“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

Friday, June 07, 2002

Remora

As the Stock Market goes from pit to pit,Business Week surveys the passivity of Washington in the face of the various CEO-gates. And hey, we used the term, stupid as it is, first, understand? Don't tell Limited Inc that you get no value from perusing our humble pages. Anyway, that the Congress is about as competent as the D.C. Police Department is no big news. Why, after all, should we expect the fence to catch the burglar, or the pimp to join the vice squad? Congress, like the Mafia, is mainly a protection racket. It has so operated with regard to regulating the Accounting industry. Paid off, the Congressman's honor and future wealth depends on doing a good job aiding the looting of businesses by the higher managerial levels. Don't look to those eminent suits to bestir themselves anytime soon, unless... well, one should always remember that capital is not a unified thing -- it is a composite of opposing interests. Money might begin to flow from an entirely different direction in this affair. So far, the interest that is represented in Congress has been the accounting interest. But there is big money being lost by big money men, every day. And slowly they are responding. Viz this graf of the BW story:


CAPITALISM "IN PERIL." So far, the business lobby has overpowered proinvestor voices. Consumer groups, the AARP, and Common Cause support reforms. But they either lack muscle or are unwilling to devote resources to fight business. The vacuum has prompted Vanguard Group founder John C. Bogle to start the Federation of Long-Term Investors, a shareholder-rights group that includes Warren E. Buffett and other prominent investors. A strong accounting oversight board is a top priority. "Our capitalistic system is in peril," says Bogle.

While the reform drive in Washington has largely stalled, the private sector is mustering a response to the market's demand for a cleanup. Dozens of corporations have fired consultants affiliated with their audit firm, and at least 18 companies have adopted shareholder proposals to make the split permanent.

Boards, meanwhile, are strengthening their audit and compensation committees with directors who have no ties to management, acting in advance of proposed new stock exchange rules. "We are seeing the beginning of a cultural shift in corporate governance," says William B. Patterson, director of the AFL-CIO's Office of Investment."

That the AFL-CIO is temporarily on the side of the investors is something to note -- after all, it is the meaner, leaner, stockholders are everything companies that are the most prone to lay off workers. While Warren Buffett likes to say the ocassionally shocking thing in public -- for instance, that he is severely undertaxed -- he is no friend of the working stiff. But ... it is little noted how much the pension funds of unions have driven that kind of mentality. In the late seventies, it was Union pension fund managers who started raising holy hell about getting value for their equities. And they were crucial allies of the corporate raiders, who then unloaded workers. If investors seriously organize -- ie start massively bribing the legislature -- the issue of reform just might gain traction again.




Thursday, June 06, 2002

Remora

The Line, 2

In our last post, we made a few tentative jabs at thinking about the culture implications of a society in which the accumulation of wealth on the one side, and its absence on the other side, produces a gulf greater than that between, say, a Roman master and his slave. This is one of the great unthought ofs -- one of the unconscious features which plays its role in global culture. The promise of democracy is all hollowed out even as it is suavely announced by its spokesmen. For the Enlightenment ideal -- that one should be treated as an adult, and act like one -- depends on one being an adult human. The poor, though, are increasingly not. The suave spokesmen know it.

One of the things that should be noted about this wealth gulf, one of the reasons we are bringing up the tedious Roman reference, is that we'd like you to ponder the historical uniqueness of our status situation. Ours, our time's. Let's count it out: the Roman master could acquire other slaves, a greater amount of food, gorgeous clothing, and civil honor, and was in his way terrible. But in terms of levels of material existence, the master wasn't really going to find a better doctor, or dentist, or find more nutritious food, or even get a better education than the slave. The gulf between master and slave was in 500 a.d. as it was in Hegel's description in 1803 - they were both, in order to get the dialectic started, simply human beings. Hegel didn't talk about master and parakeet, master and deathwatch beetle.

Of course, this isn't true today. The Western dream of the lower species, that racist canard, was not, it turns out, a description, but rather a promise -- this was the vast project of the Western owners, the movers and shakers. if there really isn't an under-race, they would create an underclass. And over time, as the question of who was human became a question of who had the technology to be human, more and more of the poor simply don't have the price for that ticket, or the looks to get into that club. Since Limited Inc is one of this mass -- an ape on the planet of the apes that is being staged under your very windows, every day -- we can talk all about it. We aren't denied human rights anymore -- for human rights aren't really relevant to the non-human. We don't ride, for one thing, in cars. We don't go to dentists and have our toothaches cured. If we get AIDS, malaria, tb, or merely some cancer of a vital area, sleeping sickness, heart disease, the lot, and all our fault, drug or sex related no doubt, or due to living in some cancer gulch, living next to a refinery, living next to one of those old Monsanto chemical factories, living where they've put in all the highways so the humans can speed through the neighborhood, well, what do you expect? There is no cure. Whereas, of course, among human beings, the ardent discussions are about fertility drugs and viagra. The ardent discussions are about psychotherapy, the ardent discussions are about the safety of children. Are they attention deficit disorder children? Bring on the counselors, by all means.

There is a whole sphere not only of goods and services, but of ways of living, that are available to the masters and simply unimaginable to us apes. Of course, we vulgarly imagine it. Or rather, have it imagined for us by the humans. We have tvs -- well, LI doesn't, but that at least is a statement, not simply a factor in our ongoing immiseration -- and rent videos and there they are, the masters all adoringly imagined for us, and their childish antics, the things they blow up, the food they eat, the vehicles in which they chase each other around. This, we say, is what that species must do. Or must think they do. But for us apes, it is all a nature film, a wildlife film. They are different creatures, they move at different speeds, they eat different things, they die of different diseases, they experience their pains through different channels, and they experience their pleasures that way too.

Limited Inc is thinking about this a lot lately. We've just had a bout with the electric company -- owned and operated, supposedly, by the City of Austin -- in which the City of Austin won. Basically, they drained us of our cash. And we still don't have the money to remain in the desolate little efficiency to which we cling for another month. So we spent yesterday and today lamenting the move out to the street, which has gone from being a nightmare to being something we should plan on. We look at those weatherbeaten souls holding up the cardboard signs by the intersection of Lamar and 5th street reading, wer will mich horen, wenn ich schreie, unter dem Engeln Ordnungen, and we wonder about our own future. Although not exactly human, as LI's faithful reader know -- the ape has surely shown through, the rubbery features, the fur, the bulk, the inability to fit into shoes, pants, shirts -- we are still used to certain of the human comforts, and we contemplate their removal with dismay, and more than that, with a sort of animal panic, a paralyzing disarray. We live pretty much on a bushman's salary -- that is, on about six hundred dollars a month in US currency, supplemented by the money we beg, when the bills can no longer be put off, from friends and relatives. Every act of beggary is another descent into animality, so we have a very phased sense of what it means, we've swallowed the time release pill, the one that brings us to this level of poverty, and then to this further level, this murkier level. Descent, descent. And we know that, at forty four, this isn't going to go on forever. There are no jobs for our kind, for one thing; there's no honor in the poverty, for another thing; and neither love, which has long been forgotten, nor health awaits us in the future. The dark corner, another words, and, with our stiff little limbs in the air, being brushed into some dustpan like the cockroach in Kafka's Metamorphosis.

This is why we have been thinking about Uber die Linie, Ernst Junger's essay on nihilism. The essay takes its readings from Nietzsche and Dostoevsky, and makes the interesting suggestion that power, in the modern world, is promoted by something Juenger calls the nihilistic rumor -- the rumor that some force out there owns the future, from which one is excluded, and that resistance is futile. It's the No Future of the Sex Pistols, lived as the everyday experience of the apes.

Limited Inc, in other words, is talking about failure. We were moved recently by the New York article on a jazz singer, Susannah McCorkle, who jumped to her death last year from her sixteenth story apartment. But we did find it rather amusing that her death was immediately psychologized. She was, of course, depressed. The secret word -- failure -- never comes up in the article. But failure is a big external thing. It isn't generated as a mood -- it impresses itself upon one, day after day, as a state of affairs. This seeminly can't be admitted in a country that puts such stock in success -- it is as if the polar opposite doesn't exist; as if, magically, an opposition has been abolished. The piece begins with a description of a gathering of friends to honor the singer, then goes on in this graf to explain it all:


"If the gathering was upbeat, the months since McCorkle's suicide have been anything but for her friends, as the complexities of the singer's life and death have grown clearer and more painful. Hers was, in many ways, a quintessential New York story, in both its public triumphs and its private tragedy.Brainy, warm, and funny, McCorkle belonged to an exclusive coterie of American singers: She performed in the best rooms, recorded nineteen albums, and enjoyed more than two decades of acclaim from the jazz press as well as the devotion of fans around the world. But in the months before her death at 55 stunned them all, her record company, Concord, had decided to issue a compilation album instead of a new one, and the Algonquin Hotel had given her precious fall slot at the Oak Room, one of cabaret's most prestigious venues, to a younger singer. McCorkle also felt she was getting nowhere working on a memoir she'd been struggling with for years."

The article is written in the idiom that systematically disguises failure and its consequences. It is as if we were reading the account of the flailing of a woman drowning, and then were told that she the breathlessness she died of was all mental. The brain, not the lungs. I don't think so. But LI hastens to say that this is certainly not the author's fault. Rather, it is an inevitable consequence of the American idiom. That the ape can, one day, grow inside you is not something you tell your nearest and dearest. Far better the word, depression.

Remora

The line (part 1)

Paul Krugman's column about the compensation packages for top executives at top corporations is a brief but pointed overview of the last twenty five years. From the beginning of the eighties, the post-world war II corporation (best described by Galbraith in New Industrial State) was systematically de-structured. In its place was put the faux entrepeneurial organization of today -- one that rewards the CEO, and the top tier of management, in gross disproportion to their actual value to the company. The rewards include not only outright salary, but, of course, the notorious stock option packages, the loans at no interest, the loans, even, that don't have to be paid back -- as seems to have been the case at Adelphia. Krugman approaches this phenomenon from the standpoint of the economic theory that promoted it -- the standard theory, as taught in business school. After major corporations were loaded with debt in the 80s takeover frenzy, they had no choice but to cut. And the cuts were not made at the top, of course. The result, in the nineties, was supposedly a healthier, a more competitive corporation. The nineties seemed to vindicate the most hard hearted economic theory. Until now -- when the financial pages of major media are staging a mini-Last Judgement, with the books falling open. And what black hearts are so revealed? Well, we know the roll call by now, beginning with Enron. Krugman has a nicely pointed way of putting it:


And in the 1990's corporations put that theory into practice. The predators faded from the scene, because they were no longer needed; corporate America embraced its inner Gekko. Or as Steven Kaplan of the University of Chicago's business school put it � approvingly � in 1998: "We are all Henry Kravis now." The new tough-mindedness was enforced, above all, with executive pay packages that offered princely rewards if stock prices rose. And until just a few months ago we thought it was working.

Now, as each day seems to bring a new business scandal, we can see the theory's fatal flaw: a system
that lavishly rewards executives for success tempts those executives, who control much of the information available to outsiders, to fabricate the appearance of success. Aggressive accounting, fictitious transactions that inflate sales, whatever it takes."

It would take an economist to be surprised by all of this.

Kevin Phillips has recently written a book about the economic composition of the New Age -- the age that has chased the goal of equalizing wealth in any way from the stage of history, like the ghost in Hamlet dispersed by the crowing of a cock. But the old mole has a tendency to rumble under the stage. In a WP piece, Phillips throws around some interesting stats:

We have just witnessed, in the spectacular growth of U.S. fortunes over the past two decades, a once-in-a-century phenomenon. Puffed up by the boom in high-technology and finance, a select group of Americans has accumulated an even larger boodle in an even shorter period of time than the titans of the Gilded Age amassed 100 years ago. The numbers almost defy belief.The 30 largest U.S. family and individual fortunes in 1999 were roughly ten times as big as the 30 largest had been in 1982, an increase greater than any comparable peacetime period during the 19th century. In 1999, the single largest U.S. fortune, the $86 billion hoard of Microsoft's Bill Gates, was 1.4 million times greater than the assets of the median U.S. household; that exceeds the ratio attained by John D. Rockefeller, whose early 1900s wealth was 1.25 million times larger than the median household of that time."

Which leads, naturally, to this question:

"If the recent accumulation of wealth in the hands of the few resembles the Gilded Age, what about the politics? The economic concentrations of the Gilded Age had great political consequences in the successive assaults of populism under William Jennings Bryan and the comeuppance meted out to big-business conservatism by the progressive movement under Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson. What we Republicans have to wonder, given today's parallel excesses, is whether combative reformers will reenact the politics of a century ago. Will modern Republicans be painted as courtiers of the new Robber Baronage? Is a great speculative bubble still popping from the gash of stock market bear claws? Can Sen. John McCain become a second Theodore Roosevelt?"

The answer to the third question is a definite no. As for the first question, one might ask a counter-question: why single out the Republicans? The two parties aren't divided by the question of the just distribution of wealth -- they are merely divided by who, among the wealthy, should be backed by the power of the state. The big drug companies? Hollywood entertainment empires? Is the senator from Merck, or is the senator from Microsoft?

LI wrote a review in the midst of the boom that (we like to think) posed the issue of wealth in terms that are consonant with Phillips, although less informed by American history. Green Magazine, where the review was posted, is no more. So we are going to flesh out this post with a reposting of the thing.

The Working Life: The Promise and Betrayal of Modern Work by Joanne B. Ciulla Times Books $25.00
Reviewed by Roger Gathman

The Arnhem Land aborigines studied by the anthropologistMarshall Sahlins forage for their food for about four or five hours a day. Therest of the day they spend in various amusements, among which resting andsleeping definitely hold first place. Sahlins, rather irked at these non-go-getters, suggested that maybe there are other things in life than resting and sleeping - building a culture, for instance. But one of the bushman set him straight: "Why should we plant when there are so many mongomongonuts in the world?"

Hegel himself couldn�t have phrased the great question ofcivilization more succinctly. As JoanneCiulla, a philosophy professor at the University of Richmond, shows in this book, work was never considered such ahot idea until the coming of modernity. Not that the ancients or the medievals valued sloth - but they certainly thought that work was best done by otherpeople, slaves or serfs. The good life of the happy few could be spent in civicpursuits, or philosophical contemplation, or pillaging the infidels, dependingupon the era. Anything but a nine to five job. That concept, in fact isunintelligible in a clockless society. "Clock discipline," as Ciullacalls it, was instilled into the general populace in the 18th century, and wasa pre-requisite for the industrial age.

Although Ciulla doesn�t spend very much time upon popular culture, the wound which the Industrial Revolution dealt to thousands of yearsof conventional wisdom is still visible in our western "dreamtime," saturated as it is with movies and TV. The screen rarely shows labor, unless it involves an emergency room, acourtroom, or an arrest. Our social instinct is to distinguish work, which is "boring," from entertainment, which is fun.

Ciulla�s book moves the historical story along briskly. Sheis really trying to fill in the context, here, so we can have a deeperunderstanding of our current situation. Her analysis of work, and how we feel about it, rests upon two social facts: alienation and inequality.

Ciulla has the wide reading and the mental astuteness that can successfully juggle Aristotle and Tom Peters. She is particularly good at tracing the career of alienation as a sociological theme from Marx to David Riesman, author of The Lonely Crowd. Ciulla employs the thinking of Riesman, William Whyte (author of The Organization Man), and C. Wright Mills (Author of White Collar), to comment onthe various faddish management theories which have arisen and subsided in the eighties and nineties. She draws attention to the contradiction between the public ideology of corporate spokesman, who inexhaustibly advocate free market solutions (based on the profit motive) for all public policy problems, and the inter-mural, therapeutic culture which is visited, by management, upon their employees. She quotes a study which polled managers about the most efficient incentives for building employee commitment: "The researchers found that most senior managers believed that celebrations and ceremonies and non-cash recognition were the best incentives for non-managers... But for senior managers, they responded that the best incentive was cash rewards tied to quality performance."

Circuses, not bread, for the working class, and both for the managerial meta-level. Is this a big surprise? This gets us to the second force shaping work for the majority of Americans right now: the increasingly skewed distribution of mongomongo nuts. Bill Gates has, by some estimates, maybe 70 billion nuts. To pile up a comparable stash, the average temp custodian who cleans the Microsoft offices would have to work some 70,000 years - and that�s without eating. Throwin some steaks and we are talking about a couple of thousand years extra.

This gives us a rather interstellar distance between high and low in our society not so very different between slave and master in the Roman Empire, or peasant and lord in the ancien regime. The Gini co-efficient, which measures income distribution, has gotten better in the last two years, but not by much. It is no wonder that, scratching the surface of Total Quality Management, one so often meets a corrosive cynicism among the plebes, even if they are more than willing, when the boss is around, to mouth the requisite platitudes.

Ciulla�s virtues, which are her eclecticism and stock of references, are also her flaws. This is a woman who sometimes seems to feel as though no passage is complete until she has cleaned out all her index cards, making for collages of quotes from the experts. This sometimes gives the book the creaky feel of an edifying PBS documentary. Still, this is a minor complaint to make about Ciulla's book, which, with its willingness to take broad views and its nterdisciplinary reach makes not only a righteous impression, but keeps the reader from falling asleep over its virtuous intentions - which is a very rare thing, indeed.

Tuesday, June 04, 2002

Remora

"For decades he was the chief justice of the film industry�fair, tough-minded, and innovative. I feel that all of us have lost our benevolent godfather," director Steven Spielberg said.

Not many people know Lew Wasserman's name. But there is a reason that the NYT devoted more space to his obit than they did to Stephen Jay Gould's. There's also a reason Spielberg uses the term godfather, with its perilous overtone. Or so certain writers -- Nick Tosches, Dan Moldea -- think.

Among other of his contributions to the Republic, Wasserman made Ronald Reagan. It was entirely appropriate that the LA Times feature a photo of the two together. Of course, there's a backstory to that. The LATimes delicately touches on the subject -- much to my surprise, I must confess:

"MCA's far-reaching power in entertainment and politics led to its nickname, "The Octopus," and Wasserman's critics argued that he sometimes abused his power. In "Dark Victory: Ronald Reagan, MCA and the Mob," author Dan Moldea described Reagan's early 1960s grand jury testimony, according to documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. Reagan, according to the book, told grand jurors probing possible antitrust violations that he could not recall details of a 1952 waiver that the Screen Actors Guild granted MCA while Reagan was the guild's president. That waiver allowed MCA to produce TV programs while representing actors, which critics said was a conflict of interest.

When he was asked if he had discussed it with Wasserman, Moldea wrote, Reagan is reported to have told the grand jury that he may have only mentioned it socially. According to Moldea's book, MCA later arranged jobs for Reagan in Las Vegas and paid him $100,000 a year as the host of its "GE Theater." Still, Reagan was cleared of any wrongdoing.

No criminal charges were filed against anyone in the probe, and an antitrust division attorney wrote at the close of the investigation, according to an Associated Press account, "It was thought at the beginning of the grand jury that SAG might have purposely favored MCA for some illegal consideration. However, the evidence does not show any such improper purpose."

Moldea has a less tempered account of the Reagan-Wasserman connection. Here's how it got started


"Ronald Reagan was an invention of the Hollywood conglomerate, MCA, which was founded in 1924 by
Jules Stein, a Chicago ophthalmologist who quickly became friendly with the local underworld. Every
facet of Reagan�s life, from his careers in acting and politics to his financial successes, were directed by
MCA, which, with the help of the Mafia, was the most powerful force in Hollywood from the mid-1940s
until the Bronfman family purchased the company in 1995.


Reagan came to Los Angeles in 1937 to make motion pictures, and, in 1940, MCA bought out his talent
agency. Lew Wasserman became Reagan's personal agent; he negotiated a million-dollar contract with
Warner Brothers on Reagan's behalf. In 1946, Wasserman became the president of MCA, and the
following year, Reagan, with his film career already in decline, became the president of the Screen
Actors Guild. By his own admission, Reagan immediately aligned himself with the corrupt Teamsters
and other mob-connected unions in an effort to combat Hollywood Reds."


Moldea's pitch depends heavily on associations and some very odd and lucrative facts in the record. For one thing, Reagan, during his time as the president of the Screen Actors Guild, did all he could to bend the rules for MCA. In 52, for example, he got SAG to waive a rule barring companies that represented actors from acting as full production companies. For another thing, Reagan himself benefited from MCA contacts, getting jobs in Las Vegas at casinos (jobs that necessarily requires rubbing shoulders with at least some mobbed up men, given the Las Vegas ecology at the time), and getting to be the producer of Death Valley days due to an MCA made deal, even as he remained on the SAG board. Then of course there is the little matter of Sid Korshak, a lawyer who operated in between SAG and MCA.

Korshak might ring a bell for you. Nick Tosches did a profile on the man in Vanity Fair that got a lot of notice. It is still the best thing on the man -- and it is unavailable on the Net. Too bad. Sidney Korshak slips in and out of history like a shadow, which is how he wanted to slip in and out of history. He's been the subject of profiles by Seymour Hersch, he's the subject of FBI innuendo, he's talked about on innumerable mob tapes, but Korshak never served time, and he managed to die peacefully. He did suffer some hits: when the Hilton tried to get a casino in Atlantic City in the seventies, they were refused because Korshak was the lawyer for their Vegas site.

Korshak started out in Chicago, and he was considered a point man for the mafia interest in Hollywood, which ran through the unions and then into the fine art of movie finance, a notorious tangle of figures that leaks under the table money like a sentimental drunk leaks tears (sorry, I couldn't help myself there).


Tom Schatz, the Chairman of the University of Texas Radio, TV and Film Department, mentions, in an interview on the movie business, the interesting role of Korshak:

MONK: Even to this day?

TS: It depends on how you define organized crime, and it changes all the time. Believe me, one way or another, you don't make a movie in this country unless you deal with the Teamsters. You can sometimes fly below the radar in terms of union and crews, which is why so many Hollywood movies are made in Texas. But at some level you're playing ball with people who are connected.

MONK: What does that mean? You have to literally pay a bribe to a union leader so that you get cooperation?

TS: No, what that meant at MCA-Universal, [for example], was that you talked to a guy named Sidney Korshak, who never was indicted, never went to jail and was rather perceived as the guy who dealt with labor problems on an incredibly sophisticated level. He was one of the richest, most important men in Los Angeles. If you're Lew Wasserman, you know who you have to call to make sure something gets done, and it gets done, you know.

MONK: Lew has to pay money to somebody?

TS: Yeah, yeah. Joe Schenck went to jail for a couple years because he was the bag man. He literally was the bag man. He was the guy that carried the money from the producers association to the guys from the union. It's been going on for a long time in various ways.

MONK: It's a factor in their success is what you're saying.

TS: Yeah, success in the movie industry and certainly at MCA-Universal. They could not have done what they did without relationships with the Teamsters, with the people that control Las Vegas, with the people that drove the trucks that move the shit that produce the films, the people that project the films in theaters. They couldn't do it and they knew it."

We love the color, guys. We love the thugs, we love the lurid pictures that spring to mind. This is the kind of history you can tell out of the side of your mouth. But is this really how power works? Are we really run by a conspiracy of handshakes in back rooms? No, only in Don Delillo's nightmares. That Wasserman got favors is certainly true, I think. That he made Reagan, in the sense of propping him up fiscally, is also true. But what was that all about, in the end? Making money making and distributing movies. And getting respect.

Well, if obituary space is any indication, Wasserman got respect. We hope he is happy with it, where ever he is.
Remora

Limited Inc is a vain guy. When we walk pass shop windows, we always shoot glances at our pale accompanying reflection. We relish our wittier sallies, and we are completely depressed when the smallest typographic blot spoils our copy. Our vanity is pervasive, perverse, and even (all too often) takes the place of a conscience. Yes, sometimes, sometimes we try to generate a conscience, and then we wonder if anyone has noticed.

This, then, is the warning on the label: narcissism ahead. Because here it is: we are going to recommend a site that sometimes, when we are good, recommends us: the Enigmatic Mermaid. This site is written by an extraordinarily literate spirit. By literate, we don't mean she knows how to reference the sacred names. We mean she realizes that writing is an extension of passion, an embodiment of desire that is certainly as intense as a personal relationship because it has exactly the same characteristics of positioning yourself vis a vis a lover, a friend, an enemy, a child. The reader, the writer, the book -- how can this not be about loss, surrender, and the very stuff of the day as it is poured into your nerves every second, and as your raddled nerves forget it? When Nietzsche wrote, in that wonderful last letter to Buckhardt, I am all the names of history, he was right. Poor sod, he was right. He became, in that instant, the God of literature.

"Was unangenehm ist und meiner Bescheidenheit zusetzt, ist, dass im Grund jeder Name in der Geschichte ich bin..."

It's a harsh godhood, admittedly. Nietzsche went mad, Rimbaud went awol, and we aren't doing too well ourselves.

Anyway, the Enigmatic M. performs the same tricks for you that LI does: she throws together a bit of lecon des choses, a bit of life, and a bit of literature, all for you, anonymous reader.

Monday, June 03, 2002

Remora

It has been suggested that LI prove its Turkophilic credentials by commenting on the outrageous robbery of the Turkish soccer team in the World Cup. Apparently the Korean referee made a very dumb call against Turkey, which allowed Brazil a game winning kick. LI would gladly bitch and moan, but... we not only didn't see the game, we don't fully, uh, understand the game. Especially on the intricate level of what is and what is not a penalty. You kick a ball into a net, that's what we know.

So, turning to matters of less grave import --say the impending nuclear doom of millions -- we'd recommend a few articles on Kashmir today.

The Far Eastern Economic Review has a nice background article on the Kashmir "insurgency." It runs down the list of politicians who want an independent role for Kashmir -- or an adherence to Pakistan. The latter seems to LI like a truly insane desire, rather like trying to swim from the lifeboat to the Titanic. But there it is.

Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee visited Kashmir in May, and offered economic aid and real elections -- thus tacitly casting into doubt the status of past elections, as FEER notes. But the Indian tactic for pacifying Kashmir, and eventually including the state in the great Indian embrace, isn't working:

"To make matters worse for India, the murder of a popular Kashmiri leader has set back New Delhi's efforts to inject credibility into the elections by persuading some people who have long opposed Indian rule to participate. On May 21, unidentified gunmen shot dead Abdul Ghani Lone, a member of the All Party Hurriyat Conference, an alliance of 23 anti-India parties.

"Unlike most of his Hurriyat colleagues, Lone condemned not only Indian rule, but also foreign militants sent across the border from Pakistan. He was also one of the few anti-India political figures in Kashmir willing to negotiate with India without insisting on Pakistan's inclusion in the talks, which made him more acceptable to New Delhi.According to Mehbooba Mufti, leader of the Srinagar-based People's Democratic Party, Lone's killing has created a "fear psychosis" and will deter other separatists from entering the electoral fray.

"Elections without separatists will have little credibility, says Zafar Meraj, the editor of Kashmir Monitor, a newspaper published in Srinagar.With Lone dead, say Meraj, New Delhi will hope to persuade two young separatists--Shabir Shah and Umar Farooq--to enter the elections. But both are openly sceptical of Indian intentions."

Admittedly, LI knows squat about Kashmir. Ignorance has never been an obstacle to judgement around here, however. There are issues that seem to be impossible to shape into some non-partisan format for the interested bystander. To the endless conflict between Israel and Palestine, add the endless conflict over the right and wrong of Kashmir. Actually, these conflicts date from the same period -- the late forties -- and reflect the same event -- the fall of the British Empire. The UN has had observers in Kashmir since that time.

The conflict sparked up in the nineties due to two things. One was the surge in Hindu nationalism that brought about riots and mosque burnings in India. The other was the collapse of Pakistan legitimacy, and the replacement of national identity with religious. According to a story in Express India, a recent poll in Kashmir showed that 61 percent favor remaining in India -- although with what status, on what terms, is unclear. There's a helpful NGO, the Friends of Kashmir, who have a nice overview of the recent situation:

"Kashmir ..traditionally described as "Heaven-on-Earth" because of its scenic beauty, invigorating climate, clean environment, peace loving people and treasures of arts...has been reduced to a "living hell" by the on-going conflict.

In January 1990, long term dissent against Indian misrule erupted into an armed revolt in Kashmir. India's arch rival Pakistan by taking advantage of the anti-India emotion and religious sentiments of the Kashmiri youth engineered a full scale armed rebellion in Kashmir. India in response poured over 300,000 soldiers into the densely populated civilian areas of Kashmir. In their efforts to contain the militancy,Indian army and paramilitary forces have committed gross violations of human rights in Kashmir. Indian forces on many occasions have acted without regard for international human rights law and have often violated the laws of war protecting civilians in situations of armed conflict.

"Unfortunately, the first casualty of this vicious war has been uprooting of the minority Kashmiri Pandit community, who are now living in the most appalling conditions as refugees within their own homeland. Selective killings of the Kashmiri Pandits resulted into a mass exodus of this ethnic minority who have lived for centuries in peace and harmony with the majority Muslim community in Kashmir."

The causes of the Pandit exodus are as hotly disputed as the causes of the Serbian/Bosnian-Muslim conflict in the nineties. You can find sites that claim Islamic terrorists have made the Pandit valleys hell on earth, and you can find sites that claim the Indian government extended its invisible hand and encouraged violence for its own propogandistic purposes. Muzamil Jaleel, an Indian journalist with the Express, pens a nice piece in the Observer Sunday exposing the roots of the conflict with a bit more panache than the Friends of Kashmir site. As one would expect, it is about democracy thwarted, and the gradual congregation of murderous and definitely non-democratic interests around a basic injustice committed against the rule of self-government and the protection of human rights, gradually transforming that injustice into a justification for committing crimes aimed, precisely, at undermining self government and the protection of human rights -- is it ever not like this?


"The recent campaign of violence was triggered in 1989, two years after a rigged local election. The Kashmiri at the top of India's 'most wanted' list of terrorists is Syed Salahuddin, who heads United Jihad Council - an amalgam of 14 militant groups of which his Hizbul Mujahideen is the largest. His real name is Mohamed Yousuf Shah and during Kashmir's 1987 assembly elections he was a popular politician. When the votes were counted, he was winning by a massive majority. But the official results said he had been defeated.

"He lost faith in the democratic process. His campaign agents were harassed by police, locked up and tortured. Five later set up the first group of Kashmiri militants and began a violent struggle for independence. The anger and frustration of Kashmir's youth was happily exploited by Pakistan, which believed the annexation of Kashmir to be the unfinished business of partition. Pakistan gave them guns, explosives and money."

From 89, the logic of violence unrolled like this: revolt by the Kashmiris, repression by the Indian police, arming by the Pakistanis, more repression, the slow creep of Islamicist ideology, splintering between liberation groups, the submerging of the original democratic goal in favor of a goal of shari'a and annexation by Pakistan as increasingly violent factions armed by Pakistan attempted to wipe out those of their one time allies who favored a more 'moderate' position -- actually, the original position. Onto this sequence, of course, other nations and groups have imposed their own ideologies and interests. What we need, we lefties, is to return to the kind of reading Marx gave to the rise of Louis Bonaparte in France in 49 -- a broader sense of the play of interests and the transformations wrought upon objectives by the tactics that are supposed to lead to them. In Kashmir, right before our eyes, we can see history becoming a pestilence.