Monday, September 26, 2011

"The Dream is Collapsing"

“Who knows whether the other half of our life, in which we think we are awake, is not another sleep a little different from the former, from which we awake when we suppose ourselves asleep? And who doubts that, if we dreamt in company, and the dreams chanced to agree, which is common enough, and if we were always alone when awake, we should believe that matters were reversed? 

In short, as we often dream that we dream, heaping dream upon dream, may it not be that this half of our life, wherein we think ourselves awake, is itself only a dream, on which others are grafted, from which we wake at death….”

Blaise Pascal, Pensees

It’s tempting to think that the immensely gifted director Christopher Nolan derived his premise for “Inception” – multi-layered dreams within dreams orchestrated by teams of “extractors” who are nimble in the dark arts of psychological manipulation – from Blaise Pascal’s 17th Century philosophical tract. In any case, there are many points of correspondence between “Inception” and the similarly elaborate exercise in collective delusion and artful deception called the “American Dream.”

At its most accessible level, Nolan's story is about a team of industrial espionage agents, led by a tormented man named Dominic Cobb, who employ shared dreaming technology (originally developed for the military, of course) to steal corporate secrets from the subconscious minds of people while they dream. Cobb and his “extractors” were hired by an Asian corporate mogul named Saito to perform an "inception" – that is, planting an idea in the subconscious mind of Robert Fischer, a man who stood to inherit a vast energy corporation. Fischer would thus be manipulated into breaking up the company; this would be to the benefit of Saito, who owned a rival corporation.

This scheme required the creation of a multi-layered dream “architecture,” and the deep sedation of Fischer in order for the dream state to remain stable long enough to plant the desired suggestion. 

In the dream state, laws of logic and physics don’t operate as they do in the physical world; this is why deep sedation was necessary to keep a target “under” and drive him into a progressively deeper dream state. 

Often the “extractors” would appear in the targeted individual’s dreams, and sometimes one of them would “expose” the other in order to build confidence in the victim and thus gain more intimate access to his subconscious.

Those who invaded Fischer’s mind through shared dreaming could be brought out of the dream state either by being "killed" in the dream (which would wake them up immediately) or through a series of synchronized “kicks." These are sudden, violent jolts – such as driving a car off a cliff, or falling from a building – that cause a dreaming person to awaken involuntarily. Those who don’t respond to the “kicks" may descend into “limbo,” an inaccessibly deep subconscious level in which the individual loses his ability to distinguish dreaming from reality -- until, of course, physical death ensues.

Losing the ability to recognize objective reality is the most acute hazard of working as an "extractor." This is why Cobb and each of his colleagues carries a "totem" -- a tangible object with a distinctive weight and balance that only the owner will recognize. Cobb's totem is a small metal top that, if spun by its waking owner, will topple over. If it continues spinning indefinitely, Cobb will realize that he's dreaming. Cobb's totem, incidentally, is the key to decrypting Nolan's story.

An idea that is "incepted" (that term appears to be a neologism of Nolan's coinage) into a dreaming person's subconscious mind can continue to grow and expand in the individual's waking state. Cobb made this sorrowful discovery after performing an "inception" on his wife Mallorie, a professional colleague who became addicted to living in their shared dream state. He planted in her mind the idea that her real life was actually a dream; that idea persisted in her waking state, eventually leading Mallorie to commit suicide in the futile hope of "waking" up in the dream world she idealized.

"What is the most resilient parasite?" Cobb muses at one point. "Bacteria? A virus? An intestinal worm? An idea. Resilient -- highly contagious. Once an idea has taken hold of the brain it's almost impossible to eradicate. An idea that is fully formed -- fully understood -- that sticks; right in there [gesturing at his head] somewhere." As he had learned, this can have tragic -- and even fatal -- consequences.  This principle is more than just a clever dramatic device: It is a vivid, tangible, and all-encompassing reality as the Power Elite's "dream architecture" collapses all around us.

The “inception” responsible for the current system of institutionalized delusion was the creation of the Federal Reserve System, the Regime’s official counterfeiting arm. 

The Fed infected the world economy with the idea that wealth can be created ex nihilo by fiat money "dream architects." In the real world, currency -- gold and silver -- were tangible substances with specific characteristics that made them valuable and impossible to counterfeit. 

The pseudo-world created by the Fed, however, is one in which the laws of economics appear to be suspended, meaning that "wealth" and "value" can be conjured into existence simply by emitting more paper, or doing the quivalent in the digital realm.
Creation of a central bank was necessary in order to permit the Regime's "extractor class" slip the shackles of hard currency. This eventually led to FDR's confiscation of gold in 1933, and to the Nixon administration's final repudiation of the gold standard in 1971. 

It was during the reign of FDR, America's first Fascist President-for-Life, that the ruling elite "incepted" the idea of that the federal government could be an indispensable partner in helping citizens achieve the "American Dream." Thus the Regime unveiled the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, was supposedly intended to expand the ranks of home ownership. Through the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (Fannie Mae), the government purchased mortgages issued to low-income Americans. Those mortgages, in turn, were bundled into marketable securities and vended to others willing to participate in the shared delusion.

In 1968, amid a torrential outpouring of red ink resulting from the Vietnam War and the Great Society welfare programs, Lyndon Johnson "privatized" Fannie Mae in order to move it “off-budget.” This is possible, once again, because the laws of economics don’t operate in the “reality” created by the Federal Reserve. In 1970, the Nixon administration created a second federally subsidized lender, Freddie Mac, supposedly to compete with Fannie Mae. But like the “extractors” play-acting in Fischer’s subconscious in “Inception,” Fannie and Freddie were part of the same government-created debt cartel, working to prolong and deepen the societal fraud called the residential real estate market.

In 2003, the first “kick” in the housing market occurred when Fannie and Freddie were forced to disclose billions of dollars in misrepresented earnings. This revelation literally caused their stock price to fall off a cliff. Not to worry, insisted the Fed’s dream architects as they injected the market with an even stronger sedative in the form of “liquidity” – that is, inflation. Amid gathering auguries of an impending housing collapse, then-Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan cut the Prime Rate nearly to zero, while simultaneously urging Americans to refinance their Adjustable Rate Mortgages yet again – when they could only “adjust” in one direction.

Millions of home “owners” – a curious term for people who are merely renting houses from the banks that issued the mortgages, and who can still be dispossessed for delinquent taxes even after paying off the note  – acted on that perfectly insane advice. This set up a second, more violent “kick” – the collapse of the real estate/mortgage refinance bubble in 2007. That kick was a gentle tap compared to the body blow that was delivered in fall 2008, with the bailout of Bear Stearns, the failure of Lehman Brothers, the implosion of AIG, and the nationalization of Fannie and Freddie.

As layer after layer of artfully wrought deception collapsed, the dream architects grabbed the strongest sedative they could find and emptied the syringe: They had the Fed emit trillions of dollars in fiat “money” to indemnify Wall Street’s bad debts, and then began a rampage of “qualitative easing” – another euphemism for inflation – in order to fuel government spending.

The people who orchestrated this deception have been able to ride the “kicks” to safety. In early 2008, Alan Greenspan warned a gathering of Arab financiers in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia that they should divest their dollar-based holdings. Bondholders in China, Russia, and elsewhere have been bailed out by the Fed, often by way of corporate cut-outs or through loans to foreign central banks.

Greece and Italy -- in fact, the entire collection of parasitic polities who constitute the "Euro-zone" -- are in the queue for another bailout. The domestic element of the "extractor class" is busily at work, as well, devouring everything within their field of vision -- as even a cursory examination of public employee pensions and benefits will demonstrate. 

In the meantime, despite the best efforts of the dream architects to keep Americans sedated, millions are waking up into a multi-layered nightmare. Rock star Sammy Hagar of the AARP-qualifying supergroup Chickenfoot -- of all the unlikely people -- has provided one of the best capsule descriptions of that nightmare-within-a-nightmare.
The band's new single, "Three and a Half Letters (I Need a Job)," takes its lyrics from letters Hagar has received from people desperately looking for work."I just returned from Afghanistan -- spent four years in the military service," writes one of Hagar's correspondents. "I'm 24, strong, and I can't find work in my hometown. I'm married with one beautiful son -- seven months old today. Never had a chance to buy a home. Can't afford the apartment we've been living in. [We're] moving in with Debbie's parents, whose home in in foreclosure. Can you help?"

Beyond using their considerable gifts to publicize the plight of the unemployed, how can Hagar and his colleagues help? It should be acknowledged that Hagar is smarter and more honest than most policy-makers, which admittedly isn't the highest hurdle to jump. As a member of the seminal rock band  Montrose thirty-seven years ago, Hagar wrote a song called “Paper Money” lamenting the end of the gold standard and the economic destruction caused by the Regime’s fraudulent, worthless, paper currency. A generation after composing that protest song, Hagar is now chronicling the human costs attendant to the unraveling of the fiat money system.

Last summer the air was rent with anguished and hypocritical warnings about the ruin that would ensue if the U.S. government were to "default." Actually, the default occurred forty years ago, when Washington sundered the last links binding the dollar to gold. We're now living through the deferred but inevitable consequences of that default. 

The dream is collapsing, and reality is re-asserting itself in spite of the strongest sedatives the Keynesian dream architects can deploy. Historical precedent suggests that they will soon prescribe the "Mallorie Option" -- inducing mass murder-suicide through war on the assumption that this is the only way we can return to the bewitching dreamland of artificial prosperity.

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Dum spiro, pugno!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Abolish the Police, Arm the Citizens: The "Sagra Model" of Privatized Security

No surrender, no retreat: Andrei (l) and Viktor Gorodilov at the bridge.

 “What would things have been like if every Security operative, when he went out at night to make an arrest, had been uncertain whether he would return alive? Or, if during the periods of mass arrests ... people had not simply sat there in their lairs, paling with terror at every bang on the downstairs door and at every step on the staircase, but had understood that they had nothing left to lose and had boldly set up an ambush of half a dozen people with axes, hammers, pokers, or whatever else was at hand?"

Alexander Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago

“They are coming to kill us!” exclaimed a young resident of Sagra, Russia as he spied a column of vehicles approaching the tiny village at the feet of the Ural Mountains. Responding to the alarm, several dozen residents mustered near the town entrance, bearing whatever weapons they could find. Some of them grabbed pitchforks, chains, or knives. Three men arrived on the scene with shotguns.

The leader of the approaching convoy was Sergei “The Gypsy” Lebedev, head of a criminal gang that had tormented Sagra for months. Lebedev's followers swiped anything of value that was left unguarded.  Power tools, appliances, and other household property disappeared; homes were vandalized as copper tubing and wiring were ripped out to be sold to scrap metal dealers. An onslaught of shoplifting threatened the survival of the village’s only significant retail store. 

Exasperated citizens complained to the police in nearby Yekaterinberg, only to be treated with a mixture of amusement and impatient annoyance. Mounting hostility against Lebedev and his underlings prompted the gangster to withdraw – but only to gather reinforcements.

Lebedev was no petty cut-purse; his entourage included at least one vory v zakone (“thief in law”) – that is, a member of a politically protected mafia

The gang leader’s intent was to seize control of the village as a base of operations for a drug operation, and he clearly enjoyed the covert support of the region’s “law enforcement” establishment. Thus it was that late in the evening of July 1, Ledbedev assembled a contingent of about 60 armed thugs and mounted a punitive expedition against the village of 130 people.

As the headlights from the 15-vehicle convoy probed the gathering darkness, the men of Sagra formed a human roadblock across the bridge at the entrance to their town. The infernal column came to a halt, while its leader tried to decide how to deal with the unanticipated resistance. Suddenly a voice from behind them exclaimed, “Grenade!” An object that appeared to meet that description landed in the midst of the raiders, causing several to bolt in panic.
In fact, the weapon was a pine cone that had been hurled by Andrei Gorodilov, who had taken cover beside the road. At that signal, the air erupted in curses and insults hurled by many of the women of the village, who had hidden themselves behind trees. 

The resulting diversion was brief, but effective: Andrei’s father, Viktor, let loose a blast from his shotgun. Two other defenders followed suit. The rest, bearing whatever improvised weapons they had found, lit into Lebedev’s hired killers with the unalloyed ferocity of men fighting on their own soil with their backs to their homes. 

One of the invaders was killed, several more were wounded, and Lebedev was forced to retreat. At some point in the skirmish, Sagra resident Tatyana Gordeyeva contacted the police, who – displaying the efficiency and timeliness for which their profession is known – arrived long after the battle was over, and immediately began to treat the defenders as criminal suspects. Their first priority was not to pursue and arrest Lebedev and his cronies (who were eventually taken into custody), or to collect evidence for their eventual prosecution; instead, they attempted to clamp down a cover-up of the matter. They didn’t succeed. 

Within a few days, news of the battle had been propagated throughout Russia, and Sagra quickly became “a catchword for a spate of violence around the country in which people have banded together to defend themselves in the absence of police protection,” noted the New York Times. An entrepreneur captured the public mood in a commemorative t-shirt with the inscription: “If the government can’t help people, it doesn’t have the right to forbid them from defending themselves – Sagra 2011.” 

Thanks for nothing: Russian police at Sagra following the battle.
 “What’s going on in this country is that the government isn’t protecting anyone,” observed Mr. Gorodilov, who spoke with the invincible authority of personal experience. That assessment was seconded by Konstantin M. Kiselyov of Ykaterinberg’s Institute of Philosophy and Law: “The police are corrupt or lazy or politicized, and it’s the same all across the country. So people must protect themselves. They can’t count on the government or its structures. That is why the country is turning into one big Sagra.”

The most remarkable reaction to the Battle of Sagra came from Alexander Torshin, the Speaker of the Federation Council (a position roughly analogous to Senate Majority Leader). Invoking the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, Torshin announced that he would propose an amendment to the Russian Constitution guaranteeing “that a Russian citizen has the right under the law to bear arms.”

“We must give our citizens a chance at survival,” Torshin told the Interfax news agency, insisting that widespread private gun ownership doesn’t lead to “a surge in killings,” but rather “the reduction in street crimes and the murder rate.” 

 What makes Torshin’s stance all the more remarkable is the fact that roughly half a year earlier he had expressed support for banning private possession of “non-lethal” handguns

It’s possible that this dramatic volte-face was the product of a sincere conversion. It’s likelier that Mr. Torshin knew which way the winds of public outrage are blowing, and aligned his sails accordingly. In any case, Torshin’s proposal is tangible evidence of a growing -- and thoroughly commendable -- Russian contempt for the very institution of government. 

Totalitarianism is based on the assumption that human nature can be permanently altered through the systematic application of state terrorism. Lenin described his regime as a “scientific dictatorship” exercising “power without limit, resting directly on force, restrained by no laws, absolutely unrestricted by rules.” Within a generation or two, Lenin believed, his dictatorship would beget a new creature – homo sovieticus, the selfless, state-focused New Soviet Man. The gulag state would act as an alembic, refining troublesome individualism out of the species, even if this meant pitilessly liquidating millions of specimens regarded as unsuitable for the collectivist future. 

Things didn’t quite work out that way. Communism wasn’t a scientific doctrine for the perfection of the human species; it was, in R.J.Rummel’s phrase, a “plague of power.” After the Hammer and Sickle was furled in 1991, the plague of ideological Communism mutated into form of state gangsterism incapable of reproducing itself beyond Russia’s borders. The Party Nomenklatura abandoned the conceit that they were History’s infallible vanguard, and settled into a very comfortable new role as Russia’s crony capitalist oligarchy. 

While Russia’s criminal oligarchy has little use for ideology, they still embrace the idea of “power without limit, resting directly on force.” Valery D. Zorkin, chairman of Russia’s Constitutional Court, laments that Russia’s contemporary political model is based on “the fusion of government and criminals,” with the country increasingly “divided between predators, free in the criminal jungle, and sub-humans, conscious that they are only prey.” 

In his November 2010 State of the Nation speech, Russian President Dimitry Medvedev acknowledged that in many parts of the country local governments have entered into a “direct merger with criminals” at the expense of the rights of law-abiding individuals. While this will surprise nobody who understands that the State is, and has always been, a criminal enterprise, this admission is striking when offered by a 46-year-old political leader who graduated from Leningrad State University

One acutely horrifying example of the merger described by Medvedev was provided by a November 2010 massacre in Kushchevskaya, a city of 35,000 about 700 miles from Moscow. The city was the site of several major state-controlled collective farms during the Soviet era. After the USSR was dissolved, the local branch of the Nomenklatura created a quasi-private agricultural firm called Arteks Agro, which was controlled by a career Party functionary named Sergei Tsapok.

For the past decade, a criminal clique headed by Tsapok, and that included current and former members of the city government, conducted a reign of terror in Kushchevskaya, plundering and raping as they saw fit and killing anyone who complained in a voice louder than a whisper. 

Complaints to the police availed nothing, since their duty was to maintain “order” – that is, to enforce the will of the local elite – rather than to protect the rights of the innocent. At public meetings, terrified and outraged local citizens would barrage municipal leaders with protests about the criminal onslaught, only to be told that “There are no criminal groups here.”

Last November 4, Tsapok’s gang invaded the home of Server Ametov, murdering him and eleven others, including four young children. The victims were stabbed, strangled, and set on fire. Ametov was a successful farmer, and since about 1998 Tsapok’s gang had been carrying out a modified version of Stalin’s collectivization program by driving small farmers off their land, murdering those (including Ametov’s brother) who resisted. 

The ensuing outcry was sufficient to prompt official intervention, leading to Tsapok’s arrest. For millions of Russians, the Kuschevskaya atrocity demonstrated the fatal futility of seeking protection from the enforcement arm of the ruling criminal elite. The Russian disaffection toward government has grown so widespread and intense that the ruling establishment is actually reducing the size and power of its law enforcement apparatus. This a development without precedent in the country once terrorized by the Oprichniki, the Okhrana, and the Cheka.

Two victims of the Kuschchevskaya massacre.
In Russia, as elsewhere, the role of the police “is to control situations and to control the people rather than help them,” observes Leonid Kosals, a professor of economics at Moscow’s National Research University. As a result, people “turn to their neighbors and to relatives and local networks to solve their problems by themselves…. [I]n Russia we have thousands of such cases.” 

The trend toward privatization of security in Russia is likely to grow as a result of President Medvedev’s recent initiative to reform the country’s militia – that is, its police force – by purging about 200,000 officers from the ranks. Sociologist Mikhail Vinogradov, who estimates that one-third of Russia’s police force is composed of alcoholics and psychopaths, points out that in 1991, the militia was reduced by about thirty percent – and the result was a sharp reduction in the crime rate.

During the past decade, the crime rate in the United States has declined, terrorism has been all but nonexistent – and the country has been transformed into a fair approximation of a high-security prison, complete with full-spectrum surveillance of the population and undisguised militarization of “local” police departments. At the same time, the political elite in charge of the former Soviet Union is addressing a legitimate crime crisis by drawing down the police force and recognizing (however tentatively) the right of citizens to armed self-defense. 

For all of its problems, Russia clearly is no longer the land of Lenin. For all of our advantages, it’s just as clear that the United States of America is no longer the Land of the Free. 

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Dum spiro, pugno!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Where Have You Gone, Conn Conagher?


"Hey mister, who gave you that shiner?”
“Nobody gave it to me, son – I fought for it.” 

To get the full effect of that exchange between young Laban Teale and the rangy, rough-hewn cowhand Conn Conagher, it's best to imagine the wry reply being delivered in Sam Elliott's sandpaper-on-leather drawl.

Like nearly all the heroes brought to life by the pen of the incomparable Louis L'Amour, Conagher was an unpretentious man who fought when he had to, but only to defend the innocent and vindicate the claims of honor – never to gratify his ego or in search of illicit gain. He had better things to do with his time than fighting, particularly when killing was involved.

The man who "gave" Conagher that shiner – and got much worse in the transaction – was a turbulent criminal named Kiowa Staples. (The fight, not seen in the film, is described in the novel in detail and involves a whip.) Asked by a prospective employer about his “bust-up” with Staples, Conagher offers the most subtle of grins and explains: “We had a difficulty.”

He displays similar laconic restraint when asked at a trading post about two rifles he obtained while fighting off a Comanche ambush. After Conagher explained that one of the assailants had escaped, one of the cowhands at the post – who had listened to Conn's account with envious skepticism – sarcastically asked why he hadn't pursued the Indian and killed him.

“Mister, nobody but a fool goes into the rocks after a wounded Comanche,” Conagher replies, his voice quietly contemptuous.

Conagher signs on to work with rancher Seaborn Tay. Shortly thereafter he discovers that the owner of the rival Ladder Five ranch has paid off several of the other hands – including a combustible bully named Chris Mahler – who have been stealing Tay's livestock. 

After Conagher thwarts a group of rustlers working for the Ladder Five, he is confronted at dinnertime in the bunkhouse by Mahler, who is angry and frustrated by the stalwart cowhand's stubborn honesty. Mahler knows that it's pointless to invite Conagher to join in the larceny, but he tries to browbeat him into “doing his job” -- meaning look the other way. Neither impressed nor intimidated by Mahler, Conagher drives him out of the outfit.

Thrust into a conflict with the rustlers, Conagher deals out his share of lead, and eventually takes a couple of rounds himself. “A man who kills when he doesn't have to is a damned fool,” he explains to a younger hand during a lull in one battle.


L'Amour's heroes could be described as fictional only in biographical details. A self-educated man who lived a life much more interesting than any of the stories he told, L'Amour knew scores of men like Conagher, Chick Bowdrie, and the others who populate his writing: Stoic, honorable men with great capacity for violence but the character to avoid it unless it was justified and necessary.

Authentic cowboys aren't braggarts or blatherskites. This is one of countless reasons I'm nauseated every time someone refers to some soft-handed specimen of the political class as a “cowboy.”

“My heroes have always been cowboys,” proclaims a bumpersticker popular with the GOP's Kool-Aid drinkers; the phrase was used as  caption to photos of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, neither of whom is a legitimate specimen of the breed. (It should be pointed out that Reagan -- his other shortcomings notwithstanding -- actually worked for a living before going into politics and climbed from poverty to success on the strength of his own talents and labor.) 

The image-manipulators responsible for wreathing Reagan and Bush in a cowboy mystique are attempting to do the same thing for the artfully coiffed cheerleader named Rick Perry. In terms of Cowboy archetypes, Perry isn't Conn Conagher, the lonely paladin of principle; he's Chris Mahler -- the viscous sell-out.

Mahler mistakenly believed that his bullying bluster would make Conagher back down. Instead, Conagher rose from his chair, kicked the table aside, and told Mahler he could either clear out immediately -- or go for his gun. Mahler chose the first option.

In last night's Republican presidential "debate," Rick Perry suffered a Chris Mahler moment. During a commercial break following a relatively blunt exchange with Ron Paul, Perry strode over to Paul, seized his wrist, jabbed a finger in his face, and did his pitiful best to appear terrifying. 

Neither candidate has disclosed the substance of the argument, but photos of the moment make it clear that Dr. Paul, a skinny septuagenarian, was neither impressed nor intimidated by the preening poseur.

Perry, it should be noted, didn't jab a digit into the face of Mitt Romney, with whom he also had a few testy exchanges. This may have something to do with the fact that Romney is a larger and younger man. I suspect, however, that Perry focused his ire on Ron Paul for the same reason Mahler singled out Conn Conagher: He is an independent man of principle whose character is a silent but eloquent rebuke to the thieves who surround him. 

Chris Mahler re-appeared toward the end of Louis L'Amour's story, seeking to avenge the death of a rustler who had finished second in a gunfight with Conagher. Angry over the death of his saddle partner, and infuriated by Conagher's success in winning the coveted affections of the widow Eve Teale, Mahler finally succeeded in goading Conagher into short but brutal fist-fight that left both men battered and bloody -- and Mahler taking an unexpected nap. 

"I think he's hurt," exclaimed Eve Teale as Conagher stumbled away from the fracas.

"Him? You couldn't hurt him with an ax," snorted stage driver Charlie McCloud. 

Rick Perry isn't the first self-adoring bully who has tried, and failed, to intimidate Ron Paul, who possesses the imperturbable security that comes with moral consistency. Besides, Dr. Paul -- despite having two artificial knees and a mortal coil that has made 76 solar circuits -- is a wiry and athletic man who could probably put Perry on his back if things got real. 

(Note: This essay is adapted from a version published several years ago.)

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Dum spiro, pugno!