the human condition finds its reflection in vodka, and its exaggeration too. Russians drink from grief and from joy, because we're tired and to get tired, out of habit and by chance. It warms us in the cold, cools us in the heat, protects us from the damp, consoles us in grief and cheers us when times are good. Without vodka, there'd be no hospitality, no weddings, no baptisms, no burials, no farewells. Without vodka, friendship would no longer be friendship, happiness would no longer be happiness. It's the elixir sipped sociably, spreading gregariousness and love; it's also the anaesthetic without which life would be unendurable. Vodka's the only drug that enables the dispossessed to endure the monstrously cruel tricks life's played on them. It's the only solace for desperate men and women for whom there's no other release."

"Isidor, the inventor of vodka": A cleric, Thessalian Greek, who was imprisoned by Vassily the Third and rationed to water and grain. Isidor distilled the two together to make an alcoholic spirit that he offered to the guards. When they were comatose, he escaped. ...

Okhotnichaya vodka [dark brown in color] was drunk by hunters returning from the hill. She sniffed at it and smelled aniseed; swirled it in the glass and sniffed again, finding ginger and pepper. When she drank it, she tasted the other ingredients - port, cloves, juniper, coffee, orange, lemon, tormentil, angelica.

Vodka owes its popularity in America largely to its suitability as a cocktail base, which in turn stems from what Americans perceive as its lack of aroma or taste. For Russians, drinking vodka with mixers is [the greatest of crimes].

Ultraa ... was distilled using the pure oxygen-rich waters of Lake Ladoga ... and its recipe was based on one that had been used in the czar's imperial palaces ... delicate, lightly sweet aroma, touches of needle in the smooth taste, very slight oiliness of texture.

"Why do I like vodka? That's like asking why it snows in Russia. Only a foreigner could ask such a ridiculous question. It's like asking for a definition of the Russian soul."

... Two vodkas to taste. Russkaya had been filtered through birch-tree charcoal and quartz sand, and tasted of cinnamon. Altai Siberian was sweet, rich and oily, smoothed with glycerine and lingering long on the palate, without a background burn worth mentioning.

How not to get drunk: "Smell the vodka first, take a sip and hold it in you mouth for a couple of moments. Then you swallow, and right after that you eat something. After every toast, a chaser; it's the beauty without which the beast is incomplete. Getting drunk is all well and good, but it's not the entirety of what vodka's about."

They broke for lunch ... discovering with unexpected pleasure the way vodka brought out certain flavors in sausage, dill cucumbers and pickled mushrooms ... "Vodka's a wonderful drink. It's good with food, before food or after food. ... There's no such thing as Russian cuisine, just things that happen to go well with vodka."

He offered some Pertsovka, nut-brown with red tinges. It contained infusions of cubeb berries and pepper pods, red and black. Touches of aniseed and vanilla played on the nose ... surprisingly sweet on the lips ... the aftershock from the pepper suddenly ignited the gums and tongue. ... "Pertsovka highlights the seasoning and nuttiness of rice. Vodka does that, you know, brings out the flavors in food. If you have herring and sour cream, the vodka melts the cream's richness and slices through the herring's oiliness. Or take caviar. Vodka promotes beluga's creamy, nutty relish, together with a hint of sweetness that recalls almonds and marzipan. The lightly fishy, brie-and-roquefort taste of oscietra becomes even smoother with vodka. And vodka softens the sea-salt flavor of sevruga, which can be a little harsh."

When she looked back toward St. Basil's, she saw the domes as vodka bottles. Vodka, not religion, was the true opium of the masses. ... When she looked again she saw the onion domes - Russia's other perfect symbol. Onions have multiple layers, and the more you peel away, the more you weep.

There was no quicker or surer method [of rising to a big occasion] than vodka, the cold rushing river that swept her away from the dangerous rapids of trouble and stress and into the calmer pools of happiness and contentment. A quick dab of the elixir, and gone was her gauche and tense self ... Vodka was a liquid makeover from the inside out.

"Two-thirds full only. Only philistines fill to the top, because they don't mind spilling vodka down their shirtfronts. And this is good vodka - Kubanskaya, made by Cossacks in the Kuban lowlands, a little bitter."

"There are two types of vodka: good and very good. There can't be not enough food; there can only be not enough vodka. There can be no bad jokes; there can only be not enough vodka. There can be no ugly women; there can only be not enough vodka. There can't be too much vodka; there can only be not enough vodka. The first glass is drunk to everyone's health; the second for pleasure; the third for insolence; and the last for madness. So - to your health!"

The cold simplicity of vodka was an invitation to toss a glassful down the throat and wait, eyes watering, for the lovely blast in the stomach as the liquor explodes. Vodka lacks the subtlety of whiskey and the bourgeois splendor of brandy, but in its craggy purity it stands on a peak of its own.

[Brendan Behan likewise observed that "There is no such thing as a large whiskey."]

"When it comes to mixing vodka with food, you can take the high road - caviar, smoked murlofish, veal Apraksin - or you can take the low road: herring as bony as you can find, or pink Ukrainian fatback. Both paths are equally worthy of respect. Whichever one you choose, you'll find tomatoes, mushrooms, peppers, cabbage and sauerkraut. All are honest, upstanding chasers, as beautiful as any Grecian urn and as virtuous as a pre-Nabokovian teenager. Do you know why vodka goes so well with food? Because so many foods are suitable base materials for vodka. You can use anything with a starch content that can be converted to sugar: barley, rye, maize, wheat, beet, onion, carrot, apple, pumpkin, bread ... even chocolate."

[Not to mention grapes, a la Ciroc.]

"You don't need medicine in Moscow. Vodka's the cure for all known ills. Stomachache? A glass of salted vodka. Flu? Peppered vodka and a hot bath. Fever? Rub vodka all over your body."

"A Russian's like a sponge, you see. You don't know his true shape until he's soaked."

"I'm trying out a new process of triple rectification. The first distillation takes the purity up to eighty percent, the second and third to the high nineties. Try some ... Exactly! It emphasizes purity at the expense of character. Peter the Great loved triple-distilled vodka. Maybe we need to dilute it with some anise, perhaps some other congeners too, because as it is it tastes like Absolut. Typical Swedes - take the danger out of driving and the character out of vodka."

"Have you ever heard the saying Ne pesh, ne mesh - if you don't drink, you're not one of us? In this case, it's slightly different. Ne beresh, ne mesh - if you don't take bribes, you're not one of us."

He picked up a three-and-a-half-ounce glass. "Handwashed in spring water - no scented detergent, please. The glass is stemless, and fits neatly into your palm. This warms the liquid, which is good; room temperature is best for testing. Long-stemmed glasses are better for pleasure, when the vodka is freezing and the afterburn icy. ... The easy way to detect faults is to cut one measure of room-temperature vodka with two measures of pure, bottled spring water in a wineglass, swirl it to release the vapors, and then inhale."
"It smells of toffee ... a faint layer of caramel too."
"They both mean the same thing: diacetyl, burned sugars from incomplete fermentation. You're right, that batch is not good. We'll have to throw it away. Perfumes are a dead giveaway. Amyl alcohol smells of nail polish remover, DMTs of boiled cabbage or drains. Acrolein is sharp, acrid and pungent. The scent of green apples means acetal. Methyl thiazole, you can't mistake that one, it smells like cats. What else? Oh yes, ionone, that's heavy and sweet. All are bad news. Now, how about this?"
"Too heavy, too greasy."
"We've overdone the fusel oil. It's a combination of butyl and iso-amyl alcohol. We use it in tiny quantities to make the vodka smoother. Last one." It was vodka infused with horseradish.
"Flawless - flawless."

There was nothing quite like the first proper vodka of the day ... It was a ritual. It was passion, it was sensual pleasure, it was paramour.

They drank Sibirskaya, distilled from winter wheat and repeatedly filtered through birch-tree charcoal. The wafts of aniseed on the nose were repeated on the palate, this time with liquorice tones attached: a delicate and light aroma giving way to a large, fragrant taste, quite sweet and almost creamily smooth until the extra alcohol began to bite through a long finish.

"There's an old conundrum that goes like this: 'If they raised the price of vodka to the price of a suit, which would you buy?' 'Why, vodka, of course. What would I need with such an expensive suit?'"

"This is pear-drop vodka. The process is very simple, really; we spread a handful of pear-drop candies across a sieve, place the sieve in the vat and let the alcohol pass over it. Ester impurities are sweet and fruity - we've kept a small amount in, to complement the pear drops. Some distillers prefer maceration, but I've always believed in circulation: six times a day for a week, and then the vodka's pumped into barrels to let the flavors fuse and settle for a couple of months. Of course, you get evaporation and a corresponding loss of strength ..." Any aroma of pear drops was submerged under a slightly meaty smell, not unlike stock cubes. This was due to the unspent yeasts burned during the distillation.

He offered her some Smirnoff Black, just about the best vodka in Russia. [!!!] It's made from the highest quality neutral grain spirit, distilled in a copper-pot still to preserve the grain's natural mellowness and flavors before being filtered through Siberian silver-birch charcoal ... tones of light rye overlaid with creamy charcoal and the slightest hint of acetone, tanginess ending with a brief sharp burn.

The real healing effects of vodka, the Russians say, begin only after the second bottle. Vodka in excess, brain in recess.

She was warmed from inside, a great molten core of vodka. Her thoughts seemed to flow down endless rivers of distilled spirit. Vodka was her friend. No one else really understood her, but vodka did, vodka made everything better - until it made everything worse.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

The Morally Hazardous Economy

Aw, I only just read David Leonhardt's article in the March 11 New York Times, so the newspaper is no longer taking comments, but I gotta say ...

First Leonhardt praises the distinguished authors of a book (Looting, published in 1993) which "argued that several financial crises in the 1980s, like the Texas real estate bust, had been the result of private investors taking advantage of the government."

Then Leonhardt notes, "This form of moral hazard — when profits are privatized and losses are socialized — certainly played a role in creating the current mess."

("Moral hazard" is an economist's term for "risky behavior" caused by such things as the existence of taxpayer guarantees of losses. For instance, the FDIC uses taxpayer money to insure individual bank accounts up to $100,000 [now $250,000] - just as the Fed is now using yet-to-be printed trillions in taxpayer money to buy - again - toxic "assets" that shouldn't have been bought in the first place.)

Finally, Leonhardt repeats his prescription to cure this lamentable tendency of Wall Street to "take advantage" of the poor old well-intentioned government: "If we don’t get rid of the incentive to loot, the only question is what form the next round of looting will take." And his prescription?


Non sequitur, to put it mildly. Statism turns the "incentive to loot" into the only operant motive for economic behavior and
the entire economy into a moral hazard. Nationalization will make Ponzi schemes look like good old-fashioned bootstrap capitalism.

The American taxpayer, that stolid, solid, plodding workhorse of the world. Oh, we are Fortune's fool! The world seems to be betting that we'll keep on being played for one, too ... which is the saddest part.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Of Course You Realize This Means War!

A Bugs Bunny line, said with an FDR-like flourish. Bugs zinged several cartoon enemies with it over the years, including Marvin the Martian.

In the real-world cartoon we inhabit, much of what is now happening will mean war. It always has in the past, and there is no reason to believe it won't in the future - the fairly near future, in fact.

Pat Buchanan included this quotation from Ernest Hemingway in a recent column:
"The first panacea for a mismanaged nation is inflation of the currency; the second is war. Both bring a temporary prosperity; both bring a permanent ruin. But both are the refuge of political and economic opportunists."

“War is the health of the state,” wrote Randolph Bourne, the prophetic American thinker who died of war-borne "Spanish flu" just after the Armistice. Time and again the behavior of the political class sickens society to the point where peoples are driven to war as a purgative. Lives are destroyed - fewer mouths are left to feed. Credit is destroyed - crushing debt can be written off. Cities and factories and farms are destroyed - wildly profitable investments can again be made, particularly by the victors. What remains of life arises from the ashes, less free, less fine, less human.

Countless voices like Bourne's have warned against wars to come. Many a war has been finally fought to a standstill and many a nation has sworn "Never again." Just as we are doing now, people have ever walked with eyes open toward destruction.

What's up, Doctor Strangelove?

Saturday, February 28, 2009

"In This Economy, Fear Is Rational"

Title of a Feb. 23 article in The New York Times.

This is a curious piece, because despite feints at a conservative, i.e., rational, understanding of economics, it never once mentions the market. It's as if that whole concept has suddenly just dropped out of the picture (down the Memory Hole), an unfact, a datum non grata (gratum?). What better way to abolish the market than to silence the very word?

Unfortunately the market cannot be bypassed in this way; the market, in fact, is the reason the lords of finance are having such a devil of a time "managing" the world economy. You can't fool the market; the market is reality, and it's having its revenge.

I read a sci-fi novel once, I think it was called "Virus," which posited a financial meltdown caused by a computer virus. The solution in the end was that the world agreed to set the value of everything back to what it was before the virus struck, and proceed from there.

There can be no solution to the current panic without allowing the market to operate, painful though that may be for some, and perhaps for all.

Thursday, February 5, 2009


Below is a list someone forwarded of many if not most items included in the stimulus package being pushed by the ruling class.

I have gone through and highlighted in red those portions of the listed items that do appear to be the kind of make-work but useful sorts of things that might actually function as stimulus (e.g., "modernization, renovation and repair" of existing productive facilities and infrastructure). I left out military-related items on the theory that such spending is inherently of negative value, that is, wasteful. I also left out government-sponsored research on the theory that if the market (real demand) can't or won't support it, it will ultimately prove a waste of time and money.

The Wall Street Journal has estimated that only 12% of the almost $1 trillion total will be truly "stimulating" spending. My calculation is that $42,816,000,000 or about 4.67% of the currently mentioned amount might be stimulus-producing. However, since most of the facilities to be built or renovated are themselves government-related, the REAL value of that building and renovation is much less than if actual farmland or manufacturing (plantings and plants, so to speak) were involved. For instance, renovating Dept. of Agriculture edifices only strengthens an agency that has always had the effect of damaging, distorting and destroying agriculture in the United States.

Also, the Carrying Capacity Network and others have pointed out that nothing in the bill prevents many of the proposed construction jobs from going to illegal immigrants, which of course will do nothing to help our fellow Americans get back on their feet - quite the contrary.

Thus even the most generous definition of stimulus amounts here to less than one-twentieth of the amount being so loudly demanded.

My favorite quip that's come out of the Crisis so far is the anti-Keynesian "You can't get rich by writing yourself a check."

Note: Daniel Guerin was a fiery French anarchist whose 1939 book Fascism and Big Business remains a fascinating analysis of the "capitalist crisis." He noted that capitalism goes through regular crises of profitability, prevented from making new investments or introducing new technology by the need to amortize (and pay off the compound interest) on previous investments and technology. "The authors of the New Deal," he wrote, seventy years ago, "temporarily succeeded in restarting the capitalist machine only by arms purchases even more gigantic than those in Germany. With the return of peace, American capitalism could survive only by remaining on a war footing" (this last sentence was added to the 1945 edition).

"[The state]," Guerin continued, "is always ready to come running whenever these [capitalist] gentlemen cannot pull through by themselves. In any such crisis, it is immediately at their service, 'socializing' their losses, refloating their enterprises, and keeping them alive with its orders."

The "paradox" is that this function is now being performed by self-professed socialists and "unrepentant" leftist revolutionaries!

Guerin's tombstone bears the epitaph "Ni dieu ni maitre" (Neither god nor master) ...

See if your pet project is in this list!

Just Some of the Economic Stimulus Bill By Jamie Dupree

What follows are a number of the spending projects included in the economic stimulus bill filed by Democrats late on Friday, which will be voted on in coming days by the House of Representatives.

This is Not a Complete List.

Instead, it is an overview of some of the major items found in this bill in terms of spending.

No judgments are made about the need for these expenditures.

That is up to you, the voter, and your elected members of the House and Senate.

You can find the full text of the bill, H.R. 1 at

Here is a sampling of what we found:

$44 million for construction, repair and improvements at US Department of Agriculture faculties

$209 million for work on deferred maintenance at Agricultural Research Service facilities

$245 million for maintaining and modernizing the IT system of the Farm Service Agency

$175 million to buy and restore floodplain easements for flood prevention

$50 million for "Watershed Rehabilitation"

$1.1 billion for rural community facilities direct loans

$2 billion for rural business and industry guaranteed loans

$2.7 billion for rural water and waste disposal direct loans

$22.1 billion for rural housing insurance fund loans

$2.8 billion for loans to spur rural broadband

$150 million for emergency food assistance

$50 million for regional economic development commissions

$1 billion for "Periodic Censuses and Programs"

$350 million for State Broadband Data and Development Grants

$1.8 billion for Rural Broadband Deployment Grants

$1 billion for Rural Wireless Deployment Grants

$650 million for Digital-to-Analog Converter Box Program

$100 million for "Scientific and Technical Research and Services" at the National Institute of Standards And Technology

$30 million for necessary expenses of the "Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership"

$300 million for a competitive construction grant program for research science buildings

$400 million for "habitat restoration and mitigation activities" at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

$600 million for "accelerating satellite development and acquisition"

$140 million for "climate data modeling"

$3 billion for state and local law enforcement grants

$1 billion for "Community Oriented Policing Services"

$250 million for "accelerating the development of the tier 1 set of Earth science climate research missions recommended by the National Academies Decadal Survey."

$50 million for repairs to NASA facilities from storm damage

$300 million for "Major Research Instrumentation program" (science)

$200 million for "academic research facilities modernization"

$100 million for "Education and Human Resources"

$400 million for "Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction"

$4.5 billion to make military facilities more energy efficient

$1.5 billion for Army Operation and Maintenance fund

$624 million for Navy Operation and Maintenance

$128 million for Marine Corps Operation and Maintenance

$1.23 billion for Air Force Operation and Maintenance

$454 million to "Defense Health Program"

$110 million for Army Reserve Operation and Maintenance

$62 million for Navy Reserve Operation and Maintenance

$45 million for Marine Corps Reserve Operation and Maintenance

$14 million for Air Force Reserve Operation and Maintenance

$302 million for National Guard Operation and Maintenance

$29 million for Air National Guard Operation and Maintenance

$350 million for military energy research and development programs

$2 billion for Army Corps of Engineers "Construction"

$250 million for "Mississippi River and Tributaries"

$2.2 billion for Army Corps "Operation and Maintenance"

$25 million for an Army Corps "Regulatory Program"

$126 million for Interior Department "water reclamation and reuse projects"

$80 million for "rural water projects"

$18.5 billion for "Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy" research in the Department of Energy. That money includes:

$2 billion for development of advanced batteries

$800 million of that is for biomass research and $400 million for geothermal technologies

$1 billion in grants to "institutional entities for energy sustainability and efficiency"

$6.2 billion for the Weatherization Assistance Program

$3.5 billion for Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grants

$3.4 billion for state energy programs

$200 million for expenses to implement energy independence programs

$300 million for expenses to implement Energy efficient appliance rebate programs including the Energy Star program

$400 million for expenses to implement Alternative Fuel Vehicle and Infrastructure Grants to States and Local Governments

$1 billion for expenses necessary for advanced battery manufacturing

$4.5 billion to modernize the nation's electricity grid

$1 billion for the Advanced Battery Loan Guarantee Program

$2.4 billion to demonstrate "carbon capture and sequestration technologies"

$400 million for the Advanced Research Projects Agency (Science)

$500 million for "Defense Environmental Cleanup"

$1 billion for construction and repair of border facilities and land ports of entry

$6 billion for energy efficiency projects on government buildings

$600 million to buy and lease government plug-in and alternative fuel vehicles

$426 million in small business loans

$100 million for "non-intrusive detection technology to be deployed at sea ports of entry

$150 million for repair and construction at land border ports of entry

$500 million for explosive detection systems for aviation security

$150 million for alteration or removal of obstructive bridges

$200 million for FEMA Emergency Food and Shelter program

$325 million for Interior Department road, bridge and trail repair projects

$300 million for road and bridge work in Wildlife Refuges and Fish Hatcheries

$1.7 billion for "critical deferred maintenance" in the National Park System

$200 million to revitalize the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

$100 million for National Park Service Centennial Challenge programs

$200 million for repair of U.S. Geological Survey facilities

$500 million for repair and replacement of schools, jails, roads, bridges, housing and more for Bureau of Indian Affairs

$800 million for Superfund programs

$200 million for leaking underground storage tank cleanup

$8.4 billion in "State and Tribal Assistance Grants"

$650 million in "Capital Improvement and Maintenance" at the Agriculture Dept.

$850 million for "Wild land Fire Management"

$550 million for Indian Health faculties

$150 million for deferred maintenance at the Smithsonian museums

$50 million in grants to fund "arts projects and activities which preserve jobs in the non-profit arts sector threatened by declines in philanthropic and other support during the current economic downturn" through the National Endowment for the Arts

$1.2 billion in grants to states for youth summer jobs programs and other activities

$1 billion for states in dislocated worker employment and training activities

$500 million for the dislocated workers assistance national reserve

$80 million for the enforcement of worker protection laws and regulations related to infrastructure and unemployment insurance investments

$300 million for "construction, rehabilitation and acquisition of Job Corps Centers"

$250 million for public health centers

$1 billion for renovation and repair of health centers

$600 million for nurse, physician and dentist training

$462 million for renovation work at the Centers for Disease Control

$1.5 billion for "National Center for Research Resources"

$500 million for "Buildings and Faculties" at the National Institutes of Health in suburban Washington, D.C.

$700 million for "comparative effectiveness research" on prescription drugs

$1 billion for Low-Income Home Energy Assistance

$2 billion in Child Care and Development Block Grants for states

$1 billion for Head Start programs

$1.1 billion for Early Head Start programs

$100 million for Social Security research programs

$200 million for "Aging Services Programs"

$2 billion for "Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology"

$430 million for public health/social services emergency funds

$2.3 billion for the Centers for Disease Control for a variety of programs

$5.5 billion in targeted education grants

$5.5 billion in "education finance incentive grants"

$2 billion in "school improvement grants"

$13.6 billion for Individuals with Disabilities Education Act

$250 million for statewide education data systems

$14 billion for school modernization, renovation and repair

$160 million for AmeriCorps grants

$400 million for the construction and costs to establish a new "National Computer Center" for the Social Security Administration

$500 million to improve processing of disability and retirement claims

$920 million for Army housing and child development centers

$350 million for Navy and Marine Corps housing and child development centers

$280 million in Air Force housing and child development centers

$3.75 billion in military hospital and surgery center construction

$140 million in Army National Guard construction projects

$70 million in Air National Guard construction projects

$100 million in Army Reserve construction projects

$30 million in Navy Reserve construction projects

$60 million in Air Force Reserve construction projects

$950 million for VA Medical Facilities

$50 million for repairs for military cemeteries

$120 million for a backup information management facility for the State Department

$98 million for National Cyber security Initiative

$3 billion for "Grants-in-Aid for Airports"

$300 million for Indian Reservation roads

$300 million for Amtrak capital needs

$800 million for national railroad assets or infrastructure repairs, upgrades

$5.4 billion in federal transit grants

$2 billion in infrastructure development for subways and commuter railways

$5 billion for public housing capital

$1 billion in competitive housing grants

$2.5 billion for energy efficiency upgrades in public housing

$500 million in Native American Housing Block Grants

$4.1 billion to help communities deal with foreclosed homes

$1.5 billion in homeless prevention activities

$79 billion in education funds for states

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Scot free?

Since the latest financial bubble popped so loudly, commentators have been recalling a gentleman named John Law. Law was an adventurous Scot who back in the very early 1700s came up with the "Mississippi Scheme," a speculative investment project which ended up just about bankrupting the French nation. The project had so many repercussions that the first 45 pages of Charles Mackay's classic Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds ( 1841) are devoted to it.

Was Law then an economic criminal in the class of Charles Ponzi, Alexandre Stavisky or Bernard Madoff? Mackay himself is ambivalent, on the one hand saying that "Historians are divided in opinion as to whether they should designate him a knave or a madman," and on the other asking, "How was [Law] to foretell that the French people ... would kill, in their frantic eagerness, the fine goose he had brought to lay them so many golden eggs?"

A recent book by Niall Ferguson, The Ascent of Money, terms John Law "the man who invented the stock market bubble." In Arthur Herman's How the Scots Invented the Modern World, Law is portrayed as "a dreamer who never let details get in the way of a good plan," a visionary who "convince[d] the French crown to set up the Bank Royale."

Where does the truth lie, I wonder. Not all financiers are swindlers. But even if high finance can be a good thing, we have had much too much of it.