Terps Rule! PG County Police

Terps Rule! PG County Police Incompetent — First, WOOHOOOO! Go Terps! We'll crush Indiana.

Now… the Prince Georges County Police are fucking idiots. Nationally notorious for their brutality and abuse of power, the insanely militaristic PGCPD badly exacerbated the damage of the College Park Final Four steet celebration. I live about two blocks from the College Park bars on Baltimore Ave. After the game, excited, I ambled down to enjoy the revelry. The street was filled, of course, with happy drunk undergrads peacefully chanting “Let's Gooo Muhra-Lund!,” “We Want Hoosiers!,” and even a gloating round of “Fuck Duke!” I exhanged random high fives and hugs, lit some cigarettes, then made my way into The Cornerstone for some beer.

From the bar patio, I watched a happy bunch of kids crowded in the street, chanting, dancing, and doing their best mam-flashing impersations of Mardi Gras, sans beads. It was fine, doing nothing but blocking traffic. Then some jerks tear down a turn lane sign. Whatever. Then some real Einsteins rip the top off a crosswalk light. Fuckups. But that wan't the overall spirit. People were just happy. The PG Police, however, did their best to ensure that vandalism and agression did become the overall spirit.

First, they sent four riot cops on Steads of War into the throng to guarantee to get things really riled up. One horse just about went batshit from the clamor and started stomping around and charging people. What do you want to do with hundreds of drunk 20 year olds on a tribal testosterone/seratonin kick? Well, attack them of course. The focus of the gathering shifted rapidly from celebration of UMD's victory to the challenge of a fresh arrogant foe. Then the line of shielded stormtroopers descended down Baltimore Ave. Why? Who knows?! I mean, if you've got riot gear and cool shit with laser scopes, you wanna use it, right?

From inside The Cornerstone, we looked at the cops lined up just outside the window, and were treated to multiple angles of the hoopla from the Channel Nine news playing on 14 or so bar TVs. I have absolutely NO idea what prompted it (failure to flee in fear, I don't know) but the Man started firing tear gas into the crowd. The Cornerstone went into lockdown, shutting all the windows, driving everyone in off the patios. The teargas assault quickly dispatched the crowd, right? Well, of course not. Everyone got VERY excited. Now here is a promising story to share with our future children about the time Maryland won the national semifinals and we all got shot with tear gas pellets! WOOO! So the crowd became enthusiastically truculent. If you're going to get shot at, you might as well deserve it!

After about a half hour, The Cornerstone decided it was a good time to not be open, so they made last call at about 1:00 and started kicking everybody out the side door, the front door being blocked by the black army of Mordor. More drunk people into the streets! Strangely, the police made no peaceful effort whatsoever to disperse the crowd. They didn't yell into bullhorns asking/telling people to leave. They didn't send groups of officers into the crowd to subdue the few vandals and protect property. No, the stood stone silent in an ominous line of helmets, shields, and batons, training their laser sights onto the crowd, firing gas pellets willy nilly at anyone who looked capable of rowdiness. It was clear that they had drawn a line: if we can see you and you are not one of us, you are the enemy, and you deserve a pellet in the back of your head. The PGCPD must give specialized courses in how to actively create a climate of opposition and rebellion, because they achieved this with brilliant efficiency. Now students we're just thrilled to have an opportunity make frat house martyrs of themselves. A group of guys stood about ten feet in front of the line, just stood there, back to the cops, saying Fuck You with their proximity. And after a short while, sure enough, the kids were painted with Terminator lasers and fired upon repeatedly, Pop Pop Pop. And they just stood there, enduring the sting and the gas. That's right, fuck you. The crowd roared in appreciation.

The PGCPD established themselves firmly as the enemy, and declared open season on the non-police. And the students, in their inebriated pride, felt it incumbent upon themselves to actively resist, and so began hurling bottles at the shields, tearing down police line ribbons and using them creatively for a bit of limbo in the intersection, all to show that you ain't gonna tell us what to do. A very dumb driver in a white Jeep somehow got into the intersection and turned North up Balto. The Jeep was engulfed by the crowd and began to be violently rocked. That's when I first got riddled with tear gas pellets. When I stepped into the crowd to push against the rhythm so that the Jeep wouldn't go over. It hurts. Two police cars had been parked and abandoned with tactical genius outside of The Smoothie King and The Haircuttery. One had an unlocked door, so it was pillaged for flares which were duly flung at the Ominous Line. Other undergrad criminals ripped from the concrete the benches outside of Council Travel out and threw them through the windshield of the forsaken cruiser. Again, no effort was made to pick out the perps. If you were within fifty feet, you were guilty. I got hit again, in the arm and leg. Coughed up a lung. In front of the Chevy Chase Bank across the street some folks threw a match in the trashcan creating a mighty pyre of ATM receipts. Pop Pop Pop. Shirts over mouths. Nineteen year olds bleeding from the face.

Finally, they set the horses on the belligerent, audacious guys who refused to budge from their spot in the street. And then the line advanced, beating the shields, lasers streaking across the assembled Business and Government majors, who may as well have been Black Bloc anarchists as far as they cops were concerned. More fires. More bottles. Pop Pop Pop. Of course, the individual students who did damage are criminals, responsible for their crimes. But the PGCPD is responsible for astonishing overreaction, responsible for turning a somewhat rowdy celebration into a full-blown riot. The authoritarian style, the unwillingness to discriminate between the peaceful and the vandalous, the total lack of effort to get things done in any way but the most agressive and inflammatory, ensures that the students see them not as public servants out to keep the peace, but a power-mad paramilitary out to assert control.

God, I hope we destroy Indiana on Monday. And I hope the Prince Georges County Police get a fucking clue and learn to let exhilerated kids block traffic for a while. Because now the Hoosiers aren't the only Them to the students' Us. If the cops screw it up Monday like they screwed it up tonight, there will be one last contest of the season, and nobody will go home proud.

[Update: For a terribly facile and uninformative account, try WaPo. They fail to note how the police visibly incited the crowd. And when architecture major Henry Pena says of the police that they were “tolerant” he must certainly mean that they were negligent in apprehending people committing crimes against property, preferring instead to stand in one place and shoot tear gas at everyone. I mean, they could just see the guys carrying the bench toward the cruiser directly in front of them. So, if you're a cop, do you run and stop the assholes and arrest them? NO! You just stand there, 40 feet away, and watch them smash your windshield in. And then you barrage everyone else with gas pellets. Retards.]

Yes, Democrats are Assholes Too

Yes, Democrats are Assholes Too — This weekend I carefully crafted an analytically sensitive and astonishingly insightful response to the many replies to my “Republicans are Insufferable Dorks” post. It was a gem. I wept like Halle Berry at the music of the language, the irresistible tautness of the arguments, the clever yet enticingly masculine dialectic. Then, just as I was about to triumphantly press Post & Publish and transmit my wisdom through the far flung ether, my computer locked up tighter than Miss Spears's thighs. I played Al Green. I said “I love you… I'll always love you.” In binary! But, no.

Because I was at the time hopped up on a cocktail of guarana, German chocolate, and crushed Ritalin, I don't now hope to replicate my heroic lost effort. I do, however, want to revisit a couple of my main points, in brief (don't believe it).

First, I am not, nor have I ever been a Democrat, although I freely admit to consorting with Democrats and enjoying it. And it should not need saying that a dislike of Ashcroft does not entail a love of Reno. (Here I am in front of the former Clinton residence handing out fliers in protest of the Reno-mandated kidnapping of Elian Gonzalez.) So, for the record: Ashcroft is an unlikable prick. Reno burns babies.

Second, I agree wholeheartedly that many Democrats are also uptight, sanctimonious, moralistic assholes, after their own fashion. Indeed, if you are a libertarian who has spent the last decade of his life in the universities, itÂ’s an observation with the flavor of self-evidence. (What's the flavor of self-evidence? Peanuts. “Clear, distinct, and peanutty,” Descartes wrote of the cogito). But you have to ask why it is that the image of David Kessler or Robert Reich is not the image that leaps to the mind of the average college student when prompted with “quasi-fascist moral imperialist.”

My hypothesis is that leftish sanctimony is generally less offensive because it is lacquered over with layers of dissembling “progressive” rhetoric about health, equality, and the next step in the noble march of Social Justice. In contrast, choice Republicans, perhaps to their credit, will come straight out and thump tables and declare that YOU, THAT GUY, OVER THERE WITH THE MOUSTACHE, CHAPS, AND MEDICAL MARIJUANA, YOU are eating into the social fabric like a swarm of voracious moths, are personally responsible for the precipitous decline of Western Civilization, and will surely burn in Hell for your irreversibly corrupt influence on the Good. If you are THAT GUY you will not take kindly to this kind of assault on your identity. Whatever group the moralizing orator is member of, that is not your group.

Certain Democrats (now more likely Greens) surely believe that the businessman, say, is a rapacious leech sucking the blood of Justice from the body politic, and they may even say so to their friends over foie gras. But the rhetoric is that the businessman is swell as long as he “pays his fair share” or “gives back to the community.” I personally don't feel my sense of identity directly threatened when I'm asked to “give something back” even though I know what it really means. And those who seek to regulate cigarettes out of existence don't inveigh against the depravity of smokers. They blame somebody else — the media, peer pressure, the tobacco companies, anyone but you. It not your fault that you're doing whatever you're doing, and you probably can't help it, so we're just going to help you help yourself, improve the public health, and eliminate the exploitation of the weak by giant corporations in the name of Justice.

While demeaning if you think about it, this kind of rhetoric does not come off as a direct, malicious attack on the smoker's identity (and most people don't think about it). But if you're gay, or enjoy weed, or like that crazy rock and roll music, or don't believe in God, then there's some pretty visible Republican with bad hair, maybe with his own show on cable, who will tell you that you are rotten to the core. Just a few of these folks, in positions of sufficient prominence, help to create and enforce a conception of what it is to be a Republican so corrosive to sympathy that it would take a of boatload of Condis to counteract the effect.

But Why Vote At All?

But Why Vote At All? — I should mention that I don't vote. First, the state is a system of institutionalized violence and exploitation, and I don't care for the idea of endorsing it by directly participating in the political process. Second, my vote doesn't matter. Third, no candidate ever espouses my values to a degree that would merit casting a vote as an exercise in identity affirmation. So, why do you vote?

Informed Tactical Voting v. Gut

Informed Tactical Voting v. Gut Identity Politics — I think Rand Simberg wonkfully misses the hard nut of truth in Mr. Instant's point about the damage done to the Republicans by censorious prudes. Rand argues that it's better to go pachyderm than jackass, because, while true that there are those on the right who would strip from us our god-given rights to “get small” and bugger each other, this kind of violence to liberty is difficult to establish and maintain, and these folks at least sort of appreciate markets, while the damn Democrats are deviously expert at slowly implementing their creeping plan for total economic enslavement. (I paraphrase.)

For all I know, Rand may have the political calculus right: the net loss to liberty is smaller under Republicans. But this really just misses the point. If it's the case that the Republicans are on the whole better for liberty, then Rand should be very concerned that Republicans aren't associated in the popular imagination with obnoxious, unappealing, totalitarian lifestyle philosophies. Most people aren't as bright as Rand, and they aren't very interested in determining what political program is really in their best interests. What people are interested in is a sense of identity. If a party grates against our sense of the kind of person we'd like to be, then we don't want anything to do with it.

So, if the the alternative to being an uptight, sanctimonious, moralistic asshole is to be a Democrat, then we'll want to be Democrats — even if we do end up getting shafted by Taxman. And I think that's the way a whole lot of folks in my demo (BoBo Gen-X) see it. To large swaths of the public mind, choosing to put a gargoyle like John Ashcroft in charge of norm enforcement is like choosing to put Michael Moore in charge of the Fed. It's bound to cause about half the population to recoil in repugnance and fear. That's not the face (or the hair) you want on your party. (Ashcroft can't even tolerate a marble tit, for chrissake). Until the Republicans get out from under Ashcroft-like fundie stiffs, the cool kids will continue to stay away in swarms. And if the fate of liberty truly rests in the hands of Republicans, then you'd better hope for the death of cool.

Nader Spotting — Filled with

Nader Spotting — Filled with renewed resolve to finish my grad studies, I jumped off the Metro at Farragut West after work to see if the Borders on 18th and L had Michael Bratman's Intentions, Plans, and Practical Reason. They didn't. But they did have… Nader, in the flesh, getting interviewed by some nebbish NPR-ish sounding chap about his new book, Crashing the Party.

Ralph started off badly. He was trying to make some kind of point about the populist appeal of his brand of leftist crankery, and came up with a trainwreck of an example in the form of (in Ralph's words) Dirty White Men, Michael Moore's new book. (I'm surprised he didn't call him 'Roger'.) According to Nader, Moore's book has had “no publicity,” aside from a “brief appearance” on Politically Incorrect, yet somehow managed to rocket to the top of the NYT bestseller list. I laughed audibly, and the assembled alpaca-clad zealots riddled me with sally of annoyed gazes. I was astonished. Really! You don't need to watch much TV to have noticed Moore's relentless media whoring of his latest achievement in letters. He's been ubiquitous. At this point I would regard a Moore appearance in a John Basedow commercial with nonchalance. (“Tired of looking like a disheveled, hypocritical swine? Try Fitness Made Simple!”) Anyway, bad start.

He went on to say some stupid things about AIDS drugs and “Big Pharma,” and the meaning of freedom. However, I found myself ultimately disappointed by repeated agreement… about the two party system; about corporate welfare; about the grotesqueness of the “Patriot Act.” And that was just no fun. And I was hungry. So I decamped and read my new Peter van Inwagen book over fogged glasses and a huge bowl of steaming curry lakhsa at the Malaysian place up the street. It's pretty hard to stay annoyed at a benighted busybody like Nader while enjoying the fruits of the land: huge chain bookstores, funny analytic philosophers, savory curried soups.

9/11 Reflection — A couple

9/11 Reflection — A couple days late, but still worth it, I guess. I just looked back at my first blog, hosted as an experiment on the site of a friend, Carolyn Ray, who is/was developing a journaling program, and discovered my almost forgotten 9/11 post. You'll find my (I must admit) somewhat knee-jerk libertarian response to the attack. I stand by much of what I said, but my isolationism has become tempered by a fuller understanding of the complexity involved in protecting ourselves. I continue to loathe intensely the welfare/warfare state, and there is no crisis that does not feed leviathan. Yet it's clear that war is the state's killer app, and sometimes its not a bad app to have.

Here's what I wrote, anxiously, six months and two days ago, from Arlington, about a mile and a half from the Pentagon:

In response to Tom… I too share his anger, and his retributive urge. But I believe now is a time to reign in these passions and to reaffirm the values that make America both beloved and despised.

I firmly oppose the impulse to an imperialist foreign policy. This will breed exactly the kind of resentment that leads to terrorism. Indeed, our meddling in others' affairs may be precisely what provoked (though not warranted–nothing warrants) today's horror. We must try to find those responsible, give them a fair trial, and mete out justice in the most dispassionate and humane way. We must maintain our dignity and liberality.

I've more to say, but my building–the George Mason University Law School–is being shut down. All morning we have watched the smoke from the Pentagon out our windows, and the circling helicopters and occasional fighter plane. This is an awful and frightening day. I don't know how I'll be getting home. I don't know if I want to get on the Metro. I do know that I am angry. This is my home. My great fear now is that my fellow Americans will give into this anger and do something rash.

The Benefits and Hazards of Lifestyle Entrepreneurship

This past weekend I had the happy responsibility of running a small workshop that included, among notable others, my favorite political philosopher, Wendy McElroy, and Chuck Freund and Nick Gillespie of Reason. We shacked up in a quaint art deco hotel off Dupont Circle, ate in swell restaurants, and talked at length about human cognition, social networks, and other heady stuff. Good work if you can get it.

Anyway, listening to Nick and Chuck about the plenitude of market culture inspired a few thoughts perhaps worth developing. Their line, roughly, is that popular culture spawned of free markets and unregulated minds provides a panoply of opportunities to construct a personally meaningful identity, and this is good.

Now, let me elaborate, according to my best understanding. We need our lives to mean something. One way we make our lives mean something is by fitting ourselves into a narrative in which we matter and our striving has some kind of point. The stories of our lives involve a cast of other characters, and we want to go forward in our stories together with these folks, to be part of a community that matters and has some kind of point. Communities that matter are organized around artifacts, symbols, songs, ways of playing and taking pleasure. And lives that matter have a character, a style — there's something that it looks like and sound like and feels life to live a life with a point, be it punk life or Mormon life.

Market cultures produce the artifacts, symbols, songs, styles, and whatnot in heretofore impossible abundance, and this abundance makes possible new kinds of lives and new kinds of meaning. This is liberating, because not just any story or form of life will do. We each come into the world a certain way: with talents, tempers and personality. And the world we come into pushes onto us and fills the open spaces of our native dispositions. When it comes time to worry about life's having a point, we've already become something semi-solid — pliable, but only so pliable — and the stories, communities, and styles we inherit may not be the sorts of things we can squeeze ourselves into or take much meaning from. Your father's Oldsmobile might bore you; your father's life might crush you. So it's good for us that there's this wealth of potential meaning laying ready in the record shops, in the bookstores, in the boutiques, bars and concert halls, in the vast menu of professions. We can find the story we need to play out, the artifacts that define our rituals, and the communities to share them with.

Well then, it's milk and honey for everyone, is it? Of course not. There are complications. None of us come equipped with an internal sensor that lights upon finding the right life. And some kinds of life are plain unhealthy, damaging, and wrong. We're pliable, but only so pliable. It's easy to fuck up.

With that in mind we can imagine two main strategies for meaning identification: risk averse and risk seeking. A risk averse meaning seeker is likely to conform with an extant lifestyle package that has proven itself reliable in meaning provision. He will, as the economists say, “satisfice,” figuring that the meaning gained will be “good enough.” (The strategy is conservative, but the package one adopts in prudence needn't be conservative in the social or political sense; there are boho risk averse meaning seekers.) A risk seeking meaning seeker will search for a lifestyle package that provides the ultimate fit, even in the face of the possibility of the search ending badly in a self-destructive spiral of ennui and self-loathing.

An extreme risk seeking meaning seeker is the “lifestyle entrepreneur” who will not only search for a good fit, but will customize a lifestyle package whole cloth and recruit others to buy in. Imagine the pioneer of a vegetarian free-love commune. There's a very good chance that things will go badly, and that the entrepreneur will go spiritually bankrupt. But like her economic counterpart, we all have a lot to gain from those who engage in risk seeking behavior. We risk averse types need people willing to make forays into that dauntingly huge field of possibility in which all beautiful things are found. When the entrepreneur comes back with something that works, that really makes life better and more meaningful, we all win. Sooner or later, even the most risk averse bring the treasure to their comfortable lifestyle cocoons.

If the entrepreneur comes back with a wrecked life, then she loses. And we lose too when the entrepreneurs take our friends and children with them. But as long as little Stevie joined the commune of his own volition, we should withhold our state sanctioned wrath. Failure is part of the search. The U.S. is remarkably lenient on bankruptcies, and we should be lenient on spiritually bankrupt lifestyle entrepreneurs for similar reasons. The risk seekers are the treasure hunters. They may make stuff no one really wants. They may live lives no one would want to have (or for that matter smell). But they might come up with jazz, or the United States of America. We all want better, more interesting, more fitting, more meaningful, lives, but most of us are too timorous to seek it ourselves. So we must keep wide the gates to the space of possible lives, and trust the intrepid to return to us with bounties of meaning.