“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

Thursday, February 20, 2003

Dope

I had a large post today. Alas, the system froze for some reason, the blogger didn't post, and it is gone. Hmm, I don't feel like reconstructing it at the moment. Here, at least, is how it started out.

Remora
The crocodile tears of Rambo

Years and years ago, LI was a graduate student. I lived in a house with a flying circus of roommates, one of whom was a Mexican Marxist on a downer. The low was due to a deadly combo of misplaced affection, excess alcohol and Ronald Reagan. To cheer himself up, H. would rent films and watch them while drinking Papst Blue ribbon and eating little pieces of cheese and sausages. To liven the meal up, sometimes he would stick little toothpicks in the sausages. His favorite film, the one that he considered one of the great comedy classics of all time, was Rambo. Sometimes I would join him. I didn't find Rambo as worthy of repeated viewing as he did, but it was funny.Our favorite part was the final scene. After Rambo had personally kicked North Vietnam into the sea and freed a whole campful of MIA/POWs that were getting the guinea pig treatment from the sadistic Orientals, Rambo confronts some conventional military type who asks the sweat drenched superhero (the sweat oozed out of him by the bucketloads in the film, as I remember) what he wanted. In a strangled voice that was apparently some hommage to Clint Eastwood's on screen laconicism, Rambo said:

"I just want... my country... to love me... as much as I love it!"

At least, that is how I remembered it. At this point both H. and I would completely crack up. This had to be one of the funniest things ever said on film. I've since looked it up on the Internet, and it turns out I'm misremembering the line --- it is "We just want ...etc."

I'm not much of a prognosticator, or I would have understood that a whole new political sensibility was going to spring from Rambo's crocodile tears. A weak-kneed jingoism, a lachrymose nativism. This first became evident under the first Bush's term. The weirdly resentful revolt led by Buchanon in 1992, which dominated the Republican convention even as its candidate was visibly a minority phenomenon, arguably cost Bush I the election.

Well, we wonder whether the same thing isn't happening again. Since 9/11, the Bush administration has been shamelessly playing to the tearful jingoists. It's a constituency that is captured, heart and soul, by the senile barking of Donald Rumsfeld, and whipped into a frenzy by every newspaper headline that hints at skepticism about its general bellicosity. So far, so good. However, it is easy to imagine that this kind of constituency might hold its panderers captive in the end. A replay of 1992 is a distinct possibility, with Bush having to mouth a position that is much more reactionary, much more nativist, than one he really holds. We think that if Bush can't navigate between this vocal group and the rest of the country, which may find extreme and expensive foreign policy adventurism mildly repulsive, he might do himself in. ...

Well, this is as much of the post as I've reconstructed so far. We'll publish the rest of it in the next entry.

Wednesday, February 19, 2003

Notes

For some reason, although we read blogs, we don't often refer to them. This is sheer irresponsibility. But we want to point our readers to one blog today -- Junius -- written by Chris Bertram, a philosophy guy in Bristol, England. Bertram is a dithering dove and frankly, LI does not share his dithers. But we like Bertram's mixture of Burke-ishnesss (the very name, Junius, refers to Burke's ally in the war against Warren Hastings, Phillip Francis) and socialism.

For us, the problem with philosophy guys and war is that they immediately plunge into talk about whether a war is just or not. Now, it is interesting whether a war is just or not. But that is obviously only one consideration in deciding that one supports a war. The mix of motives that eventuate in any social act should include justice, and should also include interest, costs and benefits, honor, pertinency, past actions, context, etc. The moral issues at stake in the invasion of Iraq often smell of ether -- odorless, tasteless, and absolutely unrooted in the history and culture of Iraq or the culture and history of Britain and the U.S. -- who have left a long, dark trail in the area. For those who believe justice should override all other considerations, we urge a reading of that great tale by Heinrich Kleist, Michael Kohlhaas.

Anyway, in the spirit of Burke, we wrote Bertram a little letter (yes, the war fever is driving us crazy. We know this. We know we've gone insane) to shore up the case against the War. Here it is.

Dear Chris Bertram

I read your post on human rights and the just war approach to war in Iraq.
Surely the antiwar argument stands on strong Burkean grounds, making something like the following two points:

One, replacing an unjust order with a just order is best done by the people themselves. Why? Because replacing an unjust order with a "revolution from above" presumes a mechanical, non-representative politics alien to the organic structure of society. In Hayek's terms, it is the ultimate in central planning -- planners with no knowledge (not even tacit knowledge) of Iraqi society usurp for themselves the right to change it radically. If Burke supported war against the directorate in France, it was because the directorate had recently overthrown what he viewed as the legitimate governors of France. His model, however, seems to have been the Glorious Revolution. Although King William enjoyed the support of some foreign powers, his right to the throne was founded not only in the spirit of the English order, but in the acceptance, by the British, of his rule -- an acceptance that expressed itself in supporting and supplying King William's forces.

The second point would be: are there indications of Iraqi self-organisation on Burkean lines? I'd say yes -- in the case of Iraq, we already have a "liberated zone" that is making fractious efforts to organize itself in terms of representative government.

Given these two points, the question is: what would both instill a legitmate representative govenment in Iraq and preserve it from the kind of military dictatorship to which American allies in the Middle East (vide Pakistan) are heir? It would seem here that invasion is actually injurious to that objective. The argument against war -- at least, invasion by foreign powers -- should then countenance the preservation of the current zone in Northern Iraq, in order for the people to work out for themselves the proper structures of their order. As it becomes stronger, it will act as an attractor for the legitimate interests of the Iraqi people, which will ultimately be crowned by the internal overthrow of the Ba'athist structure. In fact, it has taken a long time for that to happen in the North -- the endemic warlordism of the middle nineties has only recently lost its grip on the countryside.

The only objection to this is that Saddam Hussein is strong enough to suppress such internal change, and that his strength hasn't changed over time. But I don't think that is a strong enough argument for invasion -- although it might be a strong argument for supporting the liberated zone in more concrete ways.

Burke was very conscious of the continuity of character, and he would certainly have found suspicious that the cabal of D.C. officials who now advocate war were once so favorable to Saddam Hussein's government that they covertly supplied it with military aid while it was gassing Kurds and Iranians. In fact, it is easy to imagine what he would have said about this. Just read the speeches in the impeachment of Warren Hastings.
Yours,
Etc.

....

We received an email from our friend T. in New York re the birthday of Kazantzakis. We liked it. Here it is, in all its crabby splendor.

"Salon was decent enough to acknowledge the anniversary of NK's birth today, and showed further decency with the selected passage from Zorba. Although NK should not be considered "minor" and I have tried and failed to make him "nomadic", to my mind, he is just not spoken of often enough when discussions move to the subject of "the novel"; hell, he wrote at least three wonderful ones - The Greek Passion, The Last Temptation of Christ and Zorba. Something like twenty years ago, those, Dead Souls, Quixote, Anna Karenina and The Bros. K brought me to a sense of what a novel is and why it is important to have such things around and why one should go to the trouble of keeping them close at all times. Perhaps he is "too ethnic" to be included in matters of the novel (?) More than Greek, he was Cretan.

Maybe its that the image of Anthony Quinn is too strong for me, but Zorba never was The One for me. No, The One has always been The Greek Passion. My esteem altogether reinforced with those extraordinarily intimate books The Saviors of God and Report to Greco. Is it twenty years ago that I first read the later? Mere sentimentality: Shortly after I had finished cluelessly turning the pages of Zarathustra, I read the Report for the first time. NK still strikes me (and herein is the sentimentality) as amongst the most passionate (exuberance, merciful sympathy) readers of FWN (heres there with Batille, Blanchot, Deleuze and Klossowski).

Unlike the others, however, his introduction to Fritz was as personal as imaginable: he was told that he looked like Nietzsche!
Also, I never fail to recall that he was excommunicated (not even Friedrich the Antichristian could pull that off).

Anyway, I'm in no position to tell his tale (I include a link to a detailed chronology of his life below), but I can at least spit out a blurb on this anniversary.

I hate the snow, and I hope that you are well and good.

Tuesday, February 18, 2003

Remora

The focus groups in the street

"Size of protest, it's like deciding, 'Well I'm going to decide policy based up on a focus group.' The role of a leader is to decide policy based upon the security - in this case - security of the people." - Bush, Washington Post

"I understand the concerns of the thousands who marched on Saturday. -- Tony Blair, Guardian

Millions of Soviet people are profoundly sympathetic with the Hungarian workers' struggle to successfully transform their homeland into a free, sovereign socialist state. We understand the desire of the Hungarian workers, peasants and intelligentsia to raise the standard of living of the population, utilizing the great advantages of the people's democratic system to do so. -- Pravda, November 1956, commenting on the Hungarian Revolution


The reaction to the protests is very -- as Donald Rumsfeld might say (vide our last post on him) --- interesting. We have been especially amused by NPR. They excerpted Bush's speech, and followed it with the explanation that "thousands" demonstrated over the world. Expect that same innumeracy when it comes to Iraqi casualties in the war (Some tens were killed in Baghdad's bombing today...). But there is a more profound issue here than that of war or peace in Iraq. The question is: who runs things. The dismissal of the Protesters has been breathtaking in its reach, and revealing in its vocabulary. In the Figaro, there was an interview with Laurent Murawiec which, we think, is representative. Murawiec was the man who caused a bit of a stir last summer when he instructed Richard Perle's White House sponsored Defense council on the advisability of overthrowing the Saudi government. Here he is breathing the very air of the Bellicose cabal:


"What do you think of the anti-war protests last Saturday?

The "pacifists" believe they are giving peace a chance, but in fact, the only thing they are giving a chance to is their blindness. The protests last Saturday were the marriage of John Lennon and Neville Chamberlain. A naivete pushed to the point where there is an absolute unconsciousness of the issues of the conflict, a complete contempt for reality. There's nothing to be expected from such an alliance."

This is the tone of Pravda on the Potomac. What is more disturbing, however, is that the assumptions underlying this tone are shared, to a large extent, by the opposition in this country. I talked on the phone to my best friend yesterday, and he was rather mocking about the demonstrations making any difference. It is that frozen response to the mechanism of oppression that shows just how much oppression has become the default, in this country. It is a conviction that false consciousness is all there is to consciousness. Flattering both to elitist policy makers in right wing think tanks and academic leftists, who have provided themselves with a wonderfully narrowed field of action, it seems to me so clearly false, so clearly not the story of the last couple hundred of years, that I am surprised how prevalent, how almost universal it is. "Resistance" in academia is almost invariably trivialized: it is a matter of choosing to watch Buffy the Vampire Killer, or dressing Barbie in a strange way. It has nothing whatsoever to do with the Enlightenment project of adults governing themselves. In this way, the "union sacre" to use Murawiec's words has been consumated between the world view of Madison Avenue and the world view of Cultural Studies. It is coupled with another idea, also immensely flattering to those educated in expensive Universities: that the popular mood is infinitely malleable. This has animated both the makers of Wag the Dog and the busy staffers working for Karl Rove. But why would anybody, in the long run, believe it? Two hundred years of history, from the American and French Revolutions to de-colonization to the end of the Soviet empire, show how badly Revolutions from above fare.

But we don't have to look at the Grand Pattern - all we have to do is look at the spectacular failure of media and policy elites to impeach President Clinton. That is a history replete with the comedy of secret makers and shakers betting on the magic of the coup. Well, it didn't work. Once again, those makers and shakers are betting on the magic of a coup - running roughshod over the popular mood to create a war. Well, they might just create a war, but the damage is becoming clear. Those who have attached themselves to the Cabal of belligerents (Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld) are going to have severe trouble retaining their 'leadership" roles - starting with Aznar in Spain and going through Tony Blair in the U.K. Let's take Aznar first. Here's a report from the Voice of America, not a leftist bastion:

"Anti-war demonstrations took place in 57 cities throughout Spain, including all the provincial capitals. The two biggest were held in Madrid and Barcelona with a total of about two million people. Spain's Prime Minister Jos� Mar�a Aznar has been a staunch supporter of U-S policy toward Iraq despite the fact that polls show that the vast majority of Spaniards are against the use of force to make Iraq disarm. The result has been that his ruling Popular Party has stood alone in parliament in defending the U-S policy on Iraq.

The peace demonstrations were organized or supported by the major opposition Socialist party, the United Left Coalition, the major labor unions, and various non-government organizations like Green Peace. Following Pope John Paul II's opposition to the war option against Iraq, Catholics led by priests and nuns turned out in large numbers and church bells chimed in some cities during the demonstrations.Both the Madrid and Barcelona demonstrations were headed not only by opposition politicians and union leaders but by Spanish actors and artists as well. Film Director Pedro Almodovar, nominated for Oscars as best script writer and director, read the closing manifesto in Madrid."

And this, from today's Guardian:


More significantly for Mr Aznar, opinion polls have shown that, for the first time since securing a clear victory in elections three years ago, the Socialists have overtaken the People's party in voting intentions.

Mr Aznar also faced embarrassment yesterday when it was revealed that in 1997 he had offered to pay Baghdad in "aid" if it gave oil contracts to the Spanish-owned Repsol company. The government was ready to make a "donation" if Repsol was given a concession in the Nasiriya field, despite the fact that the UN had just issued a series of resolutions condemning Iraq's continued blocking of inspections, according to El Mundo newspaper, which quoted official documents."

As to Tony Blair, I don't need to quote polls.

Now, the point here isn't just that the war is unpopular, but that the very ability of the American media to analyze the factors which would be set in motion by Bush's foreign policy have been almost universally pathetic. That because the media has bought into the common 'educated' perception that elites run things while the common man drools over brainless celebrities. This is comically illustrated in the analyses, leading up to the U.S. foreign policy debacles of the last couple of weeks, that France wasn't "serious" about opposing the U.S. policy. No, they'd get out of the way at the last moment. That was the almost universal opinion, in spite of the fact that there are plenty of reasons to think France's interest, especially as interpreted by Chirac, would be precisely the opposite of that. This isn't a matter of opposing the war: it is a matter of understanding, outside the filter of one's personal opinions, the interest of the other. The expectation that the popular mood just doesn't count has so seized the educated that it has become inscribed in the very way that even those who oppose the war here think about politics. The war is inevitable refrain is partly about the fact that the clever top class always gets what it wants.

Well, the quietism of the left in America is a scandal which we aren't going to embark on analyzing at the moment. But we do think that somebody ought to ask: if the planners are so smart, why is the plan so dumb?

Instead of believing that democracy is a mere sham concealing the puppetmasters pulling strings and getting their way, LI subscribes to the belief of the Psalmist: "Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength."

And of Blake: "How do you know but every bird that cuts the
airy way, is an immense world of delight, closed by your senses five?"

These are the pillars of our politics, mes amies.

Monday, February 17, 2003

Remora

Powers of Thought

The best American coverage of the protests world wide was carried by the Los Angeles Times. LI would bet that if ten million people around the world had protested in favor of Bush's position in Iraq, the Washington Post and the New York Times would have been alight with celebratory headlines. But no, we will give no headlines for peace marchers. Heavens.

The LA Times went with an honest report. It didn't mix protest against Tony Blair's policy in London with machine gun toting thugs marching in Baghdad as a species of the same thing. We liked these grafs in Sebastian Rotella's story:

"Leslie Druce, 70, marched in London carrying a placard that proclaimed "Bush and Blair ... Liars and Bullies."

"They treat us like we have no power of thought," Druce said. "Who are they kidding? Do they really feel threatened by the Iraqis? The U.S. could be such a power for good in the world, but Bush has chosen to be the bully boy instead. It really bothers me that Bush has used Blair as a veil of decency through all of this."

Many protesters were members of Blair's Labor Party who have broken with their leader over the war.

"We voted for Blair, but on this he's totally wrong. It's immoral," said Peter Burton, who made the 237-mile trip to London from his Exeter home along with his wife, Rita. "He has totally misjudged how dangerous this is to the Middle East and how destabilizing this has been to the United Nations. And we believe in the United Nations."

There is, in politics, one rule of success that seems pretty constant. You have to help your friends. Eventually, the consistent, serial betrayal of allies will undermine even the most secure of empires. The D.C. cenacle of belligerents has concluded that their only friends are to the right: the frothing academics in various conservative think tanks or the Likudniks at the Weekly Standard. Hence the unceasing flow of vituperation directed, for instance, at France. This has taken on a logic of its own that is undermining its objective. The creation of an atmosphere in which all impediments to war with Iraq are treated as the hostile and nasty acts of terrorists is going to make it impossible to justify retaining that closeness to Bush's administration that Rumsfeld's 'New Europe' has been trying to impress upon the world. You know that when even Chili goes against you at the U.N., something is seriously wrong.

Speaking of France...

A wonderful example of how polemical talent cannot survive its own debauch is Christopher Hitchens recent screed about Chirac, which was published, appropriately enough, on the Wall Street Journal editorial page. Hitchens used to know something about the deadly insult: the polemicists great truth is that truth itself must, given the moral occassion, exaggerate. But insult without the backing of truth, insult in the service of a blind and conniving power, destroys even the truths it embraces. As Mary McCarthy once said about Lilian Hellman, every word she says is a lie, including "the" and "a," So, too, in this incredibly silly piece about the ever corrupt Chirac, entitled Saddam's pal, Chirac the Rat. Among the carious verbiage we loved this passage:

"However, the conduct of Jacques Chirac can hardly be analysed in these terms. Here is a man who had to run for re-election last year in order to preserve his immunity from prosecution, on charges of corruption that were grave. Here is a man who helped Saddam Hussein build a nuclear reactor and who knew very well what he wanted it for. Here is a man at the head of France who is, in effect, openly for sale. He puts me in mind of the banker in Flaubert's L'Education Sentimentale: a man so habituated to corruption that he would happily pay for the pleasure of selling himself.

Here, also, is a positive monster of conceit. He has unctuously said that "force is always the last resort". Vraiment? This was not the view of the French establishment when troops were sent to Rwanda to try to rescue the client regime that had just unleashed ethnocide against the Tutsi. It is not, one presumes, the view of the French generals who are treating the people and nation of Cote d'Ivoire as their fief. It was not the view of those who ordered the destruction of an unarmed ship, the Rainbow Warrior, as it lay at anchor in a New Zealand harbour after protesting against the French official practice of conducting atmospheric nuclear tests in the Pacific. (I am aware that some of these outrages were conducted when the French Socialist Party was in power, but in no case did Chirac express anything other than patriotic enthusiasm. If there is a truly "unilateralist" government on the UN Security Council, it is France.)"

Of course, as faithful readers of LI know, the corruptions of Chirac are entangled with the corruptions of Hitchen's great "pal," George Bush. Chirac was the first European politician to congratulate Bush after the coup in Florida -- a result that Hitchens, proceeding through his accustomed tergiversation, is surely happy with. After all, democracy has a limit. And among those corrupt supporters of Chirac, we have previously mentioned an arms dealer, Pierre Falcone. Pierre Falcone runs with a highly smelly contingent of criminals including the well known Russian-Israeli Mafioso, Arcadi Gaydamak. Gaydamak can come to the U.S. to parties honoring the likes of his friend, Ariel Sharon, and remain unmolested by the FBI, which is so vigilant, otherwise, in incarcerating brown skinned working class men who happen to speak Arabic. Falcone is in jail in France, but his wife, beauty queen, Sonia, lives in Arizona and is highly active in Republican circles.

Here's a corpwatch article that fills in the details:

"According to Global Witness, the links between Angola's corrupt government and the Bush administration are just as odorous as those linking Luanda's leadership to past and current members of the French government, both Socialist and Gaullist. In addition to the French oil giant Total-Fina-Elf, oil companies like Chevron, Texaco, Philipps Petroleum, Exxon Mobil, and BP-Amoco -- all with close links to Bush and his White House oil team -- were heavily involved in propping up dos Santos in return for profitable off-shore oil concessions.After transferring some $770 million in oil revenues to their own private bank accounts, dos Santos and his cronies became convinced that pluralism in their country would be a very dangerous thing for their future business deals. They also quickly abandoned their former Marxist beliefs in favor of the type of capitalist principles embraced by George W. Bush and Jacques Chirac.

Paris, Texas

There are similarities between dos Santos' new relationship with George W. Bush and the Bush family's historical ties to the House of Saud. Both represent the murky nature of oil politics that places US economic, national security, and human rights interests far behind the priority assigned to ensuring maximum corporate profits for a tight-knit and secretive international oil fraternity.Just as Bush's past financial links to the Bin Laden family have been exposed by the media, so too have his links to Angolagate and Falcone. Falcone's wife, Sonia, a former Miss Bolivia and a friend of First Lady Laura Bush, became a big-ticket contributor to Bush's 2000 election campaign. Contributions were made to the campaign through Sonia's Essant� Corporation, a distributor of health, beauty, and sexual pleasure products (such as a cream called Entisse that Essant�'s web site says is guaranteed to duplicate the effects of Viagra). http://www.corpwatch.org/issues/PID.jsp?articleid=2576 We recommend the whole Corporate Watch article as a nice introduction to the chamber of horrors which financed the Bush campaign."

Thieves can fall out, but it takes the blind vanity of a Hitchens to take the side of one of those thieves as a moral imperative. For those who want to know more about the Chirac-Bush arms connection, read our post of 6/19 last year.