Casualty report: Reuters reports three U.S. injuries yesterday, one from a land mine. Another mortar attack last night in Balad, no injuries. And two more Saddam tapes have popped up, although no Saddam to go with them. LI is reminded of the numerous pretenders that appeared in the time of troubles in Russia.


Viewing the most rightwing leaders in the world right now -- Bush and Berlusconi -- one has to wonder if it is necessary to be quite that stupid in public. But of course, stupidity in public is actually a shock technique of power. It is a way of suddenly casting a light upon what is said and unsaid. Power over the distinction is power, indeed. And so misspeakings, or crudeness of various sorts, acquire the fascination of a dirty joke -- taboos that run just beneath the surface, employed on the surface, have the power to make us laugh, and in that laughter crystalize both disgust and complicity. Comparison between Bush's "bring em on" remark and Berlusconi's 'invitation,' as Le Monde delicately puts it, to a Germany deputy in the European parliament to play the role of a kapo in a film being shot in Italy, demonstrate the use of political stupidity, insofar as they signal to a certain constituency the utter contempt of the "leader" for the forms of negotiation -- the whole paraphernalia of democracy, with its indirections, procedures, compromises, and deliberately fractured powers. Stupidity on this level is a blow, a coup, a tactic.

In fact, Italian politics now gives us a rather dark scenario for a possible American future; at least the one that beckons if the FCC succeeds in taking apart restraints on monopoly media. Berlusconi is getting credit for escaping jail -- this has added to his prestige in Italy. He's the Robin Hood escaping the censorious prosecutor. For the same reason, his stupidity in making a crude joke in his first session as EU president adds to his credit. Although it isn't as though Italians get to watch the event themselves. As the Guardian has reported:

"While coverage elsewhere in the world centred on Mr Berlusconi's offensive remarks - made as the prime minister took the helm of the European presidency - news programmes in Italy presented the incident as a vicious attack by Martin Schulz, leader of the German socialists in the Strasbourg assembly, which provoked the jibe. One evening news show on Radio Televisione Italiana (RAI), dubbed over the prime minister's voice as he delivered the joke that prompted uproar in the assembly and led to diplomatic protests from Berlin. Having seen only TV reports of the "squabble" and a "small incident", the Repubblica editorial concluded:

"The average Italian cannot understand why foreign ministries are on the move over such a trifle."

Amid growing controversy over state television coverage in general, directors of the three RAI channels have been summoned to explain themselves at a parliamentary commission on broadcasting standards next week."

It is the jokes, the jokes that are killing us.