The Dream Café

Steven Brust: “A masterful storyteller of contagious glee and self-deprecating badassery” —Skyler White

12 June 2017
by skzb
26 Comments

President Obama’s Legacy in his Own Words Except Not

Many things are happening with people’s thinking as the Trump administration does its best to drag the world back to the dark ages. Large numbers are taking it as a wakeup call that the system is fundamentally broken. Others haven’t gotten that far yet, but are asking important questions. Still others are squeezing their eyes more tightly shut than ever and seem determined to continue the policies that got us here.  The political crisis within the Democratic Party between Clinton supporters and Sanders supporters isn’t just an ideological difference, the depth and bitterness of the conflict reflects the hopelessness of reformism in the face of the world crisis of capitalism.

One feature of those determined not to let go of the Democratic Party, especially those who idealize Clinton, is the attempt to canonize President Obama, to paint a picture of him as some sort progressive hero.  I remember, though I didn’t share in it, the huge wave of hope that swept across broad masses of people at his election in 2008, followed by 7 1/2 years of increasing disappointment—I’m far from the only one who referred to his tenure as Bush 3 and 4.  This was followed, at the very end, by his rehabilitation among hardened Democrats as the nomination went to someone who clearly intended to continue his policies.  This is important to be aware of.   Most of us on the left found ourselves able to find more and more common ground with our liberal friends in disgust with Obama’s actions, until, as the election approached, these same individuals suddenly could find nothing but virtues in him, and if you didn’t agree you’d be told sardonically that he wasn’t “pure” enough for you.

Why does this matter?  Why am I going back to the previous presidency in discussing how to approach this one? Because, to put it in as simple terms as I can, we are never going to solve the problems that produced Trump while we idealize the 8 years that prepared the ground for him.

With this in mind, I’ve collected some quotes from his presidency.

“I did not want to open a war in five new countries, nor did I wish to incite civil war in Syria, I was forced to by the Republican controlled congress.”
— Barack Obama
Never

“I would have prosecuted the Wall Street criminals—at least one of them—if I hadn’t been prevented from doing so by Republican intransigence.”
— Barack Obama
Never

“Instructing Secretary Clinton to prevent the Haitians who worked for US corporations from achieving a modest wage increase was an action I was forced into by conservatives in Congress.”
— Barack Obama
Never

“It is true that my administration deported more people, especially more children, than any other in history, but that was forced on me by the Republicans.”
— Barack Obama
Never

“I feel terrible for the hundreds of thousands who were hurt by the two cuts I made to the food stamp program. It was a result of Republican majorities in the House and Senate.”
— Barack Obama
Never

“I recognize that in the most vital civil rights case of my administration, the Hobby Lobby case, I instructed Justice to not argue it on First Amendment grounds, the most powerful argument, and that this permitted an important victory for the religious right. If the Democratic Party had had control of Congress, I would have been able to make a different decision.”
— Barack Obama
Never

“The Patriot Act was extended against my will.”
— Barack Obama
Never

“The need to compromise with Republicans unfortunately required instituting regime change in Libya, and aiding the neo-fascist coup in Ukraine.”
— Barack Obama
Never

“Republican domination of the House and Senate prevented me from pushing for a climate policy in Paris that actually committed signatories to specific actions, rather than vague handwaving about intentions.”
— Barack Obama
Never

“Spying on US citizens was something I would have stopped if there had been Democratic control of Congress.”
— Barack Obama
Never

“The drastically increased use of drones to kill non-combatants, including American citizens, without due process, was something I could not avoid because of the Republicans.”
— Barack Obama
Never

“I had hoped for a Democratic Congress in order to stop the racist and reactionary ‘war on drugs.'”
— Barack Obama
Never

“Because of the need to work with Republicans, this administration was forced to prosecute more whistle-blowers than any other in history, which I consider unfortunate.”
— Barack Obama
Never

“If it weren’t for Republican control of Congress, I would have had the Justice Department prosecute at least one murdering cop.”
— Barack Obama
Never

“The drastic increase in income disparity is something I was prevented from fighting by Republicans.”
— Barack Obama
Never

“With a Democratic House and a Democratic Senate we could have passed a health care bill that wasn’t based on more money passing from the pockets of workers to the health insurance companies.”
— Barack Obama
Never

“The Republican majority in both Houses of Congress made it impossible to address the poisoned water in Flint, Michigan, or prevent the thousands who are now being evicted there for failing to pay the bill for the poison they’re required to buy.”
— Barack Obama
Never

“All of my efforts to prevent police militarization were forestalled by Congressional Republicans.”
— Barack Obama
Never

“This is an intramural scrimmage . . . we’re all on the same team.”
— Barack Obama
November 9, 2016

4 June 2017
by skzb
10 Comments

Endlessly Tweaking

My colleague Casey Blair conspired with the cat to force me to write this. The original can be found here.

 

Endlessly tweaking her stories assemble in scrivener
Awaiting her words
Flailing at phrases connected by commas that run
Wishing they were wise
Only to stick at the need to revise.

Pensively plotting she opts for an outline and opens
An empty notepad file
Clearly contriving the crux of the conflict she backs up
To chapter five
Or even the prologue

It is one story
It is too discordant
It’s in three fragments
It is for submission

Perspective produces professional prose that puzzles
The editor inside
Perfection’s a problem that promises painful proposals:
Which words to elide
While choking on the prologue

It is one story
It is too discordant
It’s in three fragments
It is for submission

2 June 2017
by skzb
31 Comments

A Modest Critique

A not uncommon flaw in many thinkers is what we might call, “fail to scale.”  In other words, a good idea emerges for solving a limited problem, and certain people immediately jump to the conclusion that this same solution can be applied more broadly, without taking into account the additional problems that arise from greater size and complexity.  One example of exactly this problem has come across my field of view recently.

In 1729, noted economics expert Jonathon Swift made a modest proposal to solve the Irish problem, to wit, the eating of Irish babies.  Though never fully implemented, no good criticism of this plan has ever been made, nor, in fact, could be.  The difficulty comes in because today more and more economists are suggesting we expand this policy to include, not just Irish babies, but all of the poor.

Since the time of Swift’s writing, however, the world has changed sufficiently to make this impossible. Consider that as of 2013, median household income worldwide was about 10,000 dollars. In the US, most households gross less than $40,000. Anyone can see this means that there is no shortage of poor people, and so, at first glance, exploiting this food source would seem to make a good deal of sense.

In reality, the cost to butcher, render, prepare the poor and bring them to market (not to mention FDA testing) requires semi-skilled workers, who are, today, for the most part, exactly the ones who are unemployed or under-employed (and, at least in the US, generally without healthcare, thus making them unreliable as a workforce). The result is that we find ourselves in the situation where the only way to actually exploit the poor as a food source would require them to perform all of the required labor. It ought to be obvious that, while it may be possible to convince them to butcher themselves, each step after that becomes increasingly impractical.

As much as I admire those who have followed in Mr. Swift’s footsteps, I’m afraid other solutions must be found.

 

21 May 2017
by jenphalian
26 Comments

Forthcoming Vlad Books

Steve has been asked more and more what he’s going to do once he’s finished the Vlad stories, but he’ll never tell. I, however, have the secret insider knowledge of what cometh next. I think the fans deserve to know. So don’t tell skzb, but I’m going to reveal to you the general outline for the sequel cycle.

—Your obedient servant,
J. Phalian
sQuirrelCo Textbenders, Inc.

ornament-smaller

Jhereggeddon — Vlad must assassinate his biggest target yet: an asteroid.

2 Yendi 2 Furious — Carriage racing makes a comeback on the streets of Adrilankha but no one could have known the political consequences!

Teckla of Dreams — If you build a robust urban society, hardy but cheerful members of the peasant underclass will come.

Taltos Family Values — They’re creepy and they’re kooky, mysterious and spooky. They’re altogether hard-bitten assassins… the Taltos Family.

Phoenix 2: The Empire Strikes Back — Vlad survives a frozen wasteland, trains his witch powers in a swamp, then finds out who his father really is.

The Athyras of Eastwick — Vlad grants the wishes of three single ladies of the Athyra. Hijinx ensue. Then he kills them.

Orca 2 — Vlad uncovers a deep-laid conspiracy to evade imperial taxes on vast amounts of wealth, but breaks it wide open using postage laws.

How to Train Your Dragonlord — Teenage Vlad has a charming coming-of-age story, co-starring a large floppy black kitty. He defeats the House of the Dragon, brings peace to the village, and actually kisses a suitable romantic partner, for real.

Mrs. Doubtssola — HELLLLLLOOOOOOO! Vlad hides from the Left Hand in the last place they’ll expect: as a lady nanny for his own son.

Mrs Doubtissola 2

Dzur Hard With a Vengeance — The Dzur do some Dzuring around Dzurtown and things just might get Dzurtabulous!

Jhegaala 2 — Consists of three books written at once in collaboration with another Steve, accompanied by four wide-release feature films, following Vlad’s adventures on an alien world where he discovers a society where everyone is taller than him and also blue-skinned.

Legally Iorich 2: Red, White, and Blonde — Vlad becomes a voice for the voiceless when he helps an Iorich friend save cute dogs from cruelty.

Tiassas of the Galaxy: Vol. 2 — Vlad and friends have a psychedelic adventure in far-flung regions of space. They steal a guy’s prosthetic eye. Vlad finally finds out who his father is, again.

The Wrath of Hawk — A mysterious Hawklord that Vlad previously defeated turns up again wearing a cool barbarian space vest and puts creepy mind-control worms into everyone’s ears. Vlad has been, and always shall be, your friend.

Pride and Prejudice and Vallista — Vlad teams up with Lizzy Bennett to fight a new foe: architects gone mad with power. Meanwhile, Vlad’s sisters are excited about the marital prospects offered by the new tenants of the mansion overlooking the ocean-sea.

Tsalmoth 2: Electric Boogaloo — Vlad competes in the dance-off sequel we deserve and finds out who his father really actually totally is, for real. Jesus tap-dancing Christ.

26 April 2017
by skzb
23 Comments

Clausewitz Was Right

When Carl von Clausewitz made the observation that wars are started by the defender, it wasn’t a mere sophistry. He was making a point that is very much worth thinking about today. To take the purest example of a war of aggression, which was Nazi Germany’s invasion of Poland in September of 1939, the point is that Hitler didn’t want war—Hitler wanted Poland. It was the decision to militarily resist the conquest that actually began the war.

The reason I think this is so important today is because I keep coming across statements to the effect of, “There won’t be a nuclear war because no one wants it.” This makes it sound like wars happen because national leaders wake up one morning and say, “Gee, I think I want to have a war.” If that’s how it happened, we’d be living in a Ghandi-esque paradise.

But Clausewitz was also right when he identified war as the continuation of politics by other means, and Marx was right when he identified politics as concentrated economics.

No, the ruling elite of the US does not want war with Russia or China. For that matter, neither does the ruling elite of Russia, nor of China, want war with the US. But capitalism is organized on the basis of nation-states, which means the interests of profit are fundamentally tied to the interests of nations. Russia does not want war, but neither are the capitalists of Russia willing to give up their remaining interests in oil pipelines and markets in Syria.   The drive for profit cannot be separated from the drive to control geographic regions, and the minor detail that there are human beings living in those regions cannot, of course, be permitted to interfere with the accumulation of wealth.

The point is, it is not a question of individual, or even collective greed, it is simply how capitalism works. To give up control of markets, resources, and labor in various parts of the world is a threat to US economic interests.   So long as production is based on the exploitation of labor for private profit, rather than common ownership based on human need, there can come a point where war is the only alternative to the collapse of a nation’s economy.  In other words, there comes a point where the decision to attack another nation becomes, for the ruling class, the lesser evil.  And the most horrifying thing is, from their standpoint, they’re right.

“No,” cries the US, “we don’t want war, we just need to control those regions.”
“But those regions are ours,” says Russia.
“And we need those,” puts in China.
Meanwhile countries like North Korea become terrified that they will be squashed in the battle of giants, and think to stake out their claim by demonstrating such aggression that no one will dare attack them,  which sounds stupid, but really, what choice do they have?  What choice do any of them have?  They must have control of those regions, and if that country resists, or if another imperialist nation is unwilling to surrender its claims, that is war.

And so the brinksmanship begins. “If we posture enough, they’ll back down, and our interests will be advanced without fighting,” they all say. “Okay, I guess we need to show that we’re willing to use our military force, then they’ll be afraid of us and give us what we want.” “All it will take will be one or two tactical nuclear strikes, and they’ll know we’re serious.”

So say the major powers, and their various elites, willing to kill billions in defense of their interests.  Meanwhile, as they play dice with human civilization, the propaganda machines in each country go to work, vilifying the individual leaders of other countries, accusing them of “human rights violations,” and social media fills up with chauvinism and pretexts.  This is preparation for war, for a nuclear catastrophe that no one wants, and we’re living in it, because Clausewitz was right.

The fight against war must be a fight against capitalism; anything else is, in a word, futile.