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Nederlog

August 2, 2015
Crisis: Gore Vidal, Orwellian Twitter, Liberal Radicals, Jimmy Carter

"They who can give up essential 
   liberty to obtain a little temporary
   safety, deserve neither liberty
   nor safety."
 
   -- Benjamin Franklin
   "All governments lie and nothing
   they say should be believed.
"
   -- I.F. Stone
   "Power tends to corrupt, and   
   absolute power corrupts
   absolutely. Great men are        
   almost always bad men."
   -- Lord Acton















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Sections
Introduction

1.
‘Don’t call me a crypto-Nazi!’ The lost heart of political
     debate

2. It’s fast, global, engaged and influential – so why isn’t
    Twitter flying?

3. Why Liberals Have to Be Radicals
4.
Jimmy Carter: American Democracy [is] an 'Oligarchy'
    with 'Unlimited Political Bribery'



This is a Nederlog of Sunday August 2, 2015.

This is a crisis blog. There are 4 items with 7 dotted links: Item 1 is triggered by an article about a documentary about Vidal and Buckley, that I use to draw attention to Gore Vidal, who had a clear mind, a fine style, and a lot of relevant knowledge; item 2 is about the Orwellian Twitter (I am sorry, but it sounds extremely stupid: as if an e-mail service that limits its users to 140 characters - that is all it is - is force for innovation rather than for merely being massively stupid and proud of it); item 3 is about a thesis to the effect that elections don't seem to matter for (pseudo-)radical 72-year old professors; while item 4 is about a decent article about Jimmy Carter, who sees little good in the modern political U.S. (indeed apart from the chances of corrupt politicians getting mega-rich because they valiantly defend the interests of the big corporations).

1. 
‘Don’t call me a crypto-Nazi!’ The lost heart of political debate

The first article of today is by Ed Vulliamy on The Guardian:
This starts as follows (and I'll give some links and clarifations under it):
The erudition of the discourse is electrifying: two towering American intellectuals of the riven 1960s at one another like fighting cocks on primetime TV – Gore Vidal and William F Buckley Jr.

They are compelling – to the point that Best of Enemies, a documentary about a remarkable series of debates between these two on ABC television in 1968, is the surprise but deserved success of this summer’s movie festivals in the US.

I say. Here is some background, to start with: Gore Vidal (<- Wikipedia) was an American writer and (as it is these days called) "a public intellectual" on the left; William Buckley (<- Wikipedia) was something a bit similar on the right; and their clash was on TV and is here.

Also, I didn't see their clash in 1968, and while I knew then who Vidal and Buckley were, it didn't amount to much more than was in the previous paragraph (minus the Wikpedia links), and I did not take either very seriously, which was a bit of a mistake in Gore Vidal's case, as I found out in 2012, briefly after he died.

Indeed, in case you are interested, here are three pieces I wrote in August 2012 (with very painful eyes, I should add):

I note that one major reason to list these items is that the contain links to quite a lot of Youtube videos (most but not all of which still work), and that I then summed up Vidal's general trends as follows:

The military-industrial complex has won the battle about who rules Western society: Not the people, not the parliament, not the judiciary, not the government, but those with the greatest power in the richest corporations, who form the ruling elite, that is mostly hidden and not public, and that works indirectly, through lobbying, public relations for corporations, propaganda in the media, and meetings and conferences that happen mostly behind the scenes.

Or rather: This coalition of the rich and powerful has won if they can contain the current economic crisis, which means that probably either there will be a collapse of cilivization or there will be a police-state.

These are my words and phrasings (like the rest of this text) as it also is my summary of points Vidal raised, discussed, touched on, but probably also what Vidal thought. He also mentioned, already in 1999, in the linked interview - though indeed the main concerns, processes, and struggles can be traced much further back - quite a few of the important points of the present:

  • bad education ("U.S. of Amnesia": most US citizens have no historical knowledge)
  • bad health care
  • bad government (Bush Jr. is a moron, the effective real president was Cheney)
  • the - executives or owners of the rich, large, powerful - corporations rule the US
  • 2000 elections was a coup d'état (with help from the Supreme Court)
  • after that there were many bad appointments
  • "magna charta is gone"
  • habeas corpus is gone
  • Bill of Rights is being throttled
  • there is illegal government: the US military has been used against US citizens - legally forbidden since 1865 (also with drones)
  • there is effectively a dictatorship (Quote from Wikipedia: "In contemporary usage, dictatorship refers to an autocratic form of absolute rule by leadership unrestricted by law, constitutions, or other social and political factors within the state.")
  • there is just one party that comes in two flavours that are both right wing: See e.g. The Party-System, and also see Chesterton
  • there is no conspiracy, for there is no need: the members of the ruling elite think alike (and come from the same small group that were educated in the same universities and fraternities)
  • the (members of) elite despises the (members of) people (privately, not publicly, of course)
  • "internet will be taken over by the government - 10, 20, 30 years" (1999)

And here is my introduction to Gore Vidal from August 2012:

Perhaps what happened and happens was and is planned, in part or all, as is the continuous singing from the same hymn sheet by Fox News and GOP politicians, but then few really know, or indeed are in a position to know, in case it is true, that this has been planned, somehow, secretively, for if it is, this is and remains well hidden, and can or could be seen for what it really is, or might be, only by someone who is highly educated, who has a bright and fearless intellect, and who really knows history, the law and the political elites, especially in the US.

It so happens that Gore Vidal (<- Wikipedia) is - or rather: was - such a man, and I was not aware of that until after he died, on July 31 of this year, when I decided to use the internet to try to find out why he was fairly well known in the US.

I found he is a fairly well known writer of novels and essays and film scripts; that he has a patrician background: Cousins with people like Al Gore, Jimmy Carter, Jackie Kennedy; personally known to John Kennedy; well educated and erudite in literature and history; something of a war hero (in WW II); and one of the first to write openly about homosexuality in the US, namely in 1948. He also was witty, and a good conversationalist with a caustic tongue.

Most of the above is from the Wikipedia lemma on him, and from some other fairly superficial internet searches, and I certainly never read anything by him, but he does seem to have been an interesting man, also and especially because he was his own person, and thought for himself, something that many believe they do, and few really can do.

At least, thus it seems to me, who has read none of Vidal's many books - which is something I should do something about - but he certainly had interesting ideas about what has been happening in the US since 2000, when the Bush family engineered, with help from the Supreme Court of the US, that the looser of the elections became president of the US nevertheless: See below for Vidal on the merits of Bush Jr.

Then again, my interest in Vidal arises from the fact that he clearly saw many of the recent developments in the US and elsewhere in similar terms as I have arrived at, meanwhile, after him, but quite independently, and indeed also without his great inside knowledge of the American political elite of the last 70 years, which in itself alone makes him - given his wit and courage - an interesting character anyway, also if he had had other values and ideas than he did have: There are few members of any political elite who publicly reflect on it with intelligence and style.

Here is the bit that made both Vidal and Buckley famous:

As part of ABC’s coverage of the police “blue riot” that ensued in Chicago – batons cracking student skulls – Vidal calls Buckley a “crypto-Nazi” for justifying the brutality, to which Buckley snaps: “Listen to me you queer, stop calling me a crypto-Nazi or I’ll sock you in the goddamn face and you’ll stay plastered.”

Well... yes, but before Vidal called Buckley "a crypto-Nazi", Buckley had compared the students who then were doing battle with the police in Chicago
to Nazis, while it is also true that Buckley called Vidal "queer" and physically threatened him. [1]

Also, I don't think this altercation was, itself, that important: What is considerably more important are Vidal's wit and style in the films that were made of him, of which you can find a considerable selection in the three pieces I chose from August 2012.

And here is the last bit of Ed Vulliamy (itself a bit of purple prose):

The jagged clarity of the antagonism that leads to this moment when the banks burst, and the intellectual rip-tide beneath it, contrasts, says Gordon, with both present-day obfuscation – whereby politicians, columnists and TV presenters slither around, or just ignore, the themes of imperialism and American power – and also the banal, “ritual shouting matches” to which viewers of CNN, Fox, BBC and others are now subjected.

“It has to do with the corruption of debate,” says Gordon. “The conflagration between Buckley and Vidal was like a forest fire in the redwoods: huge old wood burning with depth. What you see now in supposedly antagonistic discourse is flash paper, it leaves no ash. Now people can be bought; now, the discussion ain’t really for the sake of the nation, it’s about personal gain.”

But Gordon is right, or more right than wrong, though it is - I think - considerably less important that nowadays "people can be bought" (for that was always the case, though indeed now it has gotten institutionalized: big banks and big corporations are effectively above the law): it is far more important that hardly anyone with an individual mind that is informed and that can think, and a tongue that can formulate, is admitted to mainline American TV.

So yes, "the debate of '68" was important, not because of what was said, but because of the importance of the underlying themes.

In case you are interested in American politics, you can do a lot worse than taking an interest in Vidal's prose, and his spoken prose is reasonably well covered in my above selections.

Have fun, for Vidal could formulate and knew a lot.

2.  It’s fast, global, engaged and influential – so why isn’t Twitter flying?

The next article is by Charles Arthur on The Guardian:
This starts as follows:
How many tech companies are saddled with the problem of enjoying global fame but struggling with lacklustre performance? Not Facebook, which revealed in its results that it has nearly 1.5 billion users logging in each month around the world. Twitter, however, is an example where participation is lagging behind reputation.

The company built around text-message-length “tweets” announced in its own quarterly results last week that it has 304 million monthly active users (MAUs), who logged in at least once a month in the past quarter. That figure was up only 0.7% from the previous quarter, while the figure for MAUs in the US stayed stubbornly at 65 million.

Yet it is Twitter that is so often cited in news stories, TV coverage and even TV adverts, as established media businesses scramble to generate engagement with a tech-savvy mass of viewers, readers and listeners. Twitter is seen as the easy way to do that: anyone can join, anyone can contact anyone else who’s on it, and it’s free. You can “like” a company on Facebook, and write comments on its page, yet it’s Twitter that is generally treated as the immediate, switched-on source.

So why is Twitter struggling financially?
Actually, I really don't care shit for the financial problems of Twitter: I think it is an Orwellian service for the more than 3.5 billion people with IQs less than 100, who are not even capable of writing a decent e-mail, but who insist absolutely that everyone should take an interest in their sloganized bullshit of maximal 140 characters in length.

I am sorry: I am only interested in your Tweets if they have a length of zero characters, maximally.

For me, it is an insane concept to satisfy the extremely stupid; but those who expect(ed) to be billionaires from it unload themselves in stupid and degenerate Twitter slogans like this:

According to Dorsey last week, using Twitter should be “as easy as looking out of your window”. He added: “You should expect Twitter to show you what’s most meaningful in the world, to live it first, before anyone else and straight from the source. And you should expect Twitter to keep you informed and updated throughout your day.”

And what is the newness of this service? Precisely this: No one can use this email-service who needs more than 140 characters to mail his thoughts, his values, his ideas, and his evidence. And that's it, and that's all... - and if you believe this, you get "what’s most meaningful", "to live it first", "before anyone else" AND "straight from the source". All in 140 characters max! Fit for IQs of 75!

But as Anthony Noto, the chief financial officer, admitted on the earnings call: “The number one reason users don’t use Twitter is because they don’t understand why to use Twitter. They don’t understand the value.” if only resolving that problem was a straightforward as a 140-character tweet.

So the main problem of Twitter is that its potential users "don’t understand why to use Twitter. They don’t understand the value"? I hope this remains so, for indeed the only "value" I can see in Twitter is that it is a free e-mail service that restricts its users to 140 characters max, because else it is too complicated for the majority.

3. Why Liberals Have to Be Radicals

The next article is by Robert Kuttner (< Wikipedia) on Prospect:
This starts as follows:
Just about nothing being proposed in mainstream politics is radical enough to fix what ails the economy.
I suppose this 72-year old lifelong professor "of social policy" (at Brandeis University, with "an honorary degree from Swarthmouth College") really means what he says.

And while I have read through all of his article - full of "would have"s, "would need"s and "would require"s - I am afraid my intellect is not fit for comprehend- ing a 72-year old "professor of social policy" (?) with
"an honorary degree from Swarthmouth College".

Or else the article is inept wishful thinking of the most useless kind, since it totally forgets that to implement any radical idea, of any kind, you first have to get elected.

4. Jimmy Carter: American Democracy [is] an 'Oligarchy' with 'Unlimited Political Bribery'

The last article of today is by Thom Hartmann on AlterNet:
This starts as follows:

The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines an 'oligarchy' as: "A government in which a small group exercises control especially for corrupt and selfish purposes."

Former President Jimmy Carter had some choice words for our form of government, post-Citizen's United, on my radio program this week.. When I asked him his thoughts on the state of American politics since five right-wing justices on the US Supreme Court opened the doors to "unlimited money" in our political discourse via Citizens United, Carter was blunt and to the point.

“It violates the essence of what made America a great country in its political system. Now it’s just an oligarchy, with unlimited political bribery being the essence of getting the nominations for president or to elect the president. And the same thing applies to governors, and U.S. senators and congress members.

"So now we’ve just seen a complete subversion of our political system as a payoff to major contributors, who want and expect and sometimes get favors for themselves after the election’s over."

I asked him then what might change things, and he said it would take a “horrible, disgraceful” corruption scandal (think Nixon) that would "turn the public against it [Citizens United], and maybe even the Congress and the Supreme Court."

I say- but Jimmy Carter at least is honest (at 90). There is considerably more of Carter under the last dotted link, and it is well worth reading, for he speaks both sensibly and as a former president of the U.S.A.
--------------------------------------
Note

[1] Clearly - I would say - Buckley was a fool when he accused Vidal of being a queer and threatened to beat him up, but he also believed it, and in the 1960ies this also was a serious accusation. (O, and Buckley was a fool because (i) sexual orientation has nothing to do with politics, and (ii) his - rightist - side had as much or more to loose than Vidal's leftist site, especially because the rightist
made it into a problem).

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