“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Saturday, September 22, 2001

Dope.

I have a review out this week in the Austin Chronicle. My editor there, Clay Smith, is undoubtedly the best editor I work with, and I'm happy with the work we've done in the last three years - has it been three years? Jesus.
But the Chronicle is going through the pain shooting through the print media since advertising money took a hike at the beginning of the year. The obvious place to cut out the fat is books -- I've posted about this before. In consequence, my review this week was intolerably squeezed. So I'm doing something I should, perhaps, not do -- I'm pasting in my full review of The Corrections. I wouldn't do this if I thought this site was attracting thousands, but it attracts tens, so I'm pretty sure I'm safe.
In Slate this week, Christopher Caldwell and Judith Shulevitz wrote about The Corrections, too. I love Slate's Book Club -- it is, I think, a brilliant use of the Net. And this week's dialogue was fascinating to me because, as a man who reviews @ ten books a month, I've thought a lot about what reviews do. With Non-fiction, it is somewhat easier to figure out a review. Unless the book is extraordinarily well written, non-fiction is pretty easy -- you reach in there, grab the pearl of content, and run away with it in a direction of your chosing.

Fiction poses a much more delicate task. I have no interest in book reporting -- the details of the plot you can gather from the book jacket, as any college student knows. I think I am of the impressionist school -- I want to want to know how a book makes an impression on the sensibility of an educated reader. On the other hand, I think too much impression ruins a review -- there has to be internal and external constraints in the review. It is hard to spell these out. You have to check yourself for unfair shots -- for instance, when Shulevitz uses her knowledge of Franzen's article about his Dad's alzheimers to criticize his portrayal of Alfred Lambert, the father in the novel, that was an unfair shot. You have to think hard about treatment - novels are made from a hard-to-analyze mixture of character, style, and plot, and there are those who favor one of those factors over the other, and there are authors who are manifestly incompetent at one (Dreiser, for instance, with his notorious prose clumsiness) who are brilliant at another. This is where I particularly like the way Slate's book club brings these usually hidden buoys and markers in the reader's soul to the surface. It exteriorizes the reviewers internal constraints by making one reviewer confront another. If you regularly read the New York Review of Books, you'll notice that most of the novel reviews suck. Why? Because the NYRB doesn't exactly know how to approach fiction, unless it is fiction written by a dead or a safely Central European writer -- same diff. Perhaps this goes back to the reign of Gore Vidal, who in the seventies exercized a malign influence on the fiction reviewing in that mag. It has never recovered. Vidal didn't recognize any constraint on his impressions other than his overbearing ego. He was the armored reader, and his hostility made it impossible for him to read. His review of Gravity's Rainbow is a classic of its type -- it is like reading an armadillo critique haute cuisine. Here we have a a conflict of tastes so manifestly baseline that we know the conjunction is a mistake.
So here is the longplaying version (although not long enough) of my review.

The Corrections
Author: Franzen, Jonathan
Publisher: Farrar Straus & Giroux $ 25.00

"The Correction, when it came, was not an overnight bursting of the bubble but a much more gentle letdown, a year long leakage of value�"

The English Romantics, circa 1800, came back with a wonderful term from the continent: zeitgeist. It was probably Coleridge, with his esoteric cast of mind, who fastened upon the word first, but it was William Hazlitt who, wonderfully, anglicized it as "the Spirit of the Age."

What did it mean? It meant that history was no longer reducible to chronology - no longer the clock God wound up, ticking off monarchs or presidents at regular intervals. No, history was an emergent property, a pattern straight out of the dark unruly unconscious of the people. History, like the Kingdom of God, is within you.

Franzen's novel captures the spirit of the age, specifically the nineties (a decade that began in 1996 and ended, in confusion and sorrow, with the stealing of a presidential election and the bombing of the financial center of the world). 90s America discovered a new frontier, marked on its extreme boundary by the Greater Fool - that mythical last purchaser of high cap, negative dividend stock. 90s winners were full of irrational exuberance, while the decade's discards were full of radio talk show resentment. Forty-six year old arbitrageurs learned to pronounce cool (kewwwl) like sixteen year olds. Sixteen year olds learned to arbitrage. This is what the postwar world looked like - the first postwar world, really, since 1919.

Frankly, I'm surprised, I'm fucking shocked, Franzen is this good. He was not a writer I thought capable of this novel. A couple of years ago, Franzen was put on Granta's "best novelists under 40" list - of which there is no more depressing gauge of the mediocrity of hip. I thought I had good reason for paying no attention to him.

I didn't. The trick of his authorial voice we have also heard in David Foster Wallace and David Eggers. It is all about having that perfect SAT score intelligence -- this is the adolescent side of it -- edged -- this is the adult side -- with that retracting irony which, of course, reflects a class contradiction - for as soon as our A+ student climbs up the ladder of meritocracy, he looks down and sees that it is disappearing under him; that dumb and dumber are the real thing in this country; that the standards are perpetually lowering, that his boss, the biz student, got through four to six years of secondary education and read nothing more challenging than "7 Habits of Highly Effective People;" that the serious books he read are dismissed by his contemporaries as adolescent, while the adolescent movies they watch are discussed as if they were serious; that, in short, he is, if not the Underground man, at least the Upside Down one.

At the heart of Franzen's novel is a classic American situation. The three Lambert kids - Gary, Chip and Denise - are on the outskirts of middle age. Their parents, Enid and Alfred, live in St. Jude - your basic composite Midwestern city. Alfred has retired, after working his whole life for a railroad company that was swallowed up and deconstructed in a typical quickie acquisition - the kind of thing economists counsel us to accept in the name of 'efficiency.' Enid is now having to put up with Alfred's decay, his Parkinson's, his silences, his inanition, his spiritual heaviness. Enid is your classic Vance Packard Status Seeker type, suffering from the lifelong frustration of getting no cooperation from her family. Now she wants the kids to come for one last Christmas celebration in St. Jude's, after which they will decide something about their father.

The book is structured around long sequences devoted to each member of the family - although the child's point of view is held onto to the extent that Enid and Alfred come as a set, inseparable until the horrible end. Chip is an ex-academic, bounced out for violating his college's sex code. He ends up partnering with an ex-deputy minister of Lithuania trying to pull off a dot.com fraud. Denise is a super-chef in Philadelphia whose sex life describes a Borromean ring: she's having sex with both the owner of her restaurant and his wife. Gary is a rich investment manager in Philadelphia, married to Caroline, a wealthy woman who, employing all the multiple strategies of passive aggression, has let Gary know his parents are d�class�.

A intricate subplot involving a wonder mood altering drug, Correcktall, is woven into these elements. Alfred patented the basic process being used by Axon, the start-up bio-tech company that is marketing Corecktall.

The panic at the heart of Franzen's comedy is easily recognized by anybody over 35 - it is the awful realization that we are turning out JUST LIKE OUR PARENTS. Denise's bisexuality, Chip's leather jacket and skim milk Marxism, Gary's incredibly cool Italian suits all prove insufficient to defer that fundamental recognition of creeping likeness.

There's a small pile of novels (Invisible Man, J.R., Infinite Jest) on my shelf that I've read three times at least - twice as a reader, for amusement, and once, as a writer, to figure out the magic tricks. The Corrections is going on that pile.








Remora

Very, very sad -- the drumbeat of anti-Middle Eastern discrimination. Read this NYT story .Some Passengers Singled Out for Exclusion by Flight Crew, that leads:
:
"In San Antonio on Monday, Ashraf Khan, 32, a mobile phone salesman who was trying to get to his brother's wedding in Pakistan, was ordered off a Delta Airlines flight. The plane's captain, Mr. Khan recalled, told him that the flight crew did not "feel safe flying with you."
A Delta spokeswoman said the airline was "aware of this incident and takes this matter very seriously."

Friday, September 21, 2001

Jesus wept, Dan Rather stifled sobs on the David Letterman show, and my sister writes me that last week she broke down crying one day, out of the blue. I did too -- the tears seemed always close to welling up, last week, whenever the news was on.

Tears, male tears, always have a monumental glister if shed prominently enough. This week it was Rather who shed/didn't shed them -- rather he fought them back, swallowed them, allowed no leakage. Causing the commentariat to rush into print with glosses on his close call. Here's Mr. Showbiz :

"Rather, who has been working extended shifts as the CBS News anchor, described what it was like at the crash site. Fighting back tears, he told audiences that they'll never hear the lyrics to "America the Beautiful" the same way again.

Rather also pledged his support to President Bush. "Wherever he wants me to line up, tell me where," Rather said."

The rather odd willingness of this sixty something man to line up whereever Bush wants him to line up (to do what, exactly?) received barely any comment. Unless George Bush has been transfigured in some way, he is still the airy headed guy we've always known, which makes me think that Bush might tell Rather to line up at the wrong place, at the wrong time, to recieve the wrong thing. There is something vaguely schoolboyish about the whole scene -- Rather fighting back tears, pledging to line up. Is he going to get a tremendous whacking? Has he been a bad boy?

Walter Cronkite
was interviewed by Leah Garchick about the subject of Dan Rather's tears, and recalled tears he'd shed himself.

"At a news conference before he spoke at an annual banquet sponsored by the San Jose Chamber of Commerce, renowned newsman Walter Cronkite, who broke down in on-air tears when reporting the assassination of JFK, discussed Dan Rather sobbing on David Letterman's show this week."

Cronkite concluded that a man's a man for a' that.

On the subject of tears, John Sutherland of the Guardian this spring wrote a little article that swiped at Clinton for his labile lachrymal ducts, citing a well known video of Clinton laughing at Ron Brown's funeral until he spotted a camera, when his face became transformed into a regular map of tears. Sutherland made a prediction about Bush's solvency - into tears, that is:

"I don't feel your damn pain" is the message currently emanating from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Not being a cry baby has been strong for Bush. Hanging tough, walking tall - that's what the new guys are about. Did Colin Powell cry after Desert Storm? Did he hell.

"The 43rd president has been conspicuously dry-eyed under pressure. At some point there will be another Columbine slaughter, Challenger disaster, or Oklahoma bombing. It will be interesting to see if Bush weeps. I doubt he will. Not even one tear. Now he's got the White House, he can be an uncompassionate conservative again."

So far, Sutherland's call was on the money.

Tears, gentle tears... These are all tears of sorrow. There are also tears that litter other occassions. I have surely not been the only person to be surprised, while having sex, to feel my eyes start to brim with salty liquid. The larmes of eros, except I felt ashamed of the tears, felt that they would certainly shock the woman in my arms. Freud talks about religion as correlating with an 'oceanic feeling" - I think a little brine from that ocean is what was in my eyes on these occassions.

But how about the tears released by spectacles of unbearable public events? When I first saw the broadcast of the WTC collapsing, I was stunned, not tearful. It wasn't until I heard a voiceover -- an interview with a man who managed the restaurant at the top of the Tower. He was fine until he suddenly broke down, reporting that the staff was probably dead. And then I lowered my head.


In a famous passage in the Reflections on the French Revolution (full of soaring language, but politically nutty), Edmund Burke describes the end of Marie Antoinette, replying to the celebrators of the fall of the French Monarchy with a hot charge:



"Why do I feel so differently from the Reverend Dr. Price, and those of his lay flock who will choose to adopt the sentiments of his discourse?�For this plain reason�because it is natural I should; because we are so made, as to be affected at such spectacles with melancholy sentiments upon the unstable condition of mortal prosperity, and the tremendous uncertainty of human greatness; because in those natural feelings we learn great lessons; because in events like these our passions instruct our reason; because when kings are hurled from their thrones by the Supreme Director of this great drama, and become the objects of insult to the base, and of pity to the good, we behold such disasters in the moral, as we should behold a miracle in the physical, order of things. We are alarmed into reflection; our minds (as it has long since been observed) are purified by terror and pity; our weak, unthinking pride is humbled under the dispensations of a mysterious wisdom. Some tears might be drawn from me, if such a spectacle were exhibited on the stage. I should be truly ashamed of finding in myself that superficial, theatric sense of painted distress, whilst I could exult over it in real life. With such a perverted mind, I could never venture to show my face at a tragedy. People would think the tears that Garrick formerly, or that Siddons not long since, have extorted from me, were the tears of hypocrisy; I should know them to be the tears of folly."

Interesting that, for Burke, presented tears bear a different meaning than hidden tears. The hidden tear is shed because 'we are made so.' The presented tear, on the other hand, are shed because we know that others know that we are made so. That meta lever, thrusting self from self's natural core. Even as Burke is coining one of the great images of conservativism, he is at the same time operating along distinctly Rousseauist lines.

Perhaps this is what I meant above, when I said I was ashamed to be tearful in the middle of what should be carnal bliss. Presented tears are immediately subject to someone else's interpretation, and the feedback from that is to make them somehow fake. In an inappropriate situation, they are worse than fake -- they are a mark of something gone wrong. To be tearful in the midst of copulation confesses, perhaps, a bit too much tenderness, a bit too much neediness. To be that sensually overwhelmed is, well, to be too exposed.

All this, and the case seems to be that in the end, Dan Rather mastered his tears. It is the American way of monumental male tears -- they are few, they are proud, and they are mostly not shed. This isn't true for the French. In the National Convention, according to Simon Schama, at the same time Burke was displaying his non-displayed tears, real tears were frequent as the delegates would be moved by oratory or revolutionary sentiments of fraternity. But the American attitude is best expressed in Emerson's essay,

Experience:

"In the death of my son, now more than two years ago, I seem to have lost a beautiful estate, -- no more. I cannot get it nearer to me. If tomorrow I should be informed of the bankruptcy of my principal debtors, the loss of my property would be a great inconvenience to me, perhaps, for many years; but it would leave me as it found me, -- neither better nor worse. So is it with this calamity: it does not touch me: some thing which I fancied was a part of me, which could not be torn away without tearing me, nor enlarged without enriching me, falls off from me, and leaves no scar. It was caducous. I grieve that grief can teach me nothing, nor carry me one step into real nature. The Indian who was laid under a curse, that the wind should not blow on him, nor water flow to him, nor fire burn him, is a type of us all. The dearest events are summer-rain, and we the Para coats that shed every drop. Nothing is left us now but death. We look to that with a grim satisfaction, saying, there at least is reality that will not dodge us."

All the elements here seem to point to tears, but not a tear is mentioned. Grief, being torn, the sense of distance, the summer-rain, and finally that Para coat that sheds every drop -- drops of fresh water, not salt, not from the eyes - was there ever a passage that so exuded the tears of things, and avoided the tears themselves?

Remora
Interesting series of articles about Islam and Women. This one
The G-Diaries: No Woman, No Cry? shows that the Taliban's gender apartheid is not only immoral, but, as the Yankee heart would expect, bad business.

"Afghani women were highly educated and employed: 50% of the students and 60% of the teachers at Kabul University were women � as were 70% of school teachers, 50% of civilian government workers, and 40% of all doctors in Kabul."

Thursday, September 20, 2001

Remora
I was going to post a long bit about the politics of tears tonight -- but alas, I have to finish this article for the Statesman early tomorrow, so I have swallowed a sleeping pill and written to Miruna and now I intend to sleep. Tomorrow, for sure, the tears piece - from Jesus to Edmund Burk and beyond. I promise.
According to the WP this morning, some of the hijackers may have been using fake names.


"FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III said Friday that the bureau had "a fairly high level of confidence" that the hijacker names released by the FBI were not aliases. But one senior official said that "there may be some question with regard to the identity of at least some of them."

The uncertainty highlights how difficult it may be to ever identify some of the hijackers who participated in the deadliest act of violence on American soil. Most of the hijackers' bodies were obliterated in the fiery crashes."

I am amazed at two things: one is the ability of an apparently widely dispersed, cover group to actually carry through on its mission; this is still the puzzle at the center of the atrocity; two is the the relative incuriosity of the media about the disparity between the FBI's manifest incapacity to uncover the conspiracy before it hit its targets, and the speed with which the FBI is apparently rolling up the conspiracy in the aftermath. I don't get this asymmetry. Some of what is being reported seems to be simply bigotry turned into a police raid -- if you have an arabic name and you work in an airport, be prepared to talk to the Man, because he is going to be at your door. But some of it seems, in hindsight, so obvious. There is a Federal program named CIPRIS - Coordinated Interagency Partnership Regulating International Students. Does this program, which is run by the Immigration department and the FBI (supposedly -- that's what the Coordination is about) extend to airplane pilot schools?

On another note: We never read about 'liberal' schools of Islam. In fact, I have a very poor picture of Islam in my head. I have skimmed bits of the Qu'ran, and I have read some groovy Sufi stuff, but I don't know much about the mechanics of the religion. Anyway, for those of you out there who are curious about the breadth of disagreement in Islam, here's an article about Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish religious leader who does not believe that shari'a should be the law of the state. This article comes from an interesting journal, the Middle Eastern Review of International Affairs.










Wednesday, September 19, 2001

Dope.

One result of the present Crisis is that I've had to read books I never wanted to read. Just thinking about the Middle East gets me depressed. But manfully I assumed the weblogger's burden, and last night read John Cooley's book, Payback, about the US vs Iran vs Israel vs Syria conflicts of the 80s. Today I've been reading Out of the Ashes, Patrick and Andrew Cockburn's book about the ressurection of Saddam Hussein in the aftermath of the Gulf War.

Let's talk about the Cockburn book a bit, since Cooley's book, although a swift bit of reporting, is really history.

The American view of the endurance of Saddam Hussein is a curious case of the public swallowing anything in order to preserve its inertia. The story is, the Gulf war was stopped because of the immemorial respect that the US bears for UN resolutions -- and since the UN resolution said that we were intent on freeing Kuwait, we simply freed Kuwait. If the Republican guard, Hussein's finest troops, escaped, and during the weeks in which our troops were on the ground literally cut the rebellion against Hussein into bloody bits, well, mark it down to America's respect for the law.

Since, however, America was, at the same time, making up the rules as it went along regarding economic sanctions, and since the fine hand of American power has never been noticeably stayed by the palsied body of UN resolutions before, even American apologists shove the law abiding excuse aside after a sheepish wink, and readily come up with the real excuse: that we have to consider the feelings of our allies.

For a condensed, classic version of this theme, see this article by Wallace Thies from three years ago - in the midst of Clinton's sudden attention to S. Hussein' s weapons of mass destruction (attention that curiously coincided with the deliberations of the House on the question of impeaching him). There are two grafs that I spied with my little eye. Let's bore in upon them:


"... the United States labors under two constraints that limit the steps that it can take against Iraq. On one hand, if Saddam is ousted and/or killed, how well would Iraq hold together in the aftermath? The United States' goal is to oust Saddam, but not to cause Iraq to break up. The latter could trigger a new round of warfare as Iraq's neighbors fought over the pieces.

"On the other hand, even if the U.S. intelligence community knew precisely the location of Iraq's weapons stockpile, would it be prudent to target the weapons themselves, at the risk of releasing their contents into the atmosphere? Saddam Hussein may not care much about the lives of his fellow Iraqis, but democracies must adhere to a higher standard. "

Anybody who reads Cockburn's book will discern a high degree of hilarity in the last paragraph. From the poison gas used indiscriminately by Hussein against Kurds (which we never protested) to the use of gas and bio agents against the Iranian armies (which we covertly condoned) to the double whammy of placing economic sanctions around Iraq until Saddam Hussein was deposed, while at the same time refusing to aid any movement to depose him, and even warning allies against aiding said movements, the US has adhered to the same tender standards regarding Iraqui lives as King Leopold once displayed for his Congolese subjects.

But let's disregard history and just try to make those two paragraphs consistent, shall we? For they represent the Officialspeak of American foreign policy re Iraq. The tender concern for Iraq's nationhood, you will notice, trumps concern for, well, democracy. Since if Iraq fell apart without a dictatorship, hmm, perhaps it is being imposed, even shall we say imposed bloodily, on an unwilling population? And so perhaps we can translate the higher US standard as something like this: although we do want to strip you of your basic human rights and keep you in an unresisting position, land's sakes, we don't want you to die of anthrax! How do you think that would look on tv!

As I said before, I didn't want to delve into these topics, since they make me so violently ill.
Remora

Further pogram notes: Victims of Mistaken Identity, Sikhs Pay a Price for Turbans. For some reason, this article is sublined, The Anger. Instead of, say, the Bigotry.

Tuesday, September 18, 2001

Dope.

I try to run this place like a Punch and Judy show. Usually, I play Punch, and I get some conservative retread to play Judy. And of course I'm enthralled by my own theatrics.

Well... reluctantly, I want to play this game with an idea that is going around the lefty pole of the media spectrum. As Seumus Milne put it in the Guardian:
" Nearly two days after the horrific suicide attacks on civilian workers in New York and Washington, it has become painfully clear that most Americans simply don't get it. From the president to passersby on the streets, the message seems to be the same: this is an inexplicable assault on freedom and democracy, which must be answered with overwhelming force - just as soon as someone can construct a credible account of who was actually responsible.

"...any glimmer of recognition of why people might have been driven to carry out such atrocities, sacrificing their own lives in the process - or why the United States is hated with such bitterness, not only in Arab and Muslim countries, but across the developing world - seems almost entirely absent."

There's a number of things to say about that.
1. The assumption that the hijackers were representative is nonsense. They were merely successful.

The Seumus Milne line starts out with an assumption that I certainly agree with - the real opinions of the masses in the poor countries, from Pakistan to Rwanda, are simply ignored in the West. Unfortunately, the gesture of ignorance is then repeated. Who says that the hijackers of the airplanes are in any way representative of Egypt or Saudi Arabia or Lebanon - their nationalities, as reported at least in the American press? To pretend that hating the US is a progressive act in Egypt is to ignore what I thought we all learned in Iran - there are many ideological variants of hate. The people associated with the hijacking belong to a rather rebarbative, and certainly fascist, variant. The inference that hate has a cause must be true -- but that it is a cause we should sympathize with isn't. The Jews were well hated in Nazi Germany - does Milne really think that was the fault of the Jews?

2. The US has blood on its hand. This is certainly more than true. The US has pursued a barbaric policy in Iraq, and it has provided Israel with support even when Israel has used its American sponsorship to create an apartheid state that systematically discriminates against Palestinians and favors Jews. But to see this as the only US policy in the Middle East is incredibly shortsighted. The US also has close ties, via its oil empire, with the Saudis, the Kuwaitis, and other Arabic states and factions. The US routinely creates ties with the ruling class in many poor countries, has sponsored death squads all over South America, tilted towards Pakistan when Pakistan was committing genocide in Bangla Desh... hey, I could go on.
But there is a rule of relevance, here. When the US attacked Nicauragua in the 80s, it was often pointed out that the Sandinistas were persecuting the Misquito Indians - in fact, Daniel Ortega himself admitted this. Did this justify US intervention? No. For a number of reasons, I felt, back then, that nothing in International Law, or my own conscience (which countenances a certain amount of violence for progressive ends - which is why I felt the Viet Minh and their successors were legitimate) could justify what Reagan was doing in Central America. In the same way, the groups that have been associated with the WTC atrocity have no justification for spilling American blood. So far, we don't even know what they stand for - which is condemnation enough. To kill five thousand people without bothering to even write a note about it shows a contempt for human life not even equalled by your average suicide. So Milne engages in a little psychological projection, which, to my mind, is as patronizing as anything I have read on the right.

3. The word hate. Hmm. Milne uses that as the keynote - the US is hated bitterly -- without considering it as a more complex emotion. US pop culture, the US as a destination, the US as both overbearing, politically stupid tyrant and as the 'petit chose x' -- Lacan's obscure object of desire - are the intertwining forces in the Third World. This isn't to defend the New World Order - the preponderance of wealth, which is in Europe, Japan and the US, has a direct and terrible relationship with the preponderance of poverty, which is in the Global South -- but to ask a question about the psychological coordinates of that situation. Much as the shorthand of hate seems relevant to the WTC assault, I don't think the hijackers would have done it if they were doing it for hate. Hate was balanced by affection -- affection for another order. This order is one Milne doesn't really want to look at. It is certainly not the order of socialism -- the Afghans were kicking Russian butt precisely because they didnt want that socialist feeling. It is the order of sharia. If Milne thinks that this is going to be satisfied with a more just distribution of the world's goods, I think he is wrong. This is about theocracy, about what the worship of God requires, about the relationship between the sexes, about corruption. It is about a mix of changes in the Middle East, and I even have some sympathy with the corruption issue. In the end, though, it is about mandating a lifestyle I find abhorrant - and more, that I don't have to live in. Seeing someone oozing with the luxury of sympathy for these Holy Warriors while never having to face the consequence of living in the order they dream of brings out the militant Orwell in me. Milne, who thinks that Americans 'simply don't get it," doesn't seem to get it himself. Instead he immediately broadens this incident, as if we were still in the Nassar era, where we were all going to adjust to secular norms and dam the Nile and we could talk about the solidarity of the Third World masses.
That epoch is long gone.
I have a problem with my reblogging comment tool - it doesn't work. I have received some comments, though, so I thought it wouldn't be indiscrete to put these up.

Comments

From my friend Bernat in Barcelona, I received this:
I have been checking your website everyday and I have
found it illuminating (except the first day, when you
were probably still not believing what had happened!).
Bush is reaping the fruits his father sowed in the Middle East.
Every one here is shocked and horrified, pundits talk about the beginning of the XXI century and the new paradigm, bla, bla, bla. It is true that a
lot of things might change, but how is another
question. After the fall of the Berlin wall, everyone
thought we were beyond history, in this new liberal
society... Now even those Europeans who might have
been antiamerican and against USA foreign policy are
shocked because their frame of reference has been
shaken.I imagine the new scenario will be determined
by whether Bush decides to act unilaterally or with
the UE or even with Russia and China.

From Allen, I recieved this:


If Senem thinks you're unAmerican, what would she say about the author of this piece? (Although actually I don't know her nationality). The site this comes from, Common Dreams, is a good source of "lefty" commentary & analysis, most of it far more perceptive than this little exercise in the jerking of the knee. See ya.

Monday, September 17, 2001

Dope

I was thinking of writing about gout today... because I have surely written enough about the bombing. I was talking with some friends a couple of days ago about gout, and one of them said, well, what is gout? And I thought, what a perfect topic...

Well, who am I fooling? We live in a time when the margins will not hold, and are drawn magnetically to the center, to the images, topics, imbecilities, commonplaces, pans, and cant of the Network news.

So okay. Last week, when the WTC slaughter was 8 hours old, I was watching the shot of the towers fall, in rotation, on the tv, over at Don and Senem's house. Senem is from Istanbul, and she said something I thought perspicacious - she said, the Turk in me says, blood for blood. The Turk in me utters the same cry. But certainly that shouldn't be the last word on the subject. Since last Tuesday, I've seen Senem a few times, and each time, after I've said various things that aren't in the American pep rally spirit, she has implied that I am an anti-American snot, at least compared with the people she works with, who are practically coming out rashes of Stars and Bars, I mean it is almost medical. It is certainly pathological.

I've tried to explain that, far from being anti-American, I'm very consciously in the American tradition of bitching, cussedness, black humor, anti-establishmentarianism, and pissing on public monuments -- all marks of our great inebriated whoremongering pioneer ancestors as they settled ever westward, and gave up the expensive and useless pretences of the Old World for rustling, drinking, and saying "like" in, like, every context.

Well, this is one of those periods when we have to cherish the ragged 10 percent -- the ones who don't give high marks to the Prez in the polls, the ones who ask, plaintively why do they hate us (yes, that's a little irritating -- I'm going to do a post on that inanity) instead of why can't we kill em all now and let God sort em out afterwards; the ones who gather, in small groups, before state capitals and in parks to sing John Lennon songs of peace and chant the people//united//will never be defeated -- or whatever. This is our inner brake, our fabled, fabulous diversity in action, and tough titty if you think these are anti-Americans -- they have a hot cousinship to your blood and bearings, mon frere, so quit with the McCarthyite blather.

At times like this, the liberal thing to do is to go popular front, and talk about how us embattled lefties are part of a grand tradition stretching back to Tom Paine. That's true. But, like Tom Paine, I see no need for that, uh, defensiveness. We have an intellectual model in Randolph Bourne, the little crooked pamphleteer who wrote against the American entry into World War I. His The War and the Intellectuals is a classic statement of dissent and a public pissing on public monuments with style and joie de vivre. Here's a link to that essay. And here's a random, beautiful passage from it:

"The American intellectual, therefore has been rational neither in his hindsight, nor his foresight. To explain him we must look beneath the intellectual reasons to the emotional disposition. It is not so much what they thought as how they felt that explains our intellectual class. Allowing for colonial sympathy, there was still the personal shock in a world-war which outraged all our preconceived notions of the way the world was tending. It reduced to rubbish most of the humanitarian internationalism and democratic nationalism which had been the emotional thread of our intellectuals' life. We had suddenly to make a new orientation. There were mental conflicts. Our latent colonialism strove with our longing for American unity. Our desire for peace strove with our desire for national responsibility in the world. That first lofty and remote and not altogether unsound feeling of our spiritual isolation from the conflict could not last. There was the itch to be in the great experience which the rest of the world was having. Numbers of intelligent people who had never been stirred by the horrors of capitalistic peace at home were shaken out of their slumber by the horrors of war in Belgium. Never having felt responsibility for labor wars and oppressed masses and excluded races at home, they had a large fund of idle emotional capital to invest in the oppressed nationalities and ravaged villages of Europe. Hearts that had felt only the ugly contempt for democratic strivings at home beat in tune with the struggle for freedom abroad. "
Remora

Pogram watch. In Dallas, someone has already tried to torch a mosque. And in today's paper there are stories of three killings, one of which is certainly because the victim was a Sikh - which shows that pograms in America are conducted with maximum stupidity as well as hate, since Sikh's are not, you know, Moslems.
Sikh Owner of Gas Station Is Fatally Shot in Rampage

Important graf:
"The police in Mesa, Ariz., arrested Frank Roque, 42, on two counts of attempted murder, in the shootings. The killing of the gas station owner, Balbir Singh Sodhi, was under investigation.
The East Valley Tribune reported that Mr. Roque shouted, "I stand for America all the way," as he was handcuffed. And while the police have not declared that the shootings were motivated by the victims' ethnicity, they have notified Federal Bureau of Investigation officials who investigate hate crimes."

So, Mr. Roque stands for America all the way -- God help us all.

Sunday, September 16, 2001

Remora
It is always a pleasure to find one's views shared by some more expert person. This is particularly true with my views, which sometimes feel, even to me, so eccentric as to be irrelevant. I'm a raver.

In any case, for those looking for some clues to the Taliban's history, check out this interview with a Pakistani journalist:
Interview - 2000.08.10
key graf (especially given what I have written in earlier posts):

"I think the U.S. and Iran have a lot of common ground on Afghanistan, and this issue could prove a catalyst to improve their relations. They are both threatened by the Taliban and want to see peace in the country and a diminishing of the Taliban's power. Officials from both countries have told me they are working together quietly on Afghanistan at such forums as the U.N. in New York and in neutral capitals such as Ashkhabad in Turkmenistan."
Remora

Has the New York Times ever been this bad before?
I usually read the Times first. I depend on it, in spite of its weakness for simpleminded neo-liberal mantras, its lack of interest in the juicier stories in the city it is based in, and its arrogance. It is the best paper in America.
But this week, my faith in that last claim has been shaken.
Example:
For the last eight months, the NYT has published some rather snipey articles about Bush. This week, as if in repentence, they have taken to publishing toadying article about our child Commander in Chief. Topping them all is R.W. Apple's analysis of Bushiepoo today, which (under a snippy title - Bush Presidency Seems to Gain Legitimacy) discerns, in the zigzags and radically distributed power of the current regime (the first presidency, in my lifetime, in which the vice president's words are routinely given more consideration than the president's), growth. Of course! -- That magic American quality, which takes a temporary biological characteristic located in our hormones and makes of it a virtue of character.

Well, it is hard to find the most ridiculous paragraph in Apple's piece -- every graf sparkles with its own special bad faith. But here's my fave passage:

"At Camp David this morning, the president reached for a down-home metaphor reminiscent of Lyndon B. Johnson's promise of "coonskins on the wall" during the Vietnam war. Declaring bluntly that "we're at war, there's been a war declared," he added, "We will find those who did it. We'll smoke them out of their holes, we'll get them running and we'll bring them to justice."

Perhaps most important, he was visible: in a Washington hospital ward, in a couple of brief exchanges with reporters, amid the awful devastation in New York's financial district, clad in a beige windbreaker, with his arm draped around a retired firefighter. Shyer than most politicians, he sometimes seems to shun the limelight. This weekend, he stepped smartly into it."

Invoking the wildly successful rhetoric of LBJ to move us into war might not be, well, tactful. Didn't we, uh, lose that one? And the photo op catch-up game hasn't, I think, erased the original bad impression of a prez who let his secret servicemen and vice president determine his first responses to a national crisis. Bad news for the rest of us, no matter that polls show people giving Bush their approval. At the moment, you would expect such an outpouring of support for anything that smells remotely American. Hell, right now, my fave song is This Land is Your Land (God Bless America just doesn't have the poetry). It will, no doubt, fade from my top ten list in the next couple months, and Lithium will re-assume its rightful place in my affections.

But the NYT hasn't just been ideologically weak kneed - as a newsgathering organization, they've been behind the curve. The Post has been much quicker in getting pieces of this story and putting them together. The human details of the attack have been gathered everywhere - I have a piece about that in the Austin Statesman, today - but the larger details have been amazingly neglected. For instance, I haven't seen a major piece yet that concentrates not on the terrorists ethnicity, but on their nationalities. Why Lebanese, Saudis and Egyptians? Since we are getting reports that mysteriously speak of a long war - on whom? -- one would think that the subgroups which exist in these places would call for some focus, and especially focus on what it means, if anything, that we are going to war with bits and pieces of populations with whose governments we aren't going to war. This sounds sickeningly like the war on drugs - not a good precedent, campers. So lets have some news stories about what has been happening in Saudi Arabia and Egypt, our allies. And a big lacuna out there is why the US allowed the Cole investigation to be, basically, rolled up by the Saudis without protest, which is a key incident, in the series of events that led up to the wtc mass murder. But try arousing the torpid interest of the major newsgathering organizations in a question which lies at the heart of the entangled interests of the US and the Saudis: namely, how the American interest came to be so incorporated into maintaining a highly volatile and corrupt regime in the Arabian peninsula. Don't look for this story any time soon, since the big news organizations mainly (mis) represent the Mideast as a stomping ground for Israelis and Palestinians.